Archive for the ‘DPF’ Category

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 5

February 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

AT0100

Only a two hour tramp to the end today so we left at 9.30 am – a much more sociable time. Will must the hut – such a good idea to use an old homestead for it.

AT0101

One of the local weka having a drink.

AT0102

The track starts at the back of the hut.

AT0103

A nice green path at first.

AT0104

Today is the biggest climb, but still only 200 metres. You can see the hut we left behind.

AT0105

More traditional tramping path higher up.

AT0106

And a weka crossing the path.

AT0107

Then we get our first glimpse of Wainui Bay from the top.

AT0108

The final 45 minutes is heading down the cliffside track.

AT0109

The Wainui Inlet.

AT0110

And finally the track out to the Wainui car park where we got picked up by Trek Express and back to the airport.

Previously my favourite Great Walk has been the Heaphy. But it is now the Abel Tasman. The sheer beauty of the bays, beaches and bush is stunning. Can’t wait to return there.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 4

February 12th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

AT0070

So we managed to get up at 4 am to start the inlet crossing at 4.30 am. We had to be across by 5.15 am or wait until 2.15 pm.

AT0071

A small crescent moon in the sky.

AT0072

Just after 6 am light on the horizon.

AT0073

And then through the trees.  We spent around 90 minutes tramping in darkness with head lamps, and it was very cool to see the stars so clearly. Also saw a possum on the track which was a bit startling as suddenly there are red eyes gleaming at you.

AT0074

Then a hill climb.

AT0075

Then Totaranui Beach ahead of us.

AT0076

Now around 6.30 am.

AT0077

A nice trail down to the beach.

AT0078

And a walk through the camping grounds there. As there is vehicle access, this is the largest campsite – up to 1,000 people camping there.

AT0079

We stopped here for breakfast and cooked ourselves some porridge.

AT0080

Then headed off on the high tide track.

AT0081

A historic house now used as an education centre.

AT0082

And up another hill of course.

AT0083

Lots of trees like this.

AT0084

Anapai Bay.

AT0085

A wood pigeon in a tree.

AT0086

This little beach was stuck between two rock formations – very isolated and private.

AT0087

Looking down to Mutton Cove.

AT0088

We had a stop at Mutton Cove. If I was tenting I’d camp here. A very small but beautiful area with trees, grass and beach access.

AT0089

A great view of Whariwharangi Bay.

AT0090

A grass track heading down and then to the hut which unlike the others is not on the beach but 500 metres inland.

AT0091

Finally the hut in sight. We got there before midday but as we started at 4.30 am it took us seven hours or so, with breakfast and rest stops. The longest day of the tramp.

AT0092

The hut is a restored homestead and absolutely lovely. We got an upstairs room. Only sleeps 20. Lots of grass around it, so spent afternoon reading books on the lawn and swimming down at the beach.

Tramp almost done now. Just a two hour walk out on Monday to Wainui Bay.

Hillary Clinton/Young Lover

February 11th, 2016 at 5:00 pm by David Farrar

Around seven and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to see Arthur Meek’s hilarious play On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover.

A revamped version of the show called Hillary Clinton/Young Lover is on at Circa. It has a similar premise – the earnest Richard Meros doing a powerpoint presentation on why Hillary Clinton should take a young lover, and why it should be him.

Meek is excellent as Meros. He has a charisma and enthusiasm which shines through.

The audience were highly engaged and laughing through the show. Meros asks the audience to put their hands up if you have a degree – only in Wellington would three quarters have their hands up. And then as he asks them to remain up if you have honours, masters and finally a PhD, there were still a few hands up. That forms part of the play with one of those representing the smart people, and someone uneducated being picked to represent the uneducated (which was me that night!).

The humour is fast and furious, but not too over the top. Very clever use of images on the powerpoint such as bananas and kiwifruit got lots of giggles.

Meros is at his best as he deals with the numbers to whittle down the number of potential lovers for Hillary Clinton from 7 billion to one – him. The criteria for eliminating certain countries such as Canada and Australia was great.

It’s a one hour show, and lots of fun. Definitely worth seeing if you never saw the Helen Clark one, and if you did see it, you’ll still find enough new material to enjoy this one also.

It’s on until Saturday 20 February.

Rating: ****

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 3

February 11th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

AT0050

Woke up on Saturday and the estuary is at high tide so once again it is the high tide route. However this time that is only an extra 1 km or so.

AT0051

So around the coast we go.

AT0052

A nice track next to the water.

AT0053

Then over the bridge.

AT0054

A great view of where we were from above.

AT0055

Then further uphill.

AT0056

Then a great view of Tonga Bay as we approach it.

AT0057

Then some tramping down at sea level.

AT0058

And eventually you tramp across the beach itself. This is my least favourite part as you move very slowly on sand, it is very hot, and there is no shade. But the views make up for it.

AT0059

At the end of the beach a bridge leads inland.

AT0060

A nice view of Tonga Bay as we leave it.

AT0061

Then some nice track to go along.

AT0062

Then you cross over for your first view of Awaroa, and you can see the (private) Awaroa Lodge in the bush. We were not staying there ($400/night!) but at the $32/night DOC Hut.

AT0063

A stunning view of Awaroa from a look out on the track. The green strip is an air strip.

AT0064

Then it is head down to the beach and around a 20 minute walk along the beach and estuary.

AT0065

After around four hours we hit the Awaroa Hut around 1 pm. A very hot day so glad to be there.

AT0066

The lovely view outside the hut.

AT0067

The Awaroa Inlet at low tide. Despite the tide, we managed to go swimming for an hour or so, and caught some more pipis for supper!

AT0068

The Awaroa Inlet at high tide. You are advised to only try crossing it within two hours of low tide yet a moron couple (who had been at the lodge and lost track of time) tried to cross it at an hour before high tide. The entire hut was having bets on how long until they turned back. Eventually the two of them had their day packs over their heads and the water up to their arm pits before the DOC ranger rescued them in his boat.

There is no low tide track at Awaroa which means on Sunday we had to cross either before 5.15 am or after 2.15 pm.  We decided to go for the early crossing so set the alarms for 4 am and had an early night.

Abel Tasman Coast Track Day 1

February 9th, 2016 at 11:34 am by David Farrar

AT0001

We set off on Thursday, with an early flight to Nelson and then Trek Express to Marahau where the Abel Tasman Coastal track starts.  Happy to find The Park Cafe in Marahau so we had a decent lunch before five days of tramping food!

AT0002

You start off crossing the Marahau River in the open.

AT0003

Then you hit the bush.

AT0004

And then into canopy cover, which in 26 degree heat is very welcome.

AT0005

Every so often the canopy clears to give you stunning views of the water and beaches.

AT0006

The first day is around four hours tramping.

AT0007

The view above Stilwell Bay.

AT0008

And off memory this is Cyathea Cove.

AT0009

Despite being a coastal track, quite a variety of bush.

AT0010

Torrent Bay in the distance.

AT0011

Heading down to Anchorage.

AT0012

And the final stretch along the beach at The Anchorage. Unlike most tramps where you only see other trampers, the Abel Tasman is like a motorway. There are hundreds of day walkers, kayakers and beach goers who just come in by water taxi. As you lug your 16 kg pack you envy the day walkers with their tiny bags.

AT0013

Anchorage Hut which was only built a few years ago. Possibly the best DOC Hut I have stayed in. They have five separate bunkrooms and flush toilets under the same balcony so you don’t have to navigate a field in the dark when you need to go.

AT0014

Our bunkroom. Having storage for packs makes a huge difference.

AT0015

And the view from the hut with some nice tables on the lawn just in front of the beach.

We got there around 4 pm, so had time to go for a late afternoon swim. Not many tramps in NZ in which I’ve gone swimming. Normally you’re so high up the water is freezing!

DPF away

February 4th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

From today until late Monday the 8th I’m going to be tramping the Abel Tasman Track.

This means by coincidence I miss the TPP protests and the Waitangi Day protests. Oh dear, how sad.

This will be the fifth Great Walk in recent years. In March I’m also doing the Kepler Track.

After that need to schedule Whanganui River, Lake Waikaremoana and the Routeburn.

I’ve got a small number of posts pre-set to appear, but generally won’t be up with current events so just use general debate for them.

US and NZ in Antarctica

January 26th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The relationship between New Zealand and the United States when it comes to Antarctica is as co-operative and helpful as one can get. While McMurdo and Scott Base are run separately, there is a huge amount of assistance and co-operation between the NZ and US Antarctic teams.

ANT0032

One major area is transport. We flew on a US Hercules. They provide most of the transport to Antarctica for us. But the RNZAF also flies Hercules down, and sometimes US staff will ride on these.

The US provides overall air traffic control and co-ordination and maintains the three landing fields.

ANT0116

New Zealand built and constructed three wind turbines a few years ago, to reduce the use of generators. The wind farm now provides 30% of the total energy to both McMurdo and Scott Base.

ANT0121

McMurdo has the port where once a year an icebreaker will come in, followed by a fuel ship and a cargo ship. It costs around $2.50 a kg to ship gear to Antarctica and $16 a kg to fly it, so the port is a huge cost saving.

ANT0128

You can see McMurdo here. It has around 1,100 people in summer and 90 in winter. Unlike Scott Base which has all major buildings joined up, McMurdo has no linkages. This means that if the weather hits condition one, staff may be stranded in the building they were  in. It also means you constantly need to change clothing to go to another building.

I much prefer the way Scott Base has been constructed.

ANT0142

McMurdo looks a lot like an old mining town. There are huge piles of dirt, fuel tanks and timber yards everywhere.

ANT0143

This is one of the most popular places in McMurdo – the second hand exchange shop. A huge amount of gear here that people donate when leaving for others to use. Some people even get their own gear back a few years later by chance!

ANT0144

And of course they have lots of communications stations.

New Zealand would not be able to achieve a lot of what it does, without the relationship with the United States. Antarctica NZ works with the National Science Foundation’ US Antarctic Programme and the RNZAF works with US Air Force. But the relationship is deeper than institutional.

You often get staff transfer between different bases in Antarctica – some Scott Base staff have worked at McMurdo, the Australian base and the Italian base (they have the best coffee).

An example of the helpful nature of the US team is from one of the science teams I was at Scott Base with. Their GPS unit (cost around $250) wasn’t working, so McMurdo lent them a $30,000 GPS unit they had for their field work.

Science in Antarctica

January 22nd, 2016 at 3:47 pm by David Farrar

As fascinating as Scott Base is, and the old huts etc, the important stuff in Antarctica is the science. As the Antarctic Treaty basically turns the entire continent over to science, that is not surprising.

The plan was for me to go out into the field with one or two of the sciences teams so I could do first hand reports of what they do scattered around Antarctica. However the weather got in the way of this. This is not uncommon. Antarctica is a dangerous and wild continent, so it is more usual than not to have delays. Scientists may be planning for five weeks in the field, and only end up with three.

So my reporting on the science will be more second hand, than first hand, but I did get to chat to them all first hand.

garyw

This is Gary Wilson out in the field. If Antarctica had a NZ Chief Scientist, Gary would be it. He has been to Antarctica 25 times and his first visit in 1988 was for his thesis mapping the glacial and lake deposits in the Miers Valley.

His current project is working on being able to more specifically define what temperature increases are critical to effecting change in Antarctica, its ice sheets, oceans, biota and links between Antarctic systems, southern ocean systems and further north.

Antarctica is of critical interest to scientists in terms of the climate for two reasons. The first is that it is a frozen time machine into the past. If you want to know what the world was like three million years ago, you drill down a few hundred metres and can establish what the temperature was, was the land under water, what was the level of certain gases in the atmosphere etc.

The second reason is that the extent of sea level rise due to rising temperatures will be massively affected by what is happening in Antarctica, especially the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now regardless of your views on the causes of climate change, and how to respond to it, you should be very supportive of bettering our understanding of what is happening in Antarctica. If sea level rises are far less than projected then hundreds of billions of dollars may be spent inappropriately, but likewise is the sea level rises match or exceed what is projected, then the economic costs are huge, and more money needs to be spent on mitigation and adaptation.

So regardless of your views on the policy issues, the need for better scientific understanding is paramount.

ANT0041

This is the AUT Antarctica drones teams. I was lucky enough to share field training with them, so got to hear lots about their project.

They’re going to three different sites (Taylor Valley, Botany Bay and Cape Evans) in the Antarctic (all specially protected areas) to fly drones to photograph the areas using both normal and infrared photography. And in case you think it sounds a fun jaunt, they’ll be camping out for two weeks in sub-zero temperatures not just having to operate their equipment, but also maintaining their camp. And as the areas they are in are protected, they need to have a minimal impact on the area.

ANT0140

This is one of their drones. They’re not like the ones you can buy as toys, but have serious grunt so they can go up and photograph several square kms at a time.

The main purpose of the research is establish the past and cumulative effects of human impacts on these vulnerable ecosystems so that they can be better safeguarded in future. They’re also working on a crowd sourcing tool where staff and scientists in Antarctica can easily report areas they has seen of environmental concern.

DSC_0629

Photo: Len Gillman

This is a photo of some of them out last year in Antarctica.

Other projects include:

  • Richard Levy and Tim Naish (and team) are uncovering an ancient beach (now 300 metres above sea level) teeming with fossilised remains of sea life that lived when the waters around Antarctica were warmer, to learn more about how our coastal environment may change if temperatures rise.
  • Regina Eisert is studying Ross Sea killer whales to provide the scientific information needed to support the proposal for a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. This includes information on whale abundance, diet, foraging habitat, and movements. As toothfish predators, killer whales are among the species most likely to be affected by fishing for toothfish, if the fishery reduces the availability of toothfish in areas where the whales feed.
  • Graeme Hill is  imaging the Mt Erebus magmatic system from source to surface to in investigate the role of geofluids in both volcanic and tectonics studies

The full list of the science projects in 2015/16 in Antarctica, supported by Antarctica NZ, is here.

While scientists obviously choose to come to Antarctica, it is worth remembering most of them spend relatively little time at Scott Base. They mainly are camped out around Antarctica in tents, cooking their own meals, running their experiments, and their only contact with the outside world is a radio which can communicate with Scott Base and McMurdo. It is I am sure an amazing experience, but not an easy one.

As I said, the plan was to be able to report first hand on some of the science, but the weather got in the way.

Discovery Hut

January 22nd, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

ANT0122

This is Discovery Hut, the second oldest building on the continent. It was built by Robert Scott in 1901 and is on Ross Island, near McMurdo Base.

It was pre-fabricated in Sydney.

ANT0123

The hut wasn’t very well designed. It was colder in the hut than in a tent, and so it got used more for storage than sleeping. Each subsequent hut learnt from the one before and got progressively better.

ANT0124

The hut is under the care of the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust who look after five historic huts. Some of their conservators spend all winter in darkness on the continent working at Scott Base, restoring and preserving the artifacts in the huts.

ANT0125

Cookies!

ANT0126

This is the view out one of the windows of Discovery Hut.

ANT0127

As I said, almost as cold inside as out!

ANT0128

You can see McMurdo from Discovery Hut plus the Polar Star icebreaker in port, having just cleared the way for the supplies and fuel ships to enter later this month.

ANT0129

A memorial to George Vince who died in 1904. He may be the first person to have died in Antarctica. However there had been earlier deaths in the seas around Antarctica.

The Hillary Field Centre

January 21st, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The largest part of Scott Base is the Hillary Field Centre. It is where people are equipped to go out into the field, and also to be supported when they return if they need to work on their experiments immediately.

It is just over halfway through a major $6 million upgrade.

ANT0130

This is the general lab area.

ANT0131

These are the cages. Each group going out into the field gets a cage where all the gear they need to survive and do their science is stored. it can take several days to get everything organised. Some gear may be late getting in from Christchurch, and sometimes McMurdo will lend gear out also.

ANT0132

They have scores of tents, including these polar tents.

ANT0133

This is the drying room, where after you return the tents and sleeping bags etc get dried.

 

ANT0101

One of the other labs.

ANT0102

A useful guide on penguin behaviour.

ANT0103

The boiler room.

ANT0104

The food store is almost like a supermarket. But there is no quartermaster issuing you the food. Each group decides for itself what food they want to take, and take it. The training is for people to make good decisions themselves.

ANT0105

This is the Scott Base webcam, which you can check out here.

ANT0106

The important (for me) server room.

ANT0107

And the computer lab.

ANT0108

I mentioned that there was a major renovation on. Contractors are working throughout summer and winter to do a major expansion. It will make for far easier loading of gear, departures and logistics.

ANT0109

More of the expansion work.

ANT0110

This structure was a long way away from the other buildings. I asked why, and the reasons is it is where the explosives are stored. I then told a Dad joke “Knock knock … Who’s there … Basil …. Basil Who …. Basil Brush, Boom Boom.” – sadly some of the younger staffers did not know who Basil Brush was!

Arrival Heights Laboratory

January 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Arrival Heights is around 2 km from McMurdo and it is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area as its height and horizon make it ideal as an area with minimal electromagnetic interference to do atmospheric studies.

There are no lights up at Arrival Heights. If driving up at night you must have your lights turned off, and use moonlight. If at night you need to go from one building to another, there is rope joining them up so you can navigate in the dark.

ANT0111

NZ has an atmospheric research laboratory as Arrival Heights. It was built in 2007, but a previous one was there from 1959.

ANT0112

 

Most of the experiments and monitoring being done there are for NIWA, and include the upper atmosphere, trace gas monitoring, geomagnetic studies and air quality surveys.

ANT0113

This is the oldest running monitoring experiment. It has been going since the 1980s. You may note the computer is running DOS and the PC has a floppy disk drive!

ANT0114

The roof of the labatory has multiple egresses to allow monitoring.

ANT0115

This equipment was made in 1937 but still performs its function well – to monitor the ozone layer.

In case people wonder the value of such science, well it was the discovery of the hold in the ozone layer around Antarctica that led to the Montreal Protocol which phased out production of many substances that deplete the ozone layer. As a result the hole in the layer around Antarctica is recovering and it is projected to be back to “normal” by around 2050. The Montreal Protocol has been called the most single most successful international agreement to date.

A 2015 report by the U. S. EPA estimated that the protection of the ozone layer under the Montreal Protocol will prevent over 280 million cases of skin cancer and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths.

Many of the experiments are automated and need no human interaction. But some of them, including this one, require a technician to make selections and operate the equipment. Antarctica NZ has two technicians who operate the gear at Arrival Heights, year round.

The NZ Antarctic entities

January 20th, 2016 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

There are three main organisations involved with Antarctica. They are:

On top of that you have involvement of other organisations such as the NZ Defence Force, MFAT, NIWA, most universities etc.

So what does each organisation do?

Antarctica New Zealand

Antarctica New Zealand is the government agency charged with carrying out New Zealand’s activities in Antarctica. They manage NZ’s presence in Antarctica, run Scott Base, support the world leading science and help protect the environment of Antarctica.

They have a seven member board appointed by the Foreign Affairs Minister.  They have 27 staff based in Christchurch and from 10 to 50 staff at Scott Base.

However many staff work in both Christchurch and Scott Base. You may be an HR manager most of the year in Christchurch but also spend two to three months at Scott Base helping with operations.

The Scott Base staff are in three teams – base services, engineering, and programme support. People can do multiple roles. For example the Winter Base Leader was also the domestic staffer (cleaner/chef’s assistant). She has a PhD but there isn’t much science over winter so she takes up the domestic role.

Their budget is $16 million a year of which most goes on operating costs such as $900,000 on flying within Antarctica, $680,000 on fuel, $435,000 on data/comms link and $202,000 on food.

New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute

NZARI is a charitable trust that partners with research agencies to support science in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and the Sub-Antarctic.

Funding for NZARI is sought from organisations concerned with global scale connections to Antarctica and consequences of its changing environment.

There are multiple sources of funding for science projects in Antarctica – Marsden Fund, NIWA, universities, overseas Governments. None of them have a dedicated focus though on Antarctica, which is where NZARI comes in. Their aim is to:

  • Bring new money into the Antarctic Research sector
  • Help to grow the linked up research effort so that research teams can address more challenging scientific questions
  • Work in partnership with research organisations to facilitate the development of core scientific questions

Their Director is Gary Wilson who is the sort of head (in an informal sense) of the Antarctica scientific community. He’s been to Antarctica 25 times and a further 12 times to the Sub-antarctic.

They have an international science panel with members from the US, Australia, UK, South Korea, and Norway.

Their budget is $1.5 million a year plus they get support in kind of $1 million a year from Antarctica NZ. Major funders include the Aotearoa Foundation (set up by Julian Robertson) and Air New Zealand.

Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Antarctic Heritage Trust is also a registered charity. The trustees include the Ambassadors or High Commissioners from the US, Ireland and the UK.

They do an amazing job preserving and restoring five historic huts in Antarctica. These huts are not just reminders of the great age of exploration but they are also the first human habitations on the continent. And the only remaining first habitations on any of the continent. Until they were built there was nothing here.

The five huts they preserve and restore are:

  • Carsten Borchgrevink’s Hut, Cape Adare (the first building on Antarctica)
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut, Hut Point
  • Ernest Shackleton’s Hut, Cape Royds
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans
  • Hillary’s Hut, Scott Base

They get funding from the NZ Government, but also from four museums, the Norwegian Government, Christchurch Airport and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Their budget is around $3 million a year.

The care and skill that goes into preserving the old artifacts is amazing. Professionals have restored thousands and thousands of artifacts with huge skill.

Hillary’s Hut

January 20th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Yesterday we got a tour around Hillary’s Hut. Due to asbestos it is closed for general use, but you can be guided through it.

ANT0090

The hut is being preserved and restored by the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust. They give the background:

In December 1956 HMNZS Endeavour left New Zealand for Antarctica to support both the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) 1955–1958 and the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957–1958 with a major programme of science.

Fresh from conquering Mount Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary was enlisted to lead the New Zealand party that would lay supply depots from the Ross Sea towards the South Pole for the first trans-Antarctic crossing. Led by the then Dr Vivian Fuchs, the expedition planned to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea.

Pram Point, on the edge of the McMurdo ice shelf and four kilometres from the United States’ McMurdo Station, was chosen as the site for Scott Base. In January 1957 the team completed the buildings (six interconnecting units and three detached science buildings) that would form the antecedents of the modern-day Scott Base. A party of 23 men wintered over at the newly formed base.

This team basically founded Scott Base. Hillary of course also got fame for making it to the South Pole on a tractor. His job was to lay out depots for the British explorers. But after he had done that, and as he was only 80 miles from the South Pole, he decided to head on down there and beat them to it :-)

ANT0091

I love the address.

ANT0092

The main room in the hut.

ANT0093

A very old beater.

ANT0094d

And even older phone.

ANT0097

I like how they say “Today’s Guess” instead of “Today’s Forecast”. The weather here can be quite variable.

ANT0095

This is the emergency exit in case of fire.

ANT0096

And with the exit open. Would not be great fun crawling out through that!

NZ History has more details of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Hillary was the first person since 1912 to reach the South Pole overland.

Scott Base

January 20th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

ANT0086

Scott Base is the home of the New Zealand presence in Antarctica. It is where everyone starts and ends their activities in Antarctica. It is where you get equipped to go into the field, and is home to the base staff who support the scientists.

However it is not where most NZers in Antarctica spend their time. Most science projects are not done from Scott Base. They are done throughout the continent. In fact the scientists get grumpy when they end up at Scott Base for too long, as their purpose in being here is not to live at Scott Base, but to do their work in the field.

So while Scott Base is a critical part of what New Zealand does in Antarctica, it is not an end in itself – more a means to an end.

But without Scott Base, none of the science could be supported.

ANT0085

The atmosphere is very dry here so you need to drink constantly. Almost everyone walks around with their drink bottle and you are recommended to drink four litres a day of water. The bottle even helpfully tells you how to stay hydrated with sarcastic instructions about how you open the lid, pour water in, close the lid, drink the water and repeat four times :-)

ANT0078

This is the kitchen and mess. Meal times are easy to remember – 6 am, 12 pm and 6 pm. The food here is great, and done by a very small team.

ANT0079

This is my favourite place – the lounge. You see right out over the ice sheet from here and a beautifully serene place to just take in the views, chat or read.

ANT0074

The biggest risk to Scott Base is fire. Most staff are trained firefighters – they spend a week being trained before they get deployed.

ANT0075

Because of the dry atmosphere there is a lot of static electricity. They have these metal plates everywhere so you can ground yourself. If you touch a phone or computer or camera before grounding, you may break it.

ANT0073

This has been my temporary office.

ANT0072

They have a small room for movie watching and a pretty good DVD collection. I’ve not seen it used much in summer (rather go outside) but I imagine in winter gets a lot of use.

ANT0071

Having a quiet drink in the bar. It’s a good area to socialise and unwind. As Antarctica is not part of any country, the drinks are quite inexpensive due to the lack of tax. However no one I’ve seen has had more than a few social drinks. You get up way too early in the morning for that. Plus there is a huge emphasis on health and safety. Over indulgence would not go down well with others.

ANT0077

A small gym.

ANT0076

And you can go mountain biking. There are also running trails and a small ski area. Important to keep fit down here.

ANT0087

A good sense of humour as seen by various office notices.

ANT0088

And also by this sign.

ANT0070

This sign is not a joke. Some staff and scientists work night shifts, and sleep during the day. Being noisy inside the sleeping areas is a cardinal sin. They are for sleeping, not talking, and you even get taught to gently close the doors, rather than let them make noise shutting automatically.

A major part of Scott Base is the Hillary Field Centre which is halfway through a major renovation. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Setting up our Antarctic Field Kitchen

January 19th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

ANT0058

It is a very very very bad idea to cook inside your tent, which means you are cooking outside on the snow.

In case you are rather stupid, the reason you do not cook inside your tent is two-fold. The first is you may burn it down with yourself inside it. The second is carbon monoxide poisoning.

So you need to construct a field kitchen. You use saws to cut out blocks, and then shovel them out.

ANT0059

There’s three things you are doing. First you cut out one row of blocks to create rows to sit on. Then you cut out two rows of blocks next to that, so you can put your feet down there. and you create a wall with the blocks to help shelter from the wind.

It was snowing the entire time we were out there building the kitchen, and cooking.

ANT0060

And the kitchen is complete.

ANT0061

Out comes the cookers and food.

ANT0062

And dehydrated meals have never tasted so good!

ANT0063

As I said, it snowed a lot.

ANT0065

This is the infamous P bottle.

ANT0066

And the toilet is a bucket with two plastic bags inside it and a very cold lid.

ANT0067

This is getting ready to boil water the next morning. The mat is to soak up any fuel, and you remove before cooking.

ANT0068

And then the fun part of demolishing the field kitchen. I took the direct approach of running into the walls several times!

We then headed back to Scott Base around midday Monday.

Setting up our Antarctic Field Camp

January 19th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Your first two days in Antarctica, if a newbie, are spent doing Antarctic Field Training. Basically you get taught how to operate out in the field. There is a huge emphasis on health and safety, but their approach is not not so much rules based as teaching people how to make good decisions. Once you are out in the field, you need to decide a lot of stuff on the spot.

ANT0040

After an initial hour inside, you go out for a walk on the sea ice. There are hundreds of sea lions lazing about.

ANT0042

You really do not want to fall into the water!

ANT0043

On average we have two metres of ice over the Ross Sea, but less in some areas.

ANT0050

Then we spend a few more hours inside learning how to use the cookers, selecting tents and gear and then outside into a Haglund.

ANT0051

We travel around 5 kms away from Scott Base to set up camp.

ANT0052

The first tent up (and was already there) is the toilet tent. Antarctica NZ is passionate about leaving minimal impact on the environment so all human waste is collected, including urine. You all have a pee bottle to use also.  There is no going behind the rocks.

ANT0053

Time to start setting up the tents.

ANT0054

First you smooth out the area you want to pitch the tent. Then you pitch the tent, and finally weigh it down by covering the sides with snow.

ANT0056

This is the tent I was in. You have to basically crawl into the tent through a small tunnel, so there were lots of jokes about it being a birthing chamber :-)

ANT0057

One of the other tents our groups had. The three media type people did field training with a group of four from AUT who are down to map sensitive areas of Antarctica using drones. I’ll cover their work in a later post.

ANT0055

And finally we have the tents all set up.

The entire time it was snowing. Lightly at first, but then more heavily. 99% of the time the snow is dry (Antarctica generally is extremely dry) but that night it was wet snow, so by the end of the night (well it is never night but you know what I mean) we were a bit wet.

After the tents were done, we then had to make our field kitchen which I’ll blog about later also.

The Antarctic Treaty

January 18th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Antarctic Treaty is one of the most successful and succinct treaties in international law.

At the height of the cold war,  12 countries agreed to make Antarctica a continent with no wars and no commercial activity – to protect it as an area for science. These countries were Argentina, Australia, Belgium Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the UK and the US.

The treaty has stood the test of time. No country has tried to set up a non-scientific presence in Antarctica, and another 41 countries have signed up to the treaty. It has preserved Antarctica as a unique area for science, where you can learn the history of the world by drilling down through the ice. It is the planet’s dedicated science laboratory.

One extraordinary thing about the treaty is how short it is. The TPPA is 6,000 or so pages. The Antarctic Treaty is only 12 pages long. They must have kept the lawyers away from it. The later environmental protocol is much long at 50 pages (and smaller font!)

It does three main things:

  1. Established that Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only

  2. Mandates freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end

  3. Requires scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available

All countries have effectively put aside (but not dismissed) their territorial claims. And they have agreed that all facilities are open to inspection by any other country. Nominated observers have complete freedom of access.

If the treaty had never been agreed back in the late 1950s, Antarctica might be a very different place today. Rather than a continent open to anyone, it may have become a land closed to the territorial claimants only.  It was the first arms control agreement of the cold war.

The summary of the main articles is:

  • Article 1 – The area is to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose;
  • Article 2 – Freedom of scientific investigations and cooperation shall continue;
  • Article 3 – Free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the United Nations and other international agencies;
  • Article 4 – The treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force;
  • Article 5 – The treaty prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes;
  • Article 6 – Includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves but not the surrounding waters south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south;
  • Article 7 – Treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given;
  • Article 8 – Allows for good jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states;
  • Article 9 – Frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations;
  • Article 10 – All treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty;
  • Article 11 – All disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the International Court of Justice;

It is a unique agreement which covers 10% of the world’s land surface and 10% of its oceans.

The US State Department has background on the initial meeting:

By the 1950s, seven nations — Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom — claimed territorial sovereignty over areas of Antarctica. Claims of Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom overlapped. Eight other nations — the United States, the Soviet Union, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Japan, and South Africa — had engaged in exploration but had put forward no specific claims. The United States did not recognize the claims of other governments and reserved the right to assert claims. The Soviet Union took a similar position.

Activities in the Antarctic had generally been conducted peacefully and cooperatively. Yet the possibility that exploitable economic resources might be found meant the possibility of future rivalry for their control. Moreover, isolated and uninhabited, the continent might at some time become a potential site for deploying nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, international scientific associations were able to work out arrangements for effective cooperation. In 1956 and 1957, for example, American meteorologists “wintered over” at the Soviet post Mirnyy, while Soviet meteorologists “wintered over” at Little America. These cooperative activities culminated in the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 (IGY), a joint scientific effort by 12 nations — Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States — to conduct studies of the Earth and its cosmic environment.

In the years after World War II, as interest grew in keeping the continent from becoming militarized, there began diplomatic discussion of the possibility of formalizing a demilitarization arrangement. On May 3, 1958, the United States proposed to the other 11 nations participating in the IGY that a conference be held, based on the points of agreement that had been reached in informal discussions:

(1) that the legal status quo of the Antarctic Continent remain unchanged;
(2) that scientific cooperation continue;
(3) that the continent be used for peaceful purposes only.

All 11 nations accepted the U.S. invitation. The Washington Conference on Antarctica met from October 15 to December 1, 1959. No insurmountable conflicts or issues divided the conference, and negotiations culminated in a treaty signed by all 12 nations on December 1, 1959.

As I said at the beginning, few treaties have been as successful as The Antarctic Treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty

Landing in Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

ANT0018

The last 90 minutes of the flight gives you amazing views of Antarctica and the sheet ice. These photos are through a small window so don’t capture the actual panoramic view, but may give an idea.

ANT0025 ANT0026 ANT0027 ANT0029 ANT0030

We landed dead on schedule, and the rear door opens up to give us our first view of Antarctica from the ground.

ANT0031

We landed at Williams Field. It has two snow runways. On average eight metres of snow on top of 80 metres of ice, floating on the water.

ANT0032

A Hercules on the ice.

ANT0034

And a close up of the skis they land on.

ANT0033

We then boarded the Terra Bus for a 20 minute trip to Scott Base.

ANT0036

The front of Scott Base.

ANT0035

And my home for the next few days. Not that I’ll be sleeping inside every night. For the next day and a half I’ll be out in the field doing training, so won’t be back on base until late Monday.

Flying to Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

ANT0013

All packed for the flight. The green bag is carry on luggage. The black bag is all the Antarctica NZ gear. The suitcase is all my other clothes, and the boots you put on once ready to board.

ANT0014

Headed over to the International Antarctic Centre.

ANT0017

Got checked by the US Centre for Disease Control that I don’t have Ebola and then into the departure terminal.

ANT0015

It seems Mike Moore actually got to open a building during his six weeks as Prime Minister!

ANT0016

And got this far and then got told our flight had been cancelled due to very strong winds causing turbulence near the bottom of the South Island.

We had been warned this could happen, but it is unusual that it is bad weather conditions in NZ that stop a flight, as opposed to Antarctica.

So we trekked back to the hotel we had checked out of 30 minutes earlier and managed to get our rooms reissued to us for another night. Spent the day in Christchurch and then we tried again the next morning.

ANT0020

Yes! Today we got to check in and went to the pre-departure lounge where you spend around 45 minutes watching videos. Very different to commercial flights. For example on a Hercules there are no oxygen masks – instead they have oxygen hats or helmets you put over your head.

There were 32 people flying today and the capacity for a Hercules is 30, so they said two people would be bumped to a later flight on the basis of their priority list. I was convinced a blogger would be bottom of the priority list, but didn’t get bumped so went through security screening and then onto the bus.

ANT0019

The bus takes you from the terminal out to the tarmac.

ANT0021

And time to board the Hercules. There are other planes that fly to Antarctica but at present the runway is a little slushy so the only planes that go there are the Hercules as they can land on skis.

ANT0022

The other planes have actual seats. The Hercules is basically a cargo plane and they just make room for a few humans around the side. So it is an eight hour flight on webbing.

ANT0023

The cargo is in the main body of the plane with you, at the rear.

ANT0024

Got allowed up to the cockpit.  Great view from there but the glare means you need sunglasses.

ANT0028

And this is the toilet. Not quite the same level of privacy as on a commercial plane!

The Hercules is very very noisy. You can’t have a conversation over the noise and you wear headphones or earplugs for the entire flight.

I’ll do a separate blog on the views coming in, and the landing.

Getting kitted out for Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

ANT0001

They day before we fly out to Antarctica, we get kitted out by Antarctica New Zealand in Christchurch. It’s nice and warm in Scott Base (model of which is above) but outside it can range from a relatively pleasant 0°C to a less pleasant -57°C. And further afield it has been known to be as low as -90°C.

So Antarctica NZ make sure everyone travelling down has gear for all conditions.

ANT0002

Their warehouse has a wide range of styles and colours, so long as they are orange!

ANT0003

First to go on is the base layer. Thanks Icebreaker!

ANT0004

Then the mid layer.

ANT0005

Then the overalls.

ANT0006

Then you out on the first jacket.

ANT0007

Then a second jacket

ANT0008

And finally a third jacket. And as we were in a well heated warehouse, you can imagine how hot I am at this stage!

ANT0011

You also get two pairs of boots.

ANT0012

And a headband, hat, balaclava and neck gaiter!

Plus of course three pairs of gloves and mittens.

I am now confident I can spend a long long time outdoors without being cold. If anything the danger is overheating.

Also you need to wear much of the gear for the flight down to Antarctica – you can’t just change into it once you land. This is in case you crash. So I’m expecting (I wrote this before I landed) a warm flight over!

ANT0009

By chance there were some visiting huskies when I was in at the Antarctica Centre in Christchurch.

ANT0010

I got to play with all seven of them. Such gorgeous dogs. I want one!

Then headed back to the airport hotel for dinner and the final sleep. Was glad to find the report in time on Friday had changed from 6 am to 8.30 am. Due to leave at 11 am and arrive at 7 pm. Will blog the flight separately.

Kiwiblog in Antarctica

January 16th, 2016 at 8:57 pm by David Farrar

IMG_4828

For the next week I will be blogging from Antarctica, having just arrived at Scott Base on a United States Air Force Hercules.

Technically it is night time here but of course there is no night – the sun doesn’t set for around three months. But we landed early evening.

I’m here, along with the NZ Herald’s Science reporter, to report on this amazing continent, what New Zealand does in Antarctica, the science projects done here and the work of Antarctica New Zealand. We successfully applied to come through their Community Engagement Programme which brings down media, artists and writers.

Words can not convey how excited I am to be here. It’s been a dream of mine for many years to come to Antarctica, and to actually be able to live at Scott Base, interview staff and scientists, and spend a week on this amazing continent is beyond amazing.

I thought I would start with a quote from one of the many books I have read about the continent. This is from Gabrielle Walker’s Antarctica – an intimate portrait of the world’s most mysterious continent.

Antarctica is like nowhere else on Earth. While there are other wild places or ones that seem extreme, this is the only continent in the world where people have never permanently lived. In the interior of the continent there is nothing to make a living from – no food, no shelter, no clothing, no fuel, no liquid water. Nothing but ice. …

There are no trees, or indeed plants of any kind; no land animals; nothing but glaciers, snowfields and sepia-toned rocks.

Expect lots of photos, and lots of stories as I explore Earth’s largest science laboratory.

kblogo

Costa Rica – Jaco

January 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

CR0028

This is the view from our room at the Club del Mar in Jaco.  Right next to the beach. We spent three nights there.

CR0027

Our room – very spacious.

CR0024

Sunset at Jaco.

CR0031

We did a half day trek through the jungle on horseback.

I’d never rode a horse  before, so was quite pleased that the horses were not large – less distance to fall to the ground in case I fell off!

CR0032

The trek was initially on road, but then most of the time through the jungle to a waterfall, where we bathed for half an hour (average temperature 30 degrees or so) before heading back.

Can highly recommend Costa Rica as a holiday destination. It’s like a tropical pacific island, but with heaps of activities and great biodiversity (largest per square km in the world) and rainforest. 30% of the country is in the conservation estate.

The company we used to arrange it was Vacations Costa Rica. Our travel consultant was Rachel Peck and she was great. We changed details six or seven times until we finalised it, and was never a problem. They arranged everything including private transfers between hotels, to and from the airport and all the accommodation and activities. Best of all they have a host meet you at the airport, before you clear immigration. Our host managed to get us through the empty diplomatic lane, avoiding a half hour or so queue!

Had been wanting to see Costa Rica for over a decade, and now I’ve been, I can’t wait to go back!

Costa Rica Rainforest

January 12th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Did a half to full day activity where we traveled to Sky Adventures Arenal Park where you can see rain forest, cloud forest and the Arenal volcano (very active up until 2010).

We did a three hour walk followed by a trip on their gondola. Both well worth doing.

CR0015

The gondola going up through the canopy.

CR0014

This was fascinating. It was a moth which got infected by a fungus. The fungus turns the moth into a zombie under its control and eventually kills it.

CR0013

A view from the top of the gondola.

CR0012

Going through the canopy.

CR0011

One of the many types of butterflies they have.

CR0010

This is a very small pit viper.

CR0009

One of the two waterfalls we saw. You can see the more adventurous types trying to climb it.

CR0008

Lots of these unusual trees around.

CR0007

Can’t recall the name of this bird but lovely colouring.

CR0006

A somewhat larger pit viper!

CR0002

This is a photo of a tarantula in its hole. Quite glad it didn’t come out to complaint about the light.

CR0003

Typical part of the path.

CR0004

A fairly huge stick insect.

CR0005

One of the dozen or so bridges we crossed on the walk. Amazing views from them.

Costa Rica – Arenal

January 11th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

After the amusement parks in Los Angeles we headed to Costa Rica for a week. Spent three days in the Arenal region which has a volcano and rainforest. Stayed at the Royal Corin Hotel which was quite amazing, especially for the price.

CR0017

My mobile office in Arenal – our balcony.

CR0016

A view of the pools from our room.

CR0001

And a slightly wider view.
CR0026

The restaurant will bring you lunch to you poolside. Great food.

CR0040

This is Valentino, an iguana who hangs around the hotel. He’s around 40 cm long.

CR0025

They have three large pools, plus four jacuzzis and a couple of private pools for spa clients.

CR0023

A view of the gardens.

CR0021

Poolside shade.

CR0020

This was not at the hotel, but a few kms down the road. Around 20 to 25 crocodiles have set up home by a bridge. You really really do not want to dive off this bridge.

Disneyland

January 9th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Spent New Years Eve at Disneyland. The good thing was they stay open until 2 am and have lots of fireworks. The bad thing is it is their busiest day of the year.

As we had to be up at 5 am to catch a flight, the plan was to leave around 9.30 pm after the first fireworks. But we kept wanting to do just one more ride and we finally left very happy but tired at 1.30 am.

Here’s how I rated the attractions we did:

  • Hyperspace Mountain 9.5/10
  • Star Tours 9/10
  • Indiana Jones Adventure 9/10
  • Splash Mountain 9/10 (did twice)
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 8.5/10 (did twice)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds 8.5/10 (did twice)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 8/10
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday 7.5/10
  • Jingle Cruise 7/10
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters 7/10
  • It’s a Small World 6.5/10
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage 6.5/10
  • Disneyland Railroad 6.5/10
  • Casey Jr Circus Train 6/10
  • Peter Pan’s Flight 6/10

DL0001

This was the Jungle Cruise renamed the Jingle Cruise for the season.

DL0002

Enterting into It’s A Small World.

DL0003

Young padawans being trained up during lunch breaks

DL0004

This was one of the longer queues, around 30 minutes. Some of the top attraction had two to three hour queues but we used Fastpass for them, and then did less popular ones between. Also after 9 am the queues got a lot shorter and we managed to get on some popular rides such as Matterhorn bobsleds with only five minute queues!

DL0005

The enchanted castle.

DL0006

A scene from the Finding Nemo submarine.

DL0007

Getting ready for Hyperspace Mountain.

DL0008

A scene from It’s A Small World.

DL0009

And the dolls to represent NZ!

DL0010

After the fireworks at 9 pm everyone headed towards the middle of Disneyland – either to exit the park, or join the party there. This caused total gridlock – moving say a metre per second. If you are ever there on NYE, do not go towards the centre in the evening – use the more remote paths.

DL0011

Peter Pan’s Flying adventure.

DL0012

Some toys we purchased. Sadly not for me, but certain little girls.

DL0015

One of the real highlights was Fantasmic. I thought it would be like World of Colour, and all done with fountains and lights. But this one had actors and props galore. It is a battle between good and bad in Mickey’s dreams and was superbly done.

DL0013

Captain Hook’s boat turns up.

DL0014

As done Mark Twain’s!

Despite the crowds was a great day at Disneyland. We spent almost 18 hours there!

Some general advice for others going:

  • Get there early and stay late
  • Get fast passes as soon as they are available for you again
  • Book your lunch and dinner venues well in advance unless you want to do burgers
  • Make sure you see the shows as well as do the rides