Training goes on and the scientists from the ICECAP project say goodbye.

Search and rescue exercise

Last week the Casey wintering group got together for the pre–winter search and rescue (SAR) exercise. Twenty of the 23 strong wintering crew (the other three are still at Wilkins), took part in a mock scenario of searching for a missing person. This is potentially our biggest emergency response situation that can happen on station and are critical skills that have been needed and have been put into practice in previous years.

We started with a muster to coordinate our search, which was run by station leader Paul with communications by Clint, who together, directed the teams on their search areas and how it would work. The field training officers had hidden our fantastic volunteer casualty Linda, somewhere on station for us to find.

The exercise commenced with a station building search – checking every bedroom, plant room, gym, ANARESAT, even the sauna. Less than 20 people ‘cleared’ the buildings in under 17 minutes! A challenge to beat in winter with snow everywhere.

With no luck finding Linda, we then moved on to extensively search the surrounding land, which is a substantial amount of the station when you’re on foot. We searched down to the waters edge, up to the top of Reeves Hill, from the Magnetic quiet zones, all the way out to the old station where luckily Linda was waiting for us to find her!

Station leader Paul coordinated to have a team respond to Linda, bringing anything we needed to apply first aid, and take her back to the medical quarters in the Antarctic form of a limousine — a rescue stretcher strapped into the back of the SAR Hägg.

The LSA’s (lay surgical assistants), and Doctor met us at the medical cold porch, where we transported our ‘patient’ Linda inside to them on a stretcher.

The whole exercise took nearly two hours, and taught us how important simple things like turning tags on the fire board, good radio communications, and to ensure you are safe and warm when you're outside in the elements!

Great practice for a skill we all hope we never have to use.

Maintenance, vegetation and boots

This past fortnight has seen a few of the station’s fuel tanks cleaned internally. This task involves one of the tradesmen to don a full–body covering Tyvek suit, gloves, head helmet, and a hookah–type breathing source. He then climbs inside the tank, wearing a retrieval cable and with a standby observer at the top of the tank who remains in constant communication while he washes out the inside of the tank with clean diesel. This job only needs to be done every couple of years.

Immediately north of Casey are large moss beds – perhaps a hectare in size. Various work tasks need to be carried out occasionally at the fringe of these areas. Mosses are one of the few forms of vegetation which can be found in Antarctica.

An interesting part of station life is that there are four cold porches to the living quarters, and each cold porch is chock–a–block filled with expeditioners’ boots. As there is only a range to two types of boots issued, people frequently put on the wrong pair. To try to ensure that yours stand out from the crowd, people often mark their boots with coloured ribbons and tapes.

Lloyd, Doctor

Farewell from the 2016/17 ICECAP crew

We've come to the end of our hugely successful 8th season of the science project ICECAP (Investigating the Cryospheric Evolution of the Central Antarctic Plate). ICECAP, which has been running out of Casey since 2009/10, brings together the brainpower of experts from around the world to investigate how and why the ice sheet and shelves of East Antarctica are evolving.

With the help of a fantastic crew from Kenn Borek Air (KBA), we flew in the trusty Basler (DC-3) JKB on surveys over the ice sheet and glaciers in the Casey region. The aircraft is equipped with a suite of instruments that map ice thickness, internal layers of the ice sheet and the depth and geology of the bedrock beneath the ice.

The target glaciers this year were the Shackleton Glacier, approximately 600 kilometres west of Casey station, the infamous and rapidly changing Totten Glacier, on the back doorstep of Law Dome, and the Moscow University Glacier, approximately 600 kilometres east of Casey station.

Although we didn’t make it to our French friends at Dumont D'Urville, with some ideal weather conditions around Casey we managed to achieve our major science goals and more, fitting in a total of 15 flights over 74.5 flying hours and covering 21,550 kilometres.

An exciting new aspect to our work this year was the opportunity to look at ocean temperatures near glaciers experiencing rapid melting from a warming ocean using Airborne Expendable BathyThermographs (AXBTs). These instruments are jettisoned from the aircraft over the target location and are carried to the ocean surface by a small parachute. At the surface, a probe is released and measures temperature through the water column, relaying the information via a freely unwinding wire to a radio transmitter at the ocean surface. The data is then transmitted back to the aircraft.

We deployed a total of 18 AXBTs: 11 along the front of the Totten Glacier, six near the Shackleton Glacier, and one in the region of Vincennes Bay. We will be looking at the data over the coming months to figure out how masses of warm water are transported from the deeper ocean up onto the continental shelf and contribute to glacial melt.

The 2016/17 ICECAP team was a motley crew of boffins (and engineers): Dr Duncan Young (University of Texas), Dr Jason Roberts (AAD), Dr Lucas Been (University of Texas), Greg Ng (University of Texas), Dr Lenneke Jong (Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre — ACE CRC), Wei Wei (University of Texas), and Dr Felicity Graham (Gateway Partnership, University of Tasmania). Between us, we managed to marmite the station internet supplies (potentially more than once), interrupt the uninterruptible power supply to the science lab, and even ‘break gravity’ a couple of times (i.e. see failure of the infamous gravity meter).

As with every year, ICECAP could not be successful without the help and support from fellow Caseyites. We particularly want to thank our wonderful KBA crew Jamie, Aaron, and Lucius, AGSOs Misty, Noel, and Nathan, operations coordinator Steve, comms operators Andy, Nigel, Robyn, and Narelle, MET forecasters Lauren, Jake, and Adrian, and all who went over and above to help us with every wrinkle.

Questions and answers with ICECAP scientist Dr Lenneke Jong

What are your highlights from the 2016/17 ICECAP season?

So many highlights: making such a diverse bunch of new friends, Adélie penguins, icebergs at sunset, driving Häggs etc, but I guess the biggest one was going flying and getting to see the landscape from the air. For someone who is mostly working with numerical models it was really great to actually see how the physical processes physically manifest, e.g. just how rough and jumbled glaciers are, and also tie everything together that we've been doing with the data once it gets down from the skiway. That would be the highlight.

What brought you to ICECAP?

Hmm… the short version is that Jason thought I had a useful skill set and asked me. The long answer: I've always been interested in how things work, so I had a natural inclination towards science, especially physics and also computing, writing software etc. So that led to studying physics and software engineering, followed by a PhD in theoretical condensed matter physics and then a few jobs working in scientific software development building tools for scientists to work with their data and process the data from instruments.

But research was still calling me and I saw an interesting looking opportunity down in Hobart doing research with numerical models of Antarctica’s ice sheets. It was a bit out of my field, but the basic numerical tools and physics is still the same, just applied in a different context so while I had a lot of learning to do about glaciology it wasn’t completely unfamiliar territory.

Projects like ICECAP are really important for helping us to constrain values that we feed into our models with real measurements so that our models are not complete works of fiction. So when the opportunity came up to help with the field work to collect data about regions we are interested in I jumped at the chance.

What does a day in the life of an ICECAP person look like?

We have different roles in the group so we keep a pretty diverse range of schedules. My role was mostly doing ‘Base Operations’ which consists of working with the data immediately after a survey flight to make sure that the instruments are working, identify anything new and exciting that we might have collected that could be worth taking another look at.

During the season my day starts later than most and people have probably seen me sleepily eating my breakfast cereal around smoko time. I've tried to go to some of the weather briefings in the morning as that is when the decision is made about where we are flying on that day. That helps to get an understanding of both what we are trying to achieve science wise but also what kind of time the flight will happen so that I can plan some naps accordingly.

We generally fly during the late afternoon so data doesn’t arrive down at the Red Shed until after dinner, usually 11–12 pm. During the day I'll try to get some sleep, maybe some yoga or exercise and be ready to work when the flight team gets back home. We might have had some meetings during the day, ICECAP tends to have a lot of them, but sometimes it’s just the one to do a quick handover and hear how the flight went. After that the work properly starts, where we download the data and run it through our scripts to break it out into formats that we can plot and take a look at.

We then go through our quality control process where we basically look to see if the data we've collected is any good, did we achieve what we set out to do for the flight plan, were the instruments working correctly and is there anything that needs to feed into further flight plans. We then archive everything to multiple copies of tape to make sure we have plenty of redundancy and our data is safe and sound. If all went well we finish in the early hours of the morning or a bit later just when the rest of the station is getting up for breakfast. So if you saw me looking a bit tired and cranky during the season, then please accept my apologies because night shift doesn’t bring out the best in people! After that it’s bed for a few hours before we do it all again the next day.