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Archive for the 'Climate & weather' Category

Watching the Winter Blues (and pinks and reds and yellows)

George, Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Temperature: -14.5°C
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Temp with wind chill: -38°C
Sunrise: 7:17am
Sunset: 8.43pm

Brightness and whiteness were pretty much my first impressions of Antarctica. The continual daylight was surreal at first; outside you needed sunglasses and it always seemed like the afternoon, even at 2am in the morning!

Sky over Scott Base © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

Sky over Scott Base © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

But how quickly things have changed! On 21 February we had our first sunset, when the sun dipped just beneath the horizon and popped back up a short while later. I rather naively assumed the sky would darken and the stars come out, but in fact there was only a dusky half-light.

First sunset of 2010 © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

First sunset of 2010 © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

As the sun sets half an hour earlier each day, the nights have begun to rapidly draw in. At the moment we have something like ‘normal’ daylight hours, with the sky at night a deep dark blue and the moon rising to the west. In 4 weeks the sun will set for the last time, and we shan’t see it again until August.

The midnight sun seen from Scott Base © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

The midnight sun seen from Scott Base © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

I am intrigued by the thought of 3 solid months of 24-hour darkness, and I wonder how it will affect our moods. Will we develop the T3 syndrome, a condition of short term memory loss and irritability due to the lack of light, and will our issued vitamin D tablets be of any help? In the interests of science - watch this space!

Saying goodbye to the sun © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

Saying goodbye to the sun © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

Dangerous driving

Nicola, Monday, March 29th, 2010

Temperature: - 14.5°C
Wind speed: 19 knots
Temp with wind chill: -38°C
Sunrise: 7.17am
Sunset: 8.43pm

At Scott Base our nearest neighbours are the Americans at McMurdo Base, a couple of kilometres away along a road that winds through the pass between Observation and Crater Hills.

On the road to McMurdo with Observation Hill in the background © AHT, N Dunn

On the road to McMurdo with Observation Hill in the background © AHT, N Dunn

Until now the road has been easy to drive but yesterday, just as I was leaving McMurdo, the weather suddenly changed from a clear day to our first ‘condition 1’ storm. A strong southerly wind whipped up the snow so it was impossible to see the road ahead or the posts that mark the steep drop beside it, so I took shelter until it had passed.

When I headed back an hour later the road was covered with snow drifts and it was a good reminder that if not fully prepared even the simplest journey can be hazardous. Each of the 4 wheel drive vehicles are kitted out with sleeping bags, shovels and radios, and we always travel with our extreme cold weather clothing in case we get stuck or break down.

Nicola driving the vehicle through a snow drift © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

Nicola driving the vehicle through a snow drift © Antarctica New Zealand, Steven Sun

Antarctic driving is a skill and Lex, the Base Mechanic, recently took us out onto the ice for a fun-filled half hour to practice controlling the vehicle in deep snow drifts. So now we’ll feel more confident driving over the hill in the months ahead.

Hike around Observation Hill

Jane, Monday, March 1st, 2010

Temperature: -14⁰C
Wind Speed: 12 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -26⁰C

On Monday, Mindy and I decided to go for a walk around Observation Hill to enjoy the wonderful scenery as much as possible before the long, dark winter sets in.

After half an hour getting dressed in the layers of Antarctic clothing, we walked up the scoria slopes behind the Base and made our way along the road to the start of the well-worn path. The path winds around the base of the hill and the volcanic rock (which comes from Mt Erebus, the southern–most active volcano in the world) is coloured by vibrant reds and yellows.

View from Observation Hill overlooking open areas of Ross Sea © Antarctic Heritage Trust

View from Observation Hill overlooking open areas of Ross Sea © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The walk provides wonderful views of the surrounding area for the residents of Ross Island. We could see large areas of open water in the Ross Sea, a rare sight I am told. Black Island and White Island, to the south, were clearly visible.

Seven young Adelie penguins on the side of Observation Hill © Antarctic Heritage Trust / J Hamill

Seven young Adelie penguins on the side of Observation Hill © Antarctic Heritage Trust / J Hamill

As we clambered along the rough path we came across a group of seven young Adelie penguins, gathered just off to our right, barely noticeable against the snow-covered black scoria. We watched them for as long as we could, before the cold wind coming from the South Pole got the better of us and we continued on to McMurdo for a warm drink.

Looking down from Observation Hill to Commander Scott's 1901 expedition base © Antarctic Heritage Trust / F Wills

Looking down from Observation Hill to Commander Scott’s 1901 expedition base © Antarctic Heritage Trust / F Wills

Now we are 14

Nicola, Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Temperature: -12.5°C
Wind speed : 10 knots
Temperature with wind chill: -22°C

After 4 years away it’s been fantastic to step back onto the Ice and into Scott Base, this time as a veteran over-winterer.

Whilst so much is familiar, the biggest change for me is the people. Many of the team that I spent 2006 with are now friends off the ice, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the small team that was left here when the last flight left an hour ago. With the Antarctic winter fast approaching there will be no more flights in and out of Antarctica until late August.

Container ship being towed away from American base McMurdo by a Russian ice-breaker © Antarctic Heritage Trust / N Dunn

Container ship being towed away from American base McMurdo by a Russian ice-breaker © Antarctic Heritage Trust / N Dunn

The container ship that brings supplies to the American Base at McMurdo has off-loaded its cargo and left before the sea ice freezes over. It was towed away from its pier of floating compacted ice and out to open water by a Russian Ice-breaker.

I missed seeing this in 2006 so on Sunday Mindy, Lucy and I walked up the Hut Point ridge to get a good view of it leaving. As it left Winter Quarters Bay, where Scott’s ship ‘Discovery’ had wintered with the expedition team on board between 1901 and 1904, it dwarfed their little Discovery hut.

Discovery Hut, with Discovery at anchor behind, 1902 © R Skelton, Canterbury Museum

Discovery Hut, with Discovery at anchor behind, 1902 © R Skelton, Canterbury Museum

A couple of days later we learnt that the pier which has been used for the last 10 years has irreparably cracked and a new one will be constructed.

So, tonight we will celebrate becoming the 2010 winter team at Scott Base and toast absent friends.

Arriving at Scott Base

Jane, Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Temperature: -8°C
Windspeed: 8 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -16°C

My first view of Antarctica was when the back door of the US Air Force C 17 plane opened on Pegasus air field on the frozen Ross Sea. The back of the plane opened up completely to two large yellow bulldozers - not what I expected! They were getting ready to unload the cargo I had been facing on the long flight down to the Ice (given that it is a military plane, passengers and cargo are all mixed in together). The cold air came rushing in but the Extreme Cold Weather Clothing (ECWs) we were issued with in Christchurch kept me nice and warm.

The US Air Force C17 on the Ice runway at Pegasus airfield © Antarctic Heritage Trust / N Dunn

The US Air Force C17 on the Ice runway at Pegasus airfield © Antarctic Heritage Trust / N Dunn

I finally had a proper view when I stepped off the plane. I saw a pristine landscape of picturesque snow-covered mountains and clear blue skies. I didn’t have too much time to take it all in as I was quickly ushered, with my three new colleagues, onto ‘Ivan the Terra Bus’ for the 45 minute drive to Scott Base. We were really excited to see our first Emperor penguins on the journey, even if they were a bit lost! On arrival at Scott base (NZ’s science base), we had a safety briefing and a tour followed by a much anticipated look around outside.

Seals sleeping on the frozen Ross Sea in front of Scott Base © Antarctic Heritage Trust / J Hamill

Seals sleeping on the frozen Ross Sea in front of Scott Base © Antarctic Heritage Trust / J Hamill

Lots of seals were sleeping around holes in the sea ice just in front of the base. When the clouds lifted we were also treated to a beautiful view of smoke rising from Mount Erebus.

It was an amazing day, hopefully the first of many during my time on the Ice!

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