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Chapter 9 - MIDWINTER AND ITS WORK
1 - The Problem and Preparations |
- The Last Days of Hobart and the Voyage to Macquarie Island |
3 - From Macquarie Island to Adelie Land
4 - New Lands |
- First Days in Adelie Land |
6 - Autumn Prospects |
The Blizzard |
Domestic Life |
Midwinter and its Work |
10 - The Preparation of Sledging Equipment |
11 - Spring Exploits |
Across King George V Land |
13 - Toil and Tribulation |
The Quest of the South Magnetic Pole
15 - Eastward Over the Sea-Ice |
16 - Horn Bluff and Penguin Point |
17 - With Stillwell's and Bickerton's Parties |
18 - The Ship's Story |
19 - The Western Base - Establishment and Early Adventures |
20 - The Western base - Winter and Spring |
21 - The Western Base - Blocked on the Shelf-Ice |
22 - The Western base - Linking up with Kaiser Wilhelm II Land |
23 - A Second Winter |
24 - Nearing the End |
25 - Life on Macquarie Island |
26 - A Land of Storm and Mist |
27- Through Another Year |
28 - The Homeward Cruise
Appendices: 2 - Scientific Work | 3 - An Historical Summary | 4 - Glossary | 5 - Medical Reports | 6 - Finance | 7 - Equipment
|Summary (2 pages) of the Australian Antarctic Expedition | The Men of the Expedition|
Values from a book of reference quoted for comparison
During the winter, for a long period, no seals ventured
ashore, though a few were seen swimming in the bay. The force of
the wind was so formidable that even a heavy seal, exposed in the
open, broadside-on, would be literally blown into the water. This
fact was actually observed out on the harbour-ice. A Weddell seal
made twelve attempts to land on a low projecting shelf--an easy
feat under ordinary circumstances. The wind was in the region of
eighty-five miles per hour, and every time the clumsy, ponderous
creature secured its first hold, back it would be tumbled. Once
it managed to raise itself on to the flat surface, and, after a
breathing spell, commenced to shuffle towards the shelter of some
pinnacles on one side of the harbour. Immediately its broad flank
was turned to the wind it was rolled over, hung for a few seconds
on the brink, and then splashed into the sea. On the other hand,
during the spring, a few more ambitious seals won their way ashore
in high winds; but they did not remain long in the piercing cold,
moving uneasily from place to place in search of protecting hummocks
and finally taking to the water in despair. Often a few hours of
calm weather was the signal for half a dozen animals to land. The
wind sooner or later sprang up and drove them back to their warmer
Under the generic name, seal, are included the true or hair seals and the sea-bears or fur seals. Of these the fur seals are sub-polar in distribution, inhabiting the cold temperate waters of both hemispheres, but never living amongst the polar ice. The southern coast of Australia and the sub-antarctic islands were their favourite haunts, but the ruthless slaughter of the early days practically exterminated them. From Macquarie Island, for example, several hundred thousand skins were taken in a few years, and of late not a single specimen has been seen.
Closely related to the fur seals are the much larger animals popularly known as sea-lions. These still exist in great numbers in south temperate waters. Both are distinguished from the hair seals by one obvious characteristic: their method of propulsion on land is by a ``lolloping'' motion, in which the front and hind flippers are used alternately. The hair seals move by a caterpillar-like shuffle, making little or no use of their flippers; and so, the terminal parts of their flippers are not bent outwards as they are in the fur seals and sea-lions.
Of the hair seals there are five varieties to be recognized in the far South. The Weddell seals, with their mottled-grey coats, are the commonest. They haunt the coasts of Antarctica and are seldom found at any distance from them. Large specimens of this species reach nine and a half feet in length.
The crab-eater seal, a smaller animal, lives mostly on the pack-ice. Lying on a piece of floe in the sunshine it has a glistening, silver-grey skin--another distinguishing mark being its small, handsome head and short, thin neck. Small crustaceans form its principal food.
The Ross seal, another inhabitant of the pack-ice, is short and bulky, varying from a pale yellowish-green on the under side to a dark greenish-brown on the back. Its neck is ample and bloated, and when distended in excitement reminds one of a pouter-pigeon. This rare seal appears to subsist mainly on squid and jelly-fish.
The sea-leopard, the only predacious member of the seal family, has an elongated agile body and a large head with massive jaws. In general it has a mottled skin, darker towards the back. It lives on fish, penguins and seals. Early in April, Hurley and McLean were the first to obtain proof that the sea-leopard preyed on other seals. Among the broken floe-ice close beneath the ice-cliffs to the west of Winter Quarters, the wind was driving the dead body of a Weddell seal which swept past them, a few yards distant, to the open water. Then it was that a sea-leopard was observed tearing off and swallowing great pieces of flesh and blubber from the carcase.
The last variety of hair seal, the sea elephant,
varies considerably from the preceding. Reference has already been
made to the species earlier in the narrative. The habitat of these
monstrous animals ranges over the cold, south-temperate seas; sea
elephants are but occasional visitors to the ice-bound regions.
Although they have been exterminated in many other places, one of
their most populous resorts at the present day is Macquarie Island.
In the case of all the hair seals a layer of blubber several inches in thickness invests the body beneath the skin and acts as a conserver of warmth. They are largely of value for the oil produced by rendering down the blubber. The pelts are used for leather.
The operation of skinning seals for specimens, in low temperatures and in the inevitable wind, was never unduly protracted. We were satisfied merely to strip off the skin, leaving much blubber still adhering to it. In this rough condition it was taken into the work-room of the Hut to be cleaned. The blubber froze, and then had the consistency of hard soap and was readily severed from the pelt. It was found that there exuded amongst the frozen blubber a thin oil which remained liquid when collected and exposed to low temperatures. This oil was used to lubricate the anemometer and other instruments exposed outside.
The main part of the biological work lay in the marine collections. Hunter with the small hand-dredge brought up abundant samples of life from depths ranging to fifty fathoms. In water shallower than ten fathoms the variety of specimens was not great, including seaweeds up to eighteen or more feet in length, a couple of forms of starfish, various small mollusca, two or three varieties of fish, several sea-spiders, hydroids and lace corals, and, in great profusion, worms and small crustaceans. In deeper waters the life became much richer, so that examples of almost every known class of marine animals were represented.
Early in June the sea bottom in depths less than ten fathoms had become so coated with ice that dredging in shallow water was suspended.
Floating or swimming freely were examples of pteropods, worms, crustaceans, ostracods, and jelly-fish. These were easily taken in the hand-net.
In those regions where ice and water are intermingled, the temperature of the water varies very slightly in summer and winter, remaining approximately at freezing-point. In summer the tendency to heating is neutralized by a solution of some of the ice, and in winter the cold is absorbed in the production of a surface layer of ice. This constancy of the sea's temperature is favourable to organic life. On land there is a wide range in temperature, and only the meagre mosses and lichens, and the forms of insect life which live among them can exist, because they have developed the capacity of suspending animation during the winter. The fresh-water lakelets were found to be inhabited by low forms of life, mainly microscopic. Among these were diatoms, algae£e, protozoa, rotifera, and bacteria.
The last-named were investigated by McLean and were found to be manifold in distribution. Besides those from the intestines of animals and birds, cultures were successfully made from the following natural sources: lichen soil, moss soil, morainic mud, guano, ice and snow. The results may open some new problems in bacteriology.
Of recent years much attention has been given to the study of parasites--parasitology. Parasites may be external, on the skin; internal, in the alimentary canal; or resident, in the corpuscles of the blood. In tropical countries, where there is great promiscuity of life, one is led to expect their almost universal presence. But in polar regions, where infection and intimate co-habitation for long periods are not the rule, while the climate is not favourable to organic existence, one would be surprised to find them in any great number. The fact remains that internal parasites were found in the intestine of every animal and fish examined, and in all the birds except the Wilson petrel. External parasites were present on every species of bird and seal, though individuals were often free of them. This was so in the case of the Adelie penguins. It is a demonstration
of the protective warmth of the feathers that Emperor penguins may harbour insect parasites in great numbers. It is only less wonderful than the fact that they are able to rear their young during the Antarctic winter. A large number of blood-slides were prepared and stained for examination for blood-parasites.
Searching for ``fleas'' amongst the feathers of birds and the hair of seals, or examining the viscera for ``worms ''is neither of them a pleasant occupation. To be really successful, the enthusiasm of the specialist is necessary. Hunter allowed no opportunities to pass and secured a fine collection of parasites.
Amongst other work, McLean carried out monthly observations on six men, determining the colour-index and haemoglobin value of their blood over a period of ten months. The results showed a distinct and upward rise above the normal.
Among societies privileged to see the daily paper and to whom diversity and change are as the breath of life, the weather is apt to be tabooed as a subject of conversation. But even the most versatile may suddenly find themselves stripped of ideas, ignominiously reduced to the obvious topic. To us, instead of being a mere prelude to more serious matters, or the last resort of a feeble intellect, it was the all-engrossing theme. The man with the latest hare-brained theory of the causation of the wind was accorded a full hearing. The lightning calculator who estimated the annual tonnage of drift-snow sweeping off Adelie Land was received as a futurist and thinker. Discussion was always free, and the subject was never thrashed out. Evidence on the great topic accumulated day by day and month by month; yet there was no one without an innate hope that winter would bring calm weather or that spring-time, at least, must be propitious.
Meanwhile the meteorologist accepted things as he found them, supplied the daily facts of wind-mileage and direction, amount of drift, temperature and so forth, which were immediately seized by more vivacious minds and made the basis of daring speculations.
The daily facts were increased by the construction of a new instrument known as the puffometer. It was entirely a home-made contrivance, designed to measure the speed of heavy gusts of wind. A small aluminium sphere was arranged to blow out at the end of a light cord exerting tension on a calibrated spring. The pull was transferred to a lever carrying a pencil, which travelled across a disk of carbonized paper. The disk, moving by clockwork, made a complete revolution every hour. The recording parts of the instrument were enclosed in a snow-proof box in which there was a small aperture on the leeward side, through which ran the cord attachment of the sphere. This may give a rough idea of the apparatus employed to measure the momentary velocity of the cyclonic gusts. The idea is not an original one, having been previously applied for use on kites.
It was not always possible to use the puffometer in the strongest gusts because these were often transient, occurring unexpectedly or during the night; while it took a little time to get the instrument into running order. Even in daylight, with the landscape clear of drift, it was a time-absorbing and difficult task to secure a record.
Two men start from the Hut with iron crampons and a full complement of clothes and mitts. Outside they find themselves in a rushing torrent of air, pulsating with mighty gust-waves. Lowered from the estate of upright manhood, they humbly crawl, or make a series of crouching sprints between the gusts. Over the scattered boulders to the east of the Hut, across a patch of polished snow they push to the first low ridge, and there they stop for breath. Up on the side of ``Annie Hill,'' in the local phrase, the tide sweeps by with fiendish strength, and among the jagged rocks the man clutching the puffometer-box has a few desperate falls. At last both clamber slowly to an eminence where a long steel pipe has been erected. To the top of this the puffometer is hauled by means of a pulley and line. At the same time the aluminium sphere is released, and out it floats in the wind tugging at the spring.
The puffometer was left out for an hour at a time, and separate gusts up to one hundred and fifty and one hundred and eighty miles per hour were commonly indicated. I remember the final fate of this invention. While helping to mount it one day, the wind picked me up clear of the ground and dashed myself and the instrument on some rocks several yards away. The latter was badly damaged, but thick clothing saved me from serious injury.
The wind velocity and wind direction charts for Midwinter's Day,
when the steady south-by-east gale was broken after noon by a
welcome lull--the wind veering the while all round the compass.
The average velocity for the day 66.9 miles per hour, and the
maximum of the average hourly velocities, ninety-six miles.
The steadiness of the temperature was a subject
for debate. The stronger the wind blew, the less variation did the
thermometer show. Over a period of several days there might be a
range of only four or five degrees. Ordinarily, this might be expected
of an insular climate, but in our case it depended upon the fact
that the wind
remained steady from the interior of the vast frigid continent. The air which flowed over the Hut had all passed through the same temperature-cycle. The atmosphere of the interior, where the plateau stood at an elevation of, say, eight thousand feet, might have a temperature -45 degrees F. As the air flowed northwards over Adelie Land to the sea, it would rise slowly in temperature owing to the increased barometric pressure consequent on the descending gradient of the plateau. At sea-level the temperature of the river of air would be, approximately, - 20 degrees F.
Such a rise in temperature due to compression is a well-known phenomenon, referred to as the Foehn effect.
The compression of the atmosphere during the gusts affected the air temperature so considerably that, coincident with their passage, the mercury column could often be seen rising and falling through several degrees. The uniform conditions experienced during steady high winds were not only expressed by the slight variation in the temperature, but often in a remarkably even barometric curve. Thus on July 11 the wind-velocity for twenty-four hours was, throughout, seventy miles per hour; the temperature remaining within a few degrees of -21 degrees F., and the barometric curve did not show as much range as one-twentieth of an inch.
In attending to the many instruments and in gathering the voluminous meteorological data, Madigan had his hands very full. Throughout two years he carried on the work capably and thoroughly. It was difficult to keep the instruments free from the penetrating snow and in good running order. The Robinson anemometer was perhaps the greatest source of worry. Repairs and readjustments were unavoidable, as the instrument was constantly working at high pressure. In order that these might be carried out efficiently, the whole apparatus had to be carried down to the Hut. Here, Bickerton and Correll were continually in consultation with the meteorologist on the latest breakdown. Cups were blown off several times, and one was lost and replaced with difficulty. Most aggravating of all was a habit the clocks developed of stopping during the colder spells. The old fashioned method of boiling them was found of assistance, but it was discovered that the best treatment was to put them through successive baths of benzene and alcohol.
The most chronic sufferer throughout the vicissitudes of temperature was the clock belonging to Bage's tide-gauge. Every sleeper in the Hut who was sensitive to ticking knew and reviled that clock. So often was it subjected to warm, curative treatment in various resting-places that it was hunted from pillar to post. A radical operation by Correll--the insertion of an extra spring--became necessary at last. Correll, when not engaged designing electroscopes, improving sledge-meters and perfecting theodolites, was something of a specialist in clocks. His advice on the subject of refractory time-pieces was freely asked and cheerfully given. By perseverance and unlimited patience, the tide-gauge down on the harbour-ice was induced to supply a good series of unbroken records.
The rise and fall of the tide is coincident with the movements of a perpendicular wire to which the Float is attached. The Wheel is revolved, and through wire connections (indicated above) displaces vertically the Pen. This traces a record on paper folded on the drum which is driven by clockwork. In all weathers, the box was enveloped in drift-proof canvas.
Antarctica is a world of colour, brilliant and intensely
pure. The chaste whiteness of the snow and the velvet blackness
of the rocks belong to days of snowy nimbus enshrouding the horizon.
When the sky has broken into cloudlets of fleece, their edges are
painted pale orange, fading or richly glowing if the sun is low.
In the high sun they are rainbow-rimmed.
The clouds have opened into rifts and the sun is setting in the north-west. The widening spaces in the zenith are azure, and low in the north they are emerald. Scenic changes are swift. Above the mounting plateau a lofty arch of clear sky has risen, flanked by roseate clouds. Far down in the south it is tinged with indigo and ultramarine, washed with royal purple paling onwards into cold violet and greyish-blue.
Soon the north is unveiled. The liquid globe of sun has departed, but his glory still remains. Down from the zenith his colours descend through greenish-blue, yellowish-green, straw-yellow, light terra-cotta to a diffuse brick-red; each reflected in the dull sheen of freezing sea. Out on the infinite horizon float icebergs in a mirage of mobile gold. The Barrier, curving to east and west, is a wall of delicate pink overlaid with a wondrous mauve--the rising plateau. A cold picture--yet it awakens the throb of inborn divinity.
Despite contrary predictions, there were some enjoyable days in June. Occupation had to be strenuous, making the blood run hot, otherwise the wind was apt to be chill. So the Transit House was founded, and there were many volunteers to assist Bage in carrying the tons of stones which formed its permanent base. The nearest large collection of boulders was twenty yards away, on the edge of a moraine, but these after a while became exhausted. Plenty of rocks actually showed above the surface, but the majority were frozen-in, and, when of suitable size, could only be moved by a heavy crowbar. Some of the men, therefore, dislodged the rocks, while others carried them.
When Bage was wondering how long the supply would last, Ninnis and Mertz came to the rescue with sledges and dog-teams. Boxes were piled on to the sledges and away the teams went, careering across the ice-flat towards the Magnetograph House close to which there were many heaps of stones, wind-swept and easily displaced. Soon a regular service was plying to the foundations, and, at the same time, the dogs were being trained. This occupation was continued, weather permitting, for several weeks before Midwinter's Day. Thus the drivers gained experience, while the animals, with a wholesome dread of the whip, became more responsive to commands. Eagerly the huskies strained at their traces with excited yelps. The heavily laden sledges would break out and start off with increasing speed over the rough ice. The drivers, running at full speed, jumped on the racing loads--Mertz in the lead shouting some quaint yodel song; Ninnis, perhaps, just behind upbraiding a laggard dog.
Midwinter's Day! For once, the weather rose to the occasion and calmed during the few hours of the twilight-day. It was a jovial occasion, and we celebrated it with the uproarious delight of a community of eighteen young men unfettered by small conventions. The sun was returning, and we were glad of it. Already we were dreaming of spring and sledging, summer and sledging, the ship and home. It was the turn of the tide, and the future seemed to be sketched in firm, sure outline. While the rest explored all the ice-caves and the whole extent of our small rocky ``selection,'' Hannam and Bickerton shouldered the domestic responsibilities. Their menu du diner to us was a marvel of gorgeous delicacies. After the toasts and speeches came a musical and dramatic programme, punctuated by choice gramophone records and rowdy student choruses. The washing-up was completed by all hands at midnight. Outside, the wind was not to be outdone; it surpassed itself with an unusual burst of ninety-five miles per hour.
Menu du Diner
Escoffier potage a la Reine
Noisettes de Phoque | Claret
Haricot Verts | Tintara
Champignons en Sauce Antarctique |
Pingouin a la Terre Adelie | Burgundy
Petits Pois a la Menthe | Chauvenet
Pommes Nouvelle | 1898
Asperges au Beurre Fondu |
Plum Pudding Union Jack | Port
Pate de Groseilles | Kopke
During dinner the Blizzard will render the usual
accompaniment--the Tempest. For Ever and Ever etc.
MIDWINTER'S DAY MENU AT THE MAIN BASE, ADELIE LAND, 1912
1914-17 Trans-Antarctica Expedition on Twitter - follow us now to get the
story 100 years to the day later.
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