Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge » Scott's Last Expedition skip to primary navigation skip to content


Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter X: In Winter Quarters: Modern Style’ Category

Sunday, May 21st 1911

Sunday, May 21st, 1911

Observed as usual. It blew from the north in the morning. Had an idea to go to Cape Royds this evening, but it was reported that the open water reached to the Barne Glacier, and last night my own observation seemed to confirm this.

This afternoon I started out for the open water. I found the ice solid off the Barne Glacier tongue, but always ahead of me a dark horizon as though I was within a very short distance of its edge. I held on with this appearance still holding up to C. Barne itself and then past that Cape and half way between it and C. Royds. This was far enough to make it evident that the ice was continuous to C. Royds, and has been so for a long time. Under these circumstances the continual appearance of open water to the north is most extraordinary and quite inexplicable.

Have had some very interesting discussions with Wilson, Wright, and Taylor on the ice formations to the west. How to account for the marine organisms found on the weathered glacier ice north of the Koettlitz Glacier? We have been elaborating a theory under which this ice had once a negative buoyancy due to the morainic material on top and in the lower layers of the ice mass, and had subsequently floated when the greater amount of this material had weathered out.

Have arranged to go to C. Royds to-morrow.

The temperatures have sunk very steadily this year; for a long time they hung about zero, then for a considerable interval remained about -10º; now they are down in the minus twenties, with signs of falling (to-day -24º).

Bowers’ meteorological stations have been amusingly named Archibald, Bertram, Clarence – they are entered by the initial letter, but spoken of by full title.

To-night we had a glorious auroral display – quite the most brilliant I have seen. At one time the sky from N.N.W. to S.S.E. as high as the zenith was massed with arches, band, and curtains, always in rapid movement. The waving curtains were especially fascinating – a wave of bright light would start at one end and run along to the other, or a patch of brighter light would spread as if to reinforce the failing light of the curtain.

Auroral Notes

The auroral light is of a palish green colour, but we now see distinctly a red flush preceding the motion of any bright part.

The green ghostly light seems suddenly to spring to life with rosy blushes. There is infinite suggestion in this phenomenon, and in that lies its charm; the suggestion of life, form, colour and movement never less than evanescent, mysterious, – no reality. It is the language of mystic signs and portents – the inspiration of the gods – wholly spiritual – divine signalling. Remindful of superstition, provocative of imagination. Might not the inhabitants of some other world (Mars) controlling mighty forces thus surround our globe with fiery symbols, a golden writing which we have not the key to decipher?

There is argument on the confession of Ponting’s inability to obtain photographs of the aurora. Professor Stormer of Norway seems to have been successful. Simpson made notes of his method, which seems to depend merely on the rapidity of lens and plate. Ponting claims to have greater rapidity in both, yet gets no result even with long exposure. It is not only a question of aurora; the stars are equally reluctant to show themselves on Ponting’s plate. Even with five seconds exposure the stars become short lines of light on the plate of a fixed camera. Stormer’s stars are points and therefore his exposure must have been short, yet there is detail in some of his pictures which it seems impossible could have been got with a short exposure. It is all very puzzling.

Saturday, May 20th 1911

Saturday, May 20th, 1911

Blowing hard from the south, with some snow and very cold. Few of us went far; Wilson and Bowers went to the top of the Ramp and found the wind there force 6 to 7, temperature -24º; as a consequence they got frost-bitten. There was lively cheering when they reappeared in this condition, such is the sympathy which is here displayed for affliction; but with Wilson much of the amusement arises from his peculiarly scant headgear and the confessed jealousy of those of us who cannot face the weather with so little face protection.

The wind dropped at night.

Friday, May 19th 1911

Friday, May 19th, 1911

Wind from the north in the morning, temperature comparatively high (about -6º). We played football during the noon hour – the game gets better as we improve our football condition and skill.

In the afternoon the wind came from the north, dying away again late at night.
In the evening Wright lectured on ‘Ice Problems.’ He had a difficult subject and was nervous. He is young and has never done original work; is only beginning to see the importance of his task.

He started on the crystallisation of ice, and explained with very good illustrations the various forms of crystals, the manner of their growth under different conditions and different temperatures. This was instructive. Passing to the freezing of salt water, he was not very clear. Then on to glaciers and their movements, theories for same and observations in these regions.

There was a good deal of disconnected information – silt bands, crevasses were mentioned. Finally he put the problems of larger aspect.

The upshot of the discussion was a decision to devote another evening to the larger problems such as the Great Ice Barrier and the interior ice sheet. I think I will write the paper to be discussed on this occasion.

I note with much satisfaction that the talks on ice problems and the interest shown in them has had the effect of making Wright devote the whole of his time to them. That may mean a great deal, for he is a hard and conscientious worker.

Atkinson has a new hole for his fish trap in 15 fathoms; yesterday morning he got a record catch of forty-three fish, but oddly enough yesterday evening there were only two caught.

Thursday, May 18th 1911

Thursday, May 18th, 1911

The wind dropped in the night; to-day it is calm, with slight snowfall. We have had an excellent football match – the only outdoor game possible in this light.

I think our winter routine very good, I suppose every leader of a party has thought that, since he has the power of altering it. On the other hand, routine in this connection must take into consideration the facilities of work and play afforded by the preliminary preparations for the expedition. The winter occupations of most of our party depend on the instruments and implements, the clothing and sledging outfit, provided by forethought, and the routine is adapted to these occupations.

The busy winter routine of our party may therefore be excusably held as a subject for self-congratulation.

Wednesday, May 17th 1911

Wednesday, May 17th, 1911

For the first time this season we have a rise of temperature with a southerly wind. The wind force has been about 30 since yesterday evening; the air is fairly full of snow and the temperature has risen to -6º from -18º.

I heard one of the dogs barking in the middle of the night, and on inquiry learned that it was one of the ‘Serais,’ that he seemed to have something wrong with his hind leg, and that he had been put under shelter. This morning the poor brute was found dead.

I’m afraid we can place but little reliance on our dog teams and reflect ruefully on the misplaced confidence with which I regarded the provision of our transport. Well, one must suffer for errors of judgment.

This afternoon Wilson held a post-mortem on the dog; he could find no sufficient cause of death. This is the third animal that has died at winter quarters without apparent cause. Wilson, who is nettled, proposes to examine the brain of this animal to-morrow.

Went up the Ramp this morning. There was light enough to see our camp, and it looked homely, as it does from all sides. Somehow we loom larger here than at Cape Armitage. We seem to be more significant. It must be from contrast of size; the larger hills tend to dwarf the petty human element.

To-night the wind has gone back to the north and is now blowing fresh.

This sudden and continued complete change of direction is new to our experience.
Oates has just given us an excellent little lecture on the management of horses.
He explained his plan of feeding our animals ‘soft’ during the winter, and hardening them up during the spring. He pointed out that the horse’s natural food being grass and hay, he would naturally employ a great number of hours in the day filling a stomach of small capacity with food from which he could derive only a small percentage of nutriment.

Hence it is desirable to feed horses often and light. His present routine is as follows:

Morning. – Chaff.

Noon, after exercise. – Snow. Chaff and either oats or oil-cake alternate days.
Evening, 5 P.M. – Snow. Hot bran mash with oil-cake or boiled oats and chaff; finally a small quantity of hay. This sort of food should be causing the animals to put on flesh, but is not preparing them for work. In October he proposes to give ‘hard’ food, all cold, and to increase the exercising hours.

As concerning the food we possess he thinks:

The _chaff_ made of young wheat and hay is doubtful; there does not seem to be any grain with it – and would farmers cut young wheat? There does not seem to be any ‘fat’ in this food, but it is very well for ordinary winter purposes.

N.B. – It seems to me this ought to be inquired into. _Bran_ much discussed, but good because it causes horses to chew the oats with which mixed.

Oil-cake, greasy, producing energy – excellent for horses to work on.

Oats, of which we have two qualities, also very good working food – our white quality much better than the brown.

Our trainer went on to explain the value of training horses, of getting them ‘balanced’ to pull with less effort. He owns it is very difficult when one is walking horses only for exercise, but thinks something can be done by walking them fast and occasionally making them step backwards.

Oates referred to the deeds that had been done with horses by foreigners in shows and with polo ponies by Englishmen when the animals were trained; it is, he said, a sort of gymnastic training.

The discussion was very instructive and I have only noted the salient points.

Tuesday, May 16th 1911

Tuesday, May 16th, 1911

The north wind continued all night but dropped this forenoon. Conveniently it became calm at noon and we had a capital game of football. The light is good enough, but not much more than good enough, for this game.

Had some instruction from Wright this morning on the electrical instruments.

Later went into our carbide expenditure with Day: am glad to find it sufficient for two years, but am not making this generally known as there are few things in which economy is less studied than light if regulations allow of waste.

Electrical Instruments

For measuring the ordinary potential gradient we have two self-recording quadrant electrometers. The principle of this instrument is the same as that of the old Kelvin instrument; the clockwork attached to it unrolls a strip of paper wound on a roller; at intervals the needle of the instrument is depressed by an electromagnet and makes a dot on the moving paper. The relative position of these dots forms the record. One of our instruments is adjusted to give only 1/10th the refinement of measurement of the other by means of reduction in the length of the quartz fibre. The object of this is to continue the record in snowstorms, &c., when the potential difference of air and earth is very great. The instruments are kept charged with batteries of small Daniels cells. The clocks are controlled by a master clock.

The instrument available for radio-activity measurements is a modified type of the old gold-leaf electroscope. The measurement is made by the mutual repulsion of quartz fibres acting against a spring – the extent of the repulsion is very clearly shown against a scale magnified by a telescope.

The measurements to be made with instrument are various:

The ionization of the air. A length of wire charged with 2000 volts (negative) is exposed to the air for several hours. It is then coiled on a frame and its rate of discharge measured by the electroscope.

The radio-activity of the various rocks of our neighbourhood; this by direct measurement of the rock.

The conductivity of the air, that is, the relative movement of ions in the air; by movement of air past charged surface. Rate of absorption of + and – ions is measured, the negative ion travelling faster than the positive.

Monday, May 15th 1911

Monday, May 15th, 1911

The wind has been strong from the north all day – about 30 miles an hour. A bank of stratus cloud about 6000 or 7000 feet (measured by Erebus) has been passing rapidly overhead towards the north; it is nothing new to find the overlying layers of air moving in opposite directions, but it is strange that the phenomenon is so persistent.

Simpson has frequently remarked as a great feature of weather conditions here the seeming reluctance of the air to ‘mix’ – the fact seems to be the explanation of many curious fluctuations of temperature.

Went for a short walk, but it was not pleasant. Wilson gave an interesting lecture on penguins. He explained the primitive characteristics in the arrangement of feathers on wings and body, the absence of primaries and secondaries or bare tracts; the modification of the muscles of the wings and in the structure of the feet (the metatarsal joint). He pointed out (and the subsequent discussion seemed to support him) that these birds probably branched at a very early stage of bird life – coming pretty directly from the lizard bird Archaeopteryx of the Jurassic age. Fossils of giant penguins of Eocene and Miocene ages show that there has been extremely little development since.

He passed on to the classification and habitat of different genera, nest-making habits, eggs, &c. Then to a brief account of the habits of the Emperors and Adelies, which was of course less novel ground for the old hands.

Of special points of interest I recall his explanation of the desirability of embryonic study of the Emperor to throw further light on the development of the species in the loss of teeth, &c.; and Ponting’s contribution and observation of adult Adelies teaching their young to swim – this point has been obscure. It has been said that the old birds push the young into the water, and, per contra, that they leave them deserted in the rookery – both statements seemed unlikely. It would not be strange if the young Adelie had to learn to swim (it is a well-known requirement of the Northern fur seal – sea bear), but it will be interesting to see in how far the adult birds lay themselves out to instruct their progeny.

During our trip to the ice and sledge journey one of our dogs, Vaida, was especially distinguished for his savage temper and generally uncouth manners. He became a bad wreck with his poor coat at Hut Point, and in this condition I used to massage him; at first the operation was mistrusted and only continued to the accompaniment of much growling, but later he evidently grew to like the warming effect and sidled up to me whenever I came out of the hut, though still with some suspicion. On returning here he seemed to know me at once, and now comes and buries his head in my legs whenever I go out of doors; he allows me to rub him and push him about without the slightest protest and scampers about me as I walk abroad. He is a strange beast – I imagine so unused to kindness that it took him time to appreciate it.