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Report on the Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Expedition 1960-61: VUWAE 4


page 1


A Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Expedition was again mounted in the 1960-61 summer to carry out investigation of an ice-free area in southern Victoria Land. The area entered was the left “bank” of the Koettlitz Glacier, an exposed rock area some 50 miles by ten lying, at its nearest point, 40 miles from Ross Island where lies Scott Base. Roughly, the area lies across the 78°S parallel and on the meridian 164°E. This ice-free area has been entered by earlier exploring parties but, until this season, never investigated as a unit.

Financial aid for the Expedition came from several sources: Research Grants Committee of the University of New Zealand (£1,614); University of Wellington (£400 including research grant); Antarctic Division of D.S.I.R. (£300); the residue of a total grant of £1,000 made to the Victoria university of Wellington Antarctic Expedition 1959-60 and 1960-61; National Science Foundation of the United States of America which paid Dr. Blank a salary and allowed a requested £313 for his personal equipment, travel, insurance, freight of specimens and publication expenses.


The 1960-61 Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Expedition, commonly referred to as “V.U.W.A.E.,” originally intended to mount a six-man party but, due to circumstances in the early organisation and with regard to the field work to be done, only five could be taken. They were:

R. H. Wheeler, Lecturer in Geography, V.U.W. (Leader)

Dr. C.B.B. Bull, Lecturer in Physics, V.U.W.

Dr. H. R. Blank, Research Fellow, National Science Foundation, U.S.A.

I.A.G. Willis) Senior Geology Students, V.U.W. (since graduated)

R. A. Cooper) Senior Geology Students, V.U.W. (since graduated)

The personnel formed, basically two teams: one geological, the other glaciological-gravimetric but in the latter part of the season the teams split into two mixed parties and thus widened coverage. As a safety factor parties worked within short distance of one another whenever possible and kept in constant communication by short wave radio.


It was planned to spend about ten weeks in the field but with delays in departures both from New Zealand and Ross Island and need for an early return to work up field material in New Zealand, the actual time in the field was just under nine weeks.


As with earlier V.U.W.A.E, it was intended that a survey with theodolite be carried out but the day before departure the survey party, Wheeler and Bull, learned that a survey was not needed because other personnel were planning to cover with control points (for aerial photographic coverage) the whole area between the Miller Glacier and Skelton Glacier. It has been found subsequently that the Koettlitz area was not included in this survey (nor aerial photographed) and the survey team (Bull and Wheeler) and the geologists doing a topographic plot for the geological map (Willis and Cooper) were disappointed.


As too in earlier V.U.W.A.E., a complete geological coverage of the exposed rock region was intended and carried out despite broken terrain and poor weather. Blank's report is appended.


Due to the attenuated area chosen the field arrangements of the 1960-61 party were planned so that the personnel worked from north to south through the area. Therefore it was not possible to establish a fixed position meteorological page 2 station. A meteorological screen was erected at the third base camp and records are available for the final three weeks of the Expedition. Measurements of temperature, wind, cloud amount and direction of movement were made at main synoptic hours by two members but these are of limited value because the parties were seldom stationary for more than a day. (Records held by Bull, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. are not yet analysed - results will be worked up and submitted to the New Zealand Meteorological Office as with earlier V.U.W.A.E. meteorological records.)

Gravity Survey

A gravimeter was obtained on free loan from the Texas Instrument Company, U.S.A., and arrived as the party was working south. Bull and Wheeler returned on the helicopter bringing in the gravimeter to the northern Koettlitz area and began the north-south traverse. Bull's immediate gravimetric report is appended.


Bull's requests to ether Antarctic expeditions for paleomagnetic samples have not been productive but Willis of V.U.W.A.E. collected almost a hundred pounds of specimens from the southern Koettlitz area.


Observations were made by this party throughout the Koettlitz area and a report is appended.


Algae, lichen, windblown marine shells, sponge remains, were collected and are being studied by the appropriate authorities at Canterbury University. Insects were collected by Willis at Camps I and III.


The time for organisation for a University Antarctic Expedition is very short. No logistic buying can be begun before grants applied for are officially assured. This means that until late September when the news of the largest grant applied for was confirmed, no large-scale buying could be carried out. On the other hand, applications for grants in February would have to be made before personnel were chosen or could give definite assurance of participation. Again, in the September to early November period (embarkation was 12th November) there is a rush from other expeditions (both government and private) on the few firms in New Zealand supplying equipment and some items were scarce. It was in regard to this rush most fortunate that the major grant, the University of New Zealand grant, enabled V.U.W.A.E. to be financial enough to devote the balance of the D.S.I.R. grant to buying food direct from the Antarctic Division.

Apart from organisation work to mount the Expedition the time needed to buy new or repair old equipment cannot be overstressed. The worst instance of this was the need to call fifteen times on a firm that ultimately effected inefficient repairs to stoves.

The weight of pre-Expedition organisation falls on the University staff component as the student members must be left unhampered to study (successfully) for examinations. The staff members' end-of-year pre-Expedition period becomes as a consequence a hectic gallop which is maintained until one's feet are at last planted on the calm bleakness of the ice-free area.

Equipment used by V.U.W.A.E. was efficient and durable, except that trouble, as on previous V.U.W.A.E., was experienced with sunglasses and snow goggles which broke far too easily. Some items of clothing were outstanding - and made in New Zealand. The Antarctic Division, D.S.I.R., (hereafter referred to as “A.D.D.S.I.R.”) rations were very, very good and this is said despite the fact that this standard field ration was unvaried over two months. It is to be admitted however that in our base camps we had “goodies” both donated, by wellwishers and relatives of the party, and purchased. A conversation with Dr. Pardue, United States Navy at McMurdo Base brought to page 3 light the interesting fact that United States survival rations for each of a group of three men, two “up and around” one resting in sleeping bag, was 4,500 calories and the V.U.W.A.E. and D.S.I.R. basic ration calory content was 4,773. This Expedition considers that in the Antarctic, the back-packing, tramping and climbing requirements must be well above both the calories per day figures stated above; extra items at each of the three base camps, particularly those for Christmas, raised the calorific intake over the field period.

Where and Why V.U.W.A.E. Went

This V.U.W.A.E. and others have been unusual expeditions to the Antarctic in that they have specialised in working in continuously exposed rock areas. Most Antarctic expeditions entail travelling great distances in snow vehicles or by dog sledges. Since distances in Antarctica are so vast and the going often so difficult such expeditions spend the greater part of their time in travel and comparatively little in the V.U.W.A.E. type of field work. V.U.W.A.E, having chosen bare rock areas, has been able each season to work continuously on their chosen territory. This was especially so in 1960-61 when the Antarctic continent generally experienced very poor weather conditions. One party of our acquaintance spent out of some 88 days in the field some 27 confined to tents. One United States university expedition was so unfortunate as to fail altogether to reach its proposed area. One party of V.U.W.A.E. on the other hand was snowed in for only two days. Another reason why these V.U.W.A.E. have chosen the ice-free areas of Wright Valley (1958-9), Victoria Valley (1959-60) and the Koettlitz (1960-61) is that no great degree of Antarctic training is needed - nor have we ever had time enough for it - and New Zealand tramping and mountaineering already experienced by members are ideal preparation. Furthermore, since these areas are amongst the largest exposures of geology in Antarctica it is felt that their exploitation is extremely profitable for expeditions of our type.

This year the area chosen was that just north of the Koettlitz Glacier, about 40 miles, at its nearer end, from Scott Base on Ross Island. The area was big - 50 miles by ten miles of ridge and valley topography roughly equivalent in size, to quote a New Zealand example, to the whole of the Wairarapa valley from Palliser Bay to beyond Masterton, and as wide, the whole being regularly crossed along its length by narrow ridges often as high as the Tararua Range - but the choice was determined by proximity to Scott Base and the fact that it had been observed but never studied as a complete unit.