This week at Casey: 21 April 2017

It has been an action packed two weeks, with the 'Casey Walking Club' enjoying the last of the mild weather, emergency response training, a trip out to Robbo's and Clint shares how he takes absolute magnetic observations.

Station update

It has been an action packed two weeks here at Casey.

The shortening of days became very evident over the past couple of weeks. We are now losing seven minutes of light per day. This has however seemed to have inspired everyone to get out and about to make the most of the still mild–ish weather.

The 'Casey Walking Club' started up, with an enthusiastic group setting out to walk the A-Line to Wilkins in the late afternoon on most days.

The Easter long weekend provided further opportunity for field travel, via quad, Hägglunds and even on foot. Those who stayed closer to home were treated to many delectable weekend treats from the kitchen including Bongo's buns, and Brendan's spectacular mars bar slice and rocky road Easter eggs. The weekend was rounded out with a spit roast and some very creative use of apples.

The station team has been busy with emergency response team training. Last week we all trained with Dr Elise on how to administer intramuscular injections. The oranges were very brave! This week Stu has been running us all through search and rescue (SAR) technical ropes training on an intricate set up in the wallow.

Jacque Comery, Station Leader

Three people walking on snow towing sleds
Walking party headed for Wilkes.
(Photo: Mark Grainger)
Hot cross buns and chocolate eggs
Easter treats
(Photo: Mark Grainger)
Expeditioners sitting around a table injecting oranges
Injection training
(Photo: Dr Elise Roberts)
Expeditioners sitting around table with medical equipment laid out
Will Ducky make it through training?
(Photo: Dr Elise Roberts)

Merry egg day weekend

Good Friday: This was supposed to be a trip report detailing adventure and exploration of the Browning Peninsula, however, Elise and I headed out on Friday morning in glorious weather only to arrive at the hut to thirty to forty knots of rather chilly wind and blowing snowy conditions. Given our hands froze unloading the Hägglunds we decided that a long days walking was not going to be a good idea, so we hid in the hut and ate all the food in the hope that the weather would improve the following day…

Saturday: The next day we awoke to slightly better conditions but with the knowledge that the weather was only going to deteriorate throughout the day, this left us with the fairly simple decision to return to base having not got anything accomplished that we’d set out to. Oh well sometimes it doesn’t work out quite as planned…the ‘A’ factor (Antarctica).

Easter Sunday: It was a long weekend which meant that even though we’d already spent two days doing things we still had a couple of days left which is always a nice feeling – Sunday was full of chocolate and random eggs appearing in strange places, followed by a queue to use the treadmill for those of us who’d started to feel guilty about the whole affair. Overall though it was quite a relaxing day.

Monday: Having spent the morning preparing for some search and rescue training I found myself with a spare afternoon. With nothing particularly planned Steve suggested an afternoon ride out to ‘somewhere’ so that is exactly what we did, we went ‘somewhere’ (the Mitchell Peninsula to be exact) and decided to explore some of the areas we’d not yet seen. There were some good views of ice cliffs and some little shallow lakes with bubbles of air and snow that had formed – nice.

Tuesday: Back to work which is probably the same for most of us after the long weekend, however I wanted to include the addition of this day purely because it was a little different to normal – I had arranged a ropes rescue training refresher in the Red Shed which resulted in Clint being suspended about a foot from the floor for our amusement.

Right, everyone back to work now!

Stu Shaw

Hägglunds driving across the ice
Driving to Brownings.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Expeditioner standing  on snow
Friday morning nice weather.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Blowing Snow on Approach To The Browning Peninsula
Blowing snow on approach to the Browning Peninsula.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Red shed in morning light
Easter Sunday morning.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Green rabbit surrounded by chocolate eggs
The eyeless Easter bunny.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Chef with tray of  omelettes
Bongo prepares his egg rolls.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Two quad bikes on snow with sun in background
Our trusty red ponies.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Bubbles in ice on frozen lake
Interesting lake bubbles.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Quad bike on snow with sun in background
Heading back to station.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Ropes rigged in the Casey Red Shed indoors
The Casey ropes training facility.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Two expeditioners practice tying knots
Practice makes perfect.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)
Expeditioner with stretcher hanging indoors
Clint hanging about.
(Photo: Stu Shaw)

Wilkins weather and wonders

Wilkins is where many of our expeditioners fly in to Antarctica. It is located 750 metres above sea level, which gives us a look at the sky from above the clouds which sometimes blanket Casey on the coast.

The temperatures we experience at Wilkins are around eight degrees cooler than Casey on a daily basis. Ice crystals form inside the triple glazed windows, and ice is suspended in the atmosphere for effects like solar halos and sundogs.

These photos were taken during the summer flying season.

Sealy - Wilkins Mechanic

A ring of light around the sun
Solar halo
(Photo: Sealy)
Beam of light shooting up from the sun into the sky
Solar pillar
(Photo: Sealy)
Ring around sun over the runway
Sundogs on runway
(Photo: Sealy)
Rainbow over Wilkins
Wilkins snowbow
(Photo: Sealy)
Wave like clouds
Wilkins wave clouds
(Photo: Sealy)
Ice crystals on the window
Birds of paradise
(Photo: Sealy)
Ice runway with bulldozers and a ring around the sun
Dozers and sundogs
(Photo: Sealy)
Wave like clouds on the horizon
Kelvin Helmholtz clouds on route back to Casey.
(Photo: Sealy)
Ice on the window that looks like ferns
Silvery ferns
(Photo: Sealy)

Absolute magnetic observations

Once a week at Casey, Mawson and Macquarie Island the stations absolute magnetic observations are performed on behalf of Geoscience Australia (click through to look up the historical data from the stations). The responsibility of taking the readings is assigned to the communications technician. I spent three days in Canberra learning the basics and practising taking the readings before getting to do it for real here at Casey.

I try to pick a day when visibility is good and it is not too windy for the walk into the magnetic quiet zone. Then I remove as much metal from myself as possible. This includes my watch, phone, radio, even my notebook and pen. While doing my first set of readings here I discovered that the hinges in my glasses even have an effect, so now I wear my plastic safety glasses.

The next step is to set a stopwatch to Greenwich Mean Time. The stopwatch gains about 10 seconds a week but needs to be set as close as possible to GMT for the readings. So armed with my accurate time source and a personal digital assistant (PDA), I write where I am going on the intentions board and head off.

The walk out to the Absolute Hut is different each week, during the melt in summer I had to walk around the melt lake but now that it is frozen over I can take a more direct route. Sometimes I sink knee deep in fresh snow, often there is ice which can get very slippery.

The hut itself is sometimes referred to as the Apple, it is red and round and is quite small. It soon feels crowded with two people in there. Ideally the temperature is kept at a stable 10° Celsius by the ceramic heater, it does have a hotter setting of 15° Celsius for when someone is in there working, it is not exactly tropical but makes things a little more comfortable.

Two sets of readings are taken on two different instruments, a magnetometer for the absolute field strength and a theodolite fitted with a magnetic fluxgate to find the null points which determine the inclination and declination of the magnetic field.

The magnetometer connects to the PDA and displays readings on the screen and I then use the stopwatch to accurately record when those readings are taken. I then position the theodolite and ensure it is correctly aligned with a reference mark. The next step is to set the theodolite to align the magnetic fluxgate perpendicular to the magnetic field to find the null points. Then I take readings for the other null points and check the theodolite has not moved by taking a bearing to the reference mark. Then repeat all that in reverse. It takes about one hour to get all the readings done. It is possibly my most peaceful hour in my week!

I then head back to my workshop and type the results into a format that can be read by a software program then email it all to Geoscience Australia. They compare the data I provide to automatic measurements taken from here, to ensure those are accurate and not drifting. The data from Casey station is collated with data from observatories around Australia and is then used to create maps of the magnetic variation and how it is changing for the country. This data is also combined with other countries to provide worldwide maps. If you have ever navigated with map and compass you would have needed this information to get accurate headings when converting between grid and magnetic bearings.

Clint Chilcott

Rad apple hut
The door to the apple
(Photo: Clint Chilcott)
View inside the apple hut
Inside the Absolute hut with the Magnetometer ready to take readings
(Photo: Clint Chilcott)

Robbo's trip

It was late on a Tuesday afternoon that I was approached by Adam 'wanna come to Robbo’s this Friday night with me Clint and Zac?' he enquired '…yes' I replied, and just like that I was in!

Friday came around quickly and we decided to leave immediately after lunch. Everyone was busy through the morning packing the usual stuff (GoPros and other cameras, clothing, personal snacks, food for the group and so on, making sure to bring all the necessities) and setting up our quads with all our gear and at around 1:30 we were off.

The trip to Robbo’s is just under an hour, we arrived and got our things inside, fired up the gas heater, and got some water boiling for coffee. While we waited for the water to boil, Adam and I went for a 10 minute walk to a hilltop adjacent to the hut. and about 200 metres away with an elevation increase of about 25 metres. The view was quite nice with a relatively large island right in front of us and clear views right out off the coast to the gigantic ice bergs floating on the horizon, we took a few photos and returned to the hut for a cuppa.

They say that on every camping trip, something will be forgotten or overlooked, and this concept has never hit anyone as hard as it hit us once we got our coffee sorted out. We were sitting there around the table and there was something missing…music! 'Hey Zac you wanna fire up your Bluetooth speaker?' asked Adam '…I didn’t bring it' Zac replied…it was a devastating blow to group morale and as a result we actually had to sit and talk with one another for the duration of our stay to fill in the silence.

In an attempt to ease our collective suffering we decided to grab a drink each and head out to the deck to watch the sun set. I had the foresight to bring a hammock and the others brought some deck chairs, so they were set up on the deck and needless to say the hammock was a big hit, however it was pretty uncomfortable and the deck chairs were much more practical. After about 10 minutes out there our drinks were beginning to freeze, so once the sun actually set we went back inside to watch Clint start cooking our dinner of pasta with beef mince while we enjoyed a cheese platter as an entrée.

Just before dinner came out I thought I would show the lads what is possibly the best 'life hack/survival trick' that I know, which is turning a coke can into a spirit burner (which is used as a camping stove), they all thought I was crazy, but then we threw some shellite in it and lit ‘er up (outside the hut just in case) and after just a few moments it began to cough and splutter, then it roared into life just like a bought one, quite the opposite of what the boys have come to call a 'Steve Middleton classic'. After a few good yarns and an absolute classic joke from Zac we all decided to turn in at around 9:30–10 pm.

We woke up the next day, had a quick cuppa, and left Robbo’s by about 9:30 as we planned to be back by brunch which was at 11:00. Once we got moving the wind picked up slightly, and there was a very light layer of blowing snow about 30 centimetres deep and right on ground level for the entire trip home. Blowing snow is amazing to look at and especially with the early morning sun lighting it up, it constantly shimmers and looks quite fluid so it makes for some awesome riding. The light wind slowed our return trip as our visibility was reduced by the blowing snow, but we got back to station by 10:50 so all was well and we got our brunch.

Steve 'Muscles' Middleton

Sunset from hut deck
The sunset
(Photo: Steve Middleton)
Expeditioner in yellow jacket taking photos with view of sea in background
A shot from the hill top with Robbo's on the left and…
(Photo: Steve Middleton)
Quads driving on ice with blowing snow
A shot of the blowing snow, riders left to right Clint, Adam…
(Photo: Steve Middleton)
Expeditioner with frost on clothing
Clint iced up after riding most of the way home.
(Photo: Steve Middleton)
Expeditioners inside hut in kitchen
The dining room kitchen area of Robbo's, from left - Zac, Adam…
(Photo: Steve Middleton)
A make shift stove
The infamous spirit burner stove.
(Photo: Steve Middleton)