Emperors march on Casey, get the lowdown on remediation, and meet a meteorologist

Some Casey highlights

Emperor penguins visit Casey station

Recently after work, a recreation party went for a walk to nearby Shirley Island to view the local Adélie penguin colonies.  For some like Brendan, it was his first trip to the island, and he was really excited to spend the evening watching the Adélies hopping around picking up rocks and listening to their calls.

At the end of a very enjoyable evening, the group prepared to walk back across the sea ice which connects Shirley Island to the Bailey Peninsula and Casey station. As we commenced the traverse, almost immediately, we noticed a large group of emperor penguins had just popped out from the water and began making their way towards us.

It’s quite uncommon for emperor penguins to be sighted so close to Casey station, so with cameras at the ready we waited patiently and sure enough, the penguins headed in our direction. Even some of the curious Adélies waddled down to investigate. It was an amazing opportunity to see these majestic animals in their natural environment.

The emperors continued on their way and we headed back to station, with a great unexpected story to share and many, many photos of course. What an unforgettable Antarctic experience!

* AAD Media: thanks for the video, expeditioners! 

A little slice of home

A little slice of home this week when Pete Hargreaves received a photo from his niece Elise back home showing his great nephew Holden, 8 months old, reading his new book. Pete had sent Holden all the new Australian Antarctic Program postcards before we left for Casey this summer and his mum had the great idea of laminating them all and putting them together in a book. As Pete says, what a cute little chap he is.

Remediation — great team doing important things

What lies under those black covers and in the containers next to the Casey utility building? That would be the work site of the Human Impacts and Remediation Team, which this season comprises Johan, Robbie, Anne, Gavin, Lauren and Bec (Bec will join the team when V2 arrives in little over a week).

The Remediation project sits within the Antarctic Conservation and Management Theme in the Science Branch of the Australian Antarctic Division. The project assesses, develops and implements risk and remediation strategies of areas contaminated with hydrocarbons (fuel) and heavy metals.

This work has been ongoing at Casey station since the mid-1990’s, and continues today with the assistance of collaborations with the University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, Monash University and Queen’s University (Canada). Findings on the different remediation techniques implemented by the project are published in scientific papers and at conferences, and the team also shares their findings with other nations. Team personnel participated in workshops and meetings in Brazil last year and a meeting in Denmark earlier this year.

The first installation on-site in 2005 were permeable reactive barriers (PRBs). This work was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the University of Melbourne. The PRBs are effective in the containment of hydrocarbon contamination and minimising its spread.

In order to actively remediate the contaminated soil in comparison to the passive treatment from the PRBs, engineered biopiles have been constructed — this is what hides under those black covers.

The contaminated soil is removed from the ground and placed on a specially engineered liner system, creating a barrier between the contaminated soil and the soil below. The biopiles at Casey were the first of their kind in Antarctica, and research into the performance of the liner system has been done in collaboration with Queen’s University, Canada and Monash University.

The breakdown of the fuel in the biopiles occurs at a greater rate in comparison to if it were left in the ground. The question is, how does the breakdown/degradation of the fuel occur? The answer lies within the soil and its native Antarctic inhabitants — microbes.

Left in the frozen ground, the soil microbes work at a much slower speed to break down the fuel. When placed in a biopile the temperature of the soil increases, and the microbes work faster, even if only at a higher rate for three summer months.

In order to give the microbes a kick start when the biopiles are constructed, nutrients in the form of fertiliser are added. Research on the microbial community in the Casey biopiles has been carried out in collaboration with researchers from the University of New South Wales.

The main aim of the biopiles is to remediate the soil to low fuel and nutrient levels so that it can be used for projects around the station such as under the buildings and on roads. The less than one percent of the continent that is ice-free is home to 99 percent of Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity. Therefore, soil is a precious and limited ecosystem resource in Antarctica, and there is an inherent value in keeping the soil in Antarctica rather than removing it.

Our goal is to help preserve healthy Antarctic soils by sustainably returning fuel-impacted soils back to a condition where they pose minimal environmental risk and can regain their natural biological function. 

The main focus for the Remediation project this summer season at Casey is to complete final treatment of the soil in the biopiles and then, working with the Infrastructure team, return the soil to the environment. This will be achieved by setting up a series of treatment cells for a final washing of the soil with water.

Any nutrient or fuel-enriched  water will then be passed through resin-filled columns in the project’s Water Treatment Container (WTC). Since arriving at Casey in early November, the team has been de-winterising their work site (eg. removing snow), setting up the WTC, sampling soil from a rather frozen biopile 4, melting out frozen contaminated water from last season to treat, and preparing the wash cells for soil washing. A big thanks to trades support from Casey for their assistance around the site!

Finally, this year marks a special year for Johan, one of our team members. The Remediation team would like to acknowledge Johan’s nine years of support to the project, and this being his tenth straight summer season, his contribution to the Australian Antarctic Program. Thank you to our Swedish magician, whiz on the machinery, ski instructor and chocolate monster — don’t touch his chocolate as we’re sure it provides him super powers.

Remediation Team

Getting to know a Casey expeditioner — Deb Holmes

Name: Deb Holmes

From: Hobart, but originally from Melbourne.

Previous seasons? 2017/18 Summer at Davis and Casey

Job title: Meteorologist

Describe your role in two sentences: I provide weather forecasts and guidance for aviation, field camp and station activities. Always looking out to forecast the next blizz!

What did you do before your joined the AAD?

I’m a meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology based at the Tasmanian State Forecasting Centre in Hobart.

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

I love the variability of the weather in Antarctica and at Casey — we may have blue skies and calm winds one day, then a blizzard the next. Always keeps me on my toes!

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

Astronomer — I love looking up at a clear night sky — hoping that I’ll see an Aurora Australis this summer!

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

The weather is certainly much more interesting this season compared to last year! Every season has different people and new experiences so it’s hard to compare the two! So far, I’m loving this season!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time on station, I like to read books, watch movies/tv shows, play some keyboard, go to the gym and help out with the Brewery. I also try to go exploring around the station/off station whenever I get a chance!

What song sums up your Casey experience so far?

'Home’ by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros — this song seems to play a lot in the kitchen and always puts me in a great mood!

What actor would play you in a film version of our 72nd ANARE season here at Casey?

Probably Zooey Deschanel — I like to think I look a little like her.

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit?

Definitely my black and yellow down jacket — keeps me toasty and warm in any weather!

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

Favourite Book: ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy — a great adventure story!

Favourite movie: ‘500 Days of Summer’ — a quirky chick flick.

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

My typical slushie playlist would be some acoustic music interspersed with some country music and a little Michael Bublé. I may be known to put a fair few Christmas songs in the mix as well during December.

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

A sight: The sun setting over the Vanderford Glacier on the Browning Peninsula.

A smell: Freshly baked bread in the kitchen just before smoko.

A sound: Adélie Penguins squawking to each other at Shirley Island.

A feeling: Feeling like I was back at home as soon as I stepped out of the TerraBus at Casey.

A taste: The taste of the incredible food served up by our chefs on station.

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

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince (translated from the original French)

Something people may not know about you:

I have an identical twin sister.