13th December and I (David) am sitting in the communal tent looking out of the door towards the lofty pyramid-shaped mountain called the Minaret. As a change from the packets we have just eaten a meal of sausages and potato with Angel Delight for desert. The weather most of this week has been remarkable with wall to wall sunshine and, with the exception of Monday, modest winds. Indeed, we have made the most of perfect working conditions and all streams of the programme in full swing. So everyone has been involved in either the laser survey of the moraines, the radar survey of structures in the glacier or the cosmogenic dating. It has been so pleasant that we have sat down for lunch looking at the view rather than huddling behind a boulder for shelter. Other groups in the Antarctic are not so lucky with the weather and probably envious of our Costa del Patriots, as Malcolm calls it on the daily radio sked.
The clear skies remind us of how the sun goes round and round in an unfamiliar direction, rising to its height in the north at midday and falling to near the horizon over the mountains in the south at midnight. The low light at midnight is splendid for photographs. The sun feels almost warm at midday and it will continue to rise higher for another week or so. There is even water around stones on the moraine by day. May this weather last! Since reading this, the others have reminded me that it has been cold the last few mornings and that it has been difficult to use equipment reliant on batteries. Yes, the air temperature is -15 C and the slightest wind makes it feel cold. Indeed, on Monday we had winds of 50 km per hour and a windchill that kept us tent bound all day.
We have been asked why we have to commute 7 km each day to the mountain front. Well the choice is to avoid the worst winds for the camp. The blue ice area close to the mountains is the windiest place. There follows an area where the snow from the blue ice collects thickly at times and alternates with windy periods of erosion. We are in the next zone where the winds are less and steadier and snow accumulates at a manageable rate. The decision does mean that we are using more fuel.
The main difference for me about this Antarctic trip is the sophistication of the equipment. Someone commented yesterday on the juxtaposition of expensive equipment at one end of our cooking tent and the table in the middle with its load of cups, pans, primuses and packets of dried milk powder, tea bags and thermoses. Day to day living is intimately bound up with generators recharging batteries for lap tops, GPS survey, radar and laser scanning. The difference is well illustrated by work I did with Andy running profiles across the moraines in a number of places. Traditionally I used a tape and an inclinometer and recalled a bit of school trigonometry to draw up a profile which is only vaguely accurate. This time we used Trimble GPS, set up a base station and measured the profile simply by pressing a button every few seconds or so. The accuracy is a few cm and all is automatically drawn up at whatever scale we want.
Our neighbours, Chris Fogwill and Chris Turney have departed to another location in Antarctica and so we are alone once more.