Hydroponics, blizz lines and a jolly to Hendo.


The Hydroponics facility at Mawson helps supplement our diet with fresh produce.

For environmental reasons, hydroponics growing media and plants are burnt each year usually near the end of a wintering crew’s stay in Antarctica. Thanks to the foresight of the 2011 Wintering Team, they removed and burnt all the old vegetation and growing media, cleaned the hydroponics facility and replanted. We arrived to find fresh growing media and established tomato, lettuce, snow peas and pepper plants.

Harvesting of lettuce and snow peas commenced a month after our arrival.

In addition to what the 2011 team planted, we have planted and harvested cress, radishes, sugar snap peas, rocket, basil, dill, oregano, ruby chard, beetroot leaves, mint and a variety of different lettuces.

Harvesting of tomatoes and peppers began this week. We expect to harvest 1 to 2kg of tomatoes per week.

Lebanese cucumbers will be ready next week and small yellow squash the week after.

Robert Kiil

Blizz lines

After being battered by nearly constant 30 knot (55kph) winds for weeks it was a pleasant surprise to awake on Thursday 3rd May to hardly a breeze. This sent a feeling of great joy around the station and an opportunity for everyone to do all those outside jobs which had been kept on hold for a while. Some of these works will be reported in later editions of Mawson News but in summary, the Melt Bell was checked and a new vent installed, a radio repeater was repaired on Mt Parsons with the installation of a new aerial, the roof of the Red Shed (the living, sleeping and medical quarters) was checked and wires on vent cowls tensioned and loose bolts tightened, a new fibre-optic cable was run from the Operations Building to the newly installed ARPANSA building, wind turbine towers were climbed and mechanisms inspected and the blizz lines were inspected, modified, improved and in the case of the most heavily used blizz line, totally realigned and modified.

Blizz lines or blizzard lines are ropes connecting one building to another, which we use when we are walking around the station or in the field in blizzards. What is a blizzard (blizz)? A blizzard must satisfy 4 factors. The wind must be equal to or greater than 34 knots, the temperature must be below zero, the visibility must be less than 100m and all these factors must last for at least one hour. So a blizzard is a gale force wind with blowing snow reducing visibility. In these situations and remember it could be dark, we walk from one building to another, holding onto a blizz line.

Malcolm is the blizz line monitor and he has spent many hours over the last week installing new sections, improving others, digging steps over and down blizz tails (bank of snow deposited downwind from any obstruction as a building, large boulder etc) and generally maintaining and improving all the lines. The most used blizz line is the section from the EVS (Emergency Vehicle Shelter) to the Trades Workshop. Seven people use this line several times every day. An accident occurred on this line where it crosses a blizz tail, so after speaking to all the users of the line a plan of action was developed. As it was not sensible to totally remove the blizz tail after every blizzard, Malcolm and Ian set to realigning the entire blizz line, transferring the rope so that it is always on the right hand side as one walks south from the Workshop to the EVS. This involved removing many obstructions and installing 2 additional drums full of rocks into the line. This realignment then allowed us to tension the rope as it crosses the blizz tail. We also aligned the rope with a series of steps up the blizz tail, improving the safety for the users. It will be interesting to assess the improvements during our next blizzard.

In addition to the blizz lines, when we walk in a blizzard we also have a Field Travel Conditions Advice Sheet, which is known colloquially in Antarctica as “Traffic Lights” as it has 4 categories of Field Travel (Normal, Caution, Danger and Stop) each with its own colour code (green, yellow, red and black). Since our arrival, 3 blizzards have been recorded in the red category for travel. In these conditions we only travel outside when it is necessary and in addition to the blizz lines we travel in pairs when possible, carry a radio and tell others where we are going and then ring them when we arrive at our destination. We also dress appropriately for the conditions wearing warm and windproof clothes, goggles, gloves and most importantly balaclavas and wristlets.

Jolly to Hendo

Saturday being perfect weather with near zero wind, Michael, Darren and I headed up to Mt Henderson field hut for a night. We decided on only one night as the weather was due to turn bad soon after lunch on Sunday.

Hendo Hut had needed a few things done and last trip the mattresses, bedding etc had been brought back to station for a wash and freshen up. We loaded all that was needed and headed off, arriving at Hendo just on sun rise! Well, due to Mt Henderson being in the way, the sun doesn’t hit the hut until very late this time of year (1pm), still sunrise in our eyes. We got the hut nice and warm and removed some snow and ice build up before settling in for a magic sunset and full moon rising which was happening simultaneously 180 degrees behind us. After this we got all the mattresses, pillows etc set up, settled in and had a lovely evening relaxing.

The next morning after some cheese and bacon sandwiches and some of Michael’s coffee bags he brought from Australia (a very welcome inclusion to any trip away), we packed up and headed home before the weather closed in. The trip home had some blowing snow, with minimal visibility at times, but tucked up safe and sound in a Hägglunds with radar as a backup we got home with about an hour to spare before the wind really picked up and blowing snow increased considerably.