Jane, Thursday, July 15th, 2010
Wind speed: 45 knots
Temp with wind chill: -55°C
Moonrise: Below horizon
Moonset: Below horizon
We are immersed in a Condition 1* storm today. The wind is howling and the building is shaking. We are confined to Base because of the extreme cold and lack of visibility.
In 1970 similar weather caused a US Navy plane to make an emergency landing. The weather came in from the south, just like today, and the pilots could not make out the runway on the Ross Ice Shelf because of zero visibility. They were beyond the point at which they could turn around or find an alternative landing place. All 80 passengers were uninjured but the plane was badly damaged.
Last Sunday the weather was much better; -25°C and just 10 knots of wind. A group of us drove out to see the plane which has since given its name to the Pegasus Air Field.
In keeping with ensuring the continent is kept as pristine as possible, the plane is to be removed this year and work has already begun to collect the debris around it.
I drove us home in the Hagglund - my first time driving one. I switched the lights off to see if I could drive in whiteout conditions using just the satellite navigation. Unfortunately, despite the ice shelf being a big, open, flat area, we thought it best to switch the lights back on!
*Condition 1 is defined as visibility less that 30m or sustained winds over 100 km/h or windchill lower than minus 73°C.
Mindy, Monday, July 12th, 2010
Wind Speed: 30 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -50°C
Moonrise: below horizon
Moonset: below horizon
We’re here for just about seven months all told, living in Antarctica at New Zealand’s Scott Base and working to conserve artefacts from Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition hut at Cape Evans. Ever wondered what effect all of this has on the Antarctic environment? You’ll be pleased to know that Antarctica New Zealand has a well-developed plan that directs our activities on ice, with a very clear aim to minimize the environmental impact of our presence here in the Antarctic.
So how does this translate into action? As it is winter, we don’t get out in the field much these days but there are many things we can do around base. Wind turbines are working away to generate energy and reduce our fossil fuel consumption but it still makes sense to turn off the lights when we leave the room. Showers are kept short to conserve water, and everyone makes proper use of the recycling system, developed to sort and prepare waste for return to New Zealand.
Waste water and sewage are processed properly in our on-base treatment plant. Energy efficient light bulbs are everywhere, including in the photographic set-up in our conservation lab. All these positive actions mean we’re doing our part to keep the Antarctic environment happy and healthy.
George, Monday, July 5th, 2010
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -45°C
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).
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.
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.
Mindy, Thursday, April 29th, 2010
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -47°C
Inspired by accounts of the early Antarctic explorers man-hauling across the frozen Antarctica landscape, I desperately wanted to give it a go. With 3 other willing participants, we carefully planned and procured the necessary supplies and equipment.
The words ‘[Left]…a little before 11 in the morning after being photoed with our sledge in the dark by flashlight…’ could easily have been an account of our own expedition, but it’s really an extract from the journal of Dr. Edward Wilson, Chief Scientific Officer of Captain Scott’s 1910-13 Antarctic expedition. Wilson, Lt. Henry “Birdie” Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard spent 19 days in 1911 on a superhuman journey to procure Emperor penguin eggs from Cape Crozier, (located on the other side of Ross Island).
Despite re-tracing a portion of their route, our mini expedition was nowhere near as ambitious. On a relatively calm day and in the dying light of the season, we covered the 12km round-trip between Scott Base and the Antarctica New Zealand field training site in 4 hours. Our loaded Nansen sled required us to pull a load of 50 kg per person. Comparatively, Wilson and his companions trekked 97 km from their base at Cape Evans to Cape Crozier in the darkness and bitter cold of winter, with 106 kg per man on two sleds.
It’s hard to measure up to those numbers. Reflecting on the experience, it’s humbling to know that we plodded through what Cherry-Garrard considered to be ‘the only bit of good pulling we were to have’ (The Worst Journey in the World).
If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, I can now fully appreciate how tough these men were.
Mindy, Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: approximately -35°C
Sunrise: 8:41 am
Sunset: 5:08 pm
The Albert P. Crary (1911-1987) Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo Station, the United States of America Antarctic Base, is a treasure trove of Antarctic science. From the moment you step inside, posters and display cases highlight the diverse scientific program supported by the US National Science Foundation. The subjects are as varied as the Antarctic summer is long: polar ecology, invertebrate marine life, glaciers, volcanoes, seals, penguins, rocks and fossils, ozone depletion and aurora activity (to name but a few).
There is a staff of 4 in the Crary Lab over the winter. They are busy folk – organising supplies and equipment, monitoring and supporting on-going studies, ensuring computers and their programs are ticking along, and maintaining the building itself. Luckily, they agreed to take a bit of time out of their day for a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour.
Beyond the front foyer of display cases is a full-blown, top-notch science centre. We explored storage areas with shelves and shelves (and shelves) of scientific equipment, supplies, research material, samples and specimens. Modular lab spaces dot the building, constructed to allow scientists to customise their working space. There are tanks for live aquatic critters, computer labs, illuminated incubation cabinets, and microscopes galore! Phew! All that’s missing are the scientists – but they’ll be back in full force at the end of the winter, carrying on the long tradition of Antarctic scientific study.