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Archive for the '24 hour darkness' Category

The ever-present Mount Erebus

Nicola, Friday, July 30th, 2010

Temperature: -25°C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40°C
Moonrise: above horizon
Moonset: above horizon

Where ever you are on Ross Island you are always aware of the active volcano Mount Erebus sitting on the skyline topped by a plume of smoke. Erebus, and Mount Terror, the extinct volcano next to it, were named after the ships of Captain James Clark Ross, the first explorer to sail into McMurdo Sound in 1841.

Erebus veiled in cloud in April with the plume of fumes above the crater © AHT / N Dunn

Erebus veiled in cloud in April with the plume of fumes above the crater © AHT / N Dunn

From Scott Base Erebus looks serene, as if you could stroll up to the summit in an afternoon, but it’s actually 20 miles away and its slopes covered with crevasses and hazardous ice fields. Men from Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition were the first to climb Erebus in 1908, taking 5 days. Now the crater is reached during the summer season by helicopter, which takes scientists up to carry out research on volcanic activity, the lava lake and the toxic fumes - carbon dioxide, chlorine and sulphur dioxide that it pumps out.

Orographic clouds circling the cone of Mount Erebus © AHT / N Dunn

The effects of Erebus on the local weather patterns were a constant source of interest for Dr Simpson, the meteorologist on Captain Scott’s 1910 Expedition. Here orographic clouds circle the cone. © AHT / N Dunn

Erebus is constantly changing, reflecting the weather and seasons. As the sun disappeared we saw it silhouetted against a sky turning from blue to pink to rich red and finally filled with stars and auroras. But over the last week the sky behind Erebus has gradually been lightening and a faint apricot glow now indicates that with Midwinter over we are heading back towards the first sun-rise on 19th August.

The sun below the horizon is beginning to lighten the sky behind Erebus © AHT / N Dunn

The sun below the horizon is beginning to lighten the sky behind Erebus © AHT / N Dunn

A stretch of the legs

Nicola, Monday, July 19th, 2010

Temperature: -23.3°C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35°C
Moonrise: 1.15pm
Moonset: 5.36pm

At midday Bobbie and I meet at the back door dressed in hats, face masks and goggles. Turning on our head torches and radioing through our intentions, we head out for our daily walk along the snow-covered path which climbs up the hill at the back of Scott Base.

Scott Base from the top of the hill in late April, with the path winding down the slope © AHT / N Dunn

Scott Base from the top of the hill in late April, with the path winding down the slope © AHT / N Dunn

A century ago Captain Scott advocated the physical and mental benefits of regular outdoor exercise during the dark winter months, encouraging the men to take some form after lunch. In his diary he wrote ‘the majority of people seem anxious to get exercise, but one or two like the fire better’. In particular it was difficult to get the photographer Ponting out of the hut and Atkinson ‘only managed by dragging him out to his own work, digging holes in the ice’.

Nicola at the top of the hill in June with Scott Base in the background © Steven Sun / ANTNZ

Nicola at the top of the hill in June with Scott Base in the background © Steven Sun / ANTNZ

We started our walks at the beginning of winter as a way of getting some fresh air and to experience the changes in the landscape over the months. And we’ve certainly seen some changes. From the top of the hill the base was first surrounded by pink ice, then gradually the lights began to go on and sometimes it would fade in the blowing snow.

A moonlit Scott Base in June © N Dunn / AHT

A moonlit Scott Base in June © N Dunn / AHT

Several times the weather has been too bad to go out, and on occasions the dark and the sound of the wind have been less than appealing, but once out we always return reinvigorated.

Clear as day

Mindy, Monday, June 7th, 2010

Temperature: -31.9°C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -55°C
Moonrise: above horizon
Moonset: above horizon

‘The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below…’ (Clement Clarke Moore, ‘The Night Before Christmas’).

I know it’s strange to be quoting Christmas stories in June. Still, it seems appropriate - it’s exactly what runs through my head when I step outside at this time of year to find the moon shining as bright as the sun. On clear days with an almost full moon, I don’t usually have to turn on my head torch when I’m out and about. When the landscape is brightly lit by the moon’s reflection, you can see as clearly as anything for miles and miles.

Parked at the base of Castle Rock © AHT / M Bell

Parked at the base of Castle Rock © AHT / M Bell

On a recent recreational trip, the view from the base of Castle Rock was just this perfect. Climbing the hill to overlook the low-lying clouds that blanketed the ice shelf, we were treated to an expansive snow-covered landscape illuminated by the moon.

A Pistenbully and a great view out over the Ross Ice Shelf © AHT / M Bell

A Pistenbully and a great view out over the Ross Ice Shelf © AHT / M Bell

It’s one of the scenes of Antarctica that enchants me the most, and a breathtaking reminder that Antarctic winter isn’t always dark and forbidding. The sun may be gone for a few months and the days generally cold, but there’s no reason we can’t enjoy amazing scenery, care of ‘Old Man Moon’.

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.

The Antarctic winter is upon us…

Jane, Monday, April 26th, 2010

Temperature: -26°C
Wind Speed: 30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -56°C
Sunrise: 11.06am
Sunset: 2.36pm

It’s over two months since the winter team of conservators arrived in Antarctica to 24 hour day-light, blue skies and temperatures just below zero, but how quickly things have changed. In the last week it has really felt like winter has finally arrived.

The most obvious indicator is that it’s no longer light when we get up in the morning, and we are really noticing the darkness encroaching on our days. In the last week sunrise has moved forward an hour from 9.58am to 11.06am and sunset from 3.58pm to 2.37pm. Saturday will be our last sunrise until 19th August!

Winter sunrise looking East across the Ross Sea © AHT / J Hamill

Winter sunrise looking East across the Ross Sea © AHT / J Hamill

We now watch with interest the wind dials and temperature gauge in the dining room as the temperatures drop – the lowest so far is -36.7°C on a beautiful clear still day – and we’ve begun to recognise the precursors of a good storm. The temperature steadily climbs to around -14°C and the wind veers around until it is coming directly from the south, then the wind speed climbs until it’s howling. Scott Base begins to rattle and the view is blotted out by snow. The tiny light flakes of ice snake around in currents so you can see the paths the wind takes, up and around the buildings, before settling in sculptural drifts.

View of Scott Base during a storm © AHT / N Dunn

View of Scott Base during a storm © AHT / N Dunn

With the snow, the base is beginning to look whiter as the drifts accumulate, although as the snow is so light some drifts are quite transient and disappear with the next wind.

We are all looking forward to experiencing the extreme weather of the Antarctic winter and just a little apprehensive of the seemingly eternal night that begins on Saturday!

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