25/8/2013: Was nice to receive a number
of parts this week from the freight processing following the
two mid-winter flights last week. My "items to be repaired"
shelf is now looking fairly bare, which is a good thing of
course. The focus is now on the next three flights in the
first week of September. This is an unusual occurrence as
the winter flights are usually carried out around mid-August.
For the first time this year these flights are more spread
out. We've got five people arriving on the first flight on
Sunday, three of whom are only visiting for a few days.
Next Sunday is also the leaving date for a few McMurdo
personnel, including Harry, the harmonica player in our band.
We're planning to perform some kind of music party at
Gallagher's Bar at McMurdo next Saturday as a kind of final
send-off for Harry and a few others. There's a collection of
new songs on the list I'm not familiar with, so I've got a
sizable practice session with my American band members this
afternoon to try and learn all of the new material before
the performance in six days. Hopefully it's only some
simple guitar parts for me to learn if I can pawn off the
vocalist work onto someone else!
Another event this week was the first sunrise. Although the
sun is not yet visible from Scott Base for a few more days
before it rises above the nearby hills, Tim took this photo at
1:45PM on Tuesday the 20th from Arrival Heights. The sun was
above the horizon for just a few minutes, though every day from
now the sky will continue to get brighter for longer until the
final sunset around the 20th of October.
Last Sunday around 4PM we were treated to a truly spectacular
display of polar stratospheric clouds, also known as
These colourful clouds only occur at certain colder times of
the year in polar regions when clouds form in the usually dry
polar stratosphere at altitudes of between 15 and 25km.
Another view of the nacreous clouds
above Crater Hill, the Scott Base field centre to the right.
Every day at 9AM Tim the Hobbit walks out to the old mechanical
weather recording instruments to record daily temperatures,
air pressure, humidity and cloud cover.
And this is the lair of the Hobbit, officially known as the
Hatherton Lab. Yes, he does have unusually hairy feet.
Yesterday I was helping Tim with a repair job on the
2.9MHz pulse transmitter,
part of a long-term science experiment. The transmitter hut
is just outside Scott Base and transmits short bursts of
radio energy skyward which is reflected off the upper
atmosphere and received at a separate receiver site at
Arrival Heights, around 5km away. The longer the time
between the transmitter pulse launch and when the receiver
detects the pulse; the higher the reflection point in the
Locating and replacing the faulty RF driver valve from
within the 2.9MHz pulse transmitter.
Run-up and testing the transmitter after the defective valve
was replaced with a new one.
18/8/2013: The first of the winter flights
on Thursday provided a welcome break from the repetitive dark
days. Two of the AHT conservators left on schedule on the C17
flight that departed Christchurch at 12PM, arrived here at
5PM then departed for Christchurch by 7PM. The flight was a
'freebie' for the US Antarctic Programme as originally they
didn't have the budget available to run the costly mid-winter
flights, so these were provided by the US Air Force as a night
vision goggles landing training mission.
It all went very smoothly and exactly to schedule. So as of
Friday morning, we've had tomatoes on toast for the first time
in about five months, plus fresh bananas, pineapple, melon and
some vegetables. Of course this has provided a huge morale
boost to the 13 of us left on station.
The second of the two mid-winter flights was due yesterday but
was postponed due to the nasty forecast yesterday.
This had also forecasted low visibility and strong winds for
today, though todays's forecast
reports something entirely different from the prediction
24 hours ago. So this cargo only flight, also done as part
of US Air Force training, is expected sometime this evening.
The forecast also put a halt on a Cape Evans day trip that some
of our base staff were due to visit today. Even if the weather
did turn out to be nice today (it's currently clear, 20kts of
wind and -20C), we're providing temporary fire crew staff to
McMurdo during the aircraft movements. They need to have a
handful of fire fighters at the Pegasus Airfield in case of an
incident, which leaves them short for fire crew cover at McMurdo.
So a couple of our guys are on loan to the Americans for half a
day, which then leaves us a little bit short handed, meaning
only a few people can leave Scott Base in order to maintain our
minimum fire crew numbers here. It's all a bit tricky.
The photos this week are all from Damian, our chef. The
Antarctica NZ media person wanted before and after photos of
our fresh food chiller following the small fresh food delivery
on Thursday night. Here's what it looked like beforehand,
plenty of cream and oiled eggs left.
And here's what it looked like afterwards, a few grey tubs of
fruit and vegetables. Perhaps not quite as dramatic as the
media person in Christchurch was expecting?
The Scott Base library, which looks over the rest of the base,
is a good viewing spot if there's something to see. In this case
you can see the early morning sun below the horizon; Mt Terror in
the centre, Mt Erebus to the left. The first sunrise is supposed
to be at noon tomorrow. Apparently some people are doing a
special trip out to the airfield to see the sunrise. Hmmm, might
stay and get some work done myself, pretty sure that's what I get
paid to do.
A stop sign near McMurdo Station on the corner of the main fuel
store and the Scott Base Road. You wouldn't normally expect to
see road signs in such an isolated place, though in summer the
roads are relatively busy. It's the time of the year where it's
hard to get decent or interesting photos, hence I stole this one
of Damian's, and the one below, from the public network drive.
Scott Base under a decent full moon; the camera's long exposure
exaggerating the ambient light levels. White Island clearly
visible in the distance on the ice shelf.
Mid-day at the wind farm during the week; the Antarctic
mainland visible on the horizon about 70km away.
12/8/2013: The two main subjects on
everyone's minds recently is the rapid return of daylight and
the mid-winter flights arriving on Thursday this week. While
the first official sunrise is still a week away, it's nearly
full daylight for an hour or two in the middle of the day.
It's a lot easier to do the odd job outside when you can see
where you're going; the return of the light is also brightening
The winter flights, known as Winfly, will bring us highly desired
fresh food, parts to complete various jobs and some mail. Two
of the AHT conservators are also leaving in just three days, a
sure sign that winter is rapidly coming to an end.
Late morning and early afternoon features some magnificent colours
and cloud patterns in the sky, such this skyline seen over Mt
The mid-day moon seen over the silhouette of Mt Erebus.
A red sky at noon last Friday over Mt Erebus and Mt Terror.
Now that the sea ice has become thick enough to safely walk on,
the pressure ridges a few minutes walk from Scott Base are now
open for a recreational walk.
The winter-over photo for the public display wall of Scott Base,
always a subject for hot debate, has finally reached a point
where everyone is either happy with it, or sick of arguing about
it. Here's the final draft.
Late last week the Heritage Trust conservators made a trip to
Cape Evans to see how Captain Scott's historic hut has fared
over winter. This involves a half-day trip in a Hagglund
over the sea ice. The ice has many cracks caused by the
natural tidal forces on it. The larger cracks are drilled
and carefully inspected to gauge the thickness of the sea ice
either side of the crack. If it's less than 70cm thick,
aluminium bridges are laid over the crack so that the vehicle
can cross safely. Thanks to Molly for this photo and the
The Hagglund carefully crosses the temporary bridge over the
crack in the sea ice. There's well over 100m of water just
below this ice.
This iceberg is thought to be a very small chunk of the Erebus
Ice Tongue that broke off during the summer during the annual
melting of the sea ice. The berg will be trapped in position
until the sea ice melts again in January.
Despite the expected snow drifts, Captain Scott's hut at Cape
Evans still appears to be in good condition for its age,
over 100 years.
4/8/2013: We're in the final long weekend,
two days off work, for the remainder of the season. Essentially
the closest thing we ever get to a holiday. It's come at a good
time as the winter is certainly becoming long in the tooth with
some of my Scott Base co-workers who are growing increasingly
irritable, forgetful and unmotivated due to the constant darkness
and monotony of work.
This long weekend also comes with a number of interesting
activities. The first is the annual Antarctic 48-hour film festival
which is a competition open to every Antarctic base. There are
two categories; the first is an open category where you can submit
any short film (5 minutes) you've filmed in Antarctica. The second
more interesting option is the 48-hour version where on the Friday
afternoon, the organisers at McMurdo Station release a list of
things that must appear in a 5-minute film. This year these were
a Ping-Pong ball, a bathtub, a specific phrase spoken in French,
the sound of someone sneezing and the Gingerbread Man as a
character. Obviously it takes a lot of time and dedication to
plan something, film it and edit it in only two days. If you have
loads of experience in filming and editing, then you stand a good
chance to submit something of reasonable quality. From the few
previous entries I've seen, a majority of them are pretty bad.
Few of us, if any, at Scott Base have enough spare time or
experience at film making, and the last thing you want to do on
your final two days off is rush around making a movie. So I
doubt if we'll be submitting anything.
The other event this weekend was the "wedding" of a McMurdo
couple; Bryon and "Sandwich" which occurred last night. They'd
been planning it for months, which included some kind of
pre-wedding party here on Friday night. A group of about 8 people
from Scott Base attended the event at McMurdo last night which
sounds as though it was more of a comedy show as opposed to a real
wedding. After all, the 'priest' was someone who'd paid $20 on
a website to receive some form of priest certificate, so anything
but an authentic wedding. As boring as it sounds, I stayed here
at Scott Base last night. There's a fire crew roster which means
there needs to be at least seven people on base at all times in
case of a fire alarm. Not that it worried me greatly; sometimes
you just need to relax as opposed to spending many long nights
with very boisterous drunk Americans.
The advertising poster for the annual Antarctic 48-hour film
festival, which is filming around the continent as I write this.
Except at Scott Base where we're enjoying a relaxed final 2-day
weekend of our season. More information on the history of the
film festival here.
In my usual last minute dash to think of something interesting to
photograph yesterday morning, I bumped into Tim the Hobbit/Science
Technician at 9AM. Every morning he manually records the current
weather conditions and 24-hour extremes of wind speed and temperature.
You'd think this would be all measured electronically and automated,
right? I thought so too. While much data is recorded electronically,
the old mechanical instruments still in use from the 1950s record the
same data in parallel and are manually read daily because "that's how
we've always done it". Wow, wake up and smell the 21st century NIWA.
Pretty sure people don't ride horse and carts through town anymore
because that's the way it's always been done. Anyway, the Hobbit
was sleepier than usual yesterday morning as he'd had a very late
night from the Friday pre-wedding party, so he didn't appear
overjoyed with me 'helping' to do the morning weather. He's dressed
in the thermal 'Bunny Suit' as the mechanical recording temperature
loggers are located outside about 100m away from Scott Base.
On his days off, Dave, our power/fuels engineer, enjoys baking.
He likes using recipes he knows from the good old Edmonds cookbook,
which practically every home in NZ has a copy of. "Once you've
modified the recipe for down here" he adds. Due to the very dry
air, the biscuits tend to be hard, crumbly and dry, so modifications
such as more butter helps the final product to be more as you'd
Here's Molly using one of the most important pieces of equipment
at Scott Base, the coffee machine. Thanks to Paula who sent me
scans from a recent North and South NZ magazine short article
featuring Molly at Scott Base this summer. Read the article
Also on the plus side is the gradually increasing level of light
at mid-day. This photo and the one below taken out a west-facing
window at around 1PM yesterday. The extended exposure time of the
camera makes it look slightly brighter than it actually is, though
of course it's still much more exciting than the usual pitch black
scenery we've been accustomed to since May. The first official
sunrise for the new season is the 19th of August, a little over two
Another view from the same window, Crater Hill clearly visible
on the ridge line and the three wind turbines at T-Site to the left.
Turbines #1 and #3 have red lights on top.