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Antarctic conservation

64 Posts tagged with the scott-base tag

Mouse Rounds

Posted by Conservators May 13, 2013

When it's 10pm and warm and comfortable inside Scott Base the last thing you want to do is to struggle into layers of warm clothing and head outside. When it is also -27 with snow drifting in the gusting winds, it is even less appealing.



But every couple of weeks it is your turn again to make the nightly mouse round, a methodical safety check of the entire base. The inside bit is easy, but initially, heading out and away from the main buildings into the deep darkness to check the fuel pumps, is always a little daunting.



Mike on the nightly mouse round - JW


In the end though, the time outside is never bad, in spite of the weather. You are warm, you have a radio and there is something quite cathartic about re-tracing your own well-trodden route around the quiet dark extremities of the base. Always wanting to find something interesting and always secretly glad in the end that you haven't.



It pays to be vigilant; the infamous "leak" in the waste water plant. JW


Here, when you mention "back country" cooking, it refers to some dehydrated chicken and peas, dehydrated soup, with a dehydrated orange tasting juice, and eventually some porridge powder. No offence to any "central land" gastronomy, it's just the easiest thing we can bring to have for dinner when we're going out. We warm it up on a white gas stove, and, mind you, lighting the stove was one of the very first things we learnt to do when we arrived.




Dehydrated meals are not a new fashion though, and I was surprised to discover mustard powder along with milk powder in the middle of Scott's Terra Nova expedition supplies. Even so, explorers' typical 'field' meal was more often a 'hoosh', a big pot of pemmican, biscuits, cocoa, milk and grease mixed together. The expedition had Primus Stoves, made in Sweden and recently I had the chance to conserve one of them.



Picture 2.JPG


When I unwrapped the artefact, my first thought was 'wait a minute, I've already seen something similar…of course!  There are two Primus Stoves above the gas fireplace in our lounge. (Yes, we have a lounge, and a fake fireplace, how amazing is that?) They're Ed Hillary's  stoves! Signed and given to Scott Base by the modern age Antarctic exploration hero!



It's really nice to observe such a step by step evolution of something both so simple and so essential.


The winds of change

Posted by Conservators May 6, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 24/04/2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -47 degrees

Sunrise: The sun no longer rises

Sunset:  And therefore never sets


With rapidly dwindling hours of daylight and the prospect of gradually worsening weather, it's best to make the most of any opportunities we get to be outside and to explore some of the less frequented sites around the bases.


Last week, we were able to join a routine maintenance visit to the three wind turbines erected in 2010 and situated on the upper slopes of Crater Hill between Scott Base and McMurdo. Access to the wind farm site is usually restricted, but accompanied by the base electrician we were able to get a close up look at the towers and feel the hum of the huge blades sweeping overhead.


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Wind turbine in action - JW.


Until recently, power for both bases had been provided by diesel generators, but New Zealand's wind turbines now provide up to a third of the electricity here, and are reducing greatly both the cost and the risk of transporting a tanker load of fuel each summer.


And as an unexpected bonus of the elevated site, we were treated to one of the final stunning sunsets over the Trans Antarctic mountains.


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Sunset over the Trans Antarctic mountains - JW.


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.


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."


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!


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


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


Freezer on its way to a new look (Barne Glacier in the background)


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.


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.  


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


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: 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


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!


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


Crazy Golf

Posted by Conservators Apr 16, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 11/04/12
Temperature: -26c
Wind Speed: 25 kts
Temp with wind chill: -42c
Sunrise: 9:25am
Sunset 4:21pm

At Scott Base we work 6 days a week over the winter, but once a month we get a full weekend off. For the ‘long’ Easter weekend, we decided to get creative and build and play a 7-hole crazy golf course all around the station.  Our crew of 14 was divided into pairs to make one of the holes. My construction abilities don’t extend far beyond cardboard and duct tape, so I was lucky to find myself paired with Tom who is an engineer.  On Saturday we were able to throw together a truly glorious hole called ‘Escape from Rat Lab’ in which the golf ball rolls around through a succession of pipes.


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‘Escape from Rat Lab’: Tom revels in the glory of his creation (photo by G. Whiteley, AHT)


Amongst the others was ‘Polynesian Putt Putt’ in which you have to hit the ball through a model volcano setting off a musical dancing hula girl. The ‘Turbinator’ was an electric turbine with enormous rotating blades, erected in the computer lab. One of the favourites was ‘The C17’ which involved hitting the ball by the Administration block into a model of the C17 airplane, which then flew down the hallway on a zip-line, before landing on the runway in ‘Christchurch’ (somewhere in the vicinity of Engineering).


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Susanne; considering her shot from Christchurch Airport (photo by A. Williamson, ANTNZ)


On Sunday we all got dressed up to play in our golfing gear; with plus-fours, tweed caps and rain-macs. Despite a couple of disqualifications for dubious golfing practice, a good game was played by all; a truly memorable Easter!


Of What Lies Within

Posted by Conservators Apr 13, 2012

Author: Stefan
Date: 10th April 2012
Temperature: -22C
Wind Speed: 15kts
Temp with wind chill: -41C
Sunrise: 9.17am
Sunset: 4.30pm

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Stefan delving into a tin of 100 year old custard. AHT Stefan

“The constant draw of the fume cabinet whirred steadily like the idling  of a contented bees nest. Nitrile gloves had enveloped my hands without a snag or curse, and the rare sense of ease filled me with anything but. The air was dense with a dull smell, which only rumoured to the true overwhelming nature of what stench could lie within the heart of the looming rusty monolith before me.  Armed only with a spoon, I approached the vessel in a familiar routine of dining, but dear lord this mass could not be stomached. With the lid tentatively removed, the greenish yellow contents emerged like a bad moon rising…custard.”


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Tin samples (left to right) custard, salt, anchovy paste, polishing compound. AHT Stefan


Emptying  tins is a daily occurrence working with AHT. Depending upon how badly the object is corroded/stained, you get a varying clarity of what you may have to empty and dispose of. The contents are only removed when objects are found to be leaking, and could place other parts of the collection at risk. The majority of the contents are placed in biohazard bags and flown back to New Zealand to be incinerated, yet we always take a small sample to be placed in science freezers, in order that we can research or investigate this material whenever we choose. Anchovy paste (suspected) has been the smelliest sample I’ve taken so far, but my team mates assure me that, chocolate and butter are far worse.


Remembering Scott

Posted by Conservators Apr 10, 2012

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

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

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

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


For God’s sake look after our people."

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

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


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


Fire in the Hole

Posted by Conservators Mar 15, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 14/03/12
Temperature: -8.7c
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Temp with wind chill: -16c
Sunrise: 6:58am
Sunset 9:02pm

The last few weeks have seen a great many changes as Scott Base has made the transition from summer to winter mode.  The summer is a hectic period of 24-hour daylight when there can be  as many as 90 people on base at any time, made up of science teams and project groups as well as support staff.  Now however, we are down to our full winter complement of 14; a skeleton base crew of 10, plus our 4 AHT conservators.  Officially this change was marked by the flag ceremony, a tradition dating back to 1957, when the youngest person on base is tasked with lowering the old summer flag and hoisting up the winter version; a small pennant-type standard that can better withstand the inclement weather to come.


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Flag ceremony at Scott Base © AHT/Susanne

Now, postcards and letters home have been hastily written to make the last mailbag, and last-minute orders of supplies and fresh vegetables have been received.  Finally, last Tuesday our crew gathered outside to toast the departure of the final flight from Pegasus Air Strip. Now there will be no movement on or off the continent until August.  An exciting time for all.


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The McMurdo ice pier used during summer for off-loading ship cargo; no longer needed and destroyed at the start of winter with high explosives

© AHT/Georgina

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