Working at remote sites in Antarctica, and remembering those who have paid the ultimate price in this harsh land.

Remote maintenance for the Bureau of Meteorology

One of the advantages of being a Met Tech at Casey station, is occasionally we get to go to some special remote places for work.

Casey and the surrounding area is home to eight automatic weather stations that require servicing. Some are a Hagglund drive away, some can only be accessed by light aircraft, and one is even a three day round trip.

One of those special places is the Browning Peninsula. It is the third peninsula south of Casey station. Jutting out into the Southern Ocean, along with its islands, it is sandwiched between the Peterson Glacier and the massive Vanderford Glacier. It’s about three or so hours from Casey by Hagglund over the Peterson Glacier. If you get there any faster, you will have a very unpleasant ride bouncing over sastrugi (wind sculptured snow) that sits atop the hard blue glacial ice.

The weather station here is located on top of a rocky hill with spectacular views of the surrounding glaciers. It is also cold and very windy! Due to the shorter daylight hours from late autumn to early spring, we had to time our arrival and plan well to get the servicing job done in the light. Although we had made good progress with our work and still had more daylight, before we were finished we were chased away by increasing winds whipping up the snow from the ground. As the weather was looking worse in the distance up on the glacier, we retreated early to the nearby hut where we had planned to stay for the evening. Some digging was required to get to the loo!

One of the things I find wonderful about being an expeditioner in Antarctica, is spending quality time getting to know my amazing companions, exchanging experiences and listening to life stories, in some of remotest places on the planet. That night I shared the evening with my fellow Met Tech Bruce and our station doctor Sophie. Their company certainly didn’t disappoint.

The next morning, after reading some entires in the hut log, and writing our own, we tackled finishing our maintenance job. I was doing the final calibrations, typing on the laptop keyboard using a pencil so I could keep my gloves on in -22 degrees, when snow and ice started blowing onto the keyboard! Job done, time to leave!

After a particularly busy and tiring summer this season, outings like this create memories that I will cherish forever.

Shaun James

Senior Met-Tech, Casey station

A dangerous place

This place is often described with complimentary superlatives; pristine, stunning, beautiful - and rightly so. It is most definitely all of these things, but it is also the most extreme environment on the planet, with winds in excess of 200 km/h, temperatures that plunge below -50C, and visibility that can drop to zero almost without warning. This place can turn on weather that’s hard to believe, in a time frame that leaves no chance to react, and we keep a close eye on any potential wind events in particular. We need to be proactive and not reactive.

With the extremely low temperatures, the snow here is quite light and dry, and it doesn’t take much to lift it into the air. When you have a build up of fresh snow, combined with a strong wind, you get a ‘white-out’, or blizzard. The Bureau of Meteorology defines a blizzard as “strong winds in conjunction with blowing or falling snow with an expected reduction in horizontal visibility to less than 200 metres”. We take a lot of safety precautions down here, and in conjunction with our training and equipment we can reduce the hazard significantly, but it is still a dangerous place. Part of our daily job as weather observers is to provide the 'ensemble' for the station twice a day. This gives a graphical forecast of the air pressure, cloud cover, wind direction, wind speed, temperature, and snow fall (precipitation). Forewarned is forearmed.

As I have mentioned, it is a dangerous place, and unfortunately this has been illustrated through the loss of several expeditioners over the years that Australia has been conducting research expeditions to the continent. This Sunday, the 6th of August, we will be flying the Australian flag at half mast in remembrance of Geoffrey Reeve.

Geoffrey was the Senior Electrician and Deputy Station Leader at Casey in 1979. Early in August 1979, Mr Reeve was one of six members of the winter party who camped at Robinson Ridge, a rocky out-crop about 10 km from Casey, to undertake maintenance and biological observations. On August 5 he was moving in the camp precincts when he was caught in a sudden blizzard which reached a speed of 96 knots. Other members of the party found Geoffrey Reeve unconscious, less than a kilometre from the camp. A search and rescue team, including the medical officer, Dr K. de Jonge, was sent from Casey by tractor, and brought Mr Reeve back to the station. Further resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.

We have had winds of this strength twice already this season at Casey, and recently broke the record for the coldest recorded July day in history here at the station.

Within the station limits lies a hill dedicated to Geoffrey, and marked with a cross and plaque bearing his name. Reeves Hill overlooks Newcomb Bay, and the Casey station surrounds. It provides an unobstructed view north across the Adelie penguin colony of Shirley Island and to the ice beyond. The hill is a nesting ground for snow petrels and south polar skuas through the warmer summer months, and a peaceful place to take a short break from station and enjoy the majesty of Antarctica. The memorial cross can be seen from most places on station and is a constant reminder for us all.

Bruce Dening

Met-Tech, Casey Station