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Antarctic conservation

44 Posts tagged with the antarctic tag
1

Author: Sue

Date: 7 May 2013

Temperature: -41 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a
Sunset: n/a

 

 

In our conservation work on the artefacts from the explorers' huts here in Antarctica we often get little surprises. As we inspect each artefact very closely in the pre-treatment process of documenting its materials, construction and condition, we come across little details that may not have been immediately obvious to those AHT conservators who, in the summer months, catalogued and packed up the artefacts in the huts and transported them here to us in the lab at Scott Base.

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Physics lab in Scott's Hut

 

I had one such delightful little surprise recently. I un-wrapped an artefact that bore the description "wood slat, approx. one metre long", which had been located under the physics bench in Captain Scott's Terra Nova hut, from the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition. As I inspected it I noted that it was, in fact, exactly one metre long, was made of oak, and was covered on one side and one edge with a heavy layer of black soot. Part of our approach to conserving the artefacts is to preserve all evidence of use, and this includes preserving those soot layers that tell of the items' long history around the blubber-and-coal fuelled stoves inside the huts. But occasionally the soot is also hiding information, so we investigate a little further and may find a good reason to remove or at least reduce it. Such was the case with the "slat" as, when I did, I revealed a very neat metric (one-metre) rule, or scale, with hand-written pencil numbers "10" through "90" at ten-centimetre intervals. Nice!

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Detail, 30cm - 50m

And quite interesting, too, as Britain (and, for that matter, Canada, from where the Terra Nova physicist 'Silas' Wright hailed) was still using the imperial system of measurement until much much more recently... although scientists are always well ahead of their times!

 

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One-metre oak rule, after treatment

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Mouse Rounds

Posted by Conservators May 13, 2013

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

 

 

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

 

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Mike on the nightly mouse round - JW

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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The winds of change

Posted by Conservators May 6, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 24/04/2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -47 degrees

Sunrise: The sun no longer rises

Sunset:  And therefore never sets

 

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

 

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

 

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Wind turbine in action - JW.

 

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

 

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

 

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Sunset over the Trans Antarctic mountains - JW.

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500 done, 1000 to go

Posted by Conservators May 2, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date: 24 April 2013

Temperature: -32.3

Windspeed: 20/ 14 kts

Temp with wind chill: -51

Sunrise: 12.16

Sunset 13.23

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cherry-Garrard;s Wolsey thermal top.

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Hijinks on the High Seas

Posted by Conservators Apr 29, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 23/04/2013

Temperature: -26 degrees

Windspeed: 13 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -39 degrees

Sunrise: 11.46am

Sunset: 1.56pm

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Graham and his new friend. Credit: Jonny5

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Winter Routines

Posted by Conservators Apr 23, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 17 April 2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -50 degrees

Sunrise: 10.19am

Sunset: 3.34pm

 

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

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An April day at Scott Base, from the wind farm

 

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

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Historic candles from the "heroic era", Cape Royds

 

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

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Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 26/03/2013

Temperature: -31 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: About 15-20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: - 49 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 8.30am-ish

Sunset: 8.00pm

 

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

 

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

 

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A scientist demonstrates the power of static electricity - Jaime Ward

 

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

 

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

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A Guessing Game

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date:  10th April 2013

Temperature:  -22.4° C

Wind Speed:  20/13 kts

Temp with wind chill: -34° C

Sunrise: 09:14

Sunset:16:31

 

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

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

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

 

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Mysterious Man: Metal sheet figurine with unknown function.

 

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Mysterious Man: Reverse side of figurine

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

       

        

 

   

 

 

    

 

1

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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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

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

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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.
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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.
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Of What Lies Within

Posted by Conservators Apr 13, 2012

Author: Stefan
Date: 10th April 2012
Temperature: -22C
Wind Speed: 15kts
Temp with wind chill: -41C
Sunrise: 9.17am
Sunset: 4.30pm

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Stefan delving into a tin of 100 year old custard. AHT Stefan

“The constant draw of the fume cabinet whirred steadily like the idling  of a contented bees nest. Nitrile gloves had enveloped my hands without a snag or curse, and the rare sense of ease filled me with anything but. The air was dense with a dull smell, which only rumoured to the true overwhelming nature of what stench could lie within the heart of the looming rusty monolith before me.  Armed only with a spoon, I approached the vessel in a familiar routine of dining, but dear lord this mass could not be stomached. With the lid tentatively removed, the greenish yellow contents emerged like a bad moon rising…custard.”

 

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Tin samples (left to right) custard, salt, anchovy paste, polishing compound. AHT Stefan

 

Emptying  tins is a daily occurrence working with AHT. Depending upon how badly the object is corroded/stained, you get a varying clarity of what you may have to empty and dispose of. The contents are only removed when objects are found to be leaking, and could place other parts of the collection at risk. The majority of the contents are placed in biohazard bags and flown back to New Zealand to be incinerated, yet we always take a small sample to be placed in science freezers, in order that we can research or investigate this material whenever we choose. Anchovy paste (suspected) has been the smelliest sample I’ve taken so far, but my team mates assure me that, chocolate and butter are far worse.

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