Preserving Antarctic History Means Chipping Out Tons of Ice From Between Floorboards

Built by Robert Falcon Scott, Discovery Hut is one of several historic structures being preserved in Antarctica

Discovery Hut
Discovery Hut Eli Duke

The hut was meant to store supplies during Robert Falcon Scott's first expedition to Antarctica. Bought for £360 in 1902, it came as a pre-fab building from Australia and was named after the ship that transported the explorers south. It was flimsy to begin with. But, amazingly, it's still standing.

But to keep standing, it needs help. From the Antarctic Sun:

“All of the buildings have suffered from moisture and ice accumulation under the floors, distorting the structures and increasing the humidity inside them, which is bad for the artifacts of course,” says [lead conservation carpenter Gordon] Macdonald, who has worked on the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project on-and-off for the last decade.

Macdonald estimates as much as 20 tons of ice was trapped below the floor’s two layers of tongue-and-groove boarding. The best way to remove it? Chipping and hauling it out by hand.

The hut is getting a much-needed facelift, as teams of conservators work meticulously, sourcing special parts of wood and glass to replace those lost to the harsh conditions of a century of Antarctic winters. The main conservation work on Discovery Hut is expected to last through the Antarctic summer in 2015, with funding set aside to keep the buildings in good repair for the next 25 years. The effort's being led by New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, which is working to conserve other Antarctic structures, too—along with the artifacts found inside.

Those have included some treasures. In December 2013, the Trust discovered a roll of century-old film inside which contained images from one of Shackleton’s expeditions. Three years earlier, the team uncovered crates of whisky under the floorboards of Shackleton’s base at Cape Royds. The whisky itself, after careful analysis, was returned to its spot under the floorboards in Antarctica, but some entrepreneurs made a clone—it's $167 for a bottle.

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