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


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  1. Under the revised Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) schedule for the Cape Roberts Project (CRP) the 1996/97 Summer Season would have seen two holes drilled in the sea floor some 15 kilometres east of Cape Roberts. Unfortunately, in August 1996 drilling was postponed for this season for safety reasons after the fast sea ice along the Cape Roberts coast had broken out in early July.
  2. It was decided to use this 'extra' season to further improve the facilities already stored at Cape Roberts and to do a trial run of the drill system, something that the Project Manager and his team had been unable to do either in New Zealand or at Cape Roberts because of tight time constraints. The additional time offered by the postponement proved valuable in ironing out many small problems related to the operation of the main camp and, more importantly, the drill rig. it also gave the support team and drillers time to reflect on operating procedures with a view to increasing efficiency and safety and reducing environmental risk.
  3. The main tasks undertaken in two periods of occupation at Cape Roberts (November and part December 1996 and mid-January 1997) were to:
    a.deploy the main camp buildings onto the sea ice 500 metres out from South Beach and erect the cold porch and mess and recreation tents;
    b.deploy the drill rig and associated buildings onto the sea ice about one kilometre north west of Cape Roberts and trial the drilling system; and
    c.construct three frames on which to store drummed fuel.
  4. Numbers of personnel at Cape Roberts varied during the season as people came and went. During the summer people were at Cape Roberts for a total of 42 nights. In all this amounted to some 300 person-nights (including the surveyors). Two other scientific events, unrelated to CRP, used Cape Roberts during the summer. The first was an American event ('S' number unknown) which in mid November set up GPS equipment on the flat rock outcrop about 100 metres from the hut and then proceeded to monitor it with regular helicopter visits (about five) for the next three weeks. The second group was K191 surveyors, four of whom lived at Cape Roberts for a week in early December. They utilised helicopters daily.
  5. As in the previous summer Emma Waterhouse, Antarctica New Zealand's Environmental Manager, visited Cape Roberts for four days to observe operations and collect soil samples. Later, on 05 December, she accompanied three members of the Environmental Assessment Review Panel (EARP) who were given a tour of Project facilities and briefed on the CRP operation by the Project Manager. Both the Environmental Manager and EARP will complete independent reports based on their visits.


6.Ground Disturbance. The CEE acknowledges that the 7,000 square metre storage area approved at Cape Roberts has a history of human and mechanical impact and probably some small degree of pollution from fuel spills and human waste. The CEE also acknowledges that continued impact and possible pollution is likely to occur during the Project adding to the cumulative impacts of the last 30 or so years. To help measure the impact and possible hydrocarbon pollution soil and water samples have been taken and monitoring plots set up both within and outside the storage area.
7.In his 1995/96 End-of-Season Report the Project Manager reported that an area of approximately 1,000 square metres had been cut up by tracked vehicles and sledges. Because of a thinner snow cover and an early thaw the ground disturbance was even greater this summer. The area affected probably extends to 2,000 square metres, mostly to the west and north west of the permanent huts. The Project Manager, while concerned at the extent of the disturbance, is nonetheless confident that the area can be physically restored to its pre-Project state when all equipment is finally removed.page 2
8.Fuel, Oil and Lubricant (FOL) Spills. No fuel spills were observed by or reported to the Project Manager during this summer season either on Cape Roberts or on the sea ice. Refer to Fuel Management section of the EARP Checklist Report January 1997.
9.There were however, spills of hydraulic fluid ranging from minor to medium size. The largest spill (14 November 1996) was approximately 50 litres (the size of the hydraulic reservoir) onto the sea ice off South Beach. It was caused by the rupturing of a low pressure hydraulic line underneath the PB 170 Kassbohrer while it was being driven. The spill was spread over a 300 metre trail about 300mm wide. It was undetected for about one hour. A thin yellow line was then observed across the exposed sea ice. A clean up team of five was quickly on the job. Where the hydraulic oil had contaminated snow covering the ice, this was shovelled up and loaded into the two available skidoo sledges. Because the quantity of contaminated snow was big the decision was made to dump it in an active crack about one kilometre further out on the sea ice. By doing this all contaminated snow was removed as quickly as possible from close into shore. The oil that landed on the exposed hard sea ice had penetrated the ice and proved impossible to recover. Three weeks later evidence of the spill on this hard ice was hard to detect.
10.The other hydraulic leaks detected were from the same vehicle at four sites on land. The mechanic calculated 12 litres was lost but it can be assumed that up to half of this would have been on the sea ice where the Kassbohrer spent a lot of time operating. The leaking oil is difficult to detect because it leaves only a tell-tale hole in the snow. Days later a yellow honeycomb patterns appears in the snow as it thaws. This was cleaned up.
11.Hydraulic systems such as the Kassbohrer has are prone to 'weeping' type leaks and sudden failures, especially in Antarctica because of the cold. Often there is no sign of wear or damage prior to the failure of a line or connection. 'Slow' leaks are often difficult to detect in their early stages. As a result of the experiences associated with the Kassbohrer this season the vehicle fleet is being regularly checked for hydraulic leaks and possible damage or wear to hydraulic parts. Drip trays are available as a temporary measure to deal with leaks. The drill rig has a large hydraulic system and to reduce the risk of leaks or a sudden failure a large tarpaulin has been designed to hang under the drill floor to collect oil that might leak or flow.
  1. EARP Checklist For Inspection Jan 97.
  2. Selection of photographs of Cape Roberts storage area 19 Jan 97.
  3. Map of skua population. Cape Roberts 18 Jan 97.

J.W. Cowie
Cape Roberts Project Manager - 12 March 1997