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Antarctic conservation

67 Posts tagged with the conservators tag
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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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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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Cape Evans Redux

Posted by Conservators Oct 9, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 3 October 2012

Temperture: -33C

Wind Speed: 2 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35C

Sunrise: 5:35am

Sunset: 7:36pm

 

 

As Martin described in our last blog, we were recently able to make a quick trip out over the sea ice to Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans.   I had especially been looking forward to seeing the hut again, as three and a half years have passed since the last time I set foot inside.  In the intervening years conservators have been working diligently to reconfigure various aspects of the hut to their original layout, many artefacts have been treated, and I had been eagerly anticipating seeing all of these changes first hand. 

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Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans

 

Stepping into the hut is always a powerful moment: it is quite dark inside at this time of year as the windows are still covered by snow, and it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.  When they do, all sorts of artefacts - bunks and boxes of foodstuffs, scientific equipment, the large table in the centre of the room –start to emerge from the dimness, standing where they did when the hut was inhabited by the explorers of Scott’s expedition.  A prescient silence also fills the hut, and there is a great sense of stillness that I find somewhat jarring – jarring because the wind outside is often howling by comparison, but also because when the hut was originally occupied, it never would have been so quiet inside. 

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Artefacts emerge from the darkness

 

Making my way around all the little nooks in the hut, it was rewarding to see how many artefacts have been conserved and how the sense of place has been so well preserved.  I am looking forward to moving out to our work camp at the huts so we can once again spend most of our days inside this special place.

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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

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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!

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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.’  

 

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Packet of Toothache Plasters before conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

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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.

 

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Toothbrush. © AHT/Stefan

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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.

 

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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.

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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


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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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Author: Gretel
Date: 18 April 2012
Temperature: Minus 17 deg C
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Temp with wind chill: Minus 21 deg C
Sunrise: 10.34am
Sunset 3.09pm

 

 

In my last blog I posted the Scott Base winter crew recreation of Captain Scott’s last birthday dinner. Apparently some people thought that we did a great job with Photoshop. In fact the entire affair was created from scratch and took many late evenings of hard work by some very talented people. Here I shall give away some of our secrets…

 

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Captain Scott’s last birthday dinner recreated © Steve Williamson

 

The setting for the photo is not the original base hut at Cape Evans but the warm and comfortable lounge of Scott Base. The interior of the hut was recreated by our base carpenter Jodie, using tongue and groove for the wall, and modern pine for the antiquated shelving. Our artistic director, George, stained wallpaper to mimic the ceiling and painstakingly painted the sledging flags with a helping hand from Susanne and myself. Old bed linen was utilised for these and the Union flag, which Naomi very accurately recreated (for an Australian), while overseeing the whole project. Shane utilised the photocopier to reproduce the backdrop from the original image on a large scale from many sheets of A4 paper and a lot of sticky tape. Stef was a master of illusion magicking jugs from blotting paper and aluminum foil, salt cellars out of laboratory glassware and bent aluminium wire, and bone-handled knives from sponge and masking tape; but his pièce de résistance were the soda siphons fashioned from thermos flasks, papier mâché and copper gauze. In fact the only ‘real’ items in the photo, apart from the people were the food and chocolates made especially for the occasion by our chef Bobby. The whole team pulled together to set-up and recreate the scene and get into character for the final photo, captured on camera by Steve the sparky. So much effort went into the mock-up that for now we’ve decided to keep that corner of the lounge as it is.
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Stef and George lounge about © Gretel

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