Planning an expedition season for Australia’s Antarctic program isn’t easy.
Charlton Clark, AAD General Manager Operations & Safety:
So much of what we do on the continent is driven by the weather and the climate. So we have a very short period each summer where we can resupply our stations and change over our personnel.
But because of COVID-19, this is a year like no other.
That means putting in a range of procedures to quarantine expeditioners before they travel south, to limit the number of people travelling south and also looking at our logistics and supply chains to ensure that there’s no pathways for COVID to make its way to Antarctica.
About 250 expeditioners will be deployed to Davis, Casey, Mawson and Macquarie Island stations…
…half the usual amount, and just enough to keep the stations operational.
So for some, particularly those who undergo a long period of training, are going to experience two periods of quarantine. The first one, to come in to Tasmania from wherever they may have come from, and then immediately prior to departure.
This season’s ship is coming from the northern hemisphere and will also have to quarantine in Hobart.
This year, we’ll be using the MPV Everest for the first time. It’s the interim vessel for this year due to the delays in the delivery of the Nuyina and the end of the operations of the Aurora Australis. So, we’re working with the operators of the vessel to ensure that it gets to Hobart in December so we can use it for the Antarctic summer season.
The Everest is able to access Davis and Mawson stations later in the season as the sea ice starts to clear.
On top of that, the planes normally used between Antarctic stations have been cancelled because of the coronavirus risk.
Typically those aircraft will fly from Canada, through America, through South America, down through the Antarctic Peninsula before they come across to our Antarctic stations. The risks associated with deploying those aircraft were too high.
That leaves three ship voyages servicing Australia’s four research stations, and about eight flights between Hobart and Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey research station.
That means many of our expeditioners will spend an extra four months, homeward bound when the Everest arrives.
David Knoff, Davis station leader:
It’s still something like 200 days until we’ll be back in Australia, so we’re trying to break that down into logical steps – when do the flights start into Casey, when’s the ship going to head to Casey, when’s the ship even start in our program, because those milestones are a bit closer and we can tick them off and then hopefully we’ll wake up one day and the MPV Everest will be out in front of me here in Prydz Bay.
The Australian Antarctic Program is not alone.
Other Antarctic nations are making similar tough decisions.
For our Operations team, it’s business as usual in a changed world.
We’ve got some fantastic people working to make sure the program is planned as well as it can be. We’ve got great leaders in our station leaders, our voyage leaders, and they’re all used to dealing with curveballs. This is just one large curveball that has been thrown at us and most people are responding in an amazing way.