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.