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Archive for the 'Climate change' Category

Were the early polar explorers green?

Fran, Monday, January 11th, 2010

Temperature: -7°C
Wind: 2 knots

Given we try to be as environmentally sustainable as we can when camping out in the field it does make you wonder what the early polar explorers did with their waste, as they all spent considerable periods of time resident in their respective huts, and the produce that they brought with them all had an extraordinary amount of packaging (which was very typical for the era).

Here at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base at Cape Royds, many fragments from the original supplies and equipment have been found in the surrounding area.

But it’s very hard to make assumptions as to whether these have ended up here accidentally or whether they were deliberately thrown away. Some of the more interesting objects at the site today are things that were pulled out from Pony Lake (a small expanse of water in front of the hut) including a sea dredge and the wooden wheel from a motor vehicle.

The wooden wheel from one of the 1st motor cars on the continent, the Arrol Johnston, which now sits in the stables area of Sir Enrest Shackleton's base © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The wooden wheel from one of the 1st motor cars on the continent, the Arrol Johnston, which now sits in the stables area of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base © Antarctic Heritage Trust

We know from the early polar explorers’ diaries it was common practice for the explorers to put their rubbish down tide cracks (these often form where the sea ice butts up against shorelines, glaciers or icebergs) where it would be swept out in the next tide.

This would have been an acceptable practice at the time but it’s great to know that there are now strict guidelines and environmental protocols in place today.

This example of a tide crack was taken at Captain Scott's base at Cape Evans and looks out towards the Barne Glacier © Antarctic Heritage Trust

This example of a tide crack was taken at Captain Scott’s base at Cape Evans and looks out towards the Barne Glacier © Antarctic Heritage Trust

It’s not easy being green

Fran, Monday, November 30th, 2009

Temperature: -5°C
Wind: 3 knots
Temperature with Wind Chill: -5°C

We have now moved onto the next phase of our work programme in Antarctica. Lizzie, Lucy and I have traversed over 30km of sea ice, through Erebus Bay to the North of Scott Base, to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition base at Cape Royds where we will be working in situ for the next 2 weeks.

We have set up camp in 2 wannigans (containers that work on the principle of refrigerators, but instead of keeping the cold in, they keep the cold out).

Our wannigan with Mount Erebus, the world's southernmost active volcano, in the background © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Our wannigan with Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcanon in the background © Antarctic Heritage Trust

There are many considerations to bear in mind when camping in Antarctica, particularly when the aim is to ensure that your presence leaves no mark when you pack up and leave. Scott Base, where we have spent the last three months, is very ‘sustainability’ conscious, with a successful recycling and responsible disposal policy, and we are very much adhering to this standard in our small camp.

We separate all our waste appropriately for later transportation back to Scott Base. It really does make you think how you could be more ‘green’ back home - I do try to do my bit, but often complain that there’s no space for separate bins for differing material in my kitchen back home.

Here in our little camp all 3 of us use the same small wannigan for cooking, dining and relaxing, and still manage to have 4 types of separated waste. It makes my excuses seem a little lame!

The view from our wannigan - an Adelie penguin colony is located about 200m from Sir Ernest Shackleton's base at Cape Royds © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The view from our wannigan - an Adelie penguin colony is located about 200m from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base at Cape Royds © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Beautiful but damaging

Becky, Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Temperature -30.3C, wind 20 knots; overall wind chill temperature -60C. Low cloud.

We’ve been getting some amazing clouds in the Northern sky recently, glowing and iridescent. Some appeared above the ice cliffs of the Barne Glacier as we were leaving Cape Evans where we’d been visiting Scott’s hut from the National Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition of 1910-1913.

Luminous clouds over Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Luminous clouds over Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

These clouds form in the very low temperatures of this time of year, and were observed by Edward Wilson, Chief of Scientific Staff on Scott’s expedition. In his journal for Wednesday 9th August 1911 he records ‘fine iridescent clouds all day over the slopes of Erebus; brilliant gleams of vivid orange and green and pink and silver in the curved slips of cloud.’

Painting by Wilson: 'Iridescent clouds - looking north from the ramp on Cape Evans, August 9th 1911' © Edward W ilson, Diary of the Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic, 1910 - 1912, Blandford Press, London, 1972

Painting by Wilson: ‘Iridescent clouds - looking north from the ramp on Cape Evans, August 9th 1911′ © Edward Wilson, Diary of the Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic, 1910 - 1912, Blandford Press, London, 1972

These types of clouds are known as nacreous or polar stratospheric clouds, and are formed 15-25km above the earth by tiny ice particles covered with nitric acid. They support chemical reactions that produce active chlorine, which speeds up the destruction of ozone. They also upset the nitrogen and chlorine cycles in the atmosphere.

This means that, while they are beautiful to look at, they aren’t so good for the ozone layer; they’re implicated in the formation of ozone holes. Still, as we headed back to Scott Base and the sky got more and more dramatic, we couldn’t help but marvel at how stunning they looked.

Ozone depletion in action: nacreous clouds over the Ross Sea © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Ozone depletion in action: nacreous clouds over the Ross Sea © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Distant neighbours

Becky, Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Weather: Temperature -22.7C, wind 20 knots

As the middle of winter (generally referred to as Midwinter) got closer, greetings and invites started arriving by email from all around Antarctica. I hadn’t realised that so many bases operated through the winter, but in fact there are 37, run by different National Antarctic Programmes under the Antarctic Treaty. Their populations range from 2 at the Chilean Escuerdo base up to 153 at McMurdo base.

Year-round stations in Antarctica © Australian Antarctic Data Centre

Year-round stations in Antarctica © Australian Antarctic Data Centre

The Japanese at Syowa Station sent two delicious sounding menus to tempt us to visit, and the European Concordia Station challenged us all to an ‘air band’ competition. The Brazilians at Comandante Ferraz were planning an exciting time of soccer, barbecue and samba, while the new German Neumayer III station was celebrating its first winter. We sent them our greeting and invite too; it’s a pity we’re all too far apart to visit each other.

The cheerful team at Scott Base © Nathan Cross

The cheerful team at Scott Base © Nathan Cross

Midwinter provides a great opportunity for some festivities and fun as we wait for the welcome return of the sun. But the scattered bases have a more serious purpose for most of the year, carrying out varied programmes of scientific research.

To quote from President Obama’s Midwinter greeting to the American Antarctic Programme: ‘In this remote place where science is the universal language, scientists from more than 60 countries recently completed the International Polar Year…

‘The early results reveal the profound significance the Polar Regions have on the Earth’s climate. Not only do they regulate global temperature, they also act as barometers of change… From these efforts, we will gain a better understanding of what happens at the Poles and how it affects the rest of our Planet.’

Well, we can all raise a glass to that work carrying on. Cheers!

Moon gazing

Becky, Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Weather cold and clear; temperature -39C, light winds, moon just past full

We haven’t had any sunrises for a while now, but we do have the most beautiful moon rises. As we are so far south the moon doesn’t appear to rise up vertically so much as gradually roll round and up the sky, grazing the tops of the islands.

The moon over White Island © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The moon over White Island © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The moon’s been so bright the last few days that we’ve been able to go for walks without needing a head torch. It’s wonderful to be able to see the sea, mountains and islands that surround Scott Base again.

Scott Base and Ross Sea by moonlight © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Scott Base and Ross Sea by moonlight © Antarctic Heritage Trust

For the base science technician, Margaret, the bright moon provides the opportunity to take some important readings. She says: ’Much of the focus at the Arrival Heights lab is on atmospheric chemistry ie. what is in the various layers of atmosphere, and how the molecules in those layers are interacting and affecting our planet.

‘An example of an instrument I operate is the Dobson spectrophotometer (one of 80 Dobsons worldwide) which has been measuring ozone since 1988. Measurements are made using sunlight from September to March, and when there is a visible full moon during the long winter nights.

‘Ozone measurements change significantly over a year, and are at their lowest in spring, causing ‘the Ozone Hole’. Our measurements, and those of other Antarctic stations, signal the position and size of the hole. They also track its movement northwards, to warmer climes, as it disperses towardsthe end of the year.

‘My work helps the weather forecasters tells you when to wear sunscreen, because the ozone hole is breaking up as it moves north over New Zealand.’

A high bright moon over Black Island - ideal for taking readings © Antarctic Heritage Trust

A high bright moon over Black Island - ideal for taking readings © Antarctic Heritage Trust

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