It’s already a month exactly since my last post, and I am feeling the heat. I’ve long had a sense of urgency inherited from Dad. Something about pre-empting the wheelchair – to do everything you can, while you can. But even so, over the winter months it is easy to be lulled into thinking that you have lots of time. If winter is a time of hibernation then we are most decidedly well into spring.
Family and friends have commented that I must be looking forward to going back home. But in fact the main thing on my mind is that I need to take every opportunity I can to go out and explore.
Having said that, after thumbing through my photos I realise that I probably have done a decent job of getting out and about in the last month. Some of these trips deserve a story of their own and I will try and put something together soon. There was Lied bluff, Rookery lake, and the beautiful blues on the scenic return past the icebergs. The Watts hut trip with Keith that cost us a carton of beer. The views from the ice plateau on an overnight trip to Whoop Whoop, as described for the icy news the night I returned. And still time for day trips, time lapse photography, walks, belated winter projects and even sun baking.
As every day goes by the sun is edging out the night time viewing opportunities for polar stratospheric cloud and aurora. Having gotten used to the subtle shades of winter we are now being treated to a vibrant display of colour (ok, mostly blues, whites, and rocky hues!) as the sun gets higher and higher. On 10 August I fitted the polarising lens to my camera for the first time since the end of summer.
I remember being disgustingly overdressed for this walk. Such a waste of good sunshine. Since then I’ve begun wearing shorts on good afternoons. On some occasions the calm air makes even minus twenty bearable for ten minutes, provided you cover your ears and fingers.
I have only got every second weekend off so I am always looking to jag a rare mid-week trip off station. Apparently the two comms guys and myself are in contention for this seasons’ most-nights-off-station status. I think Mark’s habit of “accidentally” leaving something behind on every trip might be cheating though.
We’ve had blue skies with a dry polar airmass from time to time but it is typical to have a blanket of stratocumulus that rolls in during the morning or periodically allows us to see the sun. But we are now at a time where the radiant heat of the sun is preferable to the warmth reflected from dull clouds. I must consult the crystal ball…
Weather can be very localised. One sunday morning an unusual southeasterly crosswind resulted in my first failed balloon release in a long time. The sonde wrapped itself on the wrong side of the side handrail, falling into the snow as the dental floss snapped and the balloon disappeared into the dark. By the time I’d gotten another one the wind had picked up considerably and soon afterwards we reached gusts of up to 44 knots with thick blowing snow reducing visibility to three hundred metres. Meanwhile Gav and Rich were having a lazy morning at Bandits hut, oblivious. Less than an hours quad ride away and much closer to the plateau there was no wind to speak of.
My to do list (written in mid-July) is nearing completion. My hard drive never has free space for long. I am making progress though, churning through photography collections and now getting up to date with video. The theory is that a winter in Antarctica will give me time to get those long postponed projects sorted. The reality is that I have to be careful to make sure I don’t leave with the same problem!
Our ozone measurements are continuing and unfortunately it’s all being eaten away and now almost at “Ozone hole” levels. More stuff to read on a rainy day (speaking of which, one of those would be nice, just for a change!).
We have had an interesting week in the stratosphere. On September 5th I attained a height of 10.1hPa. With the balloon expanding to nearly one hundred times volume as atmospheric pressure reduces to 1% that of sea level, this is impressive enough. At 29.5 km altitude it is over three times the height of the highest cirrus clouds. But what was unusual on this day was the incredible horizontal speed – winds steadily increased to over 125 metres per second. This is well over 200 knots, more than 450 km per hour! I sent a please explain email to the forecaster in Hobart and he said these are the strongest vortex winds he’s ever heard of.
Five days later and it’s still blowing up there – over 100 metres per second this morning. Hopefully tomorrow’s ozone sonde goes up nice and high. I would think that given these speeds are sufficient to complete a lap of the Antarctic coastline in 24 hours that the air up there might be fairly mixed by now? On the ground it has gone back to just a few knots again. Just the way I like it for my ozone balloon releases.
Quite unlike how it was in the last few days – another 82 knot (peak gust) blizzard, and quite sustained this time. This is the highest snowdrift we’ve had yet with the wind direction further east than the typical northeast that the buildings are lined up with. Pat even managed to find a cornice (the hard way!). Luckily this all happened once we’d already voted…