29/3/2015: On fire crew this week, so I'm
staying home at Scott Base for the one-day weekend. Not that
this usually involves much work, it's just that you're not to
leave base without someone to take your place on the duty fire
crew, which is usually a pain in the arse to find someone who
can do your position on the crew (I'm in the BA or breathing
apparatus team) and who isn't going to be away from base. We
have a fire drill once per month, plus the occasional false
alarm; such as the one last night where one of the NZ Army
people found it a bit cold at -20C in the small smokers' shack
outside, so put a 3kW electric heater in there, which made
the small hut so hot it tripped the heat detector. The number
of people on base at present (28) means there's enough
people for three fire crews, so I'm only on duty once every
three weeks, as opposed to every second week as it usually
is over winter.
A little more action than usual in Scott Base engineering this
week after one of the air handler heating coils froze, causing
the copper tubes to rupture and spill about a thousand litres
of heating loop water through the building. The air handlers
consist of a fan that continuously circulates air past a copper
coil, similar to a radiator in a car. When the control system
decides to heat the room, it drives a pump that pushes hot
water from the central heating loop through the coil. When it
decides the room is too hot or the carbon dioxide levels are
too high, the control system opens dampers that vent stale
air outside and brings in (cold) fresh air from outside. The
coil freezing problem developed due to the outside damper
getting stuck open while there was no hot water being driven
through the coil, hence the air at -20C caused the water in
the coil to freeze and the copper tubes to split.
There was a trip organised last night where people could go
out to the field training camp (about a 15 minute Hagglund
drive) and stay outside overnight in tents. I'm not silly
enough to want that kind of torture, but they still managed
to muster up a group of about a dozen keen newbies. It
probably wasn't very pleasant last night; the wind was around
20 knots all night with a temperature of a consistent -17C.
They arrived back this morning all complaining of how cold it
was and little sleep they got. Can't say I'm surprised.
Myself (left) and Andy the water engineer (right) removed the
air handler copper coil for repair after a stuck outside air
damper caused the water inside the coil to freeze and the
copper tubes to split, losing around 1000 litres of heating
water and triggering dozens of plant alarms.
The ruptured air handler coil (above) leaked so much heating
water that it flooded the under floor space in the kitchen
then started running out small gaps in the freezer panel and
onto the ground outside. The photo above shows the heating
loop water running downhill from under the kitchen building.
And at long last the waste water gantry has been repaired after
it was damaged by passing icebergs about a year ago. The heated
and insulated pipe returns processed and ozone treated water
from the waste water plant back to the ocean. The returned
water is clear and virtually drinkable.
Becky's dramatic monochrome shot of the Memorial Cross
on top of Observation Hill, set up in 1913 in memorial to Captain
Scott who died in 1912 while trying to reach South Pole. Now
over 100 years old, the cross has become a little weather beaten,
plus over summer some people from the NZ Army defaced the cross
by scratching their initials into it, presumably in an attempt to
make the place feel a little more like a South Auckland ghetto.
So last week the Scott Base carpenter put a plywood shroud over
the cross to protect it from the winter wind and blowing grit
until it can be restored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust this
The west wall of the Scott Base field centre building, currently
receiving a major internal re-fit this winter. It's the newest
building on site, less than 10 years old, and it's already deemed
to be not fit for purpose due to the science community now saying
they want something different. In another few year's time,
they'll ask a different group of scientists what they want,
which will be something totally different, so it'll be back to
the drawing board yet again.
Was actually a fairly nice day yesterday with little wind for once,
so Molly, pictured above, gave me a hand setting up a new antenna
(below) on one of the Crater Hill antenna towers.
The new 900MHz collinear antenna we installed at Crater Hill
yesterday will receive telemetry data from sea ice probes set up
over winter to measure the rate of sea ice growth as part of an
experiment being run by Otago University. They've been running
this for a few years now, previously all data was only recorded
locally at the measuring site. So the Scott Base science
technician would have to go out every few weeks and download the
data. But they somehow managed to screw it up on a number of
occasions last year and leave the equipment in a state where it
wasn't recording any data. After hearing about how the experiment
was being run, I suggested better ways of approaching the entire
thing; how hard is it to send a bit of data over radio? Not hard
at all of course, so not only do you not have to constantly waste
time and fuel by driving to the probe site all of the time, you can
immediately have the logged data on hand, and know immediately if
something isn't working as it should be.
The token shot of McMurdo Station as seen from the top of
Crater Hill yesterday. It's all looking very white all of a
sudden due to a few recent snow falls.
22/3/2015: A constant week work wise
with the usual documentation work, winter maintenance of
communications equipment, etc. There is a regular maintenance
schedule for all of the many vehicles, so every 50 hours the
mechanic conducts routine checks of things such as oil levels,
brake fluid, coolant levels, etc. Then longer term scheduled
services covers oil changes, filter changes and more. One of
the many things on my maintenance list is annual inspections
of the 2-way radios that are fitted to each of the vehicles.
These usually require minimum work except from when one of my
predecessors has made an average job of the installation,
requiring antennas to be re-terminated, power cables correctly
But enough about boring work stuff. The weekend was fairly
interesting as Scott Base held the (belated) St Patrick's
annual party in the bar. As everyone else does worldwide,
this involves drinking a lot of Guinness and Kilkenny
and optionally dressing up in some stupid costume, usually
coloured green. One thing I dislike even more than loud
shouty parties is loud shouty parties that feature any kind
of annoying dress-up. Hence a bunch of us do what we usually
do in such situations and watched a bunch of music videos
and drank beer. A far more relaxing way to spend the evening.
Sunday was great too. A truly excellent lunch at the McMurdo
galley followed by afternoon beers in the Southern Exposure
bar, open over winter as a lounge.
St Patrick's Day was on Tuesday, so Tracy the chef decorated the
kitchen in a green Irish theme with a bunch of green coloured food.
The typical dinner scene in the Scott Base dining room at 6PM.
I'm on the left, enjoying a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from McMurdo.
We're just on the equinox, which is approximately equal hours of
darkness and daylight, and also about the same daylight hours as
southern New Zealand at present. Some great sunrises and sunsets
at this time of the year, the photo above showing what's known as
Here's Molly pointing angrily at the computer monitor which is
showing that one of the three wind turbines is reporting another
issue, requiring a trip up to the wind farm to reset the failed
system to re-start the turbine. Seems to be a pretty common
occurrence. The wind farm is often in one of two states;
it's either broken or it's about to break.
The sea ice edge beside Observation Hill as viewed from the Scott
Base road last Sunday during a walk to McMurdo Station.
After base meeting yesterday, they decided it was time for a group
photo in the hangar as the new floor is almost finished. Here's
Lex and Graeme looking a little anxious because few people actually
like doing these group photos.
And the resulting group shot in the hangar. The NZ Army light
engineering guys have made an outstanding job of laying the
17,000 or so concrete pavers for the new floor.
15/3/2015: The rapidly cooling temperatures
as low as -28C this week hasn't helped motivation of the NZ Army
Light Engineering Team working on the hangar refurbishment. Over
the last few weeks they've ripped up the old concrete, steel and
ice floor to make way for the new floor of concrete pavers.
Although it's inside work and they're sheltered from the wind,
the building has no insulation, no heating; few windows to let in
natural light and is jokingly said to be the coldest building in
Antarctica. Though whenever you walk in there it somehow feels
colder than the ambient temperature outside. The 17,000 pavers
are almost half in place, due to be completed next week. Come
to think of it, I should have taken some progress photos....
I've started a bit of winter maintenance work in the way of testing
and replacing some troublesome solar regulators and other mundane
jobs. Nothing terribly exciting. Although we did wind up the
work week on Saturday evening with a home brew night. Which
included some beer brewed onsite by Graeme, a couple of brews I
made with friends in Christchurch just before the start of the
Scott Base summer season in October, plus few different beers
brewed by my friend Andrew in Christchurch. What a fantastic
way to finish a busy week!
With temperatures generally hanging around the -20C mark and
ever decreasing sunlight hours, it doesn't take long for new
snow to settle on the ground in what will soon be permanent
Graeme and Keith remove the treated waste water outflow gantry
for repair after it was damaged by passing icebergs a year ago
when the sea ice last broke out.
The construction crew are hacking into the mammoth job of the
field centre rebuild. For those that know Scott Base, the area
on the left is where the AFCC beer store and the base food fridge
used to be.
What used to be the Scott Base gymnasium is to become some kind
of breakout room with a kitchenette and seating. They're adding
two new windows on the south side of the building.
For interests sake, this is how the walls are constructed. The
outside is about 300mm of foam sandwich panel - expanded polystyrene
with sheet steel on either side. Then an air gap for structural
steel framing, pipes, wiring and air ducting. The room inside walls
are standard Gib plaster board (dry wall) on steel framing.
A random shot into the sunlight out the front of Scott Base while
working outside on Friday. Was a chilly morning at -28C but the
sunshine and no wind made it fairly pleasant.
What's this hiding in the food freezer container? Erreeeeee! I
bet you can squeal, boy. I'm thinking mid-winter spit roast.
7/3/2015: So after nearly a week of mechanical
breakdowns and waiting for aircraft parts, the final flight of the
summer season was last Thursday evening, almost a week behind
schedule. The final flight is usually celebrated by the winter
staff with a glass of Champagne, though there seemed to be fewer
festivities than usual this time. Probably due to the fact this is
not actually the final flight at all; this winter they're aiming
for a flight every six weeks for the purpose of cargo supply and
It's also our first 2-day weekend, which is something they do over
winter which helps a little in avoiding total insanity. It's usually
a 6-day working week, but the first Saturday of each month is a
day off work. Though as all weekends go, they're never quite long
TVNZ were kind enough to donate us a DVD of
Nigel Latta's recently released documentary
that was filmed last summer at Scott Base. We received that
yesterday in the cargo from the final summer flight, so we'll have
a viewing session in the bar tonight. Recreation wise things have
been going well enough with the Friday darts sessions at Scott Base
starting from last night. We've also received some of the live
Super Rugby courtesy of my bosses at Telecom NZ International,
which arrives over the video conference network. It's sent at a
low data rate over the satellite link, so the resulting video image
is very 'chunky' and slow to update, though the audio is clear.
Enough to see what's going on and that's about it, but certainly
a lot better than nothing.
Work wise, it's been another mundane week of dealing with wind
farm data problems, Emails and helping science events plan various
work for next season.
The construction crew have been busy getting the container stands
ready to receive the new fridge and freezer containers; food
storage has now been moved out of the field centre and is to
be temporarily located outside the kitchen. Long term, permanent
walk-in freezers will be built adjacent to the kitchen as the
long term upgrade project progresses. Makes sense to store
all of the food right beside the kitchen, as opposed to the
opposite end of the base, as it was previously.
Corporal Armstrong drives the D6 bulldozer to move the freezer
containers into position to be lifted onto the waiting container
The installed food storage containers; one fridge and two
freezers. And gone is the once lovely view of Mt Discovery
from my workshop window. The fridge container only needs
heating as inside it needs to be about +4 degrees C all
year round. The freezers contain both heating and cooling.
In winter, ambient temperatures can often be below -40C
meaning that food would be damaged; it's supposed to be stored
at a regulated -18C. Winter can be as high as -8C and summer
around +4C; hence the freezer containers do require a form of
cooling as well.
A couple of photos here from Becky, since mine are ridiculously
boring. Obviously a crane lifting containers was the lame
highlight of the week. The photo above is of Lex by the
Andrill containers near Willy's Field. They're bermed
(positioned onto a specially prepared snow platform) to
prevent blowing snow over winter from burying the containers.
Even as they are now, they will much snow shovelling at the
start of next summer to open the container doors.
The "square frame", our home-away-from-home recreation building,
also gets dragged out of the snow and re-bermed prior to
winter. Else it slowly disappears under the ever growing snow
1/3/2015: Temperatures plummeted to a new low
for the year early on Monday morning, dropping from a fairly mild
-6C to -21C in the space of a few hours. A sure sign that winter is
just around the corner. It's almost dark at night too with the sun
setting at 11PM and rising at 5AM, though even at 2AM it's still
fairly bright outside as the sun is only just below the horizon.
We'll continue to lose around 20 minutes of daylight per day until
the last sunrise in about six weeks.
One flight to go until the official last one of summer. Actually it
was supposed to be yesterday, but there was a 48-hour mechanical
breakdown delay announced, so the last flight is now tomorrow.
Flight delays caused by weather and mechanical breakdowns are a
very common part life here, so most people are wise enough not to
plan connecting flights and important events for immediately
when they're scheduled to be back in Christchurch, because flight
plans inevitably change at the last minute.
Though it's not really the 'last' flight; unlike previous winters,
there are scheduled flights every six weeks for delivery of cargo
and staff exchange. I suspect these flights will depend heavily
around what the winter time weather does, so delays in the flight
schedule are a high probability.
Outside the dining room, work is progressing on the foundations
for the temporary container stands, which will hold the base food
freezer and fridge containers until the new permanent freezers
are built on the end of the kitchen as part of the Scott Base
master upgrade plan over the next few years. Over the top of the
TAE hut (centre) the dark line on the sea ice is the open ocean
which is beginning to re-freeze with the temperatures dropping
One of my other part time jobs (aside from fire crew, radio
station DJ, receptionist, kitchen hand and everything else) is
bartender. This photo from a few weeks ago before the summer
crew started leaving.
It's not all that well known that there used to be a nuclear
power plant at McMurdo Station. It was built in 1962 as a form
of low cost heating and electricity production, though it was
plagued with ongoing issues and turned out to be much more
expensive to maintain than first expected. As a result the
plant was shut down in 1972 and everything removed from the
site. All that remains there today are two wooden platforms
that were the bases of two buildings, plus the plaque shown
above. Some great photos and discussions of the history of
the PM-3A nuclear plant here,
Also, here's an interesting scanned brochure
from someone who wintered at Scott Base in 1967. The brochure
was given out to people who visited the plant while it was
People are going to complain if I put up lots of photos of
radios and stuff, which is pretty much all I have at present,
so time to borrow a couple of photos from some of the field
trainers from over the summer season. This is the field
training camp as seen from the air. All staff and most visitors
undergo a day or two of field training which teaches the
correct clothing to wear outside, how to use polar tents and
other outdoor equipment, etc.
An Antarctic Skua mid-flight among the sea ice. Aside from
Weddell Seals and Americans, these scavenging birds are the
most common wild life seen from Scott Base. Yes, that thing
would definitely peck your eyes out.