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Antarctic conservation

170 Posts tagged with the antarctica tag
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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… 

       

        

 

   

 

 

    

 

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The Frozen Few

Posted by Conservators Apr 2, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 20/03/13

Temperature: -13.5C

Wind speed: 12 knotos

Temp with wind chill: -25C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Not long ago we had a long weekend (two days), a rare treat on Scott Base, and we took the opportunity of getting out on a 'Fam trip'. Anything we do which could be considered dangerous has to be fully considered in every aspect … equipment, communications, health & safety, etc. Lex (our base mechanic) has a tremendous amount of experience with a multitude of heavy machinery and was able to organise a ski-doo trip out to "room with a view" (about 25km NW of Scott Base, up the Hut Point Peninsula).

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Jaime after a bumpy stint on a ski-doo © AHT/Stefan

 

Riding ski-doos is a tricky business. The flat light at this time in the season means it's difficult to see snow drifts, and as you're essentially raising your wind chill by however fast you're travelling, frost nip/bite becomes a very real threat if you're not 100% covered up. It was a brilliant day out, with great scenery and most importantly no injuries.

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Lex with the McMurdo 'Frozen Few' Chapter  © Lex

 

A great aspect to life in Antarctica is that you're surrounded by people who enjoy resurrecting important parts of their life from back home and creating them anew in the inhospitable climes of this harsh continent. A biker fraternity called 'The Frozen Few' (born on McMurdo, the US base) has decided to open up a Scott Base 'chapter'. Proudly Lex, Graeme and even AHT's very own Jaime are newly ordained 'pledges'. We're all very grateful to the guys, as without these efforts to create a diverse social life, our Antarctic experience would be much the poorer.

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All work and no play ...

Posted by Conservators Feb 21, 2013

Author: Jaime

Date: 10 February 2013

Temperature: -15C

Wind Speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -21C

Sunrise: Always

Sunset: Never

 

Since arriving Antarctica the winter team has been immersed in the intricacies of life at Scott Base, learning about new people, places and processes, and at the same time beginning our winter conservation programme. It can be a world of baffling acronyms, but eventually you do understand the true meaning of AHT having AFT briefings in the HFC.  (Antarctic Heritage Trust having Antarctic Field Training in the Hillary Field Centre).

 

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Huge crowds at the ski field © AHT/Jaime

 

Thankfully there is also time to relax and to join the season’s last trip to the Scott Base ski field, a simple rope tow emerging from the inevitable green shipping container and running up the same hillside where Scott's men learnt to ski over a century ago. It was a huge treat to be skiing with both great snow and stunning views across the vast ice shelf to the distant mountains. We made our final descent from Castle Rock and headed home in the warmth of the Hagglund with plans for our next day out. A skidoo ride possibly or a trip down a crevasse. Not literally of course.

 

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Sue plans our next excursion © AHT/Jaime

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Author: Stefanie

Date: 11 February 2013

Temperature: -16C

Wind speed: 10 knots

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

We are an international team of five conservators that met for the first time only a few weeks ago. Since meeting, we have had the opportunity to get to know one another while preparing for this season's conservation project and for a winter on the ice.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to the conservation team currently working in the Antarctic:

 

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Jaime, Sue, Stefan, Stefanie and Marie in the lab.

 

Sue Bassett, from Australia, is our lead conservator. Sue specialies in objects conservation and has over 25 years' experience working in management and object conservation in museum and archaeological environments.

 

Stefan Strittmatter, a metals and stone conservator from England, joins the team for his second winter on the ice. Stefan has experience in the conservation of materials in outdoor environments as well as in the conservation of artefacts from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

 

Jaime Ward, from Scotland, is the team's carpenter and timber conservator. Having summered over twice before on the ice, Jaime has experience in the restoration of the fabric of the historic huts at Cape Evans and Cape Royds as well as on the conservation of wooden artefacts from inside and outside the huts. 

 

Marie-Amande Coignard from France, specialises in the conservation of archaeological objects and has experience working with materials from marine environments.

 

I am Stefanie White, an objects conservator from Ireland. I am delighted to be part of the winter conservation team. Together the five of us are embarking on the conservation of over 1500 objects from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

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Stefanie, Marie, Jaime, Sue and Stefan at Cape Royds.

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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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Land of the Midnight Sun

Posted by Conservators Oct 25, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 17 October 2012

Temperature: -19C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -26C

Sunrise: 03:58

Sunset: 11:29

 

 

Early summer is an extremely changeable time in Antarctica, not only in terms of the human activity that is ramping up for the season, but in the natural world around us as well.  The temperature creeps reliably upwards while the sea ice thickens daily, Emperor penguins depart whilst the Adélies start to arrive, and lots of baby Weddell seals are born. 

 

Most noticeable of all, however, is the arrival of 24 hour daylight.   Because of our southern latitude, the amount of sunlight we get each day increases here more noticeably than it does at more equatorial latitudes.  Right now, although the sun still technically 'sets' and 'rises' it really only appears to creep behind the mountains on the horizon for a bit before re-emerging on the other side.  We never really have true darkness anymore, and 3:00 in the morning is almost as bright as 3:00 in the afternoon. Even when it is overcast, the reflecting whiteness of the snowy landscape means that it is still bright outside.

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Pressure ridges in late evening sun © AHT/Jana

 

For some people the 24 hour daylight is difficult to get used to, and their biorhythms and sleep habits suffer as a result.  Sleeping in a tent in bright daylight can be a bit challenging when we are living in the field, but we are usually so exhausted from the day's work that sleep never eludes us for long!

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Boomerang

Posted by Conservators Aug 22, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 21.8.2012

Temperature:  12 degree C

Wind Speed: n/a

Wind chill: n/a

Sunrise: About 6am

Sunset About 7pm

 

It might sound exciting, but it really is not much fun to be on a boomerang flight. Yesterday we were all set to fly to Antarctica to replace the current team of international conservators working on  artefacts from the historic huts from the heroic era.

 

Five hours in a cargo plane to Antarctica, ¾ of an hour circling and unsuccessfully  trying to land and 5 hours flying back to arrive where we started from in Christchurch. Boomerang flight is indeed a very appropriate name.

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Exciting views of a continent under ice – Credit: AHT/Falcon

 

It is also a timely reminder that it is the weather which so often dictates what we can or can't do in this remote place. Patience, flexibility and the ability to accept it are useful qualities to have when working in Antarctica.

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Flying back – Credit: AHT/Falcon

 

Compared, however, with what the early explorers had to endure, a boomerang flight which delivers us safely back to Christchurch hardly deserves a mention. Scott and Shackleton and their men had to cope with conditions on their journeys which are incomprehensible to us today. They literally put their lives on the line in order to go where nobody had been before and they could never be sure whether they would come back at all.  

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Going again

Posted by Conservators Aug 22, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 19.8.2012

Temperature:  12 degree C

Wind Speed: n/a

Wind chill: n/a

Sunrise: About 6am

Sunset About 7pm

 

 

I am about to go 'to the ice' with the Antarctic Heritage Trust for the fifth summer in a row. The main focus will be conserving artefacts in and around the historic hut of Robert Falcon Scott at Cape Evans. While a lot of the pre-deployment briefings and preparations here in Christchurch have become a pleasant routine, the sense of privilege and excitement about being able to live and work for a while in this indescribable part of the world never changes.

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Enjoying Antarctica in Christchurch – Credit: AHT/Lizzie

 

Often people ask what it is that makes me want to go again. The answer is threefold and usually the same every time. I get to work with a small international team of wonderful people on  a project with world heritage status and all of that in an environment which never ceases to overwhelm me. So as long as I answer like that I am happy to be involved, look forward to going again and don't mind encountering -25 degrees C  tomorrow.  

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US Airforce plane ready to go – Credit:  AHT/Falcon

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