Nicola, Monday, August 2nd, 2010
Wind speed: 23 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60°C
Last week I conserved a small cardboard box filled with little gas canisters that were for use in a soda siphon to make sparkling water. Both Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Scott took soda siphons with them on their expeditions, and a couple can be seen on the table in the picture of Scott’s birthday celebration in 1911.
The sparkling water would have been used as a mixer for spirits, and this seems very apt in the week when a whisky crate excavated this summer from under the floor boards of Shackleton’s 1908 hut at Cape Royds was put on display at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. The crate was kept frozen while it was flown from Antarctica to New Zealand, then immediately placed in a freezer, and it’s now slowly being thawed so that conservators can open it up and examine the contents.
We were very lucky to see the crates at Cape Royds when we first arrived in February, and have recently been following progress at Canterbury Museum through the blog on their website which is updated every day.
Today we’ve learnt that the ice has sufficiently melted for Lizzie and Sasha to remove the lid and for the first time the top of a bottle in its straw wrapper can be seen. I can’t wait to see what the bottles look like, and if there is still some whisky inside.
George, Monday, February 22nd, 2010
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -22°C
Last week our team flew out by helicopter to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 hut at Cape Royd’s, and then on to Captain Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’ 1910 base at Cape Evans. Amazing! The trip allowed for an on-site handover between the summer and winter teams, and a chance to catch up with Al, Lucy, Fran and the carpenters before they jumped on a plane back to New Zealand.
After working so closely with the artefacts in the Reserve Collection at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, it was breathtaking and inspiring to finally visit the huts themselves and see the context from which they had come. It will also help us during the winter to work out suitable conservation treatments for the artefacts so that they will fit in with the appearance and environment of the huts.
Cape Evans in particular was stunning. Although we were all naturally excited, a hush fell over the group as we entered and moved about the silent rooms. Even if we had no knowledge of the expedition stories, there would still be something truly special about the place.
There was an abundance of artefacts showing the early explorers’ day-to-day life and work, all caught in the suggestive quality of natural light and its shadows. The impression was of abandonment, of its inhabitants having only just upped and left. Only the deterioration attests to the passing of years, and also of the peculiar rigours of the environment. It has impressed on me yet further the importance of the work we are doing and the very great need to get things right.
Lizzie, Thursday, January 7th, 2010
After over a month in the field at Cape Evans it’s about time for an update on the season.
Once we get underway and into the summer work programme time flies by very quickly and the outside world recedes somewhat, and only Fran’s Christmas advent calendar marked the passing days.
The first couple of weeks were spent at Shackleton’s 1907 expedition base at Cape Royds. Now that the conservation project there is complete we have begun an annual monitoring and maintenance programme. This year we took an extra week to audit every single artefact in the hut, checking location and description data against the database. It was 2 weeks of complete contrast – from counting artefacts inside, to Condition One storms outside, to calm sunny days filled with Emperor penguins and Lucy scanning the sea for orca fins at every break. Seen once!
After the remote and wildly beautiful environs of Cape Royds, Cape Evans by comparison seemed a most luxurious set up. Our own tents! A conservation lab with solar power! A kitchen wannigan that is not on a slope, and stays warm when the wind goes above 10 knots. And a lot more visitors – Cape Evans is within easy reach of both Scott Base and McMurdo station, and many people make the most of the opportunity to hop on a skidoo, or join a trip to see the historic huts. Many of the visitors are up this way for work reasons – drilling holes in the ice for divers, installing equipment, monitoring weather stations, counting and tagging Weddell seals.
We had a few different tasks over the 3 weeks we spent at Cape Evans. During January there will be building work on the walls and roof of the stables. Fran, Lucy and I moved a lot of very heavy provision crates out of the way of the building work and into a storage container, and also documented and packed all the artefacts in that area. Along the external wall, where a new waterproof membrane will run down the inside of the wall and into the ground, we excavated artefacts at risk of damage during the membrane installation. One of these was the iconic dog skeleton. Chained to the wall sometime in the last few decades, the skeleton has been disintegrating a little more each season as the ice forms and then melts around it. Lucy’s blog describes the dog in more detail.
Meanwhile Fran conserved the historic acetylene plant that provided gas lighting – a tricky job due to some flaky paint and a hard-to-reach back side requiring Fran’s best contortionist skills.
And of course we returned 1300 artefacts to the hut that were conserved over the last year, and collected another 1500 to be conserved over the upcoming winter season at Scott Base.
Fran, Monday, November 30th, 2009
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).
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!
Lucy, Friday, November 27th, 2009
A couple of days ago, Lucy, Fran and I packed up 1,500 artefacts associated with Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 – 13 expedition base at Cape Evans. They were conserved by 4 of our conservators over the Antarctic winter and we intend to return them to Cape Evans. But first we will be spending a couple of days on conservation work at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition base at Cape Royds.
We took off from Scott Base (New Zealand’s science facility) with a small team of helpers, a hagglund (an all terrain vehicle) and a train of sledges laden with all our belongings, plus a little green portable cabin which is to be our home for the next 3 weeks while we are working at Cape Royds.
At present the frozen sea between Scott Base and Cape Royds is stable and safe for driving on. This year however the sea ice is breaking up early. One of the first things we did when we arrived at Cape Royds was to walk up to the top of the hill between our camp site on the ice and the historic hut. We were pretty surprised to see open water and pack ice floating 500 metres out from the shore.
The open sea with its mountain backdrop is quite a spectacular site to behold – each morning the sea is getting noticeably closer.
The Adelie Penguins nesting on rocks nearby will probably reap the benefits of having their fishing grounds within easily waddling distance this early in the breeding season. The closeness of the open sea may be more of a concern for our operation however, because we shall be moving our conservation camp south again in 2 days time, to Cape Evans.
Supposedly hagglunds do float! Never the less we are not that keen to check out the vehicle’s capabilities.
If we do get stranded we will have to be taken out of Cape Royds by helicopter and may have to leave some provisions behind.
We will keep you posted!