Scott Base has been described many ways: an oversized backpackers, an institutionalised ski lodge, but for me the first word that comes to mind is ‘green’. Chelsea Cucumber Green to be exact. A small assortment of green square Lego style blocks joined together by green corridors on an otherwise white, blue and grey moonscape. To me Scott Base is one of my homes, as I lived there for the past two summer seasons working on the base. It’s humming with activity and run by Antarctica New Zealand who provide logistical support for the scientists doing field research. Numbers fluctuate daily as people come and go, but usually there are around 60 people on base, providing a colorful collision of productivity. Between working hard, enjoying the surroundings by foot or ski, and the odd dress up party there is always something going on. Check out Antarctica New Zealand’s webcam from Scott Base.
We arrived on base to a pleasant 18 degrees, shed our many layers in the boot room and were led into the maze which is Scott Base for a tour. The base staff is made up of chefs, engineers, mechanics, domestics, builders, field trainers and science and communications technicians. Over the winter a skeleton crew of staff remain to keep the base ticking over. We locate ourselves a bunk in Q hut and head into the Tatty Flag (the Scott Base bar) for a beer. From an architectural point of view Scott Base is fascinating, it is like being inside a gigantic multi-room industrial fridge, only reversed to keep the warmth in. It is constructed from polystyrene sandwich board, and is kept at a pleasant 18 degrees. Power is generated by 3 large wind turbines, which also supply excess energy to McMurdo station on windy days. Scott Base also houses two backup diesel generators. Desalination is used to create fresh water that removes salt. Firstly the -1.8 degree seawater is warmed up and then passes through the reverse osmosis plant. Wastewater is treated by an ozone treatment plant, and all rubbish, food waste and solid human waste is shipped back to NZ to be landfilled.
The view from Scott Base is priceless; smoking Mt Erebus dominates to the north. To the south, Scott Base is situated on prime sea-front real estate, overlooking the frozen ocean. Like any ocean there is swell and waves, however in Antarctica they are in the form of timeless frozen pressure ridges. Some of the pressure ridges lie unbroken while others are broken and jutting to the sky in shards of frozen waves. Amongst the pressure ridges lie Weddel Seals, basking in the sun, the broken pressure ridges providing access from the inky depths below. Early in the season the pure white of the frozen ocean is scared in red, with the remains of seal after births. Cute baby seals and sleepy mamas lie on the ice.
But before we are unleashed from the safety of Scott Base to the wilds of Antarctica, everyone must do mandatory overnight Field Training. For some of our group it is their first taste of Antarctic camping, a chance to learn the tricks and tips to live safely and harmoniously in the field.