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Antarctic conservation

64 Posts tagged with the scott-base tag

News Team! Assemble!

Posted by Conservators Mar 4, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 21/02/12
Temperature: -3c
Wind Speed: 2 kts
Temp with wind chill: -5c
Sunrise: 3.26am
Sunset 12.50am


Whoever thought that being at the bottom of the world would open a door into the glittery world of TV glam!  On Saturday, TVNZ presenter Heather du Plessis-Allan and camera-man Byron Radford visited us at Scott Base to shoot some material about life in Antarctica as a feature for New Zealand’s Television One News.  As part of the shoot, our team was asked to talk about the conservation project and some of the conservation work we will be doing over the season.  This proved an excellent opportunity for us to showcase the work of the Trust, and also to pull out some of the more iconic artefacts, many of which we had yet to see.


Group During Break in Filming.jpg
In the AHT lab: a break during filming. © AHT/Susanne


After sprucing up the lab and combing our hair into some semblance of tidy, we each overcame our nerves to be interviewed in front of the camera.


Gretel During Filming.jpg

‘Alright, TVNZ, I’m ready for my close-up!’ Gretel works the shoot like a pro. © AHT/Susanne

Here at Scott Base we get one hour of news beamed in each day via satellite, which we can watch during dinner in the communal area. We are yet to learn whether our footage will make it onto national TV, but certainly our eyes will be glued to the box over the next few days.    


Author: Stefan Strittmatter
Date: 06/02/2012
Temperature: -11C
Wind Speed: 9kn
Temp with wind chill: -19C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

Life in Antarctica is a very human endeavor. For Captain Scott and the men of the 1910-13 expedition, and (to a much more flimsy degree) we four conservators, food (and its preparation) becomes of upmost importance very quickly.

Scott and his team were well placed at both Cape Evans and Discovery Hut to take advantage of the abundance of Weddell seals and their blubbery bounty. Al Fastier and his summer team of conservators have done a wonderful job of conserving an epic slab of this oozing mass of fat, (still present in the Cape Evans hut stables). Indeed a slight lean of the trough means there’s a filtered cup of oil slumped to the edge, making it effortless to visualize a frost bitten face swinging round the corner to scoop up and replenish a gasping stove.



Seal blubber trough outside Cape Evans Stables © AHT/Stefan

Nowhere near as hardy, Susanne, Gretel, George and I were happy to ditch the heroic approach, and cook with soot free faces on the nifty ‘Primus’ stoves,  Scott Base has kindly supplied us with for AFT (Antarctic Field Training). A bit of a fiddle at first, but once the white gas starts to roar and the first brew is at the boil, you can’t help but feel a certain bond and romance, about the hardship and fun this wonderful place can offer.


Cooking during winter AFT (Antarctic Field Training) © AHT/Stefan



Posted by Conservators Feb 13, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 26/02/12
Temperature: -4.8c
Wind Speed: 8 kn
Temp with wind chill: -13c
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


So here we are in Antarctica at last!

Gretel, Stefan and I have come from the UK, while Susanne our lead conservator hails from the USA.  We shall be here at New Zealand’s Scott Base in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica for the next 7 months during the Austral winter, and shall be conserving artefacts that have been temporarily transported here for the season from Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.  It has been a long road getting here for all of us, with the last few months being taken up with medical exams, psychometric testing, packing and general preparations, as well as saying goodbye to friends and family back home.


Group shot 2.jpg
Waiting to depart at Christchurch Airport. L-R: Jeff (winter mechanic), Susanne, Gretel, Stefan, George


Both Susanne and I are returnees, having worked on the programme before, but for Stefan and Gretel it is their first time in the big white South!

I  was last here in 2010 and am very much looking forward to experiencing a second winter.  Every season is unique according to group dynamics and personalities on base, not to mention the artefacts themselves posing new conservation challenges.

I had initially felt a little nervous about meeting my immediate AHT colleagues and wider Scot base family (a small team of 14 people in total), given that we will be living and working together so closely for so long… but things are looking good so far, so watch this space.



AHT winter team arrive on the ice! C 17

Author: John
Date: 13 December 2011
Temperature: -7.2°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: °C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset: N/A
Part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust conservation programmme is to conserve artefacts from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut over the winter. Artefacts are carefully packed and transported back to Scott Base where a team of four conservators will work on the artefacts in a specially provided conservation laboratory for return the following summer. Where the early explorers transported their supplies man hauling sledges, we use plastic cubers on sledges towed behind Hagglunds (tracked vehicles). The trip from Cape Evans back to Scott Base  is 25 km, travelling at 10 kph to ensure safe travelling for sometimes fragile artefacts.
Image 2.jpg
Loading artefacts in cubers on sledge © AHT/John
Transporting artefacts to Scott Base.jpg
Approaching Scott Base over the Sea Ice © AHT/John

Author: John
Date: 7th September 2011
Temperature: -29.3oC
Wind Speed: 20 Kts
Temp with wind chill: -52oC
Sunrise: 8.38am
Sunset: 5.08pm



No nice before and after treatment images this time to show what we do here at Scott Base conserving the objects for Scott’s Terra Nova expedition hut at Cape Evans. Even though the wood fibres are separating from being exposed to the extremes of Antarctic weather, this one only needed the ropes tied off with thread to keep them from unravelling further.


Mystery wooden object small.jpg

Mystery wooden object


It is an image of a puzzle – what is this object and what was its function way back in 1910-14?


Three identical, carefully shaped and chamfered pieces of wood, possibly oak, joined by two different diameters of very weathered rope. Two small remnants of dark dyed cotton thread wrapped around the thinner rope.


Across the centre of all three pieces is what appears to be a rough brush streak of tar, applied on one side only of two of the pieces and on both sides of the remaining piece.

An intriguing relic of the expedition.

Any suggestions?


Drawing Penguins

Posted by Conservators Jul 28, 2011

Author: Sarah
Date: 27 July 2011
Temperature: -25
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -30
Sunrise: Na
Sunset Na

The drawing of penguins has been done by many explorers. These quirky and amusing birds are a pleasure to draw. Edward Wilson, of Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova Expedition, was a master of drawing both Adelie and Emperor penguins. Wilson did both serious scientific drawing and comical pictures of the penguins.

Many of Wilson’s scientific drawings can be seen at the Scott Polar Institute website, one of my favourites is:

In this fine tradition, I began to draw penguins and in particular the Adelie penguins, whose antics and facial expression are so easy to caricature. I have been drawing cartoons of all the members of Scott Base and the picture shows us all together.



2011 penguin crew.jpg


Winter Overs’ Cartoon of the Scott Base crew as penguins © Sarah Clayton


Author: Julie
Date: 20/7/11
Temperature: -13.1
Wind Speed: 30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -21 C
Sunrise: August
Sunset August



Last weekend we went into “Condition 1”.  Condition 1 means life-threatening high winds, whiteout conditions, and/or low temperatures. We didn’t get the low temperatures – in fact, the opposite: temperature rose to a balmy - 6.4 degrees C at one point, as frequently happens during a storm – but we had winds that reached a maximum of 74 knots shortly after midnight Sunday morning, along with some snowfall, resulting in metres-high drifts.  We weren’t allowed to leave the base during the storm, but I did go out on a semi-protected porch and stick my head into the wind to see what it was like.  Yes, it was windy.  You can get a sense of condition 1 from this video:


By chance, the day the storm abated it was my day to be the “mouse.”  Being the mouse is a duty inflicted on all winter-over base staff by turns.  During the day, it involves monitoring the radio traffic, answering the phone, keeping track of who is off base, where they are, and when they’re supposed to be back.  Sometime around 10 – 11 pm, the mouse does “mouse rounds,” meaning the mouse checks laboratories, workshops, machine rooms, hazardous materials storerooms, and other spaces -- both inside and outside -- to make sure nothing is leaking or making strange noises, that appliances are turned off, that snow is shoveled away from emergency exits, that vehicles outside are plugged into engine heaters, and that things are generally in order.


Nice snowdrift.  Somebody, probably me, is going to have to dig out that door.  © AHT/Julie


As mouse, I was one of the first people to go walk around in all of the newly deposited giant snowdrifts.  Snow was still falling (wet snow – weird), and it was quiet and beautiful.  I did the rounds, jumped into some drifts, made a couple of snow angels, did a little sketch of pressure ridges (it was warm enough to take my gloves off), and listened to the “whoosh” of the wind farm turbines in the dark, clearly audible a kilometre away.


2 _Vehicles at hitching rail resized.jpg
All these vehicles are plugged in.  I checked. © AHT/Julie


Author: Sarah

Date: 6 July 2011
Temperature: -25
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -25
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA

Last week a very fragile, well worn and sooty jacket arrived on my desk for treatment, from Cape Evans.  The only indication as to who could have worn the jacket was a makers tag in the back of the neck, which reads ‘Morsheads, Gents and Ladies Tailors, Ballarat’.



Jacket once worn by Richard Walter Richards, GC © AHT/Sarah



Ballarat is a city in the centre of the State of Victoria, Australia. Knowing Ballarat, this piqued my interest, so I read through the explorers biographies and discovered that Richard Walter Richards, GC, often referred to as Dick Richards, was born in Bendigo, Victoria in 1893. Bendigo is not far from Ballarat and Dick Richards had started his science teaching career in Ballarat not long before heading South with Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in December 1914.

My interest was further sparked as I read on. Dick Richards was awarded the Albert Medal, which was later upgraded to the George Cross, for gallant conduct in saving the lives of Mackintosh and Hayward. The George Cross is the civilian equivalent to the Victoria Cross, the highest award possible.
Yet again this simple object reminds me of the suffering of the Ross Sea Party. But also to put it in Richard Walter Richards’ own words ‘it was not futile, but was a demonstration of what the human spirit could accomplish in adversity.’


Fire Alarm

Posted by Conservators Jul 5, 2011

Author: Martin

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

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


fire fighting gear - ready to go.jpg

Fire fighting gear — ready to go © AHT/Martin

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

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

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


Taking the plunge

Posted by Conservators Jun 27, 2011

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


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

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

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

Image 1.jpg

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


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

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


A total lunar eclipse

Posted by Conservators Jun 24, 2011

Author: Julie

Date: 24 June 2011

Temperature: -33

Wind Speed: 2 knots

Sunrise: August 2011

Sunset: August 2011





Early morning on 16 June, a full lunar eclipse was visible from Scott Base.   The eclipse started at 6:22 a.m., so a few of us planned to get up early that morning and hike to the top of Observation Hill,  one of the highest peaks within easy hiking distance, from which we would have had a great view.   However, the night before, we went into a “condition 1” storm (condition 1 means extremely high winds and whiteout conditions), and when we got up early the next day, we were still at “condition 2.”  At condition 2, there is better visibility, but it’s not good weather for a hike.


However, we got lucky.  Although the snow was blowing around furiously on the ground, amazingly, the sky was clear and the moon was fully visible from the Scott Base lounge.  Four of us sat in the lounge that morning and watched the moon go to full eclipse at 7:22.  Only minutes after the eclipse went total, a heavy cloud cover moved in.  We completely lost the glowing red, shadowed moon during most of the total eclipse and could not see the edge of the moon reappear at 9:02; however, for just a few minutes right before the eclipse finished at 10:02, the moon was spotted again, and some of us rushed back to the windows to watch the shadow move away and the moon come back to full.


Lunar eclipse at almost total.jpg

     Lunar eclispe at almost total © AHT


Finding The Way

Posted by Conservators Jun 16, 2011

Author: Martin

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

P1010303 (2).jpg

Flags ready to go © AHT/ Martin 

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


Out on the ice in the afternoon  © Troy Beaumont


Boxes repaired by Martin

Posted by Conservators Jun 12, 2011

Author: Julie


Date: 8/6/11
Temperature: -17.8
Wind Speed: 42 kts
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: August
Sunset August




C Michael Morrison.jpg



Repaired historic boxes in situ at Cape Royds © Michael Morrison


As Martin has written in previous blogs, his job is to repair deteriorated historic wooden food crates so that they are structurally stable.  If sections of the timber boards are missing, Martin remakes the missing sections and inserts them back into the box like puzzle pieces.  The fills make the boxes more weathertight, and, together with other structural repairs to the box interiors, allow the boxes to carry the necessary weight and to withstand extreme wind and temperature differentials.  As is considered ethical in the field of conservation, the fills amalgamate visually with the original box, but remain distinguishable as new material (they are marked on their interior faces).  In that way there is no confusion about what is original to 1911 and what AHT has added in 2011.





Photo 1 Box AHT9043 1.jpg

Missing section of timber replicated on box AHT9043.1. © AHT

Martin is using Scott’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) for the box repairs.  The growth rings of that timber are very close together, making it particularly stable.  Additionally, Scott’s Pine is compatible with the species identified as having been used for the historic boxes, including spruce, pine, and fir. What Martin hasn’t talked about is how aesthetically striking some of his repairs are.  Over time, the new wood will weather to match the old, and the repairs will not stand out visually.  However, when Martin first repairs the boxes, the new and old wood contrast, and the effect can be quite beautiful, like elegantly crafted pieces of sculpture.


Photo 3 Repairs to box AHT9251 1.jpg
Repairs to box AHT9251.1: from an aesthetic standpoint, my favorite box so far.  © AHT


Party at Scott Base

Posted by Conservators Jun 10, 2011

Author: Jane


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

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

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

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

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


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


Ice and Snow Formations

Posted by Conservators Jun 3, 2011

Date: 02/06/2011


Posted by Julie


Temperature: -22

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



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


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


faceted ice crystal.jpg

Faceted ice crystal. © AHT/Julie

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


Jane as a radioactive rhino.jpg

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

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


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

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