This week at Mawson station, 6 November 2009
Weather this week at Mawson has been a regular baker's dozen with eleven weather patterns; blizzards, brilliant sunshine, no wind and all 3 other patterns in between. Temperatures ranged from -22.8C to a post-winter high of -4.1C. The first signs of the summer melt arrived ahead of the other signs.
Undeterred by the prevailing temporary weather systems it's been a busy and productive week for Mawson expeditioners. The imminent arrival of the next team has seen a flurry of activity; workshops are being tidied, end of year reports written, bedrooms cleared and carpets steam-cleaned.
Prominent Mawson flurryiers Tubby and Jeremy sorted and stacked 545 drums of aviation fuel in anticipation of the helicopters and/or planes that will affect the changeover. Aaron continued his love affair with Kathy the resident bulldozer and attempted to reduce the hundreds of tonnes of accumulated snow in front of the fuel farms. Aaron scoffed at the sceptics sagely suggesting his task was Sisyphus-like, 'Failure only happens to those that don't win'.
The good weather provided an opportunity for Matt, Lee and Steve to scramble up the long, steep scree slope to the summit of Mt Parsons to undertake repairs to the VHF repeater. The prolonged cold and frequent blizzards have prevented the repeater's batteries from charging but the electricity between these three expeditioners, so obvious to all on station, did the trick - the repeater immediately sprung into action on their arrival. They commence their new careers as human shock therapists shortly (nice to see them on the other end for a change).
Segueing neatly; another shocking experience occurred on Saturday when we celebrated Halloween. No tricks but the treats kept coming thanks to Jaz's efforts in the kitchen. Some took the 'scary costume' theme a little too much to heart. Andrew and Tom flush from the success of their snow cave and outdoor cinema grabbed the opportunity to take their flair inside – their talents know no bounds. Mark, Mawson laureate, summed the creation up with a flourish, 'awesome!' Others agreed that it was a horrific setting.
Nearby Bechervaise Island has been the site of research into Adélie penguins for nearly twenty years. The colony is an important source of data for an international research program examining the impact of krill fishing on the Antarctic ecosystem.
With the annual return of the Adélie's, expeditioners are travelling to the rookery every second day to undertake a census of its eighteen sub-colonies. It's quite a challenge to count a sub-colony that can have over 500 birds clustered together and constantly moving to steal stones for their nests.
Two automated weighbridges also monitor the returning weights of the Adelie's and they require weekly calibration. There are now 3,500 Adelie's on 'Beche' and the counts will continue until the eggs are laid and the adults start returning to the sea to feed.
A group also travelled 100kms west of Mawson for the second of three annual visits to the Taylor Emperor Rookery to collect photographs of the colony to enable Dr Barbara Wienecke to undertake a census. This is the only undisturbed Emperor Penguin rookery that has been subject to long term study and therefore plays an important role as an indicator for environmental change.
Photos are taken from 400m to reduce human impact. The group stayed at Colbeck Hut and explored nearby Chapman's Ridge. An approaching blizzard reduced the time for exploration but they still got a taste of this spectacular area.
Tom, Glenn, Andrew and Noodles left on Sunday for a 3-day walk to Macey Hut. With tents, dehydrated fuel and other necessitates strapped to their manhaul sleds, these men hauled their way east along the coast over increasingly soft snow to campsites on Paterson and Macklin Islands.
Tom's promise of a shared beer at the first night's camp was a great spur…. until we'd discovered he'd forgotten to pack it! The punishment was swift and, for Tom, merciless; only four tea breaks would be allowed per day. However, this minor hiccup was easily compensated by the sublime campsites within cooee of ice cliffs, seals, Adelie's and Emperor penguins and the luscious sunsets (the 3am sunrises were not quite so attractive).
Heady with the public euphoria over their table decorating, snow cave and outdoor cinema work, Tom and Andrew refused the comfort of a tent for their latest creation, the twin bedroom, topless igloo.
Our last night was at Macey Island, now home to several hundred Adélie penguins. The quads that we cached a week earlier started first pop (thanks dieso's) and what took 3 days to walk took only 90 minutes to return. Not as good but.