Field trip to Béchervaise Island

Walking on Water

Béchervaise Island (or Béche as we affectionately call it) is a large island just off the coast of Mawson station. Until recently all we experienced was being able to watch the sun set between its mountain saddle. It hosts a penguin monitoring station (that looks in part like a mini farm for mini cattle) and a few accommodation, science and storage huts — the colours of the island have a peat or sandy hue, with white patches of penguin poop. The camp itself looks like something from an 80’s sci-fi movie — no laser beams from these structures, though :).

We had good sea ice early this year, meaning we were able to do a reconnaissance visit there in advance of an operational trip in a few weeks. We will need to re-set the camp in advance of bird scientists returning in summer to live there and monitor penguin populations. A large Adélie penguin colony has established itself there. It is also an easy access recreational hut for us on station to get away and watch the ice bergs wedged in sea ice slowly shift and catch the incredible light around here.

We have been incredibly lucky with the weather so far this season — and this day was another great example. Sunshine and only minus 15°C — amazing how quickly we adapt and start thinking that’s a warm day!

As part of our 10km return trip hike, we also undertook some ice drilling for depth measurements. Soon enough we will be using Hägglunds (tracked vehicles) on the sea ice and we need to be sure the ice is sufficiently thick to support safe travel. Walking on sea ice is quite an experience — to think you are walking on a thin crust of frozen water, with almost a kilometre of water below your feet, is a pretty amazing thought. And it has an otherworldly beauty to it — particularly as the sun’s arc stays low as we head to winter, keeping shadows long and light deep.

On our way out to Béchevaise Island we came across a Weddell Seal basking in the sun (aka Adam the sparky). We kept a safe 5m distance.

On return to station we discovered one of our expeditioners experimenting with a new craft — think I won’t be booking into the Mawson barber shop any time soon!

Aaron Searl, Building Services Superviser