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Antarctic conservation

41 Posts authored by: Cricket and Diana
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Skua

Posted by Cricket and Diana Feb 3, 2011

Posted by Diana

 

Skua, are a large water bird which remind me of a cross between a sea gull and a duck. There is a building at McMurdo called Skua it is a wonderful place where people can leave clothing or other useful items they no longer require, you can acquire everything from t-shirts to radios to massage oils . If you find something or reuse an item which otherwise may have made its way to waste in Antarctica, we call it “Skuaed” or you were “Skuaing”.


I have developed a love hate relationship with the Skua.  I admire their hardy resourcefulness and their beauty when in flight, however they are a hazard.

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Attack Skua © AHT by J. Ward

 

Here at Cape Evans around Skua Lake we have a lot of nesting Skua. Their “nest” is actually just a flat piece of ground, not sticks or feathers to protect their rock like eggs. When we go for a walks we get dive bombed by Skuas who think we are getting to close to their nest. I almost stepped on an egg one day because I was so busy ducking and running from a pair of Skuas. I have found the best way to deal with them is to put my hood up and just walk – I did get winged by one the other day but with a hat and hood on they can’t hurt you much.

 

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Mother Skua and baby nested in seal carcass © AHT C. Harbeck

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Cape Evans Centenary

Posted by Cricket and Diana Feb 2, 2011

Posted by Jamie on 4 January 2011

 

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The British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition (1910-1913) seal  © AHT / Jamie

 

Today marks one hundred years since the landing of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his 30 men (six of whom were destined for Cape Adare as the ‘northern party‘), on the ship Terra Nova at Cape Evans.  In the coming weeks the ‘Terra Nova’ hut was erected in anticipation of various scientific endeavors for the coming year and ultimately attainment of the South Pole (some 30 odd days behind the Norwegian Amundsen).

 

Whilst there were no big celebrations planned for today (4/1/2011) there was a definite sense of occasion as we set off for work on Scott's hut, still standing tall, after one hundred years on the harshest continent on earth. It was the usual work around the hut, finishing off re-cladding the roof, repairing the stables and treating various atrefacts (currently Oates bed frame).


As we worked through the evening an Emperor penguin approached us across the fractured sea-ice, coming right up to the hut within arm’s reach. As we watched intently it carried on its exploration of the huts perimeter. Up close they truly are an impressive creature. Astonishingly large in stature both high and wide, their size enormous in comparison to their adelie cousins, the colour of their coats so stunning you could gaze at them for hours. It was certainly a moment to remember as well as a stark contrast (beyond the obvious) to Scott’s taxidermy penguin at his study table.

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Emperor penguin © AHT / Jamie

 

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Penquin on table at Scott's hut © AHT


After dinner I went for a walk to view the world from the lookout towards Inaccessible Island, managing to avoid the familiar attack by nesting skua.  Ahead in the distance, open water with groups of seals and penguins surrounding the water and an iceberg, as the Trans Antarctic ranges provide inspirational backdrop. As the snow began to fall lightly it became as serene as ever and I imagined a group of men frantically unloading the ship to spend over a year isolated from the rest of the world with aspirations of conquering the last frontier on earth. Whichever way you think about it the determination of those men was second to none, the stories of their hardships dressed down in diaries as only small hurdles.

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Water's edge © AHT


To end the day I had a walk around the hut as per usual. As described by Sir David Attenborough “It is a time warp without parallel”. Also a pretty cool way to wind down as this landmark day draws to an end.    

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The Tenements 1911 © Herbert Ponting, Antarctica NZ Pictorial Collection

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Storms

Posted by Cricket and Diana Jan 31, 2011

 

Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 15 January 2011
Temperature: -2
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Temp with wind chill:

 

 

Weather is one thing you can never rely on down here.  In December, at Sir Ernest Shackleton's base at Cape Royds in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica, we had a 5-day storm of biting winds, cold temperatures and snow.  It was exciting at first, but then the daily buildup of snow in my tent and constant winds just lost their magic.  For some reason, I believed that that storm was our first and last.  I guess I thought that we’re in summer now and the weather should be sunny and even balmy during our last couple weeks here.  And, for the most part it has been, but just this week the winds shifted to the south, the temperature rose and we all realized we were in for another one.  This storm was a small one, mostly of blowy snow, and lasted just 2 days. Now that it’s over, it’s amazing to think how such a thing like a small storm affects your psyche.


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Tentsite in the storm © AHT /Cricket


It’s only after a storm that you realize how tiring living through one is.  Working outside is a bother and even the short commute between your tent, the kitchen wannigan, the conservation lab and the hut takes its toll.  It’s a quiet struggle, with your back hunched over and face scrunched up against the wind.  Your clothes get wet from all the snow, you wear your big issue boots, which weigh over 3kg, and everything seems a wee bit more of an effort.  And, when the storm finally leaves, there is a big relief.  The first sight of blue sky and sunlight seems like a marvelous gift that makes you smile.  It’s like seeing things for the first time, and suddenly everyone is just that much happier.  It’s been interesting living and working outside for just that reason – your life is not about news and events but more about what is going on in your immediate world and how vulnerable you are to it all.

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Barne Glacier just after the storm © AHT /Cricket
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Celebrating Christmas

Posted by Cricket and Diana Jan 25, 2011
Posted by Cricket
Date: 2 January 2011
Temperature: 1 C
Wind Speed: 10 knots

 

In taking a contract like working for the Antarctic Heritage Trust in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, I felt so lucky being chosen that I didn’t really think what it’d be like being away from home for 6 months.  Feeling a bit homesick, this Christmas I jumped at the chance to take a mini holiday and join six others from Scott Base on an overnight to Black Island.  Our goal was to climb 1000+m to the top of Mt. Aurora.  In two Hagglunds, it was a slow 5 hours ride, bumping around over the melting ice shelf, and navigating our way around large melt pools.  We arrived at Black Island in the evening, pitched camp, had a great meal of Christmas Eve leftovers and quickly went to bed.  We awoke at 4am to get ready and started climbing just after 5.

 

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Hagglund negotiating the melt pools © AHT / Cricket


The whole daylong was gorgeous and sunny with mild winds.  This was a treat since the weather here can change so quickly.  The climb up took just over 5 hours, and we climbed most of the way with crampons and pick axes towards a peak that remained elusive until the very end.  Minna Bluffs was our view from behind with Mt. Discovery on our left – it was fantastic seeing a different part of Antarctica and our home on Ross Island from a new perspective.  The windy summit forced a quick lunch and a few cameo photos, and then we quickly made our way down in just under 3 hours.  A quick base clean up and slow return home in the Hagglunds got us back to Scott Base in the evening.   For me, this trip was a recharge, and reminded me how lucky I am for being here.

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Climbing up Mt. Aurora © AHT / Cricket

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Blubber Pile

Posted by Cricket and Diana Jan 20, 2011

Author:          Diana

 

Date:             January 13, 2011
Temperature: -1 to -2 degrees celcius
Wind Speed: 15 knots (20-30 knott gusts)
Temp with wind chill: -roughly -8c
Sunrise: Sun is up all the time

 

There are no naturally occurring sources of fuel for heating or cooking available in Antarctica. It has therefore always been necessary to bring some source of fuel. Today we use LPG (propane) and furnace oil for heating and cooking. They come to Antarctica with the container ship in February every year.


During the Heroic Era of Antarctic discovery, coal and coal Bricketts as well as paraffin were brought down, but they also used something more local – seal blubber (fat). It was not as effective a heat source and left a sooty layer from its smoke but worked just the same.  See this image of Meares and Oates at the blubber stove, cooking food for the dogs, May 26th 1911.

 

The Ross Sea Party, stranded from their ship the Aurora when she broke free of her anchors in 1914-15, used primarily blubber for heating and cooking. There remains a pile of seal blubber at Cape Evans from this group. With the restoration work going on it was best to cover the pile but this week the table-like cover was removed. The surface was cleaned by picking the bits of scoria gravel, feathers and dust off.  A retaining dam was constructed around the pile of blubber to keep it intact. It is an amazing site and the aroma is quite distinctive.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date: 28 December 2010

Temperature: .9 degrees Celsius

Wind Speed: 8 knots

Temp with wind chill: negligible

Sunrise: The sun is up

 

We have had a few days at Scott Base to catch up on some work and enjoy Christmas with the Scott Base staff. We head out to the field tomorrow and since the frozen sea ice roads are closed we will be flying out by helicopter.

 

Antarctica New Zealand has one helicopter which the New Zealand Government supports, however there are three others at McMurdo Station, the American base. All four helicopters are base at McMurdo and are rotated according to event needs. The New Zealand helicopter is the newest and nicest looking – I think. It is an EC 130 Eurocopter built in France in 2007. This helicopter will carry six people, the pilot and freight. We will be flying out to Captain Scott’s 1910-13 expedition base at Cape Evans to join the carpentry team in this helicopter.

 

The other helicopters are two French built AS 350 – which are also known as “Squirrels” or in North America “A Star’s”. They carry 5 passengers, a pilot and suppliers. The other helicopter is a Bell 212 built in the USA which looks the biggest but actually has a similar capacity to the EC130. We have weighed  all our supplies in preparation for our flight tomorrow. It will be very exciting to see Antarctica from the air, as up till now we have only seen it from the ground.

 

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The New Zealand EC 130 helicopter © Antarctic Heritage Trust 2010 - Diana

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Cladding the roof

Posted by Cricket and Diana Jan 6, 2011

Posted by: Al Fastier

 

Date: 28 December 2010

 

 

The Carpentry team has spent the last two weeks cladding the roof of Captain Scott’s 1910 expedition base at Cape Evans. The product we are using has been chosen for its durability (an important factor in the harsh Antarctic environment) as well as its historical correctness in appearance. It’s a large job which requires attention to detail, such as welding the rubber seams of the cladding sheets to achieve the correct finish on the edging as used by the heroic explorers.


Fortunately the weather has favoured us, with the wind not interfering with the work and warm sunshine for the most part. A couple of times we have even managed to wear just socks on our feet for the work on the roof which heats up in the sun.

 

Yesterday we completed the cladding on the main body of the roof and it looks fantastic, fitting in well with the rest of the hut’s character.  It will really be something by the time the stables and western annexe are complete!


It is great to be a part of such an important and aesthetically pleasing project for the huts appearance as we approach the centenary of Captain Scott’s 1910-13 expedition.

 

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Cladding the roof at Captain Scott's 1910-13 expedition base, Cape Evans © AHT 2010

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White Christmas

Posted by Cricket and Diana Jan 5, 2011

Date: 25 December 2010

Posted by: Jamie Clarke

 

 

Out in the field at Captain Scott’s 1910 expedition base, Cape Evans with five colleagues from Antarctic Heritage Trust, I am celebrating my first white Christmas. The day seemed to sneak up on us without the usual barrage of advertising or carols that you would expect in regular life.


Our morning celebrations started with a leisurely breakfast of fried eggs on toast (a special treat considering that we are in the field).   After lunch we divided into two teams for Christmas games – Northern Hemisphere (Randy, Jam and Martin) and Southern Hemisphere (Al, J.T and myself).   J.T organized the games which included the “stick”, “dunnage” toss, (basically caber toss using spare pieces of workshop timber) and the “rope” game, the final result being the Southerners coming out victors!


In the late afternoon we walked up to the top ridge beside the Barne Glacier to enjoy the sunny, still day and awe inspiring panoramic views.


To top the day off, we exchanged gifts through a previously arranged secret Santa.


All in all a Christmas I will never forget!

 

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  Looking at the view from the top ridge beside the Barne Glacier © AHT 2010

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Just in case!

Posted by Cricket and Diana Dec 23, 2010

Posted by Lizzie

 

Date: 23 December 2010
Temperature: -2.5C
Wind Speed: 4 Knots, North-East
Temp with wind chill: -3.3C
Sunrise: 24 hour daylight
Sunset
 
This season at Cape Royds, much of our work has revolved around the historic wood and ply cases of food used on Shackleton’s 1907-08 expedition. With the Nimrod moored at the foot of the cliffs, the heavy wooden boxes, sacks of coal and bales of fodder were hoisted up to the cliff-top plateau using a derrick, and the vast majority of the some 2000 boxes were moved down to the hut.

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Shackleton’s team man-hauling food stores © Canterbuy Museum 1981_110_30


Previous posts have mentioned the high risk of fire in Antarctica, with conditions being so dry, and water not being widely available. Shackleton and his team were well aware of the risk and took the extra precaution of staging a cache of food supplies up on the plateau above the hut. Over the last hundred years, the cache of boxes and tins has gradually corroded, eroded, become buried by scoria, tins have been blown hundreds of metres down the coast by the wind and at times been carried off by skua for lunch.


This season, to remove temptation from the skua, and to prevent contamination of the local environment, the food cache was excavated, documented, and then re-housed in boxes at the cache site.

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Cricket excavating food tins © AHT 2010

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Posted by Cricket


Date: 11 December 2010
Temperature: -3C
Wind Speed: 11 knots

 


The storm Lizzie talked of lasted five days, beginning Wednesday evening and ending the following Monday morning.  High winds and blowing snow reduced visibility and made working, getting around camp and in and out of our tents a true effort.  Though exciting to have a good storm – there are several of us who enjoy such and secretly hoped for one down here – it was a relief for it all to be over and to finally get a chance to dry out our clothes and tents.

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Carpenters working in the snow © AHT/Cricket

We are starting to wind down our time here at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut Cape Royds and this week we’ll be finishing up various conservation projects.  For the last several days we have been steadily working in the stables area, sewing down a cover over a stack of fodder bales to help preserve what remains and prevent further erosion from the wind and snow.

 

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Covering fodder bales © AHT/Cricket


Over the next couple days we’ll pack up camp and move to Captain RF Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.  We have almost a week at Cape Evans before returning to Scott Base for two weeks and Christmas.  I know I’ve said it before, but it is fantastic here at Cape Royds and I’m keenly aware of the time quickly ticking by.

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100 year old oil

Posted by Cricket and Diana Dec 16, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date: December 4, 2010
Temperature: -6.8 degrees Celcius
Wind Speed: 16 knots with gusts of 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -16 degrees Celcius


We are working at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut built at Cape Royds for his Nimrod expedition 1907-09. This Expedition brought an Arrol-Johnston Automobile to Antarctica in the hopes of using it to reach the South Pole.

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Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica, showing the stables and garage, photographed 1907-1909 by an unknown photographer. The expedition's Arroll-Johnston motor car may be seen inside the garage. © Alexander Turnbull Library


The oil was a special blend created for the harsh Antarctic climate by the Price Patent Candle Company. The Automobile did not prove to be as useful as they had hoped so they did not use all the motor oil brought down. However, the crates of oil were very useful and created the walls for the garage that housed the automobile. These crates are still in place today but it was suspected that some of the cans may have started to leak as there was evidence of oil on the boxes. We did not want this oil to leak into the Antarctic environment so the crates were opened and discreet holes were made in the cans to drain the contents out. The cans have been placed back into the crates with the nest of straw they originally were packed in and once again create the walls of the garage.

 

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Prices fuel tins in the crate. © AHT/Diana

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Popcorn

Posted by Cricket and Diana Dec 6, 2010

Posted by Martin


Date: 29.11.2010
Temperature: -6.3
Wind Speed: 8.8 SE
Temp with wind chill: -14
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

 

We would have loved to have finished off dinner tonight with some hot steaming popcorn in our field camp at Shackleton’s hut, Cape Royds.  Unfortunately it was not to be. The corn we had rather caused a bit of an environmental headache as it was 100 years old and poured out of an old provision box we were excavating.

 

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These boxes, typically about 320x320x400mm, were used by the expedition to transport everything from engine oil to candles and all sorts of food items.  They also made useful building blocks to build the first garage ever built in Antarctica. Since Sir Ernest Shackleton had decided to take an Arrol-Johnston Motorcar on his British Antarctic Expedition(1907-1909), a garage was needed adjacent to the expedition hut at Cape Royds.

 

Cape Royds.jpg

 

Excavating the remains of this garage led us to some unopened corn boxes which had been preserved in the permafrost for over 100 years.  Antarctic environmental regulations are very strict. It meant picking up every single kernel and disposing it in what is called food contaminated waste.  This waste gets shipped back, checked and disposed of in NZ. Most of the corn looked amazingly fresh and even though it was tempting, we followed protocol and enjoyed a chocolate desert instead.

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Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 30 November 2010
Temperature: -6C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -13C

 

 

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Campsite at Cape Royds © AHT/Cricket

 

Our camp at Cape Royds sits over the hill and due east of Sir Ernest Shackelton’s Hut from his 1907 Nimrod Expedition.  We are nine, 6 carpenters and 3 conservators, and we each sleep in our own bright yellow polar tent, like the ones the early explorers used on their expeditions.  I am 5’6” tall and can just stand up straight at the center of the tent, which makes dressing into our bulky Carhartts and big Sorrel boots relatively easy.  The tent’s yellow fabric creates a strong warm light inside, which makes it nearly impossible to tell colours apart.  We laugh at how disorienting it is to know what a colour should be and see something entirely different.  Blues look like black, and purples are a horrible brown, etc.  The tents are remarkably comfortable, and though not as warm as the lower-to-the-ground Mountain tents, are wonderfully pleasant for longer field trips like our 4-week-long stay at Royds.

 

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Polar Tent © AHT/Cricket


We have the luxury of having a good sized mess created by two wannigans joined together at the side.  The wannigans are new this year and are retrofitted hydroponics containers from the days when vegetables and herbs were grown at Scott Base – we use many of the plant hooks and ceiling wires to hang our clothes and towels.  We have a propane stove for cooking, a small diesel stove for heat and melting snow for water, and a sink that is fed by a Coleman cooler and drains into a bucket.  It’s a relatively simple life here of work, base chores, relaxing in the evening and sleep.  It’s amazing how quickly one forgets about the clutter and noisy details of normal life like tv and telephone calls, and rediscovers how great good company and good books really are.

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Cape Royds

Posted by Cricket and Diana Nov 30, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date: November 25, 2010
Temperature: - 6 degrees  c
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Sunrise: Sun is up
Sunset

 

We have been working at Cape Royds on the hut built in February 1908 by the British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition of 1907-09, which was led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. It was also periodically used by the Ross Sea Party of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917.

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Royds in Snow - Circa 1908 Photographer unknown © Alexander Turnbull Library

 

It is a lovely setting for a hut, nested in hills of volcanic rock which have been scoured by glaciers and the harsh Antarctic weather.


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Metal cladding on Stables © AHT/Diana

 

When we have visitors to the site one of the questions frequently asked is why is there metal sheeting on the side of the building?  It is hard to tell but this area used to be the stables. If the visitor looks closely they will see the feed troughs. Shackleton had taken ten white Manchurian ponies to Antarctica because they were know to work well in cold conditions and it was hoped they would be of great assistance in sledging to the South Pole. The stable walls were constructed of wooden cases filled with food and the roof was canvas, with sledges used over the top to assist in supporting the roof. The metal sheets were put up to protect the wooden cladding on the hut from the ponies kicking. Today the canvas is gone but some of the cases and the feed troughs remain.

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Feed troughs in Stables area © AHT/Diana

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Posted by Lizzie

 

I’m writing this from sunny Cape Royds, looking out onto Mt Erebus, just a small vapor trail visible today from Ross Island’s active volcano. All around me is the sound of a very busy camp - we’ve gone from four to nine! This week Diana, Cricket, JT and I have been joined by Randy (Canada), Jamie W (Scotland), Martin, Jamie C and Al (NZ).


Productivity has shot through the roof, offset by the time it takes to do all the dishes….

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From L-R: Jamie C, JT, Martin, Jamie W, Al, Randy © AHT

 

The last three days have seen the whole team moving artefacts, equipment and supplies from Scott Base to Cape Evans to Cape Royds and vice versa. It’s a big job involving several tracked vehicles, many sleds and the support of Antarctica New Zealand staff, who put in some long days to get us into the field and all set up.


We’ve had some fantastic weather – here’s a shot of the artefacts in transit with Mt Erebus in the background, and not a breath of wind!
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The artefacts on the move © Diana / AHT

 

Similarly to last year, the sea ice edge and open water are visible from the cliffs next to Cape Royds. The Adelie penguin pairs are looking plump, and are busy keeping their eggs warm, and taking turns to head out on fishing expeditions. Meanwhile the humans are waddling industriously about like giant orange and black penguins, returning artefacts to the hut…..

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