Science and machinery, with a side of sauce

Geomag hut lifted onto Ocean Giant
9 February 2022

The annual ship resupply of Scott Base is underway – among this year’s cargo are prefabricated science buildings, construction machinery, and a snow-going PistenBully – complete with sled and pontoon skis.

All up, there’s 24 containers filled with food, supplies and equipment. The bulk of supplies are being delivered by the HMNZS Aotearoa and the MV Ocean Giant. Both vessels departed Lyttelton port this week for McMurdo Sound, and are currently making their way through southern seas.

The annual resupply is a logistical marathon which takes a team of people months to organise.

The abundance of kai heading to the ice includes 300kg of beef mince, 360kg of tinned diced tomatoes, 162kg of tinned sliced beetroot, as well as 60 litres of tomato sauce.

There’s been no panic buying of toilet paper, but there’s precisely 960 rolls aboard.

Custom-built ‘geomag huts’ carried by the Ocean Giant will provide a new home for the long-term monitoring of the Earth’s geomagnetic field. GNS Science has been taking measurements at the Scott Base Geomagnetic Observatory (SBA) since 1958 and they are an important contribution to the global INTERMAGNET observatory network.

The measurements are used to ground-truth satellite observations, to construct global reference models of the Earth’s geomagnetic field – useful, for example, in ship navigation and smartphones, and to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and energetic particles arriving from the sun.

General manager Antarctic Operations Simon Trotter says the annual supply run aims to provide almost everything the small Scott Base community will need for the coming year. A small amount of fresh vegetables and fruit is flown to Scott Base periodically, but the vast majority of supplies arrive in this shipment.

“There’s no nipping down to the shops, so everything needs to be thought through and prepared – from keeping everyone warm and fed, to keeping the base clean, maintained, fuelled and watered.

“It’s a fairly complex logistical exercise that requires input from a large number of people. Planning involves teams across operations, science, engineering, finance and the Scott Base Redevelopment.

It’s a New Zealand and international collaboration, achieved through very important relationships and partnerships with New Zealand Defence Force and the United States Antarctic Program.

Antarctica New Zealand is allocated space on the US-chartered MV Ocean Giant as part of the joint logistics pool. This year 65 New Zealand Defence Force staff have been flown south to help offload the cargo, a huge task that may take up to 10 days of 24-hour operations.

The ships do not return empty. Anything that is no longer fit for purpose, disused equipment, waste and rubbish is packed into containers and sent home.