The tale of Mabel, a Casey stalwart, and her loyal BoM caretakers.


Jump, jump, jump. Pause. Pick my route.

Jump, jump, jump. Change hands.

It's crisp, clear, a beautiful morning. Last night's snowfall is glinting orange and yellow in the early light. I'm carrying a slightly heavy, awkwardly shaped metal case and rockhopping across what appears to be a boulder field, but I know there's more to it. The snow hides a layer of ice that is too thin to bear me, and below that, a melt lake of icy water to my knees, or maybe thighs. I don't intend to find out.

This is the summer journey to Mabel, a wooden hut of venerable years perched on a small hill behind Casey. Because of her name, I cannot help but call her 'she', and have to confess I sometimes greet her like a person. My capacity to anthropomorphise almost anything has gone wild in Antarctica.

Mabel is home to the Casey part of CSIRO's GasLab, and my metal case contains glass flasks which I will fill, almost strangely, with air. But this isn't any air. Using a specialised system built by CSIRO, we fill flasks only when the wind blows from the southern quadrant, and it's some of the purest on the planet. We return the flasks to Australia, carefully packed in layers of foam, and analysis by CSIRO's scientists of carbon dioxide, methane and a host of other gases builds the big picture of what's happening in the earth's atmosphere year on year.

A flask fill (we always do two flasks at a time) can be a fiddly job and sometimes it takes several goes to get it right. But I'm slowly getting more skilled and it's very satisfying when the green 'good sample' light appears on the pump unit.

The foot journey to Mabel takes maybe 10 minutes each way. The lake is close to the Red Shed, and if a foot were to slip my legs would be very cold and wet, and I'd have to stop work and go inside promptly to change. But in today's weather, and even in deep winter, that's not high stakes, just very inconvenient.

After my flask fill I get back inside and my phone pings. It's my sister-in-law, sending pictures of my beautiful niece and nephew on their first day back at school. My 10 year old nephew is going to a new school this year. They beam out from the pictures, these dear children, so far away. Usually I would go and stay with them in the summer holidays, and at other times of year. Suddenly I'm almost in tears, despite my delight at the photos. Was I right to have come here? What am I doing? A year is a long time, especially in the life of a child.

GasLab's work is key to understanding what's happening to the planet, to figuring out how we can try to take care of it for the generations to come. I look at the flask case, filled with those precious air samples, and I think, this is for them. For my nephew and niece, for my dear friend's little boy. For all the children in my life, and all of their generation, to whom we owe a planet that can sustain them as it has sustained us. We owe them the same beauty and grandeur as we have found here.​

Clare Ainsworth

BoM Observer - Casey Station