Australia Day celebrations, boat rides, we get the low-down on the BoM, fly high with ICECAP and meet Beven. It’s all happening at Casey station!

Station update

It has been a busy two weeks since the last edition of station news. We at Casey have been cracking on with the most intense science period of the summer, with all projects making the most of some decent weather to get out into the field and finalise as much work as is possible in the short time frame left before they must pack up and leave us.

Those non-scientists among us have been lucky enough to be seconded as field assistants, so we too have been able to get out and experience some of the wonders of this beautiful area (just some of the wildlife seen during these adventures is shown in this week’s photos).

But from the sublime to the ridiculous we move from science to our Australia Day celebrations.

We started the day with a fabulous Aussie brunch (lamingtons may have been in evidence, but alas, no smashed avo on toast). With our first layer of hypothermic protection in our bellies we then moved, many with trepidation and dread following a sleepless night, to the wharf for the Australia Day swim. While the penguins looked on with amusement, we plunged into the icy waters. Of the 50 or so hardy people who took the plunge, many (including myself) made the minimum time of a full body dunk and then very quick (perhaps with some high pitched squealing) evacuation to a warm towel and glass of hot blackcurrant. A few very brave (or fool-hardy) explorers showed their steel to stay in the water for a few minutes, the (disputed) longest for a full 3 min 30 sec. The doctors happily saw all safely clear of the −1.8ºC waters into a warm Hägglunds for a quick drive up the hill to the waiting warm showers and dry clothes.

The next stage in our Aussie Day adventure was a relaxing afternoon of cricket and kicking the footy while enjoying meat pies and sausage rolls, a quiet ale or two, and listening to the live-streamed countdown of 50 best Aussie pub rock songs. The day was just beautiful, with the sun encouraging some to recover from all the excitement of the day with a little nap in front of the cricket in a comfy lounge chair, just like at home except this was live cricket with icebergs as the backdrop instead of on the TV.

Stage four of the day was feasting on the magnificent BBQ (including lamb and pig on the spit) prepared by our chefs and their fabulous helpers.

And then, with the day not quite over yet, we wrapped it all up with a costume change in preparation for the highly anticipated 80s disco. Shazza, Dazza, Wazza and Johno all had a fabulous time dancing the night away to the best of Aussie rock.

All in all, a truly epic day. So Australian but in such a foreign environment. We all feel so lucky to have been here for the celebrations and may just have to call it… the best ever!

By Rebecca Jeffcoat (SL Casey).

Meteorology at Casey

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) provides meteorological services in support of the Australian Antarctic Division’s (AAD’s) operations. At Casey research station during the summer there are two meteorologists (who produce and issue forecasts) and three weather observers (including one technician, who make and record current weather observations and maintain the meteorological equipment).

The meteorology office is housed in the operations building at Casey. Adjacent to this there is an Automatic Weather Station (AWS), which measures wind, temperature, humidity, pressure, cloud and precipitation. The observers make regular synoptic observations with the assistance of the AWS observations, in addition to launching two weather balloons per day. The balloons are filled with hydrogen and are attached to radiosondes, which provide upper air atmospheric measurements. The meteorological technician also regularly conducts engineering work out in the field in order to maintain the weather stations in remote locations.

The meteorologists at Casey provide forecasting services seven days a week and interpret a combination of observations, satellite pictures and forecasting guidance from numerical models to produce forecasts. These forecasts include: aviation forecasts for the A319 and C-17 aircraft which fly from Hobart to Wilkins Aerodrome; flight forecasts for the smaller fixed wing aircraft and helicopters conducting intra-continental flights; daily weather forecasts and planning briefs to support station operations including field travel and boating operations; and marine forecasts for the RSV Aurora Australis. Weather briefs are provided to the station leadership team, the pilots and the scientists and the met office is often buzzing with activity during these times.

Forecasting for Antarctica can be quite challenging because it is such a remote and extreme environment and conditions can change very quickly. The weather poses a number of hazards to operations, particularly to aviation operations, including poor visibility in low cloud and snow, aircraft icing, extreme temperatures and turbulence to name a few. There are also local effects to consider, such as the topography, which affect the wind and weather in specific locations. In Antarctica there are several weather phenomena which are seldom seen on mainland Australia, including: blizzards, drifting and blowing snow (snow lifted from the surface by strong winds) and diamond dust (ground level cloud comprised of tiny ice crystals).

Producing accurate and timely forecasts is paramount for safety and as meteorologists we strive to produce the best possible forecasts with the available tools. Despite our best efforts, sometimes we still occasionally get caught out by unexpected weather conditions, such as blizzards and low cloud or fog, and conditions can deteriorate very rapidly. Above all, being a weather forecaster or an observer in Antarctica is an interesting, challenging and dynamic job, which is constantly evolving with new advances in science and technology.

By Jo Haynes

The ICECAP season

'Still no word if we're flying today.' 

The situation is tense as Lenneke updates the ICECAP team over coffee and leftover birthday cake in the Casey mess. 

'We'll find out more at the weather briefing at noon.'

Hours tick by and breakfast turns to smoko as we wait, not knowing what kind of data we'll collect today, if any at all. Will the gravity meter cause headaches for our chief engineer, Greg? Will we collect data that Wilma can use in her PhD thesis? Which of Felicity’s flight plans will these persistent low clouds allow? Will we even fly at all today? 

These questions I ponder over a cheesy Vegemite scroll, and I ask Lenneke once again, ‘Think we'll fly today?' 

'I told you, Chad, we'll find out at the weather briefing at noon.' 

I reach for another Vegemite scroll and consider the lost opportunity that smoko represents. While I’m grateful for any officially sanctioned bonus meal, smoko serves as a daily disappointing reminder that there are no corresponding meals sandwiched between lunch and dinner, nor dinner and breakfast. During those hours we must cook for ourselves the mashed potatoes and curry found in the catch-n-kill refrigerator. 

Noon comes and by quarter after, Lenneke returns from the operations office with a smile. 

'We're flying today, you'll be on the flight, and you're going to Totten. Head to the skiway just after lunch.'

Totten Glacier was the subject of my PhD. It’s one of the largest glaciers in the world and I've spent countless late nights and weekends poring over satellite data and old ICECAP surveys of the area, but I've never never actually seen the beast with my own eyes. What will it be like? Will I recognize any features from all the satellite images that are burned in my brain, or will the scale and three-dimensionality of everything be so unfamiliar that I won’t know where I am without consulting the GPS? This flight will be where all those years of geophysical analysis and theory-based interpretation meet reality.

With 45 minutes to lunch and my survival bag already packed and sitting by the red shed door, there’s little to do but make myself a cappuccino and start planning the snacks I'll take with me on the plane. I've heard great things about Cheds, and I've heard that by popular demand the barbecue Shapes have gone back to their original recipe, but what if I find myself with a sweet tooth? Better take a sleeve of Tim Tams too, just in case.

After a satisfying meal of stir fry, salad, and sweet rolls, we take the yellow Hãgglunds up to the skiway and start preparing our instruments for the flight.

'Gravity meter on?'… ‘Check'. 

'Data logger running?” … 'Check'.

'Radar ready?' … 'Check'.

'Snacks accessible?' … 'Check.'

In survival training we learned that food is the first layer of defense against the cold. ‘Baklava before balaclava,' they say. We are professionals. We take our training seriously. 

Pilots Will and Aaron start the engines and we're off. Anticipation builds as we head toward Totten Glacier.

We fly over Law Dome, and it hardly seems like a dome at all without the vertical exaggeration I've grown accustomed to seeing in elevation profiles printed in the scientific literature. We begin to approach Totten and I think about the years I spent as a graduate student in Texas. There I’d sit in my windowless office, scouring every satellite image of Totten that has ever been taken, sorting through every photon from every laser that has ever been aimed at the ice here. It was my mission to fully characterize the undulations in Totten’s surface and generate topographic maps of the region at an unprecedented degree of accuracy and resolution.

As we fly, I see Totten in the distance and I begin taking notes in my scientific log book.

'13 Jan 2018, 4:18pm: Totten Gl. in sight. Appears white, generally nondescript.'

We reach the glacier and for almost half an hour we fly down its main trunk. I grow bored with the nearly featureless landscape and turn to my feedbag in hopes of finding something exciting, like chocolate biscuits or Mint Slices. But alas, just Spicy Fruit Rolls of disappointment. I may have to eat them, but I don’t have to like them.

Nearing the terminus of Totten Glacier, the topography around us begins to change. Massive ripples in the surface run perpendicular to the flow of ice, spanning the entire width of the glacier and stretching at least 10 or 20 kilometers on each side of the plane. I begin to recognize where we are as the glacier turns left and we follow its path. When we fly over a massive ice cliff that abuts smooth, flat sea ice, we know we've reached the end of the glacier and we're flying over the ocean. Captain Will calls over the headsets to let us know we're approaching our target.

Gonzo double checks the ropes that tether him to the plane and while we fly he begins turning levers to remove the airplane door. This WWII-era DC-3 was designed for paratroopers, and I begin to wonder what its makers would think if they knew that 75 years later it would here in Antarctica, deploying not men into combat, but scientific instruments into the ocean where no ship has ever sailed. 

We spot an open lead in the sea ice and we know that’s our chance. Felicity prepares an expendable CTD sensor and hands it off to Gonzo. Approaching the lead, the countdown begins. Three, two, one, and with laser precision Gonzo pitches the CTD out the door and into a tiny sliver of open water. The CTD radios back, reporting the temperature and salinity of the seawater that flows beneath the vast floating ice shelf of Totten Glacier.

After a few more deployments we head back to Casey and arrive on station by midnight. We gorge on lasagna and roast potatoes. I finish with several slices of carrot cake and a nice pairing of re hydrated full cream milk. Next it’s off to begin the data download procedures which take all night. By morning, we're ready for another flight.

And so it went for 10 glorious days of flying this ICECAP season. We surveyed Totten Glacier, Denman Glacier, Moscow University Ice Shelf, Shackleton Ice Shelf, and the area surrounding Vincennes Bay.

We deployed 38 ocean sensors and flew more than 13,000 kilometers collecting data from ice-penetrating radar, laser altimeter, gravity meter, magnetometer, and optical imagery. It was a successful season thanks to endless support from operations and lots of hard work from the aviation ground support officers. Many thanks from the ICECAP team to the whole crew at Casey station!

ICECAP is supported by the Australian Antarctic Division, Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, and the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics.

By Chad Greene. 

5 min with the 71st ANARE: Bevan Anderson

Bevan Anderson

“Big Fulla” or the “Enforcer”

Toowoomba — Queensland

Previous seasons?
This is my first time on ice (pardon the pun) & it is addictive!

Job title:
AGSO (Aircraft Ground Support Officer)

Describe your role in two sentences:
The role of an AGSO can vary from day to day. Basically the skiway at Casey has to be built from scratch every year then maintained throughout the season. One day can be spent conducting weather observations, loading fuel drums and refueling aircraft and the next can be taken up working with helicopters, clearing snow, operating plant & keeping penguins off the helipad.

What did you do before your joined the AAD?
My wife and I own a small business/RTO that specialises in training students within the civil construction industry. We have our own plane that is used to service the small communities around Western Queensland so I got to do a lot of flying as well which was great.

What is your favourite part of your job here at Casey?
Working with the aircraft & operating plant.

If you were not an AGSO what would be your dream job?
Flying a crop duster

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south?
As it’s my first time down south I don’t have anything to compare it with so am hoping I’ll get the chance to be asked this same question next year, to date it’s been great.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Probably annoy my wife & embarrass my daughter is up there, however I also like to spend time with family and friends, travel, read a good book and go for a fly.

What song sums up your Casey experience so far?
It’s hard to be humble — Mac Davis

What actor would play you in a film version of our 71stANARE season here at Casey?
I’m thinking Sam Neill as he seems like a pretty laidback sort of character.

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit?
The thick woollen socks. I reckon if your feet get cold you get cold and to date the socks have worked a treat

What is your favourite book / movie (or both) and why?

Book — ‘Chicken Hawk’ by Robert Mason as it’s a real life account about his experience flying choppers in the Vietnam War

Movie — ‘Love Actually’ cause I’m a big softy and don’t mind watching a good chick flick (All though my wife Laura & daughter Kait tell me I’m about as emotional as a house brick).

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? Do you have a particular favourite?
Rock & Roll — ACDC

Describe your Casey experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste.
White, bright, cool, crunchy & clean.

Do you have a favourite quote that you’d like to leave us with?
A ship is safe in the harbour but that’s not what ships are built for.