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Archive for the 'McMurdo' Category

Drilling for ice!

George, Monday, July 5th, 2010

Temperature: -31°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -45°C
Moonrise: n/a
Moonset: n/a

Yesterday I had a very special day. A four man team from the American Antarctic Research Station McMurdo and New Zealand’s Scott Base were going on a scientific field trip in a five-seater Hagglund vehicle – a Swedish-built snow tank. They offered the remaining seat to the Antarctic Heritage Trust as the trip aimed to reach Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans. After drawing names from a hat, I found myself lucky enough to be packing my ECWs (extreme cold weather gear).

From left to right: Steven, Science technician; Georgina, AHT conservator; Matt, carpenter; John, the man with the drill from McMurdo; Tom, Field Support and Base Manager © S. Sun/Antarctica New Zealand

From left to right: Steven, Science technician; Georgina, AHT conservator; Matt, carpenter; John, the man with the drill from McMurdo; Tom, Field Support and Base Manager © S. Sun/Antarctica New Zealand

We travelled out across the ice field, an area of the frozen Ross Sea, winding our way carefully along a marked route using GPS, avoiding known areas of thin ice and tide-cracks. The weather began to deteriorate, and as the wind whipped up flurries of ice and snow around our vehicle we lost visibility.

Contacting the weather people at McMurdo via radio, the forecast was grim, and so we decided against pushing on to Cape Evans, instead setting up the scientific recording equipment where we were. Two test holes were drilled, showing the ice to be a suitable 1.5m thick and then we erected a probe to measure the rate and extent of the growing sea ice which will stay in place for a year.

The newly-erected probe, set up to measure growth of sea-ice over a year.  The black box is a recording device. © S. Sun/Antarctica New Zealand

The newly-erected probe, set up to measure growth of sea-ice over a year. The black box is a recording device. © S. Sun/Antarctica New Zealand

But the weather here is fickle and instead of the predicted blizzard, the wind died down as soon as we began work and everything became perfectly still. It was quite extraordinary being in such an expanse of moonlit ice, and after so many months in the comfort of Scott Base, it impressed on me again what an eerily beautiful and quite desolate place Antarctica can be.

Panoramic view with Mt Erebus and Hagglund © Tom Arnold/Antarctica New Zealand

Panoramic view with Mt Erebus and Hagglund © Tom Arnold/Antarctica New Zealand

Mid-Winter celebrations

Jane, Monday, June 28th, 2010

Temperature: -37°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C
Sunrise: none
Sunset: none

The sun set weeks ago, but this weekend, as our friends in the Northern hemisphere watch the light begin to fade, we at the bottom of the world celebrated its return– even if it is not going to fully return for another couple of months!

Mid winter celebrations have taken place all over the continent and greetings have been exchanged between international bases. Extravagant meals were the order of the day, not least here at New Zealand’s Scott Base.

Midwinter dinner at Scott Base on June 19th 2010 © Steven Sun

Midwinter dinner at Scott Base on June 19th 2010 © Steven Sun

13 of the Scott Base crew and 23 guests from the United States McMurdo station attended our Mid-Winter dinner. We kept our chef in the kitchen to work her magic on the food, whilst we feasted under the fairy lights and decorations.

Midwinter dinner on June 22nd 1911 © SPRI / Herbert Ponting

Midwinter dinner on June 22nd 1911 © SPRI / Herbert Ponting

In the speeches homage was paid to the early explorers such as Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen, who were among the first to celebrate this special occasion in the Antarctic calendar.

A similar celebration took place at McMurdo station on Sunday with a flamboyant buffet and dancing, which many of the team from Scott Base attended. They even had what must be the biggest bowl of salad in Antarctica straight from the hydroponics greenhouse!

As I mark off the dates on the calendar, it is becoming clear that we are half way through the long Antarctic night. Only two more months of darkness before the sun pops out for a quick peek!

World cup crazy!

Mindy, Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Temperature: -34.5°C
Wind speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -34.5°C
Moonrise: above horizon
Moonset: above horizon

You’d think that an international soccer (sorry, football) championship over 5000km away would be the last thing on our minds here in the Antarctic – but that can’t be further from the truth! FIFA World Cup mania has solidly hit Scott Base, the New Zealand Antarctic research station. The marvels of modern technology ensure that matches are available via satellite, so we are able to catch every game we want to see. More specifically, we are interested in following the ‘All Whites’, the New Zealand national team. While many of us wintering at Scott Base are from countries other than New Zealand, we are united in our support of this Cinderella team.

Scott Base shows its support for the All Whites' 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign © Steve Williams

Scott Base shows its support for the All Whites’ 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign © Steve Williams

It’s amazing that the love of a sport like soccer (sorry, football) can transcend nations and even centuries of time. Apparently even Captain Scott and the lads of the British Antarctic Expedition were quite into the game, playing as often as they could until they lost the light. Current day Ross Island inhabitants are fortunately able to play indoors every week in a small gymnasium at McMurdo, the nearby United States research station.

Soccer action at McMurdo Station © M. Bell

Soccer action at McMurdo Station © M. Bell

Team photo - soccer enthusiasts of Ross Island © Gabriel Cartwright, U.S.A.P

Team photo - soccer enthusiasts of Ross Island © Gabriel Cartwright, U.S.A.P

Here at Scott Base we’ll continue to watch the FIFA drama unfold. The All Whites are having a great tournament and we wish them all the best. We’ll definitely be watching their upcoming match against Paraguay. Go All Whites!

Antarctica through a lens

Jane, Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Temperature: -19°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -20°C
Sunrise: August 19th 12.26pm

Herbert Ponting was the photographer on the British Antarctic Expedition led by Captain Scott in 1910-13. He not only documented the expedition through photos and film but often entertained other expedition members by giving talks and showing images of his travels to foreign countries.

Herbert Ponting in his darkroom at Cape Evans © Alexander Turnbull

Ponting in his darkroom at Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

As we begin to focus on conserving objects from the expedition’s galley and Ponting’s darkroom we have the opportunity to work on some of the materials that he would have used.

It was Scott who coined the phrase to ‘pont’ which meant to ‘pose until nearly frozen, in all sorts of uncomfortable positions’, an activity we are becoming well used to down here. Meares, who looked after the expedition dogs, even contributed a humorous poem to the South Polar Times entitled ‘Pont, Ponko, Pont’ about Ponting’s skill as a photographer and the talks he gave.

Among all the interesting artefacts we take out of the crates every week are glass plate negatives. Many of them have not been exposed but I have found a few with images, although often in quite poor condition. Among them are images of geological specimens and tables, maps and animals.

Glass plate negative with an image of a table of geological periods © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Glass plate negative with an image of a table of geological periods. The table has been drawn on a poster and pinned to a wooden board. It was probably taken by Ponting and used in a lecture for the expedition members © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Many of the expedition members would give talks on particular subjects as a form of entertainment. The glass plate negatives I have been conserving may have been used by other members of the crew to illustrate subjects on which they lectured.

This Antarctic pastime is as common now as it was then. Lectures by scientists on a wide range of Antarctic subjects occur regularly at McMurdo Station (the American science base over the hill).

Now, as the afternoon twilight dwindles, I am off to McMurdo to see a talk on night time photography.

The Scott Polar Research Institute, Royal Geographical Society and Natural History Museum have some of Ponting’s photos for you to see online.

Saying good bye to the sun

Mindy, Monday, May 10th, 2010

Sunrise: last sunrise for the season – April 26th (until sometime in August)
Temperature: -19.1°C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -19.1°C

Winter has arrived and the sun has dipped below the horizon, not to return until sometime in August. To commemorate this important annual event we held a Scott Base ‘Sundown’ party, inviting our friends from the nearby American scientific base (McMurdo Station) to join in the festivities.

The post designed by George for our Sundown party © G Whiteley, AHT

The post designed by George for our Sundown party © G Whiteley, AHT

Our social committee flew into action. Suns, moons and stars adorned the walls and ceiling, and strands of white fairy lights became our starry night sky. We surrounded ourselves with decorations in all the colours of the sun - bright oranges, yellows and reds. Guests were encouraged to dress in these colours, and a mad flurry ensued to secure the brightest and sunniest costumes available.

Hayden, Scott Base power engineer, models his sunny outfit © M Bell, AHT

Hayden, Scott Base power engineer, models his sunny outfit © M Bell, AHT

Costume parties (also called fancy dress parties) are one of the long-standing traditions of Antarctica. Just as we don costumes to help mark special occasions, so did the historic explorers. A photo from mid-winter celebrations in 1912 show Tryggve Gran, a Norwegian skiing expert on Captain R. F. Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition, dressed as a clown amidst sledging flags hung about Cape Evans hut.

Tryggve Gran as a clown at the mid-winter dinner, 22 June 1912 © G Scott Polar Research Institute

Tryggve Gran as a clown at the mid-winter dinner, 22 June 1912 © Scott Polar Research Institute

The base has returned to normal now, and the costumes are tucked away. Hopefully we’ll bring them out again this winter – maybe even to celebrate the return of the sun in a few months’ time.

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