Before I arrived at Casey I had not imagined how varied and dynamic my work in the Field Training team would be. Each night we go to bed with plans penciled in for the next day, then wake up, make coffee, check the weather and inevitably tweak the plans or run with something totally new as we work to optimize the outcomes for the day. The Field Training Officers (FTOs) have to specialise in the non-routine and flexibility, the reward for this is a diverse experience of Antarctica life.
Below is a taste of what the FTOs have been up to in the last few weeks supporting science projects and delivering training to expeditioners.
Today Nick Morgan flew out to the Totten Glacier overseeing the safety of the TIDE Project team as they retrieve data and renovate their radar towers ready for the next twelve months of measuring glacial depth and rates of movement. When I visited this sight with Nick to probe the area and check it was clear of crevasses I was humbled by how remote we were and how insignificant I felt. A featureless whiteness every way I looked and two thousand meters of glacial ice flowing beneath my feet.
Yesterday the legendary pilots from Helicopter Resources flew us out to the Browning Peninsula, and dropped a sling load of rafts, rescue and science equipment right on the edge of the lake. With the help of Jordan, (chef) and Matt (comms operator) we built a catamaran style inflatable raft from which we could take sediment samples from out in the middle of the lake. We then moved up valley to a second deeper lake which still held a layer of ice 80cm thick. Through this geologist, David Small, and I drilled and then took a sediment sample from a depth of 5.7m. It was a pretty exciting moment as we huddled around the ice-hole and withdrew our longest sediment core of the season, over one metre deep. Also, a satisfying way to finish the field work component of the King Project which had been so varied. During the season the FTOs had supported this project climbing to the tops of mountains, deep field camping, drinking tea at remote Russian camps, boating visits to the Windmill Islands, and drawing sediment from the middle of many lakes.
Greg Barras stepped up into the role of Senior FTO mid-season and has worked closely with station leader Bec, science Bec and Jac in operations to ensure FTOs are ready for deployment at a moment’s notice to maximize what gets achieved in the field. This week he has been looking ahead and planning delivery of search and rescue training for the wintering expeditioners. This will give the small team left here over winter understanding of the AAD’s incident management system and the capability to respond to a SAR incident under wintering FTO Jason Beachcroft’s leadership.
Whilst juggling co-ordination behind the scenes Greg has still managed to get out in the field leading numerous recreational iceberg cruises and leopard seal (photography) hunts which have been a highlight of many people’s times in Antarctica. He also led an amazing climb of Mt Sandow, near Bunger Hills, 400km from Casey. After landing in the twin otter on the glacier we roped up to navigate a crevasse field before using crampons and ice axes to ascend this beautiful peak. On top geologist David Small, from the King Project, collected some erratic rocks which had been deposited here as the glacier retreated. And in another trip to Bunger Hills a small detour from science was made to foster international relations by visiting a remote Russian research station for a cup of tea and freshly baked bread.
And every day without fail one of my FTO jobs at Casey is to be amused by the penguins. Wherever we stop, five minutes later they appear. They waddle up, take a peek, then waddle away. Last week they were launching out of the water to land on the gunwale of the boats to say'hi’ to our dedicated coxswain Tom Clarke and the Jolley Project team. This week they appeared in station and up on top of containers before diving off onto the deep blue tarp covering the quarter height container below them. I assume the blue looked like water, but instead of a splash it was a bounce and the little fella cartwheeled back in the air then went curiously on his way.
Not sure yet what’s happening tomorrow; supporting scientists or training expeditioners. But I do know that there will be random penguins appearing wherever I am.
By Mic Rofe, Field Training Officer