personal: Feb 8th, 2002

I haven’t written for a while; the Halley summer season is nearing an end and

I’ve finally been able to start work in the CASLab. Plus, a huge storm is spiralling

above us and the weather has turned truly antarctic. I still love it though.

Howling winds, blowing snow, the snowscape like sand across a desert, flying

past, so dry, not sticking or stopping for anything. Windtails appear, skidoos

are more effort than walking, walking is an adventure in itself. The horizon

occasionally appears as a darker region in a vaguely horizontal smear across

the otherwise white world that starts at your feet and continues around the


All the bizarre Halley rituals start making sense: pointing vehicles to the

east, building elevated depot lines, tying things down and marking really obvious

huge containers with X’s of wood all around. Today, no-one can see much beyond

the next post in front of them. It’s fantastic. Really wild. I’d love to take

more photos (I did get a couple of penguins shivering up here this morning)

but that involves carrying a camera and removing gloves. It’s hard enough carrying

myself and getting all my clothes on in the first place! This is nothing compared

to the Winter weather, I know, and that’s not putting me off at all. Bring it

on! It’s wild and white and, well, yes, this IS what I came here for even if

it does make doing anything twenty times more complicated.

Rhian and friends manhauling equipment to the CASlab

What can I tell you about this week? I dunno. I feel much more tired writing

this than I have for past entries because I’ve finally started working on the

stuff I came here to do. It’s a good feeling although it was bliss to have few

cares in the world.

Now I get to install machines in the new lab, check flow rates on the pipes,

wonder why fans aren’t working, build whole systems to pull air out of the snow

and capture it in a cannister. It’s a far cry from the land of the faeries where

I’ve been these past couple of months but I still enjoy it immensly. And the

faeries are still there,– flying past the window at ridiculous speeds

with the snow.

I did see some ice crystals last week. Growing on the walls of tunnels that

are 20m under the snow surface. These tunnels were first laid on the ground

(well, ice shelf) when the base was first built, ten years ago. One of this

year’s winterers in fact was here at the time, he built Hally V and has come

back to see how the place has worn over the years I think! (I think the next

Halley web entry will be by him so could be interesting. The most

recent was written by the doctor and should be up for your perusal now I

think. There’s a

bit in there about the blimp that involves some blatant plagiarism from

my last blog so it’ll be easy reading for you..have a look for those of you

who want more science (Jim)!

Anyway..these crystals,– it was pure Narnia. Picture the scene. A hatch.

A harness. Wearing harness, open hatch, clip onto ladder and open trap door

beneath. Start climbing down the ladder. Down and down and down. (Be thankful

for harness.) People had told me about the ice crystals so I had my eyes open.

Until the power cut (only a litttle one). Lights back on again, eyes wide open,

I see tiny crystals covering the walls of this metal tunnel. Very sweet. Snow

seems to fall from above. I reach the bottom of the ladder at last and unclip.

Look around. A tunnel to the left, a tunnel to the right, and a few rooms going

off to the sides. Now this really is adventure story stuff. Famous Five? Scooby

Doo? Winnie-The-Pooh? I’m down a tunnel, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it

a labyrinth of tunnels, but it’s exciting anyway. (I went down there because

that’s where I store the cores of ice drilled from the hole way back when,–

remember?Down there it’s minus 17 so they’re not likely to melt.)

Anyway, here I am, looking for ice crystals. Yes! All around me, tiny little

crystals all over the walls. As I walk away from the entrance point, the individual

crystals start forming clusters on protruding points like nuts and bolts and

joins in the metal. Little ice flowers, perfect symmetry, growing outwards.

Like rosettes. But more cubic. Walking further away the flowers start growing

into each other and now there are fans pointing towards me, all around me, fans

of ice, perfectly straight shards of ice surrounding my head. The tunnel is

probably about six foot in diameter.Or was. I’m crouching now. Why am I crouching?

Oh my, I’m really having to bend my head down to walk through the tunnel..look

around, all around, huge crystals, perfect but crazy and getting longer all

the time. Octagonal spirals, cubes, straight edged fans, trapezoids, you name

it, they’re growing. The occasional weak orange sodium light reminds me of a

streetlamp in Narnia.This is Narnia.

Walked through a little door and found myself in another world, a world of

snow and crystals underground! Reaching to the edge, one single crystal starts

at my finger and reaches past my wrist. How long has it been here? Feels like

an age, must be a century a least. But no, only a decade! The continent that

freezes time. I forget, the buildings I live in are moving at 2m/day! We are

on a moving ice shelf here,- there is no ground, there is no ‘here’. Watching

the GPS change while you stay still is just wierd. Listening to old-comers returning

and exclaiming, “What are the Rumples doing over there? They always used to

be to the North!” The Rumples are a fixed feature where sea-ice meets the main

land, I think. Or where there is land below the ice. Whatever they are, they

don’t move and they are most definitely to the north-west.

I have digressed too many times to bother returning. That’s my signal to sign

off. The ship might sail away from here, with me on it, in as little as two

weeks now so I probably won’t write until then. In the mean-time I’ll be working

in the lab, loving the storm and helping the close-down and packing-up of base.

The winterers can’t wait for us to leave now and us summerers can feel it’s

time to head North. Even if we could all do with just a little more time…

More from the ship. Love from Antarctica. And love from the SNOW.

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2 Responses to personal: Feb 8th, 2002

  1. Jim R says:

    Wonderful- but why go to the Antarctic for all this? We do it in Kirkbymoorside. Tink got lost in a whiteout last week while trying to drive to work, buried the car in a snowdrift and had to be towed out by a tractor. The ice caves sound magical. Why do the crystals grow so big? I’m familiar with the beautiful crystals which form on our mountains here when there is a hoar frost, but never anything as big and intricate. Something to do with the stillness of the air down there, and the humidity? Living in a snowhole is very different- the walls become glasslike and smooth- body heat melting the surface and then the melt water refreezing, I suppose.

  2. Roger says:

    The ice crystals sound wonderful– I had not realised that water could form crystals other than the very small ones in snow and hoar frost. And I love the Narnia metaphor. All magic.

    It feels sad that you have to leave so soon after arriving and when you have such wonderful things to discover and explore. Still, it will be great to have you back here next month and you will have 16 months next year.

    I liked your article on the blimp and the science bits. Really well written for us laymen. Full marks to BAS for discovering your skills.

    I presume you have heard that Cambridge rituals work less well than those at Halley. When it snowed last week, one of my colleagues got stuck on the M11 for 18 hours.

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