Intricate and beautiful ice crystals form on the windows at Mawson station, the new hut for Béchervaise Island is constructed and the penguin cams are serviced in time for the arrival of Adélies.

Ice crystals

Here on the frozen continent we live and work within an environment dominated by ice. It is mostly represented by vast expanses of sea ice that come and go with the seasons and the plateau ice sheet which is always on the move during its endless journey towards the sea.

Icebergs and snow are also high profile and noticed by all, but there is ice about that goes largely unobserved and that is the ice of the macro world. These miniature ice structures make some of the most bizarre, intricate and stunning patterns as they grow, changing shape and colour with the different light and temperature.

Here is a sample of what grows on the glass in the windows around Mawson.

A new hut for Béchervaise Island: part 2

In part 1 of this story, the wooden platform for the new Melon hut was constructed, and solid anchors for securing it were placed in the rock.

It was a clear and windless at Mawson on 10 August, ideal conditions for towing the hut panels and flooring from the station to Béchervaise Island and piecing them all together. With a team of four willing workers everything went smoothly, with the main challenge placing and tightening the many small bolts and nuts which hold the panels together. This is a tedious task at the best of times, with the pre-drilled holes in the fibreglass not always lining up exactly. Weather conditions were ideal for August but with the temperature at −25°C the bolts and nuts were impossible to handle wearing gloves. This problem was solved by using a heat gun to blow warm air over the fingers of the person working bare-handed. By the end of the day the hut was in position and temporarily anchored down with ratchet straps.

During the following week, when weather allowed, the Béchervaise Island melon was finished off: the ceiling vents were positioned, the panel joints sealed, stainless steel guy wires attached and furniture installed.

The hut has now been tested in several blizzards with winds up to 90 knots and performed faultlessly. It will no doubt serve as a very comfortable haven for many years to come for scientists studying Adélie penguins during the summer and for Mawson expeditioners seeking a day or two away from station during winter.

In the pursuit of science

My primary role at Mawson station is being one of the two wintering electricians. As part of the electrical team I maintain the electrical systems across the station as well as field huts off station, as a secondary role I run the post office and my other duties on station include slushie duties and whatever Saturday duty I am assigned to as this is on a rotating roster.

However, the main reason we are here is in support of science and scientific research and this varies from measuring radiation levels (ARPANSA — Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) to counting Adélie penguins.

Trevor, our communications technician, needed to show a couple of extra people how to service the penguin monitoring cameras and as the weather was perfect the other day a small group of us made our way off station and over to Béchervaise Island. This is one of the main Adélie penguin colonies that has two Googie huts for the biologists: one is a lab and the other is set up with a small kitchen and three beds. A new melon hut has recently been constructed which will be set up as more accommodation.

Béchervaise Island is also fitted with two cameras and a Tiris weighbridge. The island where the penguins build their nests resembles a miniature farm as there are small wire fences built in such a way as to force the penguins over the weighbridge and also in view of the two cameras. The cameras are programed in such a manner as to start photographing on 1 October and stop taking photos around late March. Built into the program which controls the camera are quite a lot of parameters that determine the frequency of the photos. Some of these include the length of daylight as in the middle of our summer we have 24 hours of daylight and battery voltage, so on average a photo is taken every 60 minutes however they can be as frequent as every 10 minutes.

Once the two cameras on Béchervaise Island had been cleaned, inspected and serviced our crew drove west along the coast to the Rookery Islands to camera number two. This camera monitors the Adélie penguins that breed and build their nests on this island where as camera number one monitors the cape petrel. The Rookery Islands are classified as an ASPA (Antarctic Special Protected Area) which have strict rules regarding entering the area.

With these four cameras serviced we made the slow trip back to station, with plans to service the remaining cameras in the future, enjoying some of the unbelievable scenery along the way.

It is a real pleasure to be involved in someone’s long term research even if it sounds unusual to be counting penguins. The information that has being collated over decades of collecting raw data forms the foundations for a vast range of further studies. I hope that we continue to fund and support this critical scientific research well into the future.

Robbie Baker