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Change,  What Change?

Posted by Conservators Aug 10, 2011

Author: Martin

Date: 9/8/2011
Temperature: -27 degree C
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Temp with wind chill: -47 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


Earlier today Troy, our Base Manager and field support person here at Scott Base in Antarctica, did a stock take and de-cluttered a space nobody seems to have looked at for quite a while.  Out came a box full of extreme weather gloves accumulated probably since the early days of Scott Base in the late1950s.  A glove history reaching back a few decades.  Looking at them in detail, I was struck by the fact that what we are currently wearing has hardly changed over the years.

 

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Gloves through the decades © AHT/Martin

 

Colour and style may have adapted to fashion sense, but the principle of inner and outer shells, long sleeves with two tie strings and the all important nose wiper(the fluffy bit),  has not changed at all.

 

Going back further it is obvious that the gloves of the early explorers are a bit more rugged, but I am sure that there is at least one feature that has not changed at all even since then: the impossibility to do any meaningful task with them apart from just holding on to something.

 

To view historic gloves click here.


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Filming in Antarctica

Posted by Conservators Aug 4, 2011

Author: Jane
Date: 3rd August 2011
Temperature: -11°C
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Temp with wind chill: -25°C

We are continuing our work on objects from the dark room at Cape Evans. I have just finished conserving a film processing board from this area of the hut. Herbert Ponting was the photographer with Scott’s Terra Nova expedition and he was one of the first people to film in Antarctica. The films were to be used to document and fund the expedition retrospectively.

 

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Film processing board after conservation © AHT/Jane


The film processing board is metal with rows of pins arranged in such a way that the film could be mounted and then immersed in chemicals to develop the images. Holes in the base of the board allowed the developing solution to drain away and the film to dry before it was ready to be viewed.

 

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Film changing bag after conservation © AHT/Sarah


Ponting also used photographs to document the expedition. Sarah has recently been working on a film changing bag, also from the dark room at Cape Evans. Ponting would have used this to change the photographic film in the plate holder. Two red-coloured eye lenses mounted in leather allowed him to see into the bag without exposing the negative.

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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:

 

http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/catalogue/article/n1493/


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.

 

 

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

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Transitions  A Sequel

Posted by Conservators Jul 27, 2011

Author: Martin
Date: 26.7.2011
Temperature: -27 degree C
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Temp with wind chill: -55  degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


It was more than six months ago that I wrote about the transition from summer to winter life here at Scott Base in Antarctica. How it felt to see a very busy high energy summer season turn into a long, dark and more inward looking winter.

 

Now after six months of having the base to ourselves and getting very used to it, our winter over team of 14 has somewhat mixed feelings about shifting into another gear again. Even though the arrival of the first plane is still almost a month away, the change ahead is clearly on everybody’s minds. Making plans for the near future, trying to finish off outstanding work, getting the base in order is mixed up with the growing excitement about more and more light appearing during the day and some special fresh food soon to come off the plane. But there is also sadness in realising that the close knit, family-like life of the past six  months comes to an end the moment the plane touches down. Our small team of conservators leaves, some new people come in and the staff at Scott Base will turn into the home stretch before the main season kicks off early October.

 

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First Light - Credit AHT/ Julie

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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.

 

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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.

 

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All these vehicles are plugged in.  I checked. © AHT/Julie

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Wool the Wonder Fibre

Posted by Conservators Jul 21, 2011

Author: Sarah

Date: 20 July 2011
Temperature: -14
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -36
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA

 

 

The use of wool as a textile and clothing fibre dates back many millennia. So it is not surprising to find wool being the predominant fibre of choice for the Antarctic explorer during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s and Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expeditions in the Heroic period (1895-1915).

 
Many of the thermal clothing items that the explorers wore were commercially made and supplied by brands such as Wolsey and Jaeger.  The Wolsey thermal top (pictured) is from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, and is grubby from use and patched, most probably by  a member of the Ross Sea Party.

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Wolsey brand wool thermal top © AHT/ Sarah

 

When I was growing up in the 1970s seventies synthetic fibres were seen as the new miracle fibre for all manner of applications.  In the 1980s synthetic fibres such as Polypro were used extensively for thermal underwear, despite the horrid smell they often attained after wearing when exercising and their slightly harsh nature.


I  was greatly relieved, when I first started coming to Antarctica, when a friend told me to invest in a set of ‘new’ woollen thermals that were starting to appear in the New Zealand market in the late 1990s.   Ahhh, the joys of a natural soft fibre that can be worn for many days when camping without getting smelly.

 
Now, in 2011, you can’t enter an outdoor gear supplier without finding merino wool thermal underwear adorning the shelves.  It goes to prove that animals have adapted very well to their environments and natural fibres are still far superior to their synthetic counterparts when it comes to thermal insulation. The Heroic explorers were probably as comfortable as we are today in their thermal underwear.

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Red Delights

Posted by Conservators Jul 20, 2011

Author: Martin

Date: 12/07/11
Temperature: - 24 degree C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -38 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


Most people would have experienced that the increase in craving for a particular type of food is directly proportional to the degree of difficulty in obtaining it. Since it is impossible to get fresh food to Scott Base during the 5.5 months of winter, our team’s preoccupation with it is quite understandable. Luckily our chef  Lance anticipated it and initiated and installed a small hydroponic unit in our dining hall at Scott Base. The effect is quite amazing.

 

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The Garden - Martin

 

Firstly it is a nice feature and people love to see something growing. (Some have also been seen with their head inside trying to catch a bit of UV light). Secondly it is an entertaining game amongst us, because each plant is named after a team member. So it is a constant contest of “who is growing faster, stronger, tastier etc.” However being the fastest growing is also the quickest way to finding your name on the menu. Thirdly, but most importantly - eating what we have seen growing. Tomatoes are a good example. Everybody wants to eat 10 at a time but is likely to be too polite to even eat their fair share. So it did not take long before the tomato chart was up and running and recording people’s tomato consumption.  This put everybody’s mind at ease.

 

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The Chart - Martin

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Author: Jane
Date: 07/06/11
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -42°C
Sunrise:
Sunset

 


We have a radio station at Scott Base. 97FM keeps us entertained at work and in the bar in the evenings. We do not really have any TV stations, which is quite nice, although we do get the TVNZ news every evening so we can keep in touch with what is happening around the world.

 

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Johnny 5 giving us the run down of daily events on 97FM Scott Base radio.© Aht/Jane

Our communication engineer, Anthony, also known as Johnny 5, is our resident DJ. We all create playlists, which he changes regularly, but not often enough sometimes. Every now and then we will ring him with requests to play, or stop playing a particular song.


We even have promos on the radio which have been recorded by past residents of the Base, including one by Sir Ed Hillary.


Every morning, Johnny 5 gives us the weather and a run down of the daily events on Ross Island in his usual witty way. This often involves a prelude to what Lance has prepared for morning tea and every now and then a secret recording of someone having a rant about world politics and the proliferation of zombies in the area.


97FM may have an audience of only 14, but we think it has broken some world record for more plays of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ than any other radio station in the world.

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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’.

 

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

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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.’

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Author: Julie
Date: 29/6/11
Temperature: -28
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 41
Sunrise: August
Sunset August



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The wind farm from Crater Hill.  Photo: Julie

Scott Base is powered by wind turbines.  Installed by Antarctica New Zealand and Meridan Energy in 2009, the three wind turbines are producing all the electrical power that Scott Base needs, plus a large surplus which is directed to the United States’ McMurdo Station.  More information on the wind turbines is here:
http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/scott-base/ross-island-wind-energy

 

An earlier blog entry about the wind turbines is here:
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/antarctic-conservation/blog/2010/09/14/changing-the-oil-in-the-wind-turbines

 

Part of the Scott Base winter-over staff work programmme is to maintain the wind farm.  Ground temperatures are measured as part of the environmental monitoring at the turbines.  Last week I drove with Victoria, the Scott Base Science Technician, up to the wind farm to take thermistor string readings.  Thermistor strings measure the ground temperature at various depths around the turbines, basically by measuring electric resistance, which varies with temperature.

 

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Victoria takes a thermistor string reading from inside the comfort of a truck.  Photo: Julie

There are three thermistor units.  One can be read without getting out of the vehicle, sort of like using a drive-up ATM machine (except that you don’t drive away with more cash).  The other two require actually putting on cold weather gear and getting out of the truck.

 

Back at the base, Victoria enters all data into a spreadsheet and generates an ongoing graph of temperatures with respect to depth.  As you might expect, half a metre down the temperatures follow the air temperatures, fluctuating widely.  However, at 12 metres down, the temperatures remain fairly stable at about -17 C, only fluctuating a couple of degrees a year.

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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.

 

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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.        

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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.

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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.

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Midwinter dinner

Posted by Conservators Jun 24, 2011

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     Scott Base team at midwinter. Photo: Jane

 

Midwinter is an important turning point in the life of all Antarctic winter-overs. Greetings and invitations to midwinter dinners are sent out by all the Antarctic stations. It is a time to reflect on the achievement of past explorers, the scientific work that is being done around the continent and to look forward to the coming light and reunions with friends and family.


Last night, on the 100th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott’s last midwinter dinner, the team at Scott Base commemorated the occasion with a magnificent meal prepared by our chef Lance, and then a great party afterwards. Julie prepared a menu in the style of Edward Wilson’s original watercolour menu. The dining room was festooned with the flags of the Antarctic treaty nations and smaller route flags of red and black.  15 invited guests from McMurdo Station joined us for the festivities.


It was a wonderful evening, shared with great friends, in a very special part of the world.

 

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     Midwinter dinner menu. Photo: Julie

 

Posted by: Sarah

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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.

 

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     Lunar eclispe at almost total © AHT

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The Bare Essentials

Posted by Conservators Jun 16, 2011

Author: Sarah

 

Date: 15 June 2011
Temperature: -13 Deg C
Wind Speed: 35 knots
Temp with wind chill: - 27
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A



In 1914 a group of men known as the “Ross Sea Party” landed at Cape Evans on Ross Island.  The Ross Sea Party’s mission was to lay vital food and equipment depots for Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition which was planning to cross Antarctica.


A small science party was to remain ashore.  Apart from some stores, very little equipment and no clothing was taken ashore.  On 6 May 1914 the ship the Aurora was blown out to sea and could not return. The ten men ashore feared the worst, thinking all hands had been lost.


The men decided that their second planned trip to cache supplies for Shackleton must be completed despite their setbacks and lack of supplies. They had no way of knowing that the Endurance was also in terrible trouble, and the depots they would lay, which took a deadly toll, would never be used.
Lacking the appropriate clothing, the Ross Sea Party improvised sledging clothing from fabric and tents left behind by Scott’s 1910 expedition.  Below is an image of a handmade jacket sewn from canvas material, that is also found in the hut as curtains, insulation and bags.  Although sewn with a heavy hand, the jacket with its wooded toggle buttons is very well crafted.   The wind proof trousers are made from green canvas, which is also found as tents, tarpaulins and bags inside the hut at Cape Evans.

 

 

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Ross Sea Party hand-made jacket © AHT

 

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The grimy, sooty nature of both articles of clothing tells the tale of the hardship that the Ross Sea Party went through.  The men saved precious fuel for depot laying and burned seal blubber for heating and cooking, the greasy soot infiltrating all aspects of life in the hut.
 

Ross sea part hand-made trousers © AHT

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