This week at the station
This week at Macquarie Island: 10 May 2013
Finally, after several weeks of being home bound on station due to an injury, Patty set out for a stroll up to North Head. With Dave as her anchor, they climbed their way up the crest of the hill and on to the North Head plateau.The wind was up and it was a little bit moist but it felt good and the views were inspiring.
We visited and payed our respects at the memorial of John Windsor, Macquarie Island MET expeditioner who died on the 5th of January 1995.
Moving on up the track, we could see the remains of the first radio mast on North Head, now a stump! The mast was rigged and wenched up top on a flying fox in 1911 by Sir Douglas Mawson and his team.
Standing at the end of the walking track, we looked out to the four directions :Africa to our west, Tassie and Australia to the north, New Zealand and South America to our east and the Antarctic continent to our south.
We stopped for a snack at the radio shack and then made our way back down for a nice hot cuppa.
Photo opportunity #1
The Aurora Australis is not only the name of the ship that transported us here. It is also the name of the natural light display that is sometimes seen in the night sky. Auroras occur mostly in the polar regions and is visible almost every night at, or near, the Antarctic and Arctic Circles (66.5ºS and 66.5ºN).
The activity that creates an aurora starts at the sun. The super hot gases of the sun are made up of electrically charged particles called ions. The ions continuously stream from the sun as the solar wind. Most of the solar wind bypasses the Earth, deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field. Without this magnetic field the solar wind would blow away the fragile atmosphere, preventing life.
Some of the ions do however become trapped in a ring-shaped holding area around the planet, a region of the atmosphere called the ionosphere. In the ionosphere, the ions collide with gas atoms and the energy released causes a colorful, glowing light – an aurora.
The colour of the aurora is dependent on the gas. Oxygen emissions are green or brownish red depending on the amount of energy absorbed. Nitrogen emmisions give a blue or red; blue if the atom regains an electron after being ionized.
Auroras occur often at Macquarie Island, but as there are on average annually 315 days of rain, there is limited opportunities to witness them. We are always on the lookout when the sky clears.
The strength of an aurora has been found to be related to sunspot activity and a stronger solar wind. Last week we had a clear sky and a fairly strong aurora.
Barend (Barry) Becker
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Decking on the Doctors Track or 'ranger step aerobics'
Ranger Chris put a message on the general notice board: ‘Volunteers needed, Ranger aerobics’ which a few punters were curious enough to check out. What failed to be mentioned was the amount of wood required and the 180 steps involved.
Doctors track is the most direct route from station to the overland track on the plateau and is therefore well used. Located at the northwest tip of the plateau, it leads from Razorback lookout up to the intersection of Island Lake track, Overland track and Gadget Gully. Parts of the track were in need of some TLC.
With cage pallets of pre-cut timber placed at the bottom of the lookout steps, the aerobics session began. It consisted of loading up a comfortable amount of wood and carrying this up 180 steps to the start of Doctors track. Everything started fine, but as time wore on every one of those steps began to be felt. Luckily there were a number of willing hands, so over the course of a few days all the wood was manhandled up the stairs. Granted, there were a few stiff shoulders and backs the following days.
Work on the track has been steadily progressing and looks great. It will be much appreciated by all, especially those returning from far down south as this is the last hurdle before reaching station and often traversed on tired legs. Many thanks to Chris for getting these much needed repairs done but there might a few more cautious volunteers next time 'ranger aerobics' are on offer!
Photo opportunity #2
We at Macca are located in the furious fifties latitude belt. This results in some amazing weather systems passing through.
Last Saturday The doctor (Clive) and I went for a walk along the west coast of the isthmus towards Handspike Point. When we left station it was a bright sunny day with a gentle breeze, though the forecast suggested 'a few showers, possibly falling as snow'.
As we walked, we noted dark skies laden with precipitation out to the west. A little while later we stopped to check a group of young elephant seals to see if we could spot if any had been tagged.
On gazing back towards the station, we discovered that the showers and cloud that was out to the west half an hour ago had fully developed into a spectacular cumulonimbus cloud (thunderstorm) and was heading northeast behind North Head. Another great photo opportunity.
Over the next half hour, as we neared Handspike Point and on the return journey towards VJM, I took many photos of the changing cumulonimbus cloud.
Another storm that we saw to the southwest quickly reached us, resulting in the wind increasing, fortunately at our back. We were also caught up in hail and snow showers.
The sun set just before arriving back on station, producing pink and red tinges to more storm clouds approaching from the southwest.
Barend (Barry) Becker
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)