27/2/11: You know the drill by now; my one day of the
week off which actually means lots more work. A visiting cruise ship arrived
from New Zealand. Actually Russian ship
hired by a NZ cruise company and relabelled as
The Spirit of Enderby
anchored outside McMurdo Station and around 56 people came ashore via
inflatable boats to tour McMurdo and Scott Base. I was the co-ordinator
at this end and fortunately it all went smoothly. Afterwards they extended
an invitation for Scott Base staff come aboard for an hour to see the ship.
Just noticed it's about the end of the month as well, so here's a nice picture
of an Antarctic skua soaring above the broken sea ice out the front of
Scott Base. I guess I could think of worse places to live.
The Professor Khromov outside McMurdo Station as The Spirit of Enderby.
That's ice on the coast line in the foreground, not foam as you'd normally expect
to see on a beach.
I was also given a personal tour of the ship's engine room by the company owner;
certainly the highlight of the visit for me.
26/2/11: This morning's view was of completely open ocean.
The outgoing tide and wind had pushed away all of the broken sea ice, which had
since floated away, along with some of NIWA's very expensive monitoring equipment.
If anyone sees a giant chunk of ice with an orange thing on it, they might want to
give NIWA a yell. The extent of the broken out ice has made the Americans very
nervous about travel over the ice shelf out to the airfield, which is located
around 30 minutes drive away on solid ice. A press release on it
That blue wiggly stuff on the right hand side isn't usually there. Or technically
it's usually hidden under a thick layer of ice.
25/2/11: A jaw-dropping view out the window this morning.
Although Scott Base is located on the "coast" of an island, we always have a view
of frozen sea ice as far as the eye can see. Today there was open water. The
last time that this special event occurred was around 15 years ago. It was also
the ideal backdrop for our winter staff photo, which I don't have a copy of at
the moment. Fantastic day though, possibly my most enjoyable day here yet.
Considering the choice of these stunning surroundings or living in Earthquakeville,
I've finally come out better off.
Waiting for things to get organised for the staff photo. I'm second from the left.
For those who know me, I'm also the one in shorts. It was a beautiful day, calm,
sunny and a balmy -12 degrees C.
24/2/11: The storm finally cleared and things began
returning to normal. Still no sign of the missing Norwegian adventurers. Much
shovelling of snow was in order to open some outside doors and it soon became
apparent that the sea ice was breaking out at a rapid rate. We also had a number
of small black and white visitors at Scott Base. No, not midget nuns.
Pisten Bully on the left and the Caterpillar D6 dozer to the right. We need a
bulldozer to dig the bulldozer out.
Some visitors as seen from our dining room window. They're Adelie penguins in case
you're still guessing.
22/2/11: What a day; one of those ones that you wished just
didn't happen. It started off bad when a major storm lasting two days ceased all
outdoor travel. Then during some local electrical work, the power to our telephone
exchange and satellite equipment failed at a particularly bad time, leaving me
scrambling to get it all working as quickly as possible.
Then to add fuel to the fire, an unpermitted Norwegian yacht with three people on
board sent out a brief mayday message before they were never heard from again.
The NZ Navy ship, HMNZS Wellington who had called into McMurdo Station a day before,
had to eventually call off their search as they were experiencing 80 knot winds and
huge seas. Read the press release
But it didn't end there. The missing yacht had also dropped off two people who were
attempting to travel to the South Pole on farm quad bikes. They were badly under-equipped
for the conditions and no-one knew where they were.
Then when there was no way that things could possibly get any worse, the second large
earthquake struck Christchurch at 12:50PM, causing widespread damage and many deaths.
It was great relief to later find out that my relations, friends, house and work
colleagues were all fine.
The NZ Navy ship HMNZS Wellington battling the Antarctic storm. They also lost 4 of
their 50-man liferafts and suffered minor damage during the intense storm.
20/2/11: An emotional day as the last of the summer staff
left, plus the three TVNZ crew who stayed an extra few days due to flight delays.
The six of them will be preparing to board the C17 for takeoff as I type this.
That leaves just the 10 Scott Base winter staff and four Antarctic Heritage Trust
people here for the winter. Everyone has been getting along great so far, hopefully
things continue to go well.
1:15AM this morning also marked the first sunset since the 24th of October.
We'll gradually be getting more and more hours of darkness over March and will
be completely dark in May. From then on, there will be no sun until August.
The view from the top of Observation Hill at about 9:40PM at night. Not the
sunset, but the sky looks nice and the open ocean and sea ice is remarkable. Was
feeling a bit sleepy to stay up past 1AM, but apparently McMurdo Station were having
hot chocolate outside at Hut Point to mark the event. Credit to Vicky Wilkinson-Baker
for the photo.
19/2/11: The sea ice at the front of Scott Base is starting
to break up as well. At the coast you can hear the ice creaking as it moves with
the ocean tide. It's no longer safe for walking on either, so it's now closed,
also closing access to the pressure ridges. Due to the increasing number of cracks
in the ice, there are now huge numbers of seals and penguins on the sea ice out the
front of Scott Base.
View from the lounge window. The summer lab and wet lab are in the foreground with
the diminishing pressure ridges on the sea ice in the background. All of the
small black dots on the sea ice are seals. The buildings on the horizon in the
upper left is the Long Duration Balloon facility, now closed for the season.
An Adelie penguin that had come up through the salt water intake hole just out the
front of Scott Base.
16/2/11: Well, the Erebus ceremony happened exactly on schedule,
but here had to be a catch. During the ceremony, we were contacted by the air crew
who had received reports of fog and increasing winds. So wanting to play it safe, they
requested that everyone make it back to the plane as quickly as possible.
So following the 30-minute ceremony, all of the visitors had a brief drink and snack
in Scott Base, then they were transported back to the airfield. It was a very intense
day, but despite the last minute schedule change, things went OK.
It was one of those days where you're rushing about so much, that taking photos is
the last thing on your mind. Not that there was much to see anyhow. But in other news,
the sea ice around McMurdo Station has starting breaking out. It's most unusual
seeing open ocean where there is usually solid ice.
Open ocean as seen from Vince's Cross out the front of McMurdo Station. There was an
airport on this piece of water only three months ago when it was frozen. I have to
credit Corey Hamill for the photo; it's no secret that my photography skills rarely
cut the mustard.
15/2/11: The Mt Erebus commemoration ceremony is being held tomorrow.
Air NZ are flying down approximately 120 people to attend a memorial ceremony behind Scott
Base, followed by a brief tour of the base, a snack then back on the Boeing 757 back to
Christchurch. TVNZ sent down a crew for the occasion who ran a number of live video feeds
for the 6PM news. Reporter Vicky Wilkinson-Baker, camera man Corey Hamill and photographer
Ross Land. It was a bit of a stretch pushing live video through our narrow satellite
bandwidth, but with a bit of planning and support to the TVNZ crew, we all manged to make
From left to right, there's Corey behind the camera, Ross (hidden) holding the reflection board
and Vicky reporting the live news.
12/2/11: More summer staff trickled away home today, plus we had many
visitors arrive from New Zealand who are staying for a couple of days. This morning I had
breakfast with Kate Wilkinson, the Minister
of Labour, Conservation and Food Safety. Also got to meet the minister's adviser, the CEO
of Christchurch International Airport, CEO of Meridian Energy, CEO of Air AsiaX, CEO of the
Australian Antarctic Programme and a number of representitives from the Christchurch City
Our distinguished guests also took part in the Scott Base summer to winter handover ceremony.
This is where the base operation is formally handed onto the winter managers; Troy Beaumont
The container ship visiting McMurdo also left today. It visits once per yer to re-supply McMurdo
Station, Scott Base and also the South Pole.
9/2/11: After a shakey start with the weather, I eventually made it to our
remaining four radio sites to remove the radio equipment and batteries for the winter season.
No sunlight for solar charging means that the batteries would go flat and the electrolyte would
freeze, causing permanent damage. So the equipment comes back in for the winter.
Was a very intense day. The cloud lingering around some sites meaning we only had minutes of
ground time, so I had to really rush things along. If it clouded in to the point that the
helicopter could not take off, it would mean spending the night, or more, on top of freezing
mountains in the middle of nowhere.
Another view over the McMurdo Ice Shelf on the way to Mt Erebus. To the left of centre is Big
Razorback Island and Tent Island is the pointy one to the right of centre. Compare this to the
photo I took from a similar location 5 days earlier on 4/2/11 below. The ice changes a lot over
just a week.
Mt Newall from the air. Our Antarctica NZ radio equipment is in the small green building.
The larger white building on the left houses the American's equipment, which also has a wind
generator for power.
The sea ice breaking out near Butter Point in McMurdo Sound.
7/2/11: To remove a large piece of underwater ice from the ice pier, it turns
out the Americans used a row of explosives. It figures, they just love blowing stuff up.
What can I say? It certainly got the job done in the end...
5/2/11: Yet another interesting Scott Base tradition is the "Polar Plunge".
It involves jumping through a hole in the sea ice and into the ocean. Hmmmm. I wouldn't say I'm
the sharpest tool in the shed, but that does sound like a stupid idea, if not just a largely
unpleasant experience. Besides, I had several days of work to catch up on and I'm all about
productivity. Not to mention the fact that I hate going in the water. Despite these glaringly
obvious reasons, around half of the Scott Base staff thought otherwise and persued the chilling dip.
So long as they enjoyed it I guess!
The air temperature was around -5 degrees C, the ocean about -2. I can think of more fun things to do.
4/2/11: It's about that time of the season where all the mountain top radio gear
needs to be brought in at the end of the season. There's no more science events in the field and as
the sites are all solar powered, there's no sun at all in winter to keep the batteries charged. So
the batteries are collected from five remote sites, plus the radio equipment comes back to live
in the warm at Scott Base and gets a check over. I've already collected everything from the HF remote
receiver site at Black Island, but today's effort was focused on the notorious Hooper's Shoulder on
Mt Erebus. I had my doubts when I looked out the window and saw cloud instead of mountain, but the
US helicopter people were keen on giving it a crack. Got near the site and couldn't see well enough
to land. Wow, didn't expect that now, did we Einsteins?
If nothing else, I took this mediocre photo of the sea ice on the approach to Mt Erebus. Maybe we'll
give it another try next week.
2/2/11: Very slowly the summer staff are trickling away back home. Today we said
goodbye to Malina from the comms office. Many of the others are due to head away a week later on the 9th,
but Malina was away early to begin his university scholarship work.
Malina hard at work in the comms office. I'll really miss many of the summer crew. As you'd expect
from a group of 30 people all training, living and working together every day over the last four months,
most of us have come to know each other fairly well.
1/2/11: Spent the last couple of days on winter field training. We did the same kind of
thing at the start of the season last October, but this time around it was just the winter staff, myself
included. Was much more relaxed with a group of only 14 or so people. Pretty much just took the Hagglund to
somewhere snowy, set up polar tents, had a bar-be-que and a few beers. The downside being that if you
took too long drinking the beers at -15 degrees C then they started turning into ice in your hand. Had
a magnificent night of sleep though. Slept like a baby although I wasn't waking up every three hours crying
with pants full of poo.
Lounging on the snow. I'm second in on the left side; made myself a very comfortable foot stool out of snow.