30/11/2014: The fourth Thursday in each November is
for the Americans. While this is usually of little interest to people
in New Zealand, it turns out that Scott Base gets quite involved because
we have a station full of a thousand Americans just down the road. As I
understand it, the two really big events in America are Thanksgiving and
Independence Day on the 4th of July. So Thanksgiving is marked by turkey
dinners (or dinner with turkeys, depending who happens to be at the table)
to which we were all invited. They generally do these things on a Saturday
evening so as not to disrupt the working week, so last night most of Scott
Base went across to feast at McMurdo. However, extremely busy mass dining
halls are generally not my favourite places to be, so I stayed home and
had some of the truly delicious pizza made by Tracy the chef for the small
group of us who desired a less boisterous evening.
In true McMurdo style, there was also a large scale after party; it's the
time of year they do Freezing Man, a play on the popular
Burning Man outdoor
festival held annually in America. This McMurdo party was an indoor dance
party. I dislike dancing even more than I dislike the majority of American
food that primarily contains two ingredients: sugar and other. So I had an
uninteresting but relaxing night instead, which is sometimes just what you
need. Suited me just fine.
Another part of the Thanksgiving Day festival at McMurdo is the annual
Turkey Trot, which is a fun run around town. Since I'm paid to
provide technical support and do radio communications stuff, I was doing
that instead. But this is a photo of what is probably the start line
outside the chapel at McMurdo. I should probably mention at this point
that Americans take every opportunity to do some kind of fancy dress;
hence there are a number of outrageous get-ups visible.
And this is probably the finishing point of the Turkey Trot fun run.
I expect they will all be heading into the chapel to have a cup of tea
with the vicar.
Despite the near continuous veil of cloud that's been over us for the past
two or three weeks, there is the odd day of sunshine. An ideal evening
during the week to visit a new trail added to the pressure ridges. Mt
Erebus in the background.
Of course the pressure ridges are just big chunks of ice floating on the
open ocean. When the tide is high, it pushes up through cracks and forms
these melt pools, visible here. There is a thin crust of ice around the
edges, but the centre part is unfrozen sea water.
My amateur wildlife photography of a Weddell Seal and an Antarctic Skua.
All of these animals are looking particularly anxious with us walking past
on the pressure ridge trail.
Because I hadn't really taken any photos all week aside from a few pressure
ridge ones and a few boring work photos, it's that time of the week to see
what everyone else has added to the network drive for the taking. I mean
sharing. This is the new (2013) Hagglund H1 and some Emperor Penguins.
Probably taken during one of the regular Sunday outings to the historic huts
at Cape Evans.
23/11/2014: A steady week, not too many dramas and everyone
appears to be getting over the various outbreaks of colds and norovirus that have
been going around for the past few weeks. We were surprised on Tuesday when it was
announced that two of our winter staff were leaving the following day as it was
deemed they weren't a suitable fit for winter. Part of NZ employment contracts means
that in the first 90 days if your employer doesn't find you suitable, then they
aren't required to keep you on. It's a fairly gutsy decision to have to make, but
I seriously do applaud Antarctica NZ management for being proactive about the winter
community and they handled it all very professionally. Experience shows that it
only takes one person not fitting in very well to cause a major disruption to the
rest of the team.
So before Danny Watson and Radio NZ operations general manager, Tim Dyer, left on
Monday, I also managed to get Tim a spot on my 9AM radio show, pictured right
above, with me on the left; which he appeared to enjoy. In this photo, he's
using his hand to cover up an LP shaped sign that someone made for me a few years
ago that says "DJ Johnny Five". He's not doing a fascist salute, you neo-Nazi
freaks. It felt a bit daunting to have a veteran of 30-something years radio host
on my crappy wee made-up-on-the-spot radio show, often referred to many as the
morning rant. Well it doesn't intentionally start out that way; I try to cover a
spot of NZ national news which invariably ends up in some kind of rant about how
stupid something is. But Tim seemed genuinely pleased with my efforts and we're
currently in discussions about getting some new equipment to upgrade our radio
Something that came out of the Scott Base woodwork this week was the Govener
General's trophy. I wasn't aware of this, but the trophy was donated(?) in the
early 1980s by Sir David Beattie,
the 14th Governor General of NZ. It was last used as a prize for winning the
annual Scott Base vs McMurdo tug-of-war competition, which appeared to be last
held in 1983. Since the rugby is no more (see previous comment this month) they
resurrected the tug-of-war. Despite featuring the word "war" in the title, it
was significantly less violent than the rugby used to be.
And the Scott Base team were victorious, the trophy stays with us. There are
a number of rules for the competition, such as the total team weight needs to be
730kg or less, you're not allowed to use boot spikes, etc.
I took some random photos out of the truck window while on the way to do a job
at Arrival Heights during the week. This is the galley building at McMurdo
Station. We're at that point in the year where the sun is heating things up
and all the ice on the road from winter is now melting into small rivers of
flowing water everywhere.
A problem with all these small rivers about at this time of the year is that
they run together and make one big river. It's quite a task to clear the ice
out of drainage ditches at the side of the roads to prevent the water from
washing out various roads. Another issue is that all of the culvert
pipes under the roads are all full of solid ice from the winter. They have
heat trace cable
permanently installed in the culverts, so the portable generator pictured
lower right powers the heat trace which melts the ice in the pipe so that
the water can flow through.
One of the problems I went to look at; fault trace some broken cable pairs.
This 25-pair telephone cable is surface laid on top of rocks. It creates
too many environmental issues to bury long runs of cable, plus the fact that
it's very difficult as the ground is permanently frozen. Over the years the
wind over the ridge line where this cable runs has caused the cable to rub on
the abrasive volcanic rock and it's started to erode away the copper pairs.
There are about five areas of significant damage over a 20-metre section of
cable, so this will require an overlay of a new cable section.
Couldn't help but take a token photo of Ivan parked at McMurdo. It's the big
bus that the Americans use for transporting people to and from the air field.
Some of my work this week was at the McMurdo power house, investigating some
data communications issues with the Ross Island SCADA network. There are two
separate power houses at McMurdo, next door to each other. They're separate
in case anything bad happens to one of them, such as a fire. This photo is
of the main switchboards and control cabinets in the main power house.
This blurry photo through the control room window is of one of the three diesel
powered generators, which are 1.2MW, 1.4MW and 1.4MW. McMurdo Station
typically uses between 1.6MW and 2MW of electricity at any one time, so while
the wind farm is running near its full capacity of 1MW, then McMurdo can easily
get by with running one generator. The wind farm means about US$70,000 in
fuel is saved per month.
16/11/2014: Despite my expectations of it being a hectic
week due to the abnormally large numbers of people coming through Scott Base,
it turned out to be fairly low-key from my aspect. The mayor of Christchurch,
Lianne Dalziel and her group was exclusively looked after by the CEO of
Antarctica NZ. The group of 40-something visitors for the Erebus commemoration
arrived on Friday afternoon, did their ceremony, then left without anyone
really noticing their presence.
We have a couple of folks from Radio NZ here at the moment too, namely
NewsTalk ZB host Danny Watson (ex What Now host)
and Tim Dyer, the Radio NZ operations general manager. It's been good fun
having these guys about. In addition, Tim said that Radio NZ are keen to
donate some new or used radio broadcast equipment to Scott Base. So that may
mean an upgrade and expansion for our current Scott Base 97FM radio station,
which I manage. At present the station consists of a small 20W transmitter
which was built on site over 20 years ago, a small mixer and a computer running
iTunes, which happens to be terrible for running a radio station on. Our
coverage area is currently limited to line of sight from Scott Base, but
depending on what equipment we might be lucky enough to receive, I'm hoping
to set up a second transmitter on top of Crater Hill to provide better coverage
to the Americans at McMurdo Station, plus expand coverage to the greater McMurdo
Sound region. Something that people have been repeatedly asking for.
Danny Watson was producing his live talkback broadcasts from Scott Base this week.
As part of this he interviewed a number of Scott Base staff, including myself.
He had a day off yesterday, so I invited him as a special guest on my radio
programme, which was a lot of fun.
Another lesser known fact about Danny Watson is that he's also a Seido
Karate instructor. It's not every day you look out the window and see someone
in a black belt pulling some sweet karate moves in the snow.
On my Sunday hunt through the shared photos on the network, I came across
this gem; it's a macro shot of some tiny snowflakes in a hole in some wood.
I'm not sure of the science behind it, but there are certain conditions
which cause snowflakes to form into these stereotypical star shapes.
Apparently each snowflake is unique. No, I haven't verified this fact.
So we have several science events on station at present who are studying
something to do with Antarctic Toothfish. They have a permit to catch a
small number of fish to study, but unfortunately their fishing efforts to
date had been coming up empty-handed. Someone looked out over the pressure
ridges one night to see that a fat seal had caught one of these large fish
and was munching away. So a bunch of these fish scientists went and wrestled
away the seal's dinner, by which time the poor fish had no head left.
This was another first; I walked into my workshop to find this big torpedo
thing on the bench. Before I called the bomb squad, one of the scientists
came in and he explained he wanted a broken wire re-soldered. So 20 seconds
later the job was done. Another casualty-free job well done.
I took the opportunity last Thursday night to take a stroll around the
pressure ridges walk with a few work colleagues. A beautiful evening for
it. This is one of the few melt pools, which we'll see more of as the
temperature rises towards mid-summer.
The pressure ridges are formed when the sea ice presses against the land,
and because the pressure of the ice can't move the land, the ice cracks and
buckles. This causes large chunks of broken ice to shoot up in a variety of
interesting shapes. Here's Kate getting a close-up of the ice surface.
Of course you need to include the token "Scott Base as seen from the
pressure ridges" shot.
A number of Ski-Doos staged on the land, the pressure ridges on the sea
ice in the background. The Ski-Doos are used by a few of the science
event staff as a means for short-distance travel, typically under 50km.
They're also known as Ski-Don'ts because no-one else is allowed to use
them. Mainly due to the fact that someone would invariably end up doing
something stupid and end up doing damage to themselves and the machine.
9/11/2014: With numbers on base peaking at around 86 people
at present, it's certainly been a hive of activity. Despite this bustle of
activity, things have been surprisingly smooth sailing for the most parts, an
indication that the science event planning has certainly improved on previous
years. The run of simply amazing weather helps a lot in that flights generally
run on schedule, people can get into the field to do their thing on the planned
dates and it's not much of a mission to do anything outside in a balmy -10C with
Well almost. The submarine camera robot thing I repaired last Saturday (see
below entry on 2/11/14); the same piece of equipment where the American
manufacturers used a fibre optic cable connector which is designed to be used on
delicate communications equipment housed in an air conditioned room; and this fibre
optic connector is located on the outside of this camera robot; the same camera
robot that goes into the ocean; the same ocean which is covered in metres of ice
and full of killer whales; and the connector has no waterproofing or protection
at all... You can see where this is going. Yesterday morning I received a radio
call from the people in the field, which went something to the tune of:
"You know the fibre connector on our ROV (remote operated vehicle)?"
"Yeeahhhh... that would be the really fragile one that I said to be really careful
with because if it breaks, your $350,000 camera becomes a paperweight..."
"Actually yes, about that... we've had a wee accident...."
So they dragged it back to Scott Base on a Ski-Doo sled and I spent the rest of
Saturday trying to fusion splice a very specialised stainless steel armoured fibre
optic cable. I'm not very good at splicing fibre at the best of times, however a
few hours later things were looking surprisingly as though they might work again.
It was a bit like fixing the drive shaft on Michael Schumacher's Ferrari using
sellotape and a margarine pottle, followed by the car then winning the Formula
So after I'd dropped everything to finish this urgent job so they could get back
out into the field and complete their mission, the science event people were all
happy and asked "And where do we contact Alec? We'd like to buy a couple of dozen
beers!" My stressful day instantly turned into one of happiness, what a fantastic
way to unwind at the end of the week. Until they saw me smiling and added "Oh no,
no, we've run out of beers at our field camp, these are for us!" Gee, thanks......
Summer is handy for photos, because I can easily find plenty of interesting
things on the shared network location. This image is of the second machine
from Southern Lakes Helicopters which flew down inside the C17 aircraft this
week. The big white pontoon things are cargo pods which are fitted to the skids
on either side of their B3 Squirrel helicopter.
A work photo from the week. I picked a windless day to replace a couple of
antennas at our Crater Hill main radio site. Pictured here is my lovely
assistant, Mr Rich Hunter, an avionics engineer kindly on short term loan
to us from Air New Zealand.
Walking back from Crater Hill via the wind farm where Ray was also taking
advantage of the windless day to do some routine maintenance.
A nice view out of my workshop window at 11PM on the 6th of November. I
think that's the date of my parents' 36th-ish wedding anniversary, maybe.
Either way, congratulations. I would have disowned me by now. Although
it's 24-hour daylight until late February, the sun is low in the sky
during the wee hours. It's the closest thing we have to night time at
You can easily tell that this photo and all of the following ones are just
borrowed from the shared collection on the network here. You can tell this
because they're not all crappy and they do include pictures of cutesy animals.
Not sure exactly where this was taken, but it's obviously on the sea ice
with the lower western slopes of Mt Erebus in the background. The bird is
a South Polar Skua
and the big slug things are Weddell Seals.
As some mentioned in passing the other day; "those lazy bastards need to
get a job".
Here's a shot for those animal lovers. Not for you, Mr G. Hooper. He once
said to me, in his thick Preston accent, "You've heard of an animal lover,
well... I'm an animal HAAAAATER! I think he was mainly referring to
domestic cats and dogs, but we won't get tied up in details. All the blood
is because it's a new-born seal pup, and that's what else normally comes
out of a seal. Not because someone's been clubbing, you sickos.
It's a well-known fact that unlike me, Becky has a flash camera and likes
photography. This is an ice lake somewhere in the Dry Valleys. Despite the
fact that Becky's job is the medic and one of the cleaners, they try to get
a few staff out and about to help keep morale up.
This is what's left of the rugby field. Those with an eagle eye may spot
the green buildings of Scott Base just under the centre of this one remaining
goal post. The rugby field has been a point of contention over recent years.
Historically, there used to be an annual big rugby game between Scott Base and
the Americans at McMurdo. The main issue was that some of the Americans,
many of whom are rather well-built lads, took things way too seriously. As
a result, there used to be frequent carnage, including sprains and broken
bones. So in the interests of everyone not getting totally f*ed up, they
haven't run this annual event since about 2009.
2/11/2014: The weather Gods have smiled upon us this week,
it's been surprisingly pleasant in general. Sometimes. Looked at the forecast on
Monday morning, which reported little to no wind all day with temperatures peaking
around -9C. Time for an overdue fibre optic cable route inspection, consisting of
a 5km walk over a few large hills and down a glacier from Scott Base to the
Satellite Earth Station at Arrival Heights. Unfortunately the wind up there wasn't
what I'd personally class as "little to no wind". Though I'm not a meteorologist,
so what would I know? What I can say for sure that I could barely stand up in the
I had other work in the area, but that was one of those outside climbing around jobs
where you really did need little to no wind. Forecast for the following day was for
strong winds. This of course turned out to be zero wind, so silly me for relying
on the forecast. Missed the weather opportunity to get the job done. Better luck
But enough idle chit-chat about the weather. That's the kind of crap that people
dribble on about when they don't really have anything to say; which is about where
I'm at today. However, I did do a few semi-interesting jobs during the week which
might be better explained with the help of a few photos.
We have a science event here at present that has an objective of some kind of
filming in the water under the sea ice. So to do this they have this thing called
a ROV, which I discovered stands for Remote Operated Vehicle. Essentially it's
a submarine camera thing which is remote controlled from an operator on the surface.
It's tethered by the big roll of green 'umbilical cord' which delivers a 400V DC
power supply and a fibre optic cable for control data and video returned to the
surface. The cable is 766m long, according to my Optical Time Domain
Reflectometer; which is a piece of test equipment for measuring fibre optic cable.
This is the submarine camera bit. As you've probably guessed by now, I ended up
fixing the thing. Despite the science event's best efforts, it all worked fine
in NZ, but when they tested it again before heading out onto the ice shelf, it had
multiple problems; it wouldn't power up most of the time, and when it did power up
the video signal was bad. And their video monitor didn't work... There were
multiple issues caused by a number of things. Despite being a $350,000
instrument, I had the impression that the American company who built it,
completely exhausted their design and development budget on the submarine
camera bit, it's pretty good. But the control stuff that stays on the surface
looks as though it's been cobbled together with minimal time and funding. I spent
most of yesterday getting it working, after which they all headed off to do their
underwater filming, which is probably happening as I write this.
Suppose I'd better include a token Scott Base photo from my walk up the hill,
along the fibre optic cable route. The ground laid cable, visible at the
bottom of the photo, carries a laser interpretation of the radio signals
transmitted and received at the remote Satellite Earth Station, carrying
the signal to the satellite modem equipment located here at Scott Base.
The cable needs regular inspection because rocks can roll onto it, it can be
pulled and damaged by glacial snow movement and people can walk or drive over it.
The big signs saying "Warning: do not walk or drive over cables" would appear to
be a feeble deterrent. Might be time to see if a home-made Taser helps deliver
the message any clearer.
Of course you can't have a token Scott Base photo without a token McMurdo Station
photo, seen here with the Antarctic mainland in the background. In case you're
worried that the following photos will be token 'selfie' shots, fear not. People
who regularly take ridiculous 'selfie' photos make me violently ill. If I wanted
to see especially annoying photos of their insufferable faces, I'd take them
myself. Did someone say something about a Taser a bit earlier?
Instead, here's a token shot of Mt Erebus, with some funky looking clouds above
it. I'm sure cloud scientists worldwide will be outraged by my blatant ignorance
of cloud recognition. They'll all be pointing angrily and shouting "No, no, you
ignorant fool! Can you not clearly see that they're blah-be-blah-o-nimbus clouds
in the something-or-other-o-sphere?!!" Actually, no, good sir, I cannot.
Well since my work photos are so mundane, here are someone else's. There have
been regular Sunday trips to the historic huts for staff and visitors. The
journey is along the sea ice, which has large cracks in some places. The cracks
need to be drilled to check if they're safe to cross with the vehicle. Well at
least they're all focused on doing something semi-productive as opposed to taking
photos of those shite penguins.
Hagglund vehicles can cross a maximum ice crack width of 70cm (0.7m or about
2.5 feet). However, under the edges of the ice crack, the ice can be
eroded very thinly. If there is less than 75cm thickness of ice either side
of the crack and/or the crack is more than 70cm wide, the Hagglunds carry
metal bridges to safely cross a wide crack.