Summer is coming, what does that mean?

Are we there yet?

Life is getting pretty busy down here with the end of the season approaching fast. There’s plenty to do for all, buildings are being de-winterised, cleaning is being conducted and the all-important packing up of everyone’s UPE (personal belongings) to be sent home on the Aurora Australis. Don’t forget the most important milestone of all…the end of season dinner before our winter crew of 19 lays out the welcome mat for next season’s crew.

In Dieso land, there are a few more things to contend with before we can pack up and go home. Along with our normal Maximo work list, we have a couple of major operations to undertake. Adding to a container full of RTA (Return to Australia) items, this year several machines have reached their end of life and will be sent home for refurbishment or replacement including one of our rather large Grove cranes, Hitachi 5-tonne excavator and a Polaris Ranger. All items need to be accounted for, packed and ready to ship.

Next on the list is the fuel resupply of Whoop Whoop. It is much more cost effective and efficient to transport drums of fuel during the winter as after the sea ice melts in summer the only way to achieve this is by sling load under helicopters. To accomplish this machines and drums of ATK (Aviation Turbine Kerosine) are loaded onto sleds. These sleds are towed behind Prinoth snow groomers and Hägglunds some 60km over the sea ice up the coast, making a right hand turn up onto the ice plateau to Whoop Whoop. Once there machines and fuel are unloaded and the team makes an about turn returning to station. This is all done after an extensive risk assessment including checking weather and most importantly sea ice conditions, due to the weight of the loads being transported across the sea ice.

Most of the machinery and vehicles have been winterised, batteries removed, blizz covers fitted and parked in blizz free areas. Now we need to de-winterize them all. Batteries that have been periodically charged over the winter are installed, covers removed. How do you start a cold machine…one that has been outside in the elements at temperatures as low as −32°C? You don’t! Enter the dieso’s best friend, the Herman Nelson petrol powered and burning heaters. Once set up these machines blow hot air out through large hoses that are placed around the machine to warm it back up to an acceptable temperature, melting out all the snow and ice that has accumulated over the season. Once we have warm machines, they rumble back into life and are checked, ready for service.

The final hurdle is building the SLA or Ski Landing Area on the sea ice in front of station. The SLA is used for flights to our sister stations of Mawson and Casey with the occasional flight from an international base, including the South Pole itself. Measuring 1500m long and 50m wide the SLA needs to be groomed, flagged and set up in accordance with the (very large) Intra-Continental Aviation Manual. The first flight in this year will be a DC-3 Basler to support station operations, soon followed by a smaller Twin Otter.  These aircraft fly all the way down from Canada for the summer season each year.

Did I say final hurdle?…I meant final hurdle before the ship arrives as our last tasking is the station resupply and handover to next season’s crew. Everyone on station gets a job for resupply which usually lasts between 8–10 days. Around 800,000 litres of fuel, 200,000 litres of water and a year’s supply of cargo will be unloaded from the ship. RTA (Return to Australia) items, UPE (Unaccompanied Personal Effects) and most importantly a tired-but-proud winter crew will be loaded onto the ship for the two week voyage home. Are we there yet?

Dane (Station Mechanical Supervisor)