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Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 1993-94: VUWAE 38

IMMEDIATE LOGISTICS REPORT K042 1993-94: Last Retreat of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Ross Region

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K042 : Last Retreat of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Ross Region

Antarctica New Zealand November 1993 - December 1993

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The principle objective of this seasons programme was to recover sea floor cores from Granite Harbour to date and track the retreat of Holocene ice in this region, specifically the Mackay Glacier since the Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago. Minor objectives were to recover data from the Cape Roberts tide/Meterological instrumentation and measure seaice thickness offshore to help planning the Cape Roberts Project.


  1. The operation of sophisticated oceanographic programmes from the sea ice away from Scott Base such as the vibracorer operation is difficult because large equipment operated through the sea ice is also exposed to surface weather conditions. Significantly greater logistic resources would be required to operate this equipment under cover to avoid the weather on the ice and this is not considered practical at present when all equipment must be transported from and returned to Scott Base each season. We then have a very limited period to operate from the sea ice starting from about 20-25 November when air temperatures have usually warmed up sufficiently and ending 5-7 December when sea ice travel with heavy plant normally must be completed because of the sea ice deterioration at some places along the coastal return route to Scott Base. The ice conditions in the Granite Harbour area however usually remain workable for a least another 7-10 days.

    For future successful sea ice operations such as the vibracorer programme we need to maximise the working period. We could expect up to 25 days (20 Nov. to 15 Dec.) working in the area if NZAP logistic resources allowed prepositioning of some equipment in Granite Harbour and winter storage of plant and some equipment at Cape Roberts at the end of the work period.

    The RDRC review process for 1994-95 university proposals appears to be less rigorous than for PGSF funded proposals. It is important to make both systems as equal as possible specifically in the peer review process. Finding New Zealand reviewers with expert knowledge is very difficult because of our small science community and we should expect as a matter of course to look to the International Antarctic community. A place should be made on the proposal where the proposer lists scientists (with addresses) from both New Zealand and the international community who would be suitable "expert" reviewers.

  2. Several minor but irritating problems occurred during the NZAP planning phase of this seasons programme. The visit by Malcolm MacFarlane to VUW in March-April? to discuss the forthcoming programme was very useful. I believe that we discussed the use of the USCG Icebreakers and decided that it was not practical to deploy the vibracorer so our programme did not expect to use it this coming season. Unfortunately this point caused a misunderstanding in the planning later in the year when an icebreaker was requested for us by NZAP. These early season meetings should be encouraged and continue but should be structured so that changes and requirements are recorded for incorporation in planning later in the year, possibly by some sort of initial event summary form.

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    Two items noted in the NZAP Event Summary circulated in June-July were not acknowledged or incorporated in the finalised event directive. Event request information was not sent directly to A R Pyne the antarctic liaison person and event leader, consequently information requests were mislaid or the responses late. The requested excess baggage allowance of 300 lb was missed off the event directive but did not cause any problems with the movements section.

    We expected to cooperate with Dr Ross Powell (USAP S170) while in the field and informed NZAP of the extent of the planned cooperation, as did Dr Powell did the same for NSF. However there was reportedly some confusion in McMurdo prior to the event arriving on 7 November but was not evident during the S170 event briefing.

    We had agreement with the facilities services officer to use and slightly modify the OSKAM-1 sledge for the event. The Field Operations Officer and Facilities Services Officer both responded positively to the special needs of this event.

  3. The shortening of the Tekapo Training Course is a positive move to a more realistic course. The event briefs are a vital part of the course but are generally rushed so it is important to give several days lead time between event leaders receiving the initial event directive and the training course to give the time to respond to omissions and corrections.
  4. The event medicals were sent to NZAP later than usual due to some confusion in the medical system, as a result of the significantly more complex testing requirements. Our doctor commented that NZAP medical requirements are now more complex than the USAP requirements which he was also doing.

The movement of our event personnel and cargo was controlled efficiently as usual, although delays to personnel flights were caused by weather.

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Table 1 K042 Cargo to Antarctica

Table 1 K042 Cargo to Antarctica

In addition approximately 300 lb (136 kg) of delicate equipment went to Antarctica as accompanied baggage.


Mr A R Pyne Event leader Antarctic Research Centre VUW
Mr A Rennie Mechanical Workshop VUW
Mr L Singh Geology Department VUW
Mr R Leslie Student Ass. Geology Department VUW
Mr R Morgan Plant operator Scott base- NZ Army
Mr J Ridgen #1 Mechanic Scott Base (1993-94)

Preparations for the Field

  1. Scott Base management and personnel were helpful and receptive to the special event needs. This year as in past years the event has had a base plant operator and mechanic as part of the field team. It is sometimes difficult for these people to assist with both the field preparation (cargo train) and their usual or unusual base tasks. Perhaps the timing when these people become temporary event personnel should be formalised to prevent any later misunderstandings.page break
  2. The general field equipment we received this season was in excellent condition and the allocation quick and efficient. A special effort had be made to refit NZ1 and repair its Cantago sledge. Some modifications however are still required to NZ1 -see later field equipment section. The OSKAM-1 sledge was adapted to take our deployment frame and winch as planned earlier in the year with the NZAP Facilities Services Officer.
  3. The Antarctic Field Training is a good introduction to the Antarctic environment for personnel new to Antarctica. However extra flexibility for special event needs could still be increased. For this event which is traversing the sea ice up to 150 km from Scott Base for example new personnel could do the local sea ice course primarily as an introduction to sea ice and specifically navigation and the local geography. The second part of the course could be the ice fall work and familiarisation with climbing equipment and general technique. I don't believe that the snow shelter building is relevant to either sea ice or Dry Valley event and could be omitted.
  4. Several delays contributed to this event leaving Scott Base 4.5 days later than planned. Two full days were lost due to aircraft delays on the flight to scott base. Approximately half a day was lost due to late season snow clearing at Scott Base when the K042 plant operator and loader were unavailable for cargo train preparation. The last two days delay were caused by assembly of science equipment taking a day longer than expected and the immersion testing of the vibracorer at Scott Base. Cool windy conditions and in excess of 1 m of snow cover on the sea ice at the testing site meant that the tests took a day longer than planned. In retrospect the test at Scott Base in unsuitable conditions was probably not a good practice.

Field Transport

1. NZAP Vehicles

Caterpillar D5 LGP. This vehicle had broken a track connector at Scott Base prior to the event personnel arriving. Repair and servicing of this vehicle did not contribute to the event delays. However it is important that vehicles such as the D5 which are laid up during the winter get full checks and operational service to identify problems well before programmed field commitments.

Normal operational servicing was carried out in the field by the Plant Operator. The D5 towed 2 Cantago sledges (cargo 3.5 tonne each), NZ1/Cantago sledge and the OSKAM-1 container sledge (1.5 tonne cargo).

Nodwell RN75. This is an old machine originally purchased in 1962 and has been repowered in 1991 with a Iszu diesel engine intentionally similar to that in the Iszu truck at Scott Base. A HIAB crane with drilling attachment and new flat deck was also fitted. This vehicle was not used for towing loads and the deck loads were kept to a minimum because of the old (and weakened?) chassis.

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We had some problems with this vehicle but due to a quick response from Scott Base we were not delayed significantly. The water pump leaked on the 2nd day from base and was replaced with the pump from the stores Iszu truck at Scott Base. Unusual noise was noted in the PTO/gearbox but draining the oil did not show any large metal debris. This is the 2nd season that we have used the HIAB drilling unit and noted again overheating and power loss of the hydraulic system after only drilling 2-3 holes. This problem doubles the time taken to drill 6 holes consecutively. Up to 4 track grousers were broken on the sea ice and replaced with parts temporarily borrowed from McMurdo. The broken grousers were significantly thinner where they broke than the replacements so they had probably been on the track for a long time. A tyre also went flat overnight at Scott Base after returning from the field.

The Nodwell requires some work and parts to maintain it for field work. The gearbox should be checked to determine the origin of the unusual noise apparent this season. Overheating of the hydraulic system during drilling could be eliminated by fitting a oil cooler with 24VDC fan, (about $1,000). Making a large ice hole (1.5 m diameter) by joining up to 6 drilled holes is still time consuming because it is difficult to cut between holes when the ice is up to 2.5 m thick. A solution to this might be a hydraulic powered chainsaw that fits to the HIAB crane in the same way as the drilling head. Spare grousers with replacement bolts and nyloc nuts and at least 1 tyre should be available for field traverses and operations.

Alpine II skidoos. AL1 and AL2 were allocated to this event and were in good condition and the engines generally ran well. Two undercarriage bogeys became detached due to fractures in the retaining brackets while in Granite Harbour. These were fixed by the mechanic with parts from Scott Base. A comparison with the S170 Alpine II showed that this was a common problem corrected by the manufactures of newer machines with a doubled bracket. These brackets and strengthened steering ski fitting should also be fitted to the older model NZAP machines.

Table 2 D5B LGP and Nodwell RN75 Fuel Use.

Table 2 D5B LGP and Nodwell RN75 Fuel Use.

NB Fuel usage for Nodwell RN75 is an estimate only because of the uncalibrated fuel tank.

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2. Aircraft Operations

Helicopters were used sea ice reconnaissance in conjunction with S170 and for resupply of personnel and equipment parts while in the field. The quick response from Scott Base to our mechanical crisis was a pleasant surprise and much appreciated.

Event Diary

5 - Flight to Mcmurdo cancelled @0600 hrs.
6 - Boomerang, 6.5 hours in C141.
7 - Pyne, Rennie, Singh to Scott Base (5.5 hrs), 2 days behind schedule.
8 - Antarctic Field Training. Rennie and Singh on full 2 day course. Pyne at icefall in the morning. Helo ice recommaissance with Ross Powell (SI70) to Granite Harbour in late afternoon. Planties pullout 2 cantago sledges and the OSKAM-1 sledge.
9 - Pyne checked field equipment allocation. Checked that the Hanger door could be raised for assembly of the vibracorer with Dave Lucas (engineering manager). Planties moved equipment near the helo pad for cargo train assembly. Rennie and Singh returned from AFT.
10 - Assembled deployment frame and winch for mounting to OSKAM sledge. Condition 1 in late afternoon. Leslie to Scott base in afternoon, also 2 days behind schedule. Event briefing @ 1515.
11 - Completed mounting to OSKAM-1 in garage cold porch, required drilling holes for foot pad and removing a welded cross guide for the "Ditch Witch". D5 in the garage overnight for servicing.
12 - Started loading vibracorer batteries in the Garage cold porch and moved vibracorer frame to the hanger to assemble feet and struts. Fitted Magellan GPS to Nodwell and recovered equipment from the university container.
13 - Continued assembly of vibracorer in the Hanger. Leslie on AFT course.
14 - Completed vibracorer assembly and charged batteries. Leslie completed AFT course. Began loading cargo train sledges.
15 - Moved vibracorer from the Hanger and continued loading sledges.
16 - ASA personnel with the Reed drill drilled 3 holes south west of Scott Base for testing the Vibracorer and the SI70 ROV. One meter of snow cover on the sea ice made the clearing of the hole frustrating and time consuming. SI70 tested their ROV.page break
17 - Deployed vibracorer just below the water surface. Winch required a packer plate fitted under the upper capstan pulley to help stop the rope overlapping when unwinding. Cold day and wind caused freezing of the air compensation regulators. Minor leak on chuck swagelok QC fitting. Deployed to 30m and systems ran OK via computer. On recovery hydraulic reservoir compensator had leaked letting 6-10 mm of water into the bottom of reservoir. Thawed, dried and reassembled the Motor/reservoir in the garage. Lifted vibracorer and winch on Cantago sledge for transport.
18 - Lowered deployment frame for transport and completed sledge packing. K042 (Pyne. Rennie, Singh, Leslie, Morgan and Ridgen) departed Scott Base at 1430. S170 with 2 Nodwell vehicles (T.Rex and Valdez) travelling with K042. Stopped north of the Daily Islands at 2230 to camp for the night; 77°49.334′S, 165°06.987′E. Ice thickness 1.78 m. Broke 2 Nodwell grousers (6 bolt holes, as per T.Rex.)
19 - Requested 3 new grousers (from Mcmurdo). At 1330 water pump on Noddy leaking; 77°35.914′S, 164°22.662′E, Informed Scott Base. Continued with Noddy towed by US Nodwell (Valdez) to 77°30′S, 163°59.6′E where Helo arrived with replacement water pump, Operations manager Neville Jones and #2 mechanic Gus McAllister. D5 and cargo train, and S170 continued to fuel cache offshore of Gneiss Pt. Noddy escorted by skidoo continued after repairs. Camped at fuel cache; 77°24.285′S, 163°50.76′E.
20 - Powell arrived by helo after ROV and electronics was under-slung to Cape Roberts. Left fuel cache at 1100. Arrive north bay at Cape Roberts 2145 hrs and camped on the sea ice. Ice conditions were rougher than "normal" from Gneiss Pt. to C.Roberts.
21 - Downloaded data from Tide Guage/Met installation. Unloaded K053 cargo at C. Roberts with Nodwell. Erected the deployment frame on the sledge for towing and dropped of bridging timbers. Packed up and moved with S170 to mid harbour site at; 76°56.6311′S, 162°48.1164′E.
22 - Drilled 6 holes with Noddy and T.Rex. T.Rex has a hydraulic leak, Noddy has a PTO-gearbox noise and loss of hydraulic power due to overheating after drilling 2-3 600 mm diameter holes. Drilling holes was slower than it should be. K191 surveyor John West arrived by Helo and #1 mechanic Jeremy Ridgen (JR) returned to Scott Base. MacKay Glacier Tongue (MGT) survey started by K191.
23 - S170 deployed the ROV in the hole. MGT survey continued. Requested fittings to replace leaking QC fittings on vibracorer chuck and Alpine II bogey brackets which arrived by helo in late afternoon with #1 mechanic JR. Drained oil in Noddy to check gearbox and fitted parts to the Alpine II skidoos.page break
24 - Cloudy, 5 knts from the south cooled in the afternoon. S170 departed for the MGT at midday. Set up vibracorer over the hole and lowered below the water surface. Leak in 1st stage air regulator so returned to surface exposing the 2nd stage regulator which froze and let in water to the sight tube on reimmersion. Pulled corer completely out of the hole and dismantled air system for cleaning and drying in the Wannigan. Reassembled air system. K191 and JR left for Scott Base by Helo in mid afternoon. Redeployed vibracorer when winch rope parted a few metres below the surface at about 1550 hrs. Vibracorer free-fell to the sea floor 350 m depth. Communicated with SENZREP about loss of corer and possible recovery. Asked if he could pass on to P. Barrett. To S170 MGT camp by skidoo to ask for help with the ROV to find the Vibracorer. Returned to camp at 2230 hrs.
25 - S170 returned to the vibracorer site at midday. Viewed the vibracorer on a 25°? slope in 356 m on the first deployment of the ROV. Deployed the ROV a 2nd time with the winch line attached and releasing hook from the 2 tonne chain hoist. Couldn't manoeuvre the ROV properly and didn't see the corer. The ROV camera tilt and sonar was not working correctly.
26 - Fixed ROV camera tilt and sonar, added small floats to the winch rope to compensate for the weight in water. ROV still couldn't manoeuvre and couldn't swim down slope to the sonar contact which was probably the corer. The winch rope and ROV umbilical became twisted and this dive and further recovery attempts abandoned.
27 - Blasted a ROV dive hole for S170 at the MGT off Cuff Cape. The ICI Powergell SX explosive was not detonating properly with Red Chord. Dismantled the deployment frame and winch and packed on sledges for transport. Moved camp to the south side of MGT; 76°59.0278′S, 162°25.05222′E to make another hole for S170.
28 - Made a ROV hole by drilling 4 holes with the Noddy and blasted the central ice plug and cleared the hole of platelet ice.
Started the next hole in a crack in front of the MGT.
29 - Completed the 2nd ROV hole, packed camp and returned to Cape Roberts via the vibracorer site to pick up the deployment frame and winch sledges.
30 - Worked on Tide Gauge/ Met. installation, temporarily connected replacement transducer to check CR10 datalogger and AVW1. Used underwater video camera to check if the tide transducer cage was still in place and attempted to free the old transducer with isopropyl alcohol. All K042 travelled to Ice edge offshore of C.Roberts to measure ice thickness.
1 - Itemised Polar Haven floor panels and bearers cached at C. Roberts for Neville Jones. K042 departed C. Roberts at 1045 hrs. Refuelled at catch of Gneiss Pt. and picked up empty fuel drums. Camped at 2300 hrs offshore Butter Pt. 77°41.2147′S, 164°42.3301′E.
2 - Left camp site at 0910 hrs arriving the Daily Island 59 about 1200 hrs. Arrived Scott Base at 1700 hrs and pulled sledges up the hanger transition.page break
3 - Returned cleaned field equipment and packed science equipment for RTNZ. Singh to Razorback Island until mid-afternoon. Debrief in late afternoon. Prepared winch and rope in the evening.
4 - Rennie and Leslie RTNZ 0630 hrs. Pyne and Singh pack equipment and Sign cleaned NZ1. Pyne on Helo ice reconn. for S170 return to McMurdo (1200-1700 hrs). Pyne and Jones identify drilling equipment in the ballpark at McMurdo.
5 - Finish cleaning equipment and return to University container. Pyne and Singh RTNZ 2100 hrs.


Poor weather caused some delay in our equipment preparation and testing at Scott Base. The weather conditions were generally good on the traverses to Cape Roberts and return to Scott Base although low light (cloudy) caused poor ground definition for a lot of the trip to C.Roberts. In Granite Harbour air temperatures were generally cooler (<5°C) and it was cloudier than some previous seasons for this mid November to early December period. The cooler air and weak sunlight makes operating water immersed equipment, such as the vibracorer, in the open very difficult. From 19 Nov. to 2 Dec. field met readings were made at 0900 hrs and these were logged with the Scott Base technician on our return.


The loss of the corer is the only incident experienced this season and this is reported fully in annex 1.

Minor physical injuries occurred to Mr Rennie during the AFT course when he incurred cold induced wrist strain while digging a snow mound. Two of Mr Rennies' fingers were also crushed but no bones were fractured when releasing the vibracorer from the chain block during the lifting test at Scott Base. Our procedures were later modified to minimise potential injury during this operation. Incident and ACC reports were completed for both these injuries.

Field Equipment

  1. The new waterproof gloves are a useful addition to the clothing issue for personnel working with immersed equipment.
  2. The retrofitting of NZ1 has improved the usefulness of this wannigan but some refinements still need to be carried out. The LPG oven needs to be raised so that all heights of 9 kg bottles can be retained properly underneath. The ovens cook top needs a fixed framework to stop pots etc from falling of like on a boat. We were unsure if the oven has pizeo ignition, if not a igniting wand should be available. The newly fitted cuphooks are too small for the NZAP cups and mugs. The current microwave appears to be underpowered faulty and should be checked. Tests with generators and the voltage drop of different length cables connected to the microwave should be made as in field situations. Permanent solar panels with diode discharge page break protection should be fitted to both sides of the wannigan or on a tilting roof mount because sometimes it is not practical to orientate NZ1 for wind protection and to make the best use of midday sunlight. A permanent 230VAC - 12VDC charger/discharger should be installed for both the permanent radios (VHF and SSB) and handheld radio batteries. We had to connect our event 50 Ahr sealed battery to the radio system this season when the solar panel charging was insufficient.
  3. A manual start Yanmar YDG 3000 diesel generator was used this season without breakdown but it is difficult to start. The electric start version of this generator is superior and would be preferred. A Honda EM650 was also used connected to low computer load. This generator was rechecked at Scott Base and performed with a moderate load but continued to stop under light loadings.

ICI Powergel SX explosive was used by Mr Pyne to blast and clear sea ice holes. The powergel was placed in sea water (−1.8°C) and initiated with red cord but often did not detonate completely and certainly did not have the force of AN 60 gelignite used in previous seasons. This was reported during the Scott Base debrief and the Operations Manager was expected to arrange with the McMurdo Master Blaster to test the explosive. The ICI data sheets on powergel SX state that the explosive is reliable to −20°C and can be stored in excess of 12 months but can be desensitised with rough handling. Perhaps prolonged storage at temperatures below −20°C during the winter may also desensitise the product. The use of detonating cords (red cord) is also not the preffered means of initiation but is used with No.8 plain detonators for convience and saftey reasons in Antarctica. In McMurdo ICI Powerfrac is now used instead of Powergell which was found to have low yields in the past. I suggest that Scott Base also adopt this explosive in place of their present stock of Powergell SX.

Radio Communications

VHF communications were used almost exclusively by K042 this season. The Crater Hill repeater could be used until we were north of Butter Pt. then the new Erebus was used and gave excellent communications this season. We were surprised that this repeater could still be used when we were not in line of site at our camp on the south side of the MacKay Glacier Tongue. The new permanent VHF set in NZ1 is very helpful but the battery and charging system now needs increasing (see NZ1 comments above).

Refuge Huts

The Cape Roberts hut was visited by K042 but not used. It was in good condition but possibly low on the supply of LPG for cooking. Fifteen litres of isopropyl was left at the hut for the tide gauge transducer replacement next season.

Environmental Impact

No permanent impacts occurred from the sea ice field activities of this event except potentially from the loss of the vibracorer (see Annex 1). An NZAP Environmental Return is also attached to this report.

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