This week at the station
This week at Casey: 8 February 2013
"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go"
We have had the pleasant company of fourteen international visitors who were wintering at Concordia and presently transiting through Casey and then returning home via an A319 flight.
Initially we decided to “adopt a Frenchman” (an all male French contingent) so they could mix and become part of the general population on station. They expressed interest in helping out with any tasks we may require assistance with around station. Communications (comms) were one of the sections that took them up on this offer. The task was to expose cable trays so that we would be able to complete a fibre optic cable run from the operations building to the ANARESAT (Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition Satellite Dish) building. The attendance was high from the French team, for this laborious task. From there it was “Hi Ho Hi Ho off to work we go” as we travelled from one challenge to the next. They just kept returning! After morning tea and again after lunch, I was expecting reduced numbers but it was not the case. After spending a full day outside clearing lots of snow and ice of the cable trays we had progressed as far as we could and from there, there was remaining one section of solid ice over about six to eight metres of cable tray where we will be using some heating assistance to help us remove this rather thick layer of ice. Many have told us that this area has not been exposed for years.
It was a great day with lots of snow ball throwing and related snow fun activities, singing and for me lots of exposed cable tray, ready for the next stage of actually laying the fibre optic cable.
I will let the pictures give credit to the fantastic French volunteers who had fun in the snow and sun. Their efforts were very much appreciated by comms at Casey. I must also thank Luke and Jason who also assisted and joined in the fun throughout the day.
Six days at Casey
The following is a story written by visitors to Casey station from the French station, Concordia.
Concordia station, January the 29th 2013, 9 PM, in the dining room: Sergio, the station leader says: “You are the fourteen persons about to leave Concordia tomorrow morning at 9 AM (1 AM UTC) for the Australian station Casey. Then, five of you will fly back to Hobart on Feb 5th, and the others on Feb 12th or 14th. Any questions?”. That is how we have learnt how our trip back home was planned. Most of us knew about the famous “Wilkins runway”, where planes from Concordia use to land and where the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) A319 departs to Tasmania. But almost none of us knew anything precise about the Casey station itself.
Wednesday January the 30th, sharp on schedule, the DC3 “Bassler” of Kenn Borek takes off from Concordia with fourteen members of the French polar expedition onboard including our station leader, Sergio. We are sad to leave friends but happy to discover a new polar station and to be on the way back home. Some three hours later, the Bassler lands smoothly on the perfectly flat and well prepared runway. Our luggage is loaded in a “Hågglund”, a small polar exploration vehicle with a trailer. Passengers are invited to step in two other similar vehicles. It took some thirty minutes from the skiway to Casey station. At some places, the ice track has melted and frozen again several times, so that it is far from being flat. The “Hågg” passes all these obstacles easily. The vehicles stops right in front of a red metallic building, the “red shed”. We have all noticed that behind us, on a stone platform, a French flag was floating near the Australian and Canadian ones. We are invited to come into the red shed.
The building we discovered is vast, pleasant, warm and beautifully decorated. A large and high bow window faces a bay, where small icebergs were laying in the background. For the first time in several months, we could see birds, rocks and sea.
Allan, Casey station leader, gives a welcome speech, and leads us for a visit of the accommodation and common parts of the red shed. All seems so comfortable and well organised! We are accommodated in cozy and beautiful single rooms. What a contrast with our eight-person fuel stove-heated tents in Concordia!
After dinner, a meeting is held in the dining room after which the station leader announces the presence of the French team for some days. Each of us had the opportunity to introduce himself briefly, and to be “adopted” friendly by a member of the Australian crew. This tradition has been greatly appreciated by the entire French group.
Thursday January 31st, just after lunch, we are invited by the station leader to a safety visit of the station’s surrounding. Allan showed us the different buildings of the station: the meteorology and communication shed, the science building, the power plant, the general store (green shed) and the workshops. The potable water production facility has been a very interesting point in the visit. All is so different from Concordia! Of course the comparison is meaningless, since Concordia stands in the middle of nowhere, at more than 1000 km from any coast.
After dinner, some of us are invited to participate to a meteorological balloon launching, the same kind of probe as used in Concordia. The calibration and tracking systems also look the same but the balloon is inflated with locally produced hydrogen (instead of bottled helium as in Concordia).
Friday February the 1st, after breakfast, we all gather in the living room of the red shed. Doug, one of the station’s permanent staff members, proposes we participate to the daily life of the station, by helping different teams in their tasks. Some of us chose to help prepare lunch and the others will help to dig snow in order to make a cable tray accessible for modifications. The least we could do was to accept with enthusiasm! After a short stop in the general store, to pick up tools (shovels, picks, crowbars), we are led to the first section of the cable tray to be cleaned. In the middle of the afternoon, the job is done.
Later in the afternoon, Richard invited some of us to visit the power plant. The engines look familiar to us, since we also use Caterpillar engines at Concordia, but building is vast and all is so clean and efficient! Richard answered, patiently and accurately, all of our questions.
Saturday February the 2nd a boat party is proposed to get in closer contact with the local fauna and landscape. All the team is enthusiastic, to say the least. We first have to stop at the sport equipment store, to wear special safety gear for boat trips. Then, we are driven to the wharf where three “Zodiacs” (rubber inflated boats) had been prepared. The rescue equipment is loaded on board, and then we step into the boats. Six people can fit in these Zodiacs. One of the boats has a reinforced hull, to break thin layers of sea ice. This will appear to be useful in a narrow strait in which the three boats engage in, to approach as closely as possible to a penguin colony. The sea water had frozen to two or three centimetres and the metallic prow of the head Zodiac split the ice sheet. So, we were able to get close enough to take pictures of Adélie penguins and of a sea leopard, resting peacefully amongst its future prey.
The landscape is simply amazing, with several small islands covered by a thick layer of snow, small icebergs in the background and ice blocks delicately carved by the action of sea water.
After a very pleasant trip between islands and ice blocks, the three boats headed to the wharf. The entire group is delighted by this adventure that nobody will ever forget.
As a conclusion, the “French team” wishes to be very grateful to all the Casey station staff for their warm and friendly welcome and for these very pleasant and interesting six days. We hope that, one-day or another, we shall have the pleasure to welcome some of you in Concordia.
Thanks for all and we hope to see you again!
Merci pour tout et au plaisir de vous revoir!
The French Team
Casey Station amateur radio
Amateur Radio is not used for anything these days. The hobby passed its peak in the late 1970s. It’s now a pastime that honours the pioneers of wireless communication. It is akin to vintage car collecting. There are some areas where interesting work carries on as in ionospheric studies, or using light as a transmitting medium, satellite projects and in communicating with extreme altitude amateur balloons.
In the United Kingdom I have the callsign G3WIP. In Australia I am VK4BGL, the last letters of the callsign I chose in honour of my school teacher Dom Wilfrid Solomm G3BGL. The Australian Communication and Media Authority licensed me as VK0GB for use in Antarctica.
Walking over to the remote receiver huts is a good and useful recreational trip for me, although a few days it has been pretty breezy. I prefer a 30 knot wind to mushy snow.
I thank Allan Cooney, our esteemed station leader, for enabling this exercise and thanks to Dave Davies, our communications officer, for showing me around the communications area and for taking me to the remote receiver hut in the first place. We worked out what I could do without compromising any of the high frequency (HF) kit that is still monitoring HF marine frequencies.
HF communication, let alone ham radio (amateur radio), is becoming increasingly redundant. Even ships use satellite kit for most of their communication, but they will still use VHF (Very High Frequency) for line of sight working and near ports. Similarly VHF is utilised here at Casey, using the marine bands. I suspect even that use will decline. Expeditioners will end up using use a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) application on their mobile phones connecting to a local WIFI network, or stations may even get their own cellular phone nodes one day.
I doubt that those scattered tall Vee antenna arrays that greet you on coming into stations will be standing there for very much longer, or their scale may be reduced to say one transmit/receiver hut and two antennas; all kept running as final backup should a solar flare rip out all the satellites. I am glad I was able to use the spare capacity of the large aerial farm that Casey still has.
HF communication is not reliable and the data rates are simply too slow for anything other than teletype. Choosing the right frequency to get signals to bounce around the world is complex and sometimes receiving is not possible. Prediction is made easier by radio and space weather prediction services, the best being http://www.ips.gov.au.
So far I have made contact with South African and Australian stations with my small Yeasu HF rig plugged into spare line fed Vee antenna. I heard UK stations and should make contact with them next week. The contacts made could hear the wind rattle my cage. On the calm days I hear the chatter of the penguins from Shirley Island, but at too low a level to be heard over the radio.
We are trying to set up an Antarctic amateur sked, an idea initiated by Lars DP06VN DL1LLL at Neumayer station. Not happened as yet. How are we communicating in the meantime? By email of course.
Gerry Bulger, VK0GB
Dr Gerard Bulger MBBS FRCGP FRACGP AMP Casey
The Antarctic privilege
In packing for my return home this week, I took a little time to reflect on what working in Antarctica has meant not only for myself and my family, but for many others who have had this great privilege. The journey commenced in 1983 when I was selected to travel to Mawson Station to work on the station rebuilding program. Going South on the now historic ship the Nella Dan, I certainly have some great memories of the "little red ship”. On arrival, another remarkable chapter of my Antarctic experience awaited with Mawson station being the home of the last remaining husky dog team at Australian Antarctic stations and I am constantly reminded of these wonderful memories in looking at the great photos of the long-gone Wilkes huskies. However, it has been the wonderful friendships that I have made with so many that will always stay with me, and this will really be on show in Sydney in June of this year when the thirty year reunion of my first Antarctic experience is held.
For all who travel South, none of this would have been possible with out the support that is provided from all arms of the Australian Antarctic Division back in Kingston, Tasmania, so thanks so much. Going home this week will also bring the great joy of seeing family again, something we all cherish and hold. To all my Antarctic friends, thanks and enjoy this wonderful experience and keep safe.