Halley VI 2014 Team Photographs


Halley VI Summer 2014 Group Photo 2

Halley Summer Team, with too many people to type out, not all the summer staff are present with a few folk coming and going throughout the season


Halley VI 2014 winter team

Halley 2014 winter Crew

From the back:

Will, Gerrard, Al

Paul, Mike, Nick, Octavian

James, John M, Richard, John E, Kevin, Anthony (me!)


Winter Trip. Cold, Cold Weather and a Psychedelic Sky.

Sun halo

This week was my turn to get out and about down here on the ice. Winter trips are a good chance to see more of the sights a bit further away from base. Halley 6 is built on an ice shelf. Now you would think a floating shelf of ice would be fairly flat and regular but not so, and for my winter trip I went off closer to the continent proper to get a better look.

The ice that builds up on the Antarctic continent is a vast sheet that contains most of the earths fresh water. The snow falls and never melts, building up sheets over hundreds of thousands of years, in some places the ice can be five kilometres thick. This ice flows outwards to the coast, spilling out onto the surrounding sea and floating (mostly) off for sometimes hundreds of miles. As the ice leaves the continent it speeds up and the stresses placed on it lead to huge geological features, with cracks and eruptions occurring all over the place. The edge of the continenet, where the ic sheet floats off and becomes an ice shelf is called “The Hinge Zone” . Which is prett cool because I can now talk of my “adventures in the Hinge Zone” when I get back. Not only is the ice moving off the continent it will also move up and down as it sits in the ice.

Halley 6 is built on a part of the ice that is relatively stable and flat, but not too far away from base and all this changes, indeed as we are moving at around a metre a day the new Halley 6 base has replaced the old Halley 5 that was on the wrong side of an opening-up fault line that could break off at any moment.  Anyway, as you get away from base it becomes a lot more dangerous out there, with the area riddled with crevasses hidden under the accumulated snow. Also this week, the temperature dropped down to around thirty below with the wind chill taking things down to near fifty, raising the fun factor a bit more.  Away in the field this cold can be pretty tough, it makes getting anything done ridiculously hard and often pain is only a moment away. Just putting your boots on in the morning without the comfort of a nice dry boot room can quickly be a bit of a mission that ends up with you whirling your arms about like a windmill (to get some warm blood in em – not just for the laugh) with your fingers screaming for warmth.  The rewards of being out in such conditions though were with us all week. The whole week the cold air was laden with ice crystals that not only dance and flash in front of your face but lead to amazing atmospheric displays like the one above. From morning till night (and sometimes on into that) the sky was full of beams of light going up, light going down and going sideways, surrounded by halos, rainbows and arches as we wandered, climbed and absailed into the frozen landscape.

Antarctic Sun halo

Our band of three set off from base on Monday ready for our week away. The winter trips provide a bit of a holiday away from base but also, more importantly allow us to train and hone our skills out in the field. With me were Gerrard our chef and Al the field assistant. Al is the expert in the field, the man with the skills to keep us alive and the skills to teach and Gerrard has been south many times and hence knows a good bit too, so as the newbie ice-boy I knew I was in for a good week.

We travel by skidoo with Nansen sledges towed behind loaded up with tents, food and anything we might need in an emergency- and enough to keep us going should the weather prevent us from getting back for quite a while, something that often happens down here. We do so roped together so that if the worst occurred and one of us did go into a slot in the ice the results wouldn’t be too horrific. Our fist major feature is The Gatekeeper. A huge depression in the ice surrounded by smaller crevasses. Gatekeeper is a crack in the ice that has widened out into a bit of a canyon that then narrows in the middle. In this middle section the two outer walls are near enough together for snow to build up forming a bridge. It was this bridge that we crossed. Now, despite Al’s assurance that the bridge was bomb-proof I still confess to holding my breath as we went over.  All done safely we then made our way on to Aladdins – a huge chunk of ice that has detached from the sheet and got turned and thrust up by the movement of the ice. This was to be the location of our base camp.

Antarctic base camp, pyramid tent

antarctic pyramid tent base camp

We set up camp with the pyramid tent as our new home for the week, covered the skidoos with a tarp, set up the radio array and got ready to have a quick explore of our immediate vicinity (after a cup of tea).  The cold, as long as you were properly dressed (it’s the getting properly dressed that hurts) was not too bad so we geared up, with crampons, harness and tonnes of other gear and set off for a quick wander. The area we had camped in was a kilometre wide depression in the surrounding ice, with huge strips of ice that looked like levees or dykes surrounding our little valley floor.  In this valley floor is Alladins. A huge chunk of ice pointing upwards above the surrounding area with what seems like a moat around it. The moat is an area where the sections of ice are separated and the wind has gouged out huge channels in these areas of weakness, leaving a labyrinth of passages and gulleys that are walled on either side by cornices of snow that look set to collapse under their own weight. The wind sculpts the snow and ice giving some of it the look of a gigantic dessert like ice cream or merengue, whilst other areas are hard, almost stone like but still with something organic looking about them, like huge walls that seem to be made out of glowing blue fish scales.






The next few days are spent exploring this odd canyon surrounding Alladins, which winds its way round and round. Some of it is walkable, some not so much. There are many parts where the ropes and harnesses are made use of and we climb down or up to get further in. Although this can be quite painful- removing your thick, outer gloves to un-screw carabiners or feed ropes into belays, the destinations really are worth it. Scooped out of the ice in one area is what appears to be a frozen lake. A smooth surface of blue ice that occasionally shows cracks forced up by the pressure of the surrounding ice, like a miniature version of plate tectonics, or indeed a miniature version of what is going on all around us with the actual ice sheets and shelves. Smashed onto this frozen lake is the debris of cornices and over-hangs that have gotten too big and fallen down, leaving stone-like blue chunks sat on top of the clear surface.



The frozen lake is obviously nothing of the sort but rather ice that is harder than what was above it. This has been then been scoured by the brutal winds coming off the continent. To me though, cresting the ridge and seeing it, you straight away think of a mountain lake frozen for the winter instead of snow that has been compacted over millennia.

After skirting round the many channels and passages created by the wind we climbed to the top of the huge central block of ice, where there is a kind of plateau. Here you can see for miles in every direction and see all the smaller features dotted all around. On and around this plateau you can see similar wind features that we see back at base, Sastrugi, to give them their proper name, are the hard-ice ridges and windtails formed as the ice is at turns blown together and then eroded away again. But, amongst the familiar windtails and mini-waves of ice are long, flat strips of smoother, whiter ice. These are the tell-tale signs that underneath is something other than just older, solid ice. Instead, this is what a crevasse with fresh snow filling in the very top of the gap looks like. The three of us were now roped together as we travelled – in the same way the skidoos were, so that, were one of us to slip into a slot we could be pulled out again. My foot slipped into one of the smaller, more well hidden ones and it was a bit of a heart stopping moment, seeing the empty space under your boot that was once seemingly solid. In the centre of the plateau was a wider crevasse running from one end to the other. This we had christened Al’s crack. Peering down into it you couldn’t see the bottom, just progressively deeper and deeper blue. Into this chasm I went – along with all my climbing gear and a couple of ice axes attached to my harness (but unfortunately no camera). Being down in a crevasse is quite surreal. There is no sound and all hint of wind is gone, leaving you feeling relatively warm and almost serene.  After plunging down into the ice as far as the rope would allow I wedged myself between the two walls and just sat for a bit, having a little think. It’s something to behold sat there, way down in this deep blue interior. If it wasn’t for the climb back out I would have been feeling very relaxed when I got back to the surface. Instead I was a bit knackered -to get out I had to climb out with crampons and axes. Now I’ve been climbing before, I’m relatively fit and had assumed Ice climbing to be the same or maybe even slightly easier than other climbing – after all you have two big handles to grab onto. As it happens though, climbing with axes uses muscles in the arms that I wasn’t even aware of having. By the time I made it out I had burning in my arms like I’d never felt before. It took a bit of laying flat on the ice making slightly pathetic noises until I felt able to sling my rucksack back on again.






After climbing and walking around various features for a few days we decided to head down to what is known as Stony Berg. This is a large chunk of ice that has separated from the main sheet and been flipped completely over. The top of it is now covered in stone that has been gouged out of the Antarctic continent as the ice sheet flowed downwards toward the sea. Rocks of all different colours from black basalt to whiter quartz type ones, from huge boulders to smaller pebbles are now visible in the ice. The snow then piles on top of these stones and boulders. When the sun passes through the first few inches of snow above these though, the darker objects below absorb more heat creating a void above them. This means that when you walk on stony berg your feet sink through to the rocks below in the same way you would if you stepped onto the top of a crevasse, a pretty freaky experience. Seeing as this is probably the closet I’ll get to terra-firma for quite a while I was keen to go. This was a place a few of the other people on base had been to. They, however, had gone on skidoos.  We would be different. Gerrard is quite keen on nordic skiing and Al fancied  a bit of a ski too, so I agreed, probably without really knowing what I was letting myself in for.  A bit back I posted about doing a Marathon. Well, I never managed to get that done due to technical issues on base, I did carry on training though and I’m keen to do it next year. But despite being in fairly good nick this was a bit of a shock. I’ve been downhill skiing a few times but I’m not what you’d call good at it and as far as skiing on the flat goes I really didn’t have a clue. The first half an hour I was wondering how the skis actually made this form of travel better, instead they just seemed to be a way of making walking harder. By about five kilometres in I was begining to get the hang of it though, it’s kind of like a grown up version of sliding on a polished floor with just your socks on. But colder. And with really long feet.

It took us six hours of travel across crusty ice and sastrugi carrying full rucksacks of emergency supplies, ropes and fully laden climbing harnesses. Like ice-climbing, this type of exercise used muscles I didn’t even know I had. I’m still sore now but those back on base were fairly impressed with our efforts. I reckon a marathon will be a doddle now, especially in the relatively tropical heat of next summer.


I’ve rambled enough for now so I’ll just post a load of pictures, not really in any order, just some of the cool stuff I’ve seen out and about in the Antarctic wilderness when I could face the pain of getting my fingers just naked enough to operate the camera.
































Sun halo






















Yeah, I know there’s a lot of em but everyone likes photos don’t they?

I’m absolutely knackered but I cant wait for my next trip out. In the mean time I’ll be practising my ski-touring and ice-climbing.  As always, forgive any mistakes for a few days till i get the post and the pics ironed out! Especially ones with the letter P in them- the P button has seized up on my computer!







What it’s like down here, weather and stuff…


This week someone asked me what I missed down here, it’s a pretty easy list of things really.  Friends, family, real milk in my tea, Christmas, grass, trees, hills. Tonnes of stuff. There’s a lot to miss when your 15,000 miles away in a frozen wasteland. I was also asked what the good bits were that made up for the things I miss. Now that’s harder to put into words. This place is amazing, beautiful and quite often almost magical. But it’s hard to explain about it all, even with pictures. This week we had a storm.  Seventy mile per hour winds laden with snow and ice, when you’re outside you can hardly stand and you feel like your face is going to be sanded off. But looked at through the windows of the station the landscape looks as if it is alive. The wind blows the snow and ice across the ground like it’s a living thing. It is like watching a huge mass of microscopic white insects marching across the ground, all moving together in the way a giant flock of starlings would. It’s like the mist from dry ice or some other heavier than air gas, it flows along the ground, but here it looks like it has a purpose and moves where it wants to. Sometimes swirling, sometimes heading off into the distance. Got some nice pictures of the sunset but it doesn’t show whats going on and I can’t upload video.

sunset at halley6

It’s virtually impossible to take a picture of this to show you how it looks, but when the sun is setting and you see this out of the window it is breathtaking.


Add to this diamond dust – microscopic ice crystals suspended in the air that catch the sun with a flash and you have something that really does look and feel magical. Again though, this is not something you can catch well on a camera. Got a few shots of a little bit of glitter in the air, once with a sun pillar and halo behind.

ddiamond dust and sun halo

Everyday I walk down the corridor and through each window I pass is a view that most people would be lucky to see once in a lifetime. I get it everyday, and each time it’s different. There are sunsets that light up the whole sky, turning it pink and red and blue.



On clear days you can see for what seems like thousands of miles, Seeing the continent in the distance, from where it meets the ice shelf that we are sat on, rising up hundreds of meters towards the antarctic plateau. Or sometimes seeing mountains and icebergs hundreds of feet tall on the horizon – none of which are really there, just reflections shining in the distance.  The weather does strange things down here. Sun-dogs, halos, columns of light can just appear in the sky. One minute you might be able to see everything in perfect clarity and then the next the contrast will go and everything looks white. Contrast is a hard one to explain, looking at the ice with perfect contrast you can see every bump and ridge in the ice all around you, you can see footprints or vehicle tracks and see the little ice crystals glinting in the sun. When the contrast goes this detail all goes with it. You can be riding along on a skidoo and not know you are moving because the ground all around you is perfectly still and white, like a piece of A4 paper. This can be quite a hazard moving around. You can drive into a ditch or snow drift without even seeing it if you’re not careful. (I’ve not done the ditch, or worse a crevasse, yet, but I did drive straight into a snow drift and had to dig myself out!). When stood at the top of the steps at the entrance to the base, or just looking out of the bedroom window when it’s like this then it’s like you’re looking out of the window of some giant aircraft, staring out across what, now, doesn’t look like land at all, but instead looks like gently shifting clouds. If it’s a cloudy day then there is no horizon at all, just you and the base floating above and inside brilliant white clouds. When the sky is clear then the horizon becomes indistinct, with the blue of the sky smudged into the white of the ice like a water-colour painting. Sometimes the sky, or bits of cloud will turn iridescent, a cloud will appear for a moment  with the look of oil in water, with the colours of the spectrum slightly mixed but all present, like the cloud liked the idea of a rainbow but didn’t like the stripes.

Lack of contrast is not the same as lack of visibility, you can see for miles but you just can’t distinguish anything. When the visibility goes you just can’t see at all. This is when the wind gets up, or snow comes and the air is just full of ice and snow. You can see a few metres in front of you but that’s about it, this is the time to stay inside, be it on base or in a tent. One false move or step away from safety and you might never find where you want to be again. But again, watching this, as dangerous as it can be, is pretty amazing. I’ll spare you the shots of a white-out though,  there’s not much to see! This is what it looks like when it calms down a bit though.


I mentioned the sunsets. We are getting them now which is nice because we went without for quite a while, and in a few short months will do again when the sun disappears completely, though then I’ll have the stars and the night sky to stare in wonder at.  I saw the stars this week but it was nothing like any night sky I’ve seen before. We still don’t get what you would think of as a night sky here yet. The sun has been setting for a month now but we still don’t have night. At first we’d just see the sun go below the horizon and the whole sky would turn a reddish pink before the sun came back. Now the sun is gone for quite a while but instead of a deep black sky we get a darker blue. Sort of like the sky would look like during the day but you were 50,000 meters higher up and nearer to space.  Deep blue but you can still see the stars, or the brighter ones at least. Not sure what they all are down here, the constellations and stars I know now have a planet in-between me and them. Plenty of time to learn though. I saw the moon in what is not quite a night sky too this week, it’s visible a lot during the day and looks bigger and brighter than it does at home but it was nice to see it in its natural element (almost).


When there has been a period of high winds and snow, or a blow as we call it down here, it leaves its mark on the landscape afterwards. The surface of the ice is added to by the snow but at the same time scoured by the wind and ice, leaving it marked with features. The ice looks like brilliant white sedimentary rock, with separate layers laid down and then eroded away. This rocky looking surface is left glistening in the sun with the ice crystals embedded in it. Anything higher than the surface of the ice down here will end up with snow piling up in front and behind it. With the buildings and the base itself the snow can accumulate to form huge windtails that stretch out tens of  meters, small hills are all around the site and these will continue to grow over the year, along with the whole surface of the ice shelf, which will get higher too, leaving the buildings deep down in holes in the snow, ready to be lifted, pulled or jacked out next summer season. The accumulated ice freezes in place when the wind stops, leaving it hard, making it seem even more like a rocky sandstone desert. When you walk on it the noise, instead of the muted squeaky crunch you get from walking on snow back home, is louder, echoing for metres all around you, it’s like walking on porcelain.


This frozen, 300 metre thick shelf floating on this part of the southern ocean is so completely different that you can’t really explain what it’s like. The fact that it is constantly changing from one state to another, some of which I’ve tried to describe, mean its hard to keep up. There’ll be other things I’ll ramble on about – when the milky way or the southern lights appear I’ll be losing my mind. There’ll be other things that make up for the things you miss. But one of them, close to the top of the list, is just looking out of your window.  Even though you get used to it, like you get used to the cold, you never quite begin to take it for granted, because it just wont let you. You have to think about what it is you are looking at least once a day, you can’t just walk past a window and think “yeah, that’s a nice sunset” or “cool, a halo” because there’s no getting away from the fact that what you are looking at is just full-on, other-worldly beautiful and you are one of a relative handful of people ever to see it.

Anyway, more pictures of funky views from my house including my personal favourite, a sun pillar, where the sun appears to have decided to just pour itself out onto the floor.







Some of the pictures aint the best quality but the internets are playing up more than normal, so more pictures to come and more looking more better, web speed means I often don’t see spelling mistakes for about a week after I’ve posted something so forgive me for that too.

The BARREL Mission


During the summer, when the weather was supposedly nicer down here, we have various groups of scientists setting up, monitoring and doing experiments of all kinds. This is, after all, why the base is here. One of these this year was an experiment carried out for NASA called the BARREL mission.  BARREL stands for Balloon Array for Radiation Belt Relativistic Electron Losses.  The project is run by Dartmouth College and is headed by Robyn Millan.

Two NASA probes are circling the Earth taking readings from within the Van Allen Belt, these readings are then combined with readings taken from balloons launched from Earth to try to get a better picture of what happens to the particles entering the earths atmosphere. The BARREL Project is the balloon side of this mission.

The Van Allen Radiation Belt, named after James Van Allen, is one layer of energetic charged particles held in place by the Earths magnetic field.  It is solar radiation hitting the Earths magnetic field that cause the Auroras that some of you back home may have been lucky enough to see over the last month, and the ones in the south that I’ll be hoping to see later this year when we start getting an actual night sky. Without the Earths magnetosphere, which is created by the spinning of the planets iron core, we would be unlikely to have life on earth, with the harmful radiation getting through and doing us all some serious damage. The solar radiation from the sun and the way it interacts with the magnetosphere is known as space weather, something that is studied quite a bit at Halley.

So, the BARREL team has been launching huge balloons high up into our atmosphere for the past few years trying to get a better understanding of the interactions that go on between particles ejected from the sun, our planet and its radiation belts. Particles from the sun are trapped in the radiation belts and can stay there or be lost into space, this can therefore change the size and strength of the belts, the payloads launched with the balloons detect the particles that are lost from the radiation belt and get through into the earths atmosphere.

Studying this can help better understand how the radiation belt works, why it fluctuates and how it might react when events like coronal mass ejections occur. These are when the sun spews out huge amounts of energy that can cause problems ranging from shutting down the electronics on satellites to knocking out electrical distribution networks on earth. If they can let me know when to set my alarm to get up for the Aurora Australis this winter that’d be cool too.

Antarctica is a good launching site for the balloons because of the circumpolar winds that sweep round the continent. Send the balloons up and they will be carried round the continent at high altitudes.  This summer ten balloons  and their payloads were launched from Halley and ten more from Sanae, a South African Antarctic base. After launching balloons in both the north and south polar regions for a number of years this was the last season of launches. At Halley we had Robyn, Mike and Dave setting up their gear, planning for each launch and keeping their fingers crossed for good weather -good being without the high winds that can spoil your day if you’re holding a 30 meter helium balloon, though having the sun out too is an added bonus.


This is Mike and Robyn setting up the connection from the balloon to the payload


The payload, it  measures x-rays  caused by the fast-moving particles. It contains detectors, transmitters and receivers and both a solar PV and battery power supply.


This is the helium supply for the balloons. The amount used in each balloon is pretty impressive!


Me holding down the balloon as it inflates – I was basically ballast for this launch!


Christoph starting to inflate


Here we go, Jimmy and Stewart the ballast for this one!


As the balloon grows it turns into a weird jelly fish looking thing. Cool though, especially on a nice day!


As it rises in the atmosphere the balloon will get many times larger as the pressure decreases and the helium inside expands


A bit of wind catching this balloon, not want you want really  – an angry giant jellyfish.


The payload shooting upwards in the nice clear sky, wasn’t always like this, sometimes it would disappear into the mist in seconds


But on a good day you can watch it go higher and higher…


and get smaller and smaller…..


Before you celebrate a good launch with a bit of fannying about…..


I’m really glad to have helped out the Barrel team and been a part of what they were doing, a very small part obviously. The stuff they were doing is really interesting. Cheers to Mike, Dave and Robyn. You can find out more about the project here:



I’d also like to say a massive thank you to Robyn who, upon hearing me mention that I was missing trees, went and made me one from copper wire, it’s bloody brilliant!

What I’ve been up to recently…

First of all, a nice pic of a sun halo I saw yesterday, with a column of light coming from the sun. Pretty!

Sun Halo and sun column

Since the Ship and the last planes left it’s been fairly hectic here. The winter is here and the temperatures are falling. Because of this it’s a good idea to get as much work done as possible in preparation. One of the tasks is getting the fuel up to the station. When the Shack arrives it brings with it enough fuel to keep the base running for the next year, plus extra just in case. A lot of this is in Bulk tanks, these can be brought up to the base and fuel pumped directly into the base tanks. It’s pretty straightforward and we try to save these bulk tanks for when we are deeper into winter and it’s cold and dark outside. The other fuel we have is in barrels. These are stored in fuel dumps, with barrels stacked on top of each other. These dumps will get buried in the accumulated snow over the year. We have to dig out the buried dumps, load the barrels onto sledges and then pump them individually into the base tanks. Now this is quite a bit harder so we try to do this early and late in the season when the weather is slightly better, leaving the bulk fuel till we absolutely need it. Digging out fuel drums weighing 250 kilo at -20 degrees, when they are buried in solid ice can be a bit of a nightmare, but also quite good fun – although perhaps that’s the wrong word. It’s really hard work and can also be dangerous but it is cool being outside grafting away with a frozen beard though.

Lifting fuel drums

Lifting fuel drums in antarctica

Lifting fuel drums in antarctica

Other fun stuff. Well, shutting down the Drewry building – which is the extra accommodation building we have for summer. Everything needs to be cleaned, anything susceptible to cold needs to be removed and all the pipes need blasting clean of water plus lots of other little jobs to get it ready for its winter hibernation where it might get down to -50.  The building has its own melt tank. The way we get water down here is by melting snow in a big tank, the main modules have two and the Drewry has it own. Before we close it down we have to empty and then clean the tank. So, it seeming a waste to just get rid of that nice hot water we have a melt tank party. This is the only chance any of us will get to have a bath for about 15 months so you might as well take advantage. Now, 12 blokes in a big metal bath ain’t the nicest sight so I’ll spare you any photos. You jump in the tank, then get out and go for a run round the building in -20 degrees and then jump back in. Great fun! You just have to either get dressed or get back in the tank before your shorts freeze solid and you can’t walk. Making snow angels were optional but painful.

Bread Making Lessons

One of the good things about where I live is the fact that we have a resident chef to make sure we don’t starve. Gerard, this years wintering chef is really good, if it wasn’t for the fact that our house has a fully equipped gym I think I’d be getting fairly round by now. And that’s accounting for the extra calories you need when you out in the cold. Some of the food we eat is amazingly good and Gerard, being the sort of chef who seems to really love what he does, is keen to share his knowledge. So this week we had  a bread making masterclass.  A few of you back home will know how much I love bread of all kinds so trying to make some really good bread was brilliant. The evenings lesson included making rotis – an Indian flat-bread, muffins, a nice white loaf, a no-knead loaf and my personal favourite – foccacia. The foccacia tastes amazing, looks amazing and is odd as hell in the making. The dough is mixed really wet before kneading to a glutenous mass of olive-oily dough that, in Gerards own words “is more animal than dough”. Like something out of a 50’s b-movie in a bowl.  I forgot to get a picture of the dough (I’ll try next time it’s on the menu) but here are some pics of the results:







All, turned out delicious!

There’s a link to Gerard’s site here:  Clicky

I won’t bore you with the other worky stuff I’ve been up to, more of the interesting bits to come though..