Thursday, 31 October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013

Today was a beautiful day with blue sky and very little wind. First thing I went and saw the doctor about ongoing neck, back and chest pain I have been suffering for some time and I got some pain killers. It’s just muscular and I need to rest it till it gets better.

I spent the morning preparing fire training induction notes. Today we were expecting our first aircraft for the season. It has no passengers and is coming just to prove our sea ice runway for the later flights with passengers and cargo. I went out to the ski-way with Geoff and Jeremy and helped them setup the wind sock & fuel cart for the incoming aircraft. I was on fire patrol for the landing, refueling and take off. The aircraft was a twin otter and it was very exciting to see an aircraft and other people after nine months of isolation. Later I went to the green store and got food in preparation for Saturday dinner as I have to cook for 30 people which I don’t think is very fair, but that’s another story.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Wednesday 30th October 2013

Today I really got stuck into the RTA and I managed to finish all the packing and paper work except for 3 printers and 2 large UPS. I moved one UPS on my own from the operations building to the green store and it was so heavy. I will need help to move the battery bank as well as the other unit over in the ANARESAT building.

I had an EME sked with Paul ZS6NK. At first I got some great reflections and it looked like it was going to be an easy contact then signals started to fade out to nothing which was disappointing but that what makes it so good when you finally have success . Later I went over to the ANARESAT building to reset the ATU that has been in standby for a couple of week (since the last power outage) and it wouldn't reset with a warm start so I had to perform a cold start which made us loose comms to Kingston for half an hour because a router locked up. In the late afternoon I did geo-magnetic observation practice. For the people’s night, Luc put on a documentary on the race to claim and drill for oil and gas in the Arctic which was very interesting.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Navigation in Antarctica

In the days before GPS was invented, land navigation in Antarctica was a real challenge. Magnetic compasses, sun compasses, sextants, and dead reckoning were all used by the Antarctic traveller, but each method had its own unique drawbacks. Even modern day GPS can have problems. Coverage at the higher latitudes is limited to certain, yet predictable, hours of the day. At times, accuracy is diminished by the low incident angles of the satellites to the horizon.

Magnetic compasses must be modified for use in high polar latitudes by reweighting the needle. As the compass gets closer to the South Pole, the south-seeking end of the needle is pulled downward toward the earth and will drag on its enclosure unless the proper nonmagnetic counterweight (copper wire) is added to the north-seeking end.

Field parties must be careful of localized magnetic variations. On Ross Island, for example, magnetic compasses are unusable because there is so much iron in the rock. Likewise, compasses are also affected by the metal in vehicles. Bearings must be taken well away from such disturbing influences. Navigation with a magnetic compass over long distances is difficult because the magnetic variation (the difference between magnetic and true north) is so high, and changes significantly over short distances. Field parties may elect to travel by using a Grid North system, versus a magnetic or true-north system. Using a compass is an accurate way to determine bearings. Using an astrocompass (in conjunction with an artificial horizon) is a good way to fix your position. This method requires an accurate chronometer and extensive knowledge on how to use navigational tables to get good results.

Polar exploration was one of the fields in which the astrocompass saw the most use, for the reasons described above. An astrocompass was the most reliable way to ascertain the direction of true north through the positions of various astronomical bodies.

Principle of use of an astrocompass

The Earth's axis of rotation remains, for all intents and purposes, stationary throughout the year. Thus, with knowledge of the current time and geographical position in the form of latitude and longitude, which are set on the instrument using dials, an astrocompass can be sighted on to any astronomical object with a known position to give an extremely accurate reading.

In its most basic form, the astrocompass consists of a base plate marked with the points of the compass, with a mechanism known as an equatorial drum mounted on it. On this drum is a set of adjustable sights and a scale of declination. More advanced versions may have built-in chronometers or default settings for bodies such as the Sun.

To use the compass, the base plate is first levelled with the horizon then pointed roughly to what the user believes to be north. The equatorial drum is then tilted in relation to this base according to the local latitude. The sights are then set using the local hour angle and the declination of whatever astronomical body is being used. Once all these settings have been made, the astrocompass is simply turned until the astronomical body is visible in the sights: it will then be precisely aligned to the points of the compass. Because of this procedure, an astrocompass requires its user to be in possession of a nautical almanac or similar astronomical tables, and a slide ruler, one of its chief disadvantages.

The bubble compass

A bubble compass was used on aircraft during the early pioneering days of flight in Antarctica to measure the altitude of a celestial body above a horizontal line of reference. (“Altitude” in this case is a special use of the word describing an angular measure, not a distance in feet above sea level.) Measurements were taken through a bubble window protruding into the slipstream from the top of the aircraft and this would enable the navigator to determine true north. When an airplane is above the clouds or flying at night, its navigator can’t see the horizon. The bubble sextant solves this problem by providing an artificial horizon using a bubble, but acceleration of the aircraft and turbulence frequently deflect the true vertical; therefore, a single reading may not be accurate so multiple readings are necessary for accuracy.

Both the astrocompass and the bubble compass have seen many years of reliable service here at Mawson guiding our field parties and aircraft to their destinations and safely home again.

Bubble sextant Mk IX – Henry Hughes & Son LTD (Left) 

Garmin eTrex10 – Current AAD field issue GPS (Middle) 

A.M. Astrocompass Mk II - Sperti Inc (Right) 

Slide ruler – Used to calculate complex calculations (Bottom)

"Sperti Inc." Was a company that made products for the US Air force and Navy. One of the products made was the Astrocompass which went into service in 1942. The name plate containing information on what the item was, Its parts and serial number and AM indicating the instrument was made for the "Air Ministry" was stamped onto the chassis of the instrument and highlighted as white lettering.

Tuesday 29th October 2013

Today was another busy day getting ready for the summer crew. The Aurora Australis has been stuck in pack ice en route to Davis station for a few days now delaying the incoming summer crew and science work as well as delaying the departure of our five winterers. I fixed a UPS and change the battery before installing this on in the field store. I re-cabled the video conference in the Operations building conference room and climbed the roof of the Operations building to remove the faulty web camera to pack up and send back to Kingston via V1.

I wrote a story for this week’s Icy news and posted Georges DVD while the Mawson Post office was open. Mawson station even has its own post code 7151 Tasmania. Today Cookie, Geoff, Jeremy and Peter L set out the ski way on the sea ice for the expected aircraft to land sometime this week. After dinner I worked on my blog until late.

 Luc the Post Master

Monday, 28 October 2013

Monday 28th October 2013

Today in preparation for the summer crew’s arrival I did an audit of all radios, GPS and PLB’s. After smoko we had a video conference hook-up with the new AAD minister. I also prepared all the spare rooms with Ethernet cables, phones and phone lists for the incoming crew. I took a heap of gear from the red shed back to the operations building, replaced the battery’s in two UPS and installed two others.

After lunch I took a heap of old battery’s to the green store for RTA then I took the tide gauge and box down to the chippies workshop for modification. After dinner I did some washing and cleaned my bathroom and latter worked on my blog till 1am.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Sunday 27th October 2013

I got up early for an EME sked with South Africa and after I got all setup it got cancelled which was very disappointing. While I was up I changed the pulley rope on my 6m antenna pole that has been jamming. I then went back to the red shed to do some washing and typed out all my geo-mag training notes. Geo magnetic observations have been done continuously here at Mawson for fifty nine years so I had better keep the tradition going. In the afternoon I spent some time down in the shack and later I had a spa.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Saturday 26th October 2013

After a very big night last night pretty much everybody slept in this morning. After brunch I spent quite a bit of time cleaning my room, bathroom and doing washing.

The wind has dropped off to about 27 knots and the temperature is up to -3c and lots of snow is melting due to the radiant heat off the rocks. In the afternoon I did another three hours or so of geo-mag training and after this I had a spa. 

The Antarctic Division launched its 2014 recruiting campaign yesterday and guess whose picture they used to recruit watercraft operators? Yep, me !!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Friday 25th October 2013

Today was a public holiday so I decided to have a nice sleep in. We have to keep the curtains closed well now as it doesn't get dark anymore and you could read a book outside at four AM. When I checked the weather there was a sixty knot blizzard raging outside.

Justin made a fancy lunch for the guys that are leaving us and we had crayfish, prawns & quail. I had to do geo magnetic observation training all morning so I missed eating lunch with the rest of the team. The year old frozen crayfish was pretty dry but the quail and prawns were delicious. 

After lunch was a games day competition. I was feeling a bit crook so I didn't participate and had a lie down for a while. It was scraps for dinner and later on in the night we watched the last Trailer park boy’s movie.

During a blizzard, drift snow will get into everything. It fills up vehicles and buildings with just the slightest opening. In the transmitter building the wind will blow through tiny cracks in the outer shell and drift snow will blow through the tiny rivet holes in the window frame filling the windows and walls with snow in no time.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Thursday 24th October 2013

Today the blizzard had intensified to 60 knots and it was horrible outside. ARPANSA buggered up and I spent most of the morning sorting it out with a bit of help from Dave in Melbourne. Somehow the program sequence had gotten out of whack but eventually I sussed it out and got it up and running once again. We lost power today.

The wind suddenly dropped out and the power management couldn't react fast enough and we suffered a blackout for about an hour. A lot of our UPS only last for half an hour so we lost quite a few comms services. Most things came back on their own but others needed a helping hand. For some reason we lost throughput on the ANARESAT and I hunted it down to a router that wasn't talking to Kingston. A reboot sorted this out and we were back up and running. 

We have been very lucky so far as we have had only a few short outages for the year that we have been able to sort out very quickly. The ANARESAT is very reliable and it’s usually only the IT equipment that causes us any grief.

ANARESAT monitor
Up/down converters & modems
LNA & SSPA changeover switch
7.5m antenna
Kevlar radome
Hmmm, must have been one of those jobs?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

I was going to go back out to Bechervaise Island again today to replace the penguin weigh bridge computer but John asked me to go back up the plateau with him to replace the cane line from F14 to Fang and I couldn't refuse the offer to do that. By 10am the wind had got up to 40 knots so both the plateau trip and the Bechervaise Island trip was cancelled. I spent most of the day catching up on emails and things.

For the peoples night I put on a heap of photos of my yacht and lots of photos sailing around on different adventures.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Tuesday 22nd October 2013

Once again it was a nice day this morning. After ARPANSA I burnt a couple of DVD’s to mail home to George. After lunch I took Jeremy and Luc out with me to Bechervaise Island. I left them to take photos of all the Adelie penguins while I worked on the faulty penguin weigh bridge but the computer wouldn’t boot up so I will have to come back and replace it another day.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Monday 21st October 2013

Today I was determined to get rid of those hazardous transformers containing PCB’s sitting in a dangerous state only meters from where I sit using my radio. I searched the green store and found the perfect hazardous goods containment tub. I kitted up with the appropriate PPE and sealed the open holes with good old gaffa tape then lifted them both into the tub. I filled the tub with vermiculite absorbent material covering the transformers and then sealed the lid on with more Gaffa tape and placed a large red danger label on the lid. Finally I called Chris to give me a hand to load the tub into the ute and I took them down to the chemical store for safe keeping before transport back to Australia can be arranged.

 I feel so much better with them out of my sight now and safely stored. Kingston are now working on their removal as well as replacing the other three transformers still in use. Finally I am getting changes made down here. Over summer I hope to get east arm cleaned up and all the asbestos and rubbish bagged up and returned to Australia. When it warms up in summer I am thinking of organising a “Clean up Antarctica” day and get all on station involved for the day. If it gets approved I might ask Kingston if we can make this day for all stations once a year like they do in Australia for clean up Australia day. Just picking up nails down here you could fill a forty four gallon drum in a day. 

Back in the workshop I filled up two big boxes with equipment manuals for gear that hasn't been down here for years and took them over to the green store for RTA. John had asked me on Friday before he left for Colbeck if I could take the cane pole trailer up to F14 for him before it gets too difficult to get the trailer up the steep plateau. As the weather was great this afternoon with sunshine, blue sky and no wind I thought it would be perfect time to do it. 

Around three o’clock I hooked up the trailer and grabbed Luc and we both headed off up the plateau in perfect conditions. It was a nice run up to F14 in the fresh powdered snow and we disconnected the trailer and parked it up against the fuel trailer we left there on Friday. We enjoyed a sunny drive back to the coast were we stopped on a high point on the plateau just before the steep descent down to the station. I had brought a couple of chairs, an improvised table and some cheese and crackers and refreshments. We both spent a memorable hour and a half chatting and admiring the magnificent view which neither of us will ever forget. Eventually we had to drag our selves back to the station for a late dinner and it was a great afternoon.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sunday 20th October 2013

This morning I was woken from deep sleep by a fire alarm in the smokers hut. I wasn't amused and I staggered out looking like a greasy cave man to see what was going on. Peter C and I went out to investigate and when we opened the door we both nearly threw up with the filthy stench. There was no fire unfortunately, Keldyn had turned the heaters on to melt all the snow and an over temperature detector had gone off when it reached about thirty degrees. Thanks Keldyn you mongrel. We reset the detector and stood everyone down. I think I went back to bed for a few more hours after that. Again it was another beautiful day and I really felt guilty spending time indoors down the transmitter building. I had wanted to go tobogganing over west arm (even though it’s against the rules, yes true) but no one was interested. Next time I will go on my own. Anyway propagation was superb once again and I spent a few hours clocking up a couple of hundred more contacts. Later, after chomping on some scraps I managed to slap together we watched the worst movie ever. I can’t even tell you what it was as I’m still trying to erase it from my memory for ever. Thanks Lloyd.

Smokers hut

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Saturday 19th October 2013

Today Keldyn, Justin, Peter C and John left for Colbeck on quads and I don’t like their chances of getting to Colbeck after what I told them it was like down there. I told everyone I would only consider a Hag for the trip and quads are too dangerous and not fit to travel in the conditions down there. Of course they didn't listen to me or take my advice from my recent experience down there so good luck to them.

This morning I had a nice sleep in after the exhausting day up on the plateau yesterday. After some brunch and Saturday duties I wandered out to see what was going on. It was a perfect day with blue sky and no wind and was so nice to go for a long walk and feel the sun on my face. Eventually I wound up down at the transmitter hut and the radio propagation was smoking.

It was the JOTA (Jamboree of the air) weekend where thousands of scouts and adventurers get on the air through clubs and talk to each other. I was contacted by several clubs to come on air and talk to the kids and answer questions about Antarctica. Propagation was excellent and I talked to kids in both Perth and Melbourne as clear as a telephone and I think I got as much entertainment as they did. 

Later I made several hundred contacts throughout Asia, Australia and Europe mostly on 10m but also on several other bands and it was probably the best day on air since arriving at Mawson. After dinner we watched several episodes of Trailer Park Boys as we are trying to get through every episode before Chris and Jeremy leave us. Later in Club Catabatic we watched music videos till late.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Friday 18th October 2013

Today was an absolute perfect day, with no wind. John asked me to go up on the plateau with him to replace canes, but first we had to deliver a trailer load of aircraft fuel to the Rumdoodle blue ice runway. Geoff and Jeremy where towing another load of fuel to the same location and we left in a convoy. We reached F14 at the Rumdoodle blue ice runway and dropped off our fuel and the trailer Geoff and Jeremy towed up and secured it with an ice anchor. Geoff and Jeremy headed back to the station while John and I headed back slowly replacing all the canes every 700 meters.

It was hard work but quite pleasurable and satisfying. We cut off and removed all the broken, damaged or moved poles. The ice sheet travels about 20 meters a year up there so many of the canes have to be moved each year. We also retrieved three old drums that pose a hazard in white out conditions. These drums were used to mark the routes before GPS and most of them have moved way off the routes and are completely frozen in and most are impossible to remove now. 

At about F11 we came across some old crossed canes only about 50 meters from the route which indicates danger. We walked over to investigate and found a bottomless 1.5 meter wide crevasse. I would hate to drive or fall through that sucker. The job of replacing canes is quite simple, first we cut off the old cane pole or stub and then drill a new hole. The new cane is placed about a meter down into the hole and then water is poured in to freeze it in. We did this for about 16 kilometers all the way back to the station arriving just in time for dinner which was Indian and very nice.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Thursday 17th October 2013

Today I was slushy again. Outside was a raging 60 knot blizzard and I had to go and get a Hag and go to the green store to bring a huge load of food back to the red shed. Very bad planning if you ask me considering how good the weather was yesterday. During my rest break I raised an incident report to get two open and exposed transformers in the transmitter hut containing PCB oil removed and sent back to Australia. This very dangerous material should not be on the continent and needs to be carefully disposed of. Hopefully they will travel back on the same ship as I will in February if the paperwork gets completed in time.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Wednesday 16th October 2013

The trip I organised today to climb Rumdoodle with John and Peter C was cancelled due to the overcast sky, but within a couple of hours the sky cleared into a fantastic day, -2c, blue sky and no wind which really sucked. I spent all morning moving about 50 battery’s and another printer over to the green store to be RTA’ed.

After lunch I went up one of the wind turbines with Trent and Jeremy to have a look. It was terrific to have a good look inside and to take some photos out of the hatch on the roof. We were actually sitting inside the nose cone while replacing grease canisters, a scary thought when you look up from the ground. Climbing up was the worst bit. It was quick and easy for the first two thirds but then I got tired and the last third was a struggle. Climbing back down was a lot easier. It very cramped inside, cold and they move around a lot in high winds.

The long climb up

The view from above

The long climb back down

Late in the afternoon I took a run out to Bechervaise Island to complete the battery replacement and to repair the open circuit fault with the solar panels on the radio link. I was hard work carrying 100Ah battery’s back and forth across the Island as well as the generator. By the time I got back to station I was knackered again.

At peoples night Justin put on some photos and talked about his time working as a concert caterer and all the bands and artists he worked alongside and traveled with.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Tuesday 15th October 2013

Today was also pretty good weather so after doing ARPANSA I spent most of the day working on RTA. I moved two huge TV’s back into the green store for storage, then I packed up all RTA material into boxes and carried them over to the green store including three printers and a large UPS. It was hard work and all items had to be itemised and entered into the computer.

I still have four very large printers and three very heavy UPS to move into the green store to be packed and readied for RTA. These can wait for wooded crates to be made and a fine day and many hands to help move them. At least apart from the four printers, all this crap is now out of my areas and all our building are now clean and tidy. The transmitter building looks fantastic and is probably the cleanest it’s been in over forty years.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday 14th October 2013

Today was a beautiful windless day with the sun shining and blue sky. I decided to collect all the old redundant material from down in the transmitter building and bring it all back to the green store to pack into a cadge pallet to send it back to Kingston. I drove the ute down there and it took me about ten trips to get everything loaded. Half of the material was Andrew 10kW copper hardline that was installed back in the 1960’s when all messages sent and received was by 10kW HF telex.

This all had to be stripped of all contaminants, cut to length and sorted into different metals such ad copper and brass. This took me pretty much all morning and after I had all the paper work done I was pretty knackered. There was about 300kg of copper all up. After lunch while I was still in the mode I got stuck into the Telecoms workshop and threw out a heap more stuff, crap that hasn't been used in years like floppy disks and spare parts for equipment that was removed a decade ago. 

After work I went down to the lovely clean transmitter building to see what the bands were like. There was pretty much a radio blackout due to the current solar storm but I still managed to work a few Japanese stations via JT63HF. Trent cooked schnitzels for dinner and they were great. Latter I spent the rest of the night getting my blog up to date.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sunday 13th October 2013

I woke up early this morning as the sun was shining through my curtains. These days the sun is coming up at 5am and setting at 8pm and my body clock is now back to normal. I could never work night shift as my body needs the sun shine. After messing around on the computer and doing a bit of a clean up, I went and had an early lunch and headed off down to the radio shack.

20, 17 and 12 meter bands were on fire so I got on air and caused huge pile ups with mostly Japanese stations, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Russian and Europeans. I filled the log with hundreds of calls and by 7pm I was totally fried so I went and had a spa to relax with a few beers. Back at the red shed there was nothing in the fridge to eat so I woofed down a can of asparagus and some tinned sardines – what a combination.

Lunch, same thing every day