A scientific excursion, life at the skiway, the high rollers arrive in town, and reflections at the science lab.

Life at the skiway

The mystery of what the Casey air ground support staff really do is about to be revealed! Most people think all we do is fly around all day, but it’s actually only about half the day. There are other things that just have to get done. Never a smoko or a lunch break and always late for dinner, and definitely no time for jollies! But we just love it.

A Scientific excursion

Last Wednesday five of us took a grinding, lumbering journey by Hägglunds to Robinson’s Ridge. Our team included two experienced Antarctic travellers, Sharon Robinson, leader of our moss research group, and Colin Heap, the Hagg driver. The three ‘newbies’ were Paul Keller, Ella McKinley and Jenny Watling; for us this was our first adventure ‘off-station’ to a field hut. Our goal was to conduct temperature and moisture measurements in the moss beds at the long-term monitoring site at Robbo’s. This was established by Jane Wasley and Sharon in 1999 (for Antarctic State of the Environment Indicator 72). Monitoring at this site provides information on the extent to which these unique moss communities may be impacted by the combined effects of climate change and enhanced UV radiation; the latter being a consequence of the ozone hole that forms over Antarctica every spring.

After an hour or so of rumbling along the cane line, we dropped over a hill, past an expanding melt lake, and towards the distinctive red hut at Robbo’s. This diminutive red box sits boldly in a breathtaking landscape that includes the Adelie penguin rookeries on Ardery and Odbert Islands and the majestic Vanderford Glacier. We unpacked, organized our supplies into the hut, waved Colin off, and then headed out to the moss beds that lie just over a small rise to the north of the hut. Mosses form the major plant communities in continental Antarctica, and the Windmill Islands region is one of the richest. At Robbo’s, the main moss beds grow on the west and east facing slopes of a rocky hill that descends towards Sparkes Bay. Under an almost perfect blue sky, we fanned out and located the 30 quadrats that constitute the long-term study site here. We then set up equipment to measure temperature and moisture across the site for the following 24 hours.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring a near-by hill that provided stunning views over Sparkes Bay towards some spectacular ice cliffs. The hill was covered in a beguiling array of beautiful rocks of many shapes, sizes and colours; our lack of geological knowledge limited our understanding but not our appreciation of their variety. In a small snow-drift amongst these rocks we discovered two emperor penguins taking in the afternoon sun. Keeping low, we approached close enough to get some photographs.

That evening, our simple meal was spiced with the excitement of our surroundings and our experiences. The next day we collected the sensors from the moss beds, had a picnic overlooking the sparkling bay, and then returned to the hut for the 5 pm rendezvous with Colin and the return journey to Casey.


Casey expeditioners dressed to the nines and enjoyed a flutter last weekend at the ‘CasVegas’ Casino. Following a scrumptious dinner prepared by chefs Gavin, Lesley and Margo, with champers courtesy of Dave Davies, the high rollers (flush with their CasVegas chip issue) began to filter into the lounge… a lounge that had been completely transformed into a very swish casino.

Dan, Jess, Jas, Rhian and Mike had been beavering long and hard in the nights leading up to Saturday, creating professional poker and black jack tables, a roulette table, a big chocolate wheel for lucky number spins and a grand entrance arch. Our MC on the evening, Andy, produced the roulette wheel and a fantastic horse racing system that drew punters from far and wide. Setting up the night was a brilliant team effort, all under the guidance of Gav, our high rolling Chef de Partie.

Fitzy chipped in perfectly as the CasVegas Bookie, and used a whole box of pencils scratching out betting stubs. Punters were able to bet on ponies with familiar names… such as Wilkes Hilton and Slushy Boy.

Craig, shining as Elvis, performed masterfully as Black Jack dealer and race caller. Bri, Jess and Rhian were three very smooth croupiers dealing Poker. Annelise sparkled as the chocolate-wheel girl and Jason oversaw all as both Pit Boss and Roulette Overseer. There were a few overly excited punters at times but thankfully Maso, Security, was on hand to read them the riot act, and tactfully restore order.

It was a fantastic night of wins and losses, some euphoric, others devastating… but at the end of the night, there were no losers, with all going home having neither won nor lost a dollar. We’d all had a very enjoyable CasVegas evening. Thankyou to all the aforementioned organisers!

Reflections at the science lab

This summer season is living up to bullish predictions, with large numbers of people passing through Casey Station right to the end of March 2012. Many of these are people from the various Science Project Teams.

A program of finishing off maintenance and installation works, and clearing out gear and samples left over from old Science projects is well underway. This is occurring in conjunction with an important Hazardous Chemical Inventory program that will ensure that science and other activities on station are compliant and safe into the future. However, throughout this period of tidying up, review and reorganisation, the science itself needs to continue, with laboratory office and bench space to be allocated and reallocated with each rotation of scientists coming through.

Much of the science is only a reflection away from the laboratory with mosses just out the front door, the remediation efforts just down the hill and calibration of tide gauges are out there in the bay. The investigation of cryospheric evolution of the central Antarctic plate is just over the hill (sort of) and the CryoSat-2 satellite is orbiting above.

It’s going to continue to be a busy summer.