Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

Disaster strikes HF Radar research programme

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

The recent winds did more than just topple weather records – today we discovered the wind had also flattened all but one of the towers which support the HF radar antenna.

SANAE IV’s HF radar (pictured in the photo above, taken last summer) is the largest of the scientific research installations at Vesleskarvet.  16 T-shaped towers stood 15m high in an east-west line more than 200m long, supporting a grid of aluminium antenna elements which collectively transmit and receive signals allowing scientists to study the upper atmosphere over the South Pole.  Our radar is part of a network of similar stations all around Antarctica  which contribute data to create three-dimensional images (eg. of the ionosphere over the Pole) which is then fed to collaborative groups of scientists around the world (the SHARE and SuperDARN projects).

The same hurricane-force winds which damaged my tent caused failure of one of the anchors of the radar, causing 15 of the 16 towers to fall like dominoes.  The damage is beyond our facilities and supplies to repair; a full-blown reconstruction will have to take place in summer.  Still, there is a silver lining:  reconstructing the radar allows changes and upgrades to the design to be implemented.  Antarctica might be the most challenging earth-bound location to conduct scientific investigation, but she is still an awesome laboratory and window on the universe.  Besides – if it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

SANAE HF Radar on Google Earth

Loitering within tent

Friday, July 4th, 2008

The last storm has finally cleared sufficiently for me to make an inspection of my tent, and see how it held up to the hurricane-force winds of a true Antarctic blizzard.  The verdict?  Admirably, but not without injury.  Had we been forced to spend the duration of the storm in the tent we would certainly have survived; just as certainly it would not have been comfortable.  Although the tent stayed secured thanks to the multitude of pegs and two extra stays connected to snow-pickets, the flysheet and several poles could not survive the onslaught of 185 km/h wind:

Kudos where they are due however:  despite the ferocious wind the tent was still standing, still pegged down and although there was damage to the flysheet the inner tent was unharmed.  Part of the explanation is that there was significant built-up of snow between the fly and tent, which created a protective shell around the inner.  Survival yes, comfort no;  Antarctica 1, Tent 0.

Blow-by-blow, records fall…

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Newsflash – we’ve just has the strongest winds in 5 years here at SANAE IV.  Gusts reaching 51.6 m/sec or a phenomenal 185.8 km/h are battering the base, and the static discharge leaves every surface crackling with electricity.   Hope for my tent is rapidly fading…