This week at Casey we revisit the mulish Browning repeater and Jukka describes winter at Casey.

Browning Repeater

There are many changes at Casey as the year progresses. As with everywhere else in the southern hemisphere, it gets colder and around the Antarctic continent the sea ice grows. At Casey, the sea ice forms, then we get a good blow and then most of it is gone again. Fortunately for us, the closer islands tend to lock the sea ice in, so there are areas (once the sea ice has been deemed safe to travel on) which are then opened up for quad travel.

The radio repeater, located in the Browning Peninsula area, is an important communication tool as once one is on the sea ice, this repeater is the only means available for communication back to station.

With the lack of sunlight (lots of overcast weather and the normal reduced sunlight hours during winter), the batteries at the repeater site were in need of a bit of TLC. The first visit to the site verified that the batteries were actually in need a bit of a top up, so it was out with the generator and charger… but like all good plans the plastic coating on the leads of the charger just cracked and fell off as the leads were straightened. Not very successful, but there was an upside to the visit as we had found that one of the eye securing bolts on the solar panel for the guy wires had broken, for which we had no spares with us, plus a couple of other minor maintenance issues which we were not aware of. With the temperature around −35 degrees and winds between 20–30 knots, it was not a pleasant place to be. The hut gas heater would not work, so the trip finished up as a day trip instead of an overnight stay.

Back at Casey the leads on the charger were changed, and parts obtained so everything at the repeater site and at the hut could be fixed on the next trip. It was hard getting a couple of people to volunteer for the next trip as the weather conditions were going to be about the same as the previous visit. We ventured out again to the beautiful area of Brownings. Browning repeater was provided with a new lease on life and all the maintenance issues at the site were fixed. The hut gas heater was replaced plus the hut battery, which was feeling a little down, was also given a new lease on life. Overall, it was a very successful trip and all items requiring a little care were left in much better shape than they were when we arrived at Brownings. My thanks to everyone who assisted me, particularly at the top of a cold and windy Goldenberg Ridge on Browning Peninsula.

To top it all off, a pleasant comfortable night was had at Browning Hut, with good company, snow falling outside (being blown around by the wind) and the morning provided the sight of an area covered in low-lying fog with a visibility of around 100 metres. An absolutely beautiful area.

Winter is here

So winter has finally arrived at Casey. As expected, the temperatures have dropped since autumn with the temperature regularly in the minus 20s and a low of negative 31 degrees this month. This means any moisture will freeze almost instantly, like your breath. So if you have any facial hair that traps your breathing, you’re guaranteed to have a white beard.

What is surprising it that there isn’t much snow around. Every time it snows, a blizzard comes along and blows it away. Casey has had at least three significant blizzards this month already. Back home in tropical Queensland these would be classed as category three cyclones. One was so strong it blew away even the sea ice, which would have to be close to a metre thick. We had open water in front of the station and whitecaps could be seen from the safety of the Red Shed. Of course as soon as the winds dropped the sea immediately began to freeze. All the small melt lakes are unaffected by the winds and are still frozen solid all the way to the bottom.

The effect of the wind on the snow created some amazing features, like an artist making abstract sculptures. It creates massive blizz tails on the leeward side where the snow accumulated. It fills in any man-made excavation like the wharf road, which was built in summer and now completely covered in snow. It can also cause havoc on cabling; as the combination of wind and an abrasive surface demonstrated on a copper communications cable recently.

The other obvious difference is that there is no wildlife; even the snow petrels have gone. The only sound that are heard is the wind, the sea ice creaking with the tides and comforting rumbling of the main power house which means the generators are running and we have heat and lights.