This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008

Friday, January 26, 2007


The melon hut, is a fibre glass and foam hut, in the shape of a melon, roughly 15' x 9'. It has a stove which runs on the dregs of Avtar - aviation fuel, taken from the bottoms of emptied barrels. A pan sits on this stove permanently melting snow. There are a few shelves and boxes of food with a freezer (boxes in the snow) outside. Cooking is on primus stoves which are a pain to light, fumey and are responsible for the most of the sooty dirt which accumulates on your skin. Water is at a premium and hot water more so, so there is minimal washing. If you want to wash yourself there are baby wipes or a quick roll in the snow on a sunny windless day. The loo is a flag in the ground or an ice pit in a pyramid tent - commonly referred to as the Turdicle. As no germs can survive in Antarctica, no one gets ill, and you only realise that you stink to high heaven when you return to base!
There is a table and some seating inside. Liz sleeps in here so she can do the early morning weather report on the radio. The rest of us are in tents outside.
Anything that protrudes from the ice, causes snowdrifts. As a result, after two years the melon was drifted in and we had to climb down 3 ' to get in. To prevent it disappearing altogether it needed moving which 10 of us did on a no fly day, 6" at a time with a winch and wood beam levers.
Sky blu is basically a fuel depot. It is the hub from which glacial science parties working on echorecordings, ice cores etc are
kept supplied with fuel and food. There are small sledge parties much deeper into the interior at Pine Island (beyond the Ellsworths) and Rabid on the Rutford ice stream north of the Ellsworths. three or four people will be out here for two or three months and need to be kept supplied when the weather allows. To get one barrel of fuel to these places takes 7 barrels and all the fuel is depoted at Sky blu, supplied mostly by the 4 prop Dash 7 which is able to land with wheels on the blue ice. The runway is kept scoured mostly by the ferocious winds.

So if you are at Sky Blu you must help with the miriad tasks. Making art is one thing, but you can't do that and watch others slave away at often very physical jobs - you have to help. Also this is what it takes to be here and that is part of the experience of being in Antarctica and must inevitably enter any art you do. A plane gets you here and takes you out, if you don't refuel it and keep the runway clear then they might just leave you here! you can question the need for any of it, but if you are simply here, then use of fuel alone is contributing to climate change.


hourly Met observations - wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, visibility, cloud cover in Octas with cloud heights etc etc. These have to be given over the radio at the appointed time and are vital information for pilots. There is not much leeway for error. The weather in Antarctica is incredibly complex and unpredictable. you can have dense low cloud at Sky Blu and clear Skies 2 miles away at Sky High. So despite satellite pictures this is still needed.

Red Bags full of snow have to be laid out and taken in on the 900 m. runway everyday to mark drifts and workable areas.

When a plane comes in, you need to have down on the apron: The Fire sledge connected to a running Skidoo, the fuel pump sledge + however many full drums the pilot wants to fuel up. These have to be dug out of the snow drifts, attached by a special rope attachment on a skidoo and dragged individually over to the apron. The pilot may also be taking scientific instruments out into the field and if these are depoted here they must be dragged out too. Everything is heavy.

When the plane lands and the props are turned off, two people fuel the aircraft, breaking open each drum, testing it for any water, then pumping it by hose into the plane. Meanwhile two metal ramps are connected to the rear door of the plane and fuel drums rolled down them onto the ice. these have to be dragged away by skidoo and stacked in the depot, using a metal leaver to stand them upright. Any food or other equipment is unloaded and stashed and anything needed to go is loaded including waste material and empty drums. if a skidoo breaks down it may have to be heaved up the ramp by muscle power, into the plane to be returned to base for repairs. skidoos are very heavy and loading and unloading them onto planes is dangerous. On a bad day you can have four flights in and out. we sometimes prayed for bad weather.

Sometimes the weather turns bad so pilot and crew will have to stay over, other times it is a quick turn around and they are off. If you are lucky you might swop with a co pilot and be off to the Ellsworths with ten minutes notice, as I was.

Lastly there is runway clearing. While we were there it snowed heavily, which was good for me as I was able to make a large drawing with a skidoo, but it drifted up the runway sometimes to a depth of 18". With 900 m of runway to clear we did it in around 3 days, working in shifts around the clock. If the wind dropped, as it did, we were simply blowing snow from one bit to another and piling up bigger drifts. If we had left it for a week or two it may have cleared itself, but then they needed to get the Dash in with more fuel. So hour after hour we toiled with two very inadequate machines, getting both tired and very cold.

We all take it in turns to cook, and at 8.30 pm it is time for our half hour radio chat with base when we can hear all the gossip and put in requests for food, materials etc.

1 comment:

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