Questions from Children’s International School in Fredrikstad, Norway

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine, Conor, who now teaches the MYP1 Science Class in the Children’s International School in Fredrikstad, Norway, got in touch with me and asked if his students could ask me a few questions about my experience here in Antarctica. Have a look at the video they recorded, as well as my answers to their questions after the break!

The Questions

Conor and his students recorded an awesome video with the questions they had for me. Please watch it as it’s really good, and after that, have a look at my answers below!

My Answers

Hey Guys!

First of all, thanks a lot for your video – I really enjoyed watching it! I’ve made a list of all your questions below, as this will make it easier for me to reply to each and every one of you. Your questions are really good!

Sebastian: Why is there Halley Research Station in Antarctica?

There are two reasons: a political / historical one, and a scientific one. Historically, Britain has had a territorial claim over a part of Antarctica, similar to how Norway has had a claim over Queen Maud’s Land (in fact those two territories, British and Norwegian, share a border – the British sector is just west of Norwegian). In 1956, a British expedition landed on the Brunt Ice Shelf and established what was to become a Halley Station. There have so far been six instances of the station since – I’m working at the 6th station built here. As we’re on a moving Ice Shelf, the previous stations either got buried and ended up going into the sea when icebergs calved off the shelf, or have been deconstructed and fully shipped out.

The other reason is the science. Antarctica is a great place to run atmospheric science as well as do research into the space weather. The first mainly consists of weather observations as well as some research into chemistry. Halley is where the Ozone Hole has been discovered in 1980’s. The space weather research is focused around the Magnetosphere, for example what is the influence of solar winds on the environment on the Earth. One of the phenomena the scientists look at are geomagnetic storms, which we can observe as aurora and which you guys are lucky enough to see every now and then too!

William: What is your daily routine?

There’s 13 of us here for the winter, and each of us is a specialist in their field. We have four people in the Science team (two Electronics Engineers, a Meteorologist and myself), a Station Leader, a Chef, a Doctor, a Plumber, an Electrician, a Generator Mechanic, a Communications Manager, a Vehicle Mechanic and a Field Guide.

In addition to our jobs (which we do during the work hours, Monday to Friday), we all share general station duties like: cleaning and dish washing, refilling the melt tanks with snow to produce water or cook two days in a week to give some time off to our chef.

Jove: What is your job over there?

I’m a Data Manager and my job here is to ensure that all the data coming from the scientific instruments is stored safely on the servers and sent to our main office in Cambridge, UK for the scientists to use in their research. I make sure that the science data servers are running well, and I need to write software to process the data and to create graphs.

Alexander: How long have you been there?

I arrived to Halley on 19th of December 2015 and have been here since. I have also spent another winter here at Halley from December 2013 till March 2015.

Thea: How long will you stay there?

I will be at Halley until March 2017. The whole tour includes two summers and the winter in between. Remember that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons of the year are the other way around than in the Northern Hemisphere – summer at Halley is from December till March and winter is from March till December. We don’t have fall or spring.

Josef: Do you get free food?

Yes, all food is provided for us for free! And we have a very good chef, Victoria, who makes really nice meals for us!

Ksenia: What is the average temperature?

In summer, the temperatures can be somewhere between -15°C to 0°C. In winter they tend to be between -25°C and -55°C. The warmest ever recorded temperature was +6°C, and the coldest was -56°C.

Hannah: How long do you stay there at the time?

It depends on the job – some people arrive earlier than others, but most of us leave together at the end of our tour. The first people arrive to Halley at the end of October and leave in March two years later (so for example, this season, the first people came to Halley in November 2015 and we will all leave in March 2017; the winter season is around 15-16 months on the ice). There are also summer-only jobs, and the people typically arrive in December and stay until the following February or March, so around 4 months in total.

Mathea: Do you ever feel homesick? What inspired you to work there?

Sometimes you do feel homesick, when a person close to you who is back home have their birthday or when all your family gathers together for a special occasion and you’re not there, but as this place is so amazing and the people who come here are really great, you don’t have that much time to think about home. You do your work and enjoy being here and the time flies!

With regards to what inspired me to come here – I’ve been interested in polar regions for as long as I can remember and since I was a kid I knew I’d love to work here. I read all books I could get my hands on about polar explorers like Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and Nansen and I watched all documentaries about Antarctica which were available at the time. And this was my inspiration.

Helene: When the winter comes and you’re isolated, how do you manage to get the supplies?

We don’t get any supplies in the winter. All food, fuel and everything else we need is shipped during the summer on the ship and has to last the whole year. Typically we actually get two years worth of supplies, in case there’s an issue the following year and the ship can’t get in.

There is no possibility to get the ship in to Halley in winter due to the extent of the sea ice – there can be as much as 600km of thick sea ice between the edge of the ice shelf where we are, and open water further North!. Also, at the moment, there is no possibility of sending a plane to Halley either during the winter, so we really are isolated!

Viola: Do you get a lot of visits from animals? Do you have any doctors or nurses there?

In summer time, sometimes a few Adelie penguins wander over to us from the coast. I have also seen pictures of Emperor penguins visiting Halley but have not seen one at the station yet. We also get Snow Petrels, Storm Petrels and Skuas fly to us in summer from over the coast.

We are lucky enough to be only 30km away from the largest Emperor Penguin colony in Antarctica, and from August until November we try to organise trips to visit them.

Alvilde: Who tells you what to research?

I actually don’t do any research myself. All scientist who do the research are in the UK (or in some cases in other countries). All we do is collect data for them and send the data back to our main office in Cambridge, UK. The scientists then use this data to do their research.

Pernille: How many countries are represented at Halley? Does it cost you or are you paid to go there?

There are currently people from England, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Portugal and Poland here on station. In the past we also had people from Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Romania, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and possibly other places as well!

As my being here is part of my work, I’m very lucky to be paid to come to and spend time in Antarctica. I would happily do this even if I wasn’t paid, but please don’t say that to my boss!

Viktoria: What do you do when someone gets hurt? What do you do when not at Halley?

All of us have been trained in First Aid, and we also have four people trained in Advanced First Aid, so hopefully we should be able to provide help if someone gets hurt. We also have a doctor on station, who typically comes from an Accident and Emergency unit in a hospital somewhere in the UK and who can handle all serious and less serious injuries. But most importantly, we look after each other and try to prevent anything bad happening to any of us!

Before I came to Antarctica for the first time, I was working in IT, for Internet Service Providers in Poland and later in Ireland (which, by the way is where I met Conor!). I have also been working part time as Divemaster and later as Dive Instructor in Ireland – together with Conor. After I finished my first winter, I went traveling for a couple of months. I’ve visited Chile, Spain, went to Poland to spend some time with my family and friends, and went to Ireland to spend a couple of weeks there with my friends. I’m not sure what I will be doing after I finish this winter – I’ve got lots of ideas, but I need to sit down and think which ones to go for!

Elise: How do you move the station around?

The station doesn’t normally move around at all. However having said that, we do need to relocate the station to a new place about 25km further east from where we currently are, because of a crack in the ice shelf that’s between us and land and which has started growing recently. To move the station, we will need to power it all down, disconnect all the modules, and then tow them one by one using bulldozers and tractors. Each module is standing on legs with skis, so the station has been designed to be relocated in the future.

Kristin: How do you get electricity?

We have four diesel generators. These are similar to a truck engine and run on aviation fuel. Two of those are running at all times and produce electricity for the base, while the third one is off in standby mode, and the fourth one is being serviced

Josef: How many Megabytes per second is the Internet link?

We have an Internet link over a satellite connection and its speed is 1 Megabit per second (so 0.125 Megabytes per second). A good bit slower than your Internet connection at home or at school, but very usable if you’re careful and don’t try to download videos!

Pernille: Do you use fuel to move station? Does the fuel ever freeze? What if there’s fire and the fuel explodes?

We use fuel to run the station – to produce electricity. When the modules are moved, we will also use fuel for the vehicles which will tow them (tractors and bulldozers). The station can’t move on it’s own.

The fuel we use is a type of aviation-turbines fuel (so the same type that is used for jet and turbo-prop airplanes), as it’s very similar to diesel but has a much lower freezing temperature. All generators and vehicles except for the Skidoos have been adapted to use the aviation fuel.

We are very careful to not have a fire at all on station, and we also have a very good fire suppression system in case a fire does break out. However, if the fire suppression system should fail we would only lose the fuel we have in the tanks on station. Most of our fuel is stored in drums or bulk tanks, in depots about 1 kilometre away from the main modules. If there was a fire on the modules, majority of our fuel would still be safe.

Helene: How many countries did you have to travel to to get to Antarctica?

I started my journey from the UK. We flew from London to Cape Town in South Africa, and then sailed on board the British Antarctic Survey’s ship RRS Ernest Shackleton directly from Cape Town to Halley.

Mathea: What type of transport did you use to get to Antarctica?

I went on a bus from our main office in Cambridge, UK to the Heathrow airport. Then I flew on a commercial passenger plane from Heathrow to Cape Town in South Africa, then sailed on the BAS vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton to the edge of the Ice Shelf, and finally went the final 45km to the base on the SnoCat (which is a tracked people carrier vehicle).

Thanks a lot once again guys for all your questions!
Best Regards from everyone at Halley Station!
Mike

4 thoughts on “Questions from Children’s International School in Fredrikstad, Norway

    • Most of the recent software we use at Halley is written in Python, however we have quite a lot of software written in other languages too: PHP, C, IDL, Matlab/Octave and lots of shell scripts (mostly Bash).

Leave a Reply to Mattis & Josef Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.