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Antarctic conservation

217 Posts authored by: Conservators
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Staying Alive

Posted by Conservators Mar 11, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 24 February 2013

Temperature: -5 C

Wind Speed:  5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -9 C

Sunrise: 23:51

Sunset: 04:10

 

 

Anyone spending time in Antarctica needs to learn how to live and work safely and how to survive in the harsh environment … and that includes conservators! Taking part in Antarctic Field Skills training is a basic and early part of the induction process following arrival on the ice, and the five members of the AHT Winter Team headed out overnight with the other ten people who will winter-over at Scott Base this year.

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Setting up camp below Mt Erebus

 

The field skills training involved an introduction to Antarctica New Zealand's zero-harm philosophy, applying its risk assessment process, and learning the protocols surrounding the Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs which the heroic-era huts come under). And then there was understanding how to effectively use our many layers of supplied clothing, what is found in a 'survival bag' (such as a shelter and dehydrated meals) and how to use it, polar-tent pitching (using tents of much the same design as those used by the heroic-era explorers), sleep-kit construction for different conditions, stove lighting, toileting and waste management, and communications planning and procedures. All very useful and necessary skills.

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Base engineer Dave barbequing, Antarctic style

 

We were fortunate to have spectacular weather, and for those of us who are new to this, no darkness, allowing us to find our way in and out of our tents and multi-layered sleeping kits successfully! We also picked up some useful tips from old hands on barbequing Antarctic style, keeping drinks off the freeze, and frisbee-playing in deep snow, with gloves. A fun trip!

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Polar Tents

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Sun setting, or rising

Posted by Conservators Mar 7, 2013

Author: Marie-Amande

Date: 6 March 2013

Temperature: -25C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35C

Sunrise: Everlasting

Sunset: Everlasting

 

 

Antoine de Saint Exupery was a French pioneer aviator and writer who travelled worldwide and disappeared at sea in a plane crash in 1944. Due to the discovery of his identity bracelet ('gourmette') nearby in 1998, his aircraft has been located and excavated. The recovery and exhibition of these artefacts are not without connection to the work we are doing at Scott Base on artefacts from Antarctica's first explorers.

 

But the real connection for me is Saint Ex' famous novel The Little Prince. The Little Prince comes from a very very small planet, so small that he only needs to move his chair to see the sun set or rise.

 

sunset.jpg

Sun setting, or rising

 

We are actually living on a similar tiny planet named Scott Base. The sun, which started setting on 20 February, is currently curving so low in the sky that it seems to be everlasting sunset or sunrise. We just have to change windows to see orange and gold colours floating around Black and White Islands in the morning, surrounding Mount Erebus' summit at lunch, lying on the Dry Valley Mountains after dinner, and finally hiding for a few minutes at midnight.

 

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Sun setting, or rising

 

Should I say that The Little Prince is about exploration and explorers, about leaving and missing home, about experience and knowledge? There are many more connections to make.  To understand why we should consider snow drifts behind the doors as baobabs, I invite you to read the novel or to attend my French class every Friday evening at Scott Base.

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Author: Marie-Amande

Date: 11 February 2013

Temperature: -12C

Wind speed: 12 knots

 

 

Regular readers may already know that Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators have two 'labs' (or laboratories) at Scott Base, a summer one and a winter one. The summer one is small and in a container outside the main building. Luckily, in winter, the base gets pretty empty and Scott Base staff let us enjoy a very spacious lab inside the base. We will move into the lab once all ship fuel and cargo offloads for the winter season, as they use the space as a temporary staging post. But we were all so excited to start working that we set up a temporary lab inside while two of us began work in the 'summer' lab.

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Stefanie starts work in the conservator's cage's dust cabinet

 

Adjacent to the winter lab is a storage area divided into compartments, by wire fences (each about 8sqm). Jaime, our carpenter conservator, had already planned to have his workshop in one of these 'cages', and we just followed his idea. As the summer scientists left the base, we requested the cages: one for the photography area, one to work in … and so on. We transformed the shelves into benches and, to be really clean in an area that wasn't already ours, we built up a very basic dust cabinet. With several kinds of plastic sheet we made an enclosed area with a window and access holes for our hands and the Dremel, a drill-like tool we use to mechanically remove corrosion from metal artefacts. So, here we are, hands in the cage's cage!

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Jaime has set up his workshop for the season

 

The cages are actually really convenient to isolate the different task areas. When the two people still working in the summer lab join us in the freshly installed winter lab, I'm pretty sure we'll try to keep some of our lovely cages as they are. But we'll let you know …

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Scott Base remembers ....

Posted by Conservators Feb 28, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 24 February 2013

Temperature: -5 Degrees C

Wind Speed: None

Sunrise: 23:51

Sunset: 04:10

 

 

Last week marked the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch, claiming 185 lives and leaving much of the city in ruins. Since then more than 11,000 aftershocks have shaken the city and its people, and much of the CBD has been cleared.

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Marble statue of Captain Robert Falcon Scott following the earthquake (source: http://twitpic.com/458e6g)


Among the many monuments and buildings damaged in the 6.3-magnitude quake was the heritage-listed marble statue of Captain Robert Falcon Scott in Worcester Boulevard (a replica of Kathleen Scott's 1915 bronze statue of Scott in London's Waterloo Place). The marble statue, also sculpted by Scott's widow, Kathleen, and unveiled in 1917, toppled from its plinth and was broken in several places. It is currently on display in its broken state in Christchurch's Canterbury Museum  as part of  the major international touring exhibition Scott's Last Expedition, which tells the epic and tragic story of Scott's Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole.

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Members of the outgoing summer team pay tribute to Christchurch with a road cone & flowers*


Christchurch, as New Zealand's gateway to Antarctica, is close to the hearts of all and home to many currently at Scott Base. On 22 February the base paid tribute to those who lost their lives and to the strength, fortitude and resilience of those who survived and are rebuilding their lives, homes and businesses. KIA KAHA Christchurch!

 

 

*Photo note: Due to their prevalence on Christchurch's street, the road cone has become an informal symbol for the earthquakes and the city's rebuild.

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All work and no play ...

Posted by Conservators Feb 21, 2013

Author: Jaime

Date: 10 February 2013

Temperature: -15C

Wind Speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -21C

Sunrise: Always

Sunset: Never

 

Since arriving Antarctica the winter team has been immersed in the intricacies of life at Scott Base, learning about new people, places and processes, and at the same time beginning our winter conservation programme. It can be a world of baffling acronyms, but eventually you do understand the true meaning of AHT having AFT briefings in the HFC.  (Antarctic Heritage Trust having Antarctic Field Training in the Hillary Field Centre).

 

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Huge crowds at the ski field © AHT/Jaime

 

Thankfully there is also time to relax and to join the season’s last trip to the Scott Base ski field, a simple rope tow emerging from the inevitable green shipping container and running up the same hillside where Scott's men learnt to ski over a century ago. It was a huge treat to be skiing with both great snow and stunning views across the vast ice shelf to the distant mountains. We made our final descent from Castle Rock and headed home in the warmth of the Hagglund with plans for our next day out. A skidoo ride possibly or a trip down a crevasse. Not literally of course.

 

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Sue plans our next excursion © AHT/Jaime

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Matchstick Men

Posted by Conservators Feb 19, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 13 February 2013

Temperature: -15.6

Wind Speed: 16 knots

Temp with wind chill: -34C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Although from Manchester (no, I’m not homesick yet or about to wax lyrical about the paintings of LS Lowry as the title might suggest), my focus is upon the amazing photography of Herbert Ponting (Terra Nova Expedition), and in addition the amazing brain of my fellow conservator Jaime. Back in Christchurch (before we came to the Ice) we had the chance to visit Scott’s Last Expedition http://www.canterburymuseum.com/ an exhibition featuring some fascinating artefacts; it even includes a fantastic recreation of the the Cape Evans hut. As we were strolling around Jaime drew my attention to a brilliant, but seemingly innocuous, Ponting image of the hut’s southern aspect.

 

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Monnlight photograph of the Winterquaters Hut and camp with Mount Erebus in the background.  June 13th 1911.

 

© Herbert Ponting

 

Jamie explained that in using this particular image, in a previous season on the Ice, to accurately restore elements of the hut’s exterior, he had noticed certain elements of the photograph appeared ghostly and translucent. In realising Ponting had used an incredibly long exposure (lit by the moonlight), Jamie began to pick through the image and see many happenings that both arrive and disappear in the frame. The spookiest of these transitions is a dark figure who can be tracked lighting a cigarette/pipe in the doorway, walking to the left of the shot, dropping the match, and then inhaling (illuminating an intense white line, as the figure walks to the sea ice).

 

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Matches ready for conservation. © AHT/Marie-Amande

 

This project has a funny way of marrying everything up, and with Marie-Amande currently conserving a small tin of matches, you get a very clear perception of how deeply woven in history some objects can be.

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Author: Stefanie

Date: 11 February 2013

Temperature: -16C

Wind speed: 10 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

We are an international team of five conservators that met for the first time only a few weeks ago. Since meeting, we have had the opportunity to get to know one another while preparing for this season's conservation project and for a winter on the ice.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to the conservation team currently working in the Antarctic:

 

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Jaime, Sue, Stefan, Stefanie and Marie in the lab.

 

Sue Bassett, from Australia, is our lead conservator. Sue specialies in objects conservation and has over 25 years' experience working in management and object conservation in museum and archaeological environments.

 

Stefan Strittmatter, a metals and stone conservator from England, joins the team for his second winter on the ice. Stefan has experience in the conservation of materials in outdoor environments as well as in the conservation of artefacts from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

 

Jaime Ward, from Scotland, is the team's carpenter and timber conservator. Having summered over twice before on the ice, Jaime has experience in the restoration of the fabric of the historic huts at Cape Evans and Cape Royds as well as on the conservation of wooden artefacts from inside and outside the huts. 

 

Marie-Amande Coignard from France, specialises in the conservation of archaeological objects and has experience working with materials from marine environments.

 

I am Stefanie White, an objects conservator from Ireland. I am delighted to be part of the winter conservation team. Together the five of us are embarking on the conservation of over 1500 objects from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

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Stefanie, Marie, Jaime, Sue and Stefan at Cape Royds.

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Author: Sue

Date: 03 February 2013

Temperature: -8C

Wind Speed: 8 knots

Temp with wind chill: -18C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

 

The Antarctic Heritage Trust’s winter conservation Team 2013 has arrived on the ice with much excitement and is busy with inductions: handovers, field training and getting accustomed to the uniqueness of our new environment, including 24hr daylight (for a while, at least). Work on the artefacts brought in to Scott Base from Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans by the outgoing summer team will soon begin in earnest.

 

As I prepared for my own first-time Antarctic experience as Lead Conservator, a previous Antarctic connection came to mind.  It relates to Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17, on which the photographer was the renowned Frank Hurley.

 

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Hurley's Endurance photos, 1915

 

My Sydney-born paternal grandmother had an association with the Hurley family and was governess for a time to Frank and Antoinette’s identical twin daughters, (Sidney) Adelie and Toni, who were born in 1919. As a result of this connection, we have ‘family photos’ that include a collection of outstanding large-format B&W photographic prints by Frank himself. Gifts to my grandmother, the images include a couple from the Shackleton expedition showing Endurance being crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea. Although well-known and much-published images, we are privileged to have original Hurley prints on our walls and I can only begin to imagine the wonderful tales that would have accompanied them … including, I’m sure, Frank’s tales of recovering his glass-plate negatives from beneath the icy waters before the sinking Endurance was finally lost and of later having to destroy and discard most of those plates during the long and arduous trek across the sea ice.

 

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Outlook from Scott Base, 2013

 

And so with the utmost respect for all who have gone before, including Frank and others of the heroic era, we now begin our very own Antarctic winter-over experience with much anticipation.

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Wrapping up the season

Posted by Conservators Jan 29, 2013

Author: Lizzie

Date: 29 January 2013

Temperature: -5.5C

Wind Speed: 11 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

The summer team and I have recently arrived back at Scott Base. Something of a shock to be around so many people once more, but we have dredged up our rusty social skills and have been enjoying catching up with the many science teams and support staff inhabiting the base at this time of year. January at Cape Evans seemed to fly by as we worked hard to complete all the tasks on the work programme. A lot of long days and evening work were put in,  but we had the satisfaction of completing the conservation of over 100 wooden and plywood boxes used by the Scott Expedition to store fuel and food. Back in their original locations on the hillside, their ability to withstand the fierce storms of winter has been ensured for the next few decades.

 

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Historic fuel boxes, conserved, Cape Evans

 

January saw huge changes at the site as the melt season continued. Previous work by the Trust means that meltwater is diverting well away from the hut itself.  As these small streams melt the sea they create meltpools in which Adelie penguins and seals became our frequent visitors.

 

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Adelie penguins heading for the meltpools, Cape Evans © AHT/Lizzie

 

A magical time to be out in the field, and we were all sad to leave. The next blog you read will be courtesy of the incoming winter team who we meet this week at Scott Base to introduce to their season ahead. There are some fantastic artefacts in store for their winter so check back in to see what they are conserving in the months ahead.

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Discovery Hut, Hut Point

Posted by Conservators Jan 17, 2013

Author: Karen    

Date: 13 December 2012

Temperature: -3C

Wind speed: 15 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

 

While back at Scott Base there is some work to do at Discovery Hut, Hut Point, McMurdo Sound. Discovery Hut was built in 1902 by Captain Scott's party.  It was designed by Professor Gregory and prefabricated by James Moore before being brought south by ship.  It's almost square with a veranda running around three sides.  Unfortunately, although the walls were insulated with felt, it was still very cold and very difficult to keep warm.  This led to the ship, (Discovery) moored approx. one kilometre away being used for the first year as living quarters and the hut being used predominately as a large store room.  During the second year, occasionally a party would sleep inside, but no bunks or permanent sleeping quarters were ever erected.

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   Discovery Hut, Hut Point © AHT/Karen

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    Vince's Cross, Hut Point © AHT/Karen

 

On the hill behind Discovery Hut, a cross was erected in 1904 to the memory of George Vince who returning to the hut in a blizzard in 1902, slipped over an ice precipice to his death.

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Martin surveying the internal windows © AHT/Karen  

                                            

The Trust is planning to start conservation work on Discovery Hut during the Antarctic summer of 2013/14.  This season, one of the tasks on the work list, was for Martin and I to survey the external and internal windows in order for them to be conserved next season.  Conserving these windows will help stop snow from entering the building and causing further damage. It only takes one small crack somewhere in the hut to allow snow to enter, and very quickly you have a huge pile of snow.  There is a lot of work to be completed before the hut is secure and weather tight.  

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Leaving Cape Evans

Posted by Conservators Jan 8, 2013

Author: Karen

Date: 11 December 2012

Temperature: -1.5C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

 

The hagglund arrived at 10.15am to pick us up and take us back to Scott Base.  But first Martin and Kevin had to identify two safe routes down to the sea ice, in order for us to stage (put all the items in one place) our cargo.  This would make it much easier when loading the Hagglund.  One route was identified from the carpentry workshop/field laboratory area and another from Scott’s hut.  Kevin made a temporary wooden bridge across one of the tide cracks as it was just a little too big to step across safely.

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The temporary bridge across one of the tide cracks © AHT/Karen

 

The ice had just started to break up around our camp and there were many tide cracks, which you could easily fall down and twist an ankle, so great care was required, especially when carrying artefacts.  We had our first lunch of soup and bread and proceeded to load the hagglund.  It took around 2½ hours.  We were taking artefacts from Scott’s hut back to Scott Base for our winter conservation team to conserve during the Antarctic winter season (Feb - Aug 2013).

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Jana loading artefacts © AHT/Karen

 

It was a very sad time, my final visit to Scott's hut, it truely is an amazing place, Scott's hut is very powerful and I found it extremely difficult to walk down to the sea ice and climb into the Hagglund.  The journey back to Scott Base was slow and took approximately 3 hours; this was because we had to travel at 10km per hour, due to having artefacts on board.  On arrival at Scott Base, we unloaded the artefacts and headed for the showers.  After showering, we met in the dining room for dinner. It had been a long, exhausting but very rewarding day and we all slept extremely well that night. 

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Southern Food Cache

Posted by Conservators Dec 20, 2012

Author: Karen

Date: 06 December 2012

Temperature: -3

Wind Speed: -17

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

This week I have been helping Jana process certain artefacts.  One of my tasks included hauling the Polk (similar to a sledge) up the hill from Scott’s hut to the expedition’s southern food cache in order to return previously conserved tins and boxes.  Once we brushed off the new snow that had fallen overnight, Jana identified the next batch of wooden boxes for conservation (containing flour and pearl barley) and we duly put them on the Polk and transported them back to the field laboratory.  

 

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Southern food cache © AHT/Karen

 

The southern food cache is the largest surviving collection of food from Captain Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913).  It includes the bulk of the stores but not glass items, which would have broken if left outside.  The cache is located on the top of the ridge behind the hut, where the wind kept the supplies clearer of snow.  Scott and his men moved the food cache before the second winter as during the first winter their supplies (kept near the hut) were snowed in due to the immense amount of blizzards and snow which fell in the first winter.

 

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Jana identifying artefacts for conservation © AHT/Karen

 

I was amazed to see the quantity of food stored and still in situ; there were boxes of Huntley and Palmers biscuits, crates of Irvine Bros Family Lard and boxes of Fry’s Cocoa, to mention just a few.  Some of the tins were in remarkable condition considering they have been open to the harsh Antarctic weather for more than 100 years. The boxes and food we collected will be conserved then returned to the cache where they were found.

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Author: Karen

Date: 2 December 2012

Temperature: -7°C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -15°C

 

After over six years with the Trust as Administration Officer, I was given the opportunity to visit Antarctica to assist the team during a busy period.  I was both extremely excited and concerned at the same time, since I was told that the majority of my time involved camping in a tent at Cape Evans (the site of Captain Scott’s second expedition base).  Having never camped before, this was worrying, but I was not going to let that get in the way of such a remarkable opportunity.

I arrived at Cape Evans by Hagglund, it took approximately one and half hours from Scott Base.  Walking into Scott’s hut for the first time was very emotional: even after seeing thousands of photos, they did not prepare me for the feelings stirred.  When I stepped inside I immediately noticed a distinctive smell, it took a few seconds before I realised it was the blubber stack, (left behind by the Ross Sea Party) stored in the western annexe.  After over 100 years the smell was still extremely strong. It was like I’d been transported back in time and I was back in 1911, all was very real, in fact I was expecting to turn around and see Scott or one of the men from his party sitting at the wardroom table. 

Walking around Scott’s hut I found myself thinking how noisy it must have been with 25 men living in the hut when it was first built in January 1911, but today it was eerily quiet, all I could hear was the wind howling around outside.

 

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Stack of blubber in the Western annexe, Cape Evans

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Veiw of the Western annexe, Cape Evans

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Freezer Ingenuity

Posted by Conservators Dec 13, 2012

Author: Kevin

Date: 28 November 2012

Temperature: -4 degrees celcius, sunny and bright

Wind speed: 5 knots

 

We have now been at Cape Evans, the site of Captain Scott's Terra Nova hut for the last three weeks or so. Our daily work pattern is now well established. Morning meeting and radio schedule with Scott Base at 07.30am, then off to work until 11.00am when we stop for first lunch, then work again until 3.00pm when second lunch beckons. Final work period is over at 7.00pm with dinner at around 7.30pm.

 

We take it in turns to cook, so as there are only four of us on site, it comes around pretty quickly, with some people looking forward to it more than others, as spending your day digging out one hundred year old marrow fat lard from tins has been known to dampen the appetite!

 

Over the last week or so we have been lucky to have good weather with temperatures above -5 and lots of sunshine, giving us beautiful views of Mount Erebus and the Barne Glacier. Whilst this may seem good to those far away, it leaves us with a dilemma. We rely on snow banks for our fresh water and keeping our fresh food frozen. The fine weather sees the banks literally melting away in front of our very eyes and we still have two more months on site.

 

This morning our "freezer" was looking decidedly worse for wear so it was time for improvements. More snow was packed on top and around the sides and a better door was fitted. All courtesy of the carpenters used timber stack.

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Freezer looking a bit sorry for itself

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Freezer on its way to a new look (Barne Glacier in the background)

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The Little Joys

Posted by Conservators Dec 3, 2012

Author: Martin Wenzel

Date: 20/11/2012

Temperature: -6 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 14 knots

Wind Chill : -20 degrees celcius

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

About a week ago I started  working on fuel storage boxes found  around Robert Falcon Scott's expedition hut at Cape Evans. They were used to transport fuel tanks for the motor sledges that turned out to be not very  successful in Antarctic conditions. Conserving large numbers of these and other historic boxes which are in all states of disrepair, and come in a variety of styles and conditions, requires a lot of patience. And yet it is still fascinating when boxes have little surprises in store, provide a new structural challenge or show a particular nice piece  of wind sculpted timber.

 

Missing part of a board yesterday, and contemplating how to secure what was left over, I started looking through some debris found around the box. And there it was - clearly the missing piece but looking quite different. The piece attached to the box was weather worn and had lost up to 2mm of thickness through abrasion while the found piece had been protected for a hundred years and looked almost new. Joining them again looked a bit unusual but provided  the structural integrity needed. It is only a matter of time until the found piece will adjust its appearance.

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Same board, but a different look

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One board again.

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