28/2/2016: That's it, the last of the Christchurch office
people left two days ago, so it's finally just the 20 of us here until early
April, then down to 11 once the Leighs Construction crew return home.
This time last week we were just getting ready for a trip over the hill to McMurdo
Station to enjoy brunch with the Americans and see some of our friends over there.
But just prior to leaving, the fire alarm went off. Smoke detector in one of the
visitor accommodation rooms. Unlike the usual round of false alarms, this time
the room was actually filled with actual smoke. The source of which turned out
to be from a failed component in a fluorescent light that had been left on. It
provides a great deal of confidence on how good the fire detection systems at Scott
Base are. This incident would likely had resulted in an actual fire if it wasn't
for the early smoke detection and fast action of the fire crew.
Photos this week are nearly all from Katrina. We had the annual Spirit of
Enderby ship visit this week and we were invited on board afterwards.
Unfortunately I had been tricked into agreeing to cover someone on fire watch
that evening, which turned out to be so they could visit the ship. So as usual,
I was stuck here on fire crew. I sound like a broken record.
We saw the first sunset of 2016 this week on the 22nd of February. Setting at
12:50AM and rising at 3:26AM. Won't be long now before it starts getting properly
dark in the wee hours of the morning. After sunset, there's still plenty of dull
ambient light; at least for another couple of weeks.
Various NZ and American passengers boarding the LC-130 at William's Field for the
8-9 hour return journey to Christchurch, NZ. Hey, I just noticed that's the only
8-bladed propeller Herc in the fleet, old Smokey Joe. The same one that kept
catching fire during our departing flights from NZ last month! Presumably they
fixed the problem in the end. Or it's carrying a large cargo of fire extinguishers.
It's uncertain if we'll see a complete sea ice breakout to Scott Base this year.
That usually only happens once in a while. The annual ice melt is about where it
usually gets to at this time of a year, as seen past the wind farm. If we get a
decent storm in the next couple of weeks it'll probably get the ice moving a bit
more before the ocean starts re-freezing soon with the falling temperature.
And with the sea ice getting slushy, the sea ice pressure ridges have closed for
the time being. Best not to have people accidentally falling into melt pools
and drowning. The many new people here are hoping for a complete ice breakout
as seeing open water just out the door makes a nice change from the usual plateau
of ice as far as you can see. The open ocean also brings many killer whales to
the doorstep. As someone has amended the note on the white board above, there
had better be ales! Speaking of which, we have three different craft beers in
the bar from the Three Boys brewery in Christchurch. I'm quite pleased by
Another view of the crumbling ice sheet floating on the ocean. It's changing every
day, though as the air cools (-21C this morning), the ocean surface starts to
re-freeze and the sea ice breakup slows down.
McMurdo Station seen from the Zodiac ride out to the visiting ship, Spirit of
Enderby. I wish I'd been there, instead of being stuck here on fire crew.
Katrina convinced the Zodiac driver to explore the edge of the broken out sea
ice. From Scott Base (pictured centre), we could see them through the telescope.
The sea ice sheet is a lot thicker than it looks from a distance. It's generally
around 2 metres thick.
Here's the one photo of the week from me. Instead of having a good time with
boats, I was having a bad time with trying to make GPS units work in Hagglunds.
One of our Garmin units had been broken and was exchanged for a new unit, which
worked normally above a latitude of 60 degrees south; we're at 77 degrees
south, which made the GPS display unit almost as unhappy as I was to be
dealing with this.
21/2/2016: As expected with the departure of nearly all the
summer staff this week, the daily urgent work has reduced considerably, meaning
there's now actually time to get other things done. I'm really growing to enjoy
our winter crew, especially our very Australian carpenter, known as Grubb.
At morning tea the other day:
Grubb: "The spectator crowd at Bathurst was great. If you went into your car
to start it up, and there was any minor sign of it hesitating to start, the crowd
would roll your car upside-down and set it on fire."
Me: "What the hell is wrong with Australians?!!"
Grubb: "It's just 'cause we're a nation of convicts."
The last part of my week was taken up with packing and sending personal
possessions back to NZ for my counterpart, Grumps. Since he's no longer here for
winter, he wanted his stuff back. Fair enough. But he had pallet loads of stuff,
literally. After much effort, that's finally in the cargo system and I have
floor space and bench space in the workshop again.
Last season was peppered with people getting sent home for "failing to meet the
criteria" while this season it's been due to medical issues. Fortunately there's
been no accidents or anything too serious. Mac left yesterday morning, a week or so
earlier than expected. He was in great spirits as the McMurdo shuttle van stopped
to we could all wish him farewell.
Bruce gets his bagpipes out at every occasion he can. Such as during the departure
of a respected Scott Base figure such as Mac (above), Robbie Burns evening, the stroke
of New Years, your pen falling off the desk onto the floor, etc. Fortunately all the
practice he's had has made him a fairly reasonable piper.
Waving goodbye to Mac on his way out to the airfield. We're looking forward to seeing
him back next summer.
Temperatures took a sudden plummet this week. On Monday we went from typical daytime
temperatures of a pleasant -5 to 0 degrees to around -20C, a sure sign that winter is
just around the corner. The project team working on the Field Centre expansions have
really been feeling the cold this week. They'll be working out in it for a few more
weeks to come, and it's only going to get colder.
At the same time, the Field Centre container lab dock looks to be progressing well.
Prefabricated concrete floor panels are bolted in place and wall panelling will
start to go on in the next week or two.
I completed some work at McMurdo Station during the week. This is their telephone
exchange, an aging NEC NEAX2400. Despite having to source spare parts from Ebay, the
thing has been running well enough for years. They keep talking about replacing it,
but of course that involves a lot of time and money.
Part of the MDF or Main Distribution Frame at McMurdo Telco. These type 66 blocks
are connections between the telephone exchange (PABX) and cable pairs running off
to other buildings and other sites. We have a very similar structure here at Scott
Base, but on a smaller scale.
14/2/2016: Many out and about jobs this week have added
more pressure to the mounting workload, so it was good to complete the last
remaining helicopter access job yesterday afternoon. It's that time of year when
the radio equipment and batteries are returned from their mountain top sites back
to Scott Base for the winter. The lack of sunlight over winter means there is no
solar power to keep batteries charged. When the lead acid batteries become
discharged, their freezing temperature rises from around -40C to around -5C, so
if the internal sulphuric acid was to freeze, the expansion of the solid mass
damages the internal lead plates and plastic casing, ruining the battery.
Here's a graph that explains it in more detail. Everyone likes graphs,
especially statisticians and maths teachers. In case you don't already know,
the specific gravity of a fully charged battery is about 1.27 and a very flat
battery is about 1.1.
11 summer staff also left yesterday, with most of the remaining summer staff
departing over the coming week. They've only been here a little more than four
months, though some of them act as though it's been an eternity. A brief add-up
just now reveals I've spent around 1180 days here since 2010. Certainly far
from any record, but I have spent more time in Antarctica than back home in
New Zealand over the last five years.
Yesterday also saw the annual summer to winter flag ceremony, which is the official
change from the summer to the winter crew. Before long it'll just be the 11
of us winter staff and the Field Centre construction crew until early April, then
when the construction crew leave, it'll just be the 11 of us until August.
This will probably be the last of semi-interesting photos in a while, so I've
got a few more than usual this week for your viewing pleasure.
Last Sunday was the final day of the ski field before it was packed up for the
season and the rental ski and snowboard equipment returned to Christchurch.
Despite my towering workload, I don't regret taking a single one day weekend off
work to make the most of one of the final days of warm temperatures and calm
winds I'm likely to be seeing for a while.
A final job with riggers Keri and Jay this week before they returned home; was
the removal of the Meridian Energy wind monitoring mast. It had been installed
roughly ten years ago to study annual wind speeds and temperatures for a wind
farm survey. Presumably they have all the data they need for the time being.
In my last monthly report I mentioned that I was sourcing a 50 Ohm termination for
the open waveguide on a combiner port on our 9 metre satellite antenna. The report
made its way to my uncle, Brent Jones, working for Chorus NZ who found a surplus
termination and sent it my way as a freebie. Kind of nice how these things
sometimes work out.
The Leighs Construction team continue working long hours every day on the Field
Centre expansions. They have the floor beams in place for the new container lab
dock. Polystyrene and steel freezer panel is bolted on under the steel floor beams
and prefabricated concrete slabs are then bolted on top of the steel beams.
There is a lot of heavy machinery movement as part of the Field Centre
construction. The 924K loader above carries sheets of freezer panelling from a
shipping container to the construction site.
One of the issues I had with my abrupt return to Scott Base three weeks ago was
the outstanding customer repair jobs I had in progress; many of them in transit
or waiting on parts. Unfortunately the Scott Base workshop is not at all suited
for Amiga computer repairs, meaning I had to send down much of my Amiga specific
test equipment to create a minimal repair and test facility to complete these
jobs, most of which are still in progress. Not only is it problematic with
getting freight to and from here, there's the lack of my complete repair facility
that I have back home, and also a lack of time between much other work at present
as I'm often working days, night and during the single-day weekend. The photo
above shows an Amiga A1200 repair in progress with a small TV set used as a
I think this is the Blue Glacier; a typical view into the Dry Valleys
region on the way to remove equipment from our three radio sites there
at the end of the summer season.
The first of the three radio sites, Mt JJ Thomson in the Taylor Valley.
I get given an excess number of 'helpers' for these sorts of jobs, which
makes a simple half day job take two days due to the much extra planning and
safety briefings I'm required to do in order to prevent the tourists from
inadvertently killing themselves along the way.
The second of the Dry Valleys radio sites, Mt Newall, also features a large
white building that houses the Americans' radio equipment. The NZ site is
the small green hut in the centre.
Looking west down the Victoria Valley towards Lake Vida
on the way to the third site, Mt Cerberus, which proved to be too cloudy
to access that day. Ironically enough, the complete lack of wind meant that
the problematic light could was hanging around certain mountain tops whereas
a calm breeze would get the cloud moving.
Returning to Scott Base from a partially completed job in the Dry Valleys.
This is the view over what I think is Butter Point, or at least somewhere
close by, probably The Strand Moraines. Slabs of broken sea ice float in
the Ross Sea in McMurdo Sound.
Amanda has been doing the job of summer field support for a number
of seasons now. She's getting pretty slick at loading and unloading the
contents of the helicopter into the quad bike trailer at Scott Base.
A few days later we made a second visit to the last Dry Valleys site,
Mt Cerberus, to retrieve the radio equipment and batteries at the end
of the summer season. In the meantime we'd had a decent day of snow fall,
so everything was white instead of brown. I know, sounds a bit racist.
This would be why the remote telemetry showed the solar charge current
as 10mA (0.01A) and a temperature of -12C. The layer of snow blocks
sunlight from the solar modules.
Inside the red box is a couple of 100AHr 12V batteries, a box containing
a Tait T735 duplex VHF repeater and a Tait T754 UHF mobile for linking.
The solar regulator and DC distribution board seen above stays on site. It
includes current sensing for radio telemetry reporting, which I designed and
built back in 2011.
A bit of an overcast day on the return journey to Scott Base. McMurdo
Station visible in the centre of the photo above.
Recent snowfall also turned the dusty grounds around Scott Base into the
more familiar frozen shade of white.
After the usual days of waiting for cloud, yesterday started out as one
of those "hurry up and wait" jobs. Then just before mid-day the cloud
surrounding Mt Erebus parted to reveal the towering volcano, meaning we
could access the final radio site, Hoopers Shoulder, on the west (left)
side of the mountain.
Flying past Castle Rock on the way to Mt Erebus. You can clearly see the
Hagglunds tracks in the fresh snow.
I also get 'helpers' tasked to me for the work at Hoopers Shoulder, but
at least with this job they earn their keep. The site is very rocky and
there's over quarter of a tonne of batteries and radio equipment to be
carried from the equipment shelter to the helicopter. Naturally the
helpers are initially very excited about going for what they think is
just a pleasant helicopter ride. This is the smile on Matt the
electrician's face inside the Bell 212 helicopter. I don't think he was
smiling quite as much after I made him carry the batteries and radios.
This is the Americans' Bell 212 helicopter landed in among the rocks at
Hoopers Shoulder. Luckily there's a smooth and easy path for carrying
batteries from the equipment shelter where I'm taking this photo from,
directly to the helicopter. Sorry, actually I meant the complete opposite
of that. The ragged route is not at all defined and is filled with angst
and despair. Carrying heavy batteries over huge rocks and slippery snow
drifts is anything but ponies playing in gumdrop meadows. Hence the useful
workplace health and safety initiative: Prevent workplace injuries, make
someone else do it.
This is Terrel, the token black guy and my Sherpa (as he described it).
Fortunately he's actually enjoying the hard work at Hoopers Shoulder;
some of these NZ Army boys are actually great value.
No visit to Hoopers Shoulder on Mt Erebus would be complete without
taking a second to admire the fantastic view. This is looking
south-west towards Mt Discovery which is hiding behind the distant
Mt Terror, on the eastern side of Ross Island, as seen from near the
summit of Mt Erebus.
Returning to Scott Base from Mt Erebus. Observation Hill seen top
centre, Scott Base to the right and the pressure ridges dotted with
seals in the foreground.
The Weddell Seals usually aren't too fazed by the noisy helicopter
flying above, but sometimes the American pilots deliberately fly
fairly low to stir them up, with shouts of "get a move on you fat
Winter mechanic Jason Millar checking over the brand new Herman Nelson
(hot air blower) which is used for a variety of tasks from thawing
frozen water pipes to melting compacted snow away from vehicle
Yesterday also saw the annual tradition of the youngest person on base
lowering the summer flag and raising the smaller winter one in the summer
to winter crew handover ceremony.
Some of the guys and gals had been rehearsing a haka during the week to
perform at the flag ceremony. They even went to the trouble of writing
it themselves (in English) and had someone translate it into Maori.
In light of their effort, I feel a bit terrible in saying that from where
I was standing, I couldn't hear it all that well, and it looked as though
they were doing the actions to "Don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart,
I just don't think he'll understand...."
7/2/2016: NZ Waitangi Day flew by yesterday and I didn't
even notice, it's surprising how quickly you become disconnected from home when
you don't read the news very often. We're in that wind-down period at the end
of the summer season where in my role, everything seems to be happening at once.
Two others from Downer Engineering are on site this week for the annual rigging
maintenance work, which included various copper cable and antenna maintenance.
It's also that time of year where batteries and radio equipment are retrieved
from remote communications sites for return to Scott Base over winter as in only
a few more months, there will be no more sunlight for the solar panels to keep
The container ship, Ocean Giant, was loaded with waste and equipment for return
to New Zealand and America. It departed earlier this week to be replaced by the
fuel resupply ship. Its cargo of special low temperature diesel and petrol
is being unloaded at present.
The US icebreaker, Polar Star, in the sea ice at the front of McMurdo Station.
Riggers Jay and Keri repairing a damaged 25-pair copper communications cable
between Scott Base and Arrival Heights after it appeared to have been driven
over, multiple times, by a US snow cat. Right beside a big yellow sign that
reads "Do not drive off road, ground laid cables".
During a short visit to the Arrival Heights lab to test communications cables,
science tech Ursula explains to Keri and Jay how the Bruker instrument
measures atmospheric gasses using sunlight, mirrors and some kind of black
The Leighs Construction contractors are making rapid progress in the
structural framing for the Field Centre warm porch expansion.
Leighs are also working this morning (Sunday) on the Field Centre container
lab dock. They're aiming to have both expansion completed in early April
when they fly home to NZ. Internal fit-out is being planned from August.
Thursday saw a couple of helicopter access jobs, the first one on Mt Wise on
top of Brown Peninsula, approximately 30km south-west of Scott Base. The view
above is of Black Island as we flew over bits of land and sea ice.
The temporary VHF repeater which we were retrieving from Mt Wise at the
end of the summer season. I'd done the radio engineering for this job
last winter where radio coverage was calculated to provide area specific
coverage for science events located in a series of valleys which was
otherwise very problematic for radio communications.
The helicopter from NZ company Southern Lakes Helicopters had just been sent
back home on the ship at the end of the season, so we're needing to use the
American helicopters and pilots to complete our jobs. This is one of their
Bell 212 machines at Mt Wise.
After the Mt Wise job, it was off to our remote HF receiver site on black
island where riggers Keri and Jay conducted repairs on the delta antenna
which had been damaged from storms over last winter.
Unloading the helicopter at Black Island. It's hard to tell, but it was
annoyingly windy on site, around 35 knots (65km/hr).
Keri walking around the frozen beach at Black Island while waiting for the
helicopter to collect us at the end of the day. Mt Erebus pictured centre.
Approaching the helicopter pad back at Scott Base, just in time for dinner
and a few well deserved cold beers.
While we were out yesterday, the visiting fire inspector managed to somehow
flood the Field Centre waste water system with a large volume of water drained
from the sprinkler tank. The transfer pumps couldn't cope with the volume of
water, causing raw sewage to spill out into the labs and hallways. See what
happens when you go away for a few hours?