Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Into the science

Today has been another brilliant day down here! Honestly this place is just amazing! The sun has been shining, there has hardly been a cloud in the sky and there has been very little wind - not ideal for the turbines, but conditions like this make for a superb working environment!

Firstly this morning I had an interview with Simon Morton from Radio New Zealand on the Summer Report show. I was pretty nervous before hand, but I think it all went OK – despite the delay and odd interruption. The interview is on the Radio New Zealand website (http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/summerreport near the bottom of the page – time slot 9.18) for anyone who is interested.

Organising my notes for the VSA (visual site assessment)

After the interview Jana and I spent the rest of the morning up at the turbine site carrying out a VSA or visual site assessment. Just to put the science side of my time here into perspective for you, I am working alongside Jana Newman, an Environmental Advisor in the Environmental team at Antarctica New Zealand. Two years ago Jana carried out the first stage of monitoring at the Crater Hill site which had been proposed as the location for the Ross Island Wind Farm. The aim of her work was to assess the degree of disturbance that had already occurred at the site. A number of criteria were used during that assessment including:

• photo monitoring (taking a series of photos of the site that could be replicated in subsequent years),
• a visual site assessment (VSA – which included noting the spread and depth of vehicle tracks and boot prints; the disturbance of rocks within the desert pavement, and carrying out a litter survey, among other things!),
• a basic survey of the birds and vegetation observed near the site was also noted. The original phase of monitoring recommended that monitoring continued throughout the turbine construction phases.

The second environmental monitoring of the Crater Hill wind turbine site was carried out last summer (08/09 season) by Libby Liggins, last year’s Antarctic Youth Ambassador and one of Jana’s colleagues in the Environmental Team, Renee Burns. At that point the wind farm was already well on the way to being constructed with all of the foundation blocks at the three turbine sites having been installed. They replicated the work that Jana had done, and then extended it by adding some additional photo monitoring sites, dividing the site into zones based on the land use/activity, or the type of disturbance within each zone. This meant that the visual site assessment task could be better structured and more comprehensive.

This year I am again replicating Jana’s work as well as the work Libby and Renee did in the post construction monitoring report. Last night we managed to get all of the necessary photos taken for the photo monitoring component and today we made a good start on the task of VSA. Tomorrow morning we will be heading back up to the site with the ‘resident’ soil disturbance expert (Tanya O’Neill) so it’ll be great to have some advice from her too.

As Antarctica New Zealand is consciously trying to restrict the ‘foot print’ of Scott Base, careful thought and planning must go into all activities. Every event (scientist or group of scientists) is required to assess the impacts they expect their work here in Antarctica is likely to have on the environment. The event must then propose how they plan to mitigate the impacts so that the study site or environment is left as undisturbed as possible. As for all events or activities, monitoring of the wind turbine site is essential for measuring how well the impacts of the construction site have been minimised, in accordance with the initial assessment. The pre, during and post construction monitoring reports will also act as a benchmark for how well the wind turbine site recovers from the disturbance over time.

These strong environmental values to ensure that impacts are minimised fits well with the legacy of Sir Peter Blake, and the firm stance he had as an ambassador for the Antarctic environment.

The variation in desert pavement (ground) colouring - light brown-grey indicates a high proportion of fine sediment and therefore a high level of disturbance, the white dusting is a salt, also an indicator of disturbance. The darker colouring with larger cobbles indicates areas of less disturbance

In the shadow of the turbine

Heading around Observation Hill to meet the American Environmental team (Kevin, Laura and Corey who then came over and had dinner with us at Scott Base)

Looking out towards Black Island and the Pegasus airfield where the C17 landed. The sea ice at the foot of Obs Hill has already disappeared

Checking out the American poo-plant

On an American creation - a ski-bike constructed of unused bits and pieces from around their base

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