Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exploding Melons

My birthday coincided with a little expedition 20 miles down the coast to the Browning Peninsula and in particular, Petersen Island just offshore. It was a glassy calm morning when I set off with the Toxicology team and a few guests. We weaved our way south between the myriad of islands that were starting to become quite familiar but it wasn't long before new territory was on the horizon. New for me at least, but James our trusty, Field Training Officier had seen it all before at the beginning of the summer when he travelled down there on quad bikes over sea ice. He pointed out the landmarks, we checked out a few landing sites and pressed on to Peterson Island where the Americans had landed in 1948.

The declaration and flag left in the brass cannister by the US Navy in 1948. Note that there are only 48 stars on the flag.

The landing was excellent. Sheltered and affording a small sandy beach. Elephant seals wallowed in the shallows and there appeared to be a harem racked up on the rocks. With our interest in the Elephant seals we started to see unnatural items scattered around and it soon became apparent that they represented contents and parts of the field hut that was meant to be on the hill. It was a melon hut, that is basically an apple hut sliced in half and with a middle section added. Conveniently the apple huts are often red and this melon was appropriately green. That is all history now, as everything from fuel containers, batteries, tea towels, nylon tents, sleeping bags are strewn downwind of the original site. The original site is marked by the tie down wires which are in tact and appear to have ripped cleanly out of the shell. Small fagments are all that remain of the fibreglass shell.

The Maxie Stove after it had been rumbled in the melon
I am guessing that the storm that generated record wind gusts at Casey Station, during the resupply before Christmas, was responsible. It seems that it was torn from its tie downs and with all its contents, rolled down the hill. In the process the contents were rumbled before being disgorged as the melon broke up. The wind then scattered it all across the island and out to sea. 
Lunchtime Birthday Cake - Those sparklers are not so easy to blow out.
It was a mess and needed attention but we pushed off to explore the potential for sampling in the nearby cove. There was great success on that front and we even found a set of tidal rapids. Lunch was taken at a landing on the Browning Peninsula and a lamington cake was produced to celebrate my birthday. The days were too short to enjoy all that was on offer and we hurried off to weave our way home between islands and up narrow channels. The wind stayed down and we scooted across the clam water stopping briefly for some plankton sampling.

Birthday Picnic on the Browning Peninsula
Home in time for dinner and more cake, we regaled the powers to be with the story of the exploding melon. To their credit we set off this morning, just two days later, with an eager team to clean up the remains of the melon. Much of the melon was lost into the ocean but there wasn't much we could do about that. It was just tragic history. What we could do was clean up and remove the remnants from the small plastic fragments to the table size fibreglass panels. It was like viewing your own life through the eyes of an archeologist.

All that is left of the Melon Hut


I still wonder, when I see the look on some of those Adelie Penguins faces, whether they stuck some explosives in the melon and blew it up. A warning perhaps. A penguin jihad?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Toys R Us

It is almost a month since moving ashore at Casey Station and the time has melted away so quickly. The first job was to get familiar with the area and take Dave Burrows out to the iceberg field that lay off the station. Dave was on an arts fellowship and in search of an interesting berg to be the subject of this sterographic 3D photography. Put simply he shoots with two cameras simultaneuosly mounted on a bar only about 200mm apart and this creates a really interesting effect.

Adelie penguins wandering the last remianing sea ice
Along with Dave's trips we managed to run a few berg cruises for other people on station. A great chance to get out amongst Antarctica, see the bergs in their full glory and cruise the penguins along the shore.
Crystal Clear Water
Training is a big thing down here, given the potential risks, so we trickled off in groups for survival training initially, which included some navigation and bivying out for the night. Not quite under the stars, as the sun never sets, but a great experience none the less. It was also a great chance to spend some time with a small group and get to know them a bit better. The situations where you meet, live and work with a hundred new people for a couple of months are rare. There are some interesting folk and some real characters.
Dan works on his stage diving technique
Hagulands are these tracked vehicles used for transport across the ice here. Originally developed by the Swedes for military application in the Artic they are great little machines and fun to drive. A day of traininbg on these and an overnight on quads gave us a feel for the lay of the land.

People come and go over the summer and we lost a great bunch of people a few weeks ago. I drove them up to the skiway for their flight out on a classic old DC3 and what a lovely drive. Heading out of station its a case of following the cane line and soon the rocky outcrops give way to a wide expanse of ice. There is a real feeling of interior Antarctica and then gently the two planes start to rise out of the horizon. They were parked on their skis next to a few containers that mark the runway.
Haguland on Ice
The DC3 makes the whole scene look like something out of an Indiana Jones film. Dave Burrows and a few lovely moss scientists bundled in to the fuselage with their bags and in a whirl of ice, took off over the horizon bound for McMurdo Sound. Weather conspired to keep them there for about a week before they flew north to Christchurch and on home.

DC3 Basler
Heading back to station the view is down to the coast and out to the icebergs offshore. The mirror calm of the protected bays can be seen and the wind darkening the water offshore. The station looks neat and tiny from the distance. I have stopped halfway to soak it up everytime I make the run.
More Toys - Twin Otter
The cane lines that guide us across the ice have been punctuated by some great signs, produced on station by a creative tradesman in years gone past. They provide a reminder of the days when huskies were a key mode of transport in Antarctica.
Husky Signs along the cane line
We lost some good people and gained more on the return flight. There were lots of familiar faces as the toxicology science team arrived. Their project is the main focus now. They have come with all sorts of traps and collection devices. We caught some Antarctic Cod which was interesting. They look like flathead that have been squahed horizontally rather than vertically. Squished rather than squashed. The collection permit didnt extend to fish so we set them free. I told Nick that he had to kiss it Rex Hunt style. He opted for blowing it a kiss and I guess that is OK.
The Toxicology Mob
It is a game of grabbing the good weather when we can now and waiting out the bad. There was a period of sunny warm weather that caused a heavy ice melt which hampered land travel but it has been more overcast and with some heavy snowfalls that has all turned around.

There is less than a month left before the last flight out and lots to do before we go. 60 minutes and the Sunrise crew are due in soon and there is lots of collection work to do with the toxicology mob. I will let you know how it goes.

PS If you are ineterested in coming south and joining in on all the fun check out http://www.jobs.antarctica.gov.au/. Next years applications close soon.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

White Christmas

In the soft light of early morning I was heading ashore with my bags at Casey Station, Antarctica. Eighteen days after arriving on the Antarctic coast, it was the end of a long and protracted resupply from the icebreaker Aurora Australis. Sea ice had hampered small boat operations initially but this was cleared by the onset of a storm that brought gusts up to 109 knots. Weather remained unstable but in time, it all came good.

Mixed feelings as I headed ashore, leaving behind a great group of "bargies". They had been a pleasure to work with, had made my job easy, provoked new ideas and inpired me. I now faced a whole new social environment. I was exhausted and so it wasnt long after arriving that I made my bed and sunk into it, waking just in time for a station meeting. I was the last person to come ashore and alot had gone on since the winterers had arrived three weeks ago including a few wild nights and most significantly a search and rescue operation to recover two guys who were blown away by strong winds up at the Wilkins runway. They narrowily escaped with their lives and some minor frostbite is there to remind them of that.  Over a hundred people crammed in the mess getting the hard word from the station leader on appropriate behaviour and in particular the need to shut doors quietly. It was all a bit horrifying, fresh from slumber but the moss scientists were amongst some familiar faces and provided the welcoming lifeline I needed.

Christmas was celebrated soon after resupply finished. Some cross country skiing in the morning and a run in the boats out amongst the ice bergs in the evening. Santa arrived on quad bikes, as his reindeer were exhausted from their Christmas Eve Trans Global Expedition, to do it all again a few days later for us. He was a jolly fellow, with a present for everyone and only to happy to host expeditioners on his lap. Christmas dinner was an extravagent feast of course.


The first boating project has been to get Dave Burrows out amongst the icebergs for his photographic project. He uses two cameras at the one time to produce 3D stereo photograhpy (http://www.davidburrows.info/)  We found an interesting berg and will return there again. It has also been a good excuse to get as many expeditioners out on the water and it has been great to cruise the bergs in the still evenings where the light is lowest and the sea glass calm. The penguins are good for some entertainment and we have already seen the odd leopard seal. Expeditioners are well equiped with high end SLR cameras and the GoPro HD waterproof video camera is a popular toy too.

Tomorrow I head off for field training doing all that cool mountain climbing sort of stuff. Haglund training might follow soon after. Life is tiring but everyday there is new territory for me.