What makes a good community, a night of science, and moss.

What makes a good community?


  • Take around 87 people who have never met, from half a dozen different countries and a huge cross section of society.
  • Transport them at least 3443km from their homes, and place them in a big red shed on a remote coastline of the loneliest inhabited continent on earth.
  • Leave for 3 to 12 months at −5C to −30C so they not only get along, but thrive.

What’s the secret ingredient to making this recipe work? Here are a few thoughts from some of those that make up the community at Casey Station.

Andy, Medical doctor 1st season: “Diversity and tolerance to others.”

Cam, diesel mechanic 1st season: “A damn good brew master.”

Josh, Pilot 6 seasons at bases from 4 different countries: “Social activities that everyone can get involved in and that bring people together.”

Phil, Electrician 2nd season: “A broad sense of worldly humour.”

Seamus, Tradesperson 1st season: “Honesty.”

Bob, Plumber 9th season: “Ask yourself what can I do to enhance the community? It can be as simple as jumping in and washing a few dishes.”

Mark, Station Leader 1st season: “People working towards a common goal and people who share common values.”

James, Field training Officer 1st season: “Being able to have a laugh.”

Jess, Scientist 4th season: “Acceptance, and people willing to accept people’s diversity.”

Misty, aviation ground support officer 1st season: “Laughter and kindness.”

Bri, Metrologist 3rd season: “ Willingness to involve others and be involved yourself.”

Hully, Ops coordinator 8th season: “The food, it’s all about the food.”

Jason, plant Inspector 1st season: “Easygoing people.”

Aaron, Store person 1st season: “The diversity of station personalities.”

Rhian, Diesel Mechanic 1st season: “It’s the people that makes the place.”

For a station to work well people not only need to be good at their jobs, but easy to get along with. You need diversity for a productive, forward moving community. Imagine how boring it would be if everyone thought and acted the same.

Like all good relationships, people need to talk. Whether it’s a station meeting, a chat over morning smoko, or around a game of darts at the end of the workday, you need to be able to speak your mind with those you work and live with while Antarctica is your home.

For society to function you need rules, and for people to follow them. When things go wrong it’s good to learn the lessons from those mistakes and move on. Antarctica is definitely not the place to carry grudges.

At the end of the day we are all here by choice. So it is in our best interest to make this the best community we can.

So far whatever the formula is at Casey it seems to be working.

A night of science

The science labs were open last Thursday night for everyone on station to come and see some of the research being conducted this summer at Casey. There were tours of the biopiles, moss beds and displays of the hydrocarbon experiments.

As depicted in Photo 1, Dan from Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems explains the function of the Permeable Reactive Barrier (PRB). The permeable reactive barrier uses a series of natural reactive materials to filter and treat contaminated groundwater from the Main Power House fuel spill (July 1999). The majority of contaminated soil has now been excavated from the area above the PRB and placed in special sealed ‘biopiles’ which are designed to enhance the biological degradation of hydrocarbons using the endemic soil microbial community.

As depicted in Photo 2, Sharon from Wollongong University explains the wonders of the moss community on a moss tour around station. The Casey region supports some of the best moss beds on the Antarctic continent. Mosses grow around melt lakes and along melt streams and need free water in the summer to grow. Lichens take water from the atmosphere and are able to survive in even drier areas, such as nunataks in land, whereas mosses are generally found in the ice-free coastal regions. The mosses in the Windmill Islands are potentially hundreds of years old. They grow very slowly, at 0.3—3mm a year!

As depicted in Photo 3, hydrocarbons are mixed with seawater. The polluted seawater is then used by Kathryn and Peter from Southern Cross University, for tests to determine the tolerance of Antarctic marine life to oil pollutants. The aim of these experiments is to determine ecologically meaningful water quality guidelines for Antarctic marine life.

Can moss tell us what happened in Antarctica 100 years ago?

Jess Bramley-Alves is at Casey as part of the “Moss Team” and has taken some time out from her busy work schedule to tell us a little about herself and her research, which is about exploring past climates in slow growing moss.

After completing a Bachelor of Environmental Science and an Honours thesis, investigating the Phytoremediation of hydro carbons on sub-Antarctic islands, Jess is now a PHD student at the University of Wollongong.

At only 24 years old it is already Jess’s fourth trip south, having spent two seasons on Macquarie Island and the last summer at Casey.

“It’s the previous work from the Robinson Lab that is the foundation for this research,” Jess says.

Jess goes on to explain just how a moss sample is used to measure the climate on the world’s driest and windiest continent of days gone by.

“Moss shoots are like the rings on a tree or an ice core sample. You can look back in time and measure water availability and temperature over the last 100 years.”

So just how can moss be dated?

“We know how old the moss is because in the 1950s, when the world was testing nuclear weapons, there was a huge spike in carbon 14, which is the radioactive carbon. That spike shows up in the moss shoots and we can correlate the age of the moss and the growth rate.”

So Jess, what is the end aim of this research?

“To be able to get climate data from over 100 years ago, using this method in both regions of Antarctica that don’t have weather observation centres, and to extend the metrological records that started only around 50 years ago.”

“Studies have predicted that Antarctica will be the continent most effected by climate change. This means it can be used as an environmental base line to see how climate change will effect other regions of the world.”

Find out more in this phone interview Jess recently gave for ABC radio.