Halley views

9 Dec 2019
Digging out fuel en route to Halley. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
Geoff taking his co-piloting duties seriously. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
Flying over a colony of emperor penguins en route to Halley. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
Halley VI research station. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]
The Dobson spectrophotometer at Halley measuring ozone. [Credit: Geoff Evatt]

Half the team is at Halley

Romain Tartese | 6 Dec 2019

After a bit more than a week there, Geoff and I left Rothera yesterday after lunch to start making our journey down to the meteorite search area. We boarded the AZ Twin Otter aircraft with field guide Rob and mechanic Tom (who is going to Halley where he’ll spend the next year or so!), and pilots Dutch and Mark (always better with pilots!). Between Rothera and Halley, we made several stops on the way, notably needed to refuel the Twin Otter.

The views leaving Rothera and Adelaide Island behind were fantastic. A couple of hours after leaving Rothera we first stopped at Fossil Bluff for a quick refill. Landing at Fossil Bluff was truly fantastic as you follow spectacular cliffs all the way down – see photo below.

Spectacular layered cliffs on the way down to Fossil Bluff [Credit: R. Tartese].

We then stopped at Sky Blu, where the Twin Otter lands on a blue ice runway. It was actually my first steps on the Antarctic continent, since both Rothera and Fossil Bluff are on islands off the coast.

Happy chaps having just landed at Sky Blu [Credit: G. Evatt].

After landing, we were met by three BAS colleagues that are stationed at Sky Blu for a few days or weeks. Readers who followed the blog last season will probably remember that Sky Blu is where Geoff spent some time last summer trying to break the metal detector assembly we will be towing on the ice, and perfecting his ice coring skills. We had a great dinner (thanks guys!) and a good night of sleep in our cosy (and very orange) pyramid tent.

Midnight sun at Sky Blu – the Twin Otter can be seen on the far left [Credit: R. Tartese].

After breakfast this morning, the weather forecast over the Ronne Ice Shelf and onto Halley was promising, so we set off at around 0830 to finish our journey to Halley station. And we were once again greeted by fantastic views all the way. After just under 3 hours, we stopped at the Three Ronne Depot (TRD) on the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf to top up the Twin tanks with about 800 litres of fuel! It involved a very limited amount of digging to access the barrels – and as suggested by the photo below it was very balmy!

Refuelling at the Three Ronne Depot [Credit: R. Tartese].

The final leg of our journey took us from the Ronne Ice Shelf to Halley VI station that sits on the Brunt Ice Shelf , flying over spectacular patches of open sea and broken sea-ice, and as a bonus over a large colony of emperor penguins!

The edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, viewed from an altitude of 3000 m. [Credit: R. Tartese].

After a long day flying we arrived in Halley where we have just enjoyed a great fish and chips dinner. Plans for the coming days are fluid, but it seems one of us will head off to the mountains tomorrow if the weather is good to start shifting some fuel around. In the meantime, Wouter might hopefully make his way down to Halley with the first half of the kit, then followed by Katie with the rest of the kit. Stay tuned!

The main module at Halley VI station [Credit: R. Tartese]

Weather waiting

Katie Joy | 31 Dec 2018

The waiting game continues and we need the clouds to clear further south before we can set off to the field. The Met team are sending over photos of the cloud cover to us along with a forecast each day, and things might possibly clear up in a day or to, so until then the Meteorite project is turning into the tea drinking project whilst we wait 🙂

Halley station has the amazing module setup that I posted a photo of before containing the operation and communication centre, a library and shared spaces along with science labs and field guide store areas. The station has many other smaller buildings and containers scattered around the vicinity — including the cosy container that is my accommodation I am sharing with field guide Julie and pilot Vicky. We are having our meals in the nearly Drewry Building, where others who work on site are living at the moment. This has network connections and a phone line where I can speak to people back home in the UK via a satellite link (the reception is amazingly better than I can get trying to call from my mobile in the village where I live close to the Peak District!).

In the meantime whilst we wait on the weather — Happy New Year from Halley to you all!

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Our accommodation cabins at Halley – portable and comfortable.

Hanging out at Halley

Katie Joy | 30 Dec 2018

A quick update – the weather has closed in around our field sites south of the Shackleton mountains, which means low cloud and poor contrast on the landing areas. It is also pretty overcast at Halley as well so we wont be flying out today. In Antarctica the work we do is dominated by the weather, so not a lot we can do but sit back and get on with a few other work tasks. We have packed up all the kit into our plane loads so that as soon as the weather clears we are ready to load and go — if not tomorrow, hopefully in a couple of days time. Send us good weather thoughts!

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Two person field kit for a four week field work plan (minus some additional skidoo fuel that will join us later on), loaded onto a large sledge ready to be dragged out to the skiway.

The plan of work for when we get into the field is to do a quick tour of several sites as a lightweight travel unit. We will return to a base camp each day, and in the day time head off with a skidoo each and a load of emergency kit in case of closing in weather conditions. After about a week or so we hope to do a longer traverse with all our kit piled onto three wooden Nansen style sledges , and head off to a different field area about 120 km away. This overland traverse is typically of BAS’s field team mobile work, and we will proceed as we access the terrain.

In terms of our field equipment — if you look back a few posts down you should see a photo of the pyramid style tents we will be using. A lot of the kit you can see in the photo above piled onto the sledge are items associated with the camp (boxes with a stove, cooking equipment, food supplies, field medical box, bags of camping kit including a sleeping bag and some nice mats to lie on in the tent) or skidoos (fuel, repair box). We will have a small generator so that we can generate power in the field to power our sat phones and GPS devices. We have some ice chippers and shovels for removal of snow and ice, and rescue equipment we will take with us each day in case of emergencies. And importantly we also have our science kit for collecting any meteorites we come across, and making sure they are bagged carefully.

It has taken a massive amount of logistical effort from many people at BAS to get us to this point — plane route flying and planning operations (and weather observation support), through to all the field guide planning and kit preparation, travel logistics, feeding me (!)  — an amazing amount of human hours and resources for which I and the rest of the meteorite project team back in Manchester and Cambridge are very grateful.

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Inside the belly of the Twin Otter — our flight over from Rothera to Halley. Two passengers sit in the front of the plane, with the cargo strapped down in the back. The big green bags you can see are our P-bags (personal kit bags) which include a sleeping back and other tent items to keep us cosy if we need to stop for a night somewhere. On our runs out to the field, we will likely do three Otter round trips as we need to take two large skidoos with us in the field, which require one flight each to fit into the plane.

Towards to the field… via Sky Blu and Halley research station

Katie Joy | 30 Dec 2018

We are nearly in the field and hope to reach our first field locality tomorrow if the weather is ok. Hopefully next time I send a blog it will be via a satellite phone directly from our field camp — but let’s not get too carried away as everything is adaptable in Antarctica…

We left Rothera three days ago on one of BAS’s twin otter planes. These lightweight hardy twin prop planes have both wheels and skis meaning that they can land at remote snow and ice runways. We knew that to make the trip from Rothera to Halley research station it would require two, possibly three refuels and we headed south first towards Fossil Bluff field site to the south of Rothera via some spectacular views of sedimentary cliffs and debris flows cascading down their steep flanks.

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Cliffs near Fossil Bluff field site — spectacular humbug-like interbedded sedimentary layers cross cut by debris flows.

After a quick refuel we ventured on to Sky Blu which is a blue icefield at about 1200 m above sea level and on the day was fairly warm at around –2°C. Sky Blu will be Geoff and Mike’s field site when they come down south to Antarctica in a couple of weeks. I had a very quick look along some rocks close to the runway area, didn’t spot any meteorites, but many of the local rocks have clearly sunken into the ice (known as a cryoconite hole), suggesting relatively warm local melt conditions.

There are three staff stationed at the runway, meeting field parties as they come through, refueling planes, and maintaining the field camp in the summer months. We had anticipated flying on from Sky Blu, but the weather at Halley (still some 5–6 hours flight away) closed in and was misty. We stayed the night at Sky Blu and had a great dinner and sat up chatting in the mess tent.

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GPS tracks of our aerial traverse route. Day 1 travel is shown in yellow and day 2 in light blue.
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Our all female flight across the continent. From left – Julie our field guide, Jen the flight engineer, Vicky our fab pilot and me.
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Loading up the Twin Otter at the our stop at BAS’s Sky Blu ice runway
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Cryoconite hole filled with water and with large (terrestrial magmatic) rock inside that has melted and sunk down into the blue ice

The next day brought better weather news and we headed off from Sky Blu around 9 am, taking a refuelling break at a site on the Ronne Iceshelf and then onto Halley research station, reaching here around 5 pm. The weather at Halley is cooler than at Rothera – currently at –5°C, with windchill it is around –10°C — but in the sun it doesn’t feel bad at all.

Halley station is actually number 6 in a series of BAS stations located in the area. The current incarnation is a spectacular space-station like series of interconnected modules that are on skis and that can be jacked up each year to rise up from the accumulating snow (there was a BBC Horizon show about the station in 2017 you can catch up on and if you want to take a 360 tour inside the station visit here).  The station currently is only a summer lived in station — it used to be all year around, but a spectacular fracture (nicknamed the Hallowe’en crack) opened up about 5 km from the station, and for safety the station is only occupied at the moment in the summer months — there are currently about 38 people on base. Halley serves as an atmospheric observation science centre, including ozone measurements and a lightning detector network, and also is at the heart of space weather (interaction of the solar wind with our magnetosphere and upper atmosphere) observations. The engineers are currently working on developing a new automation system to try and run some of the experiments through next year’s winter months.

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Halley research station site as seen during our landing. The modular base is located to the left of the frame with the large red central block. Other buildings including our accommodation block and the garage are located to the right.
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Halley modules up close.

The staff here have been amazing working hard to prepare our snowmobiles and field equipment – thanks to Richard for the tour of site, and to the engineers explaining the experiments they are working on. Whilst being at Halley we have been checking over our field kit to make sure it is all in good order and is weighed correctly for the flights, and working with Vicky our BAS pilot to prepare put in and collection sites for the field, using high-res imagery to try and find a range of places to be dropped off. We think it will take three flights of about 3 hours each way to get us and our two skidoos and sledges and kit to the field. Fingers crossed the skies will be clear tomorrow and we get out to some blue icefields to the south of the Shackleton mountain range to start our field campaign.