Friday, February 29, 2008

From Five to Six

Out With The Old....

The most exciting part of the summer is the new base starting to take shape. The summer has been good in respect of the weather and has meant that as the end of the season approaches it is possible to get an idea of what Halley VI will look like.

...& In With The New

There will eventually be eight large podules, connected to make the new base, excluding the large central podule, which will be built next year, the other seven are at various stages of completion. Only one of them will spend the winter clothed in the glass reinforced plastic cladding (as in the picture above), the rest will spend their winter under large tents ready for further work and the lengthy cladding process next summer.

Sastrugi at Creek 4

With hands needed on site to secure the tents, it gave me an opportunity to spend a day getting close to what will house my successors in a few years time. The buildings are impressive and a lot has been achieved over the last few weeks.

A 'Naked' Podule

Each podule sits on four large skis so that they can be moved, not only to the eventual site some 16 km from here but hopefully several times again in the future as the ice shelf continues to move the location of the base closer to the sea. Moving 50 plus ton objects across snow is a unique challenge, so the snow over the next year between the two bases will be groomed and compacted regularly to give a firm base to tow the podules upon and prevent them sinking into the ice shelf.

Inside the 'Command' Podule
The large box on the left will be the new surgery

Inside the steel superstructure that forms each unit, are pre-fabricated boxes containing the different rooms be they offices, pitrooms or wash blocks. The design means it is quicker and easier to fit as well as installing the power and heating in the limited time that the Antarctic summer allows on site.

Fitting the Heating and Ventilation

The construction work is being carried out by Morrisons Falklands Ltd (MFL), while BAS provide accommodation and all the other features that are required to support a large work force in what, despite the summer sun, is still a very remote and cold environment. Though half their workforce is British, the remainder are South African amongst whom Afrikaans is very much the first language, even if everyone can converse easily in English.

On the Building Site

As the season winds to a close there was also a chance to look inside some of what will form the new accommodation. I realise at this point I have not included photos of many features from around base, including the pitrooms where we sleep. I have no idea why they are called pitrooms but the name is very firmly attached and all twenty of them on the Laws have two bunks in them. During the winter, there are enough rooms for one each but come the summer, every bed on station is filled.

Jules Kite-skiing

The great problem with the current pitrooms is the sound-proofing (one of the major design specifications for the new build), you can hear a book being turned in the next pitroom and the less sound sleepers are often woken by distant snorers. During the winter when the temperature was in the deep 20s and below, thick ice would happily form on the inside of the double-glazed windows and then subsequently slowly melting, leaving large pools of water across the carpeted floor. The new pitrooms look like they will avoid similar problems.

The Pitrooms
L- my current room R-Vicky looks around the future

While the building continues, the Shackleton has meantime returned from South Africa and rather than an intended run in the middle of the season to Cape Town, with not enough cargo to justify the extra journey it remains tied up against the ice. The ship also brings the dentist in for a check-ups on all the winterers, which for an afternoon meant that there was on base a surfeit of medical cover.

The Brunt Ice Shelf Medical and Dental Team
L to R: Penny (dentist), Myself, Hannah (incoming wintering doc), Mel (Shackleton doc)

The second arrival of the ship means more fuel to be laid down for the winter, while at the same time old fuel dumps have to be raised as the snow level rises and threatens to bury them.

Raising Fuel Dumps

The black drums draw in heat at times over the year they have been buried melting the surrounding snow, which then refreezes. As a result the drums at the end of a summer are firmly iced in but moving several hundred 45 gallon drums is a lot more pleasant in the warm sunshine than when the wind is blowing and it is -20 and it provides a good days work outside.

Working Ship Side
Jumbo on the sea ice

As cargo comes off the ship, so there is plenty to head north, all the waste from the winter has already gone but there is a fair amount of waste from the construction site, all of which must be removed from the Antarctic and heads north on the Shackleton.

Moving Fuel

The summer is drawing rapidly to an end and with it my time South. The sun is setting again and the temperature is dropping. There is just never enough time to do everything before I leave...

Frosted Beard