Well, the title says it all really. The cute fluffy penguins are all dead
now and Halley has been transformed back into a construction site full of boys
and their tonker toys. And it’s still a great place to be. Forget the magic,
the mystery, the endless conversations with the stars, no, don’t forget them,
but they are the things of dreams and memories. Today we are back in continual
sunlight, bright, harsh and true. The light is still magnificent and becoming
more entrancing every day as the sun drops lower, the fogs have started returning
that obscure building legs and call icebergs up from beyond the horizon. Fairy
dust has been seen, and so have ‘barchans’, crescent shaped dunes of snow deposited
as blowing snow crosses the surface. Against my intuition, the outside edges
travel at the front. Skiing was slippery a few weeks ago but has now become
delightful, especially compared to sinking with every footstep that is the alternative.
Kiting has taken off, so many folk flying past the window strapped to snowboards
or skis, jumping, falling, laughing with the wind. Yes, it is still a magical
place to be. But the penguin chicks are dead and our dozers played tug-of-war
There’s all sorts of things to report, it’s been a great summer so far. And
busy. Busy for us at the lab, more instruments arriving and a final push to
have a ‘summer intensive campaign’ that will produce data to justify our year
down here and the five years it’s taken to plan it. Plus, CODIS is moving in
and the impact might be similar to the years when dogs left or women arrived.
Everyone here knows what CODIS means, but no-one knows what it stands for. It
means internet, it means cheap phone calls around the world, free email with
unlimited attachments, privacy from BAS and more personal websites, news at
our fingertips and on-line shopping. Independence. Or another step away from
isolation? Who knows.
I went inside the big white sphere where the satellite sits the other day
and it really is impressive. It’s a big white ball that’s empty but for a huge
satellite dish and a locked box with electronics inside. So I guess, in your
world, it might not be that impressive at all. The thing that impressed me most
however, was the angle it pointed at. And the cool echoes it gave off when you
shouted into it. To all intents and purposes, it was pointing horizontally,
not up at the sky as you might imagine. To be precise, it sits at an angle of
5 degrees from horizontal. And that gives line-of-sight contact with a satellite
thousands of miles above the equator. Once again, a moment of thought to realise
quite how far south we really are.
Ok, ok, the penguins. It was cruel of me I know, shows how hardened I must
have become this year. Cruel but funny. And true. The penguin chicks are all
dead, those that hadn’t changed fluff to feather by about a fortnight ago. All
the sea ice at Windy Bay has gone. And I mean all of it. Right back to that
cliff that we climbed down to reach them. All that ice, that at one point stretched
beyond the horizon and doubled the size of this continent, all gone. I’m not
sure which I miss more, the ice or the penguins but I think it’s the ice. I
do feel for the penguins though, it was a particularly windy winter and then
such a warm summer. I don’t think the ice usually dissappears this early. In
fact, I know it doesn’t. It’s my third summer down here and in some ways that
means I know more than many but in others it means I am realising just how little
you can make wild sweeping comments about this place. Summer zero, so much ice
that the ship never even made it in. Summer one, not much ice at the beginning
of the season and none at the end. Summer two, a thirteen kilometre relief at
the start of season and a good few ks at the end too. Summer three, well, it
looks like a warm one again.
The lack of ice has implications. It means that any penguins that couldn’t
swim will have drowned. And as far as I’m aware, they don’t have the ability
or knowledge of how to swim as long as they wear fluff. I guess they don’t need
it. More selfishly, it also means that sno-cat after sno-cat won’t be able to
carry cargo down to the ship at the end of the season. And I have about 8 tonnes
of cargo that, in an ideal world, I would like to see on that ship when I leave.
If push came to shove, I guess we could get it down to 5 tonnes of ‘essential’
stuff. And if we can’t put it on a sledge behind a sno-cat, most of it could
be broken into smaller units that we could handball individually. Could take
a while though! First, though, I guess we should focus on getting some science
out of this kit.
Another very cool thing about this summer is the arrival of representatives
from the three companies competing
to design Halley VI. They’re here for a fortnight, along with the co-ordinator
of the competition, and seem to want to know everything about this place. They’ve
shown us their plans and in return want to know what is and isn’t viable, what
our grumbles are, what we love about this place, whether melt-tank is as bad
as it sounds and if we really need as much space as everyone bid for.
They have a budget of £19 million and all say it’s going to be tight.
Corners must be cut, glitz lost, to fit within that budget. So today, they had
a tug of war between two bulldozers. How much can a dozer really pull? How wide
could that ramp be? How much weight can the sea ice take? How reliable is the
relief operation? The winner will be decided at the end of this year and then
they’ll have a year to finalise and commission their plans, two summers to supply
and build the new site and one summer to move the science across before handover
to BAS in 2009–10.
It’s a ridiculously tight timescale on a fairly restrictive budget but these
boys are keen and it’s great to watch the zeal with which they attack each new
day. They’ve had, or will have, a day or two each with the science platforms,
the plumber (tunnels), electrician (fire), garage (vehicles), field assistants
(relief and logistics), steel team (legs) and chef. They ask about personal
space, work space, colour schemes, hydroponics, buildings that walk, auroras,
bar games and boot rooms. One told me recently that he thought the new environment
would attract more women and improve the gender ratio but I said it wasn’t really
a problem. In fact, I was quite surprised when he said he found it a very male-dominated
environment. I don’t. Shows how long I’ve been here. That, and the fact that
I enjoyed watching bulldozers playing tug-o-war this evening on tv and was seriously
interested in the loads they could pull. I’ve come a long way, and I’ve got
to go back a long way too before I’m half the girl I ever used to be.