22/2/2015: With a majority of the summer staff
leaving, it's been a week of mixed emotions as almost 30 people
returned home to New Zealand. While most of them were eager to get
back to friends and family, it's sad for them to be leaving their
home of the last four and a half months. Likewise for us in the
winter crew, it was a bit sad to see many of our friends from
summer depart. On the plus side, the place has quietened down
Some of the returnee winter staff dislike summer with a passion as
it's usually very busy with many staff and visitors, plus there's
the impression that management are always closely watching. I can't
say I blame them, it does feel a bit like you're stuck at home with
the babysitter at times. At least back in the real world, most
people can go home and leave work and your boss behind. While
of course here you're living and working with your boss 24 hours
per day. So it's nice to now see the winter staff finally starting
to relax and get on with things now that the management team and the
summer crew are off to greener pastures in NZ.
The sunset just after midnight, this morning at 12:30. We
also had the first sunset of the year two days ago. At present
it's setting at 12:27AM and rising at 3:49AM. It'll rapidly start
getting darker in the mornings.
During the week I set up this time lapse camera to record sea ice
growth over winter, the camera belongs to long time Antarctic
photographer and artist Anthony Powell,
the maker of the acclaimed feature film,
Antarctica: A Year On Ice.
The view out to McMurdo Sound over the Arrival Heights scientific
Here's the "studio" of our radio station, Scott Base 97FM which
I manage. It's a huge source of morale on base though always
difficult to strike a happy medium with people who have vastly
different tastes in music. We've been talking to The Radio
Network in New Zealand who is in the process of donating us some
used equipment to help upgrade and expand our station.
In the Scott Base local grounds, there's a lot of work happening around
the Field Centre rebuild project. As part of this, the dry food store
which was once in the Field Centre has been relocated to the old
incinerator shed, pictured above with a new front door. Inside, it's
been tidied up and lined with plywood. Previous to this, it used to
be the carpenter's wood store; which has since been relocated to
somewhere outside with some rocks on top of the wood to stop it blowing
away. Hmmmm, I'm not convinced this is a good long term solution.
The old hangar building is also receiving a re-fit inside to turn it
back into a useable cold storage building. Some of the equipment from
inside the building is temporarily stacked outside, though it's often
an issue trying to stop everything from getting either blown away or
buried in snow.
Inside the old hangar building the new excavator is being used to
remove the old steel and concrete floor. Easier said than done because
the 'dirt' floor contains much hard ice. After this is cleared, a new
floor will be formed by a layer of bedding sand with concrete paving
bricks set into it.
15/2/2015: Last Sunday ended up being busier
than usual for a number of reasons, including data communications
issues with our electricity network, storms causing damage and trying
to set the Scott Base bar up for a live music set without a lead
vocalist or any real music equipment. As a result I ran out of time
to write something here last week, so today there are few more photos
than usual to compensate.
So last week I had some of the managers from Telecom NZ International
on site who were doing a variety of planning work, so they needed some
support from me. We had a couple of winter group familiarisation
sessions last week, more often known as "group hugging sessions". The
less said about this, the better.
Certainly the major highlight of the past couple of weeks was the
tour of the fuel ship. One of our communications operators made
friends with some of the ship's crew and they invited us aboard one
evening for a look around. See the photos below.
This past week also saw the last of our summer science events, plus
I retrieved the last of the radio site batteries and equipment prior
to winter. And that's really about it for the summer season.
Half of the summer staff head home tomorrow, the other half on
Wednesday, leaving our winter crew of 19 here along with a few extra
people from the NZ Army who are helping with various construction
activities until April.
As part of the winter group familiarisation "group hugging" sessions,
we ended up doing various team activities, including igloo building.
I've not done this before and must admit it was actually quite fun.
I'm on the far left in the photo above. We realised a bit too late
that you need to cut more taper on the snow blocks as you build up
the walls, else they end up going vertically to the point that you can
no longer reach the top.
The mostly finished igloos. At least ours (third from left) got
finished. Everyone else quickly ran out of steam as soon as the
beers started going down. I fully understand.
A group photo of our winter team plus the smaller construction crew
with us until April. I'm on the far right, dressed in black.
This is the fuel supply ship at the McMurdo ice pier. It takes about
three to five days of 24 hour pumping to unload the AN-8 (low temperature
diesel) and Mogas (petrol equivalent) to bulk storage tanks.
Looking over the front deck of the fuel ship. Essentially the entire
vessel is a massive fuel tank. There's little living space below decks
because it's all bulk fuel tanks.
The seven cylinder main engine of the ship. Have I ever mentioned that
I love ships? Big boy's toys.
Last weekend saw a couple of days of strong winds and generally stormy
weather. It kept the ship in port for another couple of days until
it could safely navigate out through the ice channel. Not that the
sea ice was really a problem because most of it blew away in the
You can clearly see open ocean beyond McMurdo Station in the photo
above. If you've got a keen eye, you may see the ice breaker out
in McMurdo sound, roughly in the centre of the visible ocean. It
probably needs to be about in case the tanker has trouble with pack
ice. The southerly wind had blown much pack ice around the ship;
perhaps they needed to ram it clear using the breaker. Fortunately
the captain was a little more careful than the one from the
Last Tuesday saw the annual tradition of the youngest person on
base lower the larger summer flag and replace it with a smaller
winter flag. It still gets badly shredded by the harsh winter
winds. One year we had one star left and some of the Union
Jack. The flag is usually awarded to the base manager or someone
else in need of special reward for outstanding achievements in the
field of excellence. "Thanks for all the hard work, here's what's
left of a New Zealand flag which may be suitable as a tatty loin
cloth to replace your fig leaf".
Scott Base staff view the flag ceremony from beyond the cordon of
the asbestos pit in the background. At least it makes an
interesting change in backdrop from the typical bits of ice,
seals and penguins.
Here it is again, the asbestos pit in all its cancerous glory.
They dug it out on Thursday and are sending the contaminated
soil back to NZ. It seems that construction teams of previous
eras were not quite as environmentally conscious as we are
today. Bits of an old Scott Base building ended up being
brushed under the carpet, so to speak; along with various
bits of twisted metal, wood, pipe, chisels, crow bars,
shovels and more. Seriously, how much effort would have
been required to pick a few tools and things up instead of
piling them into the ground? Obviously way too much.
During the week I was at our Black Island remote HF receiver site to
remove the batteries and radio equipment at the end of the summer
season. There's no sunlight to keep the batteries charged and the
equipment warm, so the batteries and radio gear lives inside at
Scott Base during the cold dark days of winter. The big steaming
volcano in the background is Mt Erebus.
Since the Southern Lakes Helicopters crew and their machine have
since gone home, our last few remote jobs were done with the
United States helicopters, seen above on the landing site at
Black Island. The neighbouring White Island is visible in the
background. I'm not sure who names these islands but they
certainly suggest much racial segregation. I'm half expecting
a mandatory name alteration to White Island and Coloured
Island to meet the demands of today's politically correct
After multiple attempts, I finally got to our Hoopers Shoulder
radio site, on the upper western side of Mt Erebus. A couple of
days earlier the mountain was shrouded in cloud. The day after
that the pilot was sick. So we finally got there on Friday
afternoon to retrieve the batteries and radio equipment at the
end of the summer season.
One of the United States Antarctic Programme helicopters
landing on clear snow between rocks on the side of Mt Erebus.
As much as I'd like it; unfortunately I don't have a secret
underground lair inside a hollowed out volcano. While Mt
Erebus is Antarctica's most active volcano, I suspect
it's far from hollow. But apparently there are many ice
caves formed by steam vents on the upper sections
of the mountain.
The westward view from Hoopers Shoulder at nearly 2200 metres
above sea level. It's hard to see, but the open water in
McMurdo sound is under that fluffy cloud. The Dry Valleys
region of the Antarctic mainland is visible just above
the fluffy cloud. I'm going to have the cloud fascists on
my case again for my not realising that they're obviously
Fact of the day: fuel supply ships are significantly
more interesting than clouds.
1/2/2015: With the arrival of the
container ship on Monday, there have been ongoing 24-hour
operations to unload containers and receive and store the
contents. Many of the containers contain non-freeze cargo
which has the priority to get packed away inside to prevent
damage to certain food items.
The unload operations went smoothly and finished in around
four days, possibly a new record. The ship is currently being
loaded with waste and surplus items being returned to New
Zealand and America. A vast majority of the cargo on the
ship is for the Americans at McMurdo Station.
Meanwhile at Scott Base, the summer staff are rapidly winding
down, with most of them leaving in just two weeks. At
the same time, the Field Centre construction crew are ramping
up the redevelopment work. For whatever reasons, it was
decided that the new Field Centre, purpose built in 2008, is
no longer fit for purpose. So at present various internal
walls are being removed and storage relocated. Over winter
a fairly major re-fit is planned, essentially turning most
of the Field Centre into computer labs and other areas for
science events to stage and plan their summer work.
As part of this work, various stock that was housed in the
field centre is now being relocated into insulated shipping
containers that are being located around the place. For
example, the base food chiller will be a heated container
just outside the kitchen. Ironically enough, only heating
is required for this outside refrigerator. The warmest
outside temperatures over winter are about -10C, so a
thermostatically controlled heater inside the container
regulates the inside temperature at +4C to maintain food
at the optimum storage temperature.
Some of the cargo on the container ship included new vehicles
that arrived to replace some of the old vehicles. The photo
above shows the old T6 Toyota Landcruiser on the left with
the brand new replacement T6 parked in front. There were also
two new Hagglunds tracked vehicles that arrived, at a cost of
about $350,000 each. Ahhh, that's probably why there's no
budget for me to do any remotely interesting project work
Rows of shipping containers unloaded from the container ship
that are awaiting unpacking.
Inspecting a container of a year's supply of beer, wine and
stock for the shop and bar. This year we have two different
varieties of Three Boys beers from Christchurch and four
Garage Project craft ales from Wellington. Naturally, I
couldn't be more excited! However, there was a minor incident
while unloading the container the other day with one of the
NZ Army plant operators shoving the fork lift through the
side of one of the pallets. "I couldn't see where the forks
were going!" I've got no idea how to go about driving a
fork lift, but I'm picking it would begin with being able to
see what you're driving several tonnes of steel into. Else
they might as well just hire Stevie Wonder as a plant
The aircraft mainly in use for flights to and from Christchurch
has been the LC130 ski Hercules, pictured above. These have the
ability to land on the snow runway at Willy's Field. Problems
arose last summer with warm temperatures making the ice runway
at Pegasus Field too soft for wheeled aircraft. But the larger
C-17 wheeled aircraft are due to start operating again within
Some photos from the K020 field party who left early this week.
This is their field camp in the Dry Valleys region. The ground
is normally brown and dusty at this time of the year, though
they've obviously just had a snow storm. The wall of ice in the
background is the end edge of one of the many glaciers in the
Part of the K020 work in the Dry Valleys was the test flights
of radio controlled drone aircraft that carry aerial view
cameras. This of course made McMurdo air traffic control
especially anxious due to the possible collision with the
many helicopters that operate in the area, so a set of
operating procedures needed to be established.
Lastly, a jumping killer whale photo from the K070 whale