Spring has arrived at Mawson with sightings of snow petrels, a skua and Weddell seal pups. We also have, back by popular demand, Pete’s Report.

Pete’s report

Well I’ve had a bit of a hiatus in preparing my reports missing last month’s submission but I did contribute to a few other stories, so I wasn’t completely slack.
A lot happens in two months in Antarctica. When I wrote my last report on 8th August the sun was rising at 9:38am and setting at 4:10pm giving us about 10 hours of light with twilight included. At present the sun is rising at 5:18am, setting at 7:52pm and with twilight our days are about 20 hours long! In fact the sky never fully gets dark at all now. You can see a faint blue on the horizon where the sun is tracking and within a month we’ll have no true night at all.

This will signal the end of our aurora watching. Every night as I go to bed I have that one last look out my window to see what’s on show, only to be left with the dilemma of then getting up and dressed again to head out and take photos of the spectacle. On Monday and Tuesday nights I went out. A particularly good show took place on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The aurora was coming from directly South and wiggling over towards station before smoothing out into big wide strips out to the west, coming around and then turning into big curtains as it headed east. I could tell by its shape that there should be purples at the top of the curtain of light, and the photos proved me right as they showed up in the long exposures. With the naked eye though, only the greens were visible. Auroras never stop amazing me. No matter how many I see, they are spectacular to watch.

While talking about the skies, we had our best blizzard last week, lasting for three days. The visibility was down to just metres and winds of consistently over 70 knots, 130km/hr for the entire three days. Sitting here writing this today, a week later, the sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky and it’s a balmy −12.2C. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in paradise looking out the window at the magnificent view.
Two months ago there were no animals to be seen from station and indeed emperor penguins were the only other living creatures to be spotted other than us out in the field. Now we have Weddell seals galore, with the first pups being sighted last weekend. Three snow petrels have been spied around station. There was a skua sighted at Auster on Monday and this week we start the official look out for the first Adelie penguins returning to Bechervaise Island. Within weeks there'll be thousands of them back. It’s a great lift to the spirits to see some animals returning and a definite reminder spring is here.
On the work front there's plenty going on, preparing for the summer work program and getting all our re-orders in. With a year’s worth of gear to buy there are quotes to source and then orders to go in and all this has to leave enough time for the gear to be delivered to shipping and processed in time to make it onto the ship for our re-supply in February. It still seems odd putting in an order knowing it won’t arrive until we are leaving in four months time! One of our less desirable work issues a few weeks back was a frozen sewer line, on a weekend of course! The whole station was affected as it was the outlet to the Waste Treatment Plant that was frozen. People only used water for essentials, washing clothes was banned for a day, even Saturday night’s dishes had to be left until Sunday morning. The Trades Team rallied around Saturday until late while we tracked down where the problem was, worked out it was ice not just a blockage and in the end we wrapped the pipe in some blankets and pumped warm air around the outside to thaw it out, giving Ian a chance to use one of his favourite toys, the Herman Nelson heater. Much to our delight this had the desired affect after a few hours and the station sewerage system was back up and running by Sunday morning.

Another not so amusing part of life down here are fire alarms, thankfully a false one this time, but none the less, just as annoying at 3:50am. On Monday night we had low pressure in a fire sprinkler system. The pressure switch detected this as it should and set off the fire alarm. During any fire alarm every alarm on the entire station sounds, and loudly as sometimes they might need to be heard over a blizzard. The entire station has to either go to their position if they are rostered on the Fire Team or muster if not. Once everyone is accounted for the alarm can be turned off. Whilst this is happening the Fire Chief will be assessing the situation to determine if it’s real or a false alarm. All that commotion at 3:50am is some wakeup call I can assure you.

Another trivial fact of the tradies’ life is our building maintenance system, the BMCS. This monitors pumps, heating, water etc and sends out alarms via a paging system 24/7 when problems occur. Alarms are classed three different ways, routine or priority, which only get sent through during waking hours, and critical alarms which come through any time of the day or night. The alarms are indicating something has gone wrong or is potentially about to, like a building dropping below a set temperature indicating a heating fault, somewhat serious down here as I’m sure you could appreciate! During really cold weather, we get low temperature alarms on our sewerage system. These are often false due to the location of the sensors, plus we have a second back up alarm which lets us know it’s for real. This time of year with the −20’sC mostly behind us we generally get a rest from the low temperature alarms, however, just today we got the summer equivalent, a high temperature alarm! No doubt the first of many, even with −12C outside the sun heats up some sensors to over 45 degrees sending us a high temperature alarm. You might say, what’s it matter if the temperature is too high? Well particularly in winter it would be an indication that something is not right and we need to check the pipe or sensor or see what else is happening as you’d never get a sewer pipe this warm normally.

OK, I think I've rambled on enough. I hope you've enjoyed my report into a few varied areas of life at Mawson.
Last but not least for this month’s report I will mention my youngest niece who is getting married on the 27th October. All the best and congratulations to you both, Elise and Trav.


Spring has arrived at Mawson

Apart from the 15 of us at Mawson, emperor penguins and Weddell seals are the only animals we have seen during the winter. As described in previous stories the emperor penguin chicks are growing very quickly but many of us at the station were concerned last week as they had to endure three days of constant blizzard conditions with very limited visibility and winds in excess of 70 knots/hour for most of that time. However, following their visit to Auster on Monday and Tuesday, Chris, Wayne, Kelvin and Hendo reported that only a few chicks died during the blizzard. Whilst at Auster, the party saw a skua and also a small group of Antarctic petrels close to Macey Island.

On station, snow petrels have been seen flying around and over West Arm. On Sunday 7th October the first Weddell seal pup was observed at Paterson Islands and since then many more pups have been recorded. On Sunday, Kelvin led us to an unnamed island, unofficially known now as Cope Island just north of Paterson Islands where we saw 11 female Weddell seals with three pups. On Tuesday there were 15 females present with five pups. 

No Adelie penguins have arrived yet but spring has certainly arrived at Mawson.