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Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 1996-97: VUWAE 41


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Antarctica New Zealand


  1. The 1996/97 summer season for the Cape Roberts Project (CPR) was scheduled as the first of the two drill seasons. Unfortunately drilling was postponed because of unstable and potentially unsafe sea ice along the Cape Roberts coast after a major breakout of the sea ice in early July 1996. The Project Manager decided to utilise the extra time resulting from the postponement and continue to improve and test facilities, equipment and operating procedures at Cape Roberts.
  2. CRP personnel worked at Cape Roberts on two separate occasions during the season. The main effort was in November and early December and then a smaller team returned in mid January 1997. The main tasks undertaken during the season were:
    a.Deploy the drill rig and associated buildings onto the sea ice and trial the drilling system.
    b.Deploy the main camp buildings onto the sea ice and erect the cold porch and mess and recreation tents.
    c.Construct three frames or platforms on which to store drummed fuel.
    d.install 110 volt wiring system in both laboratories.
    e.Test radio, microwave and computer links between Cape Roberts (CR) and Scott Base (SB).
    f.Refuel empty drums at Marble Point.
  3. Antarctica New Zealand's Environmental Manager visited CR as did New Zealand's Environmental Assessment Review Panel (EARP). Water and soil samples were collected for testing as part of the on-going environmental monitoring of the Project and its impact on the CR and the surrounding area. Separate environmental reports and returns have been filed by the Project Manager, the Environmental Manager and EARP.
  4. This year no Science Report has been done on the Project for obvious reasons.
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5.21 October - 12 November. Reid and Ridgen deployed to SB to begin preparing equipment, food and sledges. Two loaded Cantago sledges were hauled McMurdo (McM) - Marble Point (MPt) by USAP on 29 October. Cowie, Pyne, Sinclair and Alexander arrived SB 06 November followed by Cooper, Howat and Marcussen on 08 November. Helicopter sea ice reconnaissance completed on 07 November. Tripp reactivated radio system and Pyne, Reid and Ridgen remained at CR to prepare vehicles and sledges for trip to MPt. At SB others involved in AFT, vehicle training and finalising Hagglunds sledge loads (x2).
6.CR party departed CR for MPt with D6, Kassbohrer 170 and Aalener sledge (73 empty fuel drums) at 1000 on 10 November arriving there 2000 hours. This was good time given rough condition of sea ice in places and need to replace a tire on Kassbohrer. Meanwhile Alexander, Howat. Marcussen, Lynch and Sinclair departed SB on 11 November in Haaglunds H1 with one sledge to rendezvous with Pyne party at MPt later that day. This party took 6.5 hours. The other Haaglunds sledge was hauled to MPt on same day by the Americans. The two parties rendezvoused late on the afternoon of 11th. the Pyne party having had to replace a track on the Kassbohrer, which in the end took eight hours (60 man-hours in very unpleasant conditions). On 12 November the empty drums were refilled directly from the tanks at MPt in a clumsy operation that involved off-loading the Aalener at the transition, transporting the drums up to MPt depot where they were filled and then returning them to the transition to be reloaded on the Aalener using the Americans' 'T-Rex'. American hospitality at MPt much appreciated. The enlarged sledge train departed MPt for CR at 1315, arriving CR at 2145 (8.5 hours). Cowie and Cooper had meanwhile flown SB to CR in a 'maxed out' K03 (RNZAF Iroquois).
7.13 November - 13 December. No time was wasted in getting to work and over the next two days containers were shifted onto the sea ice. The drillers began checking and reorganising their equipment, sledges were unloaded and installation of shelving, heaters and 110 volt electrical supply began.
8.By 15 November the drill rig had been set up on 2.3m thick sea ice about one kilometre northwest of CR and the first 1.2m hole cut in the ice using 'Alex's Auger'. The trailing of the drill system was the main objective of the season and this occupied the majority of personnel over the next nine days.
9.On the first day of drill operations a low-level noise and vibration was detected in the transmission of the drill power pack supplied by the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Science's (IGNS). This transmission had been completely reconditioned with almost all new parts. The source of the noise was easily located although the exact cause of it was uncertain. The noise, although of concern, was not considered to be serious enough to halt operating the rig and it was decided to continue with the trial. At the time of writing transmission parts have been tested in New Zealand for their trueness and new parts may purchased.
10.By the 20th the sea riser and guide base had been deployed onto the sea floor in 34m of water and the submarine video camera, attached to the sea riser, had been successfully trailed producing excellent underwater photography. The mud system (using only water) and glycol heating loop was working well by 22 November with very good circulation and heating of the 'mud'.
11.Unfortunately the trial of the drill system came to an abrupt and premature end on the 22nd when the sea riser could not be embedded in the sea floor because the eccentric under-reamer failed. This was a major set back and cause for concern. On the positive side we can be thankful it occurred in the situation it did and not in deeper water on the first of the 'real' holes. Dismantling of the drill site camp was spread over period 23 to 28 November.
12.Once most of the drill site work was done the focus shifted back to CR itself and to the main camp 'parked' about 500m out from South Beach. On CR three fuel frames were constructed, two of scaffolding tube (to an approved plan) and the third of heavy timber. The scaffolding frames take almost 200 full drums of fuel while the other about 40. All drummed fuel is now either stored on the two dedicated Aalener fuel page 3 sledges (74 drams maximum each) or above ground on the frames. This reduces the environmental risk of drums being frozen in or lost in the snow on the ground and makes for much easier and safer handling (refer attached CRP environmental report).
13.Adding the cold porch and marrying the two large polar tents onto the main CR camp buildings proved a bigger task than first envisaged. Work began in earnest on this task on 29th and didn't finish till 09 December. Keith Roberts. SB Telecom Technician worked on communication system at CR 03 to 06 December checking out the system and rectifying some minor faults.
14.On the personnel side Drs Scott Borg NSF and Terry Wilson Ohio State accompanied by Peter Brookman SB Manager, visited CR and the drill site on 18 November. Lynch returned to SB on their helicopter but returned to CR on 25th for another eight days. On 25 November Cooper, Howat and Marcussen departed CR for SB but ended up at MPt for two days due to bad weather. Antarctica New Zealand's Environmental Manager, Emma Waterhouse, arrived at CR on 30 November and stayed till 03 December when she returned to SB with Lynch. On 5th Waterhouse returned with three members of EARP (Prof. Vernon Squires, Dr Alan Hemmings and Ms Louise Sparrow) for a two hour inspection and familiarisation visit. At 1200 on 11 December the remaining members of CR 'county' (Alexander, Cowie, Pyne, Reid. Ridgen and Sinclair) departed CR for SB in Haaglunds H1 with two laden Haaglunds sledges in tow. MPt was passed at 1600 and arrival at SB was at 2200, a trip of 10 hours. A day was spent cleaning up at SB and visiting the Crary Laboratory and all members of the team returned to NZ on Friday 13 December.
15.CRP personnel were joined at CR this season by members of two other events. The first was a United States Geological Survey team who visited regularly to service their equipment during November. The other was K191, four surveyors, who based themselves at CR from 06 to 12 December. Assistance was given both these parties wherever possible.


16.Reid and Ridgen both remained on the CRP payroll over the Christmas period and returned to Antarctica on 10 January with Ron Rogers, all three flying to CR on 11 January. Cowie flew SB on 16 January and following day to CR with Mike Mahan, SB Science Technician. The main tasks were:
a.Complete service of vehicle fleet, mainly Skidoos.
b.Reassemble drill transmission.
c.Install safety rail atop drill rig.
d.Complete environmental monitoring for season, including skua count (refer CRPM's environmental report).
e.Complete and test computer link and download tide gauge data.
f.Winterise facilities.
17.After completing his work Mahan returned SB on 18 January on helicopter that brought John Hall, Operations Manager for British Antarctic Survey, for overnight visit, as well as Jill Veryiken, ASA, Robert Newstubb. NSF Environmental Compliance Officer, and John Haywood, ASA Science Support Construction Coordinator for familiarisation visit.
18.Cowie, Reid, Ridgen and Rogers returned SB on 19 January. On 20th visited Haywood at McM to view and discuss the two Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units that are to go to CR for laboratories at beginning of next season. Cowie briefed SB winter-over staff on Project and how it will affect them from Winfly on next season. Cowie and Reid returned NZ on 22 January. Also worth noting is that the Prime Minister and some members of Antarctica New Zealand's board of managers visited CR soon after -feedback about the facilities and project in general was very positive.
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19.The sea ice reconnaissance of 07 November concentrated on finding a safe route from MPt to CR. Much of the ice to be traversed was extremely broken and rough. The largest crack encountered trended southeast from Dunlop Island and was almost certainly the line along which the July breakout occurred. It was 10 metres wide, snow filled and the ice only 1 metre thick compared to the surrounding ice which was 1.5 metre plus. At the time we didn't have the time or helicopter resources to confirm it but we suspected that much of the sea ice along the coast was a mosaic of plates joined by thinner and weaker snow-filled cracks. As expected, on the return traverse to SB on 11 December we encountered about six significant cracks that were becoming quite active.
20.On 25 November a helicopter-supported sea ice reconnaissance was made over the proposed drill sites. Nine holes were drilled in the area of the proposed drill holes. Ice thickness was between 1.6 and 1.8 meters. This thickness exceeded the Project's minimum operational requirement but it is unlikely that it would have been thick enough to operate on in early October. A feature of approximately half the holes drilled was that there was a weak wet zone in the ice at just over 1 meter which suggested late formation. (Refer attached sea ice report by Pyne).
21.The ice edge this season in the vicinity of Cape Roberts was indeterminate and clearly thin, 'watery' and well broken up. The 'Cape Roberts crack' was, as expected, clearly in evidence about 1.5 kilometres off the Cape. It was the probable boundary of the July breakout and this season appeared to be very active, wider than usual with lots of water exposed and longer than usual, extending much further south than in the last three seasons. Associated with it was a large pressure ridge system. Given the state of the ice edge, the extent of the annual Cape Roberts crack and the uncertain strength of the cracks joining the large ice platelets, we doubt that a ship off-load operation of the type done in January of the previous two seasons could have been undertaken in November let alone later.
22.When we returned to CR on 11 January 1997 the transition had collapsed and the sea ice inland of the Cape Roberts crack had broken up exposing watery cracks and small areas of open water. Vehicle operations on the sea ice were impossible yet in the previous year and a week later we had carried out a major ship offload nearly 20 kilometres from land. The longer term affect of the mid-winter breakout and the ensuing instability probably played a significant part in the early breakup of the sea ice both to the north and south of CR.


23.Vehicle usage was relatively light across the fleet and there were no major breakdowns or damage. Most work, other than servicing, was done on the Kassbohrer - a new tire, new tracks and new hydraulic blade hose - and the four Skidoos which Ridgen and Rogers spent about six days thoroughly servicing, in particular the undercarriages. The Kassbohrer had one major hydraulic failure which drained about 50 litres of fluid onto the sea ice and a number of minor leaks (up to 10 litres lost). Experience tends to indicate that the greatest pollution risk we run on CR is from a hydraulic spill (line burst or leakage) on a vehicle or the drill rig. Closer monitoring of hydraulic systems will be undertaken in future.


24.Twenty five hours helicopter time was allocated to CRP for the season and 16.5 hours actually used/'charged' against K001. Overall pleased with way helicopter operations were integrated into the effort this season - number of flights, and therefore hours, were minimised. Cooperation and timing between SB and CR was very good and the helicopter crews positive and helpful, with one isolated exception - RNZAF's K03 about which SB Manager was notified. One positive point about the new civilian operator that became apparent with time was that because of their policy of 'shutting down' as a matter of course there was better communication between us and them, almost no hassle and stress operating around the helicopter and more effective loading and unloading of it.
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25.A separate environmental report is attached. In brief the key points were:
a.All fuels, oils and lubricants (FOL) are now stored above ground on three new platforms or racks away from the main vehicle thoroughfares and storage areas and close to the shoreline.
b.Nine soil samples and five water samples were taken for hydrocarbon analysis from the storage area of CR. Results received so far from eight soil samples show no evidence of contamination.
c.A survey of the skua population around the CR storage area was done in mid-January. The number of birds and chicks was up considerably on last year's count.
d.Ground disturbance by heavy plant and sledges within the storage area while unavoidable continues to be of concern.
e.There was a hydraulic fluid spill of about 50 litres on the sea ice off the South Beach and minor leakage of hydraulic fluid at about four locations in the storage area. These all came from the same vehicle, the crane-mounted Kassbohrer, which was in constant use throughout the period.
f.All rubbish accumulated during the season was returned to SB with the exception of waste oil which will be done on an 'as required basis'.


26.Although the weather at CR this season was more variable than the two previous seasons - about third of days heavy overcast with winds - the work schedule was unaffected.


27.No accidents were reported during either phase at CR this season. There were however two instances of ill health. Over the period 19 - 22 November about half of the team were affected in varying degrees by 'flulike symptoms (off-colour, elevated temperature, joint/muscle aches, sinusitis). One person was confined to bed for two days otherwise the others were not affected severely enough to stop work or forgo their recreation trip on their day-off. The second 'flu incident occurred in January and coincided with a major outbreak at McM and SB. One person was moderately incapacitated for about four days at CR and the other 'crashed' upon returning to SB.
28.There was one incident which resulted in irreparable damage to a video recorder unit in the Video Hut at the drill site. Electronic equipment had not been stored or secured when a plant operator decided to move the Video Hut when dismantling the drill rig. Compounding the loss of the equipment (and it could have been much greater) was the fact that shifting the Hut was attempted without first getting the OK from Science Support Manager and without assistance to ensure everything was secure and there was no danger to anyone in the vicinity. The situation was made worse by the use of a nylon strop which stretched on take up because the skis were iced in. When they suddenly released the building jerked forward violently. This incident provided the opportunity to reinforce the need for safe operating procedures which include having a buddy to direct the operation and ensure people and equipment are not endangered, and to use a rigid draw bar when freeing up a frozen sledge.
28.There was an incident at SB that CRP personnel will be made aware of. The SB Plant Operator was decoupling an empty Hagglunds sledge from the Hagglunds vehicle after CR personnel had returned to SB in December. He failed to deploy the jockey wheel of the sledge to take the sledge's weight so that when he lifted the draw bar off the vehicle the 'box' or upper part of the sledge cantilevered forward and the draw bar struck his leg (thigh/knee?). The blow and subsequent bruising incapacitated him for a few days.
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29.The phone line and VHF links to SB were again effective. No attempt was made to install a fax this time. The headset intercom system on the drill rig was used for the first time and proved very good. One area of communications that needs addressing is a headset system for use in the Hagglunds to overcome the noise while driving. In coming radio messages can't often be heard and it is difficult to communicate with the passenger/navigator as well.
  1. CRP 1996/97 Environmental Report by CRPM dated 12 Mar 97.
  2. Draft CRP Sea Ice Report by Alex Pyne dated 12 March 97.

Jim Cowie
Cape Roberts Project Manager