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Open Water in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 09/04/2014

Temperature: -24 degrees C

Windspeed: None

Temperature with wind chill: -24 degrees C

Sunrise: 0905

Sunset: 1643

 

One of the highlights (so far) of this winter on the ice has been, without doubt, the opportunity to observe the effects of having open water in front of Scott Base. Usually a year-round frozen ice shelf, the open water has brought some spectacular sea mists and not just the usual populations of Weddell seals and Adelie penguins, but large numbers of killer whales and Emperor penguins (and even the occasional cruise ship!) … to literally right outside our windows. Beats television!

Morning sea mist.JPG

Morning sea mist

 

Cruise ship.JPG

A cruise ship takes advantage of the open water to take a closer look at Scott Base

 

 

Each day we have had the pleasure of watching a group of about 50 Emperors (all adolescent males, I'm told) huddle, fish, play, squawk, dive and scoot around (belly down) on the ice edge. And occasionally they'll take a long walk across the ice to what seems like nowhere in particular, usually in single file and in a very determined fashion, only to huddle for a while before returning again by foot or from beneath the ice through an open pool or crack. But, alas, as we head into our last fortnight of daylight before the austral winter darkness sets in, the sea now looks to have frozen over and, sadly for us (and perhaps also for them, as they may have been equally fascinated by the behaviours of Scott Base residents) the last of the Emperors have walked off … to somewhere else.

Emperors huddling.JPG

Huddling

 

Emperors off for a walk.JPG

Off for a walk

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Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 02/04/2014

Temperature: -34 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 0 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -34 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 0926

Sunset: 1826

 

Oh the frustration of losing things. It's a bit late for the owner now but it's nice to have found his second sock. Of course it couldn't have been in the washing machine, and it wasn't under the bed. It was in fact under the floorboards of Discovery hut. Why and how did it get there is anyone's guess. The magical mystery of missing things may never be understood. Interestingly though, the sock was also under the floorboards with other objects including empty ration bags, twine and cordage, a dust-brush, sardine can and safety pin.

 

SECOND SOCK.jpg

Second sock

 

The objects were recovered from under the floor by the outgoing AHT summer team who were undertaking structural stabilisation work on the hut which involved lifting some of the floorboards. So how did these objects manage to find their way there? Of course we can only speculate but it's likely they were simply swept into a hole in the floor which had been created by the Ross Sea Party.

The empty ration bags are unmarked and so we can't ever know what meal they contributed to. One of the bags is still tied at the top and ripped open down the side. One appears to be covered in cocoa and white crystalline grains, perhaps sugar. Taste testing is not advised for obvious reasons. Others contain a soft waxy substance also of unknown identity. I'm curious as to what they actually contained and what the men were up to on the day they emptied those bags. The image below shows the ration bags drying after being washed to remove damaging acids and salts. All stains, soot and contents are retained as important historic information.

 

RATION BAGS DRYING.jpg

Ration bags drying

 

Another interesting part of the underfloor assemblage of objects is a beautifully retained length of twined rope with a particularly strong smell. The smell isn't altogether unpleasant but it's distinctive as you open the door to the workspace each morning. The smell is very similar to pine tar which was used to saturate hemp fibres for pre-prepared wooden ship caulking, which is likely the purpose of this rope.

 

CAULKING.jpg

Caulking

It's been an interesting week contemplating the discarded or lost objects under the hut and I wonder if the loss of that sock was ever of torment to its owner.

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Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 26/03/2014

Temperature: -25 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -40 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 08.21

Sunset: 19.34

 

A paper conservator back in Spain, I arrived in the Antarctic knowing that the artefacts I would be working on for the Antarctic Heritage Trust would be very different to the European manuscripts I am used to.

Last week I had a very good example of the challenge that represents the conservation of a paper artefact here. Two wads of paper arrived on my bench in such bad condition that all the fragments of pages were stuck together. 

 

1.jpg

 

Before treatment artefacts

 

The challenge that I was presented with was multiple; being able to understand its structure, identity, history and devise a conservation plan appropriate to the context of Scott's Discovery Hut, where the items were found. The paper was very fragile and the shape it arrived in was the result of degradation. Moreover, I had to make the correct decision about the presentation of the artefact after treatment, for its return to Discovery Hut.

 

6.JPG

Aline treating the paper fragments

 

Sharing opinions and knowledge with my colleagues was very beneficial as well and together we made a decision. I discovered that the fragments were from two different newspapers, one unidentifiable and the other one from a British newspaper called 'The Review of Reviews' published in July 1893. Thanks to this information and the known history of Discovery Hut (built by Scott and his party in 1902 but where various expeditions also spent time), we decided to keep the artefact folded so as to not intervene with the shape in which it was found, but rather to access as much information contained within the pages themselves through the conservation treatment. 

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After treatment artefacts

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Author: Stefanie White

Date: 19th March 2013

Temperature: -14.0 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 5/8 knts

Temp with Wind Chill: -21 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

In Discovery Hut there is a bed (or sleeping platform) that is composed of a section of tongue and groove, originally from the ceiling of the hut itself and positioned on supply boxes beside the stove area. The area surrounding the stove became a cozy den for several desperate explorers seeking security from the harsh Antarctic environment. In the words of Dick Richards of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917): The hut may have been a dark cheerless place but to us it represented security. We lived the life of troglodytes. We slept in our clothes in old sleeping bags which rested on planks raised above the floor by wooden provision cases.

 

Image 1.JPG

Bed platform and sleeping aea in the hut. Credit: Stefanie White.

 

 

Before returning to Scott Base this week, Meg and I completed the conservation of the supply boxes that raised the bed. After many hours working in the soot and seal blubber drenched dark room, we learned how to overcome the difficulties working in the cold and dark of the hut. We wore leather padded gloves as opposed to nitrile gloves, which freeze immediately in cold environments. We wore Extreme Cold Weather gear and head lamps as opposed to our white lab coats and magnifying bench lights. We also defrosted ice to wash our tools and hands on the stove that we light every morning in our working container nearby.

 

Image 2 .JPG

 

Stefanie conserving the area under the bed platform in the sleeping area beside the stove.

Image 3.JPG

 

Area under bed platform mid treatment.

We devised a method to systematically map each piece of the bed platform so that upon their return after conservation our interference left minimal mark. As well as leaving minimum traces of our presence in the hut, by taking back all of our equipment and waste to Scott Base every night we also left no trace in the environment.

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Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 12 March 2013

Temperature: -25 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -41 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 06.39

Sunset:  21:21

 

 

The world has changed exponentially since I began my professional life as an archaeologist… back in the olden days when hardcopy books and journals were our main sources of information. One of the more remarkable changes is without doubt the access we now have to information on pretty much everything, via the internet. A good example occurred this week as I was treating artefacts from Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery hut, down here at Scott Base. The hut was constructed in 1902 by Scott's 1901–04 expedition, was used a number of times by Shackleton's 1907–09 expedition, used for periods by Scott's 1910–13 expedition, and again by Shackleton's depot-laying Ross Sea Party in 1915–16. The US Navy was next to visit in the late 1940s, a US research base grew alongside it from the 1950s, and a group of NZ volunteers carried out some restoration work in the early '60s, and fitted a lock to the building for the first time. So there is a long history of activity in and around the hut, which was found filled with snow and ice on several occasions, and emptied. Artefacts that remain there today could date from any of the 'heroic-era' periods of use or subsequent visits, so it's interesting to ponder how and when an artefact came to be there … and particularly satisfying to discover some evidence of its age. An object I was working on this week revealed just such information, with more than a little help from Google. It was a Primus stove made by a Swedish company, and now covered with a thick layer of black soot from Discovery hut's seal-blubber stove, suggesting it dated from one of the early expeditions. Whilst stabilising the corrosion, I discovered a small letter 'D' stamped in the base beneath the soot layer, and a quick search revealed that, from 1911, Primus stoves made by this company were stamped with a letter to indicate their year of manufacture! How convenient is that?!

 

AHT11032_1!_Side2_AT.JPG

 

So this one was made in 1914 … after Scott but in the same year that Shackleton's Ross Sea Party was stocking the refitted SY Aurora in Australia in preparation for laying supply depots for Shackleton's unsuccessful Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in Endurance. Aurora took on supplies in Sydney and then more in Hobart before heading south in late December of 1914. So this Primus, brand spanking new at that time, almost certainly made its way from Sweden to Australia to be procured by the expedition in either Sydney or Hobart, travelled to Antarctica on Aurora, and was used in the hut by the Ross Sea Party. Cool! And that was revealed in just a few short minutes from the comfort of Scott Base, on the ice, via satellite. Whatever did we do before Google … or modern technology, for that matter?

 

Sue (bright+contrast).jpg

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Mid -Winter in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Jul 10, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 26 June 2013

Temperature: -19.9

Wind Speed: 0

Temp with Wind Chill: -19/9

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Recently we celebrated mid- winter in true Antarctic fashion, with an elaborate dinner at Scott Base, for the fifteen of us and 25 invited American guests. The following evening was Mc Murdo's turn which, given their number of winter staff, was a much larger event to which we were all invited.

 

Mid-winter dinner LR.jpg

Scott Base Mid-Winter dinner - Tim Delaney

 

This tradition of celebration goes back to the early expeditions, for whom the passing of midwinter must have been hugely significant, allowing them to look forward to the gradual return of the sun and a chance to get away from the cramped confines of their winter quarters.

 

http://http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.447/ Click here to see a photograph of Midwinter Day Dinner at Winterquarters Hut, June 22nd 1911.

 

Mid –winter has also given us all a reminder of that we on Ross Island are just one small part of an extensive international community of Antarctic winter residents at bases both on the continent and on the sub-Antarctic islands. A new tradition is emerging with each of the bases e-mailing their mid-winter greetings (and usually a group photo) to each of the others. We received about thirty and they now cover the dining room wall, a great reminder that in spite of all this apparent emptiness, we do still have neighbours.    

3

Author: Jamie Ward

Date: 12/06/2013

Temperature: -27.7 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 22 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -45 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

For the members of Scott's Terra Nova expedition, the hut at Cape Evans provided a warm, secure shelter. But the fact that it had to also accommodate all their food and equipment, whilst at the same time maintaining a useable living space, meant that space was always at a premium.

 

Beginning the excavation of the south wall of theTerra Nova hut..jpg

Beginning the excavation of the south wall of the Terra Nova hut

 

Luckily, both wooden food boxes and to a lesser extent the horses' fodder bales, provided a ready supply of regular building blocks from which extensions to the hut could be created. With the addition of roofs made from surplus timbers, the remains of packing crates, and a final covering of roofing felt and canvas, stables were fabricated and Bowers' Annex was built against the southern wall of the hut to store much of the expedition food. At around 25kg each, neatly stacked Colman's flour boxes, produced excellent external walls, strong and heavy enough to resist the worst of the Antarctic weather.

 

The remains of Bowers' Annex.jpg

The remains of Bower's Annex

 

A few years ago, the remnants of the Annex were excavated from solid ice, beneath a deep snow drift and the remaining badly deteriorated boxes were carefully removed to Scott Base for conservation. After over three months' work, this task is now complete and a total of 79 boxes, most still with their original contents, will return home to Cape Evans this coming summer. 

 

Restored flour boxes.jpg

Conserved Colmans flour boxes - JW. New timber weathers to silvery grey over a few years.

 

0

Author: Stefan

Date: 29/05/2013

Temperature: -27 degrees C

Windspeed: 10kts

Temp with wind chill: -39 degrees C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

It's been a particular pleasure this season to see some iconic pieces of the expeditioner's clothing pass through the conservation lab at Scott Base. It was noticeable last season that many of the gents clothing companies who had originally supplied the Terra Nova crew, were dedicating there AW2012 season to the heroic age. And a 100yrs of their own heritage.

 

Although companies such as Wolsey, Burberry, and Jaeger ran with collections that were heavily themed with clothes of the expeditions, one designer took it a step further and produced a limited edition range which celebrated individual garments attributed to shore party members. i.e. P O Evans's Jacket, and Charles Wright's Balaclava etc.

 

Nigel_Cabourn_14ozberlin_deck_jacket.jpg

Nigel Cabourn's 'Henry Bowers Deck Jacket' Credit: Nigel Cabourn

 

Nigel Cabourn (the designer wrote this about his work) "As a designer whose collections are inspired by history and real vintage clothing, my visit to the Polar Institute inspired me to base my AW12 collection on Scott and his team as a dedication to their fantastic feat. The wealth of information I found at the Institute spurred on my inspiration to create 12 individual garments that represent the achievements of Scott and his team on their last expedition"

 

Nigel_Cabourn_14ozberlin_expedition_smok.jpg

Nigel Cabourn's 'P.O. Evans Expedition Smok' Credit: Nigel Cabourn

 

Additonal item photos available here: http://14oz-berlin.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/nigel-cabourn-limited-edition-ii-scotts.html

 

The collection is a very beautiful tribute to the men, and even though single garments run into the thousands of pounds, I think I may be treating myself to a winter coat when I return home if there are any still available. Happy shopping.

1

Bad Weather in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Oct 29, 2012

Author: Kevin

Date: 24 October 2012

 

 

I was up at 4am all bags packed and just about to get dressed up in my warm gear for the 5 hour flight to Scott Base. My excitement to be finally on the way to the “ice” was turned to disappointment on receiving the news that bad weather on Ross Island had delayed our departure by at least 24 hours.

 

My mind turned to the weather and how much we take it for granted these days.  Today we simply have to log on to the internet, google “Antarctic weather” and we are given a choice of sites to look at.  Sites such as http://www.yr.no/place/Antarctica/Other/Scott_Base/   This Norwegian weather organization gives us hour by hour predictions and information as well as links to web cams that show us what it is actually like now.  Antarctica New Zealand also hosts webcams on their website http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/

C Evans Stevenson screen.jpg

Cape Evans Stevenson's screen © AHT/Falcon

 

So different from the explorers of just over a 100 years ago, at the forefront of the science of meteorology as we know it today. For them, looking at satellite images from a warm office was not an option. They were required to go out to the weather station whatever the weather, getting dressed up in all of their warm clothing, often struggling against the conditions to find the weather station, physically handling the instruments, recording the information on paper before resetting the instruments, and then struggling back to the sanctuary of their huts, frozen to the core.  It is easy to forget that whilst others were out performing deeds of derring-do, the seemingly endless scientific tasks such as recording the weather continued to be carried out by those whose names have not become household.

 

Reinstalling stevenson.jpg

Reinstalling the conserved Stevenson's screen © AHT/Gord

 

Last season the weather station at Cape Evans was skillfully conserved by fellow team member Martin, and placed back in its original position as testament to those who visited it many times a day month after month. Personally I am itching to get on site and continue the skilled work carried out by those before me.

2

Author: Stefan Strittmatter
Date: 06/02/2012
Temperature: -11C
Wind Speed: 9kn
Temp with wind chill: -19C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


Life in Antarctica is a very human endeavor. For Captain Scott and the men of the 1910-13 expedition, and (to a much more flimsy degree) we four conservators, food (and its preparation) becomes of upmost importance very quickly.


Scott and his team were well placed at both Cape Evans and Discovery Hut to take advantage of the abundance of Weddell seals and their blubbery bounty. Al Fastier and his summer team of conservators have done a wonderful job of conserving an epic slab of this oozing mass of fat, (still present in the Cape Evans hut stables). Indeed a slight lean of the trough means there’s a filtered cup of oil slumped to the edge, making it effortless to visualize a frost bitten face swinging round the corner to scoop up and replenish a gasping stove.

 

stefblog1.jpg

Seal blubber trough outside Cape Evans Stables © AHT/Stefan


Nowhere near as hardy, Susanne, Gretel, George and I were happy to ditch the heroic approach, and cook with soot free faces on the nifty ‘Primus’ stoves,  Scott Base has kindly supplied us with for AFT (Antarctic Field Training). A bit of a fiddle at first, but once the white gas starts to roar and the first brew is at the boil, you can’t help but feel a certain bond and romance, about the hardship and fun this wonderful place can offer.

 

stefblog2.jpg
Cooking during winter AFT (Antarctic Field Training) © AHT/Stefan

6

Author: John K
Date: 15 December 2011
Temperature: 0oC
Wind Speed: 1.8 Knots
Temp with wind chill: 0oC
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


While investigating a box of miscellaneous mechanical components outside the hut I came across this interesting little object, function unknown.


It is a flat sheet metal stylised figurine, 155mmm high and 75mmm wide, one arm outstretched, with one leg only that slides vertically with about 5mm travel. Behind the top of the leg is a punched hole, 6mm diameter. The original outline of the figure appears to be exaggerated front and back, possibly for balance?

 

Image 1. Mystery object, front view.jpg

Mystery object, front view. © AHT / John

 

Image 2. Mystery object, back view.jpg

Mystery object, back view.  © AHT / John

 


At the bottom of the leg are two cleats, possibly to hook over or on to something.

 

Image 3. Mystery object, side view.jpg

Mystery object, side view. © AHT / John


The figure is rusted and no markings or paint layers remain.


What is the function of this intriguing object? I have had suggestions such as: a child’s toy; an indicator that some process is completed, or some mechanical decoration on a clock.


Any suggestions as to its identity and function will be greatly appreciated.

0

Author: John
Date: 27 November 2011
Temperature: -2.1oC
Wind Speed: 8.5Kts
Temp with wind chill: -10oC
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


One of the aspects of Antarctica that fascinates me as a relative newcomer is the changeability of the weather conditions, sometimes over periods of less than an hour.


After spending two weeks working at Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, our camp transfer by helicopter to Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans was disrupted by wind and low visibility, and our team was split in half for 24 hours, Monday and Tuesday.


The Icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov, kindly offered the team some showers, but even that was disrupted by changeable weather and low visibility. We all managed to have our showers though, and that was bliss after two and a half weeks without!


On Thursday and Friday we had very strong winds that make working outside at Cape Evans challenging, and sleeping ‘interesting’ with the wind noise and the tents flapping. Interestingly, the Scott Polar Tent double walled design has changed little from the original as used by Scott and has proved itself over the years well able to withstand strong winds.  I am very happy about that!

 

JK Stormy morning Saturday.jpg

Stormy Morning, Saturday. © AHT/ John

 

Yesterday morning things calmed down again, with only a slight breeze blowing.

JK After the storm Sunday.jpg

After the Storm, Sunday. © AHT/ John

 

This Sunday evening the wind is picking up again with the weather forecast to turn.


The transitions from wind and whiteout conditions (like being inside a ping-pong ball) to crystal calm and peaceful can sometimes be quite startling.

0

Author: John

Date: 13 November 2011
Temperature: -3.20C
Wind Speed: 12.5 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -6.7oC
Sunrise: None, the sun is always up in the sky in Antarctica at this time of the year.
Sunset None.

 

 

While undertaking conservation work at Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica, I noticed this example of the expedition making do with whatever spare materials that were at hand. It highlighted for me the remoteness of the location, the distance from resupply sources, and the resourcefulness of the expedition members, This makeshift hoe was made from a spare mattock handle with part of a broken shoe last carefully and securely lashed to the end with rope. To tension the lashing a disused metal file was driven under the lashing. For some reason, this resourcefulness appealed to me.

JK Image 1 Improvised hoe.jpg

Improvised hoe © AHT/John.

JK Image 2  Detail of last and lashing method.jpg
Detail of last and lashing method © AHT/John.

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Author: Lizzie

Date:  12 Nov 2011
Temperature: -7.7
Wind Speed: 14.9 gusting 20 SE
Temp with wind chill: -19

Last night we had the neighbours around for dinner ….yes, despite the isolation there is another camp about 500m away from us, where the American Penguin Scientists Dave, Katie and Jean will be based from mid November through to late January. They are part of an ongoing research programme which studies the penguin populations of Ross Island, looking at breeding habits, population statistics, feeding and foraging patterns and general health and habits of the birds. The colony here at Cape Royds is relatively small, being only about 2000 breeding pairs, but with the ice edge close by this year (about 1km from the colony), food is abundant, and the penguins are sleek and fat and just starting to lay their eggs.
LM blog 12 Nov Image 1.JPG

The sea ice and sea ice edge, Cape Royds © AHT/Lizzie

We enjoyed listening to Jean and Katie tell us about the penguins, and if you would like to know more they have an excellent website, including several penguin web-cams, which can be found at www.penguinscience.com
Meanwhile, whenever we have a calm evening you will find us out after work on the rocky outcrops above the penguin colony, watching the Adelies on their nests, and looking out for the smaller numbers of Emperors who come in to the sheltered spots below the Adelie colony to rest and preen.

LM blog 12 Nov Image 2.JPG  
Emperor penguins through binoculars © AHT/Lizzie

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Author: John  Date: 12 September 2011
Temperature: -19.4oC
Wind Speed: 22Kts
Temp with wind chill: -320C
Sunrise: 7.50am
Sunset 5.52pm

Sometimes when an artefact eludes description or exact function we just need the right expert at the right time. This item from Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds was initially described as an ‘Urn and Lid’. Last week, while this artefact was being treated in the Conservation Lab at Scott Base, Jane invited our Base chef, Lance, down for a look over what we were doing. He walked into the lab looked at the ‘Urn and Lid’ on the bench and immediately said ‘That’s a stockpot, they have not changed much over the years have they?” and proceeded to describe how one was used!

 

Copy of AHT6649_1!_Side1_AT.jpg
Urn and lid aka Stockpot © AHT

 

Pieces of meat were put into the pot and boiled down to make stock for soups and such. The fat floated to the top and could be separated off as required while the juicy stock could be tapped off via the brass tap at the bottom. A woven wire filter gauze behind the tap strained out any unwanted solid pieces.  The pot could be kept simmering continually on the stove, stock drawn off as necessary, and the pot topped up with more meat pieces or bones and water as required.


There are still food particles remaining inside the pot, and soot and fat all over the outside showing that this stockpot was well used – seal or penguin meat perhaps? Heated by burning blubber, hence the soot? All this evidence was kept intact on the pot.


Lance also made the comment that the chef’s working space in the hut was very cramped. 
So, many thanks to Lance, for being ‘the right expert at the right time’!

 

 

 

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