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Taking the plunge

Posted by Conservators Jun 27, 2011

Author: Jane
Date: 22nd June 2011
Temperature: -24°C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C

 

It’s a tradition here at Scott Base to take a plunge into the ice cold water at Mid-Winter. As with everything else in Antarctica, it takes a huge amount of effort to set up. First, there is the hole. This can take days to dig and often needs to be cleared again the morning before the plunge as ice builds up overnight.


Despite this year’s sea ice break out at the start of Winter, the ice in front of the base was still 1.2m in depth. The snow had to be cleared from the top of the ice and then a chain saw was used to cut a hole big enough for a person to jump in.


The water tends to be warmer than the air temperature so being in the water is quite pleasant; well for about thirty seconds. It was approx -2°C in the water and the air was around -20°C.

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Russell climbing out of the polar plunge hole with Troy manning the safety harness.
Credit: Petal Cottle

 

The most difficult part is psyching yourself up to jump into a hole in the ice that is filled with slushy water followed by climbing up the ladder into the cold air as the water freezes on you. Once you get back into the heated wannigan (an insulated container), you then have to wait for the water in your shoes to defrost enough to be able to remove them.


I suppose it doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable experience, but it is exhilarating and the closest thing we will get to a long soak in a bath down here.

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Midwinter dinner

Posted by Conservators Jun 24, 2011

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     Scott Base team at midwinter. Photo: Jane

 

Midwinter is an important turning point in the life of all Antarctic winter-overs. Greetings and invitations to midwinter dinners are sent out by all the Antarctic stations. It is a time to reflect on the achievement of past explorers, the scientific work that is being done around the continent and to look forward to the coming light and reunions with friends and family.


Last night, on the 100th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott’s last midwinter dinner, the team at Scott Base commemorated the occasion with a magnificent meal prepared by our chef Lance, and then a great party afterwards. Julie prepared a menu in the style of Edward Wilson’s original watercolour menu. The dining room was festooned with the flags of the Antarctic treaty nations and smaller route flags of red and black.  15 invited guests from McMurdo Station joined us for the festivities.


It was a wonderful evening, shared with great friends, in a very special part of the world.

 

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     Midwinter dinner menu. Photo: Julie

 

Posted by: Sarah

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A total lunar eclipse

Posted by Conservators Jun 24, 2011

Author: Julie

Date: 24 June 2011

Temperature: -33

Wind Speed: 2 knots

Sunrise: August 2011

Sunset: August 2011

 

 

 

 

Early morning on 16 June, a full lunar eclipse was visible from Scott Base.   The eclipse started at 6:22 a.m., so a few of us planned to get up early that morning and hike to the top of Observation Hill,  one of the highest peaks within easy hiking distance, from which we would have had a great view.   However, the night before, we went into a “condition 1” storm (condition 1 means extremely high winds and whiteout conditions), and when we got up early the next day, we were still at “condition 2.”  At condition 2, there is better visibility, but it’s not good weather for a hike.

 

However, we got lucky.  Although the snow was blowing around furiously on the ground, amazingly, the sky was clear and the moon was fully visible from the Scott Base lounge.  Four of us sat in the lounge that morning and watched the moon go to full eclipse at 7:22.  Only minutes after the eclipse went total, a heavy cloud cover moved in.  We completely lost the glowing red, shadowed moon during most of the total eclipse and could not see the edge of the moon reappear at 9:02; however, for just a few minutes right before the eclipse finished at 10:02, the moon was spotted again, and some of us rushed back to the windows to watch the shadow move away and the moon come back to full.

 

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     Lunar eclispe at almost total © AHT

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The Bare Essentials

Posted by Conservators Jun 16, 2011

Author: Sarah

 

Date: 15 June 2011
Temperature: -13 Deg C
Wind Speed: 35 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 27
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A



In 1914 a group of men known as the “Ross Sea Party” landed at Cape Evans on Ross Island.  The Ross Sea Party’s mission was to lay vital food and equipment depots for Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition which was planning to cross Antarctica.


A small science party was to remain ashore.  Apart from some stores, very little equipment and no clothing was taken ashore.  On 6 May 1914 the ship the Aurora was blown out to sea and could not return. The ten men ashore feared the worst, thinking all hands had been lost.


The men decided that their second planned trip to cache supplies for Shackleton must be completed despite their setbacks and lack of supplies. They had no way of knowing that the Endurance was also in terrible trouble, and the depots they would lay, which took a deadly toll, would never be used.
Lacking the appropriate clothing, the Ross Sea Party improvised sledging clothing from fabric and tents left behind by Scott’s 1910 expedition.  Below is an image of a handmade jacket sewn from canvas material, that is also found in the hut as curtains, insulation and bags.  Although sewn with a heavy hand, the jacket with its wooded toggle buttons is very well crafted.   The wind proof trousers are made from green canvas, which is also found as tents, tarpaulins and bags inside the hut at Cape Evans.

 

 

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Ross Sea Party hand-made jacket © AHT

 

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The grimy, sooty nature of both articles of clothing tells the tale of the hardship that the Ross Sea Party went through.  The men saved precious fuel for depot laying and burned seal blubber for heating and cooking, the greasy soot infiltrating all aspects of life in the hut.
 

Ross sea part hand-made trousers © AHT

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Finding The Way

Posted by Conservators Jun 16, 2011

Author: Martin

Date: 15.6.2011
Temperature: -10 degree Celsius
Wind Speed: 60 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40 degree Celsius
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


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Flags ready to go © AHT/ Martin 


Many people who have been to Scott Base, NZ's science base on Ross Island, Antarctica, have had experience with flag making. It means feeding a piece of fabric on to a bamboo stick and fixing it with one screw –  then repeating it about a hundred times.  (The screw by the way ensures that the flags and therefore the route is showing up on the radar when travelling in a white out) Literally hundreds of these flags are used to mark all the routes across the ice and they have become a feature of this part of Antarctica of almost iconic proportions. Yesterday I had the chance to go out with Troy, our field support person and base manager, to replace a number of flags in preparation for the next summer season. Equipped with a battery drill, 25mm extra long drill bit and bundles of flags in a sled we drive or walk along the route. As we go along, we look for missing or half buried flags, drill a 400mm deep  hole and insert a new flag. In -15 degree C with little wind and a full moon, it was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours out and about away from the workbench.      

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Out on the ice in the afternoon  © Troy Beaumont

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Boxes repaired by Martin

Posted by Conservators Jun 12, 2011

Author: Julie

 

Date: 8/6/11
Temperature: -17.8
Wind Speed: 42 kts
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

 

 

 

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Repaired historic boxes in situ at Cape Royds © Michael Morrison

 

As Martin has written in previous blogs, his job is to repair deteriorated historic wooden food crates so that they are structurally stable.  If sections of the timber boards are missing, Martin remakes the missing sections and inserts them back into the box like puzzle pieces.  The fills make the boxes more weathertight, and, together with other structural repairs to the box interiors, allow the boxes to carry the necessary weight and to withstand extreme wind and temperature differentials.  As is considered ethical in the field of conservation, the fills amalgamate visually with the original box, but remain distinguishable as new material (they are marked on their interior faces).  In that way there is no confusion about what is original to 1911 and what AHT has added in 2011.

 

 

 

 

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Missing section of timber replicated on box AHT9043.1. © AHT

Martin is using Scott’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) for the box repairs.  The growth rings of that timber are very close together, making it particularly stable.  Additionally, Scott’s Pine is compatible with the species identified as having been used for the historic boxes, including spruce, pine, and fir. What Martin hasn’t talked about is how aesthetically striking some of his repairs are.  Over time, the new wood will weather to match the old, and the repairs will not stand out visually.  However, when Martin first repairs the boxes, the new and old wood contrast, and the effect can be quite beautiful, like elegantly crafted pieces of sculpture.

 

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Repairs to box AHT9251.1: from an aesthetic standpoint, my favorite box so far.  © AHT

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Party at Scott Base

Posted by Conservators Jun 10, 2011

Author: Jane

 

Wind Speed: 15 knits
Temp with wind chill: -27°C

We often socialise with our fellow Antarcticans from McMurdo Station, one of the United States Antarctic Program bases. We have film nights, bingo, trivia and of course parties, among other things.


This past weekend we threw a dress up party with live music in our mechanics workshop. There were four bands playing, one of which was from Scott Base. Most of the bands have only been together for a few months, but they all still sounded great.


At the beginning of the season I told Julie she would be up playing guitar on stage before the Winter was out but she flatly denied it. I was right!  The band practiced regularly in preparation for the party and did not disappoint, nor did any of the McMurdo bands.


The organisation and set up took quite a bit of time, but everyone enjoyed the night so it was well worth all the effort.

 

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The Scott Base band playing. From left: Anthony, Julie, Lance, Victoria. ©  AHT/Jane

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Ice and Snow Formations

Posted by Conservators Jun 3, 2011

Date: 02/06/2011

 

Posted by Julie

 

Temperature: -22

Wind Speed: Gusting between 20 – 40 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 36  to  -41
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

 

 

Ever since the spectacular ice breakout in February, the ice forming over the water in front of Scott Base has steadily been growing thicker.  Last week the ice was judged thick enough to walk on. Troy, our base leader, Jane, and I set out to mark a safe route for walking through some nearby pressure ridges.

 

Troy is an experienced glacier guide, and so we got the bonus of getting Troy to talk about the snow and ice.  In a crack in the ice we discovered some spectacular, large, faceted ice crystals.  This is sometimes known as crevasse hoar. Troy explained that these ice crystals form and grow in glacial crevasses and in other cavities where a large cooled space is formed and in which water vapor can accumulate under calm, still conditions with a large temperature gradient. The vapour then attaches itself straight to the ice crystal forming a hollow hexagonal shape.

 

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Faceted ice crystal. © AHT/Julie

We also found impressively large icicles.  Icicles require liquid water and so they are notable: the temperature rarely goes above freezing, and certainly has not been above 0 degrees for many months now.

 

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Jane impersonating a radioactive rhinoceros by shining her headlamp through an icicle. © AHT/Julie


Most spectacular are the pressure ridges themselves.  Pressure ridges form because even very thick sheets of sea ice are mobile. As the sea underneath moves, or when the temperatures fluctuate, the ice shrinks and expands, cracks and shifts.  At Scott Base, the sea ice is bordered by Ross Island on one side and the permanent, immobile ice shelf (80 km thick) on the other.  The relatively thin sea ice between has nowhere to move except upwards, and so plates of ice are very slowly pushed up vertically along cracks, eventually developing into spectacular ice formations. These pressure ridges survived the recent sea ice breakout in February, meaning they are at least 14 years old, the date of the last ice breakout.

 

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Pressure ridges.  The formation in the foreground is approximately 5 meters high. © AHT/Julie

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Emergency Conservation

Posted by Conservators Jun 3, 2011

Posted by Martin

 

Date: 01.06.2011
Temperature: -17 degree C
Wind Speed: 40 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

 

Sarah mentioned earlier that the explorers in the Heroic Area were very skilled in fixing things and being creative with the limited supplies they had. See this image of Mears making dog harnesses.


Not wanting to be outdone, Julie responded promptly to an urgent conservation task of a slightly different kind. I had been outside for a while in about minus 30degree C and was very happy to get back into the warm base. Pulling off headlight, hat and frozen neck gaiter, I threw off my glasses as well and heard them landing with a sickening noise on the concrete floor. A resin frame at that temperature becomes very brittle which means I could see the fuzzy contours of my glasses separated from the lens. Julie however, in true Antarctic spirit wasn’t fazed and after 24 hours in her care, my glasses almost looked like new.


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Martin’s glasses under repair © AHT/Martin


P.S. I just heard that Julie has moved on to fixing the mouthpiece of a saxophone for Victoria, our multi talented base musician.