Looking outside the window of the Hatherton Lab of Scott Base, I feel relieved as I watch the weather roll in. You can generally see the ‘weather’ coming well ahead of time, consisting of wind and snow or ice storms that rise around only ten metres over the sea ice. I’m happy that it has held off until this time in the evening.
It was the most fabulous, sun-filled day today. Perfect for our environmental monitoring of the windfarm development on Crater Hill. Antarctica New Zealand have been working towards this wind turbine installation and commissioning in collaboration with Meridian Energy for many years now. It will be the world’s southernmost windfarm and along with that comes many challenges. However the benefits will be enormous. The three wind turbines (37 metres in height, 330 kilowatt) will supply renewable energy to Scott Base and McMurdo Station through a linked electrical grid. The windfarm will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of both bases (1 242 tonnes of CO2 annually) and diesel fuel consumption will be cut by ~11% (463 000 litres). In addition, it will reduce the environmental risks associated with the transporting, handling and storage of diesel in Antarctica. This season the foundations have been installed. Next summer season the turbines themselves will be erected and commissioned and we will start to see the exciting results!
Crater Hill has been chosen as the windfarm site as it is one of the few ice free areas (2%) in Antarctica with a ground cover of volcanic scoria covering the permafrost. It is close to both bases and sits high on Ross Island (190 metres above sea level) and therefore has a great wind resource. I definitely felt the wind up there today! Our job is to quantify the environmental impacts of the development and report them back to Antarctica New Zealand along with any recommendations to minimize further impacts, or steps towards remediation we think necessary. To capture all this information we carried out an assessment of terrestrial disturbance, did some photo monitoring, and a floral survey. Unfortunately, we cannot look for animals (other than skua), because the only ones we are likely to encounter are almost invisible to the naked eye. These include nematodes (worms), springtails (collembola) and mites. We were lucky enough to find a few tiny lichens, mosses and algal matts however. I took a few pictures of the vegetation we saw, just for reference. I didn’t expect to be able to identify them anytime soon. Then came along Roman Turk, the lichen king. I was casually flicking through my photos when a full species name came flying over my shoulder. Roman is an amazing biologist from Austria, he is a good laugh and passionate about lichens, although he admits ‘…they are senseless beings…’. He is referring to their habit of existing in some of the most vulnerable and most unlikely positions. It is so fantastic to be surrounded by so many experts here at Scott Base. Their enthusiasm and excitement for their upcoming field adventures is contagious.
I am hoping to awake to a similar weather tomorrow. I have my own little Antarctic adventure to partake in. We are scheduled to fly southwest into the McMurdo Dry Valleys to visit a field event and conduct an environmental audit of their activity. We will be jumping on a helicopter that is scheduled to pick up soil samples from the scientists at a field camp in the Miers Valley. The chopper and pilots will be from the American base. It is really common to share helo hours between bases, as New Zealand shares a joint logisitics and resource pool with the Americans and the Italians stationed at Mario Zucelli in Terra Nova Bay. I was lucky enough to visit the relatively new Italian Base last time I was in Antarctica. They traveled an hour over the sea ice in their shiny red FIATs to invite us to lunch. We of course made time in our busy science schedules for the event. The reception we received was amazing! We were treated like royal visitors. We were first greeted with a flute of champagne, followed by a macchiato (a short black coffee with a splash of hot milk). Then it was onto the dining room. There we were treated to delights such as marlin and salmon, fresh breads, cheeses and fantastic chocolate. One of my team members has since sought and ordered the same chocolate direct from Italy- it was something special! Last but not least was the gelato (they have their own machine) and limoncello to warm us before venturing out of the very comfortable base. They really know how to entertain. In return, and on limited resources, we invited them over for some scones a few days later. They were wrapped. So that’s a little how the resource pool works!
The seven pre-cast concrete foundations for turbine one, with a stage for the transformer on the right. Directly behind the stage you can glimpse Observation Hill that lies between Scott Base and McMurdo Station. It's a great view over the sea ice!
Roman Turk, the lichen king! What a great Austrian character. The photo was taken on our way down to the ice on the Herc
Stazione Mario Zucelli. The Italian base in Terra Nova Bay I visited in 2006