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Christchurch — gateway to a zero country continent — the Antarctic

24 February 2010

Brrrrr!

It is -50° C (-58° F) … a normal work day!

Sled on display at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand photo by Joe May

Sled on display at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand — photo by Joe May

The Antarctic is an immense and harsh island continent. Its weather system is isolated due to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which encircles the island keeping away the warm weather influences from the north. The result is that the Antarctic accumulates the small amounts of snow that manage to precipitate and with no flowing water there is surprisingly little erosion. This makes for an excellent laboratory for geology, climatology and biology (many organisms there have a natural anti freeze component in their bodies).

Conditions there are harsh so there are no permanent settlements although there are many scientific research stations. How to get there — and how to move about once there? Today there are regular seasonal flights but how was it done in the early days? Once on the continent — how best to explore, map and investigate? Helicopters, snowmobiles, airplanes, girocopters have all been used. Perhaps the most reliable plan was to use a ski equipped de Havilland Beaver and sleds? The sleds would be used by explorers on snowshoe or ski and the Beaver is one of the most reputed bush aircraft yet manufactured. Such a combination is a portion of what I saw on exhibit in this museum. I can only imagine the extreme and unforgiving conditions endured by these intrepid scientists — but, then again, probably not!

Ski equipped de Havilland Beaver photo by Joe May

Ski equipped de Havilland Beaver (note the sled secured below the left wing) — photo by Joe May

Exploration sled tied to a wing of a de Havilland Beaver — photo by Joe May

Exploration sled tied to a wing of a de Havilland Beaver — photo by Joe May

There are only a few ways to get there, and even fewer available to a tourist. One of the main gateways is Christchurch New Zealand. Christchurch is one of the world’s few cities within reasonable aircraft range and having an adequate airport to sustain support flights to the Antarctic. The images in this post were taken at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, in Christchurch. A post of my visit to this museum was published just one week ago, entitled Air Force Museum of New Zealand — in Christchurch.

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