Living at Casey station in winter
Alison Dean, Casey station leader:
Hi I am Ali and I am the station leader at Casey Station in Antarctica. The building that you can see behind me is the Red Shed that is our living quarters. Casey is located on a rocky headland just at the margin of a huge Antarctic ice sheet. It was mid-winter on June 21 and after that the days started getting lighter and brighter and as the sun gets higher in the sky hopefully we will get slightly warmer temperatures.
Well most of us stay here for about a year, some more, some less. The team that is here at the moment most of them arrived around November last year. They will stay until around the first week of December this year before heading back to Australia. There are a few that will stay on until summer so they won’t go home until February, March next year. So we have an eight month long winter and you can do an awful lot in an eight month winter. I am going to go through the team and tell you a bit about what each person does.
We have got a carpenter on station. He renovates and fixes things through the winter mostly inside the building. At the moment he is renovating all the bathrooms we have got. We have about 30 odd bathrooms. We have two electricians. They check all the wiring on station over winter and they test all the electrical equipment making sure it’s ready for next season. We have two plumbers, they make sure we have fresh water all the time and they also keep the wastewater treatment plant flowing which is a really important thing. Who else have we got. We have got four diesel mechanics. They keep our generator going – you might be able to hear it in the background. They also service all the vehicles that we have on station over the winter to make sure they are ready for the summer season. We have a plant operator. He assists the diesel mechanics and he also drives the big machinery that we have on station. He shifts all the snow around making sure that we have access to all our buildings. We have three met people (Bureau of Meteorology) and they monitor the weather on a daily basis and they also put two balloons up into the atmosphere each day – they look at what is happening up a few kilometres into the atmosphere. We’ve got two communications officers. They keep all our radio and satellite communications going plus they service all our IT equipment, making sure that we have computing right through the year. We have got a doctor who looks after our health through the winter and he looks after us if we get sick or we have an accident. And of course we have a chef, most importantly, to cook our meals – unless it is his day off and then we do the cooking. That makes 18, counting me as well.
It’s not all work at Casey we get to go off station quite often. There are huts in the surrounding area that we can visit. It’s quite an adventure to head off over the sea ice. It’s an experience that you would never get anywhere else. It’s good to get out and about. We do a lot of things together as a group.
It’s just past mid-winter as I said for mid-winter we had a huge celebration. We had a nine course meal that took eight hours to get through. We also have a mid-winter swim. We cut a hole in the ice close to station that was about a metre thick and the water temperature was around minus 2 and air temperature on the day was around minus 20 so there was quite a contrast there. It’s a tradition but it is not compulsory and every time I get to go down the steps I think to myself “what am I doing.” It’s like getting into a slushy – the water is starting to refreeze almost immediately.
Just a few weeks ago the plant operator Kerry cut a screen and seating out of a snow bank that was close to station and we watched a movie under the stars all rugged up. That was a lot of fun as well. While there are no scientists down here over winter there are a lot of science projects still running that we monitor and support. For instance there is one project that requires air sampling every month. There is another where we download and service cameras that are fixed on Adelie penguin colonies that are close by. It’s a really good time to do that because they are all off at sea getting fat again for the next breeding season so we are not disturbing them.
Sometimes we can’t go out of the building at all. Sometimes the wind is so strong it can get to over 200 kilometres an hour here and the air can be so thick with snow that you can’t even see a metre in front of you. At that time it’s good to know that everything is secure and that everyone is safe and warm inside. We certainly would not survive that long outside if we weren’t prepared.
Midwinter swim 2014 at Davis research station
[Narelle Campbell:] Welcome to Davis station Antarctica. Today is Midwinterʼs Day, and it marks the winter solstice and the slow return of the sun. We will see the sun around about mid-July, which we're all looking forward to, even though it will only just pop its head up briefly, for a while, until it hangs around a bit longer as the year goes on.
Today is a tradition amongst all Antarctic stations. We honour those who have been down before us; particularly those who came down in the early 1900s: Mawson, Scott and Shackleton.
We do start our day off with an early morning swim in the icy cold waters. The guys spent all day yesterday preparing the swim hole. The sea ice here at the moment is one metre deep, so it did take a while for them to get those chunks of ice out for our one-and-a-half metre by one-and-a-half metre swimming pool. Straight after this, after the team have all been for a swim, we go back to our station and have an outdoor spa, and tonight there'll be a formal dinner, where we'll be toasting all those who've been down before us, and our family and friends back home who we haven't seen for quite some time.
We did send an invitation out to many people to attend our party tonight … lots of excuses why they canʼt get here, probably because it's impossible. The 20 of us here at Davis station; we won't see a ship at all or any form of transport at all until around about November, and just at the end of the year thatʼs when we will return home. So with the winter months theyʼre dark, very cold – minus 30-odd degrees today.
[All:] Happy Midwinters!
2013–14 Antarctic season highlights
Glaciologist – Dr Tas van Ommen
The Aurora Basin project was a major ice coring project in East Antarctica to deliver us a long, 2000 year detail climate record form a part of Antarctica where we really had little or no information about past climate.
We do need climate records that go one or two thousand years or in this ballpark because they are used to test climate models of the past. And 2000 years gives us a nice long period to look at the climate before human interference began with the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So we end up with over a thousand years of natural variability, seeing how it responds to changes in the sun’s output, seeing it how it responds to volcanoes and how the natural system works and that really important for understanding the changes that we are seeing now.
We got about 500 metres of ice in the main ice cores and we also took some shallow cores which will be about 30–50 metres, and on the traverse with the French we also recovered some shallow cores to another 20 metres so ice core scientists in France, Australia, and the US are going to be busy for the next few years really digesting what we are going to get out of Aurora Basin.
Minister for the Environment – Hon. Greg Hunt MP
The commonwealth government will fund the acquisition of a new icebreaker. This is critical national infrastructure. It is the largest single investment in Australia’s Antarctic research and logistics venture in Australian history. It would be an investment of hundreds of hundreds of millions dollars. It should be delivered by 2019.
Australian Antarctic Division Senior Policy Adviser – Ewan McIvor
The CEP is the Committee for Environmental Protection that’s established under the environmental protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. The committee is an advisory body to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which is the decision making body.
The Committee has a mandate to provide advice on all environmental issues facing Antarctica and there is quite a spectrum. Current priority issues range from preventing the introduction of non-native species, developing the Antarctic protected areas systems and dealing with the environmental implications of climate change in Antarctica.
Casey station leader – Ali Dean
I'm Ali Dean and I'm going down to Casey as the station leader.
I've worked in the Antarctic for quite a few years now, first as a geologist so going down over the summer months, using the stations as a staging post.
During those times on station, I became fascinated with multi-faceted, really active places with a lot of interesting people.
This will be seventh winter as station leader in Antarctica and I'm just as excited about this trip as I was about that first one.
Macquarie Island station leader – Ivor Harris
My name's Ivor Harris and I'll be going down to Macquarie Island station for the coming winter.
My position on station will be station leader which is a role I've been lucky enough to be selected to do three times previously.
I've got a broad background in the biological sciences but also in the military.
The people that go to Antarctica to work, go there because they really, really want to be there. They're selected as being very, very capable and experienced at their roles and as a general rule, it's a very easy job to manage the community and look after people because they're great people.
Davis station leader – Narelle Campbell
My name is Narelle Campbell and I am heading off to Davis this winter.
My career has led down a number of paths. I've now been south three times and I'm coming up to my fourth time.
What I am looking forward to most this coming season is again experiencing Antarctica, it’s the wildlife, it’s the scenery and the community. Watching a community gel together, work closely together, have fun.
Mawson station leader – Steve Robertson
My name is Steve Robertson and I am the incoming station leader at Mawson station.
I am currently a sergeant with Victoria police so I’ve worked in busy metropolitan police stations in Melbourne. I've worked up in country police stations and remote police stations as well.
The role of the station leader for me is two-fold I guess. You’ve got your science, and in order to support the science you’ve got your infrastructure: your diesos and so on, and so forth. In addition to that, you’ve got the other part of the role being the community and my role is to make that gel, as well as this cohesive community.
Aurora Basin project overview
Video transcriptThe Aurora Basin project was a major ice coring project in East Antarctica to deliver us a long, 2000 year detail climate record form a part of Antarctica where we really had little or no information about past climate.
We do need climate records that go one or two thousand years or in this ballpark because they are used to test climate models of the past. And 2000 years gives us a nice long period to look at the climate before human interference began with the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So we end up with over a thousand years of natural variability, seeing how it responds to changes in the sun’s output, seeing it responds to volcanoes and how the natural system works and that really important for understanding the changes that we are seeing now.
The drilling was part of an international project; we’ve got partners from Europe and America helping. And providing various analyses and putting the whole project together was French traverse to deliver the camp to the site and to get it up and running, provided a very broad sweep of science.
We had a lot of international participation in the camp, we had scientists from Denmark, France, the US, as well of as course Australian scientists. We had scientists also from China, and we had some student participation which brought in people from NZ, and also Japan. So, a very international team at times.
We got about 500 metres of ice in the main ice cores and we also took some shallow cores which will be about 30-50 metres, and on the traverse with the French we also recovered some shallow cores to another 20 metres so ice core scientists in France, Australia, and the US are going to be busy for the next few years really digesting what we are going to get out of Aurora Basin.
The cores in the field were progressively brought out in insulated boxes and stored in a refrigerated container which has come back to Australia and those ice cores will be processed. Some of them have already been cut and sectioned and ready for distribution to our partners. That job needs to be completed here in Hobart before we can ship all the cores.
Our specialty here in Hobart will be to look at the water isotopes which will give us a temperature signal from the main ice core. That’s the work we have already started with the spectrometer in the field and the other strand is to look at trace chemistry, things like seas salts, volcanic emissions, things that get deposited in the ice that we can measure with ion chromatography. So we’ll be part of the big team.
Co-operation is absolutely essential in any project like this where you have tight timelines, large logistics, complications with weather require flexibility and AB was gem for a model of co-operation in that sense. We had a logistical field leader who understood the science need and facilitated that and made the camp run smoothly, we had science leadership in the camp that was making smart decisions about how to get the science done.
But we have long term view to what is an international priority and that’s to find the oldest ice in Antarctica which we believe is over a million years old and that almost certainly in the deep heart of Antarctica, even further than Aurora Basin.
This is very much a stepping stone for us. It’s a chance to contribute to that big cooperative ice to understand where the oldest ice will be and in learning how to operate in a remote deep field camp refining our skills we are also paving the way for ongoing Australian participation.