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Freezing Antifreeze

Posted by Conservators May 10, 2011

Posted by Jane


Date: 4th May 2011
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C

I have been working on a can of what we believe is antifreeze from Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. It was probably brought for use on the Arrol Johnson car, the first vehicle in Antarctica.

I wanted to find out what I could about the liquid in case it had any health and safety implications in the lab or in the hut. I also wanted to add as much information to the records as possible for future reference. We are limited in how much we can find out here as we do not have the equipment to do sophisticated analysis. I was able to carry out a few simple tests, but these have not provided us with any conclusive answers.


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The can of anti-freeze from Cape Royds, after conservation © AHT

I ruled out alcohols and salt solutions straight away as these would have evaporated off. The liquid is oily brown and I initially thought it was ethylene glycol, a substance still used as antifreeze today. It has a sweet smell which is characteristic of ethylene glycol.

I put our local environment to use in my efforts and tried to freeze the liquid. Outside it was -35°C but the liquid did not freeze, although it did become quite syrupy. Our base mechanic gave me a refractometer which he uses to test the antifreeze in our  vehicles. We found that if it is ethylene glycol, it is at least 70% pure and will prevent freezing down to at least -50°C.
Impressive for antifreeze that is over 100 years old!


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The handwritten label from the can which reads ‘a little of this amongst the water helps prevent freezing’ © AHT

If anyone out there has any ideas about what our antifreeze might be, please send us a comment.


Midnight  Alert

Posted by Conservators May 10, 2011

Posted by Martin

Date: 4.5.2011
Temperature: -31 degree C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

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Aurora Australis over Scott Base - Troy Beaumont

It was well after midnight when our base manager, Troy, was woken up by his pager. He carries it with him day and night in order to be alerted to any kind of emergency requiring immediate attention. A quick glance at the pager however reminded him that he had put himself on the Aurora Alert list. Anyone who sees an Aurora Australis (also known as Southern Lights), can phone in the information to McMurdo station which then gets relayed to people on the list. And it is certainly a sight worth getting out of bed for. A mesmerizing, magical light display with sheets of green light moving like curtains in a breeze across a dark sky. The light of an Aurora is emitted by atoms, molecules and ions in the upper atmosphere that have been excited by the solar wind, which is basically a stream of electrons and protons. The density of magnetic field lines in the polar regions channels this effect and makes it visible.  


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Aurora Australis over Scott Base - Troy Beaumont