January 12, 2010 / 7:57 AM / 9 years ago

A kite's eye view for Antarctic conservationists

CAPE DENISON, Antarctica (Reuters Life!) - The high winds and freezing conditions of Antarctica can be perilous, but for some it’s the perfect opportunity to fly a kite, in the name of conservation.

A view of the remaining part of the Larsen B ice shelf that extends into the northwest part of the Weddell Sea is seen in this handout photo taken on March 4, 2008. REUTERS/Pedro Skvarca/IAA-DNA/Handout

The kite is an aerial photography device providing a birds’ eye view of the icy, windy plateau that is home to the historic huts built by Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson and his team during their 1911-14 Australian Antarctic Expedition to Cape Denison in East Antarctica.

The vicious wind, which screams down the plateau, blew at more than 140 km/h (nearly 90 mph) for 12 hours in 1913, nearly killing Mawson and his men, and has been ravaging the Oregon and Baltic Pine huts ever since.

This year, ten members of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation are trying to repair some of the damage during their six-week stay in one of the world’s most hostile environments, carrying on restoration work termed Project Blizzard that began in 1985.

“This is a unique conservation job in the respect that we are in Antarctica and have to deal with unusual things like ice levels and strong winds. There are no other place in the world exposed to that kind of wind,” Marty Passingham, senior heritage carpenter, told Reuters.

“What is interesting is that the same company that supplied Mawson Expedition’s with timber is the same one we still buy our timber from, nearly 100 years later,” he added.

With 20 years experience in heritage carpentry spanning four continents, Passingham is on his fourth expedition to Cape Denison. He said his aim was to tell the story of the building and people who were associated with it, adding that he loved working in the harsh environment.

Chief conservationist Michelle Berry, who has worked for 20 years restoring artefacts in various countries, also said she loved the challenge of working in Antarctica. This is her third expedition to Cape Denison.

“I really adore the kind of challenge of being in this really strange harsh environment, the way you really have to think carefully about what you’re doing. I like the team life and I really love the conservation challenges,” she said.

This year, the team is focusing on the interior of the huts and their contents.

Berry said they had so far found “heaps of food, lots of bottles of stout, port and whiskey in the main hut and there seems to be lots and lots of rations of stout everywhere.”

And the kite? Archaeologist Jody Steel said it was key to canvassing the landscape.

“It gives us an awesome idea of where everything is scattered across the landscape, which means we can now identify that certain areas might have been used to dump certain artefacts,” Steele said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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