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Antarctic conservation

August 2010
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Discovery Hut Survey

Posted by Cricket and Diana Aug 25, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date:             25 August 2010
Temperature:  -23 C (-9 F)
Wind Speed:  15 knots, NE
Temp with wind chill: -45 C (-49 F)
Sunrise:        10:37
Sunset:        15:16

 

Discovery Hut at Hut Point was erected by Robert Falcon Scott and members of his British Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition in February/March of 1902. Cricket and I accompanied the winter conservators Nicola, Melinda, Jane and Georgina to Discovery Hut to conduct a survey of how the building weathered the winter. Snow build up around the hut is being monitored in order to assist with preservation.

 

 

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Discovery Hut, Hut Point © AHT/D Komejan

 

Discovery Hut, because of its proximity to McMurdo (you can see part of the base in the left corner of the image), has had the most visitation over the years. The building was designed and pre-fabricated in Australia then erected at Hut Point.  Because of its large open design, it was difficult to keep warm and has actually only ever been inhabited for short periods of time.  Scott’s 1902 party used it as a depot.  It then was used by members of the British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition 1907-09 lead by Ernest Shackleton, then by British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-13 led by R. F. Scott, and finally by the Ross Sea Party members of the Imperial  Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-17 under Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leadership.

 

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Winter 2010 Conservators at the Cross on Observation Hill © AHT/D Komejan

 

It was wonderful for Cricket and I to have our first visit to one of the huts. After taking photos and notes we had a little light left for a walk up the hill to the cross erected in memory of George Vince, the first recorded person to die in Antarctica when he fell over a cliff during a blizzard. It has a wonderful view over the McMurdo Sound and of McMurdo Base.

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Posted by Cricket

 

Date:             25 August 2010
Temperature:  -23 C (-9 F)
Wind Speed:  15 knots, NE
Temp with wind chill: -45 C (-49 F)
Sunrise:        10:37
Sunset:         15:16

 

 

Our first week at Scott Base quickly disappeared, faster than a kid with a cupcake.  This week working with the winter conservation team, seeing Antarctica for the first time, and meeting everyone here at Scott Base has been an absolute treat.  We had a five-day overlap with the winter conservators and began taking over and gaining speed on the Trust’s project to conserve objects associated with R.F. Scott’s (1910-13)  expedition.  During this time, the winter conservators helped us move into the summer conservation lab, which is situated a short outdoors walk from the main facility, and guided us through our environs, showing us what various offsite storage containers hold, which artefacts need conservation and discussing methodologies for conservation treatments.

 

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Winter Conservators leaving Scott Base, Antarctica, bound for Christchurch, New Zealand © AHT/D.Komejan

The winter conservation team left on Sunday.  Though we’ve only known them a short while, it was difficult to see Nicola, Mindy, Jane and Georgina go.  They are a fantastic group of women and wonderful conservators.  Diana and I laughed, a bit nervously, that maybe they set the bar a little too high?  The quality and volume of their work is certainly impressive. 

 

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Cricket in front of storage containers, Scott Base © AHT/D.Komejan

And now, starting into our second week with our training wheels off, we feel more and more settled, and eager to move ahead.  The first two crates of objects that we unpacked from Scott’s Cape Evans expedition (1910-1913) are enchanting – iron tools, tins of mustard, ration bags and a bottle of pickled onions.  But, more on these later.  For now, thank you, winter team, and happy travels!

 

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Antarctic Heritage Trust Artefact Conservation Lab at Scott Base, Antarctica ©  AHT/D.Komejan

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Frostbite

Posted by Cricket and Diana Aug 19, 2010

 

Posted by Nicola


Date:                  19 August 2010
Temperature:      -29c
Wind Speed:       10 knots
Temp with wind chill: 45c
Sunrise:              The first sunrise 12.26
Sunset:               13.30

 

With just a couple of days to go before we leave Scott Base, Antarctica, we are pleased to have come through the winter with just a couple of cases of frost-nip. We have all experienced the extreme pain of warming up fingers frozen whilst trying to operate cameras in thin gloves, but the polar clothing and toe and hand-warmers have kept us toasty.

 

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The hut at Cape Royds with Erebus in the background © AHT/N Dunn

 


Frostbite was a common complaint of the early explorers whose exposed skin, toes and fingers would turn black and swell with large blisters, the pain must have been excruciating. In the lab this week we had an artefact, known as ‘Brocklehurst’s leg protector’ which reminded us of how lucky we have been.


Sir Phillip Brocklehurst was the 19 year old assistant geologist on Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition and part of the first team to climb Mount Erebus. The ascent was made in improvised climbing boots made of ski boots with nails hammered into the soles. On the treacherous slopes they survived a 36-hour blizzard before continuing the climb in intense cold, Brocklehurst still in his ski boots as he didn’t think it necessary to change into the better insulated ‘finnesko’ boots of reindeer skin. After nine hours both his big toes were black and frostbitten and he remained in the tent whilst the others made it to the summit.

 

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Brocklehurst’s leg protector made from painted steel rods bound with paper strips © AHT

 

Later one of his toes was amputated by Marshall (the expedition surgeon and cartographer) with Mackay (expedition doctor) acting as anaesthetist. The cold meant that the wounds healed slowly and as he recovered in Shackleton’s bed the metal cage protected the damaged foot from the weight of the blankets. Thank goodness for toe warmers!


 

 

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Flying to the Ice

Posted by Cricket and Diana Aug 18, 2010

Posted by Cricket & Diana

 

Date:             18 August 2010
Sunrise:          Below horizon
Sunset:
Temperature:  -32C
Wind Speed:  30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -65C

 

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Boarding the C-17  © AHT/C Harbeck

 

We boarded the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 plane just after lunch along with almost 120 other people and left Christchurch, New Zealand, for Antarctica, where we will be spending the next 6 months working on the artefact collection of Scott’s 1910–13 Antarctic expedition.  We were in awe of the plane.  Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III is the preferred plane for these types of transport because it has a large carrying capacity and can fly to the ice and back all in one day and on one tank of gas.  It’s a huge plane, which, having watched the previous day’s flight take off, appears a heavy and pokey beast when leaving the ground.  However, in the plane, it felt much different. We were surprised by the speed and force, which jerked us back into our seats.

 

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Inside the C-17 © AHT/D Komejan

We were 2 of 3 “Kiwis” (slang term for New Zealanders) on the flight with the remaining passengers heading for the U.S. base, McMurdo.  Our departure time was unusual since most flights during late winter leave Christchurch in the early morning in order to land on the ice during a small window of daylight.  Our afternoon flight was scheduled so that the pilots could practice landing during the Antarctica nighttime with their new night vision goggles - a daunting initiation to the ice!  Our flight covered 4000km in only 5 hours, and we deplaned in time to see the last glow of sun.  Stunning.

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The End of Winter

Posted by Conservators Aug 13, 2010

Jane wrote:
Date:                       11 August 2010
Temperature:            -28.7°C
Wind Speed:            10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C
Moonrise:                 Below horizon
Moonset:                  Below horizon

 

It’s almost Winfly (the start of flights into Antarctica following four months of total darkness and six months of isolation for the New Zealand team on the Ice). On Friday we are expecting the first flight since the 5th of March. The Winfly flights are bringing new people and supplies- including fresh fruit and vegetables. Whilst the prospect of new people is a bit daunting after spending almost six months with just 211 other people (which includes all from Scott Base and the American research station at McMurdo), we are all looking forward to the freshies (fresh fruit and vegetables). Hopefully T3 polar syndrome, which causes memory loss among other things, will not get the better of us, causing the freshies to be collected and the new people to be forgotten out on the ice runway.

 

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View of Scott Base from the windfarm at midday.
© AHT/J. Hamill

 

It is still dark but now the sunlight is beginning to make a welcome appearance on the horizon in the middle of the day. Today I travelled out onto the Ross Ice Shelf to check on one of the science experiments measuring the sea ice. The sky was overcast but a tantalizing glow over the Transantarctics heralded the return of the sun. We have another 7 days to wait until it climbs above the horizon, but it is really beginning to feel like the long dark night is finally coming to an end.

 

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View of Mount Erebus at midday with Inaccessible Island in the Ross Ice Shelf to the left.
© S.Sun

 

We are finishing up our work in the lab and getting ready to hand over to the summer team of conservators who arrive on Saturday. It’s hard to believe that we have been here over six months and even harder to imagine we will be leaving in just over a week!

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The Antarctic Curling Club

Posted by Conservators Aug 12, 2010

 

Author:                   Mindy

Date:                      August 11, 2010
Temperature:           -23°C
Wind Speed:           5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -30°C
Moonrise:               10:25
Moonset:                17:52

 

At nearby McMurdo Station, the American Antarctic base, an industrious group of individuals fancied trying their hand at curling this winter.  After doing their homework they set about manufacturing curling stones from metal, concrete and plastic buckets.  They flooded a small section of ground, complete with the bulls-eyes (“house”) at each end of the curling sheet, and scavenged around for brooms.  The result – a pretty funky little curling set-up.

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First practice session at McMurdo Station ©  A. Batdorff /United States Antarctic Program

 

    

 

Being Canadian, I’ve definitely watched my fair share of curling matches.  I’ve even played a handful of times.  Apparently this qualified me as the most experienced curler on Ross Island, so I was recruited to coach a few practice ends for players to pick up the basics of the game.  In the dark and cold we curled and swept our little hearts out.  Experts on television make it look easy, but it’s just as tough as I remember!

 

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Ben, from the McMurdo team, throws a curling rock in our inter-base match

© S. Sun/Antarctica New Zealand

    

With a little playing experience under their belts, the American squad of curlers held a mini-playoff.  The winner of that match faced off against our Scott Base (New Zealand’s Antarctic research station) four-some this past weekend.  It was a hard fought match, and while we didn’t win we definitely had a great time.  Huge kudos to the gang that made it all happen – no small achievement by any means.  Curling enthusiasts around the world would be proud…

 

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The Scott Base curling squad – Tom, Steven, Mindy and Bobbie

©  S. McSweeney/Antarctic New Zealand

 

 

 

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Mindy                      August 4, 2010


Temperature:           -17.0°C
Wind Speed:           10 knots
Temp with wind chill: Approximately -30°C
Moonrise:                Below horizon
Moonset:                 Below horizon

 

When we arrived at Scott Base (New Zealand’s Antarctic research station) in February, pools of open water were everywhere.  It was hard not to notice the waters of McMurdo Sound through breaks in the ice.

 

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The open waters of McMurdo Sound, as viewed from Observation Hill in March. When the sea ice freezes over,

the Cape Armitage Loop runs directly through this area.  © AHT / M. Bell

 

After months of winter, these pools have frozen over.  It is now possible to assess the potential for local travel over the sea ice.  Armed with flags, a GPS unit, measuring tapes, shovels, hot chocolate and a very large drill, we ventured out on to the sea ice.  With Tom, Scott Base winter manager, at the helm, we followed the Cape Armitage GPS route at a cautious pace.  Observing the landscape closely, we stopped to measure, assess and mark potential dangers like cracks in the sea ice.  We also stopped to determine the ice’s thickness at specific points along the route.

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Digging down through the snow to find the ice surface, with Observation Hill in the background.

© Antarctica New Zealand / T Arnold

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Drilling into the sea ice to determine its thickness

© Antarctica New Zealand / T Arnold

As a general rule, a minimum of 75 cm of ice is required for sea ice travel.  Measurements gathered from our trip suggest the portion of the route we surveyed is good to go.  When the route is completely profiled, the path of safe travel will be marked with flags and the fun can begin.  Me, I’m keen to get out for a good ski!    

 

 

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It's a wrap!

Posted by Conservators Aug 11, 2010
Author:Jane
Date:04/08/10
Temperature:-20.5°C
Wind Speed:25 knots
Temp with wind chill:-47°C
Moonrise:Below the horizon.
Moonset:

Below the horizon.

 

 

I have just finished conserving a group of tins from Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans which has been quite challenging over the last few weeks. With so many objects containing paper elements it has not been possible for George, our paper conservator, to conserve them all, so I have had the opportunity to learn new paper conservation skills from her.

 

Griffith & McAlister made dried food products like tapioca, lentils and macaroni, packed in distinctive square blue tins, wrapped in coarse paper and tied with string. Removing the wrappers can be a daunting process as the corroding iron from the tins is acidic and impregnates the paper, causing the wrapper to become very brittle.

 

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Griffith & McAlister tin of Flake Tapioca before conservation. The outer label is torn and stained with iron corrosion causing it to be very brittle.

Credit: AHT

 

I washed the wrappers in water, adding an alkaline buffer to reduce the acidity. The holes in the wrappers were filled with a Japanese tissue paper toned to the same colour as the wrapper, providing strength to weaker areas. The whole wrapper was then lined with a very thin toned Japanese tissue paper. The type of adhesive we use depends on how degraded the paper is.

 

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Applying toned Japanese tissue paper to fill lost areas of the wrapper to give it stability and then applying a thin lining for extra support.

Credit: AHT/ N. Dunn

 

As the wrappers dried between layers of blotting paper, I removed the surface corrosion from the tins and applied coatings to the metal to prevent them from deteriorating in the future. The labels were treated similarly to the wrappers and then reapplied to the tin.

 

 

The paper needs to be wet when re-wrapping the tin to prevent it from cracking. The tin was aligned perfectly along the original creases in the wrapper and finally the string was replaced.

 

 

I spent at least eight hours working on each of these tins as there are many different elements to treat on each one. It is often useful to conserve a batch of similar objects at one time, carrying out the same process on a number of objects. This is never boring as each has its own unique set of problems!

 

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The Flake Tapioca tin after conservation retains its historic appearance.

Credit:  AHT/J. Hamill