Repairs to Warren, the incinerator, and a field trip reveals impressive natural ice sculptures.

Repairs to Warren

One of the aspects of Antarctic life that not a lot of people consider is waste, and what we do with it. Now I’m talking about rubbish such as cardboard packaging, food scraps, medical waste etc., not the human kind. Here at Mawson station we try and burn as much of our waste as is ecologically possible. For this purpose we have a two stage incinerator housed in the incinerator building. His name is Warren (built by Warren Engineering, hence the name). Warren is a lovely old character, who has far outlasted his use by date. He’s the warmest machine on station some days, and great to hang out with as he lives right beside the sea.

Now, some of you may not understand incinerators and might be thinking “How can burning everything be eco-friendly? Surely there’s a lot of smoke?” Actually, the truth is the opposite. Due to the fact that Warren has two combustion chambers, the emissions that are produced in the first chamber are then re-burned in the second chamber at a temperature of around 650°C, and therefore virtually all that is detectable coming from Warren’s stack is haze from the very high temperature. The result for us: minimal landfill product to be RTA’d (returned to Australia), and a huge saving in shipping costs for the Australian taxpayer.

Now as we all know smoking is bad for our health, and as result Warren has been poorly lately. After years of faithful service the very high temperature flame had burned a nasty big cancerous hole in his secondary chamber. So it had to be that drastic surgery was performed. Our two plumbers gathered the necessary surgical equipment and hatched a plan of action. On Monday morning two weeks ago Warren bravely underwent the knife (actually, it was an angle grinder and an arc welder). The job ended up being bigger than was first estimated, and required more than just welding on some replacement steel plate. Upon cutting away the cancerous hole it was discovered that the refractory (a very high temperature cement type product) had also suffered bad decay. Replacing this was a very time consuming and tricky job.

Finally, after nearly two very cold weeks of toil and much frustration for our two plumbers, Warren is back to his old self again. He enjoyed his first burn on Friday morning, and is eagerly awaiting more in the coming days.

Field trip to Fang

Last weekend Kate, Trevor and myself headed out on our first overnight trip since finishing our field and travel training. We set out on a reasonably cloudless and windless afternoon, destination: the David Range. We had dinner and an overnight stay in the local field hut, Fang, which is named after the adjacent mountain that is shaped a bit like the canine tooth of a dog. We arrived mid afternoon, unpacked our quad bikes and went for a walk up along the ridge immediately behind the hut. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the ice plateau, ocean and surrounding mountain ranges. It was a good way to finish of a great day.

The following morning we awoke to a sunny and windless morning so we packed up and left for Fearn Hill which is in the North Masson Range about ten or 11 kilometres away to the east. Our intentions were to have a look at some of the frozen lakes and wind scours in the area. We arrived at the first lake, put on our micro spikes and started up the first wind scour, the bright sun glistening off the wall of ice to one side. A short climb led to the second lake which was bounded by ice, mountains and moraine. Another short climb up the moraine brought us to the third lake which was a bit like an amphitheatre, again with mountains on two sides and a high wall of ice at the back completing the enclosure. By chance we discovered there was a pretty good echo off the surrounding walls, so Kate gave the natural acoustics of the place a good going over. There were quite a few interesting rock and ice formations in the area and the lake’s surface had a crazed appearance due to being highly polished by the abrasive action of blowing snow.

It was a great a great trip with plenty to see and made even better by perfect weather. Hopefully there will be plenty more of both for all to enjoy.