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Sea Anchor

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2011

Posted by Sarah, conservator with the Antarctic Heritage Trust

 

Date: 18 April 2011
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -28

Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA


Two items arrived on my desk at Scott Base a few weeks ago. The catalogue record described them as wind socks, but as soon as I opened up the box I realised that what I had were not wind socks.


The items are cone shaped canvas devices with a wooden loop at the large end. Three ropes are tied around the wooden loop and extend to a central point above the cone of fabric.  The material is far too heavy and there is no swivel point to allow the cones to catch the wind direction.


I had no idea what they could be used for. I wondered if they would have been used to dredge water or other items from the ocean, as they showed signs of being in salt water, and having just treated the plankton net, I was thinking they could be related to science.


The week I was treating these unknown items, we had a tour of the lab for staff from the American Base, McMurdo Station. It was then that a number of Americans on the tour suggested they could be small sea anchors or drogues.
Drogues used in the ocean, attached to a small boat to slow or help steady it and have been used since antiquity.


The shape, construction and size is certainly correct for a small boat.

 

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Sea Anchors from Cape Evans © AHT

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Sun Dogs

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2011

Posted by Jane, conservator with the Antarctic Heritage Trust

 

Date: 19th May 2011
Temperature: -19°C
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40°C
Sunrise:
Sunset


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Sun Dog between Mount Erebus and Mount Terror © AHT/Jane


We were treated to a rare sight just before the sun left us a few weeks ago. A really spectacular sun dog was visible when the sun was low beside Mount Erebus. Sun dogs are seen as a ring of light or halo around the sun with bright spots on either side. They are often seen in Antarctica when small ice crystals are blown up into the air. As they fall towards the ground, they align vertically and act as prisms which defract the light creating the effect. It is a really spectacular sight which we will unfortunately not see again for some time!

 

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Bright spot from the side of the sundog in front of Mount Erebus © AHT/Jane

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Author: Julie
Date: 11/5/11
Temperature: 17
Wind Speed: 11
Temp with wind chill: -24
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

 


On our work list is an object from Scott’s hut at Cape Evans described as: Wooden case, marked: To be sent away by August 20th 1910. Balloons for South Expedition, 2 large canvas items, disintegrating celluloid.  The box was assumed to contain Scott’s weather balloons.   Last week we brought the box inside to begin work.  Well… in the end this box contained 43 items, none of them weather balloons, and none of them celluloid.  Several are mysterious.  Amongst the contents, things that I am personally fond of include:


A sheaf of amber-coloured transparent sheets.  It’s not celluloid, cellulose acetate or cellulose nitrate, but it does react like sized gelatin.  We are not sure what this is.  It does not seem to be cooking gelatin.  It is not film.  Historic tracing paper? Any ideas?


A felt-covered aluminum canteen with a cork stopper, with as-yet unidentified crystallized contents.


Several sections of ‘London Magazine’, including a racy story about Peggy who is about to marry a man who had a fling with her Aunt Bella, and Bella is scheming to break up the engagement. I’ll never know the outcome asI can’t turn the page!


11 small cotton ration bags, some containing dried figs, raisins, and cocoa.  Elsewhere in the box were plum pits, tea, biscuits, and canned goods.

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Disintegrating amber-colored sheets in situ in the box © AHT/Sarah

 

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A Box of History

Posted by Conservators May 15, 2011

Author: Guest blogger Jana


Date: 10/5/11
Temperature: -21
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Temp with wind chill: -27
Sunrise: August
Sunset

 

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A box of mystery tins from Cape Royds © AHT

 

A Box Of History

 

A box made of wood,
At first glance rather ordinary,
With a closer look,
Steeped in history,
Shrouded by mystery,
An artefact, a reminder of the past,
Of the hardship endured down South.

One of many to be conserved by Sarah, Julie, Martin and Jane,
A task fit only for the patient or perhaps a Saint.

Huddled around this box of hidden treasure,
Meat, medicine or soap? Hard to gather,
Ready to unleash what dormant for decades has been,
Martin with his tools and utmost care breaks in,
And we all peek in.

At the history that lies within…

 

Author Bio:
Jana is the Scott Base first aider, domestic, and a member of the Search and Rescue team.  She was present at the opening of a box of tins from Cape Royds, opened for the first time in 100 years.  We are still trying to identify the contents of the tins.


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Freezing Antifreeze

Posted by Conservators May 10, 2011

Posted by Jane

 

Date: 4th May 2011
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C


I have been working on a can of what we believe is antifreeze from Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. It was probably brought for use on the Arrol Johnson car, the first vehicle in Antarctica.


I wanted to find out what I could about the liquid in case it had any health and safety implications in the lab or in the hut. I also wanted to add as much information to the records as possible for future reference. We are limited in how much we can find out here as we do not have the equipment to do sophisticated analysis. I was able to carry out a few simple tests, but these have not provided us with any conclusive answers.

 

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The can of anti-freeze from Cape Royds, after conservation © AHT


I ruled out alcohols and salt solutions straight away as these would have evaporated off. The liquid is oily brown and I initially thought it was ethylene glycol, a substance still used as antifreeze today. It has a sweet smell which is characteristic of ethylene glycol.


I put our local environment to use in my efforts and tried to freeze the liquid. Outside it was -35°C but the liquid did not freeze, although it did become quite syrupy. Our base mechanic gave me a refractometer which he uses to test the antifreeze in our  vehicles. We found that if it is ethylene glycol, it is at least 70% pure and will prevent freezing down to at least -50°C.
Impressive for antifreeze that is over 100 years old!

 

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The handwritten label from the can which reads ‘a little of this amongst the water helps prevent freezing’ © AHT


If anyone out there has any ideas about what our antifreeze might be, please send us a comment.

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Midnight  Alert

Posted by Conservators May 10, 2011

Posted by Martin


Date: 4.5.2011
Temperature: -31 degree C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

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Aurora Australis over Scott Base - Troy Beaumont

It was well after midnight when our base manager, Troy, was woken up by his pager. He carries it with him day and night in order to be alerted to any kind of emergency requiring immediate attention. A quick glance at the pager however reminded him that he had put himself on the Aurora Alert list. Anyone who sees an Aurora Australis (also known as Southern Lights), can phone in the information to McMurdo station which then gets relayed to people on the list. And it is certainly a sight worth getting out of bed for. A mesmerizing, magical light display with sheets of green light moving like curtains in a breeze across a dark sky. The light of an Aurora is emitted by atoms, molecules and ions in the upper atmosphere that have been excited by the solar wind, which is basically a stream of electrons and protons. The density of magnetic field lines in the polar regions channels this effect and makes it visible.  

 

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Aurora Australis over Scott Base - Troy Beaumont

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Mysterious white powder

Posted by Conservators May 4, 2011

Posted by  Julie


Date: 26/4/11
Temperature: -20
Wind Speed: 22
Temp with wind chill: -40
Sunrise: August
Sunset


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Americans invade the conservation lab and Sarah keeps them enthralled with fun facts about old textiles.  © AHT/Julie

There is a good deal of interest in our conservation work from the Americans working four kilometers away at McMurdo Station.  In response, one night after dinner the AHT conservators ran tours through the conservation lab for a total of about 30 visiting Americans.

 

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Tin of mysterious white powder. © AHT/Julie

One of the objects we showed on our tour was a tin from Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.  Full of white powder with a little handmade scoop (made from the lid of a ‘round fifties’ carton of cigarettes), the tin has a handwritten label that is only partially legible.  We asked the Americans: can you read this label?  It was a genuine question as we hadn’t completely deciphered it ourselves. - We had done some chemical tests on the powder and it was not reacting as it should have based on our guesswork.

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Detail of label. © AHT/Julie

The Americans came through!  A couple of people on the tour read the label as, ‘French chalk’.  (French chalk is another name for talcum powder.)  Mystery solved!  Talcum powder could have had a number of uses: not only was it used as a skin and foot powder, it could have been used as a lubricant for machinery (it is helpful in the repair of tyres) and can also be used to remove grease.

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Boxes 3. Installment

Posted by Conservators Apr 20, 2011

Posted by Martin

 

Date: 20.4.2011
Temperature: -23degree C
Wind Speed: 5knots
Temp with wind chill: -30 degree C
Sunrise: 10:49
Sunset 14:54


Photo Description & Credit 1: Snow drift in front of container line ©
Photo Description & Credit 2: Snowed in box

Well, rather than another box installment, this could more fittingly be called ‘Boxes Stalling’. About a week ago we had a storm that really earned its name. Gusts up to 65 knots and enormous amounts of snow blown around the base and dumped in various places.

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Snow drift in front of container line © AHT/Martin

Eager to get to my next historic box, once it was over, I found myself shoveling snow for the next hour. In order to get to our outside storage container door, I had to cut a trench into a big snow drift right in front of the container line. I got my box in the end, worked on it, but then had to store it over night.

 

 

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Snowed in box © AHT/Martin

Being sure that all the wild weather was gone I put it into an open crate just outside our back door, only to find it in the morning completely buried under another lot of snow. Rescuing it yet again, I reminded myself that you never, ever trust the weather in Antarctica. Luckily these historic storage boxes have been in this climate outside Shackleton's Nimrod Hut for about 100 years and have become quite used to it.         

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Flying Kites

Posted by Conservators Apr 20, 2011

Posted by Sarah

 

Date: 20 April 2011
Temperature: -23 Deg C
Wind Speed: 5 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -45 Deg C
Sunrise: 10:49
Sunset 14:54



At the weekend four of us took a day trip to Room with a View to see the sunset. It was an amazing day as the colours in the sky were constantly changing from the moment we left Scott Base until we drove into mist on the way home. The photos don’t really do the place justice as it is hard to capture the 360 degree views, starting in the north with Mt Erebus, Cape Evans and the Dellbridge Islands to the north west, west down the Erebus Ice Tongue and the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, Hut Point Peninsula and Black and White Island to the south and Mt Terror and Mt Terra Nova to the north east.

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Kites at Room with a View © AHT/Sarah

The weather, with just a slight breeze, made it perfect for flying kites. Troy had taken his large kite and skis for some kite skiing.  Victoria had brought her small stunt kite. Skiing was not possible due to the sheer depth of soft snow but both kites were in the air and made a spectacular sight, with the Dellbridge Islands and Cape Evans in the background.

 

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Troy kite skiing © AHT/Sarah

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Posted by Jane

 

 

Last week we decided to inspect the cross on Observation Hill before we lose the sun completely. We waited for a day with good weather. Friday was the perfect day - the sun was shining and there was barely a cloud in the sky. It was a good decision as the weather became quite stormy the following day.

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The AHT team on Ob Hill - Jane, Martin, Sarah and Julie (in Dr. Wilson style heroic stance) © AHT/Jane

The hill is quite steep in places and there was plenty of snow covering the ground so I climbed in a rather unelegant fashion up the slopes like a mountain goat about to fall off the side of a cliff.


At the top, the view was remarkable. The Transantarctic Mountains across the sound appeared as though a painting and McMurdo, which usually looks like a dirty mining town, looked slightly more attractive than usual with a light dusting of snow.

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Looking out over the Transantarctic mountains ©AHT/Jane

The cross was erected in 1913 and still looks the same even though the paint has now all but gone. It still sits on top of Observation Hill looking South toward Minna Bluff and the Pole in memory of Scott, Bowers, Oates and Evans.

 

Date: 13/04/11
Temperature: -19.2°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -26°C
Sunrise: 09.36
Sunset 16.09
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Pemmican

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2011

Posted by Julie

 

A can of pemmican from Captain Scott’s Cape Evans hut  © AHT

 

In “The Worst Journey In the World.” Apsley Cherry-Garrard describes a vaguely masochistic experiment undertaken during an already torturous winter expedition: “By taking individually different quantities of biscuit, pemmican and butter we were able to roughly test the proportions of proteids, fats and carbohydrates wanted by the human body under such extreme circumstances.” He reports that Bowers, eating excess pemmican “was all right (this was usual with him) but he did not eat all his extra pemmican.  Bill could not eat all his extra butter, but was satisfied.  I got hungry, certainly got more frost-bitten than the others, and wanted more fat.  I also got heartburn.”  The conclusion?  Pemmican: better than biscuits!

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Lance checks the drying beef and berries © AHT/Julie

Luckily for us, our excellent cook, Lance, decided to make us some pemmican, using a secret recipe which I promised to never divulge.  Okay, I’ll tell you.  Slice thin some lean, grass-fed shoulder roast, and salt and pepper liberally.  Dry the meat along with some wild blueberries for 15 hours in a warm oven.  Pulverize.  Render some fat.  Strain the fat.  Mix it all together, and let it firm up.  Cut into squares or roll into balls.  The recipe concludes, “Pemmican will keep almost forever.”  (Ha – we conservators will be the judge of that.) Being vegetarian, I of course can’t comment on the taste.  Okay, it was delicious.

Date: 11/4/11
Temperature: -20
Wind Speed: 30 knots
Temp with wind chill: -37
Sunrise: 09:19
Sunset 16:28

Sledging rations on Scott’s 1910-1912 expedition included canned pemmican, a mixture of fat, dried meat, and dried fruit ground together.
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Posted by Martin Wenzel


Date: 6.4.2011
Temperature: -23 Degree C
Wind Speed: 5 to 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35 Degree C
Sunrise: O8:39
Sunset 17:10

 

As they say: “You can never have enough clamps”. It is certainly true while I am conserving hundreds of wooden food storage boxes here at Scott Base in Antarctica. After transporting them from the expedition bases of R.F.Scott and E. Shackleton to Scott Base, we have temporarily stored them in unheated containers outside the base.

 

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Box before treatment © AHT / Martin

 

From there I take them one by one into our heated lab space and work on them as quickly as possible. In order to avoid splitting, distorting and delaminating, it is important to reduce to a minimum the time they are exposed to the warm and dry atmosphere inside.  It almost becomes a game to try to do simultaneously as many gluing steps as possible.

 

 

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Clamping © AHT / Martin

Once the clamps are off after about 2 to 3 hours, parts get reassembled, nailed joints strengthened and contents returned. Depending on the condition, a box will be out of the lab the same day, stored again at -20 to -30 degree C and waiting to be transported back to its original location.  

 

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Treated box © AHT/ Martin

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Catching Plankton

Posted by Conservators Apr 12, 2011

Posted by Sarah

 

Date: 6 April 2011
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: 08:39
Sunset 10:10


Science was at the forefront for Captain Scott's 1910 Terra Nova Expedition. Seven scientists made up the expedition crew, looking at every aspect of science in Antarctica.  When I opened a large package marked ‘net’, I was intrigued to find a large plankton net.

 

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Plankton Net from Cape Evans © AHT


Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the assistant Zoologist, in the ‘The Worst Journey in the world’ writes ‘The diatoms were so abundant in the Ross Sea, that the large plankton net (18 meshes to an inch) became choked in a few minutes, with them and other members of phytoplankton’. The plankton net that is currently sitting on my desk has 27 meshes to an inch! One can only imagine how choked it may have become.


There is a picture by Herbert Ponting depicting Nelson the Zoologist preparing a townet for use on the 15th March of 1911. Edward Wilson in his diary of the 24 October 1911, talks about Nelson, ‘all through the winter kept a good hole in a shelter off the end of the cape which he visited and worked at every day…. Here plankton samples were taken as short intervals with townets of various meshes.’


I think this is the only remaining complete plankton net from Cape Evans. It is in remarkably good condition, still structurally strong, the mesh I suspect is made of horse hair. I wonder how many times it was used and what secretes of the deep it revealed?

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Room With a View

Posted by Conservators Apr 1, 2011

Posted by Jane


Date: 30th March 2011
Temperature: -19°C
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Temp with wind chill: -30°C
Sunrise: 08.47
Sunset 19.06

 

A small group of us went on a camping trip last weekend to a place called Room With a View. It is an area on the side of Mount Erebus, the southern-most volcano in the world and the dominant feature on Ross Island.

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Our polar tents with Mount Discovery in the background  © AHT/Jane

 

 

The trip up in the Hagglund was slow because of the deep soft snow and it felt like a rollercoaster ride in some places. We arrived just in time to see the sun set over McMurdo Sound. The weather was perfect, only about -15-20°C and not a breath of wind.

 

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The rough terrain we had to drive over and flags nearly completely submerged by snow. A sun-dog is just visible to the left of the flags. © AHT/Jane

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Disappearing Sun Haikus

Posted by Conservators Apr 1, 2011

Authors: Julie, Sarah, Martin, and guest bloggers

 

Date: 30/3/11
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 18
Temp with wind chill: -38
Sunrise: 08:47
Sunset 19:06

We are impressed by the quantity of poetry written by all those scientists and explorers, the early heroes of Antarctic exploration.  Following in the footsteps of the giants of polar exploration, as the sun disappears, we too, write poetry.

 

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Sunset  © AHT/Jane

 

Disappearing Sun Haikus
Seems kind of dark out
That is one awesome sunrise
I need more coffee       -- Julie

 

I’m completely lost
Why is it so dark out there
Where the heck am I?      -- Sarah

 

Faulheit, wer weiss es
Vielleicht nur ein bisschen Ruhe
Wann kommst Du wieder?      -- Martin

 

Orange blue orange
Blue orange blue orange blue
Orange blue orange     – Anonymous Scott Base resident

 

As we spin along
The plane of the ecliptic
The earth hides the sun.      – Anonymous Scott Base resident

Talk like a penguin
Roll like a cute baby seal
Look up and it’s dark      -- Anonymous Scott Base resident

 

Hey look, our new friends!
Venus, Canopus, Rigel,
Alpha Centauri…        -- Anonymous Scott Base resident

 

Farewell to the Sun
Ceaseless day is gone,
Farewell to the dusk and dawn
And the warmth and light.
Welcome never-ending night,
Sky, stars and the Moon…
A farce, a plight, doom and gloom?
Or just a magic,
A new fairytale to bloom…
The tale of the SUN,
The balance of Yin and Yang…     -- Anonymous McMurdo Station Guest Poet


Sunset Sestina
That time of year again.  Our round, most constant sun
Disintegrates in atmospheric ripples, green
and blue and red and yellow, paints new shadows, pours
itself into the blazing clouds, illuminates
the smallest ridges, gives an edge of glory now
to every passing step on this, our icy world.

This moment of our day is only that.  The world's
adventure takes us farther into darkness; Sun
will vanish in mere days, a week at most.  But now
there's wonder to be found in every bit of green
that shimmers.  The projection that illuminates
our wall shows sunspots, smokes and quivers as it pours

into our lucky eyes.   Can we say it pours
into our hearts as well?  Why ever not?  The world
is like that.  We decide what sun illuminates
our hidden places; we decide to let this sun
be more than just a splotch of light, be growth and green
things, fruits and flowers, a riot of colors inside us now.

You can't assume we all are eager for this now.
“Stay, sun.  Don't go, not yet!” we say, as daylight pours
away, swirls too swiftly down the drain.  Green
flash?  That's nifty, yes, but must it mean the world
is racing into night?  Life without the sun?
A scary thought.  Yet even fear illuminates

the inner landscape.  We expect illumination
here, and grumble when it doesn't strike.  But now
we must forget all that.  The circling of the sun
reminds us that it's time to sleep.  Our efforts pour
into another day of work: building worlds
from boxes big and small, harvesting the green-

house, gathering data, cleaning floors.  Some are green
with envy, hearing of our lives.  “Illuminate
us too,” they cry.  “Tell us how it is.  Our world
is so mundane.”  A plan: next year we'll trade, not now.
Venus floats in the bright blue sky.  The light that pours
upon the plains is glowing fragments of the sun.

We think about the world, the places filled with green,
the rocks, the friends, the sun; these threads illuminate
this frozen here, this now, across which sunset pours.

-- Victoria Grace Landgraf   2006


 

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