Science and maintenance at Mawson. Sounds standard, until you see the pics.

Fire extinguisher audit time at Mawson

Being part of a government organisation we have to pay special attention to complying with standards. This means we have regularly scheduled inspections/audits of various aspects of station equipment to ensure they comply with regulations, are safe to use, and will actually work as they are intended when required.

Currently here at Mawson we are carrying out the lengthy process of auditing all of our portable fire extinguishers, which this time means replacing many that have exceeded their service life. This involves firstly locating all the extinguishers in a building, checking the test date, inverting them to prevent contents settling, weighing each one, and checking various other aspects relating to their condition. I would estimate we have close to two hundred extinguishers spread across the many buildings on station, and in fact probably more. I haven’t had time to sit down and tally up the numbers. As well as those on station, each field hut has extinguishers that require auditing, which is the fun part of the job. Getting off station.

All of the extinguishers are different ages, so the logistics of replacing the ones that have expired are a bit complicated. Once all this is done I have to update the spreadsheet that records what we have in each building, when it is due for replacing, and the recent inspection date. A lengthy task in itself.

However, the end of the job is in sight, and I have saved the best until last. Today myself and a couple of others made the quick trip to Bechervaise Island to check on a few aspects of the huts there. The state of the extinguishers being one of them. On Thursday I will head ‘up the hill’ on to the plateau for the day to audit the extinguishers at our three huts in various beautiful locations. Proof that there’s always a silver lining to even the most mundane of jobs.


Trip to the Taylor penguin rookery

Ninety-five kilometres west of Mawson is the Taylor penguin rookery. It is special because it is one of only two emperor penguin rookeries on land. The rest are on the sea ice. It is so special that it has been declared an ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area) and has been continuously monitored since 1988. The aim of our trip was to determine the size of the breeding colony. Since females leave the males to incubate the eggs then return later to relieve their partner, the only way to get an accurate count is to photograph the colony after the females have left and before they start returning. The pressure was on to get there sometime between 20 June and 5 July.

Our job was to photograph the colony and service the automatic cameras that continuously record breeding activity at the site. Ninety-five kilometres doesn’t sound far but down here it is a major undertaking and nearly everyone was involved in the preparation in some way. With midwinter celebrations complete, the Bureau of Meteorology in Hobart provided weather forecasts so that we could try and pick three days of reasonable weather for safe travel and working conditions when we got there.

Thursday 25 June looked good so six of us set off in two Hägglunds into the darkness at 0630. There is a set route to follow using GPS navigation but conditions change and icebergs move so a survey trip had previously covered the first 50 kilometres, drilling to prove safe ice thickness and finding the best places to cross tide cracks. The ungodly departure time was necessary to have enough daylight to negotiate possible tide cracks at the snout of the Jelbart Glacier. This is the largest glacier in our area and is ten kilometres wide and juts out ten kilometres from the coast. Striking no problems there was a welcome anticlimax.

Our only break in the monotony was finding a large Weddell seal lying on the track in the darkness. As it was at a proven crossing point in a rather large tide crack we were glad when 400 kgs of seal deferred to two Hägglunds and disappeared down his hole in the crack and allowed us to pass. ​We also took a break at a gnarly iceberg that was riddled with ice caves. Cameras came out and we stretched our legs.

Past the Jelbart we were rewarded with the spectacular scenery of a mountainous coastline and the Colbeck archipelago. After six hours of mind numbing travel we arrived at Colbeck hut. In its remote location it looks small, but it is even smaller than it looks. Luckily there is also a RMIT van there that can sleep four in a pinch because any more than two sleeping in the hut would be a test of friendship. Still the small size has the advantage of warming up quickly and it has some mod-cons like a stove and a sink.

On settling in, we had enough time to catch the sunset — or was it the sunrise — and have a bit of a look around before it got dark again. The next morning was clear and we were treated with an aurora at 0800. As we needed good light for the photography at the colony there was no need to get going till 1000 so we sat around and enjoyed toasted fruit loaf. Kim, our chef, bakes wonderful bread and Trev, our communications technician, does a pretty good job of toasting it.

To be continued: the rookery, Taylor glacier and Proclamation Point.