This week at Casey, ICECAP survey flights give insight into climate change, Adélie penguins remain an attractive sight for visitors and the Casey-Davis rivalry gets an update.

ICECAP Project

What do you get when you put together some Canadians, Texans and Australians - engineers, physicists, glaciologists and aviators — and send them all to Antarctica? The ICECAP project of course!

ICECAP is an international collaborative project that is just completing its fifth year in east Antarctica helping us understand what the Antarctic continent looks like under all this ice. The project explores the structure of the ice sheet itself and how it is changing in volume as well as the bedrock under the ice. The understanding gained from this research assists us to answer questions about how the extent of the ice is changing, how it is likely to change in the future and what the impacts will be, including how sea levels are likely to change.

Each year the project team installs a range of scientific instruments in Basler DC-3 aircraft and flies specific routes gathering remotely sensed information that can be processed, analysed and modeled to create an understanding of the current state of the ice sheet and the processes that are changing it. 

The best time to fly the surveys (to get the best data) is late evening, so often the plane heads off near lunchtime and the aircrew, AGSOs and researchers who travel on the Basler don’t get back to station until near midnight. That’s when the data processing and modelling team get up and start the night shift, working through the night to make sure there were no instrument malfunctions, that the data was collected as required and that any information that can improve the following day’s survey can be gleaned from the data before the next day’s flight.

Of course while all this is going on, instruments are being calibrated, repaired and tweaked and the ski landing area and aircraft are being maintained.

Although the weather has restricted our flying over the past few weeks the ICECAP team assure us it has been a successful season. We at Casey have certainly enjoyed having the ICECAP team here and will say goodbye to them during the next week as they head back to various parts of the world to the north of us.

Penguins on Shirley Island

Adélie penguins are an important indicator species being studied around Casey Station and they are also one of the real attractions of being based at Casey over the summer. Some of the penguin rookeries are in protected areas (ASPAs) such as on Odbert and Ardery Islands and in the Swain Group of islands. As expeditioners we aren’t permitted to visit these areas. Entry is strictly controlled and only our penguin biologists (Colin and Louise) and their assistants can actually go to these places (and fair enough). But luckily, very close to station (walking distance) we have Shirley Island, which isn’t an ASPA and houses some of the largest and most extensive Adélie penguin rookeries in the area.

During this part of the summer, the mainland and Shirley Island are still connected by a very solid sea ice bridge that enables expeditioners (once suitably trained and experienced) to travel in groups by foot and observe the penguins. This is a very popular activity after dinner or at the weekend and most expeditioners here for the summer have now been over for a look at least once. Past research has provided us with excellent guidelines about how close we can approach wildlife without causing them stress, based on the type of animal and the stage of their breeding cycle. This is certainly the case with the Adélies. We know with confidence how close we can get without disturbing them which makes for great fun for us (guilt free) and ensures that the penguin breeding goes ahead without suffering any consequences of us being there.

Securing the station

With the Casey-Davis rivalry reaching a new pitch in recent weeks (Station News 23 November — Casey Rules) there was considerable nervousness when the Twin Otter returned to Casey from Davis Station during the week with fears on station that the KBC crew of Capt. Bob, P-Dog and Scruff may have been turned against us during their stay over on the other side.

Fortunately, our intrepid AGSOs, Misty and Emma, took matters into their own hands and put up a road block between the Casey Ski Landing Area and the station. The Hagg carrying the Twin Otter crew down to station was stopped and the occupants subjected to a thorough search. The girls were very pleased with themselves for taking the initiative and judging by the photos the guys didn’t find the whole affair too much of a hardship either. In the end, no subterfuge was detected.

Good work ladies. Casey still rules!