This week at Casey: 10 February 2017

A first timers view of Casey and some more trips including one to Jack's donga. The Casey mechanics and forecasters discuss some aspects of their work.

A first timers experience in Antarctica

After a few delayed flights due to the weather, eventually we were shuffled into the back of a C17 instead of the intended A319 Airbus. As the C17 does not have any windows, it was quite an experience when we finally landed and the back door of the aircraft opened to let us out.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but in contrast to the scene of Hobart airport as the doors went up, the scene when the doors came down at Wilkins Aerodrome in Antarctica, made me feel like I had landed on another planet.

Stunned, confused and cold – yet excited – we were then split up and herded into a number of vehicles to begin the three hour journey to Casey station. I slept for a lot of that journey, but I do remember waking a number of times, to 360 degrees of ice and snow as far as the eye could see.

When we eventually got to Casey I was given the key to my room in west wing. The room was comfortable, and though it was the size of a pantry, it quickly became home.

The next day it was straight to work, but I found time to get acquainted with my surrounds and the facilities at Casey station. Not one to handle the cold well, the sauna in the tank house fast became one of my frequent hangouts.

Over the coming months I became more accustomed to the climate and the conditions and at times found myself walking to work in jeans and a t–shirt.

The scenery is amazing, but even a camera really doesn’t do it any justice, so with my limited literary skills I won’t attempt to describe it, except to say the view from the front of the red shed will be something I will never forget.

In addition to the scenery and the challenge of becoming accustomed to the conditions, I was also able to enjoy meeting many interesting people from a wide range of professions and trades.

The journey is now coming to an end, and although I am looking forward to going home to see my friends and family, I am very glad that I made the journey and had this experience as an Australian Antarctic expeditioner.

Adrian (Meteorological forecaster)

An expeditioner out in the field near Casey station
Adrian during survival training.
(Photo: A. Fitzgerald)
Expeditoners standing with a Twin Otter aircraft at Casey Skiway
Adrian and Lauren with the Twin Otter plane.
(Photo: A. Fitzgerald)

Casey forecasters

Three forecasters are embedded at Casey station during the busy summer operational season to ensure the safe and efficient running of transport operations across the continent and Southern Ocean. Our main role is to support aviation operations, with regular A319 and C17 flights between Hobart and the blue ice runway at Wilkins, as well as intra–continental flights for Baslers, Twin Otters, AS350 B3e helicopters and the occasional Hercules passing though the skiway during the season. We also provide, marine forecasts for the Aurora Australis, public weather forecast for station and traverse forecasts for field parties in support of the Australian Antarctic Division science and maintenance programs.

Antarctic forecasting brings with it a number of challenges, with sparse observation networks, limited bandwidth restricting the amount of numerical model data we can receive, the erratic timing of polar orbiting satellites, and for Casey forecasters, the tribulations of forecasting for a location in the turbulent wake of Law Dome.

A typical shift starts at 5 a.m. in order to have the morning station forecast out before breakfast, which is then followed by a discussion with the operations coordinator about the weather conditions over the coming days. If there is flying planned that day a pilot briefing ensues, with detailed aviation specific forecasts issued to highlight expected wind speed and direction, cloud cover and base of the cloud, any visibility reductions associated with anticipated weather, turbulence and the surface and horizon definition, forecasting elements unique to snow and ice-covered regions.

Handover to the afternoon forecaster occurs just after midday, with the late shift usually occupied with forecasting for the Aurora Australis, the afternoon public weather issue, an operations planning brief product outlining weather conditions at points of interest over the short term, and monitoring conditions and updating aviation forecasts if planes or helicopters are in the air.

Lauren (Meteorological forecaster) 

A satellite image of the Antarctic coastline
Satellite image used for Antarctic forecasting
(Photo: BOM)
A Casey forecaster gives a weather briefing to an air crew
Forecaster Jake gives a weather briefing to the Basler crew.
(Photo: P. Ross)

Ski trip to Jacks donga

The advert said ‘Epic Ski Trip’, but in the end it was not that heroic.

Andy, Johan, Luke, Wayne and Ricky loaded up a Hägg with the usual gear plus four sets of cross country skis for a Saturday night at Jack's donga (hut), about 12 kilometres north of Casey.

After negotiating the slushy exit from Casey created by a month of warm weather and driving uphill for 20 minutes, four skiers strapped on the boards and trekked the rest of the way to Jacks on skis.

Skiing on the ice shelf gives a commanding view and a different perspective of the area. The snow conditions could be described as ‘fast’ or ‘icy’ depending on whether you are the glass half full or glass half empty type.

In quick time, the four skiers reached Jacks, followed by Ricky in the Hägg and we settled in for the evening. Ricky practised pitching his tent and checking his deep field sleeping arrangements in preparation for his four day trip to Law Dome in the next week. The rest of us sort of helped.

Near Jacks we met a very friendly penguin named Francis who just wanted to sit with us. Francis wouldn’t leave and every time we tried to carefully back away he (or she) squawked and carried on till we sat down again. We eventually parted ways, but Francis came back the next morning to wave a flipper goodbye to his (or her) new human friends.

On the return journey, we skied the whole way back earning our 10 kilometres for the 10 kilometre challenge, only to learn that they had postponed that event until next Sunday. If we had to do it again it would be just as much fun.

Andy (Communications Operator)

A penguin gets close to expeditioners
Francis
(Photo: A. Merlot)
A penguin gets close to expeditioners
A closer look
(Photo: A. Merlot)
A penguin gets close to expeditioners
Hanging with Francis
(Photo: A. Merlot)
A tent is pitched near Jack's Hut
Sleeping arrangments
(Photo: A. Merlot)
Four skiers before commencing their ski trip
The skiers
(Photo: A. Merlot)
Skiers commence their ski trip
The skiers take off
(Photo: A. Merlot)
A view from Jacks across the water
View from Jacks
(Photo: A. Merlot)
A view of Jack's donga hut with water in front and rocks behind
Jack's donga
(Photo: A. Merlot)

Casey mechanics

One of our wintering dieso’s, Rick, has been busy sorting out all the gear and setting up two Hägglunds with several tons of gear for the traverse to Law Dome. This will involve digging some holes and taking ice core samples – and camping, hopefully the weather stays sunny. Should be a good trip out into the wilds of Antarctica and a great experience for all those involved. We have all settled down into a bit more of a relaxed time now after the main power house shutdown and will soon start preparing for winter, that means putting lots of stuff away and using much gaffer tape… (on the machines that is!).

Those of us not going out into the field are carrying on our usual duties of keeping everything running, and bolting bits back on that have managed to fall off due to the harsh terrain that we call home. We do this using a variety of hand and power tools but a special mention must go to our inch drive torque wrench – as Paul the sparky has never seen one so big, being handled expertly in the photo by Pat, one of our summering diesos.

Our station fuel tanks are also getting an internal spring clean with the help of the plumbers, as engines like to drink nice clean diesel. Oh, and a little tip to end on, please let engines warm up in the mornings as a warm engine is a happy engine.

Mick (SMS)

Tradesman prepare to clean the inside of one of the Station's large fuel tanks
Cleaning a fuel tank
(Photo: M. Russell)
A view of inside the Casey Main Powerhouse
Inside the Main Powerhouse
(Photo: M. Russell)
A Hägglunds and trailer packed for the traverse
The packed Hägglunds
(Photo: M. Russell)
A mechanic works on a Herman Nelson heater
Wol
(Photo: M. Russell)
A mechanic at work in the Casey workshop
Pat
(Photo: M. Russell)