Heard Island: in search of a friendly card

Scheduling landings anywhere on Heard Island are a challenge for any operational planner. In the coming season, the Heard Island 2003–04 Program requires the placement of six independent field parties from two to ten people at sites that range from the most sheltered anchorage, Atlas Cove, to the most exposed, Capsize Beach on the south-east coast, named to commemorate the dunking of the 1964–65 Patenela Expedition as they fled the island.

The beach is steep, so the surf dumps savagely and the longshore drift in the prevailing south westerlies ensures you only get one chance. If all goes well, a party of three biologists will be landed with all their equipment and supplies for two months. If it doesn’t, they'll have to be deployed overland from Spit Bay, requiring the support of others in the 28-member expedition.

A few kilometres up the coast, three more biologists, part of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) contingent, will be landed at Doppler Hill onto a pebbled and black sandy beach, slightly more friendly than Capsize but still a significant challenge. The most frequently used landing site outside Atlas Cove is Spit Bay where a further four of the AMLR team will spend the field season. Being on the northern facing coast, it is more protected from the swell and fierce winds but here, the beach is steep and rocky, making a firm footing impossible while trying to pull inflatable rubber boats from the surf. And there’s just enough room to land a LARC, off-load and turn into the surf for the trip back to the ship.

Stephenson Lagoon appears from the most recent satellite images, to have expanded enormously since the last ANARE expedition three years ago and a wider, deeper entrance from the sea is anticipated, making deployment of the ten member botanical team possible. Attempts to land two tank huts converted to laboratories will be made but the conditions will need to be just right.

A team of three glaciologists will be landed at Brown Glacier, another pebbled beach and another tank hut for refuge at the end of cold days high on the glacier. The final group of two biologists will be landed at the base of the Jacka Glacier in Atlas Cove, if the fierce willie-waws and swell are kind enough on the day.

Theory and practicality will meet during the six days allowed for deployment with the only certainty that it will be played out by nature’s rules and the turn of a friendly card.

Rob Easther
Heard Island Project Manager, AAD