Windmills in Antarctica and Other Assorted Gadgets

Cindy & David, two electrical engineers enjoying the ice pressure ridges below the energy generating windmills above Scott Base. Marvels of earth and science.

Wind energy is now an important source of power for Scott Base.  Depending on conditions, wind now provides more than 10% of the energy needs of Scott Base.  When you are on the base, it is clear why wind is so useful.  It is rare that the wind is NOT blowing at least a little.  For more information and an up-to-date webcam, click HERE.

What surprised me perhaps even more was the history of wind energy in Antarctica.  The first use of windmills to produce electricity that I could find was Scott / Shackleton’s Discovery expedition, where a windmill provided electric lights aboard the ship.  (More details HERE.)  Both the Scott and Shackleton huts had electric wiring, and I was curious where the power would come from.  I haven’ t found confirmation of this yet, but it seems it must have come from wind energy as well.

David took this picture inside the Scott Terra Nova hut. We thought it was parts of an old weather station. But maybe? it is parts of the windmill that generated power for the hut?

I’d like to find out more information about the early electrical systems and other scientific explorations in the Scott and Shackleton voyages.  I’ll add information here as I find it.  Here is what I’ve found so far….

From the Shackleton Endurance Expedition:

“Gentle Jimmy” was the expedition’s magnetician and physicist. Macklin wrote that he had: “some wonderful electrical machines which none of us understood…and a joke of ours that annoyed him very much was that he did not either.”

From Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition — Gadgets, Gadgets, Everywhere!

“There are different views about when the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration came to an end. Shackleton’s Endurance expedition is sometimes referred to as the last Antarctic expedition of the Heroic Age. According to Margery and James Fisher, Shackleton’s biographers: “If it were possible to draw a distinct dividing line between what has been called the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and the Mechanical Age, the Shackleton-Rowett expedition might make as good a point as any at which to draw such a line”.A journalist inspecting the ship before she sailed reported “Gadgets! Gadgets! Gadgets everywhere!”.These included wireless, an electrically heated crow’s nest and an “odograph” that could trace and record the ship’s route and speed.

Hurley the handiman

In this portrait – taken after the Endurance had sunk – Shackleton (1874-1922) gazes thoughtfully at the camera while Hurley skins a penguin, next to a stove which he probably made himself. Hurley was an extremely efficient handyman as well as an accomplished photographer, and many of the electrical and practical devices on which the men relied for their comfort were manufactured by him. — From the Royal Collection

When I first saw this photo at the ‘Heart of the Great Alone’ exhibit in Christchurch, it reminded me so much of David.  Over the course of the past couple of weeks, David had changed from a student into an engineer.  I loved watching that metamorphosis in how he approached challenges and problems, working alongside of him as we both puzzled over the science challenges at hand.  This was a very cool part of the trip for me.

Post script:

Wow.  Climate change may apply to wind power.  Seems like the global wind is decreasing, thus decreasing the effectiveness of wind power just when we need it most …  CLICK HERE


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