This week, Mawson expeditioners follow in the footsteps of the station’s namesake, Sir Douglas Mawson. There are also some photos from beneath the sea ice and of Chapman ridge and surrounds.

How times have changed

Way back on the 18th February 1931 at Cape Bruce, Antarctica, Sir Douglas Mawson in the company of ten other members of his party, proclaimed “I, Sir Douglas Mawson, do hereby proclaim and declare to all men that, from and after the date of these presents the full sovereignty of the Territory which we have discovered and explored extending continuously from Adelie Land, westwards to Mac.Robertson Land being that part of the Antarctic mainland and offlying islands (including amongst others, Drygalski Island, Hordern Island, David Island, Masson Island, Henderson Island, Haswell Islands and an Island in Longitude 103 deg 15 mins East, shown on our charts) situated between meridia 138 deg and 60 deg east of Greenwich and south of Latitude 64 deg as far as the South Pole, vests in His Majesty King George the Fifth, His Heirs, and Successors forever.
Mawson and his party had arrived at this remote location on board the ship Discovery having set sail from Hobart in November 1930. Monday 15th October 2012 (some 81 years later), another party arrives at this same remote location and walks in the same footsteps as those Antarctic heroes. This time, however, there are differences.

Firstly, the mode of transport was different. Our party made the 98 odd kilometre journey from Mawson station in the relative warmth and comfort of two Haggulands. With GPS navigation, radios and satellite phones to keep us on track and in touch with the station at all times.

Secondly, we wore modern thermal clothing, Sorrel glacier boots, synthetic gloves, beanies, goggles and balaclavas keeping us all as warm as toast.

Thirdly, we were armed with digital cameras and videos helping us all record those special Antarctic memories in a compact format and allowing us to send images back home to loved ones when we returned to station. No messy processing to worry about. The results of our camera handy work can be displayed in an instant.

But probably the most notable of all, which clearly illustrates how much things have changed over the past years, was the sight of our small team of winterers, surrounding Mawson’s Proclamation Plaque, whilst eating chocolate ice cream from cones.
Yes indeed. We have come a long way. If only Sir Douglas could see us now.


Beneath the sea ice in Horseshoe Harbour

It was a nice balmy day, −10C with no wind so Wayne and I went out onto the harbour sea ice close to shore and drilled two holes through the ice with a Jiffy drill. The ice was close to 2m thick.

I attached a camera to a long bamboo cane, lowered it through the hole in the ice and took a series of time lapse photos. The yellow-brown layer under the ice is algae and it is thriving in a greenhouse effect. The algae will increase with the daylight hours as we approach summer. The algae is the beginning of the food chain that gives the Antarctic waters the great biological richness that supports life right up to the whales.

To me this shows the extreme importance of the sea ice around Antarctica to planet Earth.


Chapman Ridge and ASPA 101 Taylor Glacier

On Sunday 14th October six of us, Pete (Trip Leader), Ian, Paul, Hendo, Kelvin and Bob, departed Mawson in two Hägglunds and drove to our most westerly field hut on a small island in the Colbeck archipelago. The 85km journey took approximately six hours. The ice was rafted and rough in front of the Jelbart glacier and two significant tide cracks had to be crossed, but otherwise the trip was uneventful and enjoyable.

Our primary objective was to photograph the emperor penguin chicks in the Taylor Glacier Colony on Monday 15th October. This colony is only one of three emperor penguin colonies where the birds breed on the ground, albeit ground covered in snow. In the other 40 colonies the emperor penguins breed on the sea ice. Taylor Glacier colony is designated Antarctic Special Protective Area (ASPA) 101 and permitted entry is restricted to three visits per year. In the ASPA there are two automatic cameras on the surrounding ridgeline and these cameras had to be checked and cleaned and the memory cards and desiccant replaced. Once the primary scientific objective was achieved we drove west around the glacier tongue and visited Cape Bruce where Mawson landed on 18th February 1931 (read Paul’s previous story) and then we had one day spare and we decided to use it to explore wonderful Chapman ridge and its surrounding areas.

On Tuesday 16th October we drove to one of the lovely bays in the Chapman ridge area. In 1997 I had seen a whale skull in the bay and we were all keen to see if we could find it again. Unfortunately the skull had been severely damaged and had broken up in the intervening years but some of the bones were still visible stuck in the ice close to one of the beaches. After photographing the bones, our party divided into two groups of three. Pete, Paul and Hendo decided that they would explore the lower slopes and examine in detail the rocks and lichens and spend their time exploring the melt lakes and beautiful Barkell lake which is a photographer’s delight with its interesting air bubbles trapped in the frozen water and algae mats beneath. The other party of Kelvin, Ian and Bob opted to climb one of the steep snow slopes onto the top of the ridge. Pete’s photographs show the rocks, lichens and moss and the interesting shapes and colours in Barkell lake. Pete’s party then drove to the other side of the ridge and explored lake Reynolds before returning to Colbeck hut. On the top of the ridge Kelvin’s party was also amazed with the rich growth of lichens far exceeding anything they had seen at Mawson. There are several peaks on the ridge and we managed to climb all of them. On one of peaks we saw a small cairn and Kelvin spied a film canister amongst the rocks in the cairn. Inside the canister there was a piece of folded blue paper where the three parties which had visited the site in recent years had listed their names. The first entry was written by Ingrid who actually did not climb to the summit as she spent the day exploring for Jade icebergs with Ash (an account of Ingrid’s adventure on the day can be read in Ingrid on the Ice). Adam and Scott climbed to the top on 31st August 1998. The next party of three on 16 November 1998 was led by Dave Clement and then the last entry was written by Ivor Harris and Jim Bumak in 2006.

Obviously many more people have climbed the peaks on Chapman ridge but we did not find any record of their climbs. Phil Chapman told Ingrid that when he first climbed the ridge in 1958 he left a record of the climb in a note in a tobacco tin under a cairn. We could not find the cairn but I wonder if the tobacco tin is still present on the ridge somewhere. On descent from the ridge we say plenty of “angel wings” (two snow petrel wings joined by a few bare bones) which indicated that many snow petrels breed on the ridge and that the resident skuas in past years had not only been active but also very successful. On the drive back to the hut we checked out a spectacular jade berg.