Mick Blackwell, scientific leader; 1959

From 1955-58, I was Superintendent of the Met Office's Observatory at Eskdalemuir (following four years at Kew Observatory). During 1956, we helped to train members of the Royal Society team going to man the new base at Halley Bay (then being established by David Limbert et al) during the forthcoming IGY 1957-58 (International Geophysical Year); among the team that we helped were Joe MacDowall (Scientific Leader in 1957 and Base Leader in 1958) and the late Andrew Blackie. Joe had been with me at St John's College, Cambridge and also, for a time, at Kew Observatory.

When (I think in late Summer 1958) the Government decided that Halley Bay should be retained by UK to become part of FIDS, there was no time for specialised or polar training and FIDS was forced to look for help from outside sources such as the Met Office where there were personnel with appropriate experience. In view of my existing familiarity with much of the IGY programme, I agreed to be seconded as Scientific Leader for the period of what had been designated as IGC 1959 (International Geophysical Cooperation) - in effect an extension of the IGY.

My personal involvement in the demanding IGC programme of surface and upper-air meteorology, seismology, geomagnetism and ozone left me disappointingly little time for the more interesting task of seeing how the short-term techniques of the Royal Society's Expedition (albeit suitable for their tenure of three years) could be adapted for long-term operation by later FIDS/BAS parties. We did, however, pioneer the deployment of the ozone laboratory on sledge runners - which enabled it to be constantly maintained on the surface while other scientific activities, such as the launching of high-altitude balloons, were being severely threatened by snow accumulation. Now I think about it, this was surely the forerunner of the visionary design for the Halley 6 base accommodation!

2 August 2005

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