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Sub-Antarctic museum uses Tinytag data loggers for long-term monitoring and conservation

Antarctic temperatures and a remote location on South Georgia means that conservation of the collections at South Georgia Museum is a challenge unlike those faced by most ‘average’ museums.

South Georgia Museum opened in 1992 in Grytviken, an old whaling station on South Georgia, an island in the polar front of the Southern Atlantic. The Museum is housed in the former Whaling Station Manager’s Villa and is home to an exciting collection of items that tell the story of the cultural heritage and natural history of South Georgia. The Museum’s collections include exhibitions on discovery, sealing, whaling, surveying and expeditions, maritime and military history, natural history and Sir Ernest Shackleton, the 20th Century Antarctic explorer.

For South Georgia Museum, typical museum conservation efforts-especially maintaining temperature and humidity at suitable levels-can be difficult to implement because of the extreme Antarctic climate and remote location. Fluctuating or unsuitable levels of temperature and humidity can encourage the deterioration of historic and vulnerable materials, so it is important for the museum to have a robust monitoring system in place.

Tinytag View 2 temperature and relative humidity data loggers- portable USB data loggers with convenient current reading displays-have proved to be a budget-friendly and reliable solution for the Museum's long-term environmental monitoring aims. Jayne Pierce, Curator of South Georgia Museum, had used Tinytags previously in other museums in the UK, and praises their versatility. "I think [Tinytags] are great because they are very simple, they work for a smaller budget and can be easily moved around the museum and stores to suit the project."

The Tinytag View 2 data loggers are placed in two separate display cases that showcase some highlights of South Georgia Museum's collections, including items related to Sir Ernest Shackleton (who is buried in the cemetery at Grytviken) and taxidermy of rare and significant birds that nest on South Georgia (including a Wandering Albatross, South Georgia Pipit, Antarctic Prion and a grey-headed Albatross).

The Tinytags were put in place in February 2020 to begin monitoring continuously, and early results from the Tinytags already give a valuable insight into the challenges of maintaining a museum environment in a sub-Antarctic climate. In February 2020, a summer high of +11°C was recorded, while in July the data loggers captured a chilling winter low of -5°C. Since the Museum staff do not stay in South Georgia over the cold winter, the Tinytags, which can be left in place over extended periods thanks to their long battery life, have enabled the museum environment to be recorded over winter for the first time.

"Having the data loggers installed this year is very exciting and will give us more information about the daily and seasonal changes," says Jayne Pierce. "The Museum is located under a mountain range, which blocks the sun in the late afternoon, so it is going to be interesting to see how the sun and the changing season affect the overall temperature of the Museum."

Over the next few years, the museum plans to gather data using Tinytags to gain a fuller picture of the general museum environment, so that informed decisions can be made to improve the conservation of the Museum's collections.

Due to the historial heritage and remote location of South Georgia Museum, plus its inaccessibility, the Museum will not be able to make any significant changes to the building to improve the environment. Heating the building, for example, is not possible and would be unsustainable. However, Jayne anticipates making a number of smaller changes that could have a big impact on preserving the condition of the Museum's valuable collections. Using sealed display cases in the exhibition spaces would add extra protection for objects on display, while extra packing for objects in stores would help ensure they are better insulated against the outside elements.

Pleased with the results from the two Tinytag View 2 data loggers, the Museum have purchased four more, and are hoping to add more data loggers in the coming years to expand their monitoring system across the Museum spaces.

Following the most successful summer season on record, with visitor numbers reaching 11,000, the Museum team returned home to the UK in March 2020. Unfortunately, the team were not able to return to South Georgia in September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped that they will be able to return and welcome visitors to South Georgia Museum in late 2021, bringing their new Tinytags with them!

To learn more, visit South Georgia Museum's website and Instagram.

Images courtesy of South Georgia Museum.

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