Nature's magnificent freezer

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This week at Mawson: 13 September 2013

Intermittent sunshine brings warmth and a freshness needed by a stale soul. Beauty is all around us here at Mawson. Prehistoric slabs of granite bite into the cold of the Antarctic plateau, and show their might with the weathered peaks, cracked and disfigured. As expeditioners we pass under their weary eyes, as no more than a blink, a speck of sand blown through the blizzard of time. Beauty down here is rugged, harsh and unforgiving. It’s this type of beauty that leaves me with a sense of awe and respect, and an intense desire to immerse myself in it. Getting beyond the confines of our 5 star accommodation to view this wonderland is no mean feat. Not only must we prepare for the worst case scenario with such things as a full survival kit and communications, but also the stars and planets alignment must be in order. What I’m saying here is as much as most of us would like to get out every weekend, the weather prevents us from doing so, nine times out of ten.

This is how it is here at the moment. We can smell summer coming, we can taste the long days of warm sunshine, and we can hear the calls of returning wildlife. But it’s just the beginning of Spring and windy, cold and snow filled days still surround our best intentions. The weather is talked about constantly. Trips are planned and cancelled by isobars and hectopascals. We try our best but for the past few months high winds and blowing snow have been the norm. This article is about an exception. There have been many exceptions and will continue to be more and more until getting out becomes the norm.

Last week an impromptu trip was undertaken. As the clouds cleared and winds abated, my mind snapped through the decisions needed to be made for a successful trip to come to fruition. Two fellow Mawsonites joined the sudden Hagg trip out onto the ice.

We ventured into the land of emperors and chicks, of seals and ice, and of beauty and danger. At this time of year the panda-looking chicks at Auster are almost too fat to stay under their parent’s warm belly folds. Fluff balls of grey are being pushed out into a cold world by love and necessity. We only saw a few timid feet stand on the subzero ground, but in the next few weeks the young ones will no doubt start hanging around each other without supervision and play up, just as little kids do.

We were very lucky to view this transition, but on this day our little group was also lucky enough to witness a diamond dust storm. Similar to a mild sand storm, diamond dust is actually low level cloud made up of tiny ice particles. Thousands of glistening flecks of frozen moisture made their way through the icebergs as a fog rolls in from the sea. What resulted was a slight rise in wind conditions but also the Sun halo, Sun dogs and solar pyramid. The beauty today was out of this world. I’m guessing that, should I witness this kind of thing regularly, perhaps I wouldn’t feel as appreciative as I was that day. Perhaps without long periods of dreary weather, outings like this would not be as special.

I doubt it. Having unique and beautiful days dotted amongst the blowing snow of the winter months, just makes it more surreal, magical and enchanting, down here at Mawson, down here in nature’s magnificent freezer.

By Justin C.

Diamond dust on the horizon over the ice.
Diamond dust rolls in
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
Sun halo - an orb of sunlight in the sky, that brushes the horizon
Sun halo
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
Emperor penguin mother bends to touch the beak of its chick
Mother and child
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
Adult emperor penguins bend to look at chicks as if they are speaking to them
Isn't it time you moved out?
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
Sun halo with a penguin in the corner of the shot
Halo dogs and dust
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
Sun Halo with emperor up close in the foreground
I have been a very good penguin, look at my halo!
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
Emperor penguins with bergs in the background
Emps out for a stroll
(Photo: Justin Chambers)
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