This week at the station

This week at Macquarie Island: 10 May 2013

North Head

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.

Dave wearing his red jacket and backpack at standing leaning on his walking pole at the top of North head with a view of Macquarie island with very low laying clouds and the ocean in the background.
Windy day
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Looking south from North Head in the forefront is tussock grass been blown by the wind in the background you see the mountains covered by clouds and the ocean
Looking south
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Patty in her yellow jacket holding her walking pole standing amongst tussock grass. In the back ground is the northern peninsula of the island the ocean and cloud cover
Looking out at the four directions
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Dave stands frowning amongst the tussock grass holding his walking pole in the back is the north Peninsula of Macquarie Island the ocean and low laying cloud
Sad sack
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
David in his red jacket is holding his gloves he is standing next to the radio shack his bag is resting on a blue water tank the sack has antennas and in the back ground there are some cargo bins. In the forefront is a square made up of piping used to grow a specific plant for science.
Snack time
(Photo: Patty Villegas)

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 

For more information:

National Geographic encyclopedia - aurora

Wikipedia - aurora

Green tinged aurora in the eastern sky in  the shape of three ribbons, with the fire hut, powerhouse and Hut Hill in the foreground
Aurora in the eastern sky with the fire hut, powerhouse and Hut…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Green tinged aurora in the western sky, with the island hills silhouetted and the greenish reflection ioff the low clouds and the waters of Hasselborough Bay
Aurora in the western sky
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Green tinged aurora in the western sky, with the island hills silhouetted and the science building lit up in the bottom left. There is a greenish reflection ioff the low clouds and the waters of Hasselborough Bay
Aurora in the southwestern sky
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Green tinged aurora in the western sky, with the island hills silhouetted. There is a greenish reflection off the low clouds and the waters of Hasselborough Bay. The stars of the 'big dipper' can be seen in the top right of the sky
Aurora in the western sky. Note the 'big dipper'
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Two green tinged aurora 'curtains' in the western sky, with the island hills silhouetted in the bottom left. There is a greenish reflection off the low clouds. Many stars can be seen in the sky including the 'big dipper'
Aurora curtains in the western sky with distinctive star systems, notably Orion…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)

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!

Aaron Tyndall 

Aaron, one of the volunteers, in his wet weather clothing covered in mud
Dirty work Aaron after volunteering
(Photo: Aaron Tyndall)
A relatively steep slope, covered in grass tussocks with Chris at the top of the picture
The terrain
(Photo: Aaron Tyndall)
A two plank wide step, amongst the grass tussocks
New track
(Photo: Aaron Tyndall)
Steep slope up to the plateau showing Razorback steps and lookout, Doctors track behind and Chris at work up the top
Doctors track
(Photo: Aaron Tyndall)

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 

On a rocky beach looking west towards Handspike Point. The sun is setting behind the storm clouds on the horizon. There are several young elephant seals on the beach
Storm clouds approaching
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Crepuscular rays extending from the bottom of storm clouds west of Handspike Point
Crepuscular rays extending from the bottom of storm clouds west of Handspike…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Northeast view along the rocky coastal beach with North Head in the distant left and Perseverance Bluff on the right
Coast walk to Handspike Point - looking northeast towards North Head and…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Looking northeast form the rocky coast across Hasselborough Bay towards North Head and developing storm clouds
Storm clouds north of North Head
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
View from a rocky beach across Hasselborough Bay at a well developed cumulonimbus cloud (shaped like a mushroom) behind North Head
Well developed cumulonimbus cloud behind North Head
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
View across Hasselborough Bay at a well developed cumulonimbus cloud (thunderstorm cloud shaped like a mushroom) behind North Head. There are 2 sea birds in flight at the top of the photo. Also there is a rocky point in the foreground
Well developed thunderstorm cloud north of North Head
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
View across Hasselborough Bay at a well developed cumulonimbus cloud (thunderstorm cloud shaped like a mushroom) behind North Head. The rocky shore is in the foreground
The same storm cloud about 30 minutes later
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
View across Hasselborough Bay of the left side of a well developed cumulonimbus cloud (thunderstorm cloud shaped like a mushroom) behind North Head
Close up of the huge cumulonimbus cloud north of North Head
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
This page was last modified on 16 December 2010.