This week Louise delivers the final update on the Adélie penguin research for this season, we travel up Law Dome for ice core sampling and a handful of adventuring winterers crossed melt streams on Hägglunds to hike up the rocky hills of Browning Peninsula.

Adélie penguin research

Final update for the season

The Adélie penguin summer tracking program came to a superb end at Casey with a final tracker retrieved at the last possible moment. Readers in touch with news from other stations will know that this year we had field teams working near each of the three Australian stations attaching small global positioning system (GPS) trackers to the feathers on the backs of the penguins so that we could determine where the penguins were foraging. This was our first attempt at simultaneous deployments in these three areas and the results will allow us to take advantage of the natural variability in the marine environment to better understand the penguins foraging requirements, particularly in relation to sea ice. We are thrilled that the field season relating to this project has been so successful, even during the final stage when the adults are less tied to their nests and the trackers are much more difficult to retrieve.

The chicks, which are now large (around three to four kg), very mobile and starting to lose their down feathers, caused havoc by running around when we weighed them. Amidst the laughter at how delightful they looked, we had to approach them very slowly and carefully to catch them. The penguin colonies at this stage are very noisy and smelly with pink krill stained chick poo covering the rocks and indeed many of the adults. This makes for a sensational vista of colours in the evening light, with the backdrop of startling white bergs, the brilliant blue of the sea and the striking black and white of the penguins setting it all off very nicely.

Once again, all this work would not have been possible without the support from the people on station and back at Kingston (Tasmania), so thank you once again, and yes, it must be obvious that I am back in Hobart missing the penguins.

Louise E.

Law Dome ice pit and core sampling

This is my first time in Antarctica and I’m here to do some ice pit and core sampling on Law Dome with Mark the ‘Irish’. The samples will be analysed for Beryllium-10 (10Be) and Beryllium-7 (7Be) at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney, continuing Andrew’s multi-year study into these isotopes in ice at Law Dome (AAS 4200). As 7Be has a short half-life (53 days), the flights out of Wilkins mean that we can now get our samples back to Sydney for analysis quickly. Irish is here to take a 30-metre ice core for Andrew’s Law Dome Summit Snow-Climate Observatory project (AAS 4062), and so our projects were combined.

We spent about seven hours in a Hägglunds driving up to Law Dome — about six and a half hours longer than I needed to experience. Our Hägglunds had Irish, Gavin the PI, James (Field Training Officer), and me (Krista), all of whom were staying for two nights in order to have enough time to take four ice cores (three short ones for 10Be and one 30m core) and 36 samples out of an ice pit for 7Be. A second Hägglunds had Jason M., Lee, Nick M. (the field training officer) and Mick (the diesel mechanic). They headed back at lunch time on the second day, but not before being very useful by digging the snow pit and contributing to the head scratching as we attempted to work out the drill. We did have a few teething problems with the new Kovacs drill that Irish was testing for AAS 4075 Aurora Basin (an object lesson in the value of reading the manual properly), but once we got going it all went smoothly. James and Gavin took over the drilling and made it down to 30m before midnight on the second day. I did the sampling out of a wall of the ice pit, whilst Irish logged the cores and ‘supervised’.

Camping in −15C was a new experience for me — but with thermals, beanie, fleece, giant socks and two sleeping bags on top of a lambskin and two mattresses, I was plenty toasty if not particularly mobile. The second morning we woke to a very cold whiteout morning with a stiff wind. I’m so glad that we only had to pack up the camp in weather like that, as it would have been miserable doing the sampling. As it was, we still had to fill in the snow pit, as Irish didn’t want to leave such a significant snow pile that would cause a snowdrift. Shoveling snow into the wind turns out to be one of my least favourite past times.

Tents dismantled and Law Dome returned to its nothingness of white and grey, we departed. Well, we left a few holes, one of which (the veteran ice core driller) Irish managed to step in, even with James’ safety flags marking the spot. Seven more hours in the Hägglunds, we finally made it back to the joys of indoor plumbing and some celebratory re-hydration.

Krista S.

Browning Peninsula polar camping

Friday the 8th of February, our last field training exercise “Hooray” on this trip, we had three field training officers (FTO’s) James, Nick and Ian, from the winterers Mark J, Jeremy, Mark B, Michael, Ben, Jukka, Leon, Dr Chad and a French experditioner G.G from Concordia station returning home via Casey (Wilkins runway). The first thing to do was organise and load three Hägglunds with the gear including our survival packs, cameras, food and water, four polar tents, bed mats etc. Furthermore, two quad bikes, fuel and a replacement generator — set for the field hut that the FTOs used — were included. We also packed some sleds in case the melt made Hägglunds travel impossible.

We were off to a great start leaving the station in mild weather conditions on Casey’s version of a freeway, the A line. After negotiating the melt areas close to Casey station we had some smooth travel, then on the approach to the B line for Browning Peninsula, the travel just got rougher. From there we crossed a number of melt streams all the way to the hut.

On arrival, Jeremy and Mark B refuelled the Hägglunds, then we raised four polar tents for the winterers in rather cold conditions. When we completed setting up our campsite, we went for a walk to the sea edge to an elephant seal wallow and were rewarded by about twenty seals lazing away out of the breeze and into the sun’s rays.

Day two, we were off to a keen start with a 15 minute Hägglunds ride. The weather was relatively cold, at about minus eight degrees, with gusts at about fifteen knots. The fun started with a climb up a rocky hill, elevation of 112 metres, for Jukka to check the local radio repeater unit. Back down from the hill, we headed off to the northern point of Browning Peninsula. We all had a leg to navigate to our destination with the ever-looking watchful eyes of the FTOs and along the way we picked out different landmarks and islands along the coast.

We walked to the boat crossing point on the Peterson channel to have a gander at Peterson Island, then around to the top of another rocky outcrop to have a bird’s eye view of Peterson Island and identify the place where the new refuge will be placed — probably one of our winter jobs — then back to the hut for dinner and an early night as we are all exhausted from the ever-inclining hike up rocky hills, soft snow and slippery ice all while hauling a 20kg backpack.

Day three, packing up and heading back to the station was the plan. While traveling back we changed Hägglunds drivers so we all had a drive and stop as needed to repair and replace the important cane line markers. In Antarctica, landmarks are difficult to find. On our return to Casey we refuelled and unloaded the Hägglunds and placed all our gear away for a well earned rest.