This week at Mawson: 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'.

Mawson station Expeditioner using JCB to move fuel drums
Tubby always excelled at Cuisenaire
Photo: Jeremy W.
Mawson station bulldozer - Kathy - ready for work
Kathy waits patiently for Aaron's masterful, but sensitive, touch
Photo: Aaron F.

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).

Mawson station Expeditioners climbing Mt Parsons
Climbing Mt Parsons
Photo: Matthew L.
View from the top of Mount Parsons near Mawson station
The real reason Comms people really put repeaters on top of mountains
Photo: Matthew L.

Mawson station Expeditioners relaxing in the Sun on Mount Parsons with VHF repeater in background
Lee and Steve are seriously over VHF repeaters
Photo: Matthew L.
Mawson station Expeditioner on Mount Parsons
Matt's hair brings new life to any repeater
Photo: Lee S.

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.

Table at Mawson station decorated for Halloween
Tom and Andrew create something truly horrible for Halloween
Photo: Lee S.
Mawson station Expeditioner ready for Halloween
Lee takes a minimalist path to maximum fear
Photo: Lee S.
Mawson station Expeditioner preparing for Halloween
Nathan proves sparkies love to shock
Photo: Lee S.

Mawson station Doctor preparing for Halloween
Glenn secretly wants to be a sparkie too
Photo: Lee S.
Mawson station Expeditioner in Halloween costume
Aaron is just too good looking to be a sparkie
Photo: Lee S.
Mawson station Chef in Halloween costume
Jazz just hopes her batteries last so she doesn't have to call for a sparkie
Photo: Lee S.

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 Adélie's and they require weekly calibration. There are now 3,500 Adélie's on 'Beche' and the counts will continue until the eggs are laid and the adults start returning to the sea to feed.

Mawson station expeditioner counting Adelie penguins on Bechervaise Island
Glenn can count penguins
Photo: Noodles
Mawson station Expeditioner counting Adelie penguins on Bechervaise Island
Steve can count penguins and do Tai Chi too.
Photo: Matthew L.
Mawson station Expeditioner examining penguin weighbridge on Bechervaise Island
Noodles has developed a morbid fear of all weighbridges and scales this year
Photo: Glenn B.

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.

Mawson station Expeditioners setting up for the photo census at Taylor Emperor penguin rookery
Setting up for the photo census; Matt, Nathan and Kevin
Photo: Doug B.
Emperor penguins at Taylor Rookery
Emperor penguins, Taylor Rookery
Photo: Nathan S.

Patterns in ice at Chapman's Ridge near Mawson station
Frozen patterns, Chapman's Ridge
Photo: Nathan S.
Mawson station Expeditioner making radio call to station from Colbeck field hut.
Aaron skeds in from Colbeck Hut.
Photo: Matthew L.

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, Adélie'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.

Mawson station Expeditioners leaving station over sea ice
Leaving Mawson
Photo: Tubby G.
Mawson station Expeditioners walking across sea ice with David Range behind
Glenn and Tom with David Range behind
Photo: Noodles
Mawson station Expeditioners taking a break from hiking
Tom and Andrew looking heroic
Photo: Noodles

Mawson station Expeditioners navigating through sastrugi
Andrew and Tom navigate through sastrugi
Photo: Glenn B.
Mawson station Expeditioners make their way across the sea ice
Glenn follows Andrew and Tom
Photo: Noodles
Tidecrack in sea ice near Mawson station
Photo: Glenn B.

Mawson station Expeditioner prepares to bivouac on Paterson Island
Tom prepares to bivvy on Paterson Island
Photo: Noodles
Mawson station Expeditioners sledding acroos sea ice
Pushing into a headwind
Photo: Glenn B.
Weddell seal pup
Weddell pup
Photo: Glenn B.

Mawson station Expeditioner sledding across sea ice
Noodles vs wind, snow and sled
Photo: Glenn B.
Mawson station Expeditioner setting up camp on Macklin Island
Glenn setting up camp, Macklin Island
Photo: Noodles
Mawson station Expeditioner lying in snow trench
Andrew tries out his soft-top igloo
Photo: Glenn B.

Iceberg at Macklin Island near Mawson station
Iceberg, Macklin Island
Photo: Glenn B.
Silhouette of Mawson station Expeditioner with background Sun forming a halo
Saint Andrew
Photo: Glenn B.
Penguin watching Mawson station Expeditioner
Noodles makes a friend
Photo: Glenn B.

Mawson station Expeditioners sledding over snow-free ice
Tom, Andrew enjoy rare snow-free ice
Photo: Glenn B.
Macey field hut and parked quad bikes
Macey Hut and our transport home
Photo: Noodles