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Antarctic conservation

217 Posts authored by: Conservators
1

Mouse Rounds

Posted by Conservators May 13, 2013

When it's 10pm and warm and comfortable inside Scott Base the last thing you want to do is to struggle into layers of warm clothing and head outside. When it is also -27 with snow drifting in the gusting winds, it is even less appealing.

 

 

But every couple of weeks it is your turn again to make the nightly mouse round, a methodical safety check of the entire base. The inside bit is easy, but initially, heading out and away from the main buildings into the deep darkness to check the fuel pumps, is always a little daunting.

 

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Mike on the nightly mouse round - JW

 

In the end though, the time outside is never bad, in spite of the weather. You are warm, you have a radio and there is something quite cathartic about re-tracing your own well-trodden route around the quiet dark extremities of the base. Always wanting to find something interesting and always secretly glad in the end that you haven't.

 

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It pays to be vigilant; the infamous "leak" in the waste water plant. JW

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Here, when you mention "back country" cooking, it refers to some dehydrated chicken and peas, dehydrated soup, with a dehydrated orange tasting juice, and eventually some porridge powder. No offence to any "central land" gastronomy, it's just the easiest thing we can bring to have for dinner when we're going out. We warm it up on a white gas stove, and, mind you, lighting the stove was one of the very first things we learnt to do when we arrived.

 

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Dehydrated meals are not a new fashion though, and I was surprised to discover mustard powder along with milk powder in the middle of Scott's Terra Nova expedition supplies. Even so, explorers' typical 'field' meal was more often a 'hoosh', a big pot of pemmican, biscuits, cocoa, milk and grease mixed together. The expedition had Primus Stoves, made in Sweden and recently I had the chance to conserve one of them.

 

 

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When I unwrapped the artefact, my first thought was 'wait a minute, I've already seen something similar…of course!  There are two Primus Stoves above the gas fireplace in our lounge. (Yes, we have a lounge, and a fake fireplace, how amazing is that?) They're Ed Hillary's  stoves! Signed and given to Scott Base by the modern age Antarctic exploration hero!

 

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It's really nice to observe such a step by step evolution of something both so simple and so essential.

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The winds of change

Posted by Conservators May 6, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 24/04/2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -47 degrees

Sunrise: The sun no longer rises

Sunset:  And therefore never sets

 

With rapidly dwindling hours of daylight and the prospect of gradually worsening weather, it's best to make the most of any opportunities we get to be outside and to explore some of the less frequented sites around the bases.

 

Last week, we were able to join a routine maintenance visit to the three wind turbines erected in 2010 and situated on the upper slopes of Crater Hill between Scott Base and McMurdo. Access to the wind farm site is usually restricted, but accompanied by the base electrician we were able to get a close up look at the towers and feel the hum of the huge blades sweeping overhead.

 

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Wind turbine in action - JW.

 

Until recently, power for both bases had been provided by diesel generators, but New Zealand's wind turbines now provide up to a third of the electricity here, and are reducing greatly both the cost and the risk of transporting a tanker load of fuel each summer.

 

And as an unexpected bonus of the elevated site, we were treated to one of the final stunning sunsets over the Trans Antarctic mountains.

 

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Sunset over the Trans Antarctic mountains - JW.

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500 done, 1000 to go

Posted by Conservators May 2, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date: 24 April 2013

Temperature: -32.3

Windspeed: 20/ 14 kts

Temp with wind chill: -51

Sunrise: 12.16

Sunset 13.23

 

Thursday the 11th of April was a day of celebration for us as we all felt a great sense of achievement. After only a few months, we conserved our 500th object.

 

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Stefan, Stefanie, Marie, Sue and Jaime in the lab at Scott Base celebrating the 500th object conserved.

 

Previous days saw the countdown to the 500th conserved object and as we counted down each object with it's after treatment photo our eagerness to see the final winning object increased. Was it going to be a cork stopper, a glass vial, a test-tube, a canvas ration bag, a wool mitten, a tin of flour, a leather horse strap or even a wooden box?

 

The 500th conserved object is the remarkable 'Wolsey unshrinkable 100% wool' thermal top bearing a hand stitched pocket to the lower chest area and the hand printed initials 'C. G.' on the upper chest area. The 'C.G' implies that the top was owned and worn by Cherry-Garrard. Interestingly, just the previous week I conserved the matching long-john's, which also bear the printed initials 'C. G.' . However, the intimacy involved in conserving a complete set of Cherry-Garrards' underwear is the topic of another blog and for the moment we look forward to conserving the remaining 1000 objects.

 

Cherry-Garrard;s Wolsey thermal top.

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Hijinks on the High Seas

Posted by Conservators Apr 29, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 23/04/2013

Temperature: -26 degrees

Windspeed: 13 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -39 degrees

Sunrise: 11.46am

Sunset: 1.56pm

 

Being down on the Ice is a difficult balance. All winter-over staff (AHT+AntNZ) have a massive amount of work to get through during the season. But the idea that a season can be acheived without a good slice of humour added into the mix is pretty naive.

 

The more I read of the explorers the more I'm facinated by what they got up to, and the dour accounts that follow. From journals of the long journey to Antarctica in the Discovery, comes an odd account of a "ducking pool": made from a wooden scaffold and sails, created aboard the ship, and through which (it seems) the men had to run a watery "Neptunes" gauntlet featuring razor blades and lather! In the games that followed Walker (a Dundee whaler) had his thumb "clean bitten to the bone." Scott's accounts of the soapy events were "The party was rather too lavishly regaled with whisky" and that the men "were a little rough towards the end"?

 

Click here for a picture of sails being rigged for Neptune's Gauntlet aboard the Discovery: http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p83.6.2.3.10/ photo credit Anon.

 

Needless to say there has been no thumb biting at Scott Base, although April the 1st was enjoyed by planting a fake "leak" in the water treatment plant. A series of 'emergency calls' later (out of work hours), the ever professional Graeme, attended the scene with great concern, and with a very well developed Preston-ian sense of humour, enjoyed the hijinks. He has become rather fond of the leek and it's since become a mascot of the water treatment plant.

 

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Graham and his new friend. Credit: Jonny5

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Winter Routines

Posted by Conservators Apr 23, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 17 April 2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -50 degrees

Sunrise: 10.19am

Sunset: 3.34pm

 

When the AHT winter team arrived on the ice ten weeks ago we arrived to 24-hr daylight... and next week, already, we move into 24-hr darkness. It seems to have come around quickly, giving our internal body clocks little consistency upon which to establish reliable routines. Consequently, we are reliant on the clock, especially as we now rise and begin work in the dark. Many lights around Scott Base are now on 24/7, with power being generated largely by three wind turbines on a hill behind the base.

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An April day at Scott Base, from the wind farm

 

Not unexpectedly, our winter routine of rising, working, eating and enjoying some recreational activities in the evenings is not unlike that of the early explorers. But of course we live in a modern facility so many aspects are very different. Of days' end during the 1911 winter at Terra Nova hut Captain Scott recorded: "At 11pm the acetylene lights are put out, and those who wish to remain up or to read in bed must depend on candle-light. The majority of candles are extinguished by midnight, and the night watchman alone remains awake to keep his vigil by the light of an oil lamp."

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Historic candles from the "heroic era", Cape Royds

 

For us, each in a room of our own, "lights out" in the evenings is, of course, whenever we choose to flick the switch. And, with the ever present risk of fire, never do we light a candle... and we have 200+ smoke detectors, 200 fire extinguishers, 8 hydrants and an extensive water sprinkler system to protect the base. Further, thanks to sophisticated alarm and communication systems, there is never a need for someone to keep watch at night... unless perhaps it's in the hope of observing an aurora, and that's purely for reasons of fascination and awe!

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Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 26/03/2013

Temperature: -31 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: About 15-20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: - 49 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 8.30am-ish

Sunset: 8.00pm

 

Despite valiant efforts to comprehensively understand and manage health and safety in Antarctica, danger still lurks, a hidden menace that brings pain and misery to all that live here. It can strike unseen and without warning, leaving its victims both irate and in pain.

 

Travelling the long deserted corridors of Scott Base, the deadly combination of extremely dry air and interestingly patterned polyester carpets becomes lethal, allowing the innocent pedestrian to accumulate a massive static charge, which can only mean one thing. Approach the washing up bowl, flick a light switch or simply reach for a tempting pasty and "crack", its too late. A blinding spark the size of a small planet leaps from your fingertip and leaves you cursing and frustrated, in the certain knolwedge that before long it will happen again.

 

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A scientist demonstrates the power of static electricity - Jaime Ward

 

On the positive side however, once fully charged you briefly have super hero powers, able to destroy electronic equipment with a single touch, or to become extremely unpopular by gently tapping unsuspecting people on the ear and observing their reaction.

 

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Some random penguins; naturally untroubled by static discharge - Jaime Ward.

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A Guessing Game

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date:  10th April 2013

Temperature:  -22.4° C

Wind Speed:  20/13 kts

Temp with wind chill: -34° C

Sunrise: 09:14

Sunset:16:31

 

I refer you to a blog written by conservator John in December 2011:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/antarctic-conservation/blog/2012/01/16/mystery-from-the-hut-of-captain-scott-at-cape-evans

John, who found an intriguing metal-sheet figurine at Cape Evans, describes the object's unusual features and asks his readers to suggest a solution to its mysterious function. The responding suggestions, which included a weather vane and tin opener, are problematic for several reasons and the mystery of the one legged figurine remains just that, a mystery.

 

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Mysterious Man: Metal sheet figurine with unknown function.

 

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Mysterious Man: Reverse side of figurine

 

The unresolved function and purpose of that curious metal figurine was recently revisited as the object came through the lab for conservation treatment. Each one of us pondered its purpose and after making no concrete conclusions, I made a card replica of the object to demonstrate the full functioning of the moveable leg and to aid tactile and visual understanding.

 

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Archaeologist Jennifer Danis ponders the function of the mysterious man.  Image taken by:  Zachary Anderson 2013

 

I presented the mystery at our Scott Base meeting and invited ideas, suggestions and resolutions from everyone. A guessing game began with some interesting results:

 

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Jennifer uses card replica to help understand the object.  Image taken by Zachary Anderson 2013

 

Graeme, an engineer, concluded that the figurine is most likely a latch or clamp similar to one used for a chest or suitcase today. However, he also suggested that as the figurine is pressed with an especially shaped form, several shapes of the same figurine could have been cut to create a display or scene. This idea is promoted by Damian, the cook, who considers the object a puppet similar to a shadow puppet. Tim, the science technician, also thought the object a puppet, however after further consideration added that it may have been used as a measuring device. This corresponds to an idea presented by Colin, the carpenter, who suggests the object is similar to a current day pick-a-mood device, used as a tool to enable people to communicate their moods in stressful social interactions. Or perhaps this curious one legged, one armed man is as Stefan suggests, the result of Clissold's mechanical ingenuity. The case remains unsolved and the guessing game continues… 

       

        

 

   

 

 

    

 

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Graphic art in the lab

Posted by Conservators Apr 11, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 08/04/13

Temperature: -16

Wind speed: 9 knots

Temp with wind chill: -24

Sunrise: 8:58am

Sunset: 4:49pm

 

 

Some artefacts just fascinate you. They take you back somewhere, sometime, straight away. They're appealing. The stationery we had last fortnight had this effect on me. The tray for the colours, the brush and the nib pen, just fill the area with some kind of poetic and artistic atmosphere. And I couldn't refrain from setting up this completely inaccurate reconstruction, for the picture and for the pleasure.

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The imaginary painter atelier in the conservation lab

 

 

Click the following link to see the real painter atelier in the hut. Historic image of Dr Wilson working on a sketch http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.402/. May 19th 1911 Credit H. Ponting. SPRI ref : P2005/5/0402

 

I was also really curious about the nib pen. Could it be Scott’s one? Was it related to one of the diaries? Or maybe to some map, drawing, letters, furniture list or scientific notes? Hence, I started looking again on the historic images, and Lizzie sent me some close ups. So, I can tell now that it's probably not Scott's, neither Cherry's, nor Griff. But, it could be Gran's nib pen, even if I can't tell for sure. The exposure time was long enough for Gran to take a posture in the middle of an already written page and it seems that the handle has been slightly moving. Click the following link to see a picture of Gran holding a nib pen: http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.399/ Credit H. Ponting. SPRI ref: P2005/5/0399.

 

That's probably the most interesting part of the job, going from the excitement of mystery to the pleasure of recognition. So, if someone can just tell me what's written on the page…

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Cook, my cook

Posted by Conservators Apr 4, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 25/03/13

Temperature: - 32C

Wind speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -49C

Sunrise: 9am

Sunset: 9pm

 

 

If you have ever seen Dead Poets Society you would remember the boys shouting 'Captain, my captain'. The title of my blog is not a joke about Captain Cook, but rather an acknowledgement of the crucial role of a cook on an expedition.

 

For historic image of Thomas Clissold making pies in January 1912 see SPRI/ http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/

 

Shackleton, relating the Endurance's terrible journey, mentions the cook several times for his great ability to make everyones life better by combining seal fat with seal grease in the most lovely way (yes, they were badly starving).

Marie Pic 2.jpgThe cook making pies, March 2013 © AHT/Marie

 

The Terra Nova expedition cook, Thomas Clissold, was so brilliant that Scott wanted him to join the South Pole party! He was said to be the most inventive person, and he built many utensils and gadgets to make his work slightly easier (such as a mechanism to warn him when bread had risen enough in the oven). But Clissold broke a leg and stayed on Ross Island.

Marie Pic 3.jpgEnamel dish in the lab

 

Here and now, our cook Damian, is so important to everyday life, making a feast for morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with limited supplies. He is also the main reason why we're going to the gym before dinner, as we need to fit into our clothes by the end of winter as badly as we need to eat some more chocolate cake. And to give an accurate idea of our wellness, I should add that Stef used to be a chef and Jaime is baking fresh bread on Sundays!

As I was conserving enamel dishes, covered with burnt sugar on the edges, I remembered Ponting's picture of the cook. And Damian was kind enough to make us a rhubarb pie for the occasion.

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The Frozen Few

Posted by Conservators Apr 2, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 20/03/13

Temperature: -13.5C

Wind speed: 12 knotos

Temp with wind chill: -25C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Not long ago we had a long weekend (two days), a rare treat on Scott Base, and we took the opportunity of getting out on a 'Fam trip'. Anything we do which could be considered dangerous has to be fully considered in every aspect … equipment, communications, health & safety, etc. Lex (our base mechanic) has a tremendous amount of experience with a multitude of heavy machinery and was able to organise a ski-doo trip out to "room with a view" (about 25km NW of Scott Base, up the Hut Point Peninsula).

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Jaime after a bumpy stint on a ski-doo © AHT/Stefan

 

Riding ski-doos is a tricky business. The flat light at this time in the season means it's difficult to see snow drifts, and as you're essentially raising your wind chill by however fast you're travelling, frost nip/bite becomes a very real threat if you're not 100% covered up. It was a brilliant day out, with great scenery and most importantly no injuries.

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Lex with the McMurdo 'Frozen Few' Chapter  © Lex

 

A great aspect to life in Antarctica is that you're surrounded by people who enjoy resurrecting important parts of their life from back home and creating them anew in the inhospitable climes of this harsh continent. A biker fraternity called 'The Frozen Few' (born on McMurdo, the US base) has decided to open up a Scott Base 'chapter'. Proudly Lex, Graeme and even AHT's very own Jaime are newly ordained 'pledges'. We're all very grateful to the guys, as without these efforts to create a diverse social life, our Antarctic experience would be much the poorer.

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Stitching history

Posted by Conservators Mar 25, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date: 20 March 2013

Temperature: -13.8

Wind speed: 50 / 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -28C

Sunrise: 05:50

Sunset: 20:00

 

 

I smiled when I saw the sewing kit that we were issued with when receiving our extreme cold weather gear in Christchurch. The kit being quite basic and wrapped in fabric reminded me of a time long past, a time when each member of Scott's team was responsible for caring for and repairing their own gear and clothing.

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Mittens, from Terra Nova hut, with several historic repairs

 

Now as the last plane has left us for the winter and we must make do with whatever supplies, equipment and gear we have, that sewing kit has become a little more vital and our connection to the past habits of Scott and his men enhanced.

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Mike, from Field support, making his mark by repairing a tent

 

While conserving some items of clothing from Scott's Terra Nova Hut, I noticed the remarkable repairs made over and over again to the same areas in mittens and several socks. These repairs not only tell of how the items were used, worn and torn, but also convey how much care was taken to wonderfully patch, stitch and darn clothing. 

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Trans-Antarctic Expedition: George Marsh sewing a tent. Unknown Photographer. TAE 865:1956/1958

 

On Scott Base, we also take great care to repair, recycle and reuse as much as possible, including clothing. Field support have been repairing and maintaining the tents for years. As they continue to make these repairs they are also developing a pattern of historic stitches that is not unlike those found in the mittens most recently conserved.

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Peace at last

Posted by Conservators Mar 20, 2013

Author: Jaime

Temperature: -15C

Wind speed: 10 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

With departure of the last flight last Saturday, we are finally alone here and after the frantic activity of recent weeks, a real sense of calm has overtaken both Scott Base and Mc Murdo.

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Ship offload at McMurdo © AHT/Jaime

 

A year's supply of fuel has been delivered, enough for both of the bases here, and the US base at the South Pole. The container ship was here for well over a week, off-loading food and equipment 24 hours a day, and finally departing loaded with unwanted waste, materials and vehicles. There has also been a huge exodus of personnel as science events depart and the additional staff needed to keep the bases running during this time, return home.

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Spot the departing plane © AHT/Jaime

 

So now, with just 145 people over at Mc Murdo and 15 here, it is all over until the end of August, when the whole process will begin again. We all gathered outside and toasted the departing plane, as it lifted off the ice in a cloud of blown snow, turned to make a farewell pass over the base and disappeared north to the real world.

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Author: Sue

Temperature: -14 degrees

Wind Speed: 0

Temp with wind chill: -14 degrees

Sunrise: 05:50

Sunset: 20:12

 

 

Last Friday was a day like any other for us in the lab at Scott Base. A crate of frozen objects from Scott's Terra Nova hut had just thawed and I selected one for treatment. In this case, it was a wooden-backed bristle brush for grooming the expedition's ponies – ponies Scott intended to use in his 1912 dash to the South Pole. Hailing from Vladivostok, they were all white or dappled grey and numbered nineteen, but didn't fare well and were soon down to ten—Bones, Chinaman, Christopher, James Pigg, Jehu, Michael, Nobby, Snatcher, Snippets and Victor.

 

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Lawrence Oates with ponies at Terra Nova hut May 26th 1911 © H. Ponting SPRI ref: P2005/5/0459

 

Not only was the grooming brush well-worn from much use, it held a tangle of pale hairs and released a surprisingly pungent and pervasive odour of horse and manure, as if it had just been used. I commented on this to my Irish colleague, Stefanie, before our conversation turned back to our plans for St Patrick's Day celebration ... 17 March.

 

But my thoughts soon wandered to the expert horseman who was in charge of the Terra Nova expedition's ponies, a certain Captain Lawrence Oates. For Oates, 17 March, St Patrick's Day, was his birthday. And, tragically, it was also almost certainly the day he died, on his thirty-second, in Antarctica, 101 years ago. Oates is famous as the member of Scott's Polar Party who, ravaged by frostbite, scurvy, malnutrition and the effects of a war wound, self-sacrificed by walking out of the party's tent in a blizzard with the words "I'm just going outside and may be some time" in the hope it would enable the other team members—Scott, Bowers and Wilson—to survive the return journey from the Pole. Sadly it didn't … they all perished some twelve or so days later and Oates’ body was never found.

 

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Pony grooming brush from Scott's Terra Nova expedition

 

And so this 17 March, as Scott Base celebrates St Patrick's Day 2013, we also salute a true gentleman of the heroic era and a man of remarkable bravery, loyalty and gallantry … Captain Lawrence Edward Grace ('Titus') Oates (17 March 1880 – 17 March 1912).

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Author: Stefanie

Date: 6 March 2013

Temperature: -24C

Wind Speed: 30 / 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35C

Sunrise: 04:54

Sunset: 21:10

 

 

In preparation for the winter's extreme cold and darkness, we have moved the conservation laboratory from the summer container into the science preparation areas in the Hillary Field Center (HFC) which is inside Scott Base. This space, which is usually occupied by scientists carrying our research during the summer, is an ideal space for any conservation laboratory. It is very spacious and well equipped with good lighting, benches, chemical storage cupboards, sink and computer. This, in addition to our documentation and conservation equipment, materials and chemicals makes up our new work space. 

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Marie and Stefan in the recenetly installed winter lab

 

As the summer-winter lab transformation occurs every year at winter and back again at summer, all of the conservation lab equipment, materials and chemicals are stored in a very orderly fashion in labeled white crates. Therefore our move from the Antarctic Heritage Trust container to the science preparation area in the HFC was very swift.

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Stefan, Sue, Jaime and Marie working in the winter lab

 

As Sue and Marie packed and moved white crates from the summer container into the HFC, Stefan and I cleaned and prepared our new winter lab. Benches were layered with absorbent tissue and polyethylene sheets, the microscope was mounted, crates were allocated new homes under the benches, a photographic and documentation area was set up and chemicals stored in their designated chemical cupboards. And then in came the fume cabinet, which was kindly installed by the engineers. We are now set for the winter.

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