Blizzards, great food and wildlife

Sea Ice

Mawson has many amazing things up for offer, such as travel on the plateau with plenty of climbing and walking to be done and the wildlife that comes to station in the summer months and the amazing light shows above. But one of my favourites would be the sea ice and the fact that it allows such a vast amount of travel to occur with the Hagglunds. Over the past few months, we’ve seen the ice grow in thickness of up to a meter in most locations around station allowing for safe travel to some very special parts of the continent. But with constant reminders from the odd blizzard, you know it wont last forever, so you need to make the most of it.

The ice allows us access to most of the island’s groups close to station including Béchervaise island where in the summer (hopefully) we will have researchers come down and continue to study the Adelie penguins and other Antarctic bird life. With some great walking around the islands and a great place to stay only being 5 km from station it allows an easy escape from station life. The feeling of walking on frozen ocean around islands is something else entirely.

Further afield we have one of the few Emperor penguin colonies; at Auster, situated amongst grounded icebergs about three hours from station, it makes for an incredible sight as you can see the Emperor penguins in their natural environment. While I still believe they coped a rough deal from evolution. You have a bird that is designed to swim and hunt in the water and yet they have their chicks 80 km from the sea ice edge in the middle of winter in one of the coldest places on earth. But they manage to do a great job of it.

Sometimes it boggles my mind that only a few months ago there was open water lapping around the station edge with barges going between the resupply ships and station. Now there is thick sea ice for as far as the eye can see. Driving the Hagglunds around the sea ice takes some adjusting too, but if it means that I can go and visit places like Macey hut, nestled in the icebergs than I’m going to adjust very quickly. And then all we have to do is just sit back and watch nature do its thing.

Nathan E

Windy... Again

Blizzard and winds again. But this was the most intense we’ve seen yet. Winds reaching 106kts. So, trying to put that into context it’s equivalent to Tropical Cyclone TRACY hitting station:

A Category 4 Cyclone in 1974, Tracy killed 71 people, caused approximately A$7.2 billion (2022 dollars) in damage, destroying more than 70 percent of Darwin's buildings, including 80 percent of houses. It required the evacuation of over 30,000 people of a population of 47,000.

Luckily our buildings are “cyclone rated” and we had no damaged. Some items did move around station a little but nothing significant, and a few buildings had some blizz blown into the cold porches, which has quickly been cleaned out. It’s remarkable the way the Stations can survive what would be a catastrophe in Australia. Great work from our infrastructure planning teams!

Interesting fact: Static – although we don’t get lighting here in Antarctica we get a LOT of static, and with this week’s blizzard event it was extreme. Sparks were visible on the outside of the Red Shed (Living Quarters), when walking near windows inside the sparks would fly, and travelling along the blizz lines would generate sparks as you grip onto the lines. (Interesting dilemma, do you hold on so you don’t get blown away or let go so you won’t get zapped by the static electricity…) Much like the creation of lighting in clouds where tiny water molecules are colliding and bumping into each other creating a static electric charge – so we to get a static charge built up when the snow crystals in a blizzard are colliding and bumping into each other – with the result a static electricity charge on the buildings and blizz lines.

A blizzard does mean that all are on station for our Formal diner on Saturday night. We had a fabulous (delayed) birthday dinner for Ducky – once again outstanding food from Donna with the most incredible dessert table (which lasted well into this week) – followed by a great evening of trivia with Leon as the quiz master.

We’ve also had a about ½ the station population off station on recreational trips, getting a break from the winter monotony and taking every opportunity to get out when the wind finally abated. So, one trip up to Rum Hut and one out to Auster. For just a quick check on the status of the Emperor Penguins… not chicks seen yet… can’t be long now!

Bec J