Scott Base

From Academic Kids

Scott Base is a base in Antarctica, owned by New Zealand. It was named after Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Royal Navy, leader of two British expeditions to the Ross Sea area of Antarctica. It is New Zealand's main base which was set up as support to field research and the centre for research into earth sciences. It is located in the Ross Dependency, the New Zealand claim to Antarctica (not recognised by the Russian Federation nor the United States of America).


Brief history of Scott's journey in Antarctica

In 1902–03 Scott’s party made the first journey south across the Ross Ice Shelf from their hut at Hut Point. Scott returned to the Antarctic in 1910, and on 17 January 1912 Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers, and Evans reached the South Pole only to find that Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team had preceded them by five weeks. On the return from the Pole the party, plagued by blizzards and weakened by scurvy, perished 11 miles (18 km) from the well stocked One Ton Depot, and 165 miles (266 km) from their hut at Cape Evans. On top of Observation Hill the surviving members of the expedition erected a 9 ft jarrah cross as a memorial to the Polar Party. The inscription on the cross taken from Alfred Lord Tennyson's Ulysses reads, 'To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield'.

Scott Base History

As part of the New Zealand Government’s contribution to the International Geophysical Year (IGY) project of 1957–58, Scott Base was constructed to serve New Zealand's IGY programme and as headquarters for Sir Edmund Hillary’s activities in support of Sir Vivian Fuchs’s successful expedition, the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which made the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. The base was chosen not without difficulty.

New Zealand observers given the task of selecting the site for a base went to McMurdo Sound with the United States “Operation Deep Freeze I” in the summer of 1955–56. Scott Base was scheduled to be built the following summer.

One of the important site considerations was the position of the base in relation to the Polar Plateau through the mountains on the Western shores of the sound, since the New Zealand support party were to lay supply depots on the high plateau between the Pole and McMurdo Sound. After a thorough reconnaissance often involving manhauling sledges up many miles of glaciers, Butter Point was chosen. This area at the mouth of the Ferrar Glacier and straight across the sound from Hut Point seemed to offer the best features of approach by sea and access to the plateau.

To transport the New Zealand expedition to Antarctica the New Zealand Government purchased the John Biscoe, a supply ship of the Falkland Islands Dependency survey.

Unfortunately when the wooden HMNZS Endeavour reached McMurdo Sound in the summer 1956/57, her engine power proved inadequate for penetrating the massive floe ice accumulated on the western side of the sound; and the rough ice surface between the ship and the proposed building site precluded the transport of construction materials over the ice surface within the time available

So Butter Point was “out”. However the commander of “Operation Deep Freeze II”, Rear-Admiral Dufek, considerately provided a helicopter in which Sir Edmund Hillary, leader of the New Zealand expedition, reconnoitred further and finally chose Pram Point (so named by Scott's 1902 expedition when they kept a Norwegian 'pram' dinghy there to get from the shore of Ross Island to the Ross Ice Shelf) on the eastern side of Hut Point Peninsula as the base site.

The Endeavour carried some of the personnel and part of the supplies of the New Zealand expedition, the rest of the base construction materials and operational stores were brought south in American ships of Operation Deep Freeze II. Despite valuable time lost the base was completed and the scientific programme began on schedule.

During the IGY the United States facility at Hut Point did not operate as a scientific base. It was the New Zealand expedition’s responsibility to furnish the important scientific data (auroral, ionospheric, seismic, etc.), linking the McMurdo area research activities with those of the United States Pole Station and the joint United States-New Zealand station at Cape Hallett, Victoria Land.

Sir Edmund and his team, using converted Fergusson farm tractors established a line of supply depots from Scott Base up the Skelton Glacier and across the Polar Plateau to the South Pole in support of the main expedition lead by Vivian Fuchs (now Sir). Sir Edmund was not supposed to go to the Pole but saw the chance to beat the British there so he went for it! He drove back with the main expedition to show them the way.

As with most countries having IGY bases in Antarctica since 1958, New Zealand has continued to operate Scott Base in support of scientific research, much of which, for maximum value to science depends upon the continuity of recorded data over a period of years: so it would seem that the history of the base will not be unduly brief. Its usefulness was measurably increased during the 1962–63 season by extending some huts and erecting a new garage and a second seismic hut.

By the end of the 1960–61 season, HMNZS Endeavour was considered unfit for further Antarctic service. Her successor is a small tanker loaned by the United States to the Royal New Zealand Navy, also named Endeavour. She currently resupplies Scott Base, transports fuel for the United States “Deep Freeze” operations and carries out oceanography and associated studies.

Planning and Operation

The Ross Dependency Research Committee formulates the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme. The committee comprises representatives of divisions of the Departments of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Lands and Survey, the Dominion Museum, the Royal Society of New Zealand, New Zealand Universities, the Chiefs of Staff of the New Zealand Armed Forces, and the Department of External Affairs. It is representative of all scientific disciplines with Antarctic interests.

Antarctic Division, D.S.I.R., is responsible for detailed planning and implements the programme. The division employs staff and obtains supplies and equipment for all Government projects. University projects are financed and equipped from university sources. The operation and control of all projects is directed by the Antarctic Division through the leader, Scott Base.

Description of the base

Scott Base buildings were prefabricated by New Zealand and Australian firms to the design of the New Zealand Ministry of Works architects. To ensure speedy erection at Pram Point the whole structure complete with all equipment was erected in New Zealand; then to facilitate reassembly every component was numbered before dismantling and shipped south. Erection at Pram Point involved little more than site preparations and securing of fastenings.

Additions and improvements in subsequent seasons have increased the number of main base buildings from seven to ten, all now being interconnected by covered ways. Separate from the main group is a large store building which earlier housed the Antarctic flight of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and on the fringe of the base area various scientific huts have been established to house scientific instruments. The auroral equipment came from the United States base at Little America when that station was abandoned.

“Whistler” and other aerials are sited in adjacent areas. At Arrival Heights and Second Crater on Hut Point Peninsula are situated the Auroral Radar Station and the “Quiet” Experimental Station for upper atmosphere physics work involving the noise free radio reception.

In 1966–67 two new 65 kW generators were installed at Scott Base because of the increased demand for electricity which overtaxed the twin five-year-old 48 kV generators. You will notice that accommodation is not luxurious but practical and adequate. Throughout the winter each man has a room to himself. The mess provides a cheerful community living centre.

The corrugated iron tunnels, or covered ways, which link main buildings, allow free movement around the base without exposure to weather, the inconvenience of changing clothes, and consequent loss of time.

Hut heating is by thermostat-controlled air heaters burning kerosene. Water supply is from ice melters installed in huts where water is required. Trouble with water pipe freezing is avoided by not reticulating the supply between huts.

Mechanical transport comprises (1968–69 season): a Nodwell personnel and cargo carrier, a Tucker Sno-cat (Fuch's lead vehicle 'A' from the Trans-Antarctic Expedition), Caterpillar D-4, International and Fergusson tractors, long wheelbase Landrover, and two Swedish built Sno-Tracs. Motor toboggans (snowmobiles) and dogs are employed by field parties.

Daily radio communication schedules with New Zealand are made utilising 1 kW S.S.B. transmitters for voice and C.W. transmissions, communications from field parties are made through S.S.B. solid state h.f. transceivers. Within the base area communications between the leader and personnel are maintained using miniature u.h.f. transceivers.


Though it is usual for only 11 men to winter-over at Scott Base each year, accommodation has been provided for 30 in support of summer scientific programmes. Winter strength includes the base leader, base engineer, cook, field assistant, electrician, general maintenance mechanic, radio officer, and generally four scientists or technicians. Present policy is to have one man winter-over, drawn from field parties of the previous summer. They are allocated specific tasks of working up field data, preparing equipment for the next season’s field work, and caring for about 25 dogs. Of course when you see the base in summer the population may be over four times that of winter and crowded conditions may be evident. Such situations arise during the changeover of winter teams, special summer research activities, the return of field parties, the presence of construction teams and the visits of scientific and administrative authorities. Then, owing to the uncertainties of transportation to and from Antarctica, scheduled clearances of personnel may be upset. The number of people actively engaged in Antarctica on New Zealand’s programme total approximately 80 this season.


In January 1957 sledge dogs went south with the New Zealand component of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition and since that date dogs have been a feature of our field parties.

The original pack of 60 was drawn from three sources, the majority and the best coming from Australia’s Mawson Station. The breeding line of the Mawson dogs runs back through those held at the French station in Adelie Land (about 1950); thence through those at Falklands Islands Dependency Survey’s Hope Bay Station (about 1948) to the original home on the west coast of Greenland.

Auckland Zoo provided 16 others descended from Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s United States Service Expedition of 1939–40. A further 12 purchased from the Danish Administration came directly from Greenland, arriving in New Zealand aboard the HMNZS Endeavour.

In view of suspected inbreeding and lack of balance in age groupings new blood strains were introduced in 1960 with 12 dogs chosen by Mr W. Herbert in Greenland and flown direct to New Zealand by United States M.A.T.S. Now all breeding is done at Scott Base.

The effective working life of a dog is rarely more than eight years. Breeding and performance records of all Scott Base dogs compiled in 1960 are kept up to date and include such intriguing names as Draco, Leo, Uglen, Akortok, Kakiwa, Ardluk.

Because of the completion in 1963–64 of the reconnaissance geological and topographical survey of the Ross Dependency, long dog sledge journeys are no longer necessary. With the reduced use for the dogs in the field, the dog population at Scott Base is kept at about 20, which provides for two teams of nine plus a few spares.


Our American friends and neighbours through the “Gap” at McMurdo enjoy a climate generally warmer than at Pram Point. We are exposed to the full strength of occasional southerly blizzards. Overall we have less wind than at McMurdo Station. Minimum temperatures at Scott Base are around minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (-45 degrees Celsius), and the summer reading only occasionally above freezing point.

The maximum wind velocities experienced have been gusts up to 115 mph (185 km/h) with steady velocities under blizzard conditions of 60 to 70 mph (95–115 km/h).

Scientific programme as of 1969

The base and its personnel now exist for one purpose-that of advancing the frontiers of science. To this end scientific data is obtained by scientists and technicians at base and as members of mobile and static parties in the field. When you consider the provision of air and sea transport and the quantities of fuel and other supplies necessary to sustain planes, ships, and men in their tasks, you will realise that logistic support for a scientific programme is impressive.

The mobile field parties have been engaged mainly on geological and topographical surveys and for that class of work travel with dog teams has been customary although some parties do use man-hauled sledges. Polaris motor toboggans, introduced during the 1962–63 season, are fast and for most tasks more efficient. They enable greater areas to be covered in the time available, can haul a heavier load, and require less attention than is necessary with dog teams.

Two dog teams are maintained at Scott Base for emergency measures in the event of a rescue being necessary. Weather conditions may be unsuitable for flying and dog teams also provide a safer method of transport in crevassed areas and rough terrain. They are wonderful companions on long journeys, a psychological consideration of some importance.

Up to 1960 air support in Antarctica was provided by the Antarctic Flight of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Since then generous air support for our field activities has been given by the VXE - 6 Squadron of the United States Naval Support Force under Government agreement in return for base facilities granted the Support Force at Harewood in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The first flight from New Zealand to Antarctica by a Royal New Zealand Air Force C130 (Hercules) aircraft was made on 28 October 1965. A further two flights were made on an immediate turnaround system during that season. These flights were repeated in the 1966-67 summer and in addition, during the 1967-68 season the first RNZAF Hercules operation within Antarctica was undertaken by the air dropping of material at Lake Vanda, Wright Valley, for the establishment of Vanda Station.

RNZAF support in form of the above flights provides an invaluable contribution to New Zealand’s role in Antarctica.

The relatively static field parties operate in various localities upon research ranging from glaciology and soil survey to bird and animal biology.

Research by base parties comprises observatory disciplines in seismology, geomagnetism, and ionospherics; and specific aspects of the upper atmosphere with particular reference to auroral regions and that beyond 50 kilometres above the earth. Radio, radar, and optical techniques are used. The greater part of base scientific activity is concentrated in the main laboratory. Ancillary establishments are the auroral hut, a seismic hut, and two magnetic huts.

At Second Crater there is a satellite receiving station gathering information on the ionosphere from signals transmitted from satellite S66 executing a polar orbit every 105 minutes. These signals are beamed down through the ionosphere and complement the signals sent up from Scott Base to form a pattern of studies in this sphere.

The New Zealand Oceanographic Institute’s participation in the Antarctic Research Programme takes the form of continuing projects in physical oceanography, geology, and marine biology, utilising HMNZS Endeavour in the Ross Sea and Southern Ocean. Distribution of benthic animals on the Macquarie Ridge; sediment and benthic sampling in specified areas of the Ross Sea; sounding; surface temperature recording, and magnetometry are tasks performed afloat.

Scientists from the Victoria University of Wellington carry out a marine traverse between New Zealand and McMurdo Sound on HMNZS Endeavour, using a proton magnetometer.

Nuclear science is served by the collection of air, snow, and water samples. Meteorology includes direct reading of or authographic records of standard climatological data, i.e. air temperature, pressure, humidity, wind velocity, cloud cover, and solar radiation.

All scientific data received by various instruments at Scott Base and its outlying buildings is continuously recorded on revolving paper charts, magnetic tapes, 35 mm film, or light-sensitive photographic paper. This eliminates the necessity to have one scientist or technician continuously on duty in the science laboratory.

Vanda Station

The main project for NZARP68/69 was the continued work of establishing Vanda Station on the shore of Lake Vanda, Wright Valley, Victoria Land. This was achieved and manned for the first time by a five man team from January to October 1969. Vanda operated until Base


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