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Antarctic conservation

170 Posts tagged with the antarctica tag

The last trip

Posted by Conservators Aug 20, 2012

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: 17 August

Temperature:  -35 °C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -50°C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


Yesterday the Winter 2012 Antarctic Heritage Trust conservation team took a trip to Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans. We went to check the condition of the hut after the Antarctic winter. It was a great contrast to our visit at the beginning of the season. Back in February we flew there by helicopter – a trip of only 20 minutes; marvelled at the wildlife (penguins and seals) enjoying the open water; and basked in the 24 hour sunshine. This time we travelled by Hagglund over the sea ice, the return journey took 12 hours with not much more than an hour spent at the hut.

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Hagglund on the sea ice   Credit: Gretel /AHT


Travelling on the sea ice is not without risk and much of the journey is spent looking out for cracks in the ice and assessing whether they can be safely crossed or not. There is no wildlife to see at this time of year and the sea, which is their home, is frozen solid in to a vast white wasteland. We were lucky with the weather as despite the bitter cold it was not too windy. T`he lack of cloud meant we could enjoy what light is filtering over the horizon in advance of the first sunrise which will come in a few days. It was a fantastic trip, made all the more memorable as it will be our last as before we leave the ice in a few days time. The base hut and all its artefacts will be in good hands with the summer season conservators, Jana and Martin, who replace us to carry on the conservation work and spread the word via the blog.



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Captain Scott’s snow covered hut at Cape Evans   Credit:  Gretel/AHT


A Few of My Favorite Things

Posted by Conservators Aug 17, 2012

Author: Susanne
Date: Wednesday 15th August 2012
Temperature: -34 deg C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -75 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


Sadly, this will be my last blog with the Antarctic Heritage Trust as our season on the ice is coming to an end. It has been an incredible journey and I will be forever changed by the experience. In this blog I pay tribute to my three favorite objects from Cape Evans that I treated this season, each with their own challenges. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


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Copper Alloy Candle Holder Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

This copper alloy candle holder lived a hard life and was heavily used. In addition to the soot covering the surface, there are multiple layers of wax which contain unknown pigments and a match. This object was difficult to treat because I wanted to retain the wax and features that were encapsulated all the while removing the corrosion products that were forming. In the end, I was able to remove superficial corrosion and enhance the original polished brass appearance in some areas.


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Cooker with Four Wicks Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne


When I first discovered this object, I wasn’t sure what its purpose was. Sometimes objects can become corroded in positions that are unnatural to how they were used which can hide details of use. This is a cooker that would have been used to heat pots. There are four wicks in the center that can be raised and lowered independently operating as a sort of heat control similar to a gas stove element. The iron was badly corroding, but I enjoyed the challenge of bringing life back to an object that would have been so critical to survival in Antarctica.


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Pillow from Cherry-Garrard’s Bed Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne


This object was by far one of my favorite personal items that I was able to work on this season. Upon first visiting Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, I was completely humbled to see the sleeping conditions of the men. This pillow in particular is from Cherry-Garrard’s bed. It was a very intimate thing to be able to work on an object that provided some degree of relief from a hard day’s work. The wear marks were still visible from a lack of being washed for several years. This object only required a light surface clean and mold mitigation while leaving the soot in situ. 

I hope you have enjoyed the blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them and I wish the future teams of conservators the best of luck in their seasons!


The world is your oyster

Posted by Conservators Aug 13, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: August 8th  2012

Temperature: -37.5 deg C

Wind Speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


It was extremely difficult for me to get my head around just exactly how the transition of the seasons work down in Antarctica, but I guess the best way you could describe it is:


• 24hr constant sunlight

• 3-4 weeks of ambient light (without seeing the sun) getting shorter everyday

• 24hr constant darkness, with some illumination from the moon, when clear

• 3-4 weeks of ambient light (without seeing the sun) getting longer every day, and with a great deal of illumination from the moon.



First sun of the season on the Hut, 26th August, 1911


Now, learn’d folk reading this, will be saying “yeah! obvious…derrrr”, but until you experience that mixture of tiredness, confusion, and firsts, trust me, the events of everyday, come as a bit of a shock. Just the other day, four of us watched a huge fiery golden globe rising over the horizon, although we knew it was the moon, it didn’t stop us asking each other over and over “it’s definitely not the sun, right?”



Nacreous Clouds forming over Mt Erebus


Equal to the aurora’s, nacreous clouds unfurl in the sky like smudges of diesel, making you feel like you’re inside a huge opalescent mussel shell, (indeed the word is derived from ‘nacre’ or mother of pearl).


I’ve never really had any time for solstice events but the joy of seeing the light on the snow here does place you in tune with all of your thoughts, and a real sense of time passing, life changing. Looking over Mt Erebus and seeing the light emission of the swirling pinks and violets, there is a desperation to be naive to all you’ve learned of science and to see it as a cauldron of magic, that will soon spill over and bring only good.


It’s nice to think that the explorers would have begun their long hauling seasons with this fever of positivity in their veins.


Author: Gretel Evans

Date: Wednesday 1st August 2012

Temperature: -26 deg C

Wind Speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


Among the utilitarian objects that we conserve there are also many weird and wonderful items. Objects from the expeditions have often been adapted or re-used in another form during their lifetime.  I have come across a pair of boot liners with a strange addition. The liners are made of cotton but have pieces of caribou fur sewn on to the heel. This gives them a particularly warm and comfortable look, but I’m not sure about the effectiveness or even purpose of this addition.

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Boot liners before conservation  Credit: AHT


Boot liners after conservation.jpg

Boot liners after conservation Credit: AHT


I can only think this would have made them uncomfortable to wear inside a boot - although as a colleague pointed out, they may have prevented rubbing and blisters forming on the heel. The boot liners prompted a story about Thomas Griffith Taylor, Senior Geologist with Scott’s Terra Nova expedition who apparently sewed canvas heel tips to his socks and called them Taylor’s Patent Heel Tips. I wonder what the purpose of the fur heels was and what they may have been called at the time. Answers on a postcard to Antarctica.


Women on the Walls

Posted by Conservators Jul 31, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 25/07/12
Temperature: -25c
Wind Speed: 36 kts
Temp with wind chill: -39c
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A  

This season, some of the paper items from Scott’s hut at Cape Evans provide personal insights into the lives of the expeditioners, showing some of the things they liked and what they did with their spare time.

In addition to a range of adventure stories and military novels, there are a surprising number of paperback romances which, judging by the degree of wear and sooty fingerprints, were rather well read! The stories seem to reflect the sensibilities of the era, and are of variable quality – although almost all seem to feature prolonged bouts of blushing between the chief protagonists. One of the best (or worst) involves a hero called Dr Love who finds he has feelings for an impoverished actress and resolves to free her from the profession. The end pages are unfortunately missing, so we can only hope that it ends like a proper romance should.


Romance novels; popular in a harsh continent (Credit: AHT/Georgina)

Many of the magazines too, manage to combine stories of popular interest with the frivolous and banal (not to mention articles on fashion for the ladies). To Scott’s men, who often had to survive gruelling conditions, such throwaway reading matter was likely valued as a diversion.

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Scrapbook-style wall decoration (Credit: AHT/Georgina)


Along the same lines, there is a montage that looks like a page torn from a scrapbook.  This appears to have been found tacked to the end wall of Birdie Bower's bunk bed.  It is a wonderful selection of images – all cut from magazines - mainly of women in hats and big hair, but also of Australian Aboriginals and a large cartoon cat. In the bottom left corner is a small illustration of a rather exotic-looking half-naked lady with a snake (Cleopatra?), which in its very charming way manages to be about the most risqué artefact I have seen from the huts to date!  My favourite personalised item however, also found by the officers’ tenements, is a hand-made collection of cut-out pictures of dogs - presumably by someone very fond of man’s best friend, or else missing his dog back home.


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Dogtastic! The modified wooden lid of a venesta case. On the reverse is printed: 'B.A.E. MARGARINE LYTTELTON’. (Credit: AHT/Georgina)


Author: Stefan

Date: 25July 2012
Temperature: -23 deg C
Wind Speed: 22 knots
Temp with wind chill: -54 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


Oil painting by George Marston (1882-1940) entitled Aurora Australis


Now then, one of the obvious draws of experiencing an Antarctic winter is witnessing the Aurora Australis. My father is a wonderful photographer, and provided me with a great deal of information on how to capture this phenomenon, but I must confess that once the right conditions (or a sighting) are announced over the tannoy, all preparations fall out the window, and everyone is allowed to pile out of the base into the freezing temperatures to try their hand, quite literally ( ‘at -50C hands and fingers become clumsy from cold in a matter of minutes’).



Aurora Australis  taken a few weeks ago AHT Stefan

The majesty of this vision is hard to encompass in words. You’re desperate to focus and chart the swirling radiating lines, but no sooner do you capture a fragment of the formation in your stare than it instantly shifts and dissipates Much like a magic eye, you have to train your eye on  the middle-distance, and then the show begins.

100yrs after the heroic era, more scientific findings have allowed us the understanding that the auroras are charged particles from the solar winds colliding with atoms in the high atmosphere, but in the early 20th century the scientists of the expeditions like Simpson were still mulling it over. Earlier in the Discovery expedition, one of the men was thoroughly spooked by the vision, and used to leave cigarettes as an offering to gods, to try and make the aurora go away.

Here’s an exerpt from Scott’s journals that indicates why some might have found the aurora supernatural
“There is argument on the confession of Ponting’s inability to obtain photographs of the Aurora” “It is all very puzzling”  R.F.Scott


Balaclava borrowing

Posted by Conservators Jul 24, 2012

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: 24 July 2012

Temperature: -22 °C

Wind Speed: 30 knots

Temp with wind chill: -50 °C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


Currently we are working on the conservation of artefacts from Cape Evans, the base hut built by Captain Scott for the Terra Nova Expedition (1910-13). I recently had the pleasure of conserving a balaclava, which came from the vicinity of Nelson’s bunk, (Nelson was the biologist with the expedition). The balaclava is knitted from dark blue wool, with a black trim around the face aperture, and has a piece of cotton sewn into the inside around the forehead/crown area. This particular item has been identified from its pattern as dating from 1907-1909 and originating from Cape Royds – the base hut built by Sir Ernest Shackleton for the Nimrod Expedition. It is not known who brought the balaclava to Cape Evans, unfortunately there is no name tag within as with some of the other items of clothing left in the huts. With the in-built neck gaiter preventing heat loss from the chest and neck area, and the extra insulation the sewn-in cotton piece provided by protecting the forehead from the biting Antarctic winds, it was no doubt a useful and treasured item.

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Balaclava before conservation Credit:AHT/Gretel


Balaclava after conservation.jpg

Balaclava after conservation Credit: AHT/Gretel


Sleuthing signatures

Posted by Conservators May 28, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: 24/05/12

Temperature: -12c

Wind Speed: 15  kts

Temp with wind chill: -28c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A


It’s pretty rare when conserving the objects from Cape Evans to find something that has a personal touch you can pin to one of the shore party with full confidence. Nearly everything has evidence of human interaction but, (as Scott did with Shackleton’s hut) subsequent explorers have moved a great deal of the objects around, making it difficult to have full confidence an item has providence to a particular individual.


In a crate of McDoddie’s dehydrated rhubarb tins, it was immediately obvious that two had been signed with blue crayons (a few of which still lie on Scott’s table). Reading “R F Scott” on one and “Brown” on the other, I got busy rooting through handwriting samples from the expeditions and quickly concluded Bowers signature accurately matched the tin marked “Brown” (thought to refer to Browning, in the northern party). This would make sense as in being the storesmen Bowers would have been most likely to ration and name supplies.But what of the other tin? It’s obviously different handwriting, and does have characteristics both similar and dissimilar to Scott’s signature.


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Tins of dehydrated rhubarb with ‘R F Scott’ and ‘Brown’ written on the label with blue crayon. © AHT/Stefan




Signatures from the Cape Evans shore party


Life in Antarctica doesn’t make solving this conundrum easy. There are numerous reasons why you might not write as you normally would, mental fatigue, lack of hand dexterity in the cold, over compensating in writing clearly to ensure no mistakes were made in rationing etc. I for one believe this is Scott’s handwriting. There were no other ‘Scott’s’ in any of the crews and in wouldn’t come naturally to include ‘R F’ if it was somebody else.


Toothache Plasters

Posted by Conservators May 24, 2012

Author: Georgina

Date: 23/05/12

Temperature: -22c

Wind Speed: 56  kts

Temp with wind chill: -35c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A


Everyone who comes to Antarctica has to undergo medical testing which includes a full dental assessment so that any necessary work can be carried out before arrival. We have a dentist here during the summer at McMurdo station, but in the winter months there isn’t one, and so toothache is something best avoided!


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Tooth powder. © AHT/Susanne


This season we have had various items from Scott’s Terra Nova hut relating to dental hygiene, including a broken toothbrush (stored in a broken pipe), tooth powder (like tooth paste) and toothache plasters. The plasters are little rubber caps (concave ovals) in a paper/card packet. Their instructions prescribe: 'Place a plaster in position (hollow side toward the gum) directly over the roots of the aching tooth. With a slight pressure of the finger expel the air from under the plaster and it will remain in position. Remove plaster when tooth stops aching.’  


Toothache plasters before treatment.jpg

Packet of Toothache Plasters before conservation. © AHT/Georgina


Toothache plasters after treatment.jpg

After conservation. © AHT/Georgina


Some of the plasters are missing, and it is not clear whether they were used by the British Antarctic Expedition or simply lost. We are also not sure how much relief they could have practically afforded a raging tooth, although by temporarily sealing a cavity from the air, perhaps some. Interestingly, we know that during Shackleton’s aborted attempt on the pole in 1908, the metereologist Jameson Adams was unable to sleep for days from toothache so allowed it to be extracted in the field without equipment or anaesthetic.


As for myself, after experiencing the discomfort of a fractured wisdom tooth during my 2010 season here, I’ll definitely be looking after the pearlies I have left, and so hopefully avoid any more association with either plasters or pliers.



Toothbrush. © AHT/Stefan


Author: Susanne
Date: May 16, 2012
Temperature: -13.4°C
Wind Speed: 9knots
Temp with wind chill: -36°C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

Some of the best moments in the lab are when we discover a hidden message or drawing on an object. This week, on what I thought may have been just another tobacco tin, was an advertisement for Albany Cigarettes printed on the back of a cigarette case.

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Albany cigarette advertisement on the back of a tin. Credit: AHT/Susanne


I was curious to know the history of the cigarette company and the details behind the design of the advertisement. The “Albany Cigarette” was made by F.L. Smith Ltd. in London at No. 5 Burlington Gardens. According to this New Zealand cigarette pack below, the Albany Cigarette was first made by hand in the building that is shown above, perhaps by the very dapper gentlemen pictured in front.



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Packaging from the predecessor company to F.L. Smith in New Zealand with the Albany storefront shown. Credit:


A brief search also revealed this letter written by British Captain Edward Hulse in World War I to his mother asking her to obtain the handmade cigarettes: “Please ask F. L. Smith, 12 Burlington Gardens (Albany Cigarette people) to send me twice a week a box of 25 of the cigarettes which they supply me with generally.” Source:

It is often these small connections that are provided by material culture that reflect the greater stories of heroism from the exploration of Antarctica to the battlefields of World War I.



Soup in an Instant

Posted by Conservators May 18, 2012

Author: Gretel

Date: 16 May 2012

Temperature: -17 deg C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


Symingtons Pea Flour was a great invention. Patented by William Symington in 1852, pea flour was the forerunner of instant soup. The addition of hot water enabled the soup to be ready in one minute.


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Tins of Symingtons Pea Flour © AHT/Gretel


These tins were recovered from Captain Scott’s base at Cape Evans which he used for the British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole (1910-12). Scott commented in his diary that ‘a lot can be done with the addition of a little boiled pea meal’.

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Tin label © AHT/Gretel


The tin label shows that as well as being part of the supplies in Scott’s previous National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition in 1901-04, it was utilised in countless army expeditions. It seems that even 100 years ago, PR gurus didn’t miss an advertising opportunity.


The label even goes so far as to state that the soup ‘never causes unpleasant feelings after eating’ – which is reassuring to know! And the proof of this pudding could be in the eating…when it was discovered in one of Scott’s food stores 50 years on it was said to still be edible.


Mans Best Friend

Posted by Conservators May 15, 2012

Author: Stefan
Date: 10/05/12
Temperature: -7C
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Temp with wind chill: -20C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


Huskies, or any breed of dog, were officially removed from Antarctica after concerns were raised about distemper possibly being transferred to Weddel seals. The Antarctic Treaty stated that “dogs shall not be introduced onto land or ice shelves and dogs currently in those areas shall be removed by April 1994.”

It’s fascinating to learn the history of dogs at Scott Base/Antarctica, The majority of the 61 that set paw down on ice in 1956 were said to have descended from an original bloodline of Admiral Richard Byrd’s 1928-30 expedition to Antarctica. From this point the dogs travelled around numerous bases on the continent, mixing the stocks base-to-base.


Man's Best Friend.jpg

Photo © Frank Hurley 1911


It’s amazing to hear of how fondly all of the expeditioners talked of these often brutal tempered animals. My belief is many people who end up visiting Antarctica have a natural affinity with the attributes of these dogs i.e. needing little to survive, loyal, hardworking, and dependable.


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Dog collar and leash chain © AHT/ Stef


In preparing to conserve a dog collar from Scott’s Cape Evans hut, I can’t help but feel a certain sadness, that the efforts and achievements of these beasts haven’t as yet been properly commemorated or recognised.


Author: Georgina
Date: 09/05/12
Temperature: -11c
Wind Speed: 70  kts
Temp with wind chill: -26c
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

Each member of the AHT team specialises in different areas of material conservation; Gretel is objects/archaeological, Stefan is metals/stone, Susanne is objects/maritime and mine is paper. Many artefacts this season are multi-media, which often gives us a chance to share the work and collaborate with each other. Commonly, collaborations involve paper components such as wrappers around bottles and labels on tins. One nice recent job was this little card of safety pins where I dealt with the paper element and Stefan worked his magic on the metal pins.


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Card of safety pins before conservation. © AHT/Georgina


AHT9685_1!_Side1_AT sm rs.jpg

After conservation. © AHT/Georgina


Safety pins were a humble but useful piece of kit for the early explorers, and today we are still supplied with them by Antarctica New Zealand in our field sewing kits. Many of the photos from Scott’s Terra Nova expedition show the men having them pinned to their jumpers and jackets, no doubt coming in handy for quick repairs on the hop.


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In addition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard notes that the men were keen to have large safety pins on hand “with which to hang up our socks” (The Worst Journey in the World”).


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This can be seen in Ponting’s famous photo of Captain Scott writing in his den; where there is a row of socks behind him, each pair being attached at the top with a safety pin and hung from nails in the wall. Nevertheless, the frequency with which we see the men wear them on their chests is notable, either singularly or in little rows like badges - and one wonders if it might have even been a kind of utilitarian expedition fashion; the popular choice for the man about base.


Author: Gretel
Date: 2 May 2012
Temperature: -32 deg C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

If you’re an avid reader of our blogs you may wonder what we do with our spare time when we’re not playing golf, attending ceremonies, enjoying dinners and going on day trips. Well, we like to fit in some conservation from time to time.

This season we are extremely fortunate to be conserving a huge variety of interesting artefacts from the expedition bases.  Over winter the team will conserve around 1200 objects. I have been dealing with the items on a desk outside the dark room in Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans where there are a number of items relating to communication and one of these is this telegraph key.

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Telegraph key before conservation © AHT

The image of the key before conservation shows that the metal components are obscured by corrosion. Careful removal revealed that the screws are constructed from brass and that there is a layer of gold on the surface of the iron key mechanism. This isn’t unusual bearing in mind that electrical components today are still gold-plated to prevent the base metals oxidizing.

It was essential to reveal, but not remove, the gold layer. So after cleaning the metal it was coated with a lacquer to prevent the iron from further rusting and losing any more of the gold-plate.

Telegraph key after conservation.jpg

Telegraph key after conservation © AHT


Conservation also revealed drops of wax on the wooden base. Although they are not an original component of the object these were retained as they tell a story about the history of use of the artefact and are preserved to retain its historical integrity.


Hibernation Hinterland

Posted by Conservators Apr 29, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 24/04/12
Temperature: -20c
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Temp with wind chill: -30c
Sunrise: 12:31 pm
Sunset 1:10pm

Sunset sm rs.jpg
The sun says ‘goodbye’ for the next 4 months (photo by S. Shelton, ANTNZ)


Yesterday, some lucky members of Scott Base went to an area called Castle Rock to toast the final rising and setting of the sun, with only 39 minutes in-between dawn and twilight. Over the past month or so, the days have been getting progressively shorter, but now the sun will not return above the horizon until late August. It is a big moment for all those living and working here, as it heralds the start of the long dark night of the Antarctic winter.

We drove to the spot in a hagglund, (a Swedish snow-tank) found a good picnic place and put up our deckchairs to admire the scenery and take photos. On the drive back, we made a brief stop to ‘Igloo City’ which is comprised of 5 igloos which were built over the summer and are now largely collapsing. A couple of them still had roofs, so we excavated the doorways and climbed in! It was a welcome break from work, and a good reminder of the amazing environment we live in.

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Igloo City! (photo by G. Evans, AHT)


As the light closes in, our base crew of 14 will be drawn ever more together. 24 hour darkness can produce interesting effects in people, and as the winter progresses, some may expect disturbed sleep patterns, forgetfulness, tiredness, general annoyance, and an increased tendency to put on weight; it’s an experience that none of us would miss for the world!

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