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Antarctic conservation

41 Posts authored by: Cricket and Diana
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Ration Bag

Posted by Cricket and Diana Sep 22, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date: 21 September 2010
Temperature: -20 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40 degrees c
Sunrise: 6:48
Sunset 18:49

 

This week I worked on an interesting artefact. It was a ration bag which would generally have held food product for the members of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913. However, this bag turned out to have rocks and a tiny folded piece of paper. On the paper was a pencil written note that said Moraine Ferrar G.

 

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Before treatment  © AHT/Diana

 

 

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After treatment © AHT/Diana


We forwarded this information to Natalie, a curator at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, who has a wealth of information about Antarctic exploration and is familiar with the hand writing of the members of Scott’s party. On first impression Natalie’s “ thought was it was Debenham's writing - he went to the Ferrar January 1911 and then again later in the expedition. He also wrote extensively on the Ferrar region after the expedition”.  Frank Debenham was on Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-1913.This information would have to be confirmed by hand writing comparison with other identified Debenham manuscripts and is best done using the originals in both cases but still very exciting.

 

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So what started out as a very ordinary treatment proved very rewarding seeing the actual hand writing from what could be one of Scott’s expedition members.

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Posted by Cricket


Date: 16 September 2010
Temperature: -20C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -20C
Sunrise: 7:26am
Sunset: 6:15pm

 

Last night after work we took a walk following a flagged route around the pressure ridges.  Pressure ridges are ice formations, common to sea ice in the winter.  In essence, they form when two floes are forced together causing large sections to break off and uplift.  The ridge in front of Scott Base forms when the Ross Sea Ice Shelf pushes up against the stationary sea ice, which is locked in place against the shore.

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Pressure ridges © AHT/Cricket


Visually, pressure ridges are dramatic and sculptural.  In the evening light they are particularly stunning, reflecting pinks and oranges while showing off their different shades of blue.  Before coming down to the ice, an artist who worked here alerted me that one rarely sees pure white in Antarctica. And now, seeing the landscape for myself, it’s amazingly true.

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Seal with Mt. Erebus © AHT/Cricket


The route we followed took us out across the sea ice and up and over the ridge to the Ross Sea Ice Shelf.  Along the back side of the ridge, as we were about to head back over, we sighted a huge grey-brown ball in the near distance. “A seal!” Diana yelled.  We stood silent, watching it lounge about for a while, and trying to find a crack where it might have come up from.  We were later told that seals litter the ice during the summer, and a sighting means they are just now returning for the season.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date: September 15, 2010
Temperature: -41.7 degrees C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -46 degrees C
Sunrise: 07:33
Sunset 18:08

 

Just over a year ago Antarctica New Zealand completed the installation of three wind turbines. These generate enough electricity for New Zealand’s Scott Base and some extra which is fed back over to McMurdo, the United States Base. They are beautiful and amazing pieces of technology, 39 meters tall with blades that span 33 meters.

 

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Looking up from outside the tower © Antarctica New Zealand/Hayden

 

Spring can bring some of the coldest weather in Antarctica and it seems the oil used to lubricate the moving parts in the turbines is becoming too viscous (thickening up).  Hayden, one of our engineers, and Steve, our electrician, went over to the wind-farm to change the oil to something which would not be as effected by the cold. This job required climbing the ladder inside the wind turbine and working in the cramped space in the top of the turbine.

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Looking down the tower © Antarctica New Zealand/Hayden

 

There was six litres of oil used – it took 7 hours for the oil to drain! The controls for the turbines (and all the systems used to keep Scott Base) are managed by Hayden’s computer at base. While Hayden was up the tower he was in constant communication by radio with base so he could issue instructions.

 

 

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Hayden in the tower © Antarctica New Zealand/Hayden

 

Cricket was “mouse” (rostered duty of answering phones and radio, etc) that day so we listened to it all as we worked in our toasty little lab back at base.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date:   8 September 2010
Temperature:  -32.8
Wind Speed:  20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60 degrees
Sunrise: 8:36am
Sunset 5:11pm

 

Track vehicles are generally used when we travel on snow and ice. We have 13 Bombardier super wide single track machines in our fleet of snow mobiles. Bombardier is the Canadian company who also make Ski-doo. The snow mobile is the replacement for dogs in days gone by. They are use to carry people and pull sleds full of gear.

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Some of the snow mobiles ©  Antarctica New Zealand/Lex


We also use a Piston Bully to move snow and pack roads. You may be familiar with this machine as they are use on ski resorts around the world to groom the slopes.

 

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Cricket and I getting ready to leave in the Hagglund on our camping trip  © AHT/Diana


The work horses on base are the Hagglunds. They are a track vehicle developed in Sweden in 1974, currently being use throughout the world in the harshest environments, deserts of sand or snow and swamps and muskeg (Arctic bogland). It is an amphibious vehicle with the propulsion being provided by the tracks. The front cab and trailer can be heated so you can carry a lot of equipment and not worry about it getting cold.

 

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Cricket and Diana in front of the modified track vehicle McMurdo © Antarctica New Zealand/Doug


Over at the United States Antarctic Research Base at McMurdo they have a number of modified North American vehicles. We saw two Ford trucks with these track systems installed, replacing the wheels. These systems are an expensive conversion but are working well for the McMurdo personnel.

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Posted by Cricket

 

Date:                           7 September 2010
Sunrise:                       8:36am
Sunset:                        5:11pm
Temperature:                -33C
Wind Speed:                20 knots
Temp with wind chill:    -60C

 

Antarctic Field Training (AFT) is a prerequisite for any solo travel outside of Scott Base. It is an eye-opening experience culminating in an overnight in a tent at a site well beyond the Base.  Everyone living at Scott Base, whether their work is here or in the field, goes through this training.


There were three of us going through AFT together, Diana, Doug and myself.  We began with a slideshow presentation about the Antarctic environment, survival principles and horrible cautionary images of trench foot and frostbite – ailments we could get here if we ignore the warning signs.  We then went through the emergency bags, assembled and packed our 4-layer sleeping bag system, and were shown how to use two different camping stoves.  Finally, it was time to put on all our ECW (Extreme Condition Wear), get into the Hagglund and head out.

 

We got to the campsite around dusk, and hurriedly set about putting up three tents – one for Diana and myself, one for Doug and the third, a latrine.  With our headlamps on, we started building a kitchen shelter by first digging a trench then building a snow wall behind that offered protection from the wind while cooking.  It was a cold evening with temperatures reaching almost –40C and winds at 10-15 knots.  Cold enough that we melted snow for water, quickly ate some dehydrated dinners, sucked on a few frozen fruit sticks and called it a night.

 

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Setting up the tent © Antarctica NZ/Doug

 

“Are you asleep?”  “What are you doing over there?” is what Doug must have heard Diana and I asking each other all night long.  We laugh now, but it was a cold night even buried in all those layers of sleeping bags with handwarmers in our socks.  Through the night, I often thought about what a spin instructor at my hometown gym said during a hard workout: “if you’re hurting now, you better start thinking about something else.”  I thought of the beach on one of those days when it’s so hot under the sun that you can’t wait to get inside.

 

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Drinking a morning bowl of Milo © Antarctica NZ/Doug

 

We stayed in our sleeping bags for almost 11 hours, leaving them in the morning to start melting snow for a quick breakfast of Milo, an “energy” hot chocolate drink, and to take down our tents.  The Hagglund came around 9am to take us home, where we arrived in time to enjoy an opposite extreme - a mid-morning coffee from the espresso machine and freshly baked biscuits with butter.  Over breakfast, we wondered how the early explorers handled such cold day after day, especially during their sledging trips.  When we’re camping, I’m guessing we’ll be relying on the hand and toe warmers to keep us strong.

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Nacreous Clouds

Posted by Cricket and Diana Sep 2, 2010

Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 1 Sept 2010
Sunrise: 9:36am
Sunset: 16:15pm
Temperature: -34C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -53C

 

The word “nacreous” stems from the Latin “nacre,” meaning mother of pearl.  Nacreous clouds are thin and transparent with a wave-like form, and were so named for their dazzling iridescent colors.  They appear most prominently at dawn and dusk, and have been an almost daily feature during the last couple weeks.

 

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Nacreous clouds during sunrise © Antarctica New Zealand/Steven

 

 

In the late mornings they can be mixtures of rainbow colors, and by late afternoon, can change to waves of greens, blues and grays. 
Steven, our Scott Base science technician, explained that nacreous clouds are polar stratospheric clouds that only form in very cold polar regions and below –80C.  They exist well above our atmosphere at heights of 15-25km in the stratosphere, and being so high up, they appear stationary.  They gain their colors by reflecting sunlight coming from below the horizon, and so, are a skyline feature unique to this time of year.  They are a reminder of larger forces at play, and are associated with the chemical reactions that cause ozone depletion.

 

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Nacreous clouds during the afternoon © AHT/Cricket

To those wintering over in Antarctica, nacreous clouds must seem like fireworks after a 4-month-long term of darkness.  Seeing them does feel like a celebration, and their presence fosters joy and conversation.  Summer is coming quickly here and every day we have longer periods of daylight – a stark contrast to the almost constant darkness that we encountered upon our arrival several weeks ago.  As the sun reaches higher in the sky, our time for sighting nacreous clouds draws to a close.  Their appearance has been the best welcome to this fantastic landscape.

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Posted by Diana

 

Date:                August 31, 2010
Sunrise:           9:36am
Sunset:           4:15pm
Temperature: -31.1 degrees C
Wind Speed: 0
Temp with wind chill: -31.1 degrees C

 

Cricket and I had our driving test this week, our introduction to the conditions and hazards associated with driving at Scott Base, Antarctica.

Transportation has changed a lot since the days of the early explorers. Until the late ’80s dogs were used for travel, however, snow machines and vehicles have taken over. Our instructor was Lex, the mechanic at Scott Base this year. Lex is an amazing mechanic as he can repair and modify diesel, petrol (gasoline) and two-stroke engines and hydraulics, all of which are in the fleet. He is a very busy man.

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Lex beside Piston Bully, with snow mobiles © AHT/Diana

 

 

For the most part, when travelling between the American Base McMurdo and the Pegasus air strip, we use trucks modified for travel down here. The larger tyres are used because the standard snow tyre would wear out the road too quickly. The vehicles are all four wheel drive. The fuel used is also modified to withstand the low temperatures: the diesel vehicles use AN8, an aviation fuel containing Kerosene; the petrol (gas) equivalent is Mogas, it has reduced octane.

 

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Land Cruiser © AHT/Diana

 

The vehicles all have block heaters to keep the oil and lubricants flowing when not running and in-cab heaters, these are activated when the vehicle is plugged in. At McMurdo there are several dedicated plug-in places just for Kiwi’s. We also have a “hitching rail” here at Scott Base for plugging in.


To be continued

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Discovery Hut Survey

Posted by Cricket and Diana Aug 25, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date:             25 August 2010
Temperature:  -23 C (-9 F)
Wind Speed:  15 knots, NE
Temp with wind chill: -45 C (-49 F)
Sunrise:        10:37
Sunset:        15:16

 

Discovery Hut at Hut Point was erected by Robert Falcon Scott and members of his British Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition in February/March of 1902. Cricket and I accompanied the winter conservators Nicola, Melinda, Jane and Georgina to Discovery Hut to conduct a survey of how the building weathered the winter. Snow build up around the hut is being monitored in order to assist with preservation.

 

 

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Discovery Hut, Hut Point © AHT/D Komejan

 

Discovery Hut, because of its proximity to McMurdo (you can see part of the base in the left corner of the image), has had the most visitation over the years. The building was designed and pre-fabricated in Australia then erected at Hut Point.  Because of its large open design, it was difficult to keep warm and has actually only ever been inhabited for short periods of time.  Scott’s 1902 party used it as a depot.  It then was used by members of the British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition 1907-09 lead by Ernest Shackleton, then by British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-13 led by R. F. Scott, and finally by the Ross Sea Party members of the Imperial  Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-17 under Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leadership.

 

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Winter 2010 Conservators at the Cross on Observation Hill © AHT/D Komejan

 

It was wonderful for Cricket and I to have our first visit to one of the huts. After taking photos and notes we had a little light left for a walk up the hill to the cross erected in memory of George Vince, the first recorded person to die in Antarctica when he fell over a cliff during a blizzard. It has a wonderful view over the McMurdo Sound and of McMurdo Base.

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Posted by Cricket

 

Date:             25 August 2010
Temperature:  -23 C (-9 F)
Wind Speed:  15 knots, NE
Temp with wind chill: -45 C (-49 F)
Sunrise:        10:37
Sunset:         15:16

 

 

Our first week at Scott Base quickly disappeared, faster than a kid with a cupcake.  This week working with the winter conservation team, seeing Antarctica for the first time, and meeting everyone here at Scott Base has been an absolute treat.  We had a five-day overlap with the winter conservators and began taking over and gaining speed on the Trust’s project to conserve objects associated with R.F. Scott’s (1910-13)  expedition.  During this time, the winter conservators helped us move into the summer conservation lab, which is situated a short outdoors walk from the main facility, and guided us through our environs, showing us what various offsite storage containers hold, which artefacts need conservation and discussing methodologies for conservation treatments.

 

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Winter Conservators leaving Scott Base, Antarctica, bound for Christchurch, New Zealand © AHT/D.Komejan

The winter conservation team left on Sunday.  Though we’ve only known them a short while, it was difficult to see Nicola, Mindy, Jane and Georgina go.  They are a fantastic group of women and wonderful conservators.  Diana and I laughed, a bit nervously, that maybe they set the bar a little too high?  The quality and volume of their work is certainly impressive. 

 

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Cricket in front of storage containers, Scott Base © AHT/D.Komejan

And now, starting into our second week with our training wheels off, we feel more and more settled, and eager to move ahead.  The first two crates of objects that we unpacked from Scott’s Cape Evans expedition (1910-1913) are enchanting – iron tools, tins of mustard, ration bags and a bottle of pickled onions.  But, more on these later.  For now, thank you, winter team, and happy travels!

 

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Antarctic Heritage Trust Artefact Conservation Lab at Scott Base, Antarctica ©  AHT/D.Komejan

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Frostbite

Posted by Cricket and Diana Aug 19, 2010

 

Posted by Nicola


Date:                  19 August 2010
Temperature:      -29c
Wind Speed:       10 knots
Temp with wind chill: 45c
Sunrise:              The first sunrise 12.26
Sunset:               13.30

 

With just a couple of days to go before we leave Scott Base, Antarctica, we are pleased to have come through the winter with just a couple of cases of frost-nip. We have all experienced the extreme pain of warming up fingers frozen whilst trying to operate cameras in thin gloves, but the polar clothing and toe and hand-warmers have kept us toasty.

 

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The hut at Cape Royds with Erebus in the background © AHT/N Dunn

 


Frostbite was a common complaint of the early explorers whose exposed skin, toes and fingers would turn black and swell with large blisters, the pain must have been excruciating. In the lab this week we had an artefact, known as ‘Brocklehurst’s leg protector’ which reminded us of how lucky we have been.


Sir Phillip Brocklehurst was the 19 year old assistant geologist on Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition and part of the first team to climb Mount Erebus. The ascent was made in improvised climbing boots made of ski boots with nails hammered into the soles. On the treacherous slopes they survived a 36-hour blizzard before continuing the climb in intense cold, Brocklehurst still in his ski boots as he didn’t think it necessary to change into the better insulated ‘finnesko’ boots of reindeer skin. After nine hours both his big toes were black and frostbitten and he remained in the tent whilst the others made it to the summit.

 

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Brocklehurst’s leg protector made from painted steel rods bound with paper strips © AHT

 

Later one of his toes was amputated by Marshall (the expedition surgeon and cartographer) with Mackay (expedition doctor) acting as anaesthetist. The cold meant that the wounds healed slowly and as he recovered in Shackleton’s bed the metal cage protected the damaged foot from the weight of the blankets. Thank goodness for toe warmers!


 

 

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Flying to the Ice

Posted by Cricket and Diana Aug 18, 2010

Posted by Cricket & Diana

 

Date:             18 August 2010
Sunrise:          Below horizon
Sunset:
Temperature:  -32C
Wind Speed:  30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -65C

 

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Boarding the C-17  © AHT/C Harbeck

 

We boarded the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 plane just after lunch along with almost 120 other people and left Christchurch, New Zealand, for Antarctica, where we will be spending the next 6 months working on the artefact collection of Scott’s 1910–13 Antarctic expedition.  We were in awe of the plane.  Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III is the preferred plane for these types of transport because it has a large carrying capacity and can fly to the ice and back all in one day and on one tank of gas.  It’s a huge plane, which, having watched the previous day’s flight take off, appears a heavy and pokey beast when leaving the ground.  However, in the plane, it felt much different. We were surprised by the speed and force, which jerked us back into our seats.

 

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Inside the C-17 © AHT/D Komejan

We were 2 of 3 “Kiwis” (slang term for New Zealanders) on the flight with the remaining passengers heading for the U.S. base, McMurdo.  Our departure time was unusual since most flights during late winter leave Christchurch in the early morning in order to land on the ice during a small window of daylight.  Our afternoon flight was scheduled so that the pilots could practice landing during the Antarctica nighttime with their new night vision goggles - a daunting initiation to the ice!  Our flight covered 4000km in only 5 hours, and we deplaned in time to see the last glow of sun.  Stunning.

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