Did you know that Mawson has two mascots? Some consider them to be the perfect pets. We also explain the importance of drilling nearby ocean ice.

Our frozen ocean platform

Have you ever wanted to walk on water? Down here, we often do! We’re lucky that for much of the year the ocean surface is frozen over.  The ice started growing about six weeks ago and there is now a thin blanket over the ocean thick enough to walk on and even to drive vehicles on.  Part of our role at Mawson station is to collect measurements of the sea ice thickness and growth during the winter season for researchers at the University of Tasmania. The data forms part of the Antarctic State of the Environment Report.

Once a week we head out to four different sites at Mawson and use a small hand auger to drill through the ice. We also measure how thick the snow is on top of the sea ice. Snow is a very good insulator, so once it covers the sea ice it slows down the rate of heat loss from the ocean to the atmosphere, which slows the growth of ice underneath.  We then use a tape measure to find the ice thickness and to check the depth of the ocean below the surface.

For the last month, the ice in Mawson Harbour has been growing about 10cm a week and is now over 90cm thick. To visit all the sites is about a 6 kilometre walk and can be quite a delightful half-day out. Last week we had perfectly calm conditions, with a pale pink sky and mountain views in the distance.

What the new sea ice growth means for life at Mawson is that soon we can start to venture out along the coast in both directions. Until now we have been confined to foot travel, but in the next few weeks we will be able to drive vehicles on the ice as well.

The ideal pets

Most people have been led to believe that the last huskies departed Mawson in 1993.  Not so!

Here at Mawson we still have huskies, two in fact.  One female named Vida and one male named Noogis. Both huskies still fill important roles on station and are looked upon as part of the wintering team.

Vida, although very gentle by nature, has a fierce looking grin. Vida was imported from Scott Base in 1979 and had 5 litters.  Her main role today is to greet visitors to the station as they walk through the main entrance foyer of the Red Shed.  A reassuring smile from Vida puts new arrivals instantly at ease.  It’s like being welcomed home by an old friend.  She also doubles up as security when the other winterers are safely tucked away in bed. The winterers sleep easy knowing Vida is on deck, keeping an eye out for would be intruders and burglars.  In reality, huskies were seldom aggressive to humans though sometimes to each other.  Crime statistics from Mawson show break-ins and theft statistics have dramatically declined since the “Husky Patrol” came into being.

The other part of this elite crime fighting partnership is Noogis (October 1977-October 1986).

Once the lead dog on a sled team, Noogis now spends his days on guard in the lounge of the Red Shed. From this strategic position, Noogis is able to keep a close eye on the day to day goings on around station. Nothing escapes his attentive gaze. Noogis is very quiet and keeps to himself mostly, but he is always on hand to listen to expeditioners’ concerns, even into the wee small hours of the morning.

Both Vida and Noogis are well behaved animals.  They go about their day to day tasks without complaint, and seek no rewards for their fine efforts. They look after their own needs, and have no impact whatsoever on station resources.  Some might say they are the ideal pets.

Paul Deverall