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Simple solutions to complex problems

Al, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Scott’s Terra Nova hut has been under threat from the buildup of snow and ice pressing against it. The building was slowly being engulfed by a mini glacier forming behind it.

The Terra Nova hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Terra Nova hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Using shovels and wheel barrows the Trust’s staff would spend up to a week each summer removing a hundred or more cubic metres of snow. This process was unsustainable and each year the buildup of ice would increase.

With the best intent the Antarctic Heritage Trust was losing the battle with Mother Nature. A simple solution to this complex problem was urgently required.

After consulting with international experts it was decided to use the energy sources provided by nature to resolve the problems created by nature.

The first solution was to increase the rate of ice melt each summer by spreading scoria, dark coloured volcanic gravel on the ice. Snow reflects the solar radiation so it minimises the amount of ice that melts. On the other hand, scoria absorbs solar radiation so it increases the surface temperature of the ice and makes more of it melt. The same thing happens if you put a white object and black object in the sun and then feel the temperature difference between the two – the black one will be warmer because it has absorbed more solar radiation.

Scoria outside the Terra Nova hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Scoria outside the Terra Nova hut © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The second solution was to create a turbulent air flow to reduce the snow build up behind the hut. This was achieved with the use of vortex generators, aluminum triangles that are free to rotate and point into the wind at an angle of 15 degrees. The turbulence or vortexes created by these structures as the wind passes across them erodes the snow collecting behind the hut.

The vortex generators © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The vortex generators © Antarctic Heritage Trust

As I write this blog the ice is slowly melting in the 24 hour sunshine and the wind is eroding the snow.

The Terra Nova hut with the generators© Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Terra Nova hut with the generators © Antarctic Heritage Trust

A great outcome!

2 Responses to “Simple solutions to complex problems”

  1. Angela says:

    Was there any opposition to the methods you chose on aesthetic grounds? How much pressure is there to keep everything looking the way it was for Scott and Shackleton? Presumably the generators look a bit out of place beside century-old gear? Just wondering ….


  2. Al says:

    Hi Angela

    Thanks for your email. We worked with a team of international experts in regards to the generators and yes, there is a visual impact. The generators are temporary structures and its not intended they be there forever - just while we get on top of the huge issue of snow build up (tonnes of snow and ice was building up each season). The reality is if we didn’t look at mitigation measures such as the generators the site was at real risk of loss. As for keeping it the way it was when Captain Scott occupied the building – absolutely – our conservation team are committed to historical accuracy and rely heavily on the original expedition diaries and photos to ensure what we do is historically correct. Hope that helps.

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