This week we learn about the technical aspects of Mawson and how some of the science conducted at Mawson finds its way to Vienna! We get a glimpse of historic Antarctic huts frozen in time and the results of our Mother’s Day Walk…

Supporting science from Mawson to Vienna

This week I am writing about an important daily task that is undertaken on Mawson station everyday, in every weather condition we visit the ARPANSA building to conduct important scientific tests that have a far reaching impact.

ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) is responsible for carrying out Australia’s radionuclide monitoring obligation to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO).

At Mawson, we have a primary seismic station and radionuclide laboratory. In particular the radionuclide laboratory needs to be serviced every day and this is done by our station communication technical officer Doug or the station leader Kat. At 0900 hours each morning Kat or Doug will conduct the required tests on behalf of ARPANSA.

The test facility consists of a high volume air sampler which basically sucks in the outside air at around 1000mᶾ/hour, where particulate matter collects on a filter. This filter is changed every day, and the used filter (sample) is then processed. The sample is prepared by being removed from the filter casing, the filter material is then removed, then folded and inserted into a small 20 ton press for compacting. Once compacted it is then placed in a small plastic capsule for loading into the decay cabinet.

The decay process allows naturally occurring short lived nuclides to decay leaving only the long term which are of interest. The previous days sample is removed and loaded into the detector so that spectral analysis can be performed to identify any fission products which may be contained on the particulate matter. From the time the filter is placed in the air sampler to the time it is removed from the detector takes three days.

This all sounds pretty straight forward, but a strict process of steps needs to be followed. A computer system monitors environmental, security, power and filter management at all stages in the process and utilises a barcode system for tracking all samples taken. The computer system also logs, stores and sends the sampled data at regular intervals to the ARPANSA office in Australia and the parent organisation in Vienna.

Just one of the many important monitoring tasks we undertake to support remote science in Antarctica.

Until next time, Doug.

Historic huts frozen in time

This week I am sharing a travelogue of my last trip to Antarctica in February 2016.

There was excitement and adventure in the air on the day we set sail from Invercargill New Zealand, aboard the heritage expedition ship ‘The Spirit of Enderby’ headed for the huts of Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica.

After experiencing firsthand what it is to sail across the southern ocean, massive waves, swells, wind, snow, icebergs, whales, countless birds appearing from literally nowhere, sunrises and sunsets on the forever distant horizon, it really set the tone for our arrival at Cape Royds.

We landed on a black beach of scoria at Back Door Bay under a rising sun surrounded by an amazing view of Antarctic scenery such as Mt Erebus, Mt Discovery, the Transantarctic Mountains, Royal Society Range, Koettlitz Glacier and Marble Point to name a few. We headed off for Shackleton’s hut by foot.

The hut was built by Shackleton and his crew during their expedition of 1907–1909 and all the crew lived in it through the winter of 1908.

On first sight of the hut and then entering it, I was amazed after reading about the Nimrod Hut and seeing original photos of it, just how well preserved it was. Tins of food, the stove, books, clothes, shoes, it is a real living tribute to the expeditioners that lived there and the people involved in its continuous life of over one hundred years.

To have the privilege to enter an Antarctic realm such as this was a real personal thrill and my imagination went into over drive on trying to comprehend what it would have been like back in the day for the first time Antarctic explorers… not knowing what fate lay in store for all them.

The southernmost Adélie penguin colony also resides in the area around the hut.

Interestingly, five crates of McKinlay and Co whiskey was found under the hut in 2006 and has since been replicated. We had one for auction on our expedition, but alas I missed out – maybe next time.

Our arrival to Scott’s Hut (Terra Nova) located on the north shore of Cape Evans on Ross Island, was for me another exciting time.

Erected in 1911 it was the second hut that R.F. Scott had built. The first hut was at McMurdo Sound during his Discovery expedition 1901–1904 but his second time down, he had chosen not to stay in his original hut due to it being very cold to live in and the sea ice had trapped his ship, the Discovery. He wanted to avoid that happening again.

The Terra Nova hut contained insulation, lighting via acetylene gas, heating from coal and the stove, store rooms, sleeping quarters and eventually a stable (housing 19 ponies) porches and utility rooms were also added to the main structure.

We approached with Mt Erebus in the background, landing on the beach. Entering the Scott hut was also a very memorable moment for me. To me personally, it really stood out that a lot of thought had gone into the design and functionality of the hut and it too was in amazing condition due to efforts of dedicated people to keep its history and relevance alive well after its original inhabitants had either won or lost their battle of survival on the icy continent.

When Scott left the hut with the ambition and gusto of being the first man to the South Pole and conquering the windiest, highest, driest and coldest continent on earth, only he and his fellow companions could truly describe the feeling and vibe of attempting such a colossus human feat.

Scott and his four companions never returned to the hut — while their tent was found still standing, alas they were not.

The continuous restoration efforts, labours of love, funding and respect that keeps these huts alive is testament to our fore fathers who dared take on the continent that is Antarctica. Their stories continue to be told to future generations of explorers, adventurers, historians and people who just admire the human spirit.

Their spirits will forever be frozen in time.


A technical whiz

The communications technician on an Antarctic station has many varied and interesting jobs to do. Here is a snapshot of some of them…

I provide assistance to science personnel, and provide technical support as required when travelling to and from station (particularly on the voyage).

On station there is a large range of equipment to maintain and look after with planned and unplanned maintenance and repair activities.

Throughout the year there are projects and other installation activities to keep me busy around the station and out in the field.

Here are a few photos of just some of the different activities that I have been involved in, on the way and while on station.


Walking for fundraising…when the Katabatics blow!

The Mawson weather gods were not on our side on Mother’s Day so we had to hatch a new plan to fulfill our commitment to raise funds for breast cancer research on Sunday morning.

With katabatic windy conditions preventing us walking outside, instead we used our three sets of stairs and the treadmills inside the Red Shed to walk or run our four kilometres each — joining in with the many who walked in all weather conditions for the Mother’s Day Challenge across Australia. We might not have walked on sea ice, but we enjoyed every step.