The season’s science projects kick off as the weather turns bad.

First blizzard

The fresh faced expeditioners at Casey experienced their first blizzard of the season over the past weekend. Winds of 111 kilometres per hour blasted the station on Sunday, with the highest recorded gust of 141 kilometres per hour at 11:50am. While conditions eased on Monday, the winds remained around 80 kilometres per hour.

Temperatures sat between −4.5°C and −3.7°C over the past 24 hours, with the wind chill taking the apparent temperature as low as −23°C. The weather at Casey is characterised by frequent and sudden changes, with easterly blizzards whipping around the slopes of Law Dome before descending on station.

On Sunday, expeditioners were kept inside by the second highest level alert ‘Code Red’ and were only allowed outside with the approval of the station leader, when travelling in pairs.

The wind eased late afternoon on Sunday and with travel restrictions lifted, expeditioners headed outside where they were treated to spectacular cloud formations around the research station. While it was the first blizzard of the season for most, wintering expeditioners experienced more than double Sunday’s wind speed on 31 July with a record gust of 248 kilometres per hour recorded on the station’s automatic weather station.

Season’s Science – Totten Glacier

Casey’s scientists are busy ramping up their projects, with two main projects currently underway — the Totten Glacier Ice Dynamics and Evolution (TIDE) and the Antarctic Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment (AntFOCE) project.

TIDE researchers Ben and Tobias (supported by field training officer Billy) will be installing field equipment on towers to monitor the under ice melting off the floating portion of the Totten Glacier and how the flow dynamics change with time. They hope to find out how the Totten Glacier will handle future change in ocean temperature.

Since arriving on the second Airbus flight of the season, the TIDE team have carried out their station inductions and survival training. Their instruments and kit arrived by C17 flight and with the help of the Kenn Borek Aviation Twin Otter crew (Rodney, Reagan and Eric) and Helires team (Peter, Hayden & Steve) they have carried out a reconnaissance flight over the six selected sites to position the towers. Together with satellite imagery, they have been able to survey the sites for crevasses.

Ben and Tobias have also been partially assembling the towers ready for transportation in the Twin Otters to the sites. The team is now waiting for a break in the weather so that they can travel to each of the sites. 

Season science – Ocean pH

AntFOCE researchers James and Glenn are working hard to retrieve the CSIRO’s SeapHox data logger from the sea floor under the ice in O’Brien Bay.

The SeapHox has been logging the pH of the seawater every hour since it was deployed last summer. They will also be collecting benthic diatoms (single celled algae) from the sediment on the sea floor to return live to Australia for James to use in a series of experiments.

James and Glenn have drilled several holes through the 2.8 metre thick sea ice in O’Brien Bay allowing access to the under ice environment with a view to locating the SeapHox using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV). They are currently taking a series of water samples from the water column above the SeapHox that will allow them to calibrate the pH measurements it’s been taking.

Next up they will retrieve the SeapHox and download the years’ worth of pH data. After that they will begin vacuuming up diatoms from the sea floor and getting them settled and happy in the culture cabinets on station before they’re returned to Australia in early December.

Casey ski loop

Casey expeditioners are keen to get out and about around Casey station this summer. A great way to do this without having to organise a field trip is to use the station Nordic ski loop.

The ski loop is a maintained track that goes outside station limits. The track can be used by skiers and walkers without survival gear because of the extra safety features along the track, such as cane markings and a cache of survival equipment at the furthest point.

Johan, Bec and Andy have been replacing cane markings and field training officer Simon has found some time to groom the track ready for the ski season.

Casey has a great ski room with plenty of cross-country skis and boots — ski lessons start this weekend!