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Antarctic conservation

262 Posts
2

Dig, dig, dig!

Posted by Conservators Nov 28, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 12 November 2012

Temperature: -12 °C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -38 °C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

One of the first tasks that we usually tackle when we arrive at the historic huts is to remove some of the massive amount of snow that has accumulated around the buildings during the  winter.  At both Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, drifting snow piles up each year in the lee of the buildings, burying artefacts and pushing up against the walls of the structures themselves.  If this snow is left in place, it can turn into a thick layer of ice that becomes nearly impossible to remove, or it melts slowly in the summer sun, which can cause water damage to the walls of the buildings and to the objects sitting outside.  That’s why we make sure to dig it out while it is still in a perfectly snowy, shovel-able state! 

It usually takes several days of dedicated digging to remove all of the snow in question: we take turns hacking away at the deeper parts of the drifts or gingerly brushing where we know the artefacts are buried, and then we haul all of the loose snow by wheelbarrow or sled away from the building so it can melt where it won’t cause any damage.  As anyone who has shovelled out their driveway after a snowstorm knows, it is hard work wielding a shovel all day long, and we definitely feel like we’ve earned our lunches on digging days!photo 1.JPG

Snow on the north side of Scott's hut upon our arrival

photo 2.JPG

A day's worth of digging got us this far!

1

Cape Royds

Posted by Conservators Nov 23, 2012

Author: Lizzie
Date: 1 Nov 2012
Temperature: -18.2C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -18.2°C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a
Photo Description & Credit 1: Mt Erebus in light and shadow c . Lizzie, AHT
Photo Description & Credit 2: Lizzie back inside the hut at Cape Royds

We’re back at Cape Royds after a year, this time just a short visit for 5 days to complete the annual maintenance and inspection programme. This year’s summer Antarctic Heritage Trust team consists of Jana (objects conservator, Canada), Martin (timber conservation carpenter, NZ), Kevin (timber conservation carpenter, UK) and myself (Programme Manager-Artefacts, AHT): a mix of skills, ages, nationalities and experience in both the Arctic and Antarctic.


There’s a list for me of things to do as soon as I get to Cape Royds:
1. Check the hut is OK after winter and spring storms…it is, bar a couple of things. We find a Colman’s flour box and a pony fodder box blown loose from their usual positions. In the case of the flour box it has been picked up by the wind from the south side of the building, rolled around the east side, and then blown a further 80m north of the building, where I spy it in its own lonesome wee drift of snow. Remarkably the box is completely undamaged despite its travels. Martin fixes it back more firmly in position on the south wall.


2. Say hello to the penguins…. It’s early in the season. Over at the rookery only a couple of hundred Adelie penguins are in and beginning the business of stone gathering – trotting back and forth with one stone at a time in their beaks.


3. Say hello to Mt Erebus – sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Tthe day after we arrive, Erebus is playing hide and seek, high wind clouds shifting and stacking up in sharp curves, in and out of light.
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4. Haul the gear up and over the hill ready for several days of snow digging, photography, minor repairs and treatments.


5. And last but not least, walk inside the hut, check all the artefacts are OK, drink in the smell, the light, the distinctive small sounds, and the incomparable atmosphere of this 1908 expedition base.
DSC01180.JPG

0

7 more sleeps!

Posted by Conservators Nov 1, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 24 October 2012

Temperature: -18

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -32

Sunrise: None!

Sunset: None!

 

 

Well, the time has come for us to wrap up our conservation work here at Scott Base and pour all of our energy into preparing for our imminent deployment out to our field camps at the historic huts. 

 

As you might imagine, this is slightly more involved than preparing for a weekend camping trip:  it will take several days for the four of us to inventory, sort, test and pack the hundreds of pounds of food, tents, stoves, safety equipment, sleep kits, sleds, shovels, toilet supplies, fuel and timber, not to mention all of the specialized conservation and carpentry tools and material that we will require during the three months we spend out in the field.  

 

We also have to pack up the hundreds of artefacts that were conserved here over the winter season, and then there is our personal gear as well; the handful of clothes, boots, tools and books that will see us each through the season are definitely an important part of the equation! 

 

wading through gear.jpg

Wading through a small portion of our field gear © AHT/Jana

 

We’re excited enough to be counting down the days until we move out to the field though, so we find the work quite enjoyable, especially since it gives us a chance to make sure we don’t overlook anything important.  We also like to think about the fact that explorers of the heroic age would relate to our current flurry of activity; they too spent a good portion of their winters sorting, repairing and packing the vast amounts of food and gear needed for the sledging trips they undertook in the summer seasons.

1

Bad Weather

Posted by Conservators Oct 29, 2012

Author: Kevin

Date: 24 October 2012

 

 

I was up at 4am all bags packed and just about to get dressed up in my warm gear for the 5 hour flight to Scott Base. My excitement to be finally on the way to the “ice” was turned to disappointment on receiving the news that bad weather on Ross Island had delayed our departure by at least 24 hours.

 

My mind turned to the weather and how much we take it for granted these days.  Today we simply have to log on to the internet, google “Antarctic weather” and we are given a choice of sites to look at.  Sites such as http://www.yr.no/place/Antarctica/Other/Scott_Base/   This Norwegian weather organization gives us hour by hour predictions and information as well as links to web cams that show us what it is actually like now.  Antarctica New Zealand also hosts webcams on their website http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/

C Evans Stevenson screen.jpg

Cape Evans Stevenson's screen © AHT/Falcon

 

So different from the explorers of just over a 100 years ago, at the forefront of the science of meteorology as we know it today. For them, looking at satellite images from a warm office was not an option. They were required to go out to the weather station whatever the weather, getting dressed up in all of their warm clothing, often struggling against the conditions to find the weather station, physically handling the instruments, recording the information on paper before resetting the instruments, and then struggling back to the sanctuary of their huts, frozen to the core.  It is easy to forget that whilst others were out performing deeds of derring-do, the seemingly endless scientific tasks such as recording the weather continued to be carried out by those whose names have not become household.

 

Reinstalling stevenson.jpg

Reinstalling the conserved Stevenson's screen © AHT/Gord

 

Last season the weather station at Cape Evans was skillfully conserved by fellow team member Martin, and placed back in its original position as testament to those who visited it many times a day month after month. Personally I am itching to get on site and continue the skilled work carried out by those before me.

3

Land of the Midnight Sun

Posted by Conservators Oct 25, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 17 October 2012

Temperature: -19C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -26C

Sunrise: 03:58

Sunset: 11:29

 

 

Early summer is an extremely changeable time in Antarctica, not only in terms of the human activity that is ramping up for the season, but in the natural world around us as well.  The temperature creeps reliably upwards while the sea ice thickens daily, Emperor penguins depart whilst the Adélies start to arrive, and lots of baby Weddell seals are born. 

 

Most noticeable of all, however, is the arrival of 24 hour daylight.   Because of our southern latitude, the amount of sunlight we get each day increases here more noticeably than it does at more equatorial latitudes.  Right now, although the sun still technically 'sets' and 'rises' it really only appears to creep behind the mountains on the horizon for a bit before re-emerging on the other side.  We never really have true darkness anymore, and 3:00 in the morning is almost as bright as 3:00 in the afternoon. Even when it is overcast, the reflecting whiteness of the snowy landscape means that it is still bright outside.

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Pressure ridges in late evening sun © AHT/Jana

 

For some people the 24 hour daylight is difficult to get used to, and their biorhythms and sleep habits suffer as a result.  Sleeping in a tent in bright daylight can be a bit challenging when we are living in the field, but we are usually so exhausted from the day's work that sleep never eludes us for long!

0

Staff around the flagpole

Posted by Conservators Oct 17, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 10 October 2012

Temperature: -15C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -21C

Sunrise: 05:11am

Sunset: 10:16pm

 

 

The transition from winter to summer season here at Scott Base brings about a number of significant changes. Winter staff start to leave after 13 months of living and working together, a new crew is introduced to the base, science groups start arriving and helicopters buzz around again.  For Simon, our winter manager, it is also the time to officially hand over the base to the incoming team.

Flag pole Image 1.jpg

Staff around the flagpole.

 

Last Saturday, to mark this point and follow a long held tradition, everybody gathered around the flagpole in front of the base to watch the youngest  person on base lower the small winter pennant and raise  the larger summer flag.  It is a little ceremony which has been kept alive ever since Scott Base was officially opened on 20 January 1957.

Flag pole Image 2.jpg

Summer flag is raised.

 

The historic flagpole, found around Scott’s Discovery Hut, had been presented to Sir Edmund Hillary (who helped found Scott Base) by Admiral Dufek that year and Able Seaman R.Tito, the youngest person on base, raised the NZ flag for the first time.  Ever since then the flagpole has been a focal point in front of the base.

2

Cape Evans Redux

Posted by Conservators Oct 9, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 3 October 2012

Temperture: -33C

Wind Speed: 2 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35C

Sunrise: 5:35am

Sunset: 7:36pm

 

 

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

Terra Nova Hut.jpg

Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans

 

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

Biology bench.jpg

Artefacts emerge from the darkness

 

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

1

Cracks in the ice

Posted by Conservators Sep 28, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 25 September 2012

Temperature: -28C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45C

Sunrise: 6:06am

Sunset: 7:27pm

 

 

After many days of storms, blowing snow and very little visibility we were finally ready to leave Scott Base and to go out again on a stunningly beautiful day. No wind, clear sky, sun and spectacular views of the Trans Antarctic Mountains – we couldn’t ask for more and were keen to get to the historic hut at Cape Evans. 

 

Travelling to Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, which he built as an expedition base for his British Antarctic Expedition (1910–1913), involves driving  over sea ice for approx. 20 km. 

Jana ice.jpg

Jana helping to drill holes into the ice sheet © AHT/Martin

 

Even though the ice thickness is sufficient by now, there are still some cracks which need to be profiled. It means drilling several holes in to the ice right through to the water and measuring the thickness of the ice sheet. A tape measure and string attached to a weight which hooks itself to the underside of the ice sheet is very simple but works well. With a little tug on the string the weight is released again. By measuring several holes across the crack, the shape and therefore the stability of the ice around it, can be determined. It is a time consuming task, especially if you have to do it several times on a trip, but the alternative of breaking through the ice with your vehicle is a lot less attractive.    

 

crack.jpg

Cracks in an iceberg © AHT/Martin

2

Nailed it!

Posted by Conservators Sep 20, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 18 September 2012

Temperature: -24C

Wind Speed: 30 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45C

Sunrise: 07:16

Sunset: 18:34

 

 

Some of my favourite artefacts at Captain Scott’s Terra Nova base at Cape Evans have always been the barrels full of nails resting in the scoria behind the base.  Over the years the barrels themselves have deteriorated to the point of having almost disappeared entirely, while the nails inside them have corroded together into an unlikely solid mass resembling some strange sort of sub-atomic particle.  Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered a similar container of nails, albeit on a much smaller scale, amongst a series of tins I have been conserving at Scott Base. 

 

Detail square cut nails C Evans.jpg

Detail, square cut nails © AHT/Jana

 

The tin in question appeared similar to dozens of others I was preparing to treat, until I picked it up and its excessive weight hinted that something was different about it.  The nails inside are fused together into a lump just like those at Cape Evans, though they are much smaller (only 2 cm long) and in worse condition, making it impossible to tell what type of nails they were, or what era they might be from.  Despite their mysterious origin, I still enjoy the aesthetics of their spiky, urchin-esque form, and look forward to once again admiring their larger cousins out at Cape Evans when we travel out there in the coming days.

0

Deja Vu

Posted by Conservators Sep 12, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 12 September 2012

Temperature: -24C

Wind Speed:  30 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55C

Sunrise: 8:00am

Sunset: 5:45pm

 

 

It is only a bit more than a year ago, during last winter, that I conserved over a hundred food storage boxes from Shackleton’s Nimrod Base. So it certainly comes with a sense of déjà vu to start on very similar boxes excavated from Bowers Annex at Scott’s Terra Nova Base.

1 Before treatment.jpg

Before treatment © AHT/Martin

 

For the next two months I am sharing a workshop with Jody, the carpenter in residence here at Scott Base. With stunning views of Mt. Erebus and across the Ross Ice shelf, I am sure it will be a great place to work.   While Jana, the objects conservator, is treating the contents of the boxes, my aim is to make them structurally sound. It involves gluing split boards, re-nailing corner joints and at times adding new boards where boards have been lost. 

2 During treatment.jpg

During treatment © AHT/Martin

 

All these interventions are kept to a minimum but are necessary to allow the conserved content to go back into the box and for the boxes eventually to be placed back to their original locations. Detailed records are kept documenting the work, which will make it possible for future generations of conservators to distinguish between historic and added material. 

3 After treatment.jpg

After treatment © AHT/Jana

2

Do you take milk in that?

Posted by Conservators Sep 5, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 5 September 2012

Temperature: -16C

Wind Speed: 25 knots

Temp with wind chill: -28C

Sunrise: 08:56

Sunset: 16:51

 

 

Now that the short burst of springtime flights bringing fresh staff and supplies to Scott Base is over, we are once again in “isolation” mode.  With no more flights due to arrive until October, the sudden influx of fresh fruit and vegetables, worth their weight in gold to most of the winter-over staff who have done without for so many months, has sadly come to an end.  

 

Careful planning ensures that our supply stretches as far as possible, but some of the fresh goods, including milk, will only last for so long.  It seems a small thing, but for most of the year, it is powdered milk that staff at Scott Base add to their coffee and tea and use to pour over their cereal, and as any dairy-phile will attest, it is just not quite up to snuff!  And so while we have the real stuff, we make the most of it.

 

tin of milk powder during conservation.jpg

Tin of milk powder during conservation © AHT/Jana

detail Trumilk label.jpg
Detail, Trumilk label © AHT/Jana

 

Funnily enough, our current glut of fresh milk comes at a time when I am treating (what else!?) historic tins of milk powder.  It seems that our enforced use of powdered milk is no different than that of the early explorers, with tins of Trumilk milk powder having been found in both Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts.  I am sure the early explorers would relate to our appreciation of fresh dairy, though it’s hard to tell what they would make of our espresso machine!

3

Bowers' Annex Beckons

Posted by Conservators Aug 29, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 28 August 2012

Temperature: -29.9C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45C

Sunrise: 09:59

Sunset: 15.32

 

 

Happy to have settled on the ice at last, Martin and I have wasted no time sinking our teeth into the first project of this summer’s work programme:  for the two months that we will be working from the relative comfort of Scott Base, we will be treating artefacts from one specific location at Scott’s Terra Nova hut, Bowers’ Annex.

 

boxes being excavated.jpg

Boxes being excavated from Bowers' Annex.  © AHT/Jana

 

Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, whose distinctive nose earned him his distinctive nickname, was in charge of organising all the stores and supplies for Scott’s second Antarctic expedition.  The majority of these stores were tinned foods packaged inside wooden boxes, and by using dozens of these boxes as improvised building blocks, Bowers created a sort of lean-to addition to the south side of the hut – what we now call Bower’s Annex.  From inside this relatively protected structure he was able to sort, count and repackage the huge volume of supplies and rations needed by the sledging teams headed towards the South Pole. 

 

boxes waiting for treatment (2).jpg

Boxes waiting for treatment in Scott Base Carpentry shop. © AHT/Jana

 

While most of the supplies stored inside the annex were used up long ago, the boxes forming the walls of the annex remained in place until several years ago.  Because of their position on the south side of the hut, they were particularly vulnerable to wind and snow build-up, and it has been a priority for the Trust to excavate and treat them in order to prevent further damage.  The boxes were excavated from the annex several seasons ago and have gradually been staged to Scott Base, where they now lie in wait for Martin and I.  Martin will be treating the boxes themselves while I deal with the contents, and we look forward to showing you our progress!

1

Boomerang

Posted by Conservators Aug 22, 2012

Author: Martin

Date: 21.8.2012

Temperature:  12 degree C

Wind Speed: n/a

Wind chill: n/a

Sunrise: About 6am

Sunset About 7pm

 

It might sound exciting, but it really is not much fun to be on a boomerang flight. Yesterday we were all set to fly to Antarctica to replace the current team of international conservators working on  artefacts from the historic huts from the heroic era.

 

Five hours in a cargo plane to Antarctica, ¾ of an hour circling and unsuccessfully  trying to land and 5 hours flying back to arrive where we started from in Christchurch. Boomerang flight is indeed a very appropriate name.

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Exciting views of a continent under ice – Credit: AHT/Falcon

 

It is also a timely reminder that it is the weather which so often dictates what we can or can't do in this remote place. Patience, flexibility and the ability to accept it are useful qualities to have when working in Antarctica.

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Flying back – Credit: AHT/Falcon

 

Compared, however, with what the early explorers had to endure, a boomerang flight which delivers us safely back to Christchurch hardly deserves a mention. Scott and Shackleton and their men had to cope with conditions on their journeys which are incomprehensible to us today. They literally put their lives on the line in order to go where nobody had been before and they could never be sure whether they would come back at all.  

1

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.

1.jpg

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.  

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

0

The last trip

Posted by Conservators Aug 20, 2012

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: 17 August

Temperature:  -35 °C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -50°C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a

 

Yesterday the Winter 2012 Antarctic Heritage Trust conservation team took a trip to Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans. We went to check the condition of the hut after the Antarctic winter. It was a great contrast to our visit at the beginning of the season. Back in February we flew there by helicopter – a trip of only 20 minutes; marvelled at the wildlife (penguins and seals) enjoying the open water; and basked in the 24 hour sunshine. This time we travelled by Hagglund over the sea ice, the return journey took 12 hours with not much more than an hour spent at the hut.

Hagglund on the sea ice.jpg

Hagglund on the sea ice   Credit: Gretel /AHT

 

Travelling on the sea ice is not without risk and much of the journey is spent looking out for cracks in the ice and assessing whether they can be safely crossed or not. There is no wildlife to see at this time of year and the sea, which is their home, is frozen solid in to a vast white wasteland. We were lucky with the weather as despite the bitter cold it was not too windy. T`he lack of cloud meant we could enjoy what light is filtering over the horizon in advance of the first sunrise which will come in a few days. It was a fantastic trip, made all the more memorable as it will be our last as before we leave the ice in a few days time. The base hut and all its artefacts will be in good hands with the summer season conservators, Jana and Martin, who replace us to carry on the conservation work and spread the word via the blog.

 

 

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Captain Scott’s snow covered hut at Cape Evans   Credit:  Gretel/AHT

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