Setting up to go south

Aurora Australis resupply operation
Aurora Australis resupply operation (Photo: Frederique Olivier)

15th September 2010

Each year the Australian Antarctic Division undertakes the immense task of planning, organising and coordinating the Antarctic summer season.

The Division manages Australian Government activity in Antarctica, providing transport and logistic support to Australia's four permanent research stations on the continent and on sub Antarctic Macquarie Island.

This season the operations group will coordinate the movement of 500 people south and juggle the competing demands of about 80 scientific, remediation and construction projects.

Watch a video on the challenges of supporting Australian activity in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

Each year the Australian Antarctic Division undertakes the immense task of planning, organising and coordinating the Antarctic summer season.
[Video]

Setting up to go south

Video transcript

Robb Clifton – Australian Antarctic Division Support and Coordination Manager: On average we’ll move between about 450 and 500 people to and from Antarctica over a summer period and that’s by ship and aeroplane. [Music]

Rob Bryson Australian Antarctic Division Shipping Manager: Last season we shipped 3000 tonnes of cargo south. [Music]

Steve Daw – Australian Antarctic Division Aviation Manager: Arguably aviation in Antarctica is one of the three most challenging environments in the world. [Music]

Robb Clifton: Preparation for the season starts quite a long way out, effectively for us it’s about 12 months out. What we start looking at is the whole range of projects and activities we have to do and then try to work out how we can fit all of those projects and activities in together across the breadth of the season.

So for example this season we have about 80 different projects going to Antarctica. We’ve got voyages, so ships we are using, probably about 3 different ships. We are flying our aircraft, using our helicopters. So we look at that at a macro level across our four stations and how we slot all of those 80 projects in and in fact if we can, when they best fit and what resources they need on the ground.

So each person needs training before they go, they need to have considered what they need to take with them, the design of their science or their project. You know it might be a media project or a construction project, they need to consider the equipment they need, their power needs, what they need on station, whether they need field support and a field camp. How they are then going to get samples and equipment back to Australia, and all their contingencies. Because of course impacting all of this is the great thing we can’t control, which is the Antarctic weather.

Rob Bryson: The main stay and the back bone of our program shipping wise is the Aurora Australis, which has been doing the Antarctic work for the last 20 years. She is a super 1A ice breaker.

Our season is pretty much dictated by environmental conditions and we like to be at certain stations at certain times, dependent on what the ice is like. At the beginning of the season we will always aim to go to Davis first because we can break into the ice there and do our resupply over the ice. And then at the other end of the season we like to be at Mawson after about Australia Day because that’s when the ice is gone and we can actually get into Horseshoe Harbour and do a mooring with the ship and get in there.

So it’s all about timing people, resources, cargo and all that stuff around the environmental conditions. It’s all about herding cats and everything into the one place at the one time to get them out. So it makes an interesting job.

Steve Daw: The AAD operates an airbus 319 that takes our expeditioners to and from Wilkins airdrome from Hobart. The airbus flies about 75,000 nautical miles a year over about 20 odd flights. Normally about 12 flights-14 flights will be down to Wilkins airdrome, with the rest providing support to our other Antarctic partner nations. We also operate a couple of CASA 212 aircraft. The CASA 212’s undertake about 40,000 nautical miles of flying a year. The helicopters also undertake a large number of flights, sometimes up to 1500 flights a season, providing utility support, support to science and shuttling people to and from the skiway at Davis station as well.

Each season probably the most complicated challenge is ensuring that we are providing the right type of support, overcoming weather issues during the course of the season. For the pilots some of the most significant issues would be weather and waiting for the right weather to get off the ground. The pilots have a white on white environment, almost akin to flying in a ping pong ball which can be very demanding.

Robb Clifton: We have a really great team here at head office, who work with our teams through our station leaders on the ground to adjust who’s going, when they are going, when we are going to send certain flights and how we are going to fit the whole jigsaw together. So it’s a pretty non-stop activity that runs for about 6 months and certainly keeps us on our toes because it seems to changes very regularly. [Music]

[end transcript]