Text and pictures © 1997-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"Grantarctica /n./ The cold, isolated place where scientists without funding dwell."
Left: Terra Nova Bay, the Italian base, as seen from the hills to the south. You can see the road coming from the bay (hidden) to the base, passing near the fuel tanks. In the background, there is the Ross sea with a glacier tongue, a small rocky island and the continent in the back. This station is open only in summer, although some experiments are left running in winter.
Right: Another view of Terra Nova Bay. Off the base, you can see the 2 white warehouses used for storing the vehicles and the main blue and red building (bedrooms, cafeteria, control room...). The volcano in the background is Mt Melbourne, about 2500m of altitude.
Just like in McMurdo, there is very little animal life in the area: a couple of nesting skuas and some passing penguins and seals. The closest penguin rookery is a couple km to the south, accessible by a hike on a rock field. Not much to attract tourists, although a cruise ship (the Bremen) unloaded a score of bright red tourists while I was there. I was working on some really greasy mechanical stuff, covered with grease and grit, and felt like an animal in a zoo when they all started taking pictures and filming me on the beach. They stayed only an hour or so after touring the base.
I wasn't supposed to stay for very long in Terra Nova as I was just passing through on my way to Dome C. But two separate trips and several logistics or weather problems later, I spent a good 3 weeks there all in all. The difference with other coastal stations is that you can actually go for a walk fairly far away without risk of breaking through the ice or falling into a crevasse. The views are nice too. As I was getting bored waiting there I worked odd jobs as necessary: I learned to arc weld, to cut huge metal chunks with a plasma torch, to drive cranes and bulldozers and other interesting things. I also ran into minor problems like when the boss asked me to fix an electrical problem on the big super expensive anti-freeze fire truck. He probably thought that a computer geek had enough electrical knowledge to fix a cross wired blinker. After frying a relay, scaring me with a huge spark that left me wondering what one is supposed to do when a fire truck catches fire, it miraculously worked and I left it at that.
Right: Antonio working on changing the broken bars and rusty bolts of the chain of a snowcat in the workshop of BTN.
Right: The Twin Otter parked on the sea ice of the Bay of Terra Nova.
Another more dangerous achievements was for instance as we were mothballing the base for the winter, installing the automated generators that are supposed to keep it running during the winter. We were lowering a 30 ton tank of fuel with a crane to place it next to the generators, in the middle of the base. With other people I was holding the tank one meter above ground to place it precisely while the crane driver was slowly lowering it. And then the tank just fell at my feet with a 'thud!', raising a cloud of dust. A quick look at the crane showed me that it had tipped over from the weight and the recoil was just hitting it, sending it flying in the air. A 80 ton crane, one meter off the ground, tilting over a tank with 30 tons of fuel ! I turned around and ran my best 200m dash ever. In bunny boots. After stopping for a look I saw that the crane had stabilized at an unhealthy angle and the driver, green with fear, was putting slack on the cables to straighten it up.
Above: panorama of TNB taken from the main building.
Left: A water purifying plant at Terra Nova Bay.
In all coastal stations in Antarctica the drinking water comes from sea water, usually filtered through a reverse osmosis process. Here's a picture of two technicians checking part of the installation. The extra salty water left over by this process is used to warm up the water pipes (the clearwater pipe is running inside the saltwater pipe). Used water is not recycled but just poured into the sea. Continental stations like Dome C have to melt snow and recycle their water.
Right: An infrared observatory located on a hill above Terra Nova Bay.
Recently several observatories have been installed in Antarctica, also on board of balloons for month long flights. There's currently much talk in the astronomy groups of installing an infrared telescope at Dome C or even at Dome A, potentially the best observation spot on the planet. (2020 note: it was eventually installed at Ridge A, the coldest place on the planet).
Another of the temporary jobs I did while in BTN was to replace the blades on a snowcat. Unscrew, saw off or break 2500 rusty bolts and replace them with new ones. One of the most mindless thing I've ever done, but made necessary by people who kept driving it on concrete after the snow was gone... I also attached teflon sheets underneath the large skids of the some of the trailers of the ITASE traverses.
Left: Drilling the sea ice with heavy methods. This is used to analyze to algae growing on the bottom of the ice, and also provides hole well appreciated by the seals. 2nd from left is the late Mario Zuchelli, instigator and head of the Italian Antarctic Project.
Right: An experimental greenhouse is being tested in Terra Nova Bay before being carried to Dome C. It will be used during the long dark winters to produce some much needed fresh vegetables...
Left: The MS Italica, the italian Antarctic ship, at rest in the bay of Terra Nova seen from a helicopter. The station can be guessed in the background on the rock peninsula.
In '97 I flew in with an America C-130 and then moved out of Antarctica on that ship, a 11 day trip back to New-Zealand. In 2000, I flew in with an Italian C-130 and then went back through DdU and took the smaller Astrolabe, the french Antarctic ship.
Above: Panoramic view of the station, taken from between the buildings, the shore and the helicopter pad. From Left to right: Helicopter and Mt Melbourne, main station building, garages and workshops, pinguinatolo and containers.
Left: Panoramic view of the station (and two (12?) clowns) taken from the center of the station. From left to right: Garage and workshop, storage building, main life building, grounded boat, wooden sleeping sheds.
Recently the Italian station has been renamed MZS: Mario Zuchelli Station, after the late leader of the Italian Antarctic Project. Terra Nova Bay is actually the name of the area, the safe anchor bay in front of the station, named after an old exploratory ship.
Left: Watching the Antarctic Coast from the window of an incoming C-130. Excitement is building up as we are about to reach the southern continent.
Right: The airstrip build on cracked sea-ice, shortly before its disappearance.
Left: The bay of Terra Nova, still frozen, is used as an airstrip.
Right: The central buildings of Mario Zuchelli Station seen from the air.
Left: The operating room above the main MZS building: radio communications, satellite imagery and more is performed from there.
Right: The operative room above the station.
Left: The radio room, sending one last message to people back in Dome C.
Right: One of the science laboratories of MZS.
Left: Power generator for MZS.
Left: Preparation of the ship before returning it to seaworthiness.
Right: Mechanics in the workshop.
Left: The kitchens of the MZS. Today: genuine italian pizza. It's this or genuine italian pasta every day...
Right: Dining room of the station.
Left: Parking below the main building.
Right: Smooth boulders near Terra Nova.
Right: Fuel tanks and wind-carved boulder above the station.
Left: Wind carved rock near Terra Nova Bay.
Left: Smooth wind-carved granite climbing attempt.
Right: Constant freezing-thawing cycles lead to hexagonal shapes in the gravel ground.
Left: View through an ice core extracted from the sea-ice.
Right: Wind-smoothed sea-ice in the bay of Terra Nova.
Left: Large ice cores extracted for the sea-ice of the bay, to access the water underneath.
Right: Car doing a recon on the sea-ice.
Left: Penguins and their admirers.
Left: Recon of the sea ice.
Right: Penguins and a 4x4 near the edge of the sea-ice.
Left: Group of expedition members getting ready to leave the station to return to McMurdo and then greener pastures.