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Questions and Answers

Questions were posted by students on the Ask-an-Expert Web Board. The answers were provided by Antarctic experts and by Shelley the LEARNZ Field Trip Teacher. 

How did people survive for such a long time in the old Antarctic huts?

Hi Room 12, during Scott's and Shackleton's expeditions base huts were built for shelter for the explorers and scientists. These huts were built with wood to withstand the cold, snow and strong winds, this is why they are still standing over 100 years later. Inside the huts there were stoves for cooking and heating. Coal was burned for heating, so the huts would have been much warmer than outside. The huts were also insulated. Scott's Terra Nova Hut had seaweed sewn into a quilt, placed between double-planked inner and outer walls. The roof was a sandwich of three layers of plank and two layers of rubber ply enclosing more quilted seaweed. Acetylene gas provided lighting. These expeditions also brought with them more food than they would need for two years to ensure they never ran out of food.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

What is it like to be in Antarctica, can you please describe it to us?

Hi there, Antarctica is like nowhere else on Earth. It is the coldest, driest and windiest place in the world yet on days like today it feels a bit like being up in the mountains in New Zealand - it's cold but only around -10 degrees Celsius and sunny. You must wear sunglasses or goggles because it's very bright. It is also really dry, which means you have to drink a lot and your skin tends to dry out. The dry conditions mean that it doesn't really snow - snow gets blown around but there's not enough moisture for it to snow very often. This also makes the snow really squeaky to walk on. 

It's easy to get lost in Antarctica with all the whiteness and big areas of flat white ice, which is actually sea ice. I'm at Scott Base in Antarctica so I’m on an island surrounded by sea ice and ice shelf. It is a very beautiful place. The base is full at the moment, with 85 people living here. People share bunk rooms and have to work together but everyone is really friendly and making the most of being in such a special place. I can even go for a walk in the middle of the night because it is daylight all the time.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

How did the modified Massey/Fergusson tractors turn with the tracks over the tyres?

Hi there, When the tractors had the caterpillar tracks fitted, they couldn't use the steering wheel and had to use the wheel brakes to turn.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

How many people go to Scott Base at one time?

Hi there, Scott Base can have up to 85 people staying here at any one time. People travel down from Christchurch by plane with the US Air Force so there is plenty of space for people on these planes. McMurdo Station is the American base which can hold up to a thousand people. McMurdo Station is only three kilometres from Scott Base so Americans fly from Christchurch as well.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

Did the television show "Hillary" help raise enough money to do up the Hillary hut? If not, where will the money come from?

Hi there, The Expedition South fundraising effort raised enough money to repair the hut but more money will have to be raised to maintain the hut after it is repaired. More fundraising will be done in the future so the hut can continue to be looked after.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

Is it hard to live with all the bad cold weather? Is it hard for the animals?

Hi there, yes the cold weather makes everything a bit harder and slower. It takes ages to put all your warm gear on and make sure you have all your survival gear. It also takes longer to travel around because you are on ice or snow, so can't go as fast. Animals have adapted to the cold so are used to it and have ways of coping, such as the Weddell seals who have a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm. Some fish even have anti-freeze in their blood so they don't freeze in the cold water.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

What's the animal at the top of the food chain in Antarctica? I think it's the orca am I right?

Yes orca but also leopard seals are great predators down here in Antarctica. I have seen leopard seals from a distance but they don't usually come near people.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

How many jackets do you put on each morning?

I change the number of jackets depending on the weather, usually I wear two - one warm and one wind proof. If it is really cold I wear my big ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) insulated jacket over the top of a lighter jacket.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

If you just walk outside your base where you live do you see animals, or do you have to travel to find them? What's your favourite animal to study in Antarctica?

There are Weddell seals outside Scott Base on the sea ice. To see penguins you have to go further from base - probably a few hours away where you might see Adélie penguins or emperor penguins. I think emperor penguins are pretty cool and I would like to learn more about them.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

How do you know what time it is in the middle of summer or winter (due to 24 daylight/night) - does it get confusing?

Hi there, yes if you don't have a watch it can be hard to tell what time it is. You end up going to bed quite late because it doesn't feel late when it's not dark. It's important to keep good routines though otherwise you can get really tired and a bit grumpy.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

Have you ever been caught in a snow storm while you were in the hut if so how did the hut react to it? Were you scared?

Hi there, I spoke to Lizzie Meek from the Antarctic Heritage Trust about your question and she told me that they have repaired the huts so no snow can get blown into them. Before this work the huts were full of snow from previous storms and this snow had to be dug out. During storms the huts creak and it's quite noisy with the wind blowing chips of ice at the building, but the huts are now well braced and can withstand storms. It would be much more frightening being in a tent in a storm. Lizzie had to leave her tent during one storm because the tent was getting ripped. She found it really hard to get to the nearest building to take shelter because the blowing snow made it hard to see and to move.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.

What toilets do you use in Antarctica and where does it go?

Hi there, At Scott Base there are flush toilets and a special sewage plant which has micro-organisms to help break down sewage - like in a sewage treatment plant in New Zealand. Filtering and UV treatment is completed and then it is safe to discharge liquid waste into the sea. Solid waste is filtered out, water is removed and then it is shipped back to New Zealand for disposal.

In the field you have to pee into a bottle and pooh in a bucket lined with plastic bags. This waste is returned to Scott Base. If a field party is on the sea ice for a long period of time they can pee directly into a hole in the sea ice but still have to bag all solid waste and return it to Scott Base for treatment so it can be returned to New Zealand.
From Shelley the LEARNZ teacher.