This week we meet the remediation team and finally understand what they're doing in those piles of dirt; we learn a little about our skiing and weather enthusiast Matt Thomas; and there’s much excitement over an international movie star’s visit to Wilkins (almost as much as the increased internet bandwidth!)

Station update

With the departure of special guests and advisers on Friday the visit season at Casey is over, for the moment. After a quick and comfy trip up to Wilkins in the Terrabus they were wisked away, but not before a day of science briefings and meetings and a quick visit to Shirley Island. The Casey team received a lovely thank you gift of cheese and snacks which were gratefully put to good use over the weekend. Very happy expeditioners having (not pre-frozen) cheese for the first time for quite a while.

We were also joined briefly by an international movie star on Friday; Sam Neill dropped into Wilkins to spend a very quick couple hours on the ground, filming for a Foxtel documentary on Captain Cook’s explorations. All were very enamoured of him (not least of all by quite an excited station leader).

On Saturday all broadband communications services were disabled for several hours as the ANARESAT dish was moved five degrees to the west to point at a different satellite and services were established with a new provider. Even with recent upgrades the previous link had a throughput of only 2.4 Mbps, after the change and with some fine tuning the current link has been stress tested at 10.3 Mbps.

The change in data rate is a significant difference for the Casey community. Applications used by medical, stores and the trades team communicate with servers located in Kingston, the improved data rate cuts down the congestion on the satellite link, improving response times. It is also easier for scientists to collaborate with colleges in Kingston or for that matter all around the world. Sharing data from Antarctica and researching relevant papers in their fields of expertise. (And also assisting the expeditioners keep in touch with the outside world… and do some Christmas internet shopping.)

The weekend saw the usual off–station activities, with trips across to Wilkes and out to Jacks Donga, and another 10km ski/walk/run/ride down from the ski–way to station. It seems that the sea ice will now preclude any further visits to Shirley Island to see the penguins. (We are very sad to not see the hatching of the chicks, but the penguins are probably happy for the peace and quiet.)

Preparations are underway for our highly anticipated resupply voyage, which sailed from Hobart on Wednesday 13th and is currently due into Casey on 23rd December.

A busy weekend ahead with six intra–continental flights meeting up with two inter–continental flights… expeditioners moving in all directions and across the continent. If it doesn’t work we may have up to an extra 50 people on station, so camp grounds may be established and ration packs will be the cuisine of choice. 

We're praying to the weather gods. Please pray with us. 

The remediation project

A recurring project at Casey over a few years now, has the scientists working to clean up contaminated sites have had a good start to the summer season. The initial six-member team consisting of Lauren, Jeremy, Dan, Jack, Anne and Johan had some diverse early season work. Dan and Anne drilled ice and sediment cores from the melt lake while Jeremy and Johan began working on the installation of a new technology to speed up the biodegradation in the biopiles. Jack de–winterised the contaminated water treatment plant and Lauren kept everyone on task and on track.

The focus for this season is the new technology for the biopiles — a process called Electrokinetic Oxidation (EKO). Banks of electrodes (made of steel rebar) are placed in sections along the biopile, with alternating polarities — one negative, one positive. The electrodes are wired to a control box, a technology designed and patented by EKO Hardin, a Finnish company. The control box then applies a voltage and current to the electrodes, but also flicks the polarity between the banks creating alternating positive/negative charges on the electrodes.

This special action creates oxygen radicals, which are capable of degrading the hydrocarbon contaminants in the biopile soil. However, this hasn’t been done in a system like the biopiles, or in Antarctica, but holds enormous promise. Normally, accelerated degradation relies on addition of harsh chemicals or the addition of heat, which has a large energy (and therefore financial) cost. The EKO process only requires the energy of a kitchen kettle boiler, and theoretically can reduce the time to degrade the hydrocarbons significantly.

For us remediation scientists and engineers, this is very exciting! 

But it’s not all work. Before Dan and Jeremy flew home to Tassie, the team went on a trip to Wilkes station as both a site induction, to observe the tip site, and to GPS different points of interest with a new base station. We also managed to squeeze in seeing some penguins and eat some pizza!

Jack Churchill 

5 mins with the 71st ANARE crew: Matthew Thomas

Name: Matthew Thomas.

From: I live at Allens Rivulet near Hobart, but I’m originally from the Yarra Valley (east of Melbourne).

Previous seasons? Forecaster for the Macquarie Island resupply in 2016.

Job title: Meteorologist.

Describe your role in two sentences:

Providing weather guidance to the AAD, to the AAD staff working at Casey, and to the pilots flying about Antarctica. Helping to manage the Bureau of Met office at Casey.

What did you do before your joined the AAD?

I’m a full time employee with the Bureau of Meteorology and normally work in the Tasmanian Regional Forecasting Centre, based in Hobart. 

What is your favourite part of your job here at Casey?

The people at Casey.

If you were not a meteorologist what would be your dream job?

Assuming I can’t get a gig as a supermodel or a secret agent, then perhaps being a Weather Observer in Antarctica. Being paid to stare at clouds and play with large hydrogen filled balloons in Antarctica sounds great.

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south?

Casey certainly is not as green, as windy or as teeming with wildlife as Macquarie Island, but the vast expanse of white nothingness and the silence of the early mornings have their charms.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

At home: Spending time with my family. Relaxing. Going skiing or bushwalking.

At Casey: Skiing.

What song sums up your Casey experience so far?

No one song can sum up the Casey experience.

What actor would play you in a film version of our 71st ANARE season here at Casey?

While I’d appreciate somebody cool and suave like Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddie Redmayne, I’m sure the casting department will be looking for more of a Robbie Coltrane or Matt Lucas type.

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit?

The stylish black glove with a leather palm. I’m not sure if they are for formal dinners or challenging somebody to a duel.

What is your favourite book and movie and why?

The Hobbit (the book), because it’s a wonderful story. Any film with Audrey Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman in.

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? Do you have a particular favourite?

I would choose classical, jazz, blues, French yé-yé music or 80’s Pop, so it’s a good thing I’m not on slushy very often. I just ask that the slushy shows some passion in their choice of music. Most genres are fine (with the exception of rap or Justin Bieber).

Describe your Casey experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste.

The sight of a lone curious Adélie penguin sliding along the snow and ice to investigate the strangers in its territory.

The smell of clean fresh air.

The sound of silence on a quiet still Antarctic morning.

The feeling of missing my family and wishing they could be here to share Antarctica with me.

The taste of the superb food cooked in the mess.

Do you have a favourite quote that you’d like to leave us with?

No (Anon)