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Antarctic conservation

217 Posts authored by: Conservators
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Scaling the Castle

Posted by Conservators Sep 26, 2013

Yesterday evening the AHT team, along with a few other intrepid explorers under the guidance of the expert Mike Rowe, climbed Castle Rock, a prominent landmark on this peninsula which was often mentioned by the early explorers. Castle Rock is a reddish volcanic plug standing up sheer from the top of the ridge of the peninsula.

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Castle Rock prominent on the ridge line between Scott Base and Mt. Erebus © AHT/Josiah

 

We rode a Hagglund snow vehicle out about 3 miles to the base of the rock, then climbed around the side to the top in time to watch another fantastic sunset. The view from the top of the castle is stunning. The mighty volcanos Erebus and Terror, which form the backbone of Ross Island, dominate the eastern horizon.

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Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror from Castle Rock © AHT/Josiah

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The conservators atop the Castle © AHT/Josiah

 

To the south is the ice barrier and White and Black Islands. To the west, the ridge tapers off to where Scott Base and McMurdo sit on either side of Observation Hill on the edge of the frozen sea. Across that sea Discovery Peak dominates a jagged range of mountains and glaciers that hold back the ice of the Antarctic plateau. To the north, we looked toward Cape Evans where we will be spending most of our summer, and beyond it to distant Cape Royds where some open water is showing beyond the edge of the sea ice.

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Cape Evans, Cape Roys and Delbridge Islands © AHT/Josiah

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Sunset over the Royal Society Range © AHT/Josiah

 

As the sun abruptly set behind the western mountains this tableau turned to gold, to fuchsia, and to plum.

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Mt. Erebus as the sun sets © AHT/Josiah

The ever whistling wind stung our cheeks and noses but it was hard to tear ourselves away from the spectacular view to hike back down to the Hagglund to return to our comfortable Scott Base. I hope that we may find another opportunity to go up to Castle Rock, but as the days rapidly lengthen I doubt if we will have another chance to see a sunset from up there again this year.

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Catching the Hagglund home © AHT/Josiah

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Under Pressure

Posted by Conservators Sep 20, 2013

Author: Nicola

Date: 18 September 2013

Temperature: -21C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Sunrise: 7.10

Sunset: 18.30

 

 

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Heading for a walk amoung the pressure ridges © Josiah

 

The pond in the village where I grew up would occasionally freeze over in winter and, with my head filled with images of polar explorers, I always wanted to walk onto its thin, enticing shell of ice.  So, this evening it was a great thrill to be able to step from the land in front of Scott Base and onto the 2m thick sea ice.

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The moon rising above the jagged silhouttes of the broken ice © Nicola

 

I was heading out to explore the extraordinarily beautiful features known as the pressure ridges.  Formed as the ice is squashed up against the land during winter these jagged walls of ice are slowly forced up into strange, distorted, awe-inspiring shapes. As the tide rises puddles of sea water appear around their base then freeze into ponds of blue ice. The shapes are never static, and over the coming months they will gradually change; fracturing, splitting and sagging under their own weight.

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A jumble of fractured sea ice and frozen ponds with Mount Erebus behind © Nicola

 

I carefully followed the safe flagged route, probing the snow in front of me with a pole, checking for new cracks in the ice. In the gloom as the sun went down I was confronted with two massive dark shapes – seals. During the summer hundreds will make their way through the cracks around the pressure ridges and come up for air. I left them peacefully relaxing on the ice and headed back to the base.

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Seals lying on the ice amoung the pressure ridge walk © Nicola

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Author: Josiah Wagener

Date: 10 September 2013

Temperature: -36.7C

Wind Speed: 8 knots

Temp with wind chill: Approx -50C

Sunrise: Around 8am

Sunset: Around 4.30pm

 

 

Greetings. This is my first trip to Antarctica so it is an all new land of wonder for me. Nicola and I joined the AHT team on the Ice just a week ago and will be taking over the blogging duties from here. We were most fortunate on our flight down to have clear skies and a plane with plenty of windows for a fabulous view.

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Sea ice from the plane

 

We crossed sea ice about half way from New Zealand.

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The Antarctic coast

 

and had our first view of the coast of Antarctica an hour or so later.

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The Victory Mountains


We passed over the spectacular Victory Mountains,

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Ross Island and the Ice


and after about 4 hours of flying had our first look at Ross Island, our home for the next 5 months. The broken pack ice meets the more stable sea ice which in turn meets the massive continental shelf ice around Ross Island.

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Arrival!


We landed on a runway scraped in the unending flat sheet of the continental ice and set foot on the Last Continent, a vast, surreal, frozen landscape, an entire continent to which no human has ever been native. We are here to tend the few fragile threads that link us to the very first people ever to inhabit this remotest of lands. But like them we will be here for only a short time before returning whence we came, leaving this continent where the icy land, sea, and sky reign majestically uncaring of the few people who come and go upon the surface.

I feel that a good adventure has begun.

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Author: Sue

 

 

We all know there are no bears in Antarctica, despite some early maps of the continent having vignettes showing polar bears here. But there’s one little chap with a very adventurous spirit who’d like to set the record straight.

 

In 1993 my childhood teddy bear, Bambino, took a trip to Antarctica … wintered-over here, in fact. I was working at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney at the time and sponsored my bear—whom I’d had since birth—to sail to Antarctica with a couple of hundred other brave bears under the capable leadership of inspirational Australian adventurers Don and Margie McIntyre. Newsletters recounting Bambino’s exciting adventures on the high seas and the ice were duly received as Bambino weathered the storms and rode out the long, cold, dark, windy months. He returned home some time later, none the worse for wear, with proud photos alongside penguins and outside an explorer’s hut. I paid his bear fare—all funds raised went to support the Camperdown Children’s Hospital in Sydney—and a good time was reportedly had by all.

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Bambino gives a wave as he mingles with a colony of Emperor penguins, 1993

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Group excursion to Mawson’s hut, 1993 (Bambino circled)

 

And so when Bambino learned I was planning to winter-over here with the Antarctic Heritage Trust this year, 20 years later, his paw shot up in an instant (although I can't help but notice that it's always up!) and he insisted on tagging along.

 

Appropriately attired and excited by the return of some semi-daylight to the continent this week, the forever-young Bambino was spotted out surfing some snow drifts around Scott Base. (And I’m not really a teddy-bear person at all, but it’s a cute little story.)

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Bambino surfs some drifts at Scott Base, 2013

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The product sells itself

Posted by Conservators Aug 23, 2013

Author: Marie

Temperature:-21

Wind speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -29

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

We have been enthusiastic about conserving 100 year-old food products: the great wrappers and labels, the inventive marketing and all the types of lid, cork and sealing we discovered. Even then, companies were offering freshness, purity, expertise and the latest scientific research and up-to-date technology to put on your plate.

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An unopened egg powder carton

 

What a relief to know that 'The operations are under the supervision of a trained staff of experts with the result that important improvements are constantly being made' to your table salt composition. You can be sure that the salt in the tin is the best possible for your ‘bones, brain and nerves'. You can also rely on pickles, as they are 'recommended by the faculty of digestion'.  And, indeed, some of the food is beautifully preserved and looks incredibly fresh.

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Some of the sales pitches

 

But, the top of the range was reached last week by egg powder in cardboard cartons, both for its persuasive sales pitch and actual quality. It is 'not a substitute but pure eggs without shell or moisture', in a new-style patented cardboard carton!  I'm not trying to sell the product, but even the most damaged carton (the one we had to open, sample and empty since it was leaking its contents) was in incredibly good condition. 

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The actual pure fresh hens eggs in powder form

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Leaflet detailing conditions of use

 

The leaflet inside was in such brilliant condition that our loud and repetitive 'Oh! My! Gosh!' made our colleague in the next office rush in to check if everything was alright with us.  And, that was the very last artefact I had the chance to conserve at Scott Base before leaving the ice - lucky me!

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Leaving a mark

Posted by Conservators Aug 20, 2013

Author: Stefanie    

Date: 20 August 2013

Temperature: -15.3

Wind speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Andrew Keith Jack, part of the Ross Sea Party, owned a yellow oiled jacket and slept in the same bottom bunk bed as Thomas Griffith Taylor had in 1911 in the Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans. We know this because his name is inscribed with the same hand on both: 'A K Jack' has been written in thick bold letters on the inner collar of the yellow jacket and on the wall beside the bunk in the Hut. Thomas Griffiths Taylor also wrote his initials at the same bunk. The names on the walls continue to mark a presence, promoting historical value. 

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A K Jack's yellow oiled jacket

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A K Jack's mark in bunk

 

For most, wintering over in the Antarctic is a once in a lifetime opportunity and therefore leaving ones mark behind can be significant and meaningful. At Scott Base we cannot write our names on the walls beside our beds or leave our belongings behind when we depart. Rather, we leave behind a mark in the form of a winter-over photo, which depicts each member of our 2013 winter-over team and hangs on the winter-over wall of fame.

 

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Winter-over wall of fame

 

With the ever increasing light on the horizon, we can see the end of winter and anticipate the first sun rise, flight and fresh food with great excitement. But we must also prepare to say our farewells and leave. Last Wednesday, we celebrated our last supper together as a team and the following day Stefan and Marie left us. It is oddly reassuring that they remain with us in the form of floating heads in the 2013 winter-over photo…

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The meat packing district

Posted by Conservators Aug 12, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 12 August 2013

Temperature: -20C

Wind speed: 11 knots

Temp with wind chill: -32C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

Working as a team to conserve and restore Bower's Annex, is extremely challenging. Making sense of the mass of wood and its brooding contents often has us scratching our heads. Recently Jaime arrived at the door to my cage (working area) and 'gifted' me a piece of timber. Neither from a Venesta nor a Coleman's solid timber box, the section of wood, would now become an object, and my responsibility to conserve. Jaime had noticed it had some semi-legible bleached print on the surface, where the original paint had eroded away.

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Piece of loose timber, suspected to be from a mutton packing crate © AHT/Stefan

 

After perusing the print again and again, the "From Tho#,  Bor###### & Sons" led me to see if a company called Thomas Borthwick & Son's was registered at the time. By a stroke of luck one of my searches led to a brilliant history of frozen meat suppliers in Australia and New Zealand.

 

http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Cyc06Cycl-t1-body1-d2-d23-d20.html

 

It appears most likely the section of wood came from a packing crate containing frozen mutton. There are many accounts in the mens’ diaries as they set sail from Christchurch on the Terra Nova of mutton dinners and the gifted carcasses from the Lyttleton community that hung from the rigging.

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Mutton carcass in Discovery Hut's store room © AHT/Stefan

 

There is still 2 freeze dried sides of mutton that reside in a store room at Discovery hut: although butchery styles and size/maturity of mutton will be similar the world over, it's spooky the similarity between the carcass at Discovery hut, and those hung in the Tomoana Freezer Works in Napier, New Zealand.

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Tomoana Freezer works, Napier, New Zealand

 

Thomas Borthwick & Sons are still trading today in Mackay, Queensland, Australia, and are still very much in the meat business.  Sadly however, both then and now, there is no spring Welsh lamb in Antarctica, a far superior beast, especially on the plate.

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Author: Stefanie

Date: 8 August 2013

Temperature: -38.2

Wind speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -62

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Over the last few weeks our workload has dramatically increased as we frequently conserve over a hundred objects a week. This is due to our current conservation treatments of the contents of Venesta food storage boxes. Many are being looked into for the first time since leaving their manufacturer in England over 100 years ago and hold different quantities. Some boxes can contain over 70 objects in just one box while others can hold 30 objects. Most objects are food products that require various degrees of conservation assessment and treatment. The food products uncovered are in various conditions and although some are badly deteriorated, festering and leaking from cracked, corroded or broken containers, others are in astoundingly good condition remaining very well persevered in their original packaging with some still maintaining perfect form and smell.

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Raspberry, Blackberry & Apple jam manufactured by Beach & Son

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Ground Cinnamon and Ground Ginger manufactured by Griffiths McAlister & Co.'s

 

There were many commercial sponsors for the Antarctic expeditions. Scott lists these in an appendix to his journal and of these, this week, we have opened boxes manufactured by John Burgess & Son, Gillard & Co., Beach & Sons and Fry & Sons, finding exceptional examples of unopened fine and luxurious food products. A pick of which includes Raspberry and Strawberry Jams, Ground Cinnamon, Ground Ginger and the essence of vanilla,  French Olives, Devilled Ham Pate, Potted Beef Pate, Turtle Soup, Pickled Onions, Gorgona Anchovies, Meat loafs, sauces, pickles, condiments…

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Essence of Vanilla, Savoy Sauce, pickles and meat pate manufactured by John Burgess & Son

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Historic Pickles Onions...

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Lights on

Posted by Conservators Aug 5, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 5 August 2013

Temperature: -33.9

Wind speed: 13 knots

Temp with wind chill: -51

Sunrise: Will be soon

Sunset: N/A

 

 

As we start getting ready for the end of the third act, winfly, the sky is turning purple or red from time to time, towards Mount Erebus. If you drive up in the direction of Arrival Heights, it feels like someone has turned the light on. Suddenly, you get a stunning panorama. We haven't seen much landscape these last three months, and no sky line. The great mountains have appeared again on the continent, and seem closer and taller than when they disappeared. It's spectacular and it seems to have happened all of a sudden, as a Deus ex machina. Out of the dark at least, we are 'somewhere' again, after a few months feeling we’re in an orbital station. With the light coming, the colours change and so do the hearts, everyone is feeling lighter and happier.

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A three weeks long sunrise starts behind Mount Erebus

 

 

Then, alas, the darkness takes over again. After these few hours of discreet light, the stars now look paler. We're waiting for the next day, for more horizons.

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Daylight on Arrival Heights

 

 

But just when the light will be illuminating the stage, the curtain will fall for Stefan and me, as will be leaving on the very first flight out of Antarctica, just before the sunrise.

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Author: Sue

Date: 2 August 2013

 

Researching my cans of margarine seemed to be looking increasingly like a can of worms … or at least a can of misinformation! If many internet sites are to be believed, margarine production and sale was banned in New Zealand under The Margarine Act, 1908, repealed sometime after 1974. So how did Captain Scott come to have a case of what appeared to be NZ margarine in 1910?

 

Tracking down the said Act, I discovered that it didn't actually ban margarine at all. Designed to protect New Zealand's dairy industry—which, it was believed, would take a battering if margarine coloured to imitate butter, was readily available as a low-priced butter substitute—the Act actually banned the addition of yellow colourants in margarine.

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Margarine tins before the contents were emptied

 

And other countries including Australia, France, Denmark and some US states were doing the same. While allowing the supposedly appealing yellow colouring of butter (which they still do, for that matter … after all, have you ever seen yellow milk?), prohibiting the colouring of margarine was designed to greatly reduce its popularity with consumers. Some companies in the US got around the ban by including sachets or capsules of yellow colouring with their margarine, to be stirred or kneaded through before serving.  

 

But back to New Zealand and to Captain Scott ...

 

In addition to banning colourants, I found that The Margarine Act, 1908, also strictly regulated margarine production and packaging. It stipulated that margarine could only be legally produced under an annually renewable licence, for a fee, and that every package had to be "distinctly and durably branded or marked 'MARGARINE' on the top and on one side, in printed capital letters not less than one and a half inches square …" And so that accounts for the unusual appearance of Scott's margarine tins … on which the letters are just under the compliance size. But should I mention that the margarine was a deep rich yellow colour, reminiscent of mango ice-cream? Or was that just the result of 100 years in the great freezer of Antarctica, perhaps?

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Samples of lard and margarine

 

Oh, and a final colourful little twist to the story …

 

When NZ's Margarine Act, 1908, was finally repealed in 1989 allowing colourants to be introduced, the dairy industry cheekily lobbied the government to force all margarine manufacturers to colour their product blue … but, if that's to be believed, it clearly, and thankfully, failed!

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Hidden gems

Posted by Conservators Jul 30, 2013

Author: Jaime

Date: 30 July 2013

Temperature: -31

Wind speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -49

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Having completed the restoration of the solid timber boxes from Bowers Annex, our attention is now focused on the fifty odd Venesta (VENeer from ESTtoniA) boxes, most of which were recovered from the same area.

 

These boxes formed part of a makeshift wall at the back of Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, but whereas the timber boxes were fairly sturdy, containing metal liners, densely packed with Colmans flour tins, the Venesta boxes are far more delicate objects, fabricated from 4mm plywood panels, riveted to each other through a light, steel, angled edging and filled with a huge variety of tinned and bottled food.

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Unopened but full Venesta case

 

One hundred years of weather and corrosion have reduced the metal edging and canned contents to crumbling rust and the boxes to a mass of delaminated plies. It is only because they were excavated from densely packed snow and ice that both the panels and contents of some of the Venesta boxes have at least remained together.

 

Luckily though, the odd Venesta box fared better, opened but forgotten in a quiet corner of the hut and crucially, remaining relatively dry, and  undisturbed until this week. Within, nestled in straw, perfectly preserved bottles, wrapped in delicate tissue paper, as immaculate as the day they were packed. 

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100 year old Venesta contents

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Author: Sue

Date: 25 July 2013

 

 

Our work on the unconsumed food stores from Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans is keeping us busy indeed. As case-after-case of food is opened, assessed, documented and stabilised (before being repacked into its restored wooden case), we are greeted with a constant stream of surprises and delights ... oh, and some unpleasantries too as we deal with leaking tins of 100-year-old meat, fish, and dairy products. Can you imagine what a tin of cod roe, turtle soup or anchovy sauce looks and smells like 100 years on? Best you don't.  

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Sue with margarine tins before treatment

 

One particular case piqued my interest this week—a case containing six large tins decorated with a gridded star-and-dot pattern, and the word 'MARGARINE' printed very boldly on each top, bottom and side. Margarine had been patented 40 years earlier by a French chemist and was, at that time, made predominantly of animal fat. The six tins were packed in sawdust in a plywood case on which the stencilled letters 'LYT …' were still legible, suggesting they had been taken on board Scott's ship, 'Terra Nova', in the NZ port of Lyttelton.  Captain Scott's journal more-or-less confirmed this with his mention that, while in Lyttelton in 1910 making their final preparations for the voyage south, "the various gifts and purchases made in New Zealand were collected—butter, cheese, bacon, hams, some preserved meats, tongues".

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Margarine tins before treatment

 

Curious as to why there was no maker's name on the tins, I did a bit of internet research to see who was making margarine in New Zealand at that time in the hope of identifying the brand. And what many internet sites (including the NZ Government's Te Ara site) led me to believe was that it was no-one. I found quite a number of references stating that production of margarine was illegal in New Zealand between 1908 and the '70s or '80s. Hmmm … Scott, 1910 … bootleg margarine? Must look into this a little further …

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Margarine tin after treatment

 

Find out more in Part 2 of the blog, following in the coming weeks.

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Being and Time

Posted by Conservators Jul 21, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Temperature: -25.6

Wind speed: 21 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

I came to the Antarctic with a list of personal projects to achieve during my 8 month winter-over on the ice.  I imagined time passing very slowly over the dark winter months with seldom to do every evening. Consequently, I assumed it would allow one to accomplish several goals and I would finally finish Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and Heidegger's Being & Time, play the piano every day, learn another language and carve a chess set.

 

After 6 months of wintering over, I can now safely say that time passes very quickly and we always have so much to do. Having incorporated some of our personal objectives into everyday life, our evenings are always very busy. On Monday evenings, Marie and I attend a car mechanics class delivered by the base mechanic, Lex.  On Tuesday's, Jam and I have French class taught by Marie. Wednesday's have recently been nominated an evening to go climbing and the rest of the week's evenings are dedicated to the gym, social events, and the opportunities to learn unique skills like, for example, surgical suture.

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Dr. Fay from McMurdo Station teaches Marie and me how to stitch a cut would. Credit Becky Goodsell

 

Under the guidance and instruction of Dr. Fay from McMurdo Station, and armed with curved surgical needles, scalpels, forceps, syringes and pig skin, we set about learning sutures, stitching techniques and suturing a wound infield.

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Author: Marie

Date: 9 July 2013

Temperature: -42

Wind speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -52

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Health and safety are a priority down here, and it's for very good reason. As we are isolated from the rest of the word, we need to evaluate every situation and control any risk. Rescuing a party is a dangerous expedition in itself, and the Search And Rescue (SAR) team is constantly training.

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Nice weather for a day out

 

Hence, when a friend and I went skiing the Castle Rock Loop last Sunday, we had two radios with extra batteries, two head torches with spare batteries, a shovel, a medical kit, a GPS, extreme weather clothes, hand-warmers, food, pee bottles … when it was a three-hour journey on a flagged route, and a warm -25 degrees with wind chill.

 

But then it got windy when we were half way, and the forecast became uncertain. The situation was re-assessed and it was decided that we had better not pursue our journey. Happily we were just having tea in one of the shelters on the road and we just had to stay there and wait for a ride back. We spent time eating frozen candy and trying to play soccer (yes, in an artificial igloo!) to stay warm. Scott Base's Mike and Molly played the 'orange boys' and arrived with crisps and drinks in a Hagglund 40 minutes later… and so we just went back to base.

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The USAP emergency shelter 'Apple 2'

 

But at least, we can now start a story with "I was stuck in this igloo by blowing winds, when all of a sudden …" which can look very nice on Facebook … until one's mum sees it (and then the real trouble starts).

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Space

Posted by Conservators Jul 11, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 26 June 2013

Temperature: -22 degrees

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -29 degrees

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

There are many outstanding things about living for a while in Antarctica. One of them is certainly meeting some of the other people who do the same, and learning about their roles here. We, with the Antarctic Heritage Trust, are fortunate to be involved in some of the more unusual winter work—and work that changes constantly—so there's always a lot of interest and fascination from others in what we do. We regularly have visits and/or enquiries from those at Scott Base and neighbouring US McMurdo Station who are curious to know 'what artefacts are in the lab today?' And they're never disappointed.

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The AHT team heads to the dome above McMurdo Station © AHT/Sue

 

A recent highlight for the AHT team was to be taken on a tour of the NASA facility at McMurdo by the two NASA engineers who are wintering-over there, and who have become our friends through our regular social inter-base darts evenings.

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The dish antenna inside the dome © AHT/Sue

 

The tour involved an overview of NASA's ongoing data collection programme from the many international polar-orbiting satellites that pass overhead … on average once an hour, and collecting such data as ocean salinity and temperature measurements. This was followed by a visit to the hilltop dome housing NASA's dish antenna. There, in minus 30-something degrees, we watched in awe as the 10m dish leapt with surprising agility to its task and tracked a satellite from horizon to horizon. Fascinating stuff, and beaut to see!

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