- Created: 17 January 2014
TVNZ science reporter Will Hine travelled to Antarctica as part of Antarctica New Zealand’s media programme this season.
I’d had eight hours in a Hercules to ponder what my first reaction to Antarctica might be. Eight long hours in a hot, noisy, dark belly of a military plane.
Surely it would be the biting cold that would greet me first. Or perhaps I’d be blinded by the bright whiteness after emerging from the dim interior of the plane?
Actually, it was the vastness of Antarctica that floored me – kilometres and kilometres of flat ice in every direction. Tens, perhaps hundreds of kilometres.
Yes, mountain ranges soared above the plateau but only at its distant periphery. It was like we’d landed in the middle of a gigantic frozen lake and were now marooned in its centre. Five parked up planes, 40 odd people and a whole lot of ice.
Myself and cameraman Brent Walters are here to report on how science is done in the coldest, driest, arguably most inhospitable place on earth.
How are minute samples gathered and detailed records made when fingers are frozen by the cold and minds addled by 24 dizzying hours of daily summer daylight?
What do you do when your machinery breaks or you forget a nut or bolt? What sort of environmental restrictions are there on visiting parts of Antarctica and how do they temper the scientific process?
And of course, what are the scientists up to and why?
These are just some of the things we’ll be exploring, not to mention a few other stories from Scott Base and the surrounding territory. We’ll mainly be shooting stories for air upon our return but hope to send back a few bits and pieces along the way.
It can’t be said that we’ve arrived poorly equipped.
Antarctica New Zealand outfits everyone heading to Scott Base to make sure all visitors are uniformly prepared. Better to do that than ask people to bring their own outerwear and rely on them having an accurate appreciation of the term “cold”.
We had arrived for kit-out in Christchurch the day before departure. Brent and I were brought into a changing room, our clothes for the ice waiting for us; jackets and trousers on hangers, socks and gloves in piles on the table, and two pairs each of boots on the floor.
There were layers of layers, everything in orange and black, and enough items that it was easy to lose count.
There were three jackets for each of us. Two were medium weight, and perfectly pleasing to my fashion-limited eye. It was the third though, the clear alpha male of the pack, that commanded our gaze from the moment we entered the room.
It was, we were told, the ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) fur-lined option. Thickly quilted, covered in zips and worth about $1300.
We were reassured it wears well to about -50 degrees, not a benchmark I’m tempted to test.
There were also lower layers: socks, merinos, longjohns, polarfleeces and the like. Headwear too, in the form of hats and neck warmers and balaclavas. For the face, sunglasses and goggles.
Then came the gloves, all seven styles of them. I’m not sure I’d worn seven pairs of gloves in my life until this point, hence it was a very big day for my hands.
There were polypropylene gloves, wool gloves, more wool gloves, wool mitts, rubbery gloves, leather gloves, and enormous ECW mitts, each one the size of a stuffed rabbit.
The two pairs of boots came last, the heavier duty of which stand a good inch from the ground with their thick rubber soles.
And so it is that we find ourselves in Antarctica. Outside, it’s 10.30pm and the sun blazes high in the summer sky. It won’t dip below the horizon tonight, nor in the coming weeks.
It’s -4 degrees, relatively warm, although the temperature’s pushed down to about -12 when factoring in wind chill.
Tomorrow, we begin our Antarctica experience proper and will endeavour to keep you up to date along the way.