This week at Casey: 3 March 2017
Making the most of the last of the summer with some training ready for winter and a deep field trip.
Winter field training
The summer season at Casey is nearly over but before our field training officers, Ian and Billy, head north for winter they’re conducting the final part of the winter team’s field training – polar camping.
For the wintering team this is an opportunity to become familiar with a wider range of equipment, resources, skills and procedures relating to off–station travel as well as spending time together as a larger group away from the routine of station life. To minimise dissent and avoid a complete boycott they split the winterers into two groups!
The first group commenced this week with familiarisation and preparation work in the field store. Apart from the ubiquitous polar pyramid tents we became more familiar with the newer polar dome tents and the Endurance tent.
While the polar pyramid and dome tents are primarily intended for sleeping, the much larger and longer Endurance tent provides a space which is more suitable for communal cooking and dining. Various alternate names were suggested for the Endurance tent because of its distinctive half watermelon shape and it was eventually nicknamed the slug, a creature whose name and general shape we were all familiar with.
With all the requisite gear packed into three Hägglunds we headed up the hill and set up camp on the crusty snow not far from the Casey skiway. Equipment training continued with some of the instructional roles delegated to winter expeditioners. I was given the task of educating others in the use of HF radio equipment.
As an electronics tech and former comms operator the HF radio equipment is familiar to me, but it had been a while since I’d last used it, let alone instructed others about it, but all appeared to go well, possibly with more baffle than brilliance.
The evening 'sked' report to VNJ Casey was done via HF radio with surprisingly good voice reception over the often noisy HF channels. This is partly due to the good quality HF gear provided by the Division but mostly because we weren’t very far from Casey. After dinner everyone relaxed for awhile in the calm evening air before settling into their tents and sleeping bags for the night.
The following morning we awoke to a steady katabatic breeze and temperature below −15°C. After breakfast in the slug we watched the sunrise and then packed the sleeping gear and tents into the Häggs and headed back to Casey with long shadows in the morning light.
On return to station, the lengthy unpack and equipment drying commenced along with the post–trip debrief and discussions before resuming our regular roles on station.
Mark – MET Tech
Impressions of Casey by a head office visitor
As the head office ring-in let me start by saying I am super excited to be on station. The opportunity to see how the work we do at Kingston translates into reality on station is invaluable and I am loving every second of it. Seeing penguins, seals, icebergs etc. is of course a highlight too.
My head office role is to provide administrative support to the Antarctic infrastructure team, who manage the infrastructure at each station. The reason for my trip to Casey is to provide assistance to both the station infrastructure trades teams, as well as the head office team. So far, I’ve undertaken an audit of fire extinguisher locations and labelling to ensure the records we hold at Kingston match the reality on station. I’ve been creating an inventory of gym equipment on station, and will be working with the trades’ team to develop job plans, undertaking slushy duty and helping out with the Inventory Management Project and Casey Utility Building Project.
The new treadmill, which I had purchased and e-coned to station, arrived on the C17 and I was fortunate enough to ‘help’ with its installation. In this regard it’s been really rewarding to see the end result of my head office tasks, and how happy a few people were to have a treadmill in the cardio room again.
This whole experience has been amazing so far and I definitely don’t want to go home on the last flight. I would happily stay here until the end of my days, or at least until I get sick of the food (not in the foreseeable future!).
Law Dome summer traverse
In recent weeks we have had a small team of eight traverse to Law Dome to undertake a 30 metre ice core drill sampling program along with obtaining samples to measure Beryllium (Be10) traces.
Our small team involved three Casey personnel Billy (FTO), Wato (plumber) and Rick (mechanic) supporting the science team of Mark, Adam, Jason (research scientists), Zac (glaciologist) and Chelsea (science student).
After two days of packing all field support and drilling equipment into two Häggs and Sheer sleds, our team of eight left station bound for the summit of Law Dome some 120 kilometres to the east and 1340 metres above sea level from Casey. The trip from station took around 10 hours of driving with an average speed of 15 kph, and once we arrived at our destination we were met with a lovely ground blizzard to make our tent city all the more interesting to erect and get settled for the following three days of the drilling program.
The deep ice core from near the summit of Law Dome is the premiere high-resolution ice core from East Antarctica. It contains a record of local temperature, snowfall and atmospheric gases (such as carbon dioxide). Furthermore, recent work has linked records from this ice core to south-west Western Australian and eastern Australian rainfall and eastern Australia droughts. This linkage allows us to extend our knowledge of Australian rainfall beyond the limited instrumental period.
Drilling of the main Law Dome ice core finished in the mid 1990s and we frequently revisit the site to drill short (8–40 metre) ice cores to bring the record up–to–date, which also increases the amount of overlap we have with observations which in turn increases our skill at predicting what happened in Australia's past.
During the initial assembly and testing of the ice core drill the team experienced issues with the drive gear for the winch drum slipping on the winch shaft, after consultations with our plumber Wato, he quickly had the problem rectified by manufacturing some shims out of a butter tin which at the time was being used by Billy to prepare lunch for that day. Once the shims were manufactured and installed the drilling team recommenced operations obtaining their 30 metre core target without further setbacks.
During our time at Law Dome once the drilling crew were setup, it gave Billy and Wato an opportunity to dash across to the automatic weather station (AWS) located approximately three kilometres from the drill site to investigate the condition of the unit and see if they could see why the wind speed anemometer hadn’t been transmitting wind speeds back to station. With no obvious signs of ice accumulation and the anemometer spinning freely a quick satellite phone hook-up back to our wintering Met Tech Mark at Casey, had the diagnosis of a faulty sensor as the likely cause and a fault that will have to be further investigated during the winter traverse to service the AWS.
After two days of reasonably favourable weather conditions which helped all scientists obtain their targeted samples, we got to experience science first hand helping Andrew collect ice samples and bagging them up for transportation back to Australia for testing as well Wato and myself digging trenches in the snow to house the samples until our departure. We all worked on disassembling the ice core drill and packing up the camp as much as we could under the direction of Billy to reduce our work load on the last evening as weather conditions for the following day for our return to station were expected to deteriorate progressively during the day.
During the return trip we experienced white out conditions for the middle leg of our trip with winds reaching approximately 40 knots which made for an interesting return trip, at times only navigating by the on board GPS system.
It was a welcome site for all as we descended in Casey station with the picturesque backdrop of the iceberg filled bay and calm seas marked a successful science trip and one that all involved worked tirelessly to achieve in a short timeframe. Once we had the ice core samples safely secure in the −18° C freezer back on station we all looked forward for a well deserved shower and refreshing drink with our team on station reflecting on a successful program.
Wato and Rick, thanks to Jason