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Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 28 September 2010
Temperature: -28C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -36C
Sunrise: 6:47am
Sunset: 8:45pm

 

Last Saturday, we celebrated the end of the winter season at New Zealand's Scott Base, Antarctica, with a special dinner prepared by Bobbi, our chef.  The evening was the last time all 14 of us could unwind and be together before the 36 new summer and winter-over crews arrive this week.

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The dinner table © Antarctica NZ/Alfred

 

After an afternoon of base tasks (Diana and I worked up good appetites while helping clear snow from around all the entrances), we gathered around a table full of appetizers of herb chicken balls, spicy shrimp , pesto bruschetta and smoked salmon, and watched the beginning of the Grand Final Australian Rules Football game between St. Kilda and Collingwood.

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Dinner and dessert © Antarctica NZ/Alfred

 

We then all moved into the dining room and sat down to a  cleverly plated meal of  jam-crusted rack of lamb served with polenta, steamed green beans and honey roasted yams.  The lamb was an unusual treat since meat bones are an expensive waste on this continent where all rubbish has to be shipped out.  For dessert, we had panna cotta drizzled with blueberry sauce and topped with hardened twists of caramelized sugar.  It was a great evening.  The opportunity to relax, hear stories from the winter and laugh was the best treat, especially in light of these last couple weeks when everyone around the base seems cocooned away, spending long days in their work areas getting ready for the handover period.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date: September 29, 2010
Temperature: -25 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: +30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35 degrees Celsius
Sunrise 0647
Sunset 2045

 

The weather at New Zealand's Scott Base in Antarctica is becoming warmer and the sun is up for a very long time now. This affords us the opportunity to take advantage of the Ross Island Trail System. Several trails around the base are used for recreation. I decided to head up Observation Hill (Ob Hill) after dinner one evening. Ob Hill has an elevation of 250 meters and has a steep rugged track which has lovely views of the Wind farm, McMurdo (US Base), Scott Base (NZ Base) and beyond.

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The trail markers © AHT/Diana


Observation Hill was named because it was used as an observation point from which to spot the return parties from the pole. At the top of Observation Hill is a cross, erected in 1913 by the remaining members of the British National Antarctic Expedition, in memory of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s party which perished on the return journey from the South Pole in March of 1912.

 

The cross bears the following inscription (including an excerpt from Tennyson’s text Ulysses chosen by Apsley Cherry-Garrard):


IN MEMORIAM
CAPT. R.F. SCOTT.R.N
DR E.A. WILSON CAPT L.E.G.OATES INS. DRGS LT. H.R. BOWERS R.L.M.
PETTY OFFICER E.EVANS R.N.

 

WHO DIED ON THE
RETURN FROM THE
SOUTH POLE MARCH

1912


TO STRIVE, TO SEEK
TO FIND
AND NOT TO
YIELD

 

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When I saw the names carved into the cross I thought of the hours that must have been spent waiting, looking into the distance, for Scott’s party that never returned.

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Posted by Cricket


Date: 22 September 2010
Temperature: -16 C
Wind Speed: 40 knots
Temp with wind chill: -43C
Sunrise: 6:33
Sunset: 19:03

 

On one clear and calm Sunday morning, several of us from New Zealand's Scott Base geared up with food and clothing, piled into the Hagglund and headed to Cape Evans for a day visit.  Cape Evans is the site of R.F Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, which was built in January 1911 as a base camp for his second and last Antarctic tour.  A lot of incredible stories come from this expedition, including Edward Wilson’s winter trek with two other men to an Emperor penguin colony at Cape Crozier and Scott’s attainment of the South Pole.  Unfortunately, Scott and his men all perished on the return.


It was a two hour trip that took us out over the sea ice and following the coast of Ross Island.  Due to a huge glacier in our path, we stopped short of the site and hiked the rest of the way in, taking the route that Scott’s men would have traversed.

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Windvane Hill © AHT/Cricket


Our first look at the camp was from high up on Windvane Hill, where a cross stands commemorating 3 members of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1916) who died in the vicinity in 1916.   We then hiked down and around the hut, admiring what a picturesque and well situated spot it is.  Finally, we unlocked the hut door and slowly stepped into the dim interior.  What a magnificent sight.  As I have often heard, it really does retain the remarkable feeling of Scott’s men having just stepped out.

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Terra Nova Hut © AHT/Cricket


We quietly worked through the hut, studying the long, well-photographed dinner table, the bunks with handwriten notes and pictures drawn on the boards, and the galley stacked with jars and tins of food.  Without discussion, both Diana and I refrained from taking any pictures.  When talking about it afterwards, we found that we both wanted only the memory of our first visit.

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Ration Bag

Posted by Cricket and Diana Sep 22, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date: 21 September 2010
Temperature: -20 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40 degrees c
Sunrise: 6:48
Sunset 18:49

 

This week I worked on an interesting artefact. It was a ration bag which would generally have held food product for the members of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913. However, this bag turned out to have rocks and a tiny folded piece of paper. On the paper was a pencil written note that said Moraine Ferrar G.

 

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Before treatment  © AHT/Diana

 

 

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After treatment © AHT/Diana


We forwarded this information to Natalie, a curator at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, who has a wealth of information about Antarctic exploration and is familiar with the hand writing of the members of Scott’s party. On first impression Natalie’s “ thought was it was Debenham's writing - he went to the Ferrar January 1911 and then again later in the expedition. He also wrote extensively on the Ferrar region after the expedition”.  Frank Debenham was on Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-1913.This information would have to be confirmed by hand writing comparison with other identified Debenham manuscripts and is best done using the originals in both cases but still very exciting.

 

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So what started out as a very ordinary treatment proved very rewarding seeing the actual hand writing from what could be one of Scott’s expedition members.

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Posted by Cricket


Date: 16 September 2010
Temperature: -20C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -20C
Sunrise: 7:26am
Sunset: 6:15pm

 

Last night after work we took a walk following a flagged route around the pressure ridges.  Pressure ridges are ice formations, common to sea ice in the winter.  In essence, they form when two floes are forced together causing large sections to break off and uplift.  The ridge in front of Scott Base forms when the Ross Sea Ice Shelf pushes up against the stationary sea ice, which is locked in place against the shore.

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Pressure ridges © AHT/Cricket


Visually, pressure ridges are dramatic and sculptural.  In the evening light they are particularly stunning, reflecting pinks and oranges while showing off their different shades of blue.  Before coming down to the ice, an artist who worked here alerted me that one rarely sees pure white in Antarctica. And now, seeing the landscape for myself, it’s amazingly true.

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Seal with Mt. Erebus © AHT/Cricket


The route we followed took us out across the sea ice and up and over the ridge to the Ross Sea Ice Shelf.  Along the back side of the ridge, as we were about to head back over, we sighted a huge grey-brown ball in the near distance. “A seal!” Diana yelled.  We stood silent, watching it lounge about for a while, and trying to find a crack where it might have come up from.  We were later told that seals litter the ice during the summer, and a sighting means they are just now returning for the season.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date: September 15, 2010
Temperature: -41.7 degrees C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -46 degrees C
Sunrise: 07:33
Sunset 18:08

 

Just over a year ago Antarctica New Zealand completed the installation of three wind turbines. These generate enough electricity for New Zealand’s Scott Base and some extra which is fed back over to McMurdo, the United States Base. They are beautiful and amazing pieces of technology, 39 meters tall with blades that span 33 meters.

 

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Looking up from outside the tower © Antarctica New Zealand/Hayden

 

Spring can bring some of the coldest weather in Antarctica and it seems the oil used to lubricate the moving parts in the turbines is becoming too viscous (thickening up).  Hayden, one of our engineers, and Steve, our electrician, went over to the wind-farm to change the oil to something which would not be as effected by the cold. This job required climbing the ladder inside the wind turbine and working in the cramped space in the top of the turbine.

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Looking down the tower © Antarctica New Zealand/Hayden

 

There was six litres of oil used – it took 7 hours for the oil to drain! The controls for the turbines (and all the systems used to keep Scott Base) are managed by Hayden’s computer at base. While Hayden was up the tower he was in constant communication by radio with base so he could issue instructions.

 

 

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Hayden in the tower © Antarctica New Zealand/Hayden

 

Cricket was “mouse” (rostered duty of answering phones and radio, etc) that day so we listened to it all as we worked in our toasty little lab back at base.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date:   8 September 2010
Temperature:  -32.8
Wind Speed:  20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60 degrees
Sunrise: 8:36am
Sunset 5:11pm

 

Track vehicles are generally used when we travel on snow and ice. We have 13 Bombardier super wide single track machines in our fleet of snow mobiles. Bombardier is the Canadian company who also make Ski-doo. The snow mobile is the replacement for dogs in days gone by. They are use to carry people and pull sleds full of gear.

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Some of the snow mobiles ©  Antarctica New Zealand/Lex


We also use a Piston Bully to move snow and pack roads. You may be familiar with this machine as they are use on ski resorts around the world to groom the slopes.

 

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Cricket and I getting ready to leave in the Hagglund on our camping trip  © AHT/Diana


The work horses on base are the Hagglunds. They are a track vehicle developed in Sweden in 1974, currently being use throughout the world in the harshest environments, deserts of sand or snow and swamps and muskeg (Arctic bogland). It is an amphibious vehicle with the propulsion being provided by the tracks. The front cab and trailer can be heated so you can carry a lot of equipment and not worry about it getting cold.

 

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Cricket and Diana in front of the modified track vehicle McMurdo © Antarctica New Zealand/Doug


Over at the United States Antarctic Research Base at McMurdo they have a number of modified North American vehicles. We saw two Ford trucks with these track systems installed, replacing the wheels. These systems are an expensive conversion but are working well for the McMurdo personnel.

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Posted by Cricket

 

Date:                           7 September 2010
Sunrise:                       8:36am
Sunset:                        5:11pm
Temperature:                -33C
Wind Speed:                20 knots
Temp with wind chill:    -60C

 

Antarctic Field Training (AFT) is a prerequisite for any solo travel outside of Scott Base. It is an eye-opening experience culminating in an overnight in a tent at a site well beyond the Base.  Everyone living at Scott Base, whether their work is here or in the field, goes through this training.


There were three of us going through AFT together, Diana, Doug and myself.  We began with a slideshow presentation about the Antarctic environment, survival principles and horrible cautionary images of trench foot and frostbite – ailments we could get here if we ignore the warning signs.  We then went through the emergency bags, assembled and packed our 4-layer sleeping bag system, and were shown how to use two different camping stoves.  Finally, it was time to put on all our ECW (Extreme Condition Wear), get into the Hagglund and head out.

 

We got to the campsite around dusk, and hurriedly set about putting up three tents – one for Diana and myself, one for Doug and the third, a latrine.  With our headlamps on, we started building a kitchen shelter by first digging a trench then building a snow wall behind that offered protection from the wind while cooking.  It was a cold evening with temperatures reaching almost –40C and winds at 10-15 knots.  Cold enough that we melted snow for water, quickly ate some dehydrated dinners, sucked on a few frozen fruit sticks and called it a night.

 

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Setting up the tent © Antarctica NZ/Doug

 

“Are you asleep?”  “What are you doing over there?” is what Doug must have heard Diana and I asking each other all night long.  We laugh now, but it was a cold night even buried in all those layers of sleeping bags with handwarmers in our socks.  Through the night, I often thought about what a spin instructor at my hometown gym said during a hard workout: “if you’re hurting now, you better start thinking about something else.”  I thought of the beach on one of those days when it’s so hot under the sun that you can’t wait to get inside.

 

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Drinking a morning bowl of Milo © Antarctica NZ/Doug

 

We stayed in our sleeping bags for almost 11 hours, leaving them in the morning to start melting snow for a quick breakfast of Milo, an “energy” hot chocolate drink, and to take down our tents.  The Hagglund came around 9am to take us home, where we arrived in time to enjoy an opposite extreme - a mid-morning coffee from the espresso machine and freshly baked biscuits with butter.  Over breakfast, we wondered how the early explorers handled such cold day after day, especially during their sledging trips.  When we’re camping, I’m guessing we’ll be relying on the hand and toe warmers to keep us strong.

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Nacreous Clouds

Posted by Cricket and Diana Sep 2, 2010

Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 1 Sept 2010
Sunrise: 9:36am
Sunset: 16:15pm
Temperature: -34C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -53C

 

The word “nacreous” stems from the Latin “nacre,” meaning mother of pearl.  Nacreous clouds are thin and transparent with a wave-like form, and were so named for their dazzling iridescent colors.  They appear most prominently at dawn and dusk, and have been an almost daily feature during the last couple weeks.

 

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Nacreous clouds during sunrise © Antarctica New Zealand/Steven

 

 

In the late mornings they can be mixtures of rainbow colors, and by late afternoon, can change to waves of greens, blues and grays. 
Steven, our Scott Base science technician, explained that nacreous clouds are polar stratospheric clouds that only form in very cold polar regions and below –80C.  They exist well above our atmosphere at heights of 15-25km in the stratosphere, and being so high up, they appear stationary.  They gain their colors by reflecting sunlight coming from below the horizon, and so, are a skyline feature unique to this time of year.  They are a reminder of larger forces at play, and are associated with the chemical reactions that cause ozone depletion.

 

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Nacreous clouds during the afternoon © AHT/Cricket

To those wintering over in Antarctica, nacreous clouds must seem like fireworks after a 4-month-long term of darkness.  Seeing them does feel like a celebration, and their presence fosters joy and conversation.  Summer is coming quickly here and every day we have longer periods of daylight – a stark contrast to the almost constant darkness that we encountered upon our arrival several weeks ago.  As the sun reaches higher in the sky, our time for sighting nacreous clouds draws to a close.  Their appearance has been the best welcome to this fantastic landscape.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date:                August 31, 2010
Sunrise:           9:36am
Sunset:           4:15pm
Temperature: -31.1 degrees C
Wind Speed: 0
Temp with wind chill: -31.1 degrees C

 

Cricket and I had our driving test this week, our introduction to the conditions and hazards associated with driving at Scott Base, Antarctica.

Transportation has changed a lot since the days of the early explorers. Until the late ’80s dogs were used for travel, however, snow machines and vehicles have taken over. Our instructor was Lex, the mechanic at Scott Base this year. Lex is an amazing mechanic as he can repair and modify diesel, petrol (gasoline) and two-stroke engines and hydraulics, all of which are in the fleet. He is a very busy man.

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Lex beside Piston Bully, with snow mobiles © AHT/Diana

 

 

For the most part, when travelling between the American Base McMurdo and the Pegasus air strip, we use trucks modified for travel down here. The larger tyres are used because the standard snow tyre would wear out the road too quickly. The vehicles are all four wheel drive. The fuel used is also modified to withstand the low temperatures: the diesel vehicles use AN8, an aviation fuel containing Kerosene; the petrol (gas) equivalent is Mogas, it has reduced octane.

 

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Land Cruiser © AHT/Diana

 

The vehicles all have block heaters to keep the oil and lubricants flowing when not running and in-cab heaters, these are activated when the vehicle is plugged in. At McMurdo there are several dedicated plug-in places just for Kiwi’s. We also have a “hitching rail” here at Scott Base for plugging in.


To be continued