28/10/12: The base is now bulging at the seams with 88 of our
86 beds in use, which means a couple of people have to sleep outside in portable
huts. It's a clear sunny day as I type this with a typical temperature of -20C, so
many of the base staff and visitors have taken the opportunity to get outside to
enjoy the day which means it's surprisingly quiet. I'm on fire crew this week, so
am staying inside for our single day weekend to get a bit of paperwork done.
The Americans had their annual Halloween party last night, which a group of Scott
Base people visited. Can't say I'm overly fond of those large drunken gatherings
at McMurdo Station, so I was only too happy to stay home and maintain the fire crew
It's also that time of the year when the solar powered radio sites are getting put
in for the summer season. The radio equipment and batteries are removed prior to
the darkness of winter as there is no sunlight to keep the batteries charged.
After many weather delays I finally have the Black Island HF receiver site running
along with our VHF site on Mt Erebus. The Black Island job was on one of those days
where the weather forecast wasn't great, but they decided to fly anyway. I had
requested four hours ground time, but after three hours received a radio call from
the Americans that they were coming to get us. So after a mad rush to get everything
finished, they then called to say they weren't coming as it was too cloudy. Eventually
they told us that the deteriorating visibility meant we were quite possibly spending
the night there. Or the next day or two. At 6PM we'd boiled a pot of fresh snow to
cook a delicious freeze dry dinner, when suddenly they decided the cloud had cleared
just enough to try one last evening flight; in ten minutes time. So another mad rush
to pack everything up, though fortunately this time we were able to escape back to
Scott Base for a late dinner.
Here's the Americans' helicopter at the start of the day, prior to our Black Island
trip. The visibility is not great and it was getting worse. However, they opted
to push on.
While waiting on the decision between transport from Black Island or staying the night,
we ended up with about six hours to kill. It was relatively nice weather where we were
with little wind, light cloud and lovely temperatures of -10C. Perfect for a walk to
the beach to recline and watch the frozen ocean.
The 3 metre square equipment shelter would have made an especially cosy camp site for
the four of us. But we eventually left at 6:30PM to fly back home to Scott Base when
the cloud lifted momentarily. Just as well, the following day was super cloudy. It
would have made for an extended camping trip.
After several more days of weather delays, we finally made a break through the cloud
to install our highest VHF radio site at 1850m on the left hand side of the mountain
seen above. Watch out Air New Zealand, it's Mt Erebus!
This is the Hoopers Shoulder radio site which provides some UHF linking, wide area
VHF communications and full duplex VHF communications links to the Italian station in
Terra Nova Bay so they can make low cost telephone calls thanks to the good folk at
Looking west from the Hoopers Shoulder site on Mt Erebus, the Antarctica mainland
is visible, about 80km away.
Here's Scott Base viewed from the helicopter. Yep, looks about the same as it did
last year. For those of you who asked, I live in the green building.
Meanwhile over the past couple of Sundays, there have been some popular trips to visit
the historic Scott's and Shackleton's huts at Cape Evans and Cape Royds, which I enjoy
about the same as annoying drunken parties with the Americans. But fortunately these
kind of excursions are not mandatory, so are easily avoided. To minimise interaction
and disturbance to the wildlife, there is a strict Antarctic
code of conduct
that requires a minimum separation of 100m between vehicles and wildlife, as demonstrated
by the Hagglund above. Perhaps a minor misjudgement in distance there.
The same environmental code of conduct
requires a minimum separation of 10m between humans and wildlife, as demonstrated above.
Perhaps a little confusion between metres and millimeters? I wouldn't say advanced
mathematics is one of my strong points either. Forget the magpies Andi, that thing
would definitely peck your eyes out!
21/10/12: Activity around Scott Base continued to rise this
week with a lot of activity around new science events beginning for the 2012
summer season. All of the 2011/2012 winter staff departed for Christchurch during
the week, so it was sad to see them go. Hayden, who has been doing my job here
over the last year, phoned a few days ago to say he was enjoying being able to go
outside in shorts and T-shirt. Not sure what's wrong with him, you can do that
Had a few interesting visitors this week, including the chief pilot for Air NZ.
We all enjoyed some excellent science presentations in the bar, delivered by the
team who will be travelling out to Roosevelt Island next week, 700km from Scott Base.
Their work involves drilling hundreds of metres of ice core samples from which the
frozen air bubbles are analysed to find out what gasses were present in the atmosphere
thousands of years ago.
With the final sunset of the year only a few days away, we celebrated the end of the
working week on Saturday evening with the annual beach themed party in the Scott
Base bar. At present sunrise is at 3AM and sunset at 12:40AM. Just 2hrs and 20mins
of partial darkness for now, the sun will be permanently above the horizon in a few
I've spent the last few days getting all of the equipment ready for the summer
installations of the Hoopers Shoulder (Mt Erebus) repeater installation and the
Black Island remote HF receiver site. This year I'm implementing a new strategy
which should reduce battery power consumption by around 70%. The site has four
fixed frequency single sideband HF receivers which are connected to four Tait UHF FM
transmitters for linking the recovered audio back to Scott Base. For the last 20
years or so, the setup has been to operate the transmitters continuously, regardless
if there is speech activity or not. Obviously this is a colossal waste of power
at the solar powered site. The batteries usually go flat at some point in the season
when we have a week or two of cloudy days. Of course you can fit speech detectors to
operate the transmitters as required, but when transmissions are weak, you need to be
able to remotely over-ride any speech detection to prevent weak transmissons from
being muted. Because the Black Island HF receiver site is almost 40km away from
Scott Base there was no way to remotely over-ride any speech detection. Using the
new radio telemetry network I built last winter season, this is now possible.
So one of the jobs for next week will be to implement this at Black Island. More
and here if
anyone is interested.
A job on top of Crater Hill during the week, 300m above sea level, gave an excellent
view of the sea ice runway/airport, visible centre. The wind farm can be seen in the
lower left corner and Observation Hill centre right. Black Island, where our remote HF
radio receiver site is, can be see in the centre on the horizon.
One of the communications operators, Deirdre, took this photo of the Koru which was
mounted behind Scott Base last year as a memorial to the 1979 Mt Erebus aircraft
disaster. Mt Erebus is the big volcanoey looking thing in the background, the bane
of all aircraft.
Here's Hayden who has done a great job here at Scott Base over the last 12 months.
I handed over to him a year ago when I left Oct 24th last year, now he's handed
the job back to me. Would be great to see him come back again, we'll see what
he gets up to in the meantime.
Just before the old winter crew departed, they were fortunate enough to have one
final skidoo trip last Sunday afternoon. The things haven't been used in months,
hence their 2-stroke engines are a bit smokey first off.
As mentioned earlier, the beach themed last sunset party yesterday evening was a
hoot and most of the Scott Base staff and science visitors got into the theme.
I'm at the right in the photo above with a couple of the visiting fish study
science students telling me about their research work down here. No Murray, it's
not time for the secret code-word just yet. OK, only the good folk at Tait Custom
Integration are going to have the faintest idea what I'm talking about here...
Some of the staff from Auckland were starting to feel a little home sick, so we
decided to make them feel more at home with a staged "armed hold up" of the Scott
Fortunately Antarctica NZ are well prepared for every eventuality. It was only
a matter of consulting the Emergency Response Plan and the "offender" was quickly
subdued. I suggested we should take a leaf out of the Wellington City Council's
emergency plans and also plan for a
14/10/12: At the end of week two, the pace of the new
the summer season is quickly gaining momentum. The 2011/2012 winter crew are all
getting ready for their departure on Monday and we have had a number of science
events arriving at Scott Base to make early preparations for their work. The fire
trainers also arrived on site this week and have been running as many as three
emergency drills every day in order to polish everyone's fire fighting skills for
the coming season. Needless to say, everyone is living on edge waiting for the next
round of screeching fire alarms. Fortunately the drills tend to be only during
work hours. Unfortunately they tend to happen just after you've spent 20 minutes
squeezing yourself into a tight awkward place under the floor to run cables.
Thanks to everyone back home for the many Email contacts, it's always nice to know
I'm gone but not forgotten. A few people have asked how the transition back to
Scott Base weather has gone. In short, just fine. We've had mild temperatures
as warm as -10C and generally not much lower than -20C. Plus I've not had many
reasons to go outside much recently, most of my work is still based indoors.
A couple of interesting web links are these Scott Base Weather
and Webcams pages
which show the current conditions here at Scott Base.
I went for a stroll around the sea ice pressure ridges last Monday and took a few
sunset photos just before 10PM. The hours of daylight are steadily growing each day
and the sun will be permanently above the horizon in about a week.
Yet another sunset photo. As boring as they may be, make the most of them because
photos of the sun in the sky are even more boring. And that's all I'll have to offer
shortly from about the 20th of October until the first sunset of April 2013.
There are already a number of science events in full swing. The group pictured above
have a series of shipping container based labs just out the back door of Scott Base.
Their work involves taking core samples of sea ice then analysing the gasses contained
within the ice.
The science staff are very passionate and excited about their work. They are
always eager to scoop anyone passing by into their lab and talk about some of the
work in progress. In all honesty, 90% of their detailed explanations and acronyms
border on incomprehension to my unscientific ear. The photo above is a thin shaving
of sea ice with a light polarising filter placed in front. Different gasses (e.g.
chlorine, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc) show up as different colours. The
deeper the colour, the more intense the concentration of gas. I think. Will not be
applying for that Ph.D myself.
7/10/12: Everything ran to schedule this week with
our C17 flight leaving Christchurch at 10:30AM on the 1st of October, arriving at
the McMurdo sea ice runway five hours later to be greeted with the familiar
refreshing feeling of -35C air icing up the inside of your nose.
It's good to be back actually, feels just like coming home again. Better yet,
Hayden who has been doing my job here for the last year has done a superb job of
tidying the workshop. The place is looking great!
It's been a productive week of Antarctic field skills refresher courses, handover
with Hayden and getting stuck into a few pre-season jobs. Returning for a second
time is a hell of a lot easier as expected. I've simply slotted back in just as if
I hadn't been away for the last 11 months.
Hayden took this superb photo of our C17 landing on the McMurdo sea ice runway on
Our convoy of three Toyota Landcruisers driving from the ice runway on the way
to Scott Base.
The Americans appear to have put Ivan the Terra-bus into retirement and are now
using their new people movers for transporting their staff to and from the airport.
An Antarctica tradition started by Sir Ed Hillary in 1957 was the flag raising ceremony
to formalise the handover from the winter crew to the new seasons crew.
It was also my 34th birthday on Monday the 1st, the same day we flew in. My third
consecutive birthday at Scott Base in fact. Bobbie the chef made me a fantastic
multi-layer chocolate cherry cake! For those that don't know, Johnny 5 is the nick
name that I acquired last season. More people know me by that name than 'Anthony'.
I gained the name after a pre-Antarctica training session in 2010. As a group we
had to count ourselves off from one to four. The guy before me said four and in a
lapse of concentration I said five. Someone yelled out Johnny 5 and the name stuck.
Weird but true.