Mawson detects radiation as part of an international project, and the Auster penguin colony delights.

Auster again

The emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica. The male and female are similar in plumage and size, reaching 122cm in height and weighing anywhere from 22 to 45 kilograms, and living up to 40 years.

At Mawson we are lucky to have the company of these incredible birds all year round.

For me one of the great things about spending time down south are trips into the wilds. Auster Rookery and the little hut near Macey are by far my favourite places on the planet. To spend time with those amazing birds really is something else.

From our arrival at the onset of winter and watching them huddle together, eggs nurtured carefully on frozen feet to watching the chicks emerge really does blow you away.

I was lucky enough to spend a few days out with our emperors over the weekend, firstly huddled together on a windy cold Mawson day, then a running around driving their parents crazy on a glorious sunny, still day.


Continuing with a science theme, this week I thought I would talk briefly about ARPANSA.

What is ARPANSA?

The name ARPANSA represents the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and their role is to provide information about radiation related issues.

In 1996 Australia was a signatory to a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to ban all nuclear explosion tests and as such an International Monitoring System (IMS) was constructed. There are 321 radiation monitoring facilities worldwide and Australia hosts 21 facilities. Three of these are in Antarctica with two being at Mawson research station.

By analysing, integrating and comparing data from the IMS, the time, location and nature of a possible nuclear event can be determined. These monitoring facilities use a variety of methods to detect evidence of nuclear testing. Seismic, hydro-acoustic and infrasound stations are employed to monitor the underground and atmosphere environments respectively. A fourth technology detects radiation from atmospheric sampling. It is this fourth technology, the radionuclide monitoring process, that we have here at Mawson.

A radionuclide station can detect radioactive debris from atmospheric explosions, or vented by underground or underwater explosions. The presence of specific radionuclides provides unambiguous evidence of a nuclear explosion.

How does it work?

  1. The radionuclide monitoring process involves collecting particulate matter from the air onto a piece of filter material in a high volume air sampler for approximately 24 hours.
  2. After this time the filter is taken from the air sampler and compressed into a disk.
  3. The disk is then placed in a chamber to allow natural radionuclides to decay for approximately 24 hours.
  4. Finally, the filter sample is placed on a gamma detector for approximately 24 hours to be analysed.
  5. A computer monitors the workflow and collects data.
  6. The data relating to the sampling conditions and radionuclides measured is then forwarded by satellite to the International Data Centre in Vienna where it is compiled and released.

This process is managed daily by the two communications and technology experts we have on station.

More information on ARPANSA, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and Radiation