Alexandra Gaffikin, 23-year-old meteorologist at Antarctica's Halley Base, pens a letter home
One of the strangest bits of research I have been involved with this year has been research on me! Dr Lillian Ng, who is this year's wintering doctor, was telling me that Halley winterers are an ideal group to experiment on. We are all young (-ish), fairly fit and the environmental conditions at Halley are unique, in that we experience three months of darkness and are practically disease free.
Last year, Dr Jonathan Paddle put us through a series of bizarre tests and rituals. During the week leading up to nightwatch duty we had to sit for an hour in front of a bright light. The evening we went onto nights our diet was regulated (no chocolate or caffeine) and he extracted blood from us every hour (luckily voluntarily!). The project was designed by the University of Surrey with the hope of discovering how fats, melatonin and hormones are affected by swapping from a day to a night shift.
The months of night really did affect me and of all the things I am anticipating for my second winter, I am looking forward to the darkness the least. It's fantastic to see the spectacular auroras, and on a clear night the Milky Way is striking, but everything takes longer in the dark and the buildings are more cocooning.
The sun will set for the first time in a little over a week and the final call from The Shackleton is less than three weeks away. It's daunting but exciting -- wish us all luck!