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Antarctic conservation

170 Posts tagged with the antarctica tag

Wool the Wonder Fibre

Posted by Conservators Jul 21, 2011

Author: Sarah

Date: 20 July 2011
Temperature: -14
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -36
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA



The use of wool as a textile and clothing fibre dates back many millennia. So it is not surprising to find wool being the predominant fibre of choice for the Antarctic explorer during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s and Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expeditions in the Heroic period (1895-1915).

Many of the thermal clothing items that the explorers wore were commercially made and supplied by brands such as Wolsey and Jaeger.  The Wolsey thermal top (pictured) is from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, and is grubby from use and patched, most probably by  a member of the Ross Sea Party.

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Wolsey brand wool thermal top © AHT/ Sarah


When I was growing up in the 1970s seventies synthetic fibres were seen as the new miracle fibre for all manner of applications.  In the 1980s synthetic fibres such as Polypro were used extensively for thermal underwear, despite the horrid smell they often attained after wearing when exercising and their slightly harsh nature.

I  was greatly relieved, when I first started coming to Antarctica, when a friend told me to invest in a set of ‘new’ woollen thermals that were starting to appear in the New Zealand market in the late 1990s.   Ahhh, the joys of a natural soft fibre that can be worn for many days when camping without getting smelly.

Now, in 2011, you can’t enter an outdoor gear supplier without finding merino wool thermal underwear adorning the shelves.  It goes to prove that animals have adapted very well to their environments and natural fibres are still far superior to their synthetic counterparts when it comes to thermal insulation. The Heroic explorers were probably as comfortable as we are today in their thermal underwear.


Red Delights

Posted by Conservators Jul 20, 2011

Author: Martin

Date: 12/07/11
Temperature: - 24 degree C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -38 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

Most people would have experienced that the increase in craving for a particular type of food is directly proportional to the degree of difficulty in obtaining it. Since it is impossible to get fresh food to Scott Base during the 5.5 months of winter, our team’s preoccupation with it is quite understandable. Luckily our chef  Lance anticipated it and initiated and installed a small hydroponic unit in our dining hall at Scott Base. The effect is quite amazing.


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The Garden - Martin


Firstly it is a nice feature and people love to see something growing. (Some have also been seen with their head inside trying to catch a bit of UV light). Secondly it is an entertaining game amongst us, because each plant is named after a team member. So it is a constant contest of “who is growing faster, stronger, tastier etc.” However being the fastest growing is also the quickest way to finding your name on the menu. Thirdly, but most importantly - eating what we have seen growing. Tomatoes are a good example. Everybody wants to eat 10 at a time but is likely to be too polite to even eat their fair share. So it did not take long before the tomato chart was up and running and recording people’s tomato consumption.  This put everybody’s mind at ease.



The Chart - Martin


Author: Jane
Date: 07/06/11
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -42°C


We have a radio station at Scott Base. 97FM keeps us entertained at work and in the bar in the evenings. We do not really have any TV stations, which is quite nice, although we do get the TVNZ news every evening so we can keep in touch with what is happening around the world.


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Johnny 5 giving us the run down of daily events on 97FM Scott Base radio.© Aht/Jane

Our communication engineer, Anthony, also known as Johnny 5, is our resident DJ. We all create playlists, which he changes regularly, but not often enough sometimes. Every now and then we will ring him with requests to play, or stop playing a particular song.

We even have promos on the radio which have been recorded by past residents of the Base, including one by Sir Ed Hillary.

Every morning, Johnny 5 gives us the weather and a run down of the daily events on Ross Island in his usual witty way. This often involves a prelude to what Lance has prepared for morning tea and every now and then a secret recording of someone having a rant about world politics and the proliferation of zombies in the area.

97FM may have an audience of only 14, but we think it has broken some world record for more plays of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ than any other radio station in the world.


Author: Julie
Date: 29/6/11
Temperature: -28
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 41
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

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The wind farm from Crater Hill.  Photo: Julie

Scott Base is powered by wind turbines.  Installed by Antarctica New Zealand and Meridan Energy in 2009, the three wind turbines are producing all the electrical power that Scott Base needs, plus a large surplus which is directed to the United States’ McMurdo Station.  More information on the wind turbines is here:


An earlier blog entry about the wind turbines is here:


Part of the Scott Base winter-over staff work programmme is to maintain the wind farm.  Ground temperatures are measured as part of the environmental monitoring at the turbines.  Last week I drove with Victoria, the Scott Base Science Technician, up to the wind farm to take thermistor string readings.  Thermistor strings measure the ground temperature at various depths around the turbines, basically by measuring electric resistance, which varies with temperature.


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Victoria takes a thermistor string reading from inside the comfort of a truck.  Photo: Julie

There are three thermistor units.  One can be read without getting out of the vehicle, sort of like using a drive-up ATM machine (except that you don’t drive away with more cash).  The other two require actually putting on cold weather gear and getting out of the truck.


Back at the base, Victoria enters all data into a spreadsheet and generates an ongoing graph of temperatures with respect to depth.  As you might expect, half a metre down the temperatures follow the air temperatures, fluctuating widely.  However, at 12 metres down, the temperatures remain fairly stable at about -17 C, only fluctuating a couple of degrees a year.


Fire Alarm

Posted by Conservators Jul 5, 2011

Author: Martin

Date: 29.6.2011
Temperature: -30 degree C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -55 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

The siren is ear piercing and the continuous voice coming out of the PA system calm but firm: Evacuate the building. Go to the nearest fire exit. Evacuate the … And I am, as Murphy’s law dictates, in the middle of a particular tricky gluing process on historic food boxes. Frustrated at first, but a little pulse of adrenalin helps me drop everything and get on the way to the assembly point. You never know.


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Fire fighting gear — ready to go © AHT/Martin

Fire is by far the biggest risk to Scott Base and the people living here. Main reasons are the extremely dry atmosphere inside and outside, as well as a number of workshops, power generators, boiler rooms etc. all close together under one roof. Sophisticated systems are installed to protect the buildings, raise alarms and fight, if necessary, fires anywhere on the base.

In addition to that, all Scott Base staff have gone through a very intensive fire fighting training. Our group of 14 is divided into two fire crews, each of them on duty every second week. If the alarm goes off the duty group locates the source and attends to the fire. Within the group allocated roles include crew chief, auxiliary, hose runner and BA (Breathing Apparatus) carriers.

Luckily it was yet another drill and since I was not on duty I was soon back rescuing the unfinished gluing process.        


Taking the plunge

Posted by Conservators Jun 27, 2011

Author: Jane
Date: 22nd June 2011
Temperature: -24°C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C


It’s a tradition here at Scott Base to take a plunge into the ice cold water at Mid-Winter. As with everything else in Antarctica, it takes a huge amount of effort to set up. First, there is the hole. This can take days to dig and often needs to be cleared again the morning before the plunge as ice builds up overnight.

Despite this year’s sea ice break out at the start of Winter, the ice in front of the base was still 1.2m in depth. The snow had to be cleared from the top of the ice and then a chain saw was used to cut a hole big enough for a person to jump in.

The water tends to be warmer than the air temperature so being in the water is quite pleasant; well for about thirty seconds. It was approx -2°C in the water and the air was around -20°C.

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Russell climbing out of the polar plunge hole with Troy manning the safety harness.
Credit: Petal Cottle


The most difficult part is psyching yourself up to jump into a hole in the ice that is filled with slushy water followed by climbing up the ladder into the cold air as the water freezes on you. Once you get back into the heated wannigan (an insulated container), you then have to wait for the water in your shoes to defrost enough to be able to remove them.

I suppose it doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable experience, but it is exhilarating and the closest thing we will get to a long soak in a bath down here.


Midwinter dinner

Posted by Conservators Jun 24, 2011

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     Scott Base team at midwinter. Photo: Jane


Midwinter is an important turning point in the life of all Antarctic winter-overs. Greetings and invitations to midwinter dinners are sent out by all the Antarctic stations. It is a time to reflect on the achievement of past explorers, the scientific work that is being done around the continent and to look forward to the coming light and reunions with friends and family.

Last night, on the 100th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott’s last midwinter dinner, the team at Scott Base commemorated the occasion with a magnificent meal prepared by our chef Lance, and then a great party afterwards. Julie prepared a menu in the style of Edward Wilson’s original watercolour menu. The dining room was festooned with the flags of the Antarctic treaty nations and smaller route flags of red and black.  15 invited guests from McMurdo Station joined us for the festivities.

It was a wonderful evening, shared with great friends, in a very special part of the world.


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     Midwinter dinner menu. Photo: Julie


Posted by: Sarah


The Bare Essentials

Posted by Conservators Jun 16, 2011

Author: Sarah


Date: 15 June 2011
Temperature: -13 Deg C
Wind Speed: 35 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 27
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

In 1914 a group of men known as the “Ross Sea Party” landed at Cape Evans on Ross Island.  The Ross Sea Party’s mission was to lay vital food and equipment depots for Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition which was planning to cross Antarctica.

A small science party was to remain ashore.  Apart from some stores, very little equipment and no clothing was taken ashore.  On 6 May 1914 the ship the Aurora was blown out to sea and could not return. The ten men ashore feared the worst, thinking all hands had been lost.

The men decided that their second planned trip to cache supplies for Shackleton must be completed despite their setbacks and lack of supplies. They had no way of knowing that the Endurance was also in terrible trouble, and the depots they would lay, which took a deadly toll, would never be used.
Lacking the appropriate clothing, the Ross Sea Party improvised sledging clothing from fabric and tents left behind by Scott’s 1910 expedition.  Below is an image of a handmade jacket sewn from canvas material, that is also found in the hut as curtains, insulation and bags.  Although sewn with a heavy hand, the jacket with its wooded toggle buttons is very well crafted.   The wind proof trousers are made from green canvas, which is also found as tents, tarpaulins and bags inside the hut at Cape Evans.




Ross Sea Party hand-made jacket © AHT



The grimy, sooty nature of both articles of clothing tells the tale of the hardship that the Ross Sea Party went through.  The men saved precious fuel for depot laying and burned seal blubber for heating and cooking, the greasy soot infiltrating all aspects of life in the hut.

Ross sea part hand-made trousers © AHT


Finding The Way

Posted by Conservators Jun 16, 2011

Author: Martin

Date: 15.6.2011
Temperature: -10 degree Celsius
Wind Speed: 60 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40 degree Celsius
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

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Flags ready to go © AHT/ Martin 

Many people who have been to Scott Base, NZ's science base on Ross Island, Antarctica, have had experience with flag making. It means feeding a piece of fabric on to a bamboo stick and fixing it with one screw –  then repeating it about a hundred times.  (The screw by the way ensures that the flags and therefore the route is showing up on the radar when travelling in a white out) Literally hundreds of these flags are used to mark all the routes across the ice and they have become a feature of this part of Antarctica of almost iconic proportions. Yesterday I had the chance to go out with Troy, our field support person and base manager, to replace a number of flags in preparation for the next summer season. Equipped with a battery drill, 25mm extra long drill bit and bundles of flags in a sled we drive or walk along the route. As we go along, we look for missing or half buried flags, drill a 400mm deep  hole and insert a new flag. In -15 degree C with little wind and a full moon, it was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours out and about away from the workbench.      


Out on the ice in the afternoon  © Troy Beaumont


Party at Scott Base

Posted by Conservators Jun 10, 2011

Author: Jane


Wind Speed: 15 knits
Temp with wind chill: -27°C

We often socialise with our fellow Antarcticans from McMurdo Station, one of the United States Antarctic Program bases. We have film nights, bingo, trivia and of course parties, among other things.

This past weekend we threw a dress up party with live music in our mechanics workshop. There were four bands playing, one of which was from Scott Base. Most of the bands have only been together for a few months, but they all still sounded great.

At the beginning of the season I told Julie she would be up playing guitar on stage before the Winter was out but she flatly denied it. I was right!  The band practiced regularly in preparation for the party and did not disappoint, nor did any of the McMurdo bands.

The organisation and set up took quite a bit of time, but everyone enjoyed the night so it was well worth all the effort.


The Scott Base band playing. From left: Anthony, Julie, Lance, Victoria. ©  AHT/Jane


Ice and Snow Formations

Posted by Conservators Jun 3, 2011

Date: 02/06/2011


Posted by Julie


Temperature: -22

Wind Speed: Gusting between 20 – 40 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 36  to  -41
Sunrise: August
Sunset August



Ever since the spectacular ice breakout in February, the ice forming over the water in front of Scott Base has steadily been growing thicker.  Last week the ice was judged thick enough to walk on. Troy, our base leader, Jane, and I set out to mark a safe route for walking through some nearby pressure ridges.


Troy is an experienced glacier guide, and so we got the bonus of getting Troy to talk about the snow and ice.  In a crack in the ice we discovered some spectacular, large, faceted ice crystals.  This is sometimes known as crevasse hoar. Troy explained that these ice crystals form and grow in glacial crevasses and in other cavities where a large cooled space is formed and in which water vapor can accumulate under calm, still conditions with a large temperature gradient. The vapour then attaches itself straight to the ice crystal forming a hollow hexagonal shape.


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Faceted ice crystal. © AHT/Julie

We also found impressively large icicles.  Icicles require liquid water and so they are notable: the temperature rarely goes above freezing, and certainly has not been above 0 degrees for many months now.


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Jane impersonating a radioactive rhinoceros by shining her headlamp through an icicle. © AHT/Julie

Most spectacular are the pressure ridges themselves.  Pressure ridges form because even very thick sheets of sea ice are mobile. As the sea underneath moves, or when the temperatures fluctuate, the ice shrinks and expands, cracks and shifts.  At Scott Base, the sea ice is bordered by Ross Island on one side and the permanent, immobile ice shelf (80 km thick) on the other.  The relatively thin sea ice between has nowhere to move except upwards, and so plates of ice are very slowly pushed up vertically along cracks, eventually developing into spectacular ice formations. These pressure ridges survived the recent sea ice breakout in February, meaning they are at least 14 years old, the date of the last ice breakout.


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Pressure ridges.  The formation in the foreground is approximately 5 meters high. © AHT/Julie


Emergency Conservation

Posted by Conservators Jun 3, 2011

Posted by Martin


Date: 01.06.2011
Temperature: -17 degree C
Wind Speed: 40 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


Sarah mentioned earlier that the explorers in the Heroic Area were very skilled in fixing things and being creative with the limited supplies they had. See this image of Mears making dog harnesses.

Not wanting to be outdone, Julie responded promptly to an urgent conservation task of a slightly different kind. I had been outside for a while in about minus 30degree C and was very happy to get back into the warm base. Pulling off headlight, hat and frozen neck gaiter, I threw off my glasses as well and heard them landing with a sickening noise on the concrete floor. A resin frame at that temperature becomes very brittle which means I could see the fuzzy contours of my glasses separated from the lens. Julie however, in true Antarctic spirit wasn’t fazed and after 24 hours in her care, my glasses almost looked like new.

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Martin’s glasses under repair © AHT/Martin

P.S. I just heard that Julie has moved on to fixing the mouthpiece of a saxophone for Victoria, our multi talented base musician.     


An Outsider's View

Posted by Conservators May 31, 2011

Author: Troy Beaumont, Scott Base Winter Manager

Date: 23/05/2011
Temperature: -21.3
Wind Speed: O knots
Temp with wind chill: -21.3
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA

When I found out about the blog that the AHT team here writes, my curious/nosey nature got the best of me. It’s an excellent read but I did notice that there is not too much about the people behind the blog.

They work all hours, and their unabashed enthusiasm and passion for conserving Antarctica’s unique human heritage is amazing.  Watching them relate an article of clothing to a photograph, an historic object to a passage of a book, is something the staff and I really enjoy.

It’s great to have them as part of the Scott Base team here for winter 2011.   In addition to their work with the AHT, they all contribute to base life in other ways.  Sarah is an excellent cook, and has made several dinners for the entire base on the chef’s day off.  She is also a fine watercolorist.  Jane is a social butterfly and has taken on party planning for the entire base. In her spare time, she has written a song about conservation.  Julie plays guitar and sings backing vocals in the Scott Base band, and has two groupies and a roadie.  She occasionally lurks around with a sketchbook, scaring people.  Martin is the only person on the AHT team who can get into a truck gracefully.  He is also a ping-pong champion, a cult figure, and builds igloo walls in strange places.


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Sarah repairing ice axe holes in a hat © Troy Beaumont


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Julie cataloging artefacts © Troy Beaumont



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Jane conserving historic food tins  ©  Steven Sun


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Martin repairing boxes © Troy Beaumont


Tent Repairs

Posted by Conservators May 31, 2011

Posted by Sarah


Date: 23/5/2011
Temperature: -27
Wind Speed: 5 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -50
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA



Scott Base on Ross Island is very isolated for much of the year and new supplies are often impossible to get. An enormous amount of planning goes into getting all the things that Scott Base and all the scientists need in the field, many years in advance.  Additionally great care is taken to make things last and as much as possible is reused and recycled. This has not changed since man first arrived on the continent.

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Troy repairing a polar tent © AHT/ Sarah

The Field Support Officer and Base Leader, Troy Beaumont, has just spent many weeks repairing polar tents for the 2011/2012 summer science season, with the industrial Singer sewing machine.


There is a Herbert Ponting image of P.O. Evans inside Captain Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova Expedition Hut at Cape Evans, at a similar  but hand cranked Singer sewing machine, working with heavy canvas.

These ongoing connections with the heroic era remind us how lucky we are with all the modern facilities we have, and that we must also value and respect what we have here.


Sea Anchor

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2011

Posted by Sarah, conservator with the Antarctic Heritage Trust


Date: 18 April 2011
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -28

Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA

Two items arrived on my desk at Scott Base a few weeks ago. The catalogue record described them as wind socks, but as soon as I opened up the box I realised that what I had were not wind socks.

The items are cone shaped canvas devices with a wooden loop at the large end. Three ropes are tied around the wooden loop and extend to a central point above the cone of fabric.  The material is far too heavy and there is no swivel point to allow the cones to catch the wind direction.

I had no idea what they could be used for. I wondered if they would have been used to dredge water or other items from the ocean, as they showed signs of being in salt water, and having just treated the plankton net, I was thinking they could be related to science.

The week I was treating these unknown items, we had a tour of the lab for staff from the American Base, McMurdo Station. It was then that a number of Americans on the tour suggested they could be small sea anchors or drogues.
Drogues used in the ocean, attached to a small boat to slow or help steady it and have been used since antiquity.

The shape, construction and size is certainly correct for a small boat.



Sea Anchors from Cape Evans © AHT

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