Friday, 28 February 2014

Friday 28th February 2014

Today was minus ten degrees and the katabatic was blowing twenty two knots. Almost every day it’s getting colder and the days are getting shorter. I did a bit more preparing for cooking on Monday and some more job hunting. I worked on my annual report and I had to do audits on a lot of the equipment down here to include in the report. In the afternoon I did the geo-mag observations for this week and while I was there I thoroughly cleaned the building which probably hasn't been done since it was moved here from Heard Island in 1956.

After work I went down to the transmitter hut to see what was going on but there was a radio blackout so I thought I would check out the spa on the way back to the red shed and to my surprise it was still turned on so I jumped in and read my book for an hour. It was so relaxing and such a pity it will no doubt be my last spa.

Another solar halo today

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014

This morning it was minus nine degrees and the katabatic was blowing twenty knots. At nine o'clock we had a meeting with the engineers in Kingston to discuss how to save fuel. Mawson has a two year storage capacity, but last resupply they didn't bother filling our tanks and now this year with the resupply vessel not being able to reach us has left the station low on fuel reserves. They plan on flying in only fifty thousand litres and combined with what we already have will only allow the station to operate until November where it is hoped more fuel may be flown in from Davis Station. It's a complete stuff up and a few people have red faces and have now gone into panic mode. This is all based on the assumption that both wind generators are out of action.

Anyway the meeting was not really called to ask us for suggestions, but to tell us what they want done to start saving fuel. Basically they want to shut down every science program they can and cut power and site services to the buildings. For all other building they want to reduce heating to just above freezing, restrict all lighting and use head torches were possible, electrically limit showers to two minutes and used water will be caught in a bucket and used to flush the toilets. They also want a roster made for power police to do walk arounds to make sure everything is turned off. In the red shed freezers will be turned off and food stored outside, no bain marie, coffee machine, water chiller, zip boilers and even the light in the bar fridge has to go. Well all I can say is I'm glad I'm going home and I don't envy the new winter crew and if I was them I would be doing a runner and finding another job. Even their work program has been scrapped and all they will be doing is replacing lights and fitting timers and other fuel saving devices. We have even been banned from using the hag's out in the field anymore. 

I spent most of the day working on my annual report. Just the template is sixty seven pages so it is going to take a while to get done. Today there were three Weddell seals lying on the sea ice in east bay which was great to see. We had a blackout this afternoon too which lasted for quite a while. After work I went down to the transmitter building to check out conditions on the radio and it was going nuts. 10m was wide open and I worked many stations in Australia and also in Europe. Later before dinner I had what might be my last spa in Antarctica.

Just for something different. Here is a jaw bone from one of the husky's I found

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Wednesday 26th February 2014

Today was - 6c and a fifty knot blizzard was howling outside. I just didn’t feel like going outside and getting battered on the long trek down to the operations building so I decided to stay in the red shed. I spent a couple of hours cleaning and preparing my spare room (the sewing room) ready to move into when the new winterers arrive. I also spent a bit of time finding some recipes as I will be the cook on Monday. I didn’t want to leave it for the last minute and I wanted to see if we had all the ingredients I will need. I spent a little bit more time on my annual report before getting bored so I spent the afternoon Job hunting as I’m getting a bit concerned about not having anything lined up for when I get back home.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tuesday 25th February 2014

The day started off very cold and windy with the air temperature down to -10c and a 20 knot katabatic blowing. I spent the morning setting up a new web camera for on the roof of the operations building that will be very useful for helicopter operations during resupply. I have replaced this camera twice already this year as they keep failing due to the cold and static electricity from blizzards. This camera is a different type so I hope it will be reliable. The camera turned out to be a real mongrel to setup but I finally got it working okay.
After lunch I climbed up on the roof to see what sort of bracket I will have to makeup to install the camera onto the rotator. Unfortunately some Muppet had installed the cable through a hole in the bracket and then terminated the connector so I couldn’t remove it, so I had to take some dimensions and I will have to make up another bracket to bolt onto the existing bracket. Making up this new bracket took up most of the afternoon and I will have a go at installing it tomorrow if the weather is good.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Monday 24th February 2014

This morning was very cold, about minus eight and a twenty knot katabatic blowing. I went for a walk up to cos-ray to check out west bay. All the ice fall has gone leaving only the huge ice cliffs. There is now a nice ice cave in view. I walked back to the clean air laboratory to check out a cable that needs terminating. I asked the electrician to leave a couple of meters either end so I could terminate it and he has cut it off in the middle of the cable tray. What a Muppet.

I wandered back to ARPANSA and discovered the detector had failed last night so I had to call the guy’s at ARPANSA in Melbourne to help change over to the spare detector. Both our gamma ray detectors are just about kaput and we are struggling to keep them working. We have two new ones due to arrive on V6. At today’s morning meeting we discussed ways to save fuel and were given a list of power saving instructions from Kingston. We have to shut down several buildings, turning off the heat and power, shutting off lights, reducing heating to eight degrees in many building, turning off the spa and many other things. As we are on wind power ninety percent of the time I don’t see how this is going to make much difference at all and will only serve to make our lives miserable. 

After smoko, I went and repaired the hook switch on four Cisco phones and in the afternoon I went and cleaned out the emergency vehicle shelter. (EVS) The fire station was a mess and I don’t think it has been cleaned out in years. As the outgoing fire chief I want to handover a clean station. I filled the whole ute with rubbish and junk I either threw out, burnt or stored elsewhere. During the clean out I found a box with the date 1911 on the side belonging to one of Mawson’s expeditions. There was also another box dated 1975 and I put both of these boxes on display down in the Biscoe hut. There is also a nice dog sledge and lots of other artefacts in there also. After this I was pretty knackered so I knocked off early and had what might be my last spa.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sunday 23rd February 2014

The blizzard is over and we are back to a twenty knot katabatic. I did the ARPANSA filter change and the building was up to twenty six degrees because I had the rim and infra red heaters on, so I had to leave the door open as the detector had heated up ten degrees and could fail at any time. After, I went back to the red shed for some breakfast, a shower and I did a bit of work on by blog and read the news. Luc gave me a call to see if I wanted to watch a documentary he was just about to put on, so after I put on a load of washing I went up to the cinema and I didn't come out till ten thirty that night.

Even the Skua chicks have died and the birds are starving

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Saturday 22nd February 2014

Today was a raging blizzard for most of the day and we are back to snow and bliz tails. After doing ARPANSA, I spent most of the time in my room today looking for jobs and it didn't take very long till I was bored. The guys had band practice in the cinema so I couldn't go and watch a movie. After a bite to eat I went down to the transmitter building and put out a heap of calls. Conditions were very poor and there was no path into Europe but I ended up having a long chat to John in NSW. I went back to the red shed and messed about on my computer until it was dinner time. I arrived ten minutes late and most of the food was gone. After dinner we watched a movie and I went to bed early.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Friday 21st February 2014

This morning when I woke up the ANARESAT had gone off air. There must have been a power outage last night that caused the antenna auto tracking to disengage and the satellite has drifted out of view. It took me a while to drive the huge antenna back until the satellite was within view, and then I could engage the auto tracking to do its search before locking onto the satellite. The satellite we use is only fifteen degrees above our horizon and situated over the equator.

ARPANSA went well today using the main gamma ray detector. At eleven thirty I had another job interview which went pretty well and I might have to do another one next week also. I took some time out to polish up all the bullet casings I have found over the year and then late in the afternoon I worked on my blog to bring it up to date. We were told today we have to start conserving power by shutting down all non essential systems. They are even talking about shutting down the ARPANSA laboratory for the whole year but at the moment it’s all talk and it depends how much fuel they can fly in for next year’s crew. 

Personally I think we need to plan this wisely as turning of all the lights and heaters while we are running on wind power will achieve nothing and only increase the pissoff factor. Even if we manage to save one drum of fuel in the next eight weeks what good is that out of 400,000 litres?

For dinner we had Indian and later I watched a few documentaries with Luc.

So far I have found over sixty bullet casings and projectiles including two 1960 flares, 12 gauge, 303, 30.30, 38 cal and 22 cal

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Thursday 20th February 2014

This morning the Katabatic was blowing twenty knots but the wind dropped off to nothing in the afternoon. After sorting through all my emails, I had to swap over the gamma ray detectors in the ARPANSA laboratory as the one I was using died overnight. After ARPANSA I walked over to the variometer building and fixed the problem with the two computers and GPS and on the walk back I had a bad fall walking across some very slippery ice.

As the wind had died off, I got a ute to finish off cleaning out Dovers Hut. I filled the whole ute with rubbish and took it all to the RTA bin to get rid of it. Now the three old accommodation huts are spotless and let's hope in the future they are kept that way. In the afternoon I went and did the magnetic observations for this week. There was a large disturbance and the variation was all over the place. While there I grabbed as much rubbish as I could carry back to throw in the RTA bin and the rest I will get next week. 

When I got back to the office I was disappointed to see two boats had gone out again and I wasn't notified even though I am one of the coxswains. No one else knew and it was just a select few that went out. By now the water had glassed out and we could have taken three boats and most of the station out berging. 

Before dinner Geoff, Luc and I went out to east arm for a few quiet ones while watching some giant petrol's and skua's flying around. Tonight I was very tired and I did a bit of work on my blog and watched a bit of TV.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Wednesday 19th February 2014

This morning the wind was down to 20 knots and all the sea ice around the station had blown out and the blue ocean looked beautiful. All the ice in the west bay ice fall has floated out and there are small icebergs floating around everywhere. Looking through the binoculars the fast ice still surrounds all the outer Islands for as far out as you can see.

After doing ARPANSA, at smoko it was announced the ship will head back to Hobart to pick up four helicopters and return to us next month for a flying resupply. So now the Aurora Australis is not due at Mawson until the 20th March and they have scheduled twenty days for a flying resupply and then the Aurora Australis with us on board is not due back in Hobart until the 2nd of May. 

After smoko I went for a walk over to the variometer building to check on a problem with one of the GPS in the building. At eleven thirty I had an interview with the Divisions psychiatrist who confirmed I was still nuts. At one thirty the wind had dropped right off so we decided to send three boats over to Bechervaise Island to collect the two biologists who have been working over there for the past two months. We couldn't push through the brash ice so we had to moor at one end of the Island and carry all their gear back. While waiting, a large iceberg threatened to crush or block our boats so I had to push it out of the way with the boat. The biologists were very happy to see us and we took them back to the station to drop off all their gear. 

As the weather was still good we took them out to Petersen, Verner and Welch Islands to do Adélie Penguin surveys. Out of the 17,000 breeding pairs in our immediate area, not one chick has survived this year due to the sea ice not breaking out and nearly all the skua chicks have died also. 

While waiting for the biologists, I had my boat parked up in some moving brash ice and I was lying on my back enjoying the sun when I noticed the weather balloon straight up above us silhouetted by the blue sky. We all saw it and I watched it for about two more minutes, then to my surprise it burst and disappeared. It was an amazing coincidence and we laughed about getting hit in the nuts by the radio sonde. Later when we got back to station I asked Darron our MET guy what height was today's balloon when it burst and I was amazed to hear it was 32,660m high !!

Abandoned Adélie penguin rookery

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Tuesday 18th February 2014

This morning it was still blowing about fifty five knots all day. Last night the Aurora Australis left Davis station to see if it can get through the sea ice to Mawson, but the latest sea ice satellite photos show that not much has changed. As it was blowing so hard, I decided to spend the day down in Biscoe hut installing a Cisco switch, IP telephone and a new UPS. I also removed the TV we used for the 60th celebration and a faulty UPS. Later back in the workshop I installed a new battery in the faulty UPS. At five o'clock I had a sked with Clifford in Sydney using Olivia and later I worked many European stations on 10m.

This is the massive storm that has just passed over us. Anywhere else you would have to evacuate 

The mass of fixed ice and sea ice entrapping Mawson station

Monday, 17 February 2014

Monday 17th February 2014

This morning it was blowing about fifty five knots all day. Some sea ice has blown out in Kista Strait but the sea ice still looks to be firmly fixed as far out as you can see. After sorting my email and doing ARPANSA, I worked on my blog for a few hours. In the afternoon I went and put signs up in Shackleton hut, Wilkes hut, Dovers hut, Weddell hut, the old works hut and the old electricians hut. I then spent about three hours cleaning Dovers hut which was a mess and full of rubbish. It was too windy to cart all the rubbish away so I piled it at the front cold porch until we get a nice day with light winds. By the time I had finished I was filthy and had to immediately go and have a shower and wash my cloths.
Dovers hut erected 1969
Old electricians store erected 1954

Famous rocks of Mawson Station

Scattered around the station are numerous large glacial erratic rocks that have been deposited by glaciers. Some of these rocks are significant in the station’s folklore while many others have been bulldozed out of the way or blown up such as “Piss rock”.

West of the EVS is chock rock, a huge boulder that threatens to roll down the hill at any time, destroying anything in its path. It is held in position only by a few small rocks at its base. Early in the stations history some good humoured person has painted on the rock “Do not remove chocks”.

Down below the mechanical workshop there is a huge boulder with the words “Stor Klippe” painted on it. The language is Danish, most likely from a crewman on one of the four Dan ships that used to resupply Mawson (Kista Dan, Thala Dan, Magga Dan and Nella Dan). In Danish,“Stor Klippe” translates to "large rock", which shows that the painter had a good sense of humour.

Near Stor Klippe is another rock with RTA written on it. (Return to Australia) Probably the best known rock of all is split rock, two immense rocks north of the EVS. John Bechervaise called it the “Johanna Stone” and described it as “ponderous granite erratic”, well rounded and about 10 feet tall, which has at some remote and lonely time broken cleanly into two parts like a cut pear”.

There are many other un-named erratics around station and these mentioned are just a few.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Where do we get our water from?

What’s that you say?
Where do we get our water from?

Getting a drink of water or having a shower in Antarctica is still not an easy task 66 years after the first expeditioners settled the station. Back then they had to melt snow by boiling it. Although we are surrounded by trillions of litres of water, we first have to melt it to get access to it which uses an awesome amount of energy. Lucky for us we don’t have to collect the snow first like the expeditioners before us. Melting snow is very inefficient as snow will only produce 10% of the same volume of water as ice will produce.

Well it all starts with a thing called a melt bell. Hot water is produced by an electric boiler driven by our wind turbines. If the wind stops blowing then a diesel powered boiler automatically kicks in. This hot water circulates through the melt bell heating it up which caused the melt bell to melt the surrounding ice causing a water well to form in the plateau's blue ice. This melted water is then pumped into our three water storage tanks. Half of the water in the storage tanks is always reserved for fire fighting. From the storage tanks, water enters the site services ring feed mains supply. 

This piping system supplies water to every building on station and the water is circulated through heat exchangers in the power house extracting heat from the engines and also from boilers that run on wind power or diesel power if the wind stops. This stops the pipes from freezing and bursting. All the pipes in site services have heat trace installed in them as well. Large storage tanks hold water in the basement of the red shed and there are sewer and grey water holding tanks as well. Sewage from the flushing toilets and grey water from the showers etc, is pumped to the sewage treatment plant and the treated effluent is discharged into East bay.

Melt bell
Water well
Electric / diesel boiler in the pump house
Pump house on the left and the tank house on the right
One of the three cast iron storage tanks in the tank house
Site service pipes
The waste treatment plant
The shit pipe (effluent outlet)

Sunday 16th February 2014

I managed to have a bit of a sleep in today which was great. I worked on my blog for a few hours trying to get it up to date and then had a shower and put on some washing. For lunch I heated up my last Fray Bentos pie that I have been saving for ages. It was great and worth the wait. The wind outside was still blowing strong but now down to about forty knots. At about three o’clock I ventured out and wandered down to the transmitter room. Compared to yesterday, propagation was very poor. I persisted for a while only managing to contact half a dozen Japanese stations and also a guy in Jakarta. Eventually I gave up and went for a walk along the water’s edge before heading back to the red shed for some dinner. After dinner I watched this week’s episode of Coast and then we watched an interesting documentary about building the new Scott / Amundsen base at the South Pole.

All the four thousand Adélie penguin chicks on Bechervaise Island are now dead and probably every chick within a two hundred kilometre radius from Mawson due to the sea ice not having broken out. This could possibly be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dead penguins. Around Mawson there is no wildlife at all compared to last year. Normally the adult Adélie penguins come in to moult this time of year, but as they have to fatten themselves up first out at the ice edge it’s probably too far to walk in so they might have all gone to the closest Island to the ice edge. We normally have dozens of Weddell seals laying about the station also and this year there is only one lone seal showing up now and again.

The Aurora Australis is now at Davis station waiting for the weather to improve to make an attempt to reach Mawson. All we can do is wait in limbo to see if they will attempt to get us out or head off back to Hobart. They are still talking about a fly off but we have strong winds and a blizzard warning for all this week. We are down to our last sixty mouldy onions and not much else.

Here is the display for the IPS HF Ionospheric Radio sonde showing elevation and frequency. A sweep signal is beamed strait up and a receiver measures what is reflected back. This is a convenient indication for me to know in advance what conditions are likely to be on the various bands.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Saturday 15th February 2014

Today it was blowing the clappers. The wind was gusting sixty knots with blowing snow. There is a chance a few days of strong wind might blow out the sea ice that is trapping us and there are a couple of leads inshore that have opened up so far. For my Saturday duties I cleaned and vacuumed the upper corridors of the red shed, did some washing and went and made myself something to eat.

It was so crappy outside I spent most of the day in my room catching up on my blog and then in the late afternoon I ventured out and went down to the transmitter building. Propagation today was off the dial and there were many stations on ten meters so I spent the afternoon working a huge pile up with stations from Europe, South America, USA and central Asia. Tonight was a few documentaries in the cinema washed down with my second last bottle of red wine.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Friday 14th February 2014

Today was Helens birthday and yesterday we made her a happy birthday photo with my old sign and she really appreciated the thought. I had two job interviews today so I spent a couple of hours in the morning doing a bit of research and brushing up on the technical side and trying to get myself prepared.

The first one went pretty well but they caught me out on a few curly technical questions which was a little embarrassing but that's the way she goes. I have now been shortlisted with two other guys and I guess I will hear back from them next week. The second one was more of a first stage informal chat and it looks like I will have a more in-depth interview next week. After lunch I spent most of the time catching up on all my emails and also did some more work on the signs I am going to put up in all the old huts.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Thursday 13th February 2014

Today was the 60th anniversary of the first landing and establishment of Mawson station. We declared today a public holiday for all Mawsonites and we planned to celebrate with a series of events to honour those that came before us. We were planning on having a BBQ in Weddle hut and then watching some old movies in Biscoe hut. Both of these huts were the first huts erected in 1954 during the first landing.

I printed a heap of colour photos from the 1960 expedition and put them up in "exactly" the same position where they were taken. It was a fun challenge to work out the locations and an eerie feeling too as these two building have changed quite a bit over the years. When you look at these old buildings all you see are old buildings, but when you see photos of all the life, happy times and celebrations that have gone on inside them over the past sixty years they really come alive and have their own character. 

Once done setting up I went and had brunch at eleven o'clock which was a special spread of croissants and smoked salmon. At eleven thirty I had arranged to have a conference call with Syd Kirkby and George Cresswell who were fellow expeditioners with my step father Bill Kellas here at Mawson in 1960. Syd has had an incredible career as a surveyor and holds the honour of exploring and surveying more Australian territory than any other explorer including Burke & Wills or Charles Sturt. 

George is an honorary research fellow at CSIRO and was an Auroral Physicist here at Mawson. He has had an amazing 4 decade career as a physical oceanographer working in Australia and SE Asian water. George also has the honour of bringing the first motor bike to Antarctica. Both Syd and George are very funny and witty men and true gentlemen. 

Our phone call lasted over an hour and they had everyone captivated with funny stories and anecdotes about early station life. Chairing the call was fun and I managed to dig up some dirt about each of them and we all had a fabulous time. We the 66th ANARE were honoured to have two such great and inspirational expeditions join us for the 60th anniversary of Mawson station. 

After the call I went down to the old station to fulfil a promise I made when I first got here to clean out all the old buildings. The three original remaining accommodation buildings Shackleton, Wilkins and Dovers all looked like squatters have been living in them and I spent six hours thoroughly cleaning them out and they now look fantastic. I have also made up signs to place in them telling the name, the building use, age and a note about them being heritage and to look after them. 

I took some time out as we all gathered out on the end of West Arm to unveil the new Mawson sign Terry had made up to replace the aging and faded old sigh. We all raised a cup of champagne and toasted those that came before us and also our family, friends and loved one left behind. Late in the afternoon we all gathered in Weddle for a BBQ and a few drinks and afterwards we all moved into Biscoe where I played a few old movies including "Blue Ice" about the original landing at Mawson in 1954, a movie of the 1960 expedition, Harry Munstermann's narrative slide show from the 1960 expedition and a slide presentation by Dave McCormack. 

It was a nice day and worked well and later everybody gathered in Klub Katabatic for a few beers, darts, pool and movies.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wednesday 12th February 2014

This morning I once again worked on the telecoms handover documents for several hours which also led into cleaning up the file server. After smoko I went and got a spare TV out of the green store and set it up in Biscoe hut in readiness for the 60th celebrations tomorrow.

Back in the office I gave the telecoms handover documents a rest and went on with the annual report for a while. Late in the afternoon I made some preparations for tomorrow's teleconference with Syd & George who were Mawson expeditioners with Bill my step father in 1960.

Horse shoe harbour sea ice refreezing