Shorter days, something brewing, the wandering Doc and J’s nine fill the Mawson news pages this week.

Daylight hours diminishing

Most areas of Antarctica experience continual daylight over summer and uninterrupted darkness over winter. South of the Antarctic Circle 66⁰33ˈ S, the sun never rises above the horizon on some winter days and in summer the sun never sets below the horizon. This occurs because the South Pole during winter is tilted away from the sun and lies in darkness where as during summer it is tilted more towards the sun thus is bathed in more daylight. The Arctic and Antarctic circles move in cycles (Milankovitch cycles) and are currently moving closer to the poles at a rate of 14.5m per year. In 10,000 years they will reach 68⁰ latitude.

Mawson station lies at 68⁰ south and at the moment were losing about 8–9 minutes of sunlight per day. This means for this time of year were starting and finishing work in the dark. Today for example sunrise is at 10:01 AM and sunset is at 3:27 PM giving us just 5h 26m of day length. Between 14 and 28 of June the sun will not rise at all with the Mawson winter solstice being on Friday 21 June at 10:04 AM.

The winter solstice marks the half-way turning point for the hardy winter expeditioner and as customary will be a time for celebration and cheer.

On the other hand between 30 November and 12 January the station will be bathed in all-day sunlight without the sun rising or setting with the Mawson summer solstice falling on Saturday 21 December at 10:11 PM.

There is also a good possibility of celebrations once again.

Pictures of sunrise/sunsets from Mawson station are below.

The wandering doc

The highlight of this week was a SAR exercise held on Thursday, 9 May. The day started out sunny and relatively windless, although was a little on the chilly side. When the SAR exercise was announced, a coordinated search was organised to locate the ‘victim'. It was a good experience to be part of a coordinated and planned search, looking for a person’s whereabouts based only on ideas consistent with his usual habits and behaviour. Our ‘victim’ was known for his nocturnal photography, and sure enough he had wandered off at night to photograph aurorae and had ‘taken a fall’ off a cliff in the dark. Once the ‘victim’ was located in a tidal sump at the bottom of a cliff, he had to be accessed, assessed and stabilized. Then recovery ropes systems were set up, and the patient was hauled up the cliff-face. The whole exercise took an afternoon and was tough and realistic. It was made more so by a sharp drop in temperature with an increase in wind speed. However, many good and valuable lessons were learned from the day. You will be pleased to know that the ‘victim’ and rescuers are all doing well.

A few cold days this week saw strange ice patterns developing on our mess windows, along with some stunning sunsets. Some of these ice patterns melted and re-froze before our eyes, causing strange and pretty patterns.

A recent, large collapse of the ice cliffs to the west of Mawson gave people a first-hand opportunity to get off-station for a walk and to explore and investigate the power of nature.

A nighttime stroll around Mawson revealed a different perspective from daytime living, as shown in some photos below.

Life on an Antarctic station centres around the mess and meals. Our chef does a spectacular job keeping us fed, entertained and amused with his special feasts. The mess is the heart of station life, and a good chef is what makes your station sing. Three hearty cheers are well deserved for our chef, Justin Chambers, for his constant hard work and his special culinary efforts. 

Something brewing

October may seem like a long way away, but hidden in the cavernous plant room in the basement of the red shed, October is coming fast. If you can find your way through the maze of tanks and pipes, boilers and electrical switchboards (plumber’s paradise) you may find The Nunatak Brewery. This small but well organized space contains every ingredient required to make a great home brew. October is the theme at present, with the brewing of the small brews for Oktoberfest well underway. Time on the shelf to mature is the key and with the final three being put down this week, we are well placed to have our premium selection at its best when the time comes.

J’s nine

Trent “Trent”

It’s another beautiful Mawson Monday. Blowing snow at 55knots, minus 12C and the sun appears as a faint hue inside the turmoil of the swirling winds. We have our little chat in front of a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle that Trent has been working on over the past few weeks. Just to the side of us is a rarely used foosball table and some magazines sprawled out on the remainder of the sofa. Trent is going dry for this interview but I decide upon a Twinning’s Green Tea and Jasmine along with a piece of ginger, coconut and pistachio slice.

You’re a sparky,  gym junkie and almost full-time student. Is your life back home as busy as down here or are you just trying to pack as much in as you can?

Yeah, my life would be as busy back home as it is here. My time is filled up with different things back home. Down here I go to the gym more often than I would back home, and study more. Back home you go out with mates and stuff after work and that can use up a far bit of your time. It’s different. The working week is different as well. Back home in the mines I’m like four weeks on, one week off so I try to cram as much as I can into that week off as opposed to down here where we work a 40hr week.

I raise my eyebrows and we both have a chuckle. Cookie enters the room and sets his camera and tripod up looking out of the window and into a blizzard. ‘I’ve got to do some filming shortly for the Division'. ‘That’s nice. Trent and I are just doing the nine'. Back to the questions.

Back in Hobart you were appointed fire chief by an exclusive panel (Cookie and two trainers). How are you finding the role down here on the ice?

It’s enjoyable but there’s a lot more work than I originally thought. I’m trying to organise it for everone and I’ve only had the same training as them. And so they’re looking to you for guidance, but you’ve only got the same training and experience as they do. So I see the job more about getting everybody on the same page or wavelength. It’s all good though. I realise there needs to be somebody at the top who gathers the information given by others, and then makes a decision based on that.

We have established that this is your first time down here. Why did you choose a year down here and what of your expectations?  Have they been met?

This was the second time I applied to come down here. I applied when I was living in Canada. My visa was due to expire and I thought where else could I work? I sort of applied based on the conditions possibly being similar? And also relating the two. Actually they are quite different. Down here especially we have a lot of wind, which I was not used to back in Canada. I enjoy travelling and experiencing different parts of the world. I thought coming down here would be amazing, and absolutely it is. It has definitely lived up to my expectations, and I haven’t even done much!

Trent and I start to give Cookie some grief about making a video all by himself. Yes, we chuckle as two comedians would, but not Cookie. Cookie chuckles with a hint of trepidation. I think our fearless leader is a little nervous — time for another joke aimed his way.

The training for our time down here, back in Kingston (Tasmania), was intensive and interesting. What were the highlights for you?

Um well…yeah. It’s hard to go back. I did enjoy the fire training. It was a lot of fun, we learned heaps, it was a good team bonding experience and stuff like that. I got a day of boating which wasn’t so bad. It was all very interesting, learning new things, delving into things you’ve only skimmed the surface on before. Like the generators were really interesting. My first taste of training was flying off to a wind farm in Perth and learning all about wind generators and stuff. Yeah it was really good. The rest of the training at Kingston was very interesting.

We cooked up a storm together in the kitchen a few weeks ago and had a great time. What other sorts of trades are you learning about down here and are you still learning a lot about yours considering the harsh conditions.

Yeah I think we’re always still learning about life. Nobody really knows everything. Yeah the concepts are still the same down here; just the applications are a little different due to the environment. I like getting in the kitchen with you and learning to cook. Helping the diesos and learning about the gene's and stuff with the observations done every day. Always trying to give Keldyn a hand, or well clean up after him anyway!

We both have a good old laugh.

As an electrician there is still so much to learn down here. I mean like from the power generation all the way through to small jobs like changing bulbs etc — I mean wind turbines? I had never even seen them before, but its basic power generation and the principles are understood. It’s great to be a part of it from start to finish. Yeah and like learning hydroponics or SAR - I’ve never done anything like that before. I had a little vege garden with my pops when I was about ten years [old], just growing strawberries and stuff. But I’ve never done anything like hydroponics - yeah it’s a really big thing down here. Also learning about yourself, you know, learning your limits. Personal development, great. Down here more so than back home we need to think of others before ourselves. It’s important.

Great, now Cookie wants us to leave the room. He’s getting a little shy over having to do this little video for the Antarctic Division. A few more jokes and Trent and I move on into the library.

Are there things you’re missing? Or thought you’d miss but aren’t?

Yeah of course — the cliché of missing your family and friends. But not really anything else. Down here you’ve got the gym, the bar and stuff like that. There isn’t much time down here to miss stuff. Sure I’m missing people’s birthdays and weddings and stuff but that’s the sacrifice I made to come down here. There is stuff, when looking at Google, that I’d like to buy myself but can’t because I’m down here. Like there’s this motorbike I want to buy when I get home and I want it now.

We both have a chuckle.

It’s a Triumph Daytona 675R.

We talk bikes for a while and then get back on track.

You're currently doing a 1500 piece jigsaw. Are there any other hobbies your doing down here or brought along to do?

When I knew I was coming down here I looked at how much free time I would have. I’ve always got study and down here it’s around 10–15 hours a week. So with that and the gym there’s not much time to do a lot of other things. I don’t really make stuff back home so you know, call me lazy but when I want something I just go out and buy it. I’m doing an advanced diploma in electrical instrumentation for oil and gas facilities and yeah it’s taking up a far bit of my time.

We then talk for the next ten minutes or so about the application of this study. In a nutshell Trent wants to chase the cash around the world. Good on ya mate. Stick at it!

Do you think the life we live down here can easily be described back home?

Not easily. When I talk about work to my mates it’s hard for them to understand things like bad weather days. Down here if for some reason we can’t work due to the bad weather outside, we just make it up at a later date. Whereas back home if you can’t work, that’s it. It’s a day lost. Down here you need to be flexible. A lot of people I talk to back home, about life down here sort of get it but, not quite. Anyway I guess that’s what makes it special. One of the big things is that you live where you work. Maybe home business people would understand. I’ve never had that before. It’s something I’ve had to deal with and learn from. It’s not just my house - I also share it with others.

Would you come down here again?

Absolutely!  I’d like to do all four stations. I’m not so sure I’ll be able to though. It’s a big ask, a big commitment.  But I’d like to. Even if I could come back to Mawson I’d say yes. Everyone here is ready to chip in. It’s a great lifestyle. We all seem to mesh well together. It’s great.

Is there anything else you like to add?

Umm? Basically we’ve covered it all. I’m glad to be here. Happy to be here. In the next couple of months going out on the sea ice will be fun. I can’t believe how fast it’s going down here. Yeah it’s amazing.

Hey thanks Trent for the hard work, open mind and this interview.