Mawson station receives the winter crew, while an outgoing expeditioner reflects on his time in Antarctica. The Australia Day swim finally takes place and the diverse range of ice around Mawson is showcased in the photo gallery.

Full circle

STOP EVERYTHING! THE NEW WINTER CREW (aka ‘The Replacements') HAVE LANDED. It’s time to toss your pagers and head for the hills, boys!

Where has my year gone?! It feels like no time at all since we stepped off the great orange tub, fresh-faced, keen, and cold. I've seen and done some wondrous things since: I've watched a movie projected onto an iceberg under an aurora, and watched emperor chicks grow and Adèlie’s hatch. I've been for a swim in the sea in an Antarctic winter and I've climbed mountains. I've launched weather balloons in 70 knots of blizzard, and I've walked bare-foot and t-shirted with the sun blazing overhead. I've even learned how to grow veggies. 

But, no longer. Things are truly gearing up for the finish now. My surplus stuff (unaccompanied personal effects) is in a container to be shipped home, and handover has begun. Even the weather is contributing to the sense of change: the sea ice, a seemingly permanent fixture that has been with us since April 2015, blew out during a blizzard the day before the new crew flew in to station. It was an amazing feeling to step over West Arm and see the open ocean again for the first time in nine months.

Even though I will miss the sturdiness and familiarity of the sea ice, it is easy to find the positives in this change. For one, on still days the ocean reflections make for beautiful photo opportunities, and two, the disappearing sea ice has brought the local critters back to station. Some of my strongest memories from the early days on station are of running into Adèlies and seals in unusual and obscure places around station — I had expected to see wildlife down here, but not walking up the street!

Handover is a busy time for us on station, and so far I have been unable to photograph the elusive new crew. I can, however, leave you with a few photos of penguins in odd places and some of the variable.

Angus Cummings 

Mawson Australia Day swim

It’s just after the middle of summer when the weather back home is all but too hot to go swimming. Here, all the rules change including not being able to decide at the last moment if it’s a good day for a swim. There are a few hoops to jump through first. This sounds rather arduous but when you consider the environment down here, it all makes sense.

Where is here? It’s ‘Down Under–Down Under’. Mawson station, Antarctica.

Salt water freezes at around 1.8°C and is most dense at +3.9°C. This means that with ice present in significant quantity the coldest water is on the surface at 1.7°C, worse than immersing yourself in iced fresh water which of course is 0°C.

Enough of the science. To go swimming here requires a few items to be addressed and signed off, most in the interest of safety. Note all the following have to have to be answered with ‘YES’.

ARE YOU INSANE!? For the record it was at this point the prospect of a swim was over for me.

Have you listened to the Doc? Explaining the risks and how the body reacts to cold water immersion?

Signed the form indicating you have been briefed accordingly and understand the risks?

“But the water is locked up under the ice.” Sam answered this one by digging a large hole in it.

Safety issues attended to? John B addressed the practical including lowering a ladder to allow for a slow painful entry into the water. Doctor Kate imparted her knowledge wisely and kept a motherly eye on everyone.

Pete LC hung on to the safety rope while John L laid out the rubber mats to make the ground easier under foot. Then there was the clean-up where everyone pitched in to help.

The intrepid seven, one at time, took the plunge: Angus, James, Sam, Robbie, John B, Charlie, and Linc.

The general consensus was that it was a good time for most, with the only issue being the inconsideration of those swimming keeping the rest of us standing around in the cold for so long.

Finally the weather on Australia Day, 26 January, was unsuitable for swimming so we waited a day or two for it to get slightly better before those who wanted to could relax in the pool for a while. There was a time limit as to how long one could stay in the water: five minutes, no more. For some reason, no one needed reminding that there time was up.

Mawson photo gallery

It’s all about the ice.