Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Day Zero: Wednesday 30 November

In Christchurch!

Getting to Christchurch took a while as our flight was delayed by about an hour, but at least we weren't trying to go any further, because today's flight to Antarctica was cancelled due to bad weather down on the ice. That means there will be two flights going down tomorrow, and I'm quite pleased that ours is the second flight that will leave at about 10am.    

On the flight down from Wellington, I met three other people heading south: two from LINZ who are surveyors and one from GNS Science. Gerry has been to Antarctica twice before - the first time 20 years ago, Andrew once and Chris never. They're going to be on the same flight tomorrow, so I'm glad I won't be the only newbie on board. 

Woody picked us up from the airport and brought us over to the Antarctica NZ offices and Clothing Warehouse. (Woody has worked for Antarctica NZ for over 30 years, so he's a good person to know.) Everyone who goes to Scott Base shares some of the same experiences,and one of the first things you have to do is report to the Clothing Warehouse so you can get kitted out with all the gear you need, and special kit bags to put your stuff in. It’s important to have the right extreme cold weather clothing (ECW) for outdoor wear – so Antarctica NZ makes sure you do. 

Guy Frederick (who is my team mate on the programme for writers, artists and media people) and I had our kit-out sessions at the same time in two different rooms while Bob went from one room to the other, making sure everything was the right size and fitted properly. The trickiest thing is working out the correct order to put things on – there’s a sequence of layers (base layer, mid layer and outer layer) that you need to get right, and then you need to figure out – and remember – which pockets to put things in – gloves, hats, camera…

So this afternoon I tried on:
4 different jackets
Thermal leggings 
7 different pairs of gloves
2 pairs of socks
2 pairs of boots
A balaclava, a hood, and neck gaiter - and once you have those on, as well as the heaviest duty jacket all zipped up, you're not supposed to have any skin showing (also you have to work out how to breathe through all the layers)

Then Woody explained what to wear on the plane tomorrow and what to pack in which bag. 

And do you know how many pockets there are altogether?  (I just counted them) 


32 pockets! No wonder it's hard to remember what goes where. 

Where I spent yesterday afternoon: the Antarctic NZ  Clothing Store
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection; CC licence

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Packing for Antarctica: one day to go!

Plane ticket to Christchurch - tick

Passport - tick (I don't actually need it, but I'm hoping to get it stamped)

Sunscreen - tick

Sunglasses - tick

Camera - tick

Towel - tick (nearly forgot. Scott Base provides sheets and bedding for visitors, but it is BYOT)

Camera, phone and tablet all charged - tick

Spare batteries - tick (the cold temperatures means they get used up faster than usual)

Book to read on the flight south - tick

Maybe another book to read? (it's a 7 or 8 hour flight - and no inflight movies!)

Clean shoes - tick (you have to take care not to introduce any unwanted organic material on the soles of your shoes)

Lip balm - tick (you get dry lips because the air is so dry down there)

Handkerchiefs - tick (wouldn't have thought of this, but it's in the briefing materials. The air is so dry that people often get nose bleeds to start with, so a supply of handkerchiefs is recommended)

Pencils - tick (because the ink in pens might freeze outdoors - or so I've read??)

Notebook - several - tick

Removed all packaging - tick (so as not to take any rubbish down there)

Money to buy some souvenirs from the Scott Base shop - tick

Outdoor Antarctic clothing - no! Luckily, Antarctica NZ is going to give me everything I need, from head to toe!

Also taking lots of good wishes from family, friends, school teachers and librarians - thanks everyone for your support!

Antarctic Division Clothing Store showing tramping books and mukluks [what even are mukluks??] Photo by Chris Rudge
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection  1988-1989; CC licence

Sunday, 20 November 2016

One week to go!

One week is very close… But I’m still finding it hard to imagine that I will actually be going to Antarctica!

One of the first things we do down there is Field Training, so I found this clip from Jason O’Hara (recent Antarctic explorer!) very reassuring. Jason has just been down to Scott Base, and he posted this clip called Happy homemaking on the ice. (Those 7 layers of sleeping bags do look toasty warm.) 

Jason also has some other great posts from his trip on his blog, including a Weddell seal filmed underwater, and a rendition of Purea Nei by Warren Maxwell for International Singing Day.

Now I’m off to do some packing. Or maybe to think about what to pack. (At least I know I won't need to take any sleeping bags.) 

Field Training kitchen. Photo by Dick Frizzell
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [2004-2005] CC licence

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The South Pole(s)

Is it true there is more than one South Pole?
How do you know when you've got to the South Pole?

Two good questions!

There are actually four South Poles (and some of them don’t even stay in the same place). They are the Geographic South Pole, the Magnetic South Pole, the Geomagnetic South Pole and – my favourite – the South Pole of Inaccessibility.

The Geographic South Pole
This lies at a latitude of 90 degrees south. It is the southernmost point of the earth, so whichever direction you look, you will be looking north. This South Pole was the goal that all the early explorers were trying to reach, and where Edmund Hillary headed on his Ferguson tractor in December 1957. Today there is an American station there, called the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, and if you are very lucky, you can fly there.  

The Magnetic South Pole
The position of the Magnetic South Pole changes over time, as you can see from this map – in fact it now lies in the Southern Ocean, over 2800 km from the Geographic South Pole.
If you use a compass in the southern hemisphere, the needle points south to the Magnetic South Pole, which means a compass is no good for finding your way to the Geographic South Pole.
Lots more good info about magnets here, including what would a compass do at the Magnetic South Pole, and a suggested answer to the question about how you would know you've got to the South Pole, and especially how the early explorers knew, if they couldn't rely on compasses (keep scrolling down for that one - a clue - it's to do with the sun.)  

The Geomagnetic South Pole
I’m not even going to try and explain what this one is but here’s one of the best explanations I’ve found for the differences between those three Poles.
The South Pole of Inaccessibility
This is the very centre of Antarctica, if you define “the centre” as being the part furthest away from the sea. But there are different opinions as to exactly where that is, because it depends on where you say the coastlines are, when some are buried under ice sheets. (There is also a North Pole of Inaccessibility in the Arctic, and Poles of Inaccessibility in the other continents - you can read about them here.)
Another site suggests there are three more South Poles (making seven altogether): the South Pole of Rotation, the South Celestial Pole and the South Pole of Cold. You can find out more here.

South Pole; Photo by Josie McNee
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1989-1990] CC licence

Random weird questions

Is there a secret place there where people might be living, and how long might they have been there?
Ooh - who knows?? Do you think there might be?? 
The idea of a secret place located amongst the snow and ice of Antarctica has teased people for many years. The mystery of what might be hidden there has inspired many films and books. 
Some people even believed in the Hollow Earth Theory, which claimed that the earth was hollow with entry holes at the North and South Pole, and ancient tribes and woolly mammoths living deep inside. Jules Verne wrote a famous science fiction book about this called A journey to the centre of the earth

Is there anyone buried there under the ice and snow?
Yes! and it is a slightly creepy but very sad story.
For many years, there was a race to see who would be first to teach the South Pole. In 1908, the British explorer Ernest Shackleton had to turn back when he was just 180km away. He didn't reach the Pole, but he didn't lose any of his men, either. 
In 1910, Captain Robert Scott set off from England to lead his second expedition to Antarctica. He and a small hand-picked team reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to discover they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team, who had arrived 5 weeks earlier. Captain Scott and his four companions then had to try and walk all the way back to the safety of their hut at Cape Evans, 1300 km away. 
Edgar Evans died of a head injury in February 1912. Lawrence (also called Titus) Oates felt that he was holding the others up, and very bravely walked out into the snow to try and give them a chance of reaching safety without him. He was never seen again. 
On 22 March 1912, Captain Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers were within three days of a food depot, but by then they were very weak. Then a blizzard trapped them in their tent and they could go no further.    
Nobody knew what had happened to them for many months. After the winter, a rescue party set out from Cape Evans and on 12 November 1912, they spotted a tent pole sticking up out of the snow, with three bodies inside it. The rescue party learnt what had happened by reading the men's diaries. They built a cairn over the tent and left the three men buried there. 
Nobody has ever seen the cairn again, and it is now buried under metres of snow. But because the Antarctic ice fields move gradually towards the Southern Ocean, the bodies of the famous explorers will eventually - in a few hundred years - fall into the sea, or even drift away in an iceberg. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Two weeks to go!

Two weeks is not very long, although there is a lot of other stuff to think about at the moment, like earthquakes, aftershocks and wild weatherI’ve also been thinking about the whole process of getting this far, which has gone something like this:

December 2015: See Antarctica NZ notice about community engagement programme for 2016/17
Think: Antarctica! That would be amazing!
Think: I could apply! I wouldn’t get it! But it would be so amazing! I could try!
Lots of helpful emails from Antarctica NZ

Think: I need a writing proposal
(Lot of thinking here)

January 2016: Submit proposal
February 2016: Email from Antarctica NZ to say they are working through all the proposals
March 2016: Email from Antarctica NZ to say that my proposal has made it through to the next round, and - just in case - enrol in Victoria Uni Antarctica Online course (the equivalent of a Stage 3 paper, and the only science paper I’ve ever taken at uni)

March/April/May: readings, videos and online discussion about history, geology, other science projects, governance (ie who's in charge) and Antarctic inspired art and literature - so glad I enrolled in this course, even if I don't get chosen to go!

April 2016: Email from Antarctica NZ to say they can’t promise anything, but it isn’t yet a definite no, and it could even be a possible yes

May 2016: NZARI Winter School on Great Barrier Island – a weekend of hanging out with scientists and a range of other people – journalists, TV reporters, artists, teachers – all fascinated by Antarctica

June 2016: Email from Antarctica NZ to say YES
First thoughts: WOW AMAZING! I am going to Antarctica!
Second thoughts: Antarctica? Really? Ice, cold, remote, far away, windy, freezing…
Thinks: I am going to Antarctica? This is SCARY.
Is it too late to pull out?
(Lots of supportive and encouraging emails from Antarctica NZ)

June – November: pulling project together, starting this blog, putting together a Schools Pack of resources, gathering questions from school children about what it's like down there, emailing teachers and librarians, sending out copies of the Schools Pack, trying to work out what gear I will need, feeling totally inadequate when looking at Jason O'Hara's pile of gear, feeling relieved when he says that his pocket-sized point-and-click camera turned out to be his hero. 

Four weeks to go

Feeling delighted, apprehensive, still a bit unbelieving, excited, still slightly nervous... 

Three weeks to go

Two weeks to go…

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Does Antarctica have earthquakes?

This just occurred to me today, during one of the many, many aftershocks following last night’s big earthquake just after midnight. I know they have volcanoes in Antarctica, but do they have earthquakes?

Well, they do have some. There was a magnitude 6.0 earthquake on 31 January 2016 that struck the area around the Balleny Islands. I’d never heard of the Balleny Islands, but they are a remote, uninhabited group of islands 2000 km south of NZ.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), “Earthquakes do occur occasionally in Antarctica, but not very often.” Or if they do occur, they may not be noticed, because there are very few seismograph stations for the size of the continent.

But they do have icequakes – I didn’t know that! Ice quakes vary in intensity, just like earthquakes do. They are vibrations in the glaciers and ice sheets, “similar to earthquakes, but [they] occur within the ice sheet itself instead of the land underneath the ice.”

And yes, there is a seismograph station at Scott Base. Good to know.

Ray Dibble monitoring Erebus seismograph
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection, CC  licence

Monday, 7 November 2016

Your questions: Who's in charge?

Is Antarctica a country?

That's a good question! After all, what makes a country? 

You might want to think about what sort of things your own country has: a flag, a national anthem, its own currency, Parliament buildings... what else defines a country?

In fact, Antarctica has none of those things I just mentioned (although there is an Antarctic Treaty flag - more about the Treaty later.) It makes up a whole continent, but not a country. Scott Base runs on New Zealand time, and you can use New Zealand money. As a New Zealander, you don't even need your passport to visit there - you can just take a driver's licence. 

Nobody owns Antarctica. A number of different countries have laid claim to various parts of it, starting with the British in the 1800s. Explorers would land, plant flags, and claim that bit of the continent for the country they came from. 

But in 1959, the Antarctica Treaty was signed by 12 countries, including New Zealand. The Treaty said that "Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord." Instead it was to be used for scientific purposes. 

The Treaty said that nobody owned the land - but also that none of the countries had to give up the claims they had already made, which is why New Zealand scientists continue to work from Scott Base. If you want to read more about this, have a look here

Antarctic Treaty Flag flying at Scott Base. Photo by Alison Welch
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1984-1985]

Under the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica is a region officially set aside for peace and science. If you haven't heard about NZ photographer Stuart Robertson's "Peace in 10,000 Hands" project, you can read more here

Stuart Robertson's Antarctica, Peace in 10,000 Hands, August 2016.
CC licence

Three weeks to go!

My departure date is getting closer and I now have a full itinerary, which is pretty exciting.

The first thing on it (apart from flying to Christchurch) is heading over to the Antarctica NZ Clothing Warehouse to get kitted out with a vast array of Antarctic clothing.

And once in Antarctica (which still seems unbelievable), there are some fantastic opportunities which the Antarctica NZ team (thanks, guys!) have lined up for me. It’s all weather dependent, but it includes a trip to Discovery Hut with a hut guide. I’ve been secretly hoping for the chance to see one of the huts from the Heroic Age of Exploration, so this is wonderful.

There are a number of these huts near Scott Base, but Discovery Hut is the one that Captain Scott and his team used as their shore base on his first expedition in 1901-1904 (Discovery was the name of his ship). Everyone who visits it seems to find it a really powerful and moving experience, because many things inside remains just as they were when the expedition left. You can read a few accounts and see some photos here and here.

Scott's Discovery Hut, with McMurdo Station in the background;
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1982-1983]
Discovery Hut clothing and supplies; Photo by Nigel Roberts
©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection [1979-1980]