26/12/2014: Having the last couple of days off has
been a rare treat, it's great to kick back for once. Wednesday the 24th
was the Christmas lunch/dinner at Scott Base and as usual the chefs put
on a fantastic spread. Rare treats ranging from fancy cheeses to honey
baked ham to baked salmon, not to mention the tasty deserts. We did the
typical 'Secret Santa' thing where you get allocated a random name and
you need to prepare a secret gift for them. The requirements were that the
gift had to be valued at a minimum of $20 and had to be partially self-made.
There was a surprising amount of time, effort and creativity that went
into many of the gifts.
Santa even made an early appearance to distribute the gifts. Or more to
the point, I was asked to play the role of Santa again. It turns out I
only get asked because apparently "on-one else can do it as
inappropriately or as hilarious as you make it". Fortunately I'd consumed
a bottle of Panhead Blacktop Oat Stout and Epic Hop Zombie beforehand
(thanks Paula!), so was in the right mood to do so. Someone happened to
open a Christmas cracker that contained a black plastic clip-on moustache,
which ended up getting trimmed down. So I became what was probably Scott
Base's first, and possibly the world's first Hitler Santa. For those who
may be easily offended, it was a fascist Charlie Chaplin Santa with a
bad German accent. As bad taste as it was, everyone loved it. The
best thing about it was that Antarctica NZ is unlikely to publish
photos of the event on their FascistBook page. Presumably because they
have something against Charlie Chaplin. Excellent, I dislike social
media with a passion.
So Christmas day was a day off work, even for the chefs. As was today,
Boxing Day. Back to work as usual tomorrow, not that the workload is
overly high at present.
Here's me as Hitler Santa (or fascist Charlie Chaplin Santa) with my
three lovely elf helpers.
The Scott Base dining room was festively decorated with fancy Christmas
adornments and other treats.
It was also a white Christmas for us. The overcast day bought a fresh
dusting of light snow. We had planned to open the ski field for
Christmas day, but the flat light conditions would not have been ideal.
Becky received an Arctic themed Lego set. Despite being outside the
recommended age criteria of 6-12 years, she threw caution to the wind and
excitedly assembled the model helicopter and husky sled.
Today, Boxing Day, the cloud was clearing and the snow stopped falling, so
we took a 15-minute trip in the Hagglund out to open the ski field.
It wasn't as sunny as it could have been, but as they say, beggars
cannot be choosers. It was still a great day for a bit of snowboarding,
with superb snow conditions. Until the rope came off the bull wheel at
the top of the rope tow, requiring a bit of effort to get it un-jammed
and running again.
Although the minor rope tow breakdown gave us an opportunity to fire up
the barbeque for sausage and onion sandwiches for lunch.
21/12/2014: We're into the final countdown to
Christmas, just four days away. It quickly creeps up without noticing,
which is easy to do without all of the constant advertising forced
upon you back in the real world. So by comparison, Christmas in Antarctica
is actually an enjoyable experience. It's also one of the two holidays
we get during the year, the other being New Year's Day.
It's also the time of the year where the science activities die down for
a while. It'll ramp up again in early January, but until then my
workload has been relatively light, I've even managed to clear the backlog
of equipment repairs and get stuck into some of the "if you ever get a chance"
The Americans also invited us to their Helicopter Workshop party last night;
we were one of the five bands performing, which went well. Had plenty
of good feedback from our live music set; the next which is at the Ice Stock
outdoor live music festival at McMurdo Station in a couple of weeks.
One of the few remaining science events staying for Christmas is an event
called K108, who are a team of international scientists creating a "magma
map" of Mt Erebus, an active volcano 50km away on our back doorstep. This
is the view from one of their many monitoring sites over the mountain.
This is Graham Hill, the event leader of K108. They set up dozens of these
monitoring stations at specific sites all over Mt Erebus which are shifted
every couple of weeks. The data they record is used to make a 3D internal
map of the inside of the mountain to better understand what's happening
inside the feisty volcano. As you can see, it's not too hard working
outside on a sunny day at this time of the year where daily high
temperatures are approaching 0 degrees C.
And just in case you can't get enough of Mt Erebus, here it is again.
The brown peak in the foreground is First Crater at Arrival Heights, the
Arrival Heights labs visible centre right.
Yet another of those jobs on the longer term to-do list was to address
a few cabling jobs at our Crater Hill main radio site. If you happen to
know anything about radio frequency transmission line theory, which most
people don't, you'll know that the impedance seen at the input of the
cable repeats at every half wavelength along the cable as the signal
phase rotates through 180 degrees. Meaning to correctly match devices
with complex impedances such as power amplifiers, circulators and band
pass cavity filters; then precise cable lengths are important for
impedance matching. Because as we've all known since kindergarten,
maximum power transfer can only be achieved when the source and
destination impedances are the same. So with a correctly engineered set
of cables into this base station, the channel now has a measurable
performance increase. Oh look, and for the first time in history,
someone has even labelled the cables!
14/12/2014: Finally finished the Christmas shopping,
which isn't really hard because there's only one shop to select from, aside
from the McMurdo shop, and of course there is a limited range of products
available. Christmas gifts are essentially limited to clothing, glassware,
thermal cups and the likes. And since we're having a big clean out of the
Field Centre in preparation for the winter rebuild, you find all sorts of
weird and wonderful things you didn't know you had, or will ever need. So
some of the Christmas boxes have a few added 'bonuses' this year.
Last night was the annual Scott Base skirt party night, a tradition started
by Captain Scott over 100 years ago. I attended it once in 2010, the first
year I was here, and that was more than enough for me. So last night I did
the same sensible thing we did last year; went and watched some great music
videos with a few others who weren't overly fond of the transvestite night
either. So I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
A message for Lorraine and Graeme while I'm thinking about it. I tried
calling you last night; as you'll recall it was a year to date we had the
Crate Day in Hamilton when we were looking through your LP collection trying
to find The Who and we called Alec in the Scott Base bar thinking he might
have it. Anyway, you obviously weren't about, but Alec mentioned he hadn't
even replied to your message asking if he was still alive or not. In answer
to that; he may have been raped to death by the many transvestites in the bar
last night. I did not envy his job.
While I remember, here's a photo from the sled man-hauling race last Sunday.
The winning team did the trip in 34 minutes; I think the course was around
Observation Hill in the foreground (right) and Mt Discovery in the back.
If you look closely, you'll see an Antarctic Skua flying around looking
for food. There are always plenty of these aggressive birds around over
summer. They'll all disappear in a few months when it starts getting
cold again. At present we're having typical daily highs of between -5
A photo of the wind farm I took during the week on the way to a job up on
Crater Hill. The brown building and yellow power transformer in the
foreground is one of the American's radio communications sites.
Looking west from T-Site towards the Antarctic mainland.
It's also that time in the season where things have warmed to the point
where the sea ice is getting mushy and the cracks are getting too wide to
cross safely, closing most sea ice travel for the rest of the summer.
In the photo above, Hagglund H3 is crossing using the portable bridges
carried on the roof. You can clearly see open water in the crack.
7/12/2014: The base is yet again filled to capacity with
a number of NZ government people on site as invited visitors. Not sure what
they're up to aside from a bit of a tour around.
We also have a number of TV3 media people on site who had come down to film
some work around the event that was due to take place at
this season, which has since been put on hold due to logistical issues and
difficulty in accessing the site due to weather. Since that wasn't happening
anymore, they were looking around for other things to film. As it happens, there
was a medium-profile science team in the Dry Valleys region drilling some
permafrost core samples, so someone decided to fly them out there for some
TV filming. I was out doing a job at our Crater Hill radio site yesterday and
was listening to the increasingly frustrated conversation on the channel,
which went something like:
"The TV crew and reporters are due to land at your site in 60 minutes."
"What TV crew?! We haven't been told anything about this!"
"Oh yeah, change of plans, they want to film you drilling the ice cores."
"But we packed up the drill yesterday..."
So this drilling rig is a big complex device that is a fairly significant job
to set up and pack away again for transport, not to mention that the science group
were under the usual Antarctic time constraints of getting their work done.
"Can you just set the drill back up now so they can film you drilling when
they get out there?"
Needless to say, the conversation started getting a bit ugly, too much for an
'open' radio channel, so they switched to satellite phone and continued the heated
conversation with large audio delays and crappy speech quality, which is satellite
telephone in a nutshell.
Anyway, today (Sunday) they're doing this sled man-hauling race in several teams
between Scott Base and McMurdo. I think there are teams of about 5 people each
who manually haul a wooden sled loaded with weight along the sea ice road
between McMurdo and Scott Base. A distance of about 5 kilometres or something
which is supposed to take about 60 to 90 minutes. Instead of competing, I was
going to spend the time on my one day of the week off to catch up on a few
personal things. But as all four of the communications operators wanted to be
part of the race, they asked me to work their job on my day off. So much for
getting anything done today. Hence I'm bashing this out quickly before I'm due
to start their afternoon shift in about 10 minutes....
A large plume of steam from the top of Mt Erebus, viewed from the pressure
ridges last night.
This is the ice dragon living in the pressure ridges. No, it's not actually a
real dragon; it's just some ice formations that happens to look a bit like a
dragon's head and tail from the right angle.
While on the pressure ridges walk, we were joking how people are obsessed with
taking photos of bits of ice. So we started taking photos of each other taking
photos, so this is Brett, Ray and Becky being a bit silly.
The seal pup, probably about six weeks old now, continues to get bigger each
day. I guess someday soon it'll go swimming.
Here's Matt the plant operator from the NZ Army, moving snow using the new
The McMurdo underwater observation tube was open for a few weeks and has just
closed last Thursday. Here's Ben the communications operator climbing down
for a look at the ocean life under the sea ice. The red structure on the left
is a portable survival shelter on skis, colloquially known as an apple
due to its shape and colour.
And this is what it looks like about five metres below the top surface of the sea
ice, looking upwards. You can easily see the delicate ice crystals and some
of the algae that grows under the ice, which is about two metres thick.
A photo from Tracey B from what was supposed to be the start of the Cape Adare
event this year. Aside from the huge Adelie penguin colony there, one of the
projects for the coming years is the conservation of
historic hut. I'm out of time to write much about it, so read more about it