Skip navigation
1 ... 4 5 6 7 8 ... 15 Previous Next

Antarctic conservation

225 Posts authored by: Conservators

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.


Sue Blog.jpg

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.


Scott Base 2013.jpg

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.


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.


Historic fuel boxes Cape Evans.jpg

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.


Adelies at Cape Evans.jpg

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.


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.

blog HP 1.jpg

   Discovery Hut, Hut Point © AHT/Karen

blog HP cross.jpg

    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.

Blog HP 2.jpg

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.  


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.

bridged crack.jpg

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).

Jana loading artefacts.jpg

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. 


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.  


Image 1 Southern food cache.jpg

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.


Image 2 Jana identifing artefacts.jpg

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.


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.


KC Blubber.jpg

Stack of blubber in the Western annexe, Cape Evans

CE western annexe.jpg

Veiw of the Western annexe, Cape Evans


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.

Blog 5.jpg

Freezer looking a bit sorry for itself


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


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.


Same board, but a different look


One board again.


Dig, dig, dig!

Posted by Conservators Nov 28, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 12 November 2012

Temperature: -12 °C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -38 °C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a


One of the first tasks that we usually tackle when we arrive at the historic huts is to remove some of the massive amount of snow that has accumulated around the buildings during the  winter.  At both Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, drifting snow piles up each year in the lee of the buildings, burying artefacts and pushing up against the walls of the structures themselves.  If this snow is left in place, it can turn into a thick layer of ice that becomes nearly impossible to remove, or it melts slowly in the summer sun, which can cause water damage to the walls of the buildings and to the objects sitting outside.  That’s why we make sure to dig it out while it is still in a perfectly snowy, shovel-able state! 

It usually takes several days of dedicated digging to remove all of the snow in question: we take turns hacking away at the deeper parts of the drifts or gingerly brushing where we know the artefacts are buried, and then we haul all of the loose snow by wheelbarrow or sled away from the building so it can melt where it won’t cause any damage.  As anyone who has shovelled out their driveway after a snowstorm knows, it is hard work wielding a shovel all day long, and we definitely feel like we’ve earned our lunches on digging days!photo 1.JPG

Snow on the north side of Scott's hut upon our arrival

photo 2.JPG

A day's worth of digging got us this far!


Cape Royds

Posted by Conservators Nov 23, 2012

Author: Lizzie
Date: 1 Nov 2012
Temperature: -18.2C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -18.2°C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a
Photo Description & Credit 1: Mt Erebus in light and shadow c . Lizzie, AHT
Photo Description & Credit 2: Lizzie back inside the hut at Cape Royds

We’re back at Cape Royds after a year, this time just a short visit for 5 days to complete the annual maintenance and inspection programme. This year’s summer Antarctic Heritage Trust team consists of Jana (objects conservator, Canada), Martin (timber conservation carpenter, NZ), Kevin (timber conservation carpenter, UK) and myself (Programme Manager-Artefacts, AHT): a mix of skills, ages, nationalities and experience in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

There’s a list for me of things to do as soon as I get to Cape Royds:
1. Check the hut is OK after winter and spring storms…it is, bar a couple of things. We find a Colman’s flour box and a pony fodder box blown loose from their usual positions. In the case of the flour box it has been picked up by the wind from the south side of the building, rolled around the east side, and then blown a further 80m north of the building, where I spy it in its own lonesome wee drift of snow. Remarkably the box is completely undamaged despite its travels. Martin fixes it back more firmly in position on the south wall.

2. Say hello to the penguins…. It’s early in the season. Over at the rookery only a couple of hundred Adelie penguins are in and beginning the business of stone gathering – trotting back and forth with one stone at a time in their beaks.

3. Say hello to Mt Erebus – sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Tthe day after we arrive, Erebus is playing hide and seek, high wind clouds shifting and stacking up in sharp curves, in and out of light.
4. Haul the gear up and over the hill ready for several days of snow digging, photography, minor repairs and treatments.

5. And last but not least, walk inside the hut, check all the artefacts are OK, drink in the smell, the light, the distinctive small sounds, and the incomparable atmosphere of this 1908 expedition base.


7 more sleeps!

Posted by Conservators Nov 1, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 24 October 2012

Temperature: -18

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -32

Sunrise: None!

Sunset: None!



Well, the time has come for us to wrap up our conservation work here at Scott Base and pour all of our energy into preparing for our imminent deployment out to our field camps at the historic huts. 


As you might imagine, this is slightly more involved than preparing for a weekend camping trip:  it will take several days for the four of us to inventory, sort, test and pack the hundreds of pounds of food, tents, stoves, safety equipment, sleep kits, sleds, shovels, toilet supplies, fuel and timber, not to mention all of the specialized conservation and carpentry tools and material that we will require during the three months we spend out in the field.  


We also have to pack up the hundreds of artefacts that were conserved here over the winter season, and then there is our personal gear as well; the handful of clothes, boots, tools and books that will see us each through the season are definitely an important part of the equation! 


wading through gear.jpg

Wading through a small portion of our field gear © AHT/Jana


We’re excited enough to be counting down the days until we move out to the field though, so we find the work quite enjoyable, especially since it gives us a chance to make sure we don’t overlook anything important.  We also like to think about the fact that explorers of the heroic age would relate to our current flurry of activity; they too spent a good portion of their winters sorting, repairing and packing the vast amounts of food and gear needed for the sledging trips they undertook in the summer seasons.


Bad Weather

Posted by Conservators Oct 29, 2012

Author: Kevin

Date: 24 October 2012



I was up at 4am all bags packed and just about to get dressed up in my warm gear for the 5 hour flight to Scott Base. My excitement to be finally on the way to the “ice” was turned to disappointment on receiving the news that bad weather on Ross Island had delayed our departure by at least 24 hours.


My mind turned to the weather and how much we take it for granted these days.  Today we simply have to log on to the internet, google “Antarctic weather” and we are given a choice of sites to look at.  Sites such as   This Norwegian weather organization gives us hour by hour predictions and information as well as links to web cams that show us what it is actually like now.  Antarctica New Zealand also hosts webcams on their website

C Evans Stevenson screen.jpg

Cape Evans Stevenson's screen © AHT/Falcon


So different from the explorers of just over a 100 years ago, at the forefront of the science of meteorology as we know it today. For them, looking at satellite images from a warm office was not an option. They were required to go out to the weather station whatever the weather, getting dressed up in all of their warm clothing, often struggling against the conditions to find the weather station, physically handling the instruments, recording the information on paper before resetting the instruments, and then struggling back to the sanctuary of their huts, frozen to the core.  It is easy to forget that whilst others were out performing deeds of derring-do, the seemingly endless scientific tasks such as recording the weather continued to be carried out by those whose names have not become household.


Reinstalling stevenson.jpg

Reinstalling the conserved Stevenson's screen © AHT/Gord


Last season the weather station at Cape Evans was skillfully conserved by fellow team member Martin, and placed back in its original position as testament to those who visited it many times a day month after month. Personally I am itching to get on site and continue the skilled work carried out by those before me.


Land of the Midnight Sun

Posted by Conservators Oct 25, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 17 October 2012

Temperature: -19C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -26C

Sunrise: 03:58

Sunset: 11:29



Early summer is an extremely changeable time in Antarctica, not only in terms of the human activity that is ramping up for the season, but in the natural world around us as well.  The temperature creeps reliably upwards while the sea ice thickens daily, Emperor penguins depart whilst the Adélies start to arrive, and lots of baby Weddell seals are born. 


Most noticeable of all, however, is the arrival of 24 hour daylight.   Because of our southern latitude, the amount of sunlight we get each day increases here more noticeably than it does at more equatorial latitudes.  Right now, although the sun still technically 'sets' and 'rises' it really only appears to creep behind the mountains on the horizon for a bit before re-emerging on the other side.  We never really have true darkness anymore, and 3:00 in the morning is almost as bright as 3:00 in the afternoon. Even when it is overcast, the reflecting whiteness of the snowy landscape means that it is still bright outside.

pressure ridges at night.jpg

Pressure ridges in late evening sun © AHT/Jana


For some people the 24 hour daylight is difficult to get used to, and their biorhythms and sleep habits suffer as a result.  Sleeping in a tent in bright daylight can be a bit challenging when we are living in the field, but we are usually so exhausted from the day's work that sleep never eludes us for long!


Staff around the flagpole

Posted by Conservators Oct 17, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 10 October 2012

Temperature: -15C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -21C

Sunrise: 05:11am

Sunset: 10:16pm



The transition from winter to summer season here at Scott Base brings about a number of significant changes. Winter staff start to leave after 13 months of living and working together, a new crew is introduced to the base, science groups start arriving and helicopters buzz around again.  For Simon, our winter manager, it is also the time to officially hand over the base to the incoming team.

Flag pole Image 1.jpg

Staff around the flagpole.


Last Saturday, to mark this point and follow a long held tradition, everybody gathered around the flagpole in front of the base to watch the youngest  person on base lower the small winter pennant and raise  the larger summer flag.  It is a little ceremony which has been kept alive ever since Scott Base was officially opened on 20 January 1957.

Flag pole Image 2.jpg

Summer flag is raised.


The historic flagpole, found around Scott’s Discovery Hut, had been presented to Sir Edmund Hillary (who helped found Scott Base) by Admiral Dufek that year and Able Seaman R.Tito, the youngest person on base, raised the NZ flag for the first time.  Ever since then the flagpole has been a focal point in front of the base.


Cape Evans Redux

Posted by Conservators Oct 9, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 3 October 2012

Temperture: -33C

Wind Speed: 2 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35C

Sunrise: 5:35am

Sunset: 7:36pm



As Martin described in our last blog, we were recently able to make a quick trip out over the sea ice to Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans.   I had especially been looking forward to seeing the hut again, as three and a half years have passed since the last time I set foot inside.  In the intervening years conservators have been working diligently to reconfigure various aspects of the hut to their original layout, many artefacts have been treated, and I had been eagerly anticipating seeing all of these changes first hand. 

Terra Nova Hut.jpg

Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans


Stepping into the hut is always a powerful moment: it is quite dark inside at this time of year as the windows are still covered by snow, and it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.  When they do, all sorts of artefacts - bunks and boxes of foodstuffs, scientific equipment, the large table in the centre of the room –start to emerge from the dimness, standing where they did when the hut was inhabited by the explorers of Scott’s expedition.  A prescient silence also fills the hut, and there is a great sense of stillness that I find somewhat jarring – jarring because the wind outside is often howling by comparison, but also because when the hut was originally occupied, it never would have been so quiet inside. 

Biology bench.jpg

Artefacts emerge from the darkness


Making my way around all the little nooks in the hut, it was rewarding to see how many artefacts have been conserved and how the sense of place has been so well preserved.  I am looking forward to moving out to our work camp at the huts so we can once again spend most of our days inside this special place.

1 ... 4 5 6 7 8 ... 15 Previous Next