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Antarctic conservation

225 Posts authored by: Conservators
1

Author: Susanne
Date: March 21, 2012
Temperature: -28.3°C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -62°C
Sunrise: 7:56AM
Sunset 8:00PM

When I am asked about my Antarctic experience, people are always curious about my favorite part. My answer: the people I meet!


The Antarctic Heritage Trust is logistically supported by Antarctica New Zealand, a government entity responsible for maintaining the base operations at Scott Base and supporting science events. The first time we meet the ten Scott Base crew that we are wintering with, is when we arrive on the ice. It’s always an exciting time since the summer season team is leaving and we are new faces to get to know. Over the past few months, we have spent more time with this spectacular crew and I also wanted to share the rest of their stories with you.


Shane is the Science Technician this year and originally hails from Queenstown, NZ. While his background is in electronics product design, he spends his time on the ice doing weather observations, maintaining the science experiments, and repairing electronics. After talking with Shane, I learned that his favorite part of being here is the winter family and that you can be yourself and find support in each other. He was attracted here by hearing about others good experiences and enjoys meeting and working with the types of people that come to Antarctica.

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Shane at Discovery Point. Credit: Shane.


Naomi is the winter team First Aider and Domestic from Brisbane, Australia. In addition to living in New Zealand for 7 years, she has been attracted to living in different environments and has spent time in Africa and Canada.  Coming to Antarctica is something she has always wanted to do and her favorite part has been the people! With a diverse background as an ambulance volunteer and world traveller, she enjoys the work schedule and hopes to be able to get career experience.
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Naomi at Lake Vanda. Credit: Naomi.


Our winter chef this season is Bobbie from North Canterbury, NZ. Coming to Antarctica was a childhood dream and this is her second season with Antarctica New Zealand. Bobbie has a background in cafes and catering and produces some of the most incredible vegetarian dishes I have tasted. It helps that Bobbie herself is a vegan! She was attracted here by the mystery and magic that the continent holds and appreciates the fact that not a lot of people get to enjoy this opportunity. Her favorite part of the experience so far has been the view from the kitchen window! Not many chefs can wake up to a sunrise over the Antarctic continent!

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Bobbie at Cape Bird. Credit: Naomi.

 

Hayden is the Telecom technician for the season and is responsible for linking us with the outside world! Originally from Palmerston North, NZ, he studied telecommunications and specialised in wireless engineering. Also a world traveller, Hayden wanted to experience the remote ruggedness of Antarctica that few get to experience. During the summer he assisted with several science events and was able to see truly untouched areas such as the Dry Valleys and Darwin Glacier. His favorite part of being here is the entire experience and as he perfectly puts it, “to look out over the ice shelf and see an untouched place of beauty”. Hayden is also on the Search and Rescue team for Scott Base and I know that we are in good hands with his years of experience and his appreciation for the environment.

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Hayden at the Darwin Glacier. Credit: Hayden.


Simon, our fearless winter base manager, is originally from Invercargill, NZ. In addition to leading the base through the winter, Simon serves as field support and coordinates outdoor activities and gear maintenance. With a background in the building trade, he has travelled extensively and worked on sites in NZ and Australia. Wanting to do something he was more passionate about, he pursued ski patrolling and guiding while getting a diploma in ambulance practice. With this experience he heads the Search and Rescue team at Scott Base. His favorite part of the experience here has been the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the beautiful and powerful place that Antarctica is.
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Simon at the South Pole. Credit: Trudie


I have really been enjoying my time here and having the opportunity to spend the winter with such great people. It really is the team that makes this experience so special!


 

0

Author: Gretel

Date: 21/03/12
Temperature: -29.1 deg C
Wind Speed: 9 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48.9 deg C
Sunrise: 7.49am
Sunset 8.08pm

 

While in Antarctica, Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators lodge at New Zealand’s Scott Base, Ross Island. Once described as ‘the best hostel in the world’, Scott Base plays host to some of the top scientists in the world as well as dignitaries such as the King of Malaysia. Many talented people are employed by Antarctica New Zealand to keep Scott Base running and to support the science events that come here to stay while they collect data, carry out observations and experiments. In summer there can be over 100 residents. During  winter the Scott Base personnel consists of only 14 hardy souls. You may be familiar with us 4 AHT conservators so now we’d like to introduce you to the rest of the family.

 

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Andrew (aka The Sheriff) is one of the engineers who keeps the base running, maintaining and repairing the boilers, air handling units, generators and fuel lines on a daily basis. Ever since as a small boy, when he heard the ‘sounds of Antarctica’ on a 45 record (now you’re revealing your age Andrew!) he has relished the opportunity to experience this continent. Andrew loves the challenge of working in isolated environments – previously he crewed super yachts, sailing half-way round the world – and he certainly makes the grade as an extreme engineer.

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Jodie (JC, his second name is Curtis) is on a quest for knowledge – both of himself and the wider world. As the base carpenter his mission is to improve the base infrastructure for greater sustainability. He enjoys supporting the scientists who utilise  Antarctica as their ‘experimental playground’, and in the process learning more about this continent, and consequently the world, from them. Back in New Zealand Jodie runs his own architectural-building business, and organises festivals – enjoying the gathering of the flock and spreading the good word.

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Jeff (or Capt Jack the Pirate as we call him) is here for the adventure, fulfilling a dream he held as a young boy. His task is to service, repair and maintain our very durable fleet – which ranges from a chainsaw to a D6 Bulldozer – taking pride in taking care of the fleet. In the past he has honed his mechanical skills in snowfields and on super-sized sheep stations. Jeff’s Antarctic voyage is sustained by his love of the outdoor environment and the natural world, marvelling at the harsh yet beautiful continent and the vastness of this place.

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Tom (the Tank, see the photo) believes world peace can be achieved through water (or more precisely reverse osmosis). As the water engineer he manages the waste water treatment (aka the P.O.O. plant) and the reverse osmosis plant – where he makes and creates fresh water from seawater. Tom enjoys the changes in Antarctica weather and the challenges it presents.  A lover of wildlife and the natural environment he’s looking forward to getting back to hunting, shooting and fishing in the mountains and the bush of New Zealand.

 

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Steve (colloquially known as Wilbur but I’m not sure why) is a veteran. He’s seen 2 full seasons and this tour of duty is his third winter. As the resident electrician he’s a bright spark and his work keeps many of our vital systems, such as heating, water and energy production on the go. Having worked and travelled all over the world he realised Antarctica was the last continent for him to conquer. He enjoys the variety offered by the job, working with, and meeting good people.


Well that’s the men of engineering at Scott Base. Our next blog will introduce you to the rest of the family.

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Fire in the Hole

Posted by Conservators Mar 15, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 14/03/12
Temperature: -8.7c
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Temp with wind chill: -16c
Sunrise: 6:58am
Sunset 9:02pm


The last few weeks have seen a great many changes as Scott Base has made the transition from summer to winter mode.  The summer is a hectic period of 24-hour daylight when there can be  as many as 90 people on base at any time, made up of science teams and project groups as well as support staff.  Now however, we are down to our full winter complement of 14; a skeleton base crew of 10, plus our 4 AHT conservators.  Officially this change was marked by the flag ceremony, a tradition dating back to 1957, when the youngest person on base is tasked with lowering the old summer flag and hoisting up the winter version; a small pennant-type standard that can better withstand the inclement weather to come.

 

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Flag ceremony at Scott Base © AHT/Susanne


Now, postcards and letters home have been hastily written to make the last mailbag, and last-minute orders of supplies and fresh vegetables have been received.  Finally, last Tuesday our crew gathered outside to toast the departure of the final flight from Pegasus Air Strip. Now there will be no movement on or off the continent until August.  An exciting time for all.

 

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The McMurdo ice pier used during summer for off-loading ship cargo; no longer needed and destroyed at the start of winter with high explosives

© AHT/Georgina

1

Author: Stefan
Date: 13-03-2012
Temperature: -7C
Wind Speed: 15kts
Temp with wind chill: -19C
Sunrise: 6;51am
Sunset 9;10pm

 

 

One of the many pleasures of living on Scott Base is the proximity of some of the most amazing wildlife, just metres off our shoreline. We can often sit in the lounge with a coffee and see Weddell seals lolloping around like sausages of black and grey oil paint on a white canvas.

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Stefan and a lone Adelie Penguin at Cape Evans   © AHT/ Stefan

 

During the ice breakout, blow holes and wider expanses of water open up between the wincing epic slabs of ice and explosions of Minkie Whale breath summon your eyes and nose to their location, breaching up through the puzzle of ice plates.

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Emperor Penguin in front of Scott base  © AHT/ Giddeon

 

Indeed all the wildlife here has distinct and quite dramatic elements to their turning up on base. The odd Emperor Penguin can arrive with no friends, and seem to have a look in its eyes, like it wants you to shout out on a huge Antarctic tannoy (like in supermarkets) “lost Emperor Penguin, could his mother (aka his father) please make his way to the freezer section to pick him up. Please?”. All this makes you realise the epic distances the animals cover, and so so slowly.  I’m still awaiting for my first Orca sighting, but with the ice freezing over, alas, that ship/whale may have sailed.

1

R/V Nathaniel B Palmer

Posted by Conservators Mar 11, 2012

Author: Gretel
Date: 29 February 2012
Temperature: -11 deg C

We had some interesting visitors dock at McMurdo Station recently. The Research Vessel Nathaniel B Palmer landed at Hut Point, as did The Nimrod during Shackelton’s 1907-1909 Expedition. Both ships witnessed Discovery Hut as they berthed, still standing from Captain Scott’s 1902 Expedition. However, there the similarities end.

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Nathaniel B Palmer with icebreaker and Mount Discovery in the distance © AHT/Gretel

 

Nathaniel B Palmer R/V is a 94 metre Antarctic research icebreaker in the service of the US National Science Foundation. Named after the first American to sight Antarctica, she is capable of carrying 37 scientists with a crew of 22, on missions of up to 75-days. Equipped with an array of biological, oceanographic, geological and geophysical components to study global change there is still room for a helipad. One example of her scientific prowess is the multi-sonar which constantly maps the sea-bed as she sails, slowly piecing together the jigsaw of what lies below the stormy seas.

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The Nimrod, under sail and steam, forcing her way through the pack ice towards Cape Royds 1907-09 © Royal Geographical Society


By contrast The Nimrod was a 41 year old sealing boat before purchase by Shackleton and being refitted for his Antarctic Expedition. Despite being a sail and steam boat, she needed to be towed from New Zealand. Her heavy cargo, which included a motor car, live sheep and ponies prevented her from carrying enough coal to get her from Antarctica and back. Towing her as far as the Antarctic pack-ice would help her to conserve coal and ensure the return of the ship.


I wonder what the early historic Antarctic explorers would have made of the fantastic research capabilities of the Nathaniel B Palmer and her ability to weather the Antarctic stormy seas with such relative ease.

1

All Aboard!

Posted by Conservators Mar 9, 2012

Author: Susanne
Date: 23/02/2012
Temperature: -12°C
Wind Speed: 15km/h
Temp with wind chill:
Sunrise: 4:49AM
Sunset 11:14PM

 

 

Believe it or not, even in Antarctica there are tourists! The curiosity and desire to discover new places and experiences is something we all share with the early explorers. We were very excited this past week to showcase our work with passengers from the Spirit of Enderby, operated by Heritage Expeditions.


The passengers were all well travelled and knowledgeable individuals from universities, museums, and non-profits. They are specifically on board to raise awareness for the environmental and cultural issues that are occurring between Stewart Island and the South Pole.

Visiting Scott Base is a large part of their experience and one of the highlights of the tour is the Antarctic Heritage Trust laboratory. Even though we are just starting our season, we still had many exciting projects to share. Stefan, being an avid chef, happened to be working on several kitchen related objects. George showcased some of the newspapers and cards the explorers used (which she has become quite partial to). Gretel displayed the pony accoutrements that have been found at the huts, such as leather straps, and I spoke about wool socks and clothing.

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Stefan and Gretel speaking to a group from the Spirit of Enderby © AHT/Susanne

 

One of the best parts of our job is getting to share what we do with the public. The cruise ships that pass through Antarctica are a great way to show people our work firsthand. It was fascinating to get to meet and interact with such interesting people. They also wrote several fantastic blogs about their visit: www.ourfarsouth.org. Maybe we will see you next time!

2

Antarctic Field Training

Posted by Conservators Mar 7, 2012

Author: Gretel
Date: 14 February 2012
Temperature: -10.8 °C
Wind Speed: 23 knots
Temp with wind chill: -22.1°C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset: n/a


Now that we are in Antarctica there is a lot to learn about our new ‘home’. Antarctic Field Training teaches us how to camp out in the field as well as what to do in emergency situations where we might have to survive outdoors under unexpected circumstances.


We learn about how to make the best of our extreme weather clothing - layering up thermal underlayers, fleece pants and tops, salopettes, 3 different types of jackets, and a variety of neck gaiters, hats and gloves. Antarctic weather is explained:  the wind can be deadly in conjunction with cold climates: wind speed of 20 knots at minus 10 degrees Celsius results in wind chill temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius! We are taught about survival bags; these include items such as tents, sleeping bags, primus stoves, dehydrated food and chocolate, enabling survival in extreme conditions for at least 3 days.

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Polar Tents © AHT/Gretel


Finally we spend a night camping in the field. We use polar tents – based on a design used by Captain Scott during his Antarctic expeditions. They are quick and easy to assemble and very stable in strong winds due to their pyramidal shape; snow is shoveled over the tent flaps to secure them, and the tent accessed via a fabric tunnel which can be securely tied up in bad weather.

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Ice Kitchen © AHT/Gretel

 

We had the luxury of an ice kitchen within which to cook and shelter from the wind. Formed from blocks of compact snow and sunk into the ground the kitchen provided a haven within which to eat and relax in the shadow of Mount Erebus.

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News Team! Assemble!

Posted by Conservators Mar 4, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 21/02/12
Temperature: -3c
Wind Speed: 2 kts
Temp with wind chill: -5c
Sunrise: 3.26am
Sunset 12.50am

 


Whoever thought that being at the bottom of the world would open a door into the glittery world of TV glam!  On Saturday, TVNZ presenter Heather du Plessis-Allan and camera-man Byron Radford visited us at Scott Base to shoot some material about life in Antarctica as a feature for New Zealand’s Television One News.  As part of the shoot, our team was asked to talk about the conservation project and some of the conservation work we will be doing over the season.  This proved an excellent opportunity for us to showcase the work of the Trust, and also to pull out some of the more iconic artefacts, many of which we had yet to see.

 

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In the AHT lab: a break during filming. © AHT/Susanne

 

After sprucing up the lab and combing our hair into some semblance of tidy, we each overcame our nerves to be interviewed in front of the camera.

 

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‘Alright, TVNZ, I’m ready for my close-up!’ Gretel works the shoot like a pro. © AHT/Susanne

Here at Scott Base we get one hour of news beamed in each day via satellite, which we can watch during dinner in the communal area. We are yet to learn whether our footage will make it onto national TV, but certainly our eyes will be glued to the box over the next few days.    
 

1

Author: Stefan
Date: 22- Feb- 2012
Temperature: -10.6
Wind Speed: 10kts
Temp with wind chill: -22
Sunrise: 3:26am
Sunset 12:50am


The handover and transition between summer and winter conservation teams allows us a brilliant opportunity to have a bit of banter, share interesting and humorous stories and occasionally something fascinating about the huts. All these little signs of human activity left by the explorers leads to some lingering conundrums of what exactly happened 100 years ago.

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Snow meter at Cape Royds © AHT/Stefan

 

Although he worked relentlessly, Gordon (Lead Timber Conservator) shared with me that he had a little time with the summer team to investigate the suspicious holes in the snow meter outside Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. After some high tech stick insertions (eat your heart out CSI) through entry and exit points, Gordon was set on the conclusion that someone had been shooting at the meter from the hut door, and also from the shoreline. Dear readers in the distant world, any thoughts on why?

 

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Historic image of Shackletons Hut with snow meter visible Circa 1908 Photographer unknown © Alexander Turnbull Library

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Night At Cape Royds

Posted by Conservators Feb 23, 2012

Author: Susanne
Date: February 15, 2012
Temperature: -8 °C
Wind Speed: 32 km/h
Temp with wind chill: -17°C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


One of the most adventurous things we get to do in Antarctica is to take a helicopter ride to visit the historic expedition bases at Cape Evans and Cape Royds. After several safety briefings, we suit up in our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear and head to the helicopter pad. This can be an intense experience with a loud, heart thumping rotor beating overhead, but the flight crew and Scott Base staff move us safely on board and on our way, enjoying the fantastic scenery that Antarctica has to offer.


After unloading our gear and survival bags at Cape Royds, the helicopter was quickly off to see to another science team. We had a few hours to enjoy the base and appreciate the daily life that Shackleton and his men endured before packing up to meet the helicopter at our scheduled time.  In the meantime the weather had changed.

 

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Setting up camp near the survival wannigan in a Condition 2 storm © AHT/Georgina


After several hours of waiting and regular radio contact with Scott Base, the weather was continuing to worsen to a Condition 2 category with low visibility and high winds. We quickly realised we would be staying the night at Cape Royds. All eight of us snuggly fit into a survival wannigan nearby which provided some sense of relief and a respite from the cold. The survival bags had enough food for three days and tents to provide shelter for the night. Our time was spent as I imagined in a similar to the early explorers by telling stories and playing games with the limited items in the survival wannigan. The following day, the weather continued to change dramatically between beautiful open skies and reduced visibility. Our only chance was to find a window of opportunity for the helicopter to safely travel between Scott Base and Cape Royds. That window came just as we were breaking into lunch and that feeling of hearing the chopper blades in the distance was indescribable.

 

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Relaxing in the living room area © AHT/Georgina

 

This experience was a true testament to how unpredictable the weather can be. Safety precautions, serious training, and regular scenarios are a reminder that we do live in an extreme environment. We were thankful to have the necessary items we needed such as a primus stove, food, and shelter, and I was that much more humbled by the experiences that the men from Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition men endured for several years in the spirit of exploration and science.

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.

 

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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.

 

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

1

Arrival

Posted by Conservators Feb 13, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 26/02/12
Temperature: -4.8c
Wind Speed: 8 kn
Temp with wind chill: -13c
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

 

So here we are in Antarctica at last!


Gretel, Stefan and I have come from the UK, while Susanne our lead conservator hails from the USA.  We shall be here at New Zealand’s Scott Base in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica for the next 7 months during the Austral winter, and shall be conserving artefacts that have been temporarily transported here for the season from Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.  It has been a long road getting here for all of us, with the last few months being taken up with medical exams, psychometric testing, packing and general preparations, as well as saying goodbye to friends and family back home.

 

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Waiting to depart at Christchurch Airport. L-R: Jeff (winter mechanic), Susanne, Gretel, Stefan, George

 

Both Susanne and I are returnees, having worked on the programme before, but for Stefan and Gretel it is their first time in the big white South!


I  was last here in 2010 and am very much looking forward to experiencing a second winter.  Every season is unique according to group dynamics and personalities on base, not to mention the artefacts themselves posing new conservation challenges.


I had initially felt a little nervous about meeting my immediate AHT colleagues and wider Scot base family (a small team of 14 people in total), given that we will be living and working together so closely for so long… but things are looking good so far, so watch this space.

 

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AHT winter team arrive on the ice! C 17

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Author:      John
Date:        January 2012

 

My time spent working with the Antarctic Heritage Trust team at Ross Island Antarctica on the conservation of Shackleton’s Hut and Scott’s Hut at Cape Royds and Cape Evans respectively is drawing to an end.  I am 21 and from New Zealand on a programme called the Sir Peter Blake Trust Youth Antarctic Ambassador. We were at Cape Royds for 3 weeks in November and spent the remainder of the Antarctic summer at Cape Evans. We are the New Zealand Antarctic Programme’s  longest running field camp, spanning from the beginning of November to the end of January.


Antarctica is well known as being the coldest, windiest and driest place on earth. Each of these factors makes living in Antarctica challenging and demanding but when the correct procedures and equipment are used it is generally a pleasant and workable environment.


Keeping warm is obviously key. Antarctica New Zealand provides all the clothing which is similar to what would be worn on a ski field.  Thermal under layers, microfleece and wool then a wind stopper outer. At the beginning of the season it was down to minus 20 degrees Celsius. At that temperature, all exposed skin must be covered. A balaclava and goggles are worn.


Wind is the Antarctic killer as this creates additional cold or wind-chill which draws substantially more heat from the body. In mid December, the temperature rarely got to -10 degrees Celsius  and was often above zero. With no wind, it seems as though it is much warmer than it actually is. Activity level has a great deal to do with warmth and hence keeping cool is an issue when many clothes are worn during high activity levels and are shed – sweat becomes very cold when activity level reduces. So managing clothing is a learning curve.

 

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At work © AHT

 

We sleep in traditional Scott Polar tents. They are a proven design and can survive winds over 120 km/h when sufficiently guy roped. The sleeping bags are very warm, a down sleeping bag within another and a cotton sheet inner and outer. Normally this is too warm so one bag acts as a duvet. Liquid human waste is excreted in a tide crack (sea ice cracks due to the tide next to the land). When in the tent, we pee in a plastic “pee” bottle. Solid human waste is collected in a bucket and transported to be incinerated in New Zealand. The 24 hour day light takes a bit to get used to. The only time cue is the position of the sun or watch. The tent is always bright orange.

 

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Home on the Ice  © AHT

 

The environment is not dirty although there can be dust. We have no shower in the field but typically once a week I would have a flannel wash. This is more effective than you might think and uses minimal water.  Luckily we were able to go back to Scott Base for a shower mid trip.  A week per clothing set is standard during normal work. Socks are hung to air for a couple of days before being reused. Every few weeks, clothing is washed in a bucket. This level of cleanliness would be generally unacceptable elsewhere but we maintain a healthy level of cleanliness.  It is an almost sterile environment and very dry. We have no animal contact, dirt/mud or warmth so the dirtiness and bacteria encountered with camping or tramping at home is not an issue here.


Due to the creativeness of the team, we eat well. The food is dehydrated and frozen with an occasional supply of fresh food called “freshies”. We are near a penguin colony so we do not eat poultry as this could introduce disease. Because of the cold and high energy requirements, we eat substantial amounts of salami, cheese and chocolate. Fresh bread is cooked daily and the occasional cake.


Social interaction is key to healthy wellbeing. We have a lot of fun together with varied intellectual and humored conversation. Being busy working means our minds are always occupied. Sunday afternoons are a rest time which is stimulating and we would generally sit and watch a movie together. We have little opportunity to interact with family and friends at home. Calls can be made on the satellite phone although this is very expensive and difficult to fully engage in conversation with such short calls. We have daily radio communication with Scott Base Com’s to catch up on the news and pass on any messages.  I always remind myself that no news is good news. It is harder for the members of the team who have close family and are not used to this level of isolation. Personally I have enjoyed  the opportunity to be isolated from the high levels of social stimulus in my normal life. We concentrate and thrive on the fundamentals; personal social interaction, good food, shelter and warmth.

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Captain Scott's only Grandson - Falcon Scott visits Antarctica, January 2012


Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s only grandson, Falcon Scott, is helping to conserve his grandfather’s most famous Antarctic base this Antarctic summer season as part of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust’s team of conservation specialists. Falcon took time out to answer a few questions about his experiences and the achievements of his famous grandfather.

 

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How does it feel to be visiting Antarctica on the centenary of your grandfather’s expedition?


It is really amazing to be here in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica where my Grandfather set up the bases for his two expeditions to explore the coast and interior of Antarctica. It’s especially good to be here at the 100th anniversary of his successful attainment of the South Pole for Britain.


Part of your work in Antarctica is helping to conserve the expedition Hut for the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand). What were your impressions on first entering the Hut, and how did it feel to be in the place they lived and worked?


The work to conserve the Terra Nova Expedition Hut at Cape Evans is in full swing. There are currently seven Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) staff living at the site in a camp, and working on the building. This year, the work is concentrated on the interior of the hut  -  the furniture, bunks and  shelves etc.  As a late arrival to the camp, after spending Christmas with my family, the guys were already on site working but had very kindly re-assembled the interior of the hut in an orderly state for me to see on arrival.


When I first went into the Hut, I found it to be a very moving experience.  On entering the main interior room, the wardroom table stretched ahead of me, with the chairs on each side standing empty, but in the same position as in the famous photograph of the midwinter dinner and my Grandfathers birthday dinner.  It felt like there was still a presence of my Grandfather and the men sitting round the table, like his spirit was there.   Around the corner to the left is the area where my Grandfather had his den, a partition wall on two sides enclosing his bunk, some shelves, and the desk where he planned the southern journey to the Pole. Wilson and Evans slept opposite, a few feet away. I spent an hour on my own in the Hut, just soaking up the atmosphere, it was magical, and personally a very emotional experience.


Given your background as a carpenter, what kinds of practical things will you be doing to help out?

 

My work in helping the team this year involves lining the latrines hut against the ingress of storm driven ice and snow (which can get through tiny holes and gaps in the building), using canvas and bitumen felt, and replacing the original felt lining using photography to re-position every detail authentically including the orientation of every nail. I will also be helping to preserve some of the sea ice sledges and working on furniture items in the hut.


Can you get a sense of how it must have felt like for Scott and his men exploring this vast unknown territory? 


When the Terra Nova arrived through the storm swept seas of the Southern Ocean, through the pack ice, and finally penetrated the seasonal continental ice sheet to reach a point suitable for access to the Ice Shelf and the interior, they were 2,500 miles from the nearest human habitation, with no contact to the outside world  -  no radios, or satellites, no helicopters, or planes to drop extra supplies. Their survival for a full year, including the extreme weather of an Antarctic winter rested on the stores they had planned for, and loaded on to the ship. In addition, they had all the equipment for the most ambitious and comprehensive scientific programme ever undertaken by an expedition ship.


The tragic fate of the polar party told in your grandfather’s last diary remains one of most famous stories of the last century. What did it mean to you when you were growing up?


As a child I didn’t hear very much about my famous Grandfather. I remember my mother reading to me the Ladybird book about the expedition, and my sister had told me that he was famous when I was about three years old. But my Father was not really very interested and very much pursued his life as a painter, naturalist, and conservationist.


Your father Peter Scott was a conservationist, heeding to his father’s advice to be interested in natural history, rather than games.  How important do you feel natural history and sciences were to Scott?

 

I think my Grandfather was influenced by his friend Edward Wilson who was a distinguished zoologist, and having worked on the development of torpedoes in the Navy, was well into research and science. He became more and more interested in natural history as time went on.

                                                                         
Your grandfather’s expedition brought back over 40,000 scientific specimens from Antarctica, which now reside in the Natural History Museum’s collections. Do you do you feel this scientific legacy might have been overshadowed by the story of their deaths?


I am sure there have been periods when the very considerable scientific achievements of my Grandfather’s expeditions have been forgotten and writers have concentrated too much on the polar journey and the deaths of the five men on the return.  This, of course, is significantly due to the recovery of his diary in the following spring by the search party, and to the exceptional writing ability of my Grandfather with the contents of that diary.  The fact is, they were unlucky; they had warm weather at the outset, making the conditions difficult for the ponies, exceptionally cold weather on the ice shelf on their return (a one in 40 year cold period), unexpected evaporation of fuel supplies caused by faulty seals at the supply depots, and a diet that did not replace lost calories fast enough. These things all put together sealed their fate.


Finally, Robert Falcon Scott’s image has been through many manifestations throughout the last century.  How would you like him to be remembered?


I would like him to be remembered as masterminding one of the greatest expeditions to have left European shores, and to have added significantly to the culture of expanding the knowledge of mankind, and for his example of thinking through a wide programme of study and his determination and endurance in the face of adversity to carry on the work to the highest standards.  And for this to be inspirational to future generations.

 

Watch a video about Falcon Scott's visit to the Terra Nova Expedition Hut at Cape Evans

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Author: Jaime at Cape Evans
Date: 18 December 2011
Sunrise: NA
Sunset: NA

 

For both the artefact and building conservators working at Cape Evans, Herbert Ponting’s historic images are  one of the most valuable sources of information we have as to how Scott’s Terra Nova hut was built and used. The incredible quality of those original photographs and the ability to store them digitally, gives us a wonderful on-site resource for the task of restoring the fabric of the hut.

 

Unfortunately for us though, Ponting not did not set out to produce a precise record of the whole hut, its occupants and its environs, but that only makes the job of searching out information even more interesting, as the details we are looking for are usually incidental fragments of a far larger image. This has been the case in recent days for the reinstallation of the stove flue system and the acetylene lighting pipes, all of which hang up in the open roof space of the hut. It is unlikely that Ponting would have ever set up his camera simply to record the interior of the hut roof and yet nearly all the information we need appears somewhere in one of his images. Acetylene lamps float unnoticed over the heads of men lost in the celebration of a mid-winter dinner or stand insignificantly on a table, providing light for Wilson to work on his drawings. In other photographs, flue pipes lurk in darkened roof spaces while Evans bandages Dr Atkinson’s frost bitten hand and outside the hut, a chimney stack rises slightly askew from a distant roof, as a group pose for the camera before setting out on a journey to the Western Mountains.


It is difficult to emphasize not just how important these images are for the work of conserving the hut, but also what a pleasure it is to pore over hugely enlarged areas of a photo and to then finally discover the tiny detail you are searching for.

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