At Casey, a trip to the Automatic Weather Station in difficult weather, sea ice disappears overnight and Station Leader Mark is in the hot seat.

Traverse to Cape Poinsett

AWS’s, or Automatic Weather Stations, don’t last forever and given their often remote location, it can be a big task to go and replace them. The last of the AAD AWSs is located at Cape Poinsett on the northern tip of the Budd Coast. It was last visited and lifted out of the snow in 2010 and over many years it has travelled down the hill from its original GPS location with the moving ice.

Mark G, Rob, Andy and Mike departed station in poor weather but with a forecast of improving conditions. 40 knot cross-winds kept up for the entire day and meant we didn’t make the full distance before deciding to camp in the Haggs as setting up tents would have been a nightmare. Weather conditions improved during the night and around midnight we had a moonlit sky and drifting snow.

A quick refuel before dawn had us back under way and within two hours we had arrived at the site. We got straight to work and had the mast with all the AWS gear erected in no time (by midday). Camp was set up and we headed several hundred metres downhill to have a look at the old AWS and remove it. This turned out to be easier than we all thought as it wasn’t buried in snow and disassembly was simple (wasn’t it Andy?). Mark did his final checks on the new AWS and we decided to knock off for the day. Compared to the night before, we camped in luxury in our polar pyramids and sleep was not a problem.

The following morning we packed our gear and departed Cape Poinsett in picture perfect weather conditions. The gradually darkening sky toward the west warned us that we wouldn’t be enjoying good surface definition all the way home. We arrived back at Casey in nine hours with stiff legs and numb bums, just in time for dinner.

It was a very successful and enjoyable trip and the data sent out by the new AWS will help with weather forecasting for the coming summer season and for many more years.

Where did all the sea ice go?

One of the interesting features of Casey is that the sea ice around station is very unstable. Unlike Davis and Mawson where the sea ice tends to form and stay for the winter, at Casey the winds coming down off Law Dome frequently blow the ice out, to a greater or lesser extent. Because the sea ice reforms and breaks out so often, travel on it takes particular care. For this reason hagglunds are not used on the ice at Casey. Transport is by quad bike, skidoo or foot.

Our ice thickness measurements for one of the winter science projects told us that last week the ice was over a metre thick out in Newcomb Bay in front of the station and in some places over 1.3 metres thick. That’s thicker than the Canadian ice highways made famous in “Ice Road Truckers”.

However, over Friday and Saturday we had some fierce winds blow through station. The average wind speed over the 24 hours was 75 knots (that’s 140km/hr average wind speed) and peaked at 98 knots (180km/hr). Just for a bit of comparison, that intensity is like a category three tropical cyclone blowing constantly in the one spot for a full day.

And what does it do to the sea ice? Well on Sunday morning there basically wasn’t any except for the very sheltered margins of the bay. The massive metre thick ice sheet that we could have driven a 70 tonne truck on two days before had disappeared at least out as far as the eye could see and from the Red Shed. That's some twenty kilometres on a clear day.

And now a few days later, the sea ice has reformed and by the weekend will be thick enough to walk on again, until the next blow!

Misty’s Mad Minute introducing Mark H

Mark H, Station Leader

NICKNAME: Don’t know. The others only use it when I can’t hear.

ROLE ON STATION: Darts and Table Tennis Supremo, Teller of Fascinating Anecdotes, Listener to Endless Complaints, Holder of Cheerful Station Meetings.

OTHER APPOINTMENTS: Station Leader, Deputy Coroner, Special Constable, Treaty Inspector, Incident Controller etc.

Describe yourself in three words. Very, very tolerant.

Who inspires you? My wife, Kimberly, she’s put up with me for over 25 years, now enjoying some long service leave. My Mum for similar reasons.

What is the one thing you enjoy most about your current job? Absolute power. Where else can I postpone Christmas, declare public holidays and change the time zone?

Why Antarctica? Childhood dream finally realised. Adventure, beauty, wildlife, personal and professional challenges. So many reasons.

What did you give up to come to Antarctica? Many things but those that have been hardest were my daughter’s entire pregnancy and the birth of my first grandchild, my son’s 21st birthday and my wife's university graduation.

Do you have a home to go back to? Yes, but my wife has moved. I hope the address she has given me turns out to be real.

Do you think your pets will bite you? We have a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. If she bites me, I can probably cope.

Any work lined up on your return to Australia?  In theory yes, though being in the Queensland Public Service I’m thinking a Plan B would be prudent.

What occupation did you have before becoming a Station Leader? Research Scientist/Research Manager.

But what job would you really like? Pirate Captain.

Are you continuing study/ tertiary ed. / services duty? Yes, I am studying Training & Assessment and OH&S at present. Intending to complete requirements for coxswain when I get home.

Hobbies at Casey?  Darts, photography, table tennis, banjo, fly tying, skiing.

New hobbies for home and the future? No new ones but I am looking forward to getting back into my kayaks.  I also intend to do a lot more sailing and much more fishing than I did before coming down.

Buying any large toys on your return home? Shhhhhhh!

Holidays planned? Only so far as I definitely plan to have a holiday.

The Red Shed is burning down and you are only have time to save one thing? The chef. My cooking isn’t that good and it’s still a long time before I go home.

You are stuck on a deserted island with one person? If we have wine, Kim. If we don’t, then someone who doesn’t get grumpy when I forget to bring wine.

Which other Antarctic station would you like to visit? Heard Island or Macca.

What are your tastebuds craving most? Avocado.

One item you wished you brought down? Bud earphones.

Your favourite hut? Wilkes — history, space, proximity, wood stove. It has everything.

Favourite Antarctic wildlife? Winterers — scarce, rarely seen by the outside world, very strange habits.

Most important thing you would take on a jolly? Jolly? Who gets to go on jollies?

Favourite summer highlight? Success of the Sunrise live broadcast.

Antarctic highlight? Encountering a leopard seal.

Winter highlight so far? Soaking in the spa after our midwinter swim.

Name three people you would like to invite to the Midwinter Dinner? John Ralston Saul, Nick Cave, Tim Flannery.

Name one person you most like to winter with? My father. I think he would appreciate every minute he was here and my mother would probably appreciate the peace and quiet.

If your life was a novel, which one would it be this week? 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — for so many reasons.

And a song? One Step Ahead of the Blues — JJ Cale.

Favourite day of the year? Tomorrow.

Favourite place in the world? The Walls of Jerusalem in the Tasmanian Highlands.

How do you have your jalapenos? With hot English mustard.

What is the first thing you will do when you return to Australia? Meet my granddaughter and hug the rest of my family.