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Antarctic conservation

47 Posts tagged with the antarctic tag

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.


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.


Remembering Scott

Posted by Conservators Apr 10, 2012

Author: Gretel
Date: 6 April 2012
Temperature: -15 ° C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -25 ° C
Sunrise: 8.46am
Sunset: 7.07pm

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Captain Scott’s last birthday dinner 6 June 1911 © Herbert Ponting

On Thursday 29th March 100 years ago, Captain Scott made the last entry in his diary before succumbing to starvation and exhaustion in the freezing cold, on his return trek from the South Pole.

"Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.
It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.


For God’s sake look after our people."

At Scott Base we marked the momentous occasion with a commemorative dinner. It was a solemn and yet celebratory affair. Speeches  and toasts were made and remembrance given not only to Captain Scott but to all those whose lives have been claimed by Antarctica.

Earlier in the day the Scott Base winter team posed for a photograph to mark the event. We recreated from scratch the scene of the last birthday dinner for Captain Scott, held at Cape Evans on 6 June 1911. According to his diary, that night Scott and his men dined on ‘Clissold’s especially excellent seal soup, roast mutton and red currant jelly, fruit salad, asparagus and chocolate’. Comparing menus I think we at Scott Base had the better cuisine. I’ll leave you to compare the photographs...


Dinner at Scott Base 2012 (2).jpg

Recreation of Scott’s birthday dinner at Scott Base 29 March 2012 © Steve Williams


Author: Susanne
Date: April 4, 2012
Temperature: -24.7°C
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60°C
Sunset: 5:20PM

We all have a special connection with Antarctica, whether it is through a love of the environment and wildlife or in the stories of the early explorers. I always listened in admiration to people who had an even closer connection by being related to members of the early expeditions such as Captain Scott's grandson, Falcon Scott.

After my first season with the Trust in 2008, The Mariners’ Museum, America's national maritime museum, where I worked, hosted an exhibit on some of the early American expeditions and displayed Antarctic material from the collection. One of my favorite pieces was the figurehead from the Bear of Oakland. A fantastic name like that has to have a great story, but little did I realise it would create my personal Antarctica connection.



USS Bear after World War II

The vessel Bear was constructed in Scotland in 1874 as a precursor to modern icebreakers and over the years was used for sealing, commerce, and exploration of the polar regions (most notably on the Admiral Byrd expeditions). Many sources regard her as one of the most enduring and notable polar exploration ships.  She was eventually sold to Oakland, California as a museum ship earning her the name Bear of Oakland. The Bear was originally owned by W. Grieve and Sons in Scotland, which is where my connection lies. The surname Grieve has a strong Scottish history in my family and while I haven’t yet been able to trace myself to the Bear, I still find it very serendipitous!


What is your link to Antarctica?



Posted by Conservators Apr 2, 2012

Author: Georgina

Date: 28/03/12
Temperature: -23c
Wind Speed: 25 kts
Temp with wind chill: -38c
Sunrise: 8:39am
Sunset 7:15pm


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Sundog seen from Scott Base (photo by G. Evans, AHT)


For the past few weeks, we have been enjoying the rising and setting of the sun in something approaching normal daylight hours.  On Monday we were able to see a sundog, (scientific name: parhelion); a very special atmospheric phenomenon in which bright spots of light appear in the sky on either side of the sun.

Sundogs are created by ice crystals in the air which act as light-bending prisms. When randomly orientated, a complete halo or luminous ring around the sun is created, but at lower levels the crystals (sometimes called diamond dust) become vertically aligned, causing the light to be refracted horizontally.



Detail (photo by G. Evans, AHT)

The spots we saw were like partial blurred rainbows, with the red side innermost. I didn’t get the chance to see one of these when I was last here in 2010, so I feel very lucky indeed to have seen one now.  Sundogs (also known as mock or phantom suns) can be seen anywhere in the world, but rarely as obvious or as bright as when the sun is low on the horizon and in very cold regions like Antarctica.


Author: Stefan Strittmatter
Date: 06/02/2012
Temperature: -11C
Wind Speed: 9kn
Temp with wind chill: -19C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

Life in Antarctica is a very human endeavor. For Captain Scott and the men of the 1910-13 expedition, and (to a much more flimsy degree) we four conservators, food (and its preparation) becomes of upmost importance very quickly.

Scott and his team were well placed at both Cape Evans and Discovery Hut to take advantage of the abundance of Weddell seals and their blubbery bounty. Al Fastier and his summer team of conservators have done a wonderful job of conserving an epic slab of this oozing mass of fat, (still present in the Cape Evans hut stables). Indeed a slight lean of the trough means there’s a filtered cup of oil slumped to the edge, making it effortless to visualize a frost bitten face swinging round the corner to scoop up and replenish a gasping stove.



Seal blubber trough outside Cape Evans Stables © AHT/Stefan

Nowhere near as hardy, Susanne, Gretel, George and I were happy to ditch the heroic approach, and cook with soot free faces on the nifty ‘Primus’ stoves,  Scott Base has kindly supplied us with for AFT (Antarctic Field Training). A bit of a fiddle at first, but once the white gas starts to roar and the first brew is at the boil, you can’t help but feel a certain bond and romance, about the hardship and fun this wonderful place can offer.


Cooking during winter AFT (Antarctic Field Training) © AHT/Stefan

Author: John
Date: 13 December 2011
Temperature: -7.2°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: °C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset: N/A
Part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust conservation programmme is to conserve artefacts from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut over the winter. Artefacts are carefully packed and transported back to Scott Base where a team of four conservators will work on the artefacts in a specially provided conservation laboratory for return the following summer. Where the early explorers transported their supplies man hauling sledges, we use plastic cubers on sledges towed behind Hagglunds (tracked vehicles). The trip from Cape Evans back to Scott Base  is 25 km, travelling at 10 kph to ensure safe travelling for sometimes fragile artefacts.
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Loading artefacts in cubers on sledge © AHT/John
Transporting artefacts to Scott Base.jpg
Approaching Scott Base over the Sea Ice © AHT/John

Author:  Al

Date:    25 November 2011

“It blew and blew and when he thought it could blow no more the wind picked up and it blew some more!”

The bright yellow polar tents greeted their old friend from the south by quivering in excitement.  Each gust tug, tug, tugging at the cold metal tent pegs firmly hammered home into the frozen scoria at Cape Royds.

As the Tormentor violently shook the tent canvas, the guy ropes hung like the rigging in a sailing ship riding out a storm in the roaring forties.  BLOW YOU *#@#* BLOW!  If we could only reef in the sails so we could get some sleep.  Peace, peace.

After unrelenting days of being buffeted you feel like screaming into the cold face of the Tormentor, STOP!  But your words would only get carried away in the next gust before they can be heard.  Frayed canvas and frayed nerves, tired but unable to get a restful night’s sleep, never asleep or never awake as the tent flaps against your sleeping bag cocoon.  In this slumberland you can’t help but ponder the thought of the thin canvas fabric being ripped away leaving you exposed and naked to the elements while your cold weather clothing is whipped across the thin white frozen skin of the Ross Sea.


The wind stops as suddenly as it starts, the loud silence is a foreigner in the field camp. Only the chatter of the neighbouring Adelie penguins can be heard.  It will be impossible to get to sleep with this deathly silence. Every slight movement, cough or scratch will be amplified to the field camp in the stillness of the night, all privacy lost.

Where is the crazy Tormentor from the south?  No-one to sing and sway us to sleep tonight. Then there is a gentle breeze, a cold lick to the cheek, followed by the first gust from the south. Once again the tents begin to quiver in excitement.  Welcome back my friend from the south.  WELCOME BACK.  It’s a love hate relationship we have.


Cape Evans in Context

Posted by Conservators Oct 20, 2011

Author: John

Date: 19 October 2011
Temperature: -27°C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -27°C
Sunrise: 3.42am
Sunset 11.47pm


In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the British Antarctic Terra Nova Expedition. One of the aims was to reach the Geographical South Pole. A hut at Cape Evans on the western side of Ross Island was the base for this expedition. In September 2011, as part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s responsibilities, Scott’s Terra Nova Hut was visited for the first time after yet another Antarctic winter, to provide a report on the building’s condition and snow buildup.

Terra Nova.jpg

Terra Nova Hut from the Sea Ice, 17 September 2011. © AHT/John

While overcast, this image is from the sea ice looking east to the southern flanks of Mt Erebus. Wind Vane Hill is just appearing to the right.

The second image is from the southern flanks of Mt Erebus, at a locality called ‘Room with a View’, looking west over the start of the Erebus Glacier.

Terra Nova Hut from the sea ice.jpg

View West from the Southern Flanks of Mt Erebus, 16 October 2011. © AHT/John


On a beautifully clear and sunny day, this image looks over McMurdo Sound to the Antarctic Continent. Inaccessible Island is to the left, with Little Razorback Island in front. Behind the dark bluff of Turk’s Head to the right is the thin strip of Cape Evans, with a grounded iceberg just off the Cape.
The two images complement each other well and accurately depict the loneliness and isolation of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition hut, particularly in 1910 with no communication back home, and the beauty and vastness of the Antarctic continent.


Sea Ice Formation

Posted by Conservators Oct 4, 2011

Author: Jane
Date: 30 September 2011
Temperature: -26°C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40°C


This has been an unusual year for the sea ice around Scott Base. In March it broke out in front of the base for the first time since 1997. The sea ice began to form again soon after the ice floes were washed out of McMurdo Sound. It is now around 1.8m thick in front of the base.


Image 1.jpg

The ‘Big John’ crack extending out from Hut Point into McMurdo sound. This crack is now impassable. Mount Discovery to the right and Black Island to the left, with a mirage visible along the bottom.  Photo AHT/ Jane



Further North the sea ice is still moving, causing the formation of large cracks. We managed to get to Cape Evans to do our Winter Hut Inspection on September 17th, but we had to park the Hagglund a few hundred metres out from the shore due to cracks in the sea ice which were not safe to cross in a vehicle. A few days later it was impossible to get to this area, as cracks along the flagged route had opened up substantially. One of the cracks we crossed is now about 2.5m wide.


Image 2.jpg

Looking down on Terra Nova hut from Windvane Hill with the Barne Glacier in the background and the Hagglund parked out on the Sea Ice.
Photo AHT/ Jane

The edge of the sea ice is now close to Cape Royds which is much further South than it has been in recent years. It has been very warm this winter, with temperatures often in the range of  -10°C to -20°C.  This combined with the frequent stormy conditions has hindered the sea ice formation. The cut-off date for sea ice growth is usually mid-October so it is unlikely to improve enough to allow for vehicle travel in the area over the summer season. This will have an impact on our work.

To see out what our weather looks like on Ross Island you can check out the webcams at Scott Base, Arrival Heights and the windfarm by clicking on this link:


Author: John
Date: 24 August 2011
Temperature: -14oC
Wind Speed: 45 Kt gusts
Temp with wind chill: -40oC
Sunrise: 10.53am
Sunset: 3.01pm


WinFly is the first flight in to Scott Base after the Antarctic winter season. Saturday 20th August was my day of arrival at the Pegasus Airfield on the Ross Ice Shelf as a conservator working on the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project, and all was new to me. Disembarking from the C17 aircraft I was welcomed by Antarctica New Zealand and Antarctic Heritage Trust staff and immediately immersed into the incredible busyness of the arrival logistics.




Busyness of Arrival small.jpg

Busyness of Arrival


The following day I was taken for a walk out on the sea ice among the pressure ridges in front of Scott Base. The sheer size of Mt Erebus in the background somehow complemented the forces displayed in the jumbled detail of the pressure ridge zone of the sea ice. Although it was cold, and the wind was blowing, this scene was very peaceful and contrasted strongly with the activity of the previous day.


Calm before the storm small.jpg

Calm Before the Storm


The power and majesty of the Antarctic environment is overwhelming and certainly not to be taken for granted. I look forward to the privilege and challenges of working in the field on the historic explorer’s huts of Ross Island, Antarctica.


Nacreous clouds

Posted by Conservators Aug 24, 2011

Author: Julie
Date: 18/8/11
Temperature: -33 C
Wind Speed: 12
Temp with wind chill: -48 C
Sunrise: 11:52
Sunset: 14:10

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Nacreous clouds at 10 am. Julie/AHT


Yesterday was the day of spectacular nacreous clouds.  Nacreous clouds are wispy clouds that form under certain specific conditions (very cold temperatures at very high altitudes) and that can appear iridescent when the angle of the sun is very low, as it is now at Scott Base.  If you do a web search for images of nacreous clouds, many of the images you will see were taken from locations near Scott Base on Ross Island.


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Nacreous clouds at 2 pm: not photoshopped, I swear. Julie/AHT


For the last week or so, as the sun has come closer to rising, we have been in prime nacreous cloud viewing conditions.  Nearly every day Sarah or Jane says, “go look out the window at the clouds,” and I run over to a window to see what we’re getting.  However, yesterday topped everything we have seen so far, and in fact topped everything most people at Scott Base have ever seen.  Pretty much as soon as a strip of light appeared at the horizon (at a respectable 9:13 a.m.), the Scott Base staff started making cloud announcements over the base-wide p.a. system.  I remember Jana saying at about 10 a.m., “Scott Base, Scott Base, look at the clouds above,” and Steve, at about noon, saying, “Scott Base, Scott Base, if you’re not looking at Erebus right now, you probably should be.”  At around 2 p.m., Sarah, who was supposedly in a meeting at that point, made the announcement: “Scott Base, Scott Base, the clouds are green.”  Before darkness hit at 4:39 p.m., I personally had taken 93 photographs of clouds.


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Nacreous clouds at 3 pm. Sarah/AHT


Our current exhibition from the Natural History Museum, Scott’s Last Expedition, has given me the opportunity to check out our own Antarctic collection to see what we have. And we have a surprising amount of material relating to Antarctic exploration, covering some four centuries. We have maps and charts, including a wonderful map of Captain James Cook’s three Antarctic voyages which dates to 1784. We have documentation of the first French contributions to Antarctic exploration – that of the Dumont D’Urville’s 1837-1840 expedition, which included an attempt to discover the south magnetic pole and claim it for France. And something quite different is the artwork for a costume designed by Frances Rouse for the play Counting Icebergs, about the life of Captain James Cook’s wife, Elizabeth. It has a map of Antarctica and Cook’s voyages on the skirt (see image).



Painting. Costume design for Elizabeth Cook, 'Cross Antarctic Circle' 1985. Maker: Frances Rouse


Robert Falcon Scott is of course one of the names synonymous with Antarctic exploration and we have two published volumes from his first British Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904, which included an attempt to reach the South Pole. We have also acquired a fine selection of Herbert Ponting’s more famous photographs from the Terra Nova expedition. Ponting was the first professional photographer to be taken on any Antarctic expedition. He took black and white and colour photographic stills, and recorded short clips, becoming one of the first to use a movie camera and to take colour photographs in Antarctica. But he couldn’t be everywhere, so others were given lessons in how to use the photographic equipment.


The museum has a collection of 35 stereoscopic cards which we are gradually identifying and adding to our eMuseum collection. Here's one taken by the Australian geologist Frank Debenham – see the string he’s using to operate the camera? This happy bunch were celebrating Christmas Day 1911 out at Granite Harbour.



Stereoscope card. Second Western Party at the Cape Geology Christmas Party, 1911. Photographer: Frank Debenham


Read more about our Antarctic collection.

Explore our eMuseum.


Lindsey Shaw, Curator
Australian National Maritime Museum


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To commemorate the centenary of the Terra Nova expedition and celebrate its achievements the Natural History Museum, London, the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, New Zealand, have collaborated to create this international exhibition, which will be touring between 2011-2013.


WINFLY approacheth

Posted by Conservators Aug 18, 2011

Author: Jane
Date: 17th August 2011
Temperature: -33°C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48°C
Sunrise: Friday!


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The view from the summer lab looking out over the Ross Ice Shelf to the daylight behind Mount Terror. Jane/AHT

It is just three days until the first flight of the WINFLY season (the pre-main season flights to exchange cargo and personnel ahead of the main season that starts in October). We are expecting a few new faces at Scott Base and about 350 at McMurdo. It will disrupt the everyday routine we have all become used to and will most certainly lead to a few faces that look like an animal caught in the headlights.

It is wonderful to see daylight creep ever further into the sky behind Mount Erebus and there is a noticeable difference in the number of people who sign out at lunch time to go for walks to absorb some Vitamin D! Just the idea of daylight seems to have given people a new energy that has been lacking for some time now.

We are all looking forward to the mail and fresh fruit and vegetables that will come down. Unfortunately, it is the end of the winter season for Antarctic Heritage Trust and we are working hard to get some last minute work completed before our new conservator, John, arrives on Saturday. We celebrated the end of our winter together with a special dinner followed by a performance in the bar by the Scott Base band- sadly, their last performance together as guitarist Julie leaves next week with Sarah and Martin.


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The summer lab beside the hangar with this year’s new pressure ridges just visible. Jane/AHT

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