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ANARE Club Representative Voyage 2 2003/2004
David Ellyard in Antarctica
Underway Monday 3 November
Well folks, I am aboard Aurora Australis and we are underway. We sailed from Hobart on Monday night at seven. Once we had cleared Bruny Island we turned onto a west south west course, on a direct track for Davis.
It is after lunch on our first full day at sea. I have set myself up in a corner of the conference room which is quiet, especially now since it is deserted, apart from me. I now have the dictation software working reasonably well and so will be able to send longer e-mails from now on.
We are pushing southwest at a steady speed, with the boat pitching a little as we move into a westerly wind, but it is still relatively comfortable. I understand from the weatherman in my cabin that it will become rougher tomorrow night when we get a southerly blow. We are in the now locked onto a course for Davis, which we will pursue, all being well, for the next 11 days. That is okay for people like me who have jobs to do, but I think time will hang rather heavily on the hands of those for whom this trip is just the prelude to the year in Antarctica.
Lunch was very tasty, and it was hard to resist going back for a second helping. Prawns, smoked salmon, octopus and various salad goodies. But I was disciplined. There will be a challenge in the 10,000 steps a day, with only a limited the area to step out into and the weather a bit bumpy. I have mapped out a route back and forth through the helicopter deck, which is about 230 steps so I'll have to retrace that many times to make up the number. But I will be a good boy about that too. Only light beer is available in the bar, which is open only after dinner for a couple of hours. I did not go there last night but probably will tonight. Two drinks maximum.
I have made a point of sitting and talking with different people at meals. Over lunch, I chatted with an American biologist and his Australian wife who are both on their way to Davis to study diseases among the skuas. He is good talent and I will probably use him for the program I am preparing for ABC Radio. I am trying to get a list of all the people on board and what their various jobs are to help sort out who I want to interview.
Have downloaded the pictures from yesterday from the camera, and tried e-mailing one or two of them which you may have received. The ones from the ship with all those streamers were a little disappointing, being a little blurred. Clearly I have not been holding the camera steady enough as I take the pictures. I must work on that.
I will close now, and get on with some other jobs. I need to finish putting all the e-mail addresses and transcribe my notes from my discussions with the physicist at the Division. Last night, I loaded the software for the mouse, which is much easier to use than a pointing device built in to the computer. It is an optical mouse and works on just about any sort of surface. I also loaded the software for burning CDs.
I won the sweep on the Cup!!
Near the end of day two at sea. It is getting a little rougher, with the wind beginning to shriek and the ship to groan but I remain comfortable. I took half an hour on deck in the middle of the day. I have finalised my presentation on life at Mawson in 1966, and will be giving it tomorrow afternoon. I will also use the occasion to promote the Club and hand out membership forms which I will send follow-up personally in the coming days.
The close of day three sees the Aurora Australis well into its 12 day voyage to Davis Base, which lies on the coastline of Antarctica roughly south of Pakistan. We are hardly rolling at all at the moment, the sun is shining and it is generally very pleasant. We have had some rough weather which this morning required the ship to stop so that some loose cargo could be secured.
I am travelling quite comfortably, with no sign of seasickness. The food is excellent and temptingly plentiful though the accommodation is crowded. I managed half an hour on deck and 2500 steps after lunch, with the plan to do the same after dinner.
There is plenty to do in the way of entertainment, though I am keeping busy with my various responsibilities, including signing people up to the ANARE Club, and getting ready to interview some of the scientists for a radio program and some articles. I suspect that life will be largely without incident for another week or so, by which time we should be seeing some icebergs. Once we reach Davis things will get very busy for about a week or 10 days before we start the return journey.
Nearing the end of day three, the weather has settled down after a stormy night which required us to heave to early this morning to secure some cargo.
Today I gave a talk and showed some pictures about life at Mawson 37 years ago. My talk on Mawson 1966 seemed to go down well, about 60 people came and listened attentively, though there were not many questions. I gave the Club a good plug and handed out membership forms. I have five back already and will work in various ways to secure the rest.
I am starting to bone up on the science projects at Davis for the radio program. There is a lot happening and I need to sort out the best stories and the best talent.
I am also trying to get out on deck several times a day for some exercise. I will be taking my evening constitutional directly I finish this note. It is time for dinner so I will close. We are now far enough west to have had to put the clocks back an hour last night.
Day 4 at sea is coming to an end. The clocks have gone back another hour (back to Perth time), as we cross the below the Great Australian Bight. The seas have been quite moderate throughout the day, and I was able to have a good walk on deck in the early afternoon. But they have risen tonight, and become a bit bumpy, as I plan to go to bed.
I watched a couple of movies tonight with some others in the recreation room, but much of the day I kept busy with research and writing on science matters. I have begun to talk with some of the scientists who will be active at Davis and who I plan to use. I am sorting out four or five stories with most appeal from the several dozen possibilities. I also went to one of the briefings for expeditioners, which are now underway, this one being on environmental issues.
Apart from that things continue quietly. I am still comfortable, with no trace of seasickness, sleeping well. I have exchanged bunks with one of the other people in my cabin, and that has made plugging-in the breathing machine much easier. I plan to do some washing tomorrow, including pajamas and shirts. It is getting noticeably cooler, with the air temperature in the middle of today down to 5�.
We have only three or four emailings a day from the ship, inward and outward, so that makes for some delays in getting and giving responses.
Fifth full day at sea. Last night was very bumpy, with winds of reaching 45 knots and seas very rough. Everyone's sleep was disturbed. In one cabin, the window seal broke briefly and water came in. Not a pleasant experience. It is calmer now with the winds down to 15 to 20 knots, but still quite a swell. It is after breakfast, and I will soon go on deck for my 2500 steps.
We are well south, below 51 degrees, so in the next day or so we will cross the Antarctic Convergence where we meet the colder waters from coming up the south. That's when it will get noticeably colder. Soon after that we will see our first icebergs. There is a sweep running on this, with most people reckoning about Wednesday.
1130om : just back from an emergency muster drill, which I am told routinely happens on Saturdays. This involved going up to the helideck in full wet/cold gear and lifejackets and having our names checked off. We waited until all were accounted present and correct, then stood down. It took about half an hour.
Meanwhile the ship's crew ran a simulated fire emergency. The scenario involved a fire in the hospital at the same time as a broken leg needed treatment.
Before the drill I managed 3000 steps on deck, about 12 laps of my course. This begins midway along the starboard side, runs aft then around the perimeter of the helideck, down the port side (which is out of the wind on our present course), and half was across to the starboard till blocked by a chain. Then back again to complete a lap.
The wind has dropped to around 15 knots so the seas are moderate. Just a few white caps. But a solid swell is running, so the ship rolls and pitches enough to make the route a series of ups and downs, each a few steps long. The ups are noticeably so, and the downs hasten the pace. With air temperature around 5 degrees, there is a chill in the wind.
Around us, the seas are bare to the horizon, other than for a few albatrosses in our wake, hanging and swooping above the waves with motionless wings. Astounding to watch and a subject for hopeful photographers. The sky carries a high light grey overcast, with some streaks of white and even of blue.
Even in these relatively easy conditions, it is sobering to think that these seas were sailed first in wooden sailing ships one tenth the size of the Aurora and maybe one hundredth the weight. How much more sobering now we have sampled the wilder weather and soon will sample the ice that bars the way south. Cook and his crew, Ross, Wilkes, Dumont Durville. What heroes.
Later: I was a bit tired after lunch, due I guess to last night's disturbed sleep, so, my washing completed, I took a couple of hours nap. I then managed another good session on deck. My pedometer seems to be missing counts due, perhaps, to the unevenness of my tread on the moving deck, but it had still clocked up more than 7000 for the day by the time I had finished. Seas have picked up a little.
I have been told by one of the crew (who is finding me some dubbin for my boots) that the main engine is to be brought on line tonight as the bad weather is holding us back and we are falling behind schedule.
As of this afternoon, I have signed up 12 new Club members and had a couple of others check their membership status (it was OK). Not a bad result in two days I guess.
It is about 9.45 and I have just finished playing a few games of Scrabble with a couple of the boffins who will be Davis, and who I will be using in the radio programs.
I will go now and see if there is a movie playing, and then turn in
Day 6 started with a bump as I was jolted awake and nearly out of bed at five in the morning with the ship rolling and pitching in heavy seas. At the time, the winds were over 45 knots and the waves reportedly up to 15 metres. That was about the time the barometer bottomed out as we passed a low-pressure centre to the south. I went up to the bridge after breakfast to take some photos of the ship's bow ploughing into waves that still looked 10 metres high. The bow was frequently lost to sight beneath foam and spray. The sea surface was streaked with foam, with spray being torn from the wave crests.
Though the winds and seas have eased a little, the ship is still rolling a lot and it is hard to stay steady in my chair as I type this. From time to time, the ship booms and shudders from the impact of a wave, and if I am in bed everything vibrates for a few seconds. The portholes in the conference room, which is one deck below our cabins, are shut by metal covers, indicating that they are being assailed by the waves. Various bumps and clanks and groans reach our ears, and some whining of the wind, which continues from the west, just off our starboard bow. And behind those noises, the ubiquitous drone of the engines and the rattling of the walls.
We crossed the Antarctic Convergence during the night, so that the sea temperature, which was about 7 degrees at noon yesterday, is now about 3 degrees. This means we are within the border of Antarctica and the first icebergs will not be far away.
I restricted myself to cereal today at breakfast after indulging in some hot things the last couple of days. The food is temptingly good and plentiful, so it is hard to be disciplined. I am sticking to salads as much as I can, and to sea food which remains on the menu (various cooked fish, smoked salmon, oysters, prawns, octopus salad). It will be hard to get much exercise today, with the deck unsafe, I can still go up and down the internal stairs, though the view is not much.
My hunt for some dubbin (there being apparently no boot polish on board) has been successful, thanks to Sean in the ship's store, though he had get it from the bosun. My boots have been revived and should hold out until Davis where polish will, I am assured, be available. I have to return the dubbin, this being, it seems, the only supply on board.
I talked for an hour this morning to Damien Murphy, one of the summer time physicists at Davis, about his work on the upper atmosphere. It is good science, and we worked out an angle which will make it relevant to listeners and readers. This afternoon I will talking to Anya Reading (a Yorkshire lass) about her geophysics work, which will be another good story. She spends much of her summer in the field around the edges of the Amery Ice Shelf, setting up and checking on a network of earthquake monitors in temperatures down to -35.
Later on this evening I ventured onto the deck, and did enough steps to bring the total for 5000 for the day. Most of those are up and down stairs or on a heaving deck and/or into the wind. So I expect they count more than when I am walking the dog.
I am having a very interesting time with the best still to come. I am keeping well and eagerly anticipating what still lies ahead.
The two ends of today were rather different. This morning as yesterday; windy and bumpy, with most people shaken awake early if they got to sleep at all. Rain, overcast skies, foam streaked heaving seas, the Southern Ocean as nasty as we have seen it so far. No chance for a stroll around the deck. The need for self preservation made washing, shaving, dressing etc take half an hour.
Tonight (it is about 1900) still bit bumpy but endurably so, sun shining and the wind eased off. Through the porthole it looks great and I will wrap up and take my chances as soon as I finish this.
The art of Southern Ocean travel is the art of balance. It is now almost second nature to everyone. We accommodate almost without thinking to the shifting "lie of the land" beneath our feet as we walk. A few steps up, a few steps down or so it seems. Keep on the move and all is well. We are yet to see anyone really come to grief, even with a plate in each hand.
Standing still without support is another matter. The practiced or the confident can put their feet together and lean nonchalantly this way and that as required, sometimes 15 degrees from true. Others, like yours truly, less experienced or more cowardly, stand with feet apart, gripping the floor and bending the knees. Less graceful but no less effective.
Since I was here last, non-slip table mats have been invented, open weave rubber "runners" that enable most things to resist the temptation to slide as the ship heels. The cutlery may skid off the plate but the plate seems glued in place. I have such a one under my laptop as I write . I thrash about in my chair, (not as much as earlier in the day) but the machine is immoveable.
No further sign of icebergs since last night's reported radar sighting. We have been pushing west today avoid bad weather so it may be a day or so before we dip far enough south to sight one.
Today I spent a lot of time writing. Sent a weekly catchup note to a lot of people, then yesterday's bulletin. I then drafted two articles based on my chats with boffins yesterday. Have comments back on one of them already (mostly happy).
Enough for now. My walk awaits.
I slept in for the first time today, even missed breakfast. For once I was not awakened early by the rolling of the ship. The weather is certainly better today. The wind has eased and the seas are just moderate, with whitecaps but no foam streaks or smoking wave crests. A substantial swell is arriving from a low somewhere, so the ship does roll but not evilly, and there are no thumps and shakes from burrowing into waves. The clouds are thin and lots of blue sky leaks through. I may have overslept because of last night's excitement.
I was on my way to bed after a movie at around 11.30 and passed someone in the passage all rugged up as if they were going topside. "There is a great aurora on" he announced. I quickly dressed ready for a temperature around zero and a 30 knot wind and followed him up.
It was an amazing scene. I stood out of the wind with my back to the helicopter hanger doors, looking across the helideck which bucked up and down and left and right by up to 30 degrees in the swell. I was looking east into our wake.
For once the sky was clear. Stars were visible. Right behind us Orion was rising, standing even more on his head that he appears from Sydney since we are now 20 degrees further south. To the right, Sirius in the Big Dog and the stars of Argo sprawled across the sky.
The light of the stars was dimmed by a bright moon in the northeast, not far up but looking almost full, which puzzled me because it was nearly midnight. That too may have been a consequence of the latitude. The sun had set only two hours before.
The main event was going on in front of the stars and moon. The whole sky (or at least the half I could see) was filled with pale yellow-green light, hanging like curtains or shaped into beams or shafts that seemed to radiate from the zenith. An aurora was certainly "on". People were lying on the deck in front of me to get the full picture.
The brightest beams were overhead, shafts of light like sunlight through a breaking cloud. More fancifully, they were reminiscent of artistic attempts to show some heavenly vision. I almost expected to hear angelic music. A long curtain hung across the sky to the north. I could see gentle movements and fluctuations in brightness, much more leisurely ebbs and flows than are conveyed by a movie. Low light levels necessitate long exposures and as a result the motion is speeded up dozens of times.
But the movement was still impressive, given that the lights were at least 100 km above our heads. It was also remarkable that we were right under the display even at our latitude (above 55 degrees south). It seems that the current unexpectedly vigorous activity of the Sun (which generates the aurora) has "expanded the auroral oval", the ring shaped zone around the geomagnetic pole from which the aurora can be seen. We were being gifted with a display normally seen only much further south.
The show did not last long. I may have caught it at its brightest. Within ten minutes it was fading and losing definition, so with the cold biting I went back inside. Seeing the "southern lights" is one of the reasons people come to Antarctica. I can tick that one off already.
With the weather easing, onboard training has begun again. Today it was Navigation 101, reading distances and directions on a map, using a compass set a bearing, learning how to correct for the variation of the compass. This will help ensure safe travel over the 400 square km of rock exposed to the east of Davis Station (when we get there). Field huts are scattered over this region, a few hours walk apart among the fiords and hypersaline lakes (so salty they never freeze). I am looking forward to doing some walks.
I yarned today with another of my target boffins, biologist Garry Miller (from the US originally). He will be looking at diseases in skuas, the carrion and killing birds of the region. The concern is that these diseases, which are like those found in poultry, have been brought here by the human presence. Garry is not so sure and thinks migrating birds might have done it. I will be going out with him and his field assistant/wife Robyn (an Aussie) to nearby islands for recording.
After a few days dalliance to poor weather, we are pushing SW at a good speed, hoping to make up time. Current speed around 13 knots. We still have about five days of sailing, given good weather, which may get us near Davis by late Saturday. The ship will then need to cut a path through the fast ice as close as we can get. So landing on Sunday looks the best bet.
The met man says the weather should stay generous for the next couple of days, with seas mostly moderate. That will be welcome. I have had enough shaking up. We have now penetrated far enough south (below 55 degrees) for the worst of the polar front weather to be behind us.
It is 8.30 in the evening and I have just sat down at the computer after a really good hit out on deck. With the weather settled, little wind and not much swell, I was very comfortable walking and just kept going, finally hitting the magic 10000 in one go of 90 minutes. I am a bit tired but I handled it quite easily, so I'm rather pleased with myself. Given the poor weather we have had I felt I needed to seize the opportunity for some exercise. I hope to do 10000 again tomorrow but in two bursts.
I continue to talk with the scientists and draft copy. Today it was Gary Miller on skuas. During our departure, amidst the streamers, I spoke briefly to Patty Lucas, AAD PR office, who was on the dock, and I will be sending her a note in a minute to see that she is happy with what I am doing, and what her requirements are.
Weekly linen change tomorrow, and I have booked myself for the tour of the engine room. Later in the day, another session on navigation, this time about Global Positioning Systems.
This morning woke with a mist over the sea, or so it seemed. Closer inspection though the porthole showed it be snow, not heavy but blowing about and enough to cut visibility to what seemed a few hundred metres, but was probably a lot more. Another sign we nearing our target, though it is still four days or so away. As one wag said "The Club Med phase is over. Now it gets serious". When I last looked at the temperature readout, both the air temperature and the water temperature were below zero, so amen to the "getting serious". We are nearly 58 degrees south. 60 degrees is the legal beginning of Antarctica according to various treaties and protocols.
With better weather, and both engines running, we have been making about 14 knots about SW. We are currently around 101 East and 58 South. That means we have cleared Australia above us and passed above the site of Casey Base on the edge of Antarctica where I laboured for two weeks with the other Mawson 1966 crew all those years ago to help build a base that was later torn down. So we have about 10 degrees of latitude and 20 of longitude to make to come to Davis.
I have just emerged from touring the engine room. Down there all is noise and steel and oily smells. Various contrivances make steam, clean the oil, deal with the sewage, claim drinking water from sea water by reverse osmosis. In the heart of the ship, two massive donks, both bearing German names, one of 5500 HP, the other 1500 HP, turn 30 cm drive shaft that disappears into the stern. There it reputedly drives a 6 metre propeller that sends on our way.
A few other figures; ship's overall length just under 100 metres, beam about 20 metres, weight when loaded about 7000 tonnes. It can break fast ice up to 1.2 metres thick. And the colour scheme? Bright orange with green decks and yellow cranes fore and aft.
The ship has a double hull, with water ballast tanks between the skins, kept warm by steam. The fuel tanks are within the inner hull. To dampen down the worst of the ship's high-jinks, a stabilisation system moves water from side to side within the hull to keep some balance. Unfortunately the very audible squealing and roaring from valves that relieve the build-up of pressure in the tanks and pipes can get very aggravating. Sometimes I think the rolling is better.
Midday saw another session on navigation, this time on the use of GPS (Global Postitioning System) handsets. These mobile phone-size babies read radio signals from a battery of orbiting satellites and at the push of a few buttons can tell you where you are (with 10 or 20 metres) anywhere on Earth, how fast you are traveling, the direction you need to travel to the next key point on your path, how long it will take you get back to the last point and even when the Sun will rise. Amazing machines. I do not know how Mawson and Shackelton managed without them.
We went onto the snowy helideck in an icy wind (around minus 2 degrees) to try these out and immediately were alerted to a longed-for sight; our first iceberg. It looked to be several km away on the port side, but impressive enough, flat-toped, shot through with blue tones, a few hundred metres long, with perhaps 50 metres showing above the water (and 400 metres hidden below). There are many more to come (and much closer), and knowing that, I restrained myself to 2 pictures (and one of the snow covered lifeboats), But you never forget your first iceberg.
In approaching Antarctica, the traveler passes through a number of identifiable natural zones and across some man-made borders. The first is the broad band of intimidating and relentless westerly winds, the "roaring forties", which are something of an impediment, especially if you are headed into them, as we are. These do not cease at 50 degrees south; the furious fifties" can take over.
Imbedded in these air streams are intense cyclones or "lows", generating the winds and swells that make sea travel at these latitudes so relaxing. The lows are born of a battle between the westerlies in the north and the equally feisty easterly winds that pour off the continent itself. The line of conflict is the "polar front", a suitably war-like term. I think we may be through that, but it is not easy to be sure because the battle line shifts.
We do know that we have crossed the Antarctic Convergence, where the frigid polar waters begin to overlie warmer waters from the north. That happened a few days back, when we were not much below the 50th parallel. In this sector, the convergence lies quite a long way north. The temperature of the sea dropped 5 degrees almost at once and have gone down another five since.
We have today broken into the iceberg zone, which has a very ragged open edge but will become more tightly woven as we push south. Overnight we should cross the 60th parallel, a man made line to be sure but one that encompasses all of Antarctica and no other land. At these latitudes, the westerlies meet no land at all as they blow. 60 degrees South also marks the legal limits of Antarctica and its waters according to some international treaties and protocols.
Ahead lie other borders and barriers, the pack ice, the Antarctic Circle, the fast ice, the continent itself, the katabatic winds, more of which anon.
Clocks go back another hour tonight (three hours overall since Hobart)
Regarding sea sickness. No-one is suffering now, it seems, just a bit tired of the relentless motion of the ship. Some one fell in the shower and was laid up. I went to the doc myself just now to get some antibiotics. My cough has not really settled since I started, more annoying that anything. I have stayed away from non-soy dairy so that is not the problem. I had a few rattles in my chest, so the drugs are a precaution. It will be good to clear the cough before we reach land.
I am sleeping well, using the machine which does not seem to bother the others. The air is dry, so I am drinking a lot of tea, juice, mineral water.
Later: We have seen another two icebergs. The first was small but close and had some brash ice (a small field of floating bits) nearby. The other came by around 9pm (old time). I saw it an hour earlier while taking my walk (shorter path due to snow/ice but still for an hour and so will get my 10000 again today). It came by at a distance of about 7 km by the radar, and I calculated by two methods that it was about 800 m long. Very regular and flat topped, The radar showed it had a boomerang shape. No doubt many more and closer to come.
Overnight we crossed the 60th parallel, the nearest thing to an official border Antarctica has. In the early hours of the morning we made our first encounter with the pack ice. I awoke to see floating ice streaming by the porthole, and half a dozen icebergs in view.
On average about 50% of the surface of the sea was covered with floes and bits of ice, but in places the cover was almost complete, with large open stretches elsewhere. Many of the floes carried a layer of snow, heavy enough to force the floes themselves underwater. Such light, open pack did not impede the ship, and we glided though the whiteness at 6 or 8 knots, leaving a narrow wake cleared of ice. The seas were almost flat, now that the wild weather of the 40s and 50s is behind us.
I put all that into the past tense, since right at the moment (just before lunch) we are driving though a wide sweep of ice free water, a zone known as a polyna, where either winds or upwelling water has cleared away the floes and even the icebergs, leave the sea clear to the horizon as it was most of yesterday. But the pack is not far away, and we will meet up with it again soon. It will form an almost constant landscape (or should I say seascape) for the rest of our run to the coast. ETA at Davis is now set at late Sunday.
(Added later: in fact by 2 in the afternoon we were back in open pack with regular thumps and scrapes as the ship rode over and through floes)
I leant a lot about sea ice in a talk I have just come from. With the weather eased and journey's end in sight (well, close) the pace of preparation has picked up. Today I have the chance to bone up not only on sea ice (and how to behave on it), but Antarctic weather, an overview of the wildlife and the lives and loves of the Southern Polar Skua.
Ice is one of the defences of Antarctic privacy (along with sheer distance and the unwelcoming winds). Ships coming south, from Cook onwards, have had to force their way through it. This is one of the reasons Antarctica was discovered so late. The first sure sightings were not until around 1820. Cook sailed all round it but did not see it once.
Each winter the seas around Antarctica freeze over, filling most of the zone within the 60th parallel with the swarm of floating ice known as "the pack". Over much of the sea, the ice cover is total or nearly so, with polynas opening it up at sea and along the shore.
At its greatest extent in September, the sea ice covers 20 million square km, three times the surface area of Australia. The total area of Antarctica is almost doubled, in the greatest seasonally driven environmental change on the planet. The sea ice, which goes through a complex development, can be a metre thick. As spring comes, the ice begins to break up and melt, dwindling by March to a mere 3 million square km, much of that "fast ice", two metres or more thick, attached to the shore and lasting through the summer.
If the pace of life has lifted with journey's end approaching, you may be wondering what the 160 or so of us have been doing for the last 10 days. I suspect that ship board life is much the same the world over, with ample regular meals separated by not a lot, unless you chose it otherwise.
The lounge, next to where we eat, is popular most of the time with people chatting and reading (a lot of the latter), the video room in the evenings (with a regular 7 pm movie chosen by a secret cabal and others as the mood takes whoever is there), and the lower level "Husky" bar, later at night. Only light beers and wine are available, and a dart board, so the crowds are variable and the noise mostly not booze-generated. Other times are spent in cabins or on deck, depending on the weather and what there might be to see.
There have been some organised fun activities but not a lot; a 500 competition, a game of "Assassin", Melbourne Cup and iceberg sweeps, and reported a forthcoming talent show under the title "Antarctic Idol". Funds raised go the Camp Quality, and a large painted sign at the front of the mess says as much.
As time has passed, people have come to know each other and to mix more freely. Increasingly people sit at meals wherever there is a spare seat, rather looking for a mate. I am not a noted observer on such matters but it seems to me that identifiable groups still exist. The met people, being all from the Bureau, have a culture and are likely to have known each other in past lives. Likewise the people from the Division.
Those going for the year to Mawson are starting to bond. About 60 of us aboard are summer trip boffins (not counting me, except in spirit and as a communicator) and many are in teams which will be off soon after we arrive for weeks in the field. That's another reason to seek each others company. And perhaps the women (about 10% of the total) cluster a little, but that may be because they share cabins.
The demographics are interesting. On the whole this is a young crowd, averaging say low 30s. Lots of young tradesmen, graduate (and even undergraduate) students to help with the scientific field work, youngish Division people and field training officers. The Voyage Leader and Deputy Leader (both women) are 40- ish.
The oldest heads would belong to the two Station Leaders (OICs we used to call them), a man for Davis and a woman for Mawson, and the two doctors, both male. This group would be 50s or more. Even the ship crew are youngish. The Captain might be 50, the Chief Engineer looks about 30. I would think that I am (not surprisingly) the oldest on board. 37 years ago I was among the youngest, but much closer to the mean age than I am now.
Our second day in the pack ice, but our path southwest is little impeded. The ship slows or speeds as the resistance of the ice waxes and wanes, but we continue to move at 5 or 10 knots in our chosen direction. From within the ship, our progress is accompanied by a steady, sometimes urgent, sighing as floes and fragmented ice scrape and scratch the sides of the hull. From time to time comes a shudder and a thump as a larger floe is forced to yield to the ship's motion, but that at the moment is not frequent.
From topside, with the pack ice laid out from near at hand to the horizon, it is plain (to paraphrase the old ad) that "ice ain't ice". The sea ice comes in a thousand different shapes and sizes and colours and textures. It is as varied as the look of the land in any other part of the planet.
At times the sheet seems almost unbroken, with the narrow leads and cracks tucked mostly out of sight. We could almost be on a winter shrouded inland plateau. At other times the open water yawns wide, and the floating ice becomes a mere decoration.
The thickness and texture of the ice tells of his history. What we are seeing is mostly new ice, perhaps only a few weeks old. It is thin, 20 or 30 centimetres, and flat and dusted lightly with snow. Some floes are 20 or even 50 more metres across, or at least they were until fragmented and cast aside by the ship. Older ice, up to a year in age, is both thicker and more heavily burdened with snow. The snow weighs the ice down and can sculpt its bright white surface into crests and cornices which might stand a metre or more high.
With the some of the older floe are overturned by the ship, their secrets are revealed. We can see the depths of the snow and the thickness of the floe itself. The thickest floes may be the result of rafting, with one flow humped on the back of another. Such a union can be seen in the side of an overturned floe. Brown staining in the ice at the bottom shows the presence of plankton, microscopic floating plants that signal the productivity of the polar ocean.
Other ice is newly hatched, perhaps as recently as last night. The average sea temperature is down nearly to -1.8 degrees, the temperature at which sea water freezes, and so new ice can form at almost any time. Fresh from the womb, sea ice born in calm conditions is a pale almost transparent skin upon the water, briefly flexible enough to withstand the motion of sea surface without cracking. It soon thickens and stiffens and whitens, generating an almost infinite greyscale that shades towards the brilliant whiteness of old snow-covered ice.
Among this immense variety, it is the colour that is most surprising. The ice is blue, not white, blue in itself and not just because it is partly underwater. Pure whiteness belongs to snow. Ice filters out the yellow and red tones from sunlight, passing on only the blue. So any crevice or cavity seems lit from within by striking blueness.
This is revealed with greatest effect within icebergs, with their massive vertical surfaces and wave-carved indentations. Every face seems shot through with blue tonings, and a cavern in the side of an iceberg throbs with the colour. Where ice melts and refreezes, air bubbles are expelled and the colour becomes even more intense. Hence the term "blue ice", though in truth all ice is blue.
A slight correction. We have heard about "jade icebergs", which are green. This apparently is the consequence of sea water freezing beneath a floating ice shelf and attaching itself to the ice above. The frozen sea water contains plankton, hence the colour. I will let you know if I see one.
The passing sea ice was a suitable back ground for an important ceremony this morning. This was held on the trawl deck at the stern of the ship under a white overcast sky and accompanied by fat, slowly falling snowflakes. Their Highnesses King and Queen Neptune, suitably garbed and carrying tridents, were pleased to come aboard and welcome their loyal subjects to their realm below the 60th parallel.
Newcomers to the waters and (which of course did not include me) were invited to kneel and render homage and "to kiss the King, to kiss the Queen or to kiss the fish", the latter being a bundle of kippers and prawns on the end of a string. It was surprising how many chose the last option.
Those invited included even our Deputy Voyage Leader, who has been to "Macca" (Macquarie Island) but admits to having never previously "crossed the line". That done, the initiates were annointed on the nose and the cheek with Vegemite. An official certificate is to be issued to mark the occasion. I still have mine from last time.
As we continue southwest (we are currently around 63 south, 88 east), we are passing over a ridge on the sea floor where the water is 2000 metres deep instead of the usual 4000. This bulge connects the coastline near the Russian base at Mirny to Heard and Keguelen Islands which lie 1000 km north west.
It is a relic of the disintegration of Gondwanaland 100 million years ago. Australia, India and Africa parted company with Antarctica, opening up the Indian and Southern Oceans as we know them today. As a result, Heard Island is still actively volcanic, and at the southern end onshore stands the extinct Gaussberg.
The Gaussberg lies west of the Shackleton Ice Shelf. It was here that the western party of Mawson's 1911-1914 AAE set up a base. The need to send the Aurora collect those men started the chain of events that lead to Mawson being stranded with companions at Commonwealth Bay after his epic lone survival.
Mirny lies directly in the path of a total eclipse of the Sun predicted for 23 November this year. On the morning it occurs, we are due to leave Davis and steam west to delivery cargo to the Chinese base in the Larsmann Hills. So unless plans change, we will find ourselves just outside the zone of totality. We will see the Sun 95% eclipsed.
It strikes me that though these jottings have provided some impressions of the passing polar parade, it may not be clear to everyone how I come to be here. I have my berth aboard by the grace of the Antarctic Division and by virtue of my long (nearly 40 year) association with the ANARE Club. All expeditioners are entitled to belong to the Club, which brings them together from time to time, at Midwinter Dinners and the like, so perpetuating a unique sense of comradeship.
I have some duties to perform, enrolling the current generation of expeditioners in the Club, and reporting back my impressions to those still at warmer latitudes. That is one of the purposes of these daily reports. And I am doing whatever else I can to be useful. It is a very small price to pay such an experience.
Last night, another high latitude experience. At much the same hour (a little before midnight) as two nights ago when I was watching an aurora against a dark sky, I was tonight watching the afterglow of sunset. The sun itself had gone but given the shallow track it takes so far from the equator it was not far below the horizon. The sky was still bright with light and colour, with a pink wash all round, and in the west of line of clouds still burned orange and gold above the departed sun.
In technical terms, we were still in civil twilight, with enough light to undertake everyday activities. I could have read a newspaper, had I had one. Civil twilight ends with the sun six degrees down, and that may have happened soon after the cold drove me indoors. Certainly the fire in the west had gone cold.
But the next stage, nautical twilight, which ends with the sun 12 degrees below the horizon and the horizon itself no longer discernible, would not have ended last night, And without even an entry into astronomical twilight, we would have been denied any view of the stars, even though the sky was clear.
These musings are clearly those of a mid-latitude man, where sunset at eight o'clock (daylight saving excepted) is late enough still to be respectable. Those who live at high latitudes, in upper Scandinavia or Russia or Canada a world used to such "white nights".
But for the rest of us, a sky is still bright at midnight takes some getting used to. With three degrees still to travel to the Antarctic Circle, and five weeks to pass until the summer solstice, the conjunction of which factors generates the phenomena of the midnight sun, the midnight sky has still some brightening to do.
While I pondered the sky, the pack ice continued to pass. It now covered most of the sea, but being thin, it offered little resistance to the ship. The engines were audible but only just, and we seem to move across a frozen landscape almost in silence.
Perhaps the right word is " glide", or perhaps "float" in a metaphorical as well as a literal sense. Only near the ship's side did the ice take any notice of our passing. It seemed to me we approached Antarctica with as little noise and fuss as James Cook In the Resolution two centuries before. With a pink tinged sky above, and the ice stretching away below, the overpowering emotion was a sense of serenity.
I am in my possie in a corner of the conference room where I spend a lot of my time.
A couple of people have come in to buy post cards, so those stocks are slowly dwindling, and I will do another push before people get off the boat at Davis.
We are pushing steadily through the pack-ice, and the sound of scraping on the hull is almost continuous. I
Cereal for breakfast again today, but by the time I had added some nuts and dried fruit it was as good as you would buy.
News is that I will not be living ashore once we get to Davis. There is not enough room with over 100 people on the base (including 60 summer trip scientists). The round trippers, the Mawsonites and even some of the Davis people will continue to live on the ship while we are there, though of course we will be going ashore every day.
With a late Sunday arrival and a 23 November departure, will have only six days. They will be busy. On the trip back, the ship will be half empty.
A few things have changed. The sun is shining for only the second day, brightening the sea ice and making dark glasses and sun-cream obligatory. Not a cloudless sky but enough to fire a billion glittering points in the snow covering the sea ice.
Secondly the ice has thickened and often dominates the sea entirely, as far as the eye can see... We are further south and less ice has been melted by the advancing spring. It has not yet an equal contest, but today the ship must work harder to maintain its path. Occasionally, the ice wins, and the ship is brought to a halt. It is forced to back up and to seek another route.
Much of the time, the captain follows a "lead", a narrow opening in the ice which can wind like a river among the floes. But these leads can close or run out or take the ship in the wrong direction. Then we must cut "across country", sometimes breaking through, sometimes not.
The tranquility I spoke of earlier is harder to find today. From the bow, and even more from the chamber below the bow where the anchor chains and mooring cables are kept, the noise of battle is unmistakable. The ship is winning, but at some cost in time and effort.
The ice maintains its fascinating variety. Much of the open water, where it occurs, seems smeared with grease. Here layers of very new ice crystals cover the water, dulling its sheen and smoothing out the ripples. A little later, the thickening mats of crystals begin to overlay each other, forming large brighter patches with astonishingly straight sides. I am told this is a consequence of the crystal structure of the ice, the microscopic made large and plain.
To liven the passing ice, we caught our first glimpses of wildlife; a group of a dozen penguins, a few seals and a variety of birds. These, like the currently sparse icebergs, are sure to thicken as we close on the Antarctic coastline.
Social activities centered on the Husky Bar last night, with a full house to witness a talent quest under the title "Antarctic Idol". It was hosted by a couple of the ship's crew, who succeeded in inducing our Chinese fellow passengers (we are taking them to their base which lies a little west of Davis) to perform. The applause shook the walls. We had some Scottish folk dance music, with dancing ("William Wallace and the Wives"), and a pair of Dusty Springfield impersonators ("The Mawson Girls"), interspersed with jokes from whoever was willing to get up and tell one. A lively and enjoyable night, helped along by infusions of light beer and passable wine. The nights are festivities will be on the trawl deck, where the crew will put on a barbecue.
Watching for the ice slide by from the helideck gave me a chance for a good yarn with Bob Jones, the incoming Station Leader for Davis. He will be the man in the middle for the summer of science, attending to the needs of 100 people, 60 of them scientists. He will stay on to lead a much smaller team through the winter.
At 55, Bob is a veteran of eight voyages south and five winterings, four of them as Leader. When at home in Bendigo, he is a vet. The influences that drew him south for the first time in the 1980s were mixed; reading The Fire on the Snow in school, being in Scouts, getting involved in bird banding (and discovering that some of the birds had come from Sub Antarctic islands).
This lead to trips to Heard Island on expeditions to see why the numbers of elephant seals were declining, and ultimately to winterings at Macquarie Island Mawson and Davis. So Antarctica is in his blood and he keeps going back, though he admits to a certain sense of selfishness.
The hectic pace of scientific research at Davis through the summer is exciting, Bob says. Once the summer parties leave, the winter is a very different experience, with the same sense of isolation as of old despite the improvements in communications. In time, he thinks, the culture of the summer and winter parties will diverge, and the imminent replacement of the long sea voyage by an eight-hour plane trip will accelerate that trend.
This is now our fourth day in the pack ice but one should end with our arrival at Davis. The latest bulletin on the whiteboard in the dining room now sets ETA at midnight. As of now (after breakfast) we are still 100 nautical miles (200 km) to the northwest of our target. That is 10 hours steaming at 10 knots. We can exceed that in the open water or through a thin ice crust, but tougher ice will slow us considerably.
And at the end of the journey, we will still have the challenge of the fast ice, one or even two metres thick, clinging tenaciously to the shore. For a successful arrival, we need to push within three or four kilometres of the base. For one thing, the lines which are to carry fuel ashore to resupply the base generators are only four kilometres long. Breaking through to that point is likely to be hard work
Last night, we crossed another major boundary, the Antarctic Circle, 66.7 degrees from the equator. This precise number is set by the tilt of the Earth's axis. Within the Circle, there are days or even weeks when the sun does not rise at all around midwinter, and equally days in the middle of summer when it does not set. This is the realm of the "midnight sun", the "real Antarctica" if there is such a thing.
Ironically this was the latitude at which Antarctica attempted to bar the door to us. The plot of our track overnight, generated by the amazing GPS and displayed on a monitor in the conference room where I write, shows that the captain found his way directly south to Davis blocked by obdurate ice. He was forced to turn west for 100 km or more, almost along the line of the Antarctic Circle, to find a way through. That is why our course is now southeast, and we still have 200 kilometres to go.
I confess to watching the passing ice through the porthole rather than face-to-face. The temperature outside is -10, although it is almost calm and so no wind chill. I will wait until there is more excitement before I venture out. Actually it's not very warm inside, at least in this room. Some parts of the ship are better heated than others. My guess is that the temperature here is less than 10� and my fingers feel a little chilled.
All these factors, the ice, the cold, the winds, the immense distances, fill me again with admiration, even awe, for the exploits of the early navigators and explorers, who came into these remote icebound waters in tiny, flimsy, wooden sided and wind-powered ships. Those men, and the scientists (again almost all male at least in the early days) who came after them, are my heroes, if I have any. Even with all our technological aids, Antarctica is a challenge. How much more so then.
I have heard these men criticised for abandoning their wives and families to years of uncertain waiting and watching while they (the egotistical heroes), plumbed the unknown. It is probably now very politically incorrect to say so, but I believe that a questing and questioning spirit is a common element of the male psyche. I suspect that evolution put it there.
Many women have it too, just as many men share the equally vital qualities typical of women. But I suggest that a desire, or even a need, to explore is one of the indications that, on the whole, men are from Mars and women are from Venus.
Later: With journey's end less than a day distant, the last tasks are being squared away. Cabins given a check by the quarantine officer (very concerned to avoid any alien species of plant, animal or bug entering the continent) and inspected by the ship's crew (reportedly very impressed by our tidiness). Final packing done by those going ashore to stay or flying on to Mawson. Final briefings on helicopter operations and safety on the sea ice. Planning meetings for the teams who will be unloading the ship or monitoring the pumping of fuel ashore. Writing of postcards so that they can be franked from Davis.
Current indications continue that we will reach Davis around
midnight. So no
going ashore tonight. Gangplank down in the morning, and the current
leader will come ashore for a briefing. Then the real adventure will
will update this report later as we draw near to Davis.
The big news is that we have arrived. The Aurora Australis is now parked about three and a half kilometres (an hours walk) off shore from Davis base. The wharf at which we are docked it is made of ice, the hard one metre think "fast ice" that clings to the shore and between the offshore islands. The base is visible from the ship, its cluster of multi-coloured buildings (lime green, dark green, yellow, blue and red) distinct against the snow-hung rocks on which it is built.
Graders have already begun scraping the snow off the ice to make a road (dual carriageway, no less) across the fast ice between the ship and the shore. Communication lines will be laid and four kilometres of hose rolled out, ready to carry 600,000 litres of fuel from the ship's bunkers to tanks onshore to feed the generators. Unloading has begun and may be complete in two days.
After 4000 kilometres of ocean and ice, the hardest work was late yesterday, coming the last few kilometres to our mooring. Through much of yesterday we kept up a good speed, 10 knots or more southeast through waters lightly crusted with grey translucent ice.
By mid afternoon, a line of low dark brown hills, our first sure glimpse of Antarctica, had emerged to separate the overcast sky (grey above, whiter near the horizon) from the multi-toned sea ice with its few studs of icebergs. The scene was almost devoid of colour, just a flash here and there of blue from an iceberg to break up the many shades of grey.
There was a little life on the ice. We disturbed a few seals and rather more penguins who ran, tobogganed or humped away at our approach. From time to time we crossed and broke lines of penguin tracks, with the marks of both feet and bellies (for tobogganing) evident.
As the afternoon went on, a few islands detached themselves from the background of the hills. Gardner Island, home to many penguins, and therefore a popular site to visit (I hope to get there myself) lay just to starboard, and Anchor Island, whose association was clear, just to port. Our route lay between the two. We could now see the final barrier, the bright white sheets of fast ice, kilometres wide, through which we would have to break.
The ship struck the fast ice at more than 10 knots, shuddering as it rode over the edge and its weight began to bear down and part the ice. As the shattered pieces turned sideways we could gauge its one metre thickness and rich blue colour. This was massive ice, not easily split like the floes we had seen so far. Within 200 metres the refusal of the ice to yield had slowed the ship to a halt. A war of attrition then began.
For hours the ship went forward and back, hitting the unsplit ice at 7 knots, breaking through for 100 or 50 metres or even less, and then withdrawing. On the ice beside us, some of the soon-to-be-departing Davis winterers, in orange freezer suits and riding quad bikes, urged us on, anxious for the ship to dock so they could get their mail and fresh fruit. And the odd penguin looked on.
When the Captain decided we were far enough in, he called it quits and shut down the engines for the first time in two weeks. We were here. The ship was unaccustomedly motionless, and if not silent, at least without the beat of the engines which had been our constant companions for a fortnight. It was only six in the evening, so we had arrived six hours early.
To add a special touch to our new situation, light snow began to fall, dimming and blanching the view, and cutting us of from our view of the base. The gangway was lowered and the more impatient ones went down to stand on, if not solid ground, at least something that did not constantly shift beneath their feet.
The outgoing Station Leader, Jeremy Smith drove out to the ship in his ute to welcome us and set the scene. The usual method to get the three plus km to shore will be shanks pony. Water is very short, especially since the reverse osmosis plant has broken down, so don't waste it. Stay away from places where the signs say "stay away", otherwise you are free to go anywhere. And most importantly, the excellent locally brewed ales available at the bar after work will be both free and gratis.
He also announced that I would be one of the first coming in to go out again. With two other round-trippers I will be choppered out, weather permitting, this afternoon (Monday) for a two day "jolly" (the ANARE term for a trip mostly for pleasure) to a field hut at Platcha, 20 km east across the icefree Vestfold Hills.
What we will see and do there I am not sure, but everyone assures me that this is a great gig and a priviledge and I will have an excellent time. I am certainly looking forward to it and will report fully to you (hopefully with pictures) when I return.
As I am away "in the field" tonight, enjoy the delights of the "Chateau Plateau" aka Platcha Hut, today's entry is "one I prepared earlier". I thought you might find useful some information about Davis and its place in the world. (in several senses).
Davis is one of four research bases operated by Australia through the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) which is in turn part of seeing Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage. Two of the other bases are on the Antarctic mainland, Casey further east and Mawson further west. The third is on Macquarie Island, south of Tasmania in the "sub-Antarctic".
Davis sits on the shoreline within a large area of ice free rock known as the Vestfold Hills. Roughly triangular in shape and covering 400 square km, the Vestfold Hills are bounded on the east by the ice-covered plateau, on the south by the Sordsal Glacier and on the west and north by the sea, fringed in fast ice.
In the bigger picture, Davis is a little east of a major embayment in the Antarctic coast line called Prydz Bay. Much of this is filled with a major shelf of floating ice, the Amery Ice Shelf, 400 km long, 200 km wide at the mouth, with ice some 400 thick. This about the size of NSW, and is the third largest such shelf in Antarctica (only the Ross and Rohne are bigger, about the size of France.)
Ice in the shelf comes from the world's biggest glacier, the Lambert which drains much of East Antarctica. The behaviour of such glaciers and ice shelves in time of global climate change is of vital concern, as indicators and even causes of change. As a result, a lot of attention is being paid to the Amery by scientists here at Davis over the summer.
Doing research is one of the four stated reasons for being here at Davis and the other stations. Another is monitoring global climate change, a research function but one thought to be so important as to be worth a separate listing. Looking after the environment is another, though the environment would probably look after itself if we weren't here.
The last is a political role, to support the Antarctic Treaty System, the international regime which governs what can and cannot be done down here. Under the Treaty, territorial claims are set aside and cannot be either enforced or negated. Australia maintains a claim to 40% of the mainland of Antarctica, and for example prints Australian Antarctic Territory stamps.
The research function makes Davis very busy in summer. About 60 researchers are now on station, working here and in the field on programs for mapping, geology, geophysics, glaciology and many aspects of the wildlife. I plan to write more about these later, perhaps during the homeward trip.
If you want to position Davis on a map, look at latitude 68 degrees 30, and longitude 77 degrees 54 east. This puts us perhaps 100 km inside the Antarctic Circle and somewhere south-ish of India (I have no atlas on hand to confirm that).
Well, patient readers, here we go along with Day 17.
Must close. It is time to get back ashore for a farewell barbecue
and to attend to other tasks. The word is that the AA will sail from
here at 1300 tomorrow.
A quiet Saturday afternoon in Antarctica, our 19th day since leaving
Hobart. It is quiet for me at least, with time to catch my breath after
a hectic last day in Davis. Elsewhere, there is activity. Helicopters
are being loaded with cargo, ready to be carried across the fast ice to
the Chinese base at Zhong Shan, out of sight the beyond the horizon.
One way to represent this changing emphasis over the years is to
consider a range of Departments in which the Australian Antarctic
Division has found itself over the last 50 or more years. In the early
days, including during
"my time", the Division answered to the Department of External Affairs,
pointing to the geopolitical concerns of the time. As I recall, it then
moved to the Department of Supply (with an emphasis on logistics), then
to the Department of Science, and lastly to its present association
with Environment and Heritage. That is, I suspect, where it should, and
Day 20 Sunday 23 November
What a morning! We saw the eclipse. It was not total, but all but,
and certainly worth getting up early for. Indeed, on such a glorious
morning it would have been a shame to be in bed, eclipse or not.
Tuesday 25 November
There have been comments that I have said very little about
Antarctic wildlife, perhaps suggesting that I haven't seen any at all.
Where are the pictures?
We tramped a kilometre across the fast ice from the ship to the
island, battling towards the end with deep snow into which we regularly
plunged calf, knee or even thigh deep. The low slung, snow decorated
island, perhaps a kilometre long, is a major nesting site for these
penguins. This was another slight impediment, since ANARE rules do not
permit an approach within five metres of nesting birds.
My walk on deck this morning was taken under mostly blue skies, and
surrounded by steadily emptying seas. Over the last few days, we have
crossed, one by one, the borders that separate Antarctica from the rest
of our planet; the fast ice, the Antarctic Circle, the pack, the 60th
parallel. Ahead, as we push north east for home, lie only the Antarctic
convergence and the wild westerlies.
Part 2BENEATH THE ICE
�Most people looking at Antarctica see only the ice�, says Anya Reading. �There is certainly a lot of it. But it is only a veneer, a few kilometers thick at most. The long term history on the continent is written in the rocks below the ice. The challenge is to find what those hidden rocks tell us.�
The rocks underpinning Antarctica very rarely show their faces. Ice-free areas like the Vestfold Hills around Davis Base are uncommon, as are features like the Prince Charles Mountains, 500 km south west of Davis, where several lines of rocky peaks break though the frozen surface. For the most part, a vast dome of ice stretches uninterrupted from coast to coast.
To plumb the hidden rocks, Anya relies on earthquakes. Antarctica is mostly earthquake free, for reasons bound up with its history. But major earthquake zones lie not far away, in regions of conflict between some of the major fragments or plates into which the outer crust of the Earth is broken. One of these runs through New Zealand, another fringes the still growing Andes in South America.
�Seismologists have long known that the various sorts of waves released by an earthquake travel around and through the Earth at speeds that vary with the rocks they encounter. If you can pick up the waves at a number of sites, noting the times that they arrive and so computing the speed at which hey have traveled, you can begin to build up an image of the structure of the rocks through which they have passed.�
Anya�s work in East Antarctica began little more than a year or so ago but has already begun to produce results.
�I have compared the pattern of earthquake waves arriving at Mawson Base, where we have had a monitor for many years, with those caught by a monitor I set up myself at Beaver Lake, inland about 300 km south east. They are very similar, suggesting that Mawson and Beaver Lake sit on a common foundation of underlying rocks. They are in the same geological province.�
�If we go further away, we will at some stage cross a border into a new province, a new grouping of basement rocks, where the pattern of received earthquake waves is noticeably different. So if we set up a network of monitors in likely places, and are ready to move around every year or so, over time we will gather enough data to be able to see the pattern of geological provinces under the ice.
�One important use of our new data will be by people trying to figure how Antarctica was first put together hundreds of millions of years ago, how it was assembled by the coming together of various fragments of crust. Ideas on this are in a lot of flux right now, and it is exciting to think that our data will provide new insights.�
It is perhaps not surprising that Anya Reading spends her summers in Antarctica (this is her seventh trip). She comes from near the Yorkshire birthplace of Douglas Mawson, the great Antarctic explorer and geologist that Australia claims as its own. She took up geophysics at the University of Edinburgh and then began to work with the British Antarctic Survey. When a job came up at the Australian National University in Canberra, she was delighted to find that the Antarctic was among the interests there, and proposed the project that now brings her to East Antarctica.
�Working in Antarctica is a challenge�, says Anya. �Conditions can be very tough. I have set up monitors in the field when the temperature was minus 35 and the wind at 30 knots, working with bare hands at times because of the delicate adjustments needed to get the gear working.�
�We have to travel long distances over the ice shelf or plateau by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft to reach the sites. We need full field and survival training since we camp out at each site and the weather can turn nasty very quickly. There is a certain amount of risk, but the environment is awe-inspiring.�
�At each site we have to carve a hole in the ice or frozen loose rock to house the sensor. We do that by hand rather than by machine because there is less environmental impact. To suit our special needs, we use high fidelity sensors that record movement in all three dimensions, and capture a broad band of frequencies. We hook up a box of electronics to record the data, a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to give us an accurate time signal and a solar panel to provide power.�
�I want to stress that I don�t do all this alone. I rely hugely on the Antarctic Division and on its field training officers who have taught me how to work and survive down here and who come with me into the field.�
Anya�s network of seven earthquake sensors follows a rough V shape around the Amery Ice Shelf and Lambert Glacier. Davis and Mawson bases mark the tops of the V, with the bottom located at Komsomolovsky Peak, 1000 km inland. The monitor there was set up in 2002.
�We were the first to go into this remote area to station equipment, so that was an achievement. Soon after, another team put in a GPS monitor nearby which will show directly how the land surface is still rising following the retreat of the ice sheet at the end of the last ice age. That relaxation may trigger some earth tremors that our gear will detect.�
Mapping local earthquakes is another goal of the program. Quakes may be rare in Antarctica, sitting as it does in the middle of a major tectonic plate with its boundary far away under the surrounding ocean. But they do occur, perhaps along enduring lines of weakness where the building blocks of Antarctica came together long ago.
The network will need to run for several years to gather enough data. That means yearly visits, not only for servicing and perhaps for relocation, but also to read out the data from the onsite recorders.
�At the moment our funds do not run to real time forwarding of data, say by a satellite circuit. But technology is changing fast. Perhaps in five years we will be able to dial up each seismic station from Australia to check its health and download its records. Happily, each new deployment of stations will see me back in the field in Antarctica.�
Thursday 27 November
Day 25 Friday 28 November
See Day 27
Day 27 Sunday
(Continued in Part 2) (continued)
6 October 1966
Day 28 Monday 1 December
Day 29 Tuesday
should be my last entry in the diary for this trip. We will be docking
Fremantle around lunchtime tomorrow. Today again blue skies, gentle
seas and not
a lot of wind. The boat is
pottering along at 8 knots. We should see land this afternoon, and may
range for mobile phones. We have had cabin inspections, handed in our
weather gear, settled our bar bills, made final purchases from the
shop, and tonight there will be a last barbecue on the trawl deck. So
just about wrapped up.
best to finish the record of this remarkable, indeed unforgettable,
have been with me just about every nautical mile and every step of the
thank you for sticking it out and I hope you have enjoyed the ride. I'm
for those who took the time to e-mail me back with comments and
have tried, day by day, to give a sense of what has been like for me
an astounding and unique environment after so long away. My first trip
Antarctica was one of the most profound experiences of my life; the
ending has powerfully reminded me of that.
have waxed lyrical (hopefully, not enough to put people off) about the
and sounds (including silences) of Antarctica, and even its smells. The
not capture that completely, or even images. You have to experience the
Antarctic environment to know it. I hope you all may have an
opportunity to do
that in the flesh sometime.
like to finish where it all began, with my 1966 trip. I brought my old
along on the ship, optimistically hoping that I would be able to type
something still not done nearly four decades after I committed it to a
assorted sheets of paper, some fully written out, much more as scrappy
I didn't get it typed up of course, but I have had time and incentive to reread it. I have been reminded of things I had forgotten, or remembered incorrectly, and been able use the perspective it provides to frame the new adventure. Here are just a few quotes, which run into tomorrow and even longer.
3 February 1966
are passing through Iceberg Alley, a 5 mi. wide channel with an honour
grounded icebergs on either side. This is the royal road to Mawson.
Ahead lies the coast of Antarctica with delicate colours showing
the blue sky, the dark shapes mountain peaks jutting through the snow
cold wind. Below the eastern end of
a mountain range on the skyline, a narrow strip of rock stands out
white background of the snow and the deep with blue of the sea.
On the rock stands Mawson.
for two and a half weeks, and nearly two months since leaving
Australia. We are
slowly settling in, cleaning up and unpacking, cursing our
used to the routines of nightwatch and snow runs. Already a D4 tractor
into the melt lake and had to be retrieved. Someone took the VW up onto
plateau and bogged it in snow. Dog teams are being organised, and the
field party has got away. The entertainment committee has met and
midwinter will be fancy dress.
days are shortening rapidly as we close to within three months of
Temperatures are falling. In the rec room, the billiards table
tennis and darts are much in use and we have films twice a week. Bill�s homebrew is very popular, and we enjoy
bottles at �homers� each night before dinner,
had my first sight of an aurora tonight. The yellow green light looked
like drifting smoke, so it was moving at incredible speed being 60 mi.
It ebbs and flows, dimming and then quickly growing bright
arcs sometimes sharply outlined, dividing in two, and then growing
watched it while enduring one of the Doc�s �cold runs", which will
measure our cold endurance. We stood for 10 minutes in -2�F and a
No one got frostbite but it was very uncomfortable. Most of the
beginning to put on weight with
sea has now frozen as far as the eye can see, with the moving blue of
replaced by the chill grey white stillness of ice. Legend has it that
vehicles lie in 90 fathoms of water in the Harbour, including a D4,
tractor, Snowtrack, Jeep and various bikes. The days are fine and
cloudless but very cold, -5� to -15�F, or 40� below freezing. The air
painful on the face, not merely cold, and bare fingers become painful
today. In the 60 knot wind, the walls of my work throb visibly in and
I have to go hand over hand along the safety rope from hut to
hut. Only a
few yards ahead, the rope is lost in the drifting snow. Snowdrifts
mount up with
amazing speed, and can be knee deep in a few hours.
The drift drives into your eyes, collecting and icing on face
The wind is unnerving. You cannot
at your own pace or in your own direction. There is merciful release
tyranny of the wind when you move into the lee of a building.
an attempt to dispel the midwinter blues, we staged a frantic game of
on the sea ice, played according to Mawson rules which are "there are
rules�. At one end Doc and I had a tense struggle in moving the
seeking to widen the goal, he to narrow it. We were completely wrecked
minutes, with beards widening the rapidly as our breath froze on them.
retired to the recently completed garage for the official opening. The
mixer was filled with cans of beer packed in snow.
is displaying its drabbest face for the winter solstice. The snow fall
night has blanketed almost everything. The
sky is grey, overcast, and almost featureless except for some lighter
faintly coloured attaches to the north, where the sky should announce
Sun�s hidden passing below the horizon. Morale has lifted a little
with the knowledge that we are on the downhill stretch after midwinter.
have just endured a three-day blizzard, with winds often averaging 70
knots. I had a terrifying experience trapped on top of the met hut. I
climbed up to see what was flapping on the roof of my work hut (it was
piece of tin, now torn loose). The winds
were gusting to 100 knots and immobilized me
against the wind recorder mast. For five or ten minutes I could not
down on my hands and knees. But I finally escaped.
last the sun has reappeared, having been hidden by the horizon and low
since 17th June. No sunshine recorded since 2nd
feel immediately more cheerful. The
ship will leave Denmark in September, which is only two months away.
It has been remarkably warm over the last few days, with
10� to 12� F. With little wind, it is very pleasant.
Day 31 Thursday 4 December
It is just before 1300 on a warm day and we are easing
into toward Fremantle to pick up our pilot. We should be docking before
1400. Then the trip really will be over.
Some very rare occurrences were observed yesterday. We saw some
incredibly beautiful nacreous or "mother of pearl" clouds above the
setting sun. They were delicate with all the colours of the spectrum
melting into one another. Neddy said that they were in the
stratosphere, perhaps 25 or 30 kilometres up. Later we saw other
clouds, wispy, white and still visible three and half hours after
sunset. Neddy thought they might be noctilucent clouds, with which are
extremely high, up around 80 kilometres. The clarity of our air is
still astounding. Casey Range seems to be only a few miles away but
it's actually over 20 miles. The stars are more brilliant and clear
that I have ever seen them.
Spring has sprung! And Mawson has welcomed it with a blizzard which
laid a few feet of fresh snow over the dog droppings, wrecked Yorky�s
ham radio antenna and clogged up the chimney in our sleeping hut,
putting out the fire and filling the place with fumes and smoke, which
were excruciating at first and still linger on. One or two clean-shaven
faces have appeared. The common explanation "I started to trim it and
Mawson has at last let in the advancing spring, with a calm, clear,
beautiful day. For the first time in many weeks, one can feel the sun's
warmth on the face. There are rumours that seals have been sighted. No
advancing green or unfolding flowers mark the spring's return to this
place, just the lengthening day and the sun mounting higher.
Another small blizzard today, with visibility down to 10 yards. The
noise vibrations in Cosray were too much for me and I took the
afternoon off. I had a rough time coming down. The wind had me at full
stretch of the arm on the blizzard line, trying to pull it out on my
grasp, which it ultimately did. I was reduced to sliding and crawling.
My goggles and glasses iced up and I was forced to bare my eyes. In the
driving drift I was almost blinded. Well and truly lost, I floundered
in the drift and could have ended up anywhere.
Though the Equinox has come, Mawson seals out the spring with a wall
of wind under a low grey sky. All the exquisite colours are gone, the
sea ice is dirty brown, blue, white. Pellets of ice and drift rattle
against the windows and whip the exposed face. A fuel drum, torn loose
by a wind averaging 70 knots and gusting over 90, leaps across the sea
ice in strides 40 ft. long, clears West Arm and disappears. Buildings
shake and groan, walls pump visibly in and out.
The wind and drift continue into the sixth day. This is the most
depressing time of year. Though the sun is high it is hidden for days.
The world continually shrinks and expands. One moment it ends just
beyond the window. Then the wind drops a little and the drift lightens,
rocks and islands are dimly seen on the fringe of the world. Then the
drift closes in again and we are cut off once more.
A beautiful serene spring evening. Barely a breath of wind; the wind
gauge cups turned gently and lazily, smoke rises almost vertically
toward a blue sky faintly streaked with clouds. The sea ice, now old,
is many shades of blue and white and brown, edged with hummocks of
pressure ice but smooth enough for skating in the centre. Three bulky
figures on skates are trying their luck. Their shouts come faintly over
the ubiquitous and now almost unnoticed growl of the generators, and
one is aware even now of the silence and emptiness of this place
I must be getting acclimatised. Today in light drift, a 20 to 30 knot
wind, and temperatures below 10�F, I walked up to my work shack in
almost the same clothes as I would be wearing 4000 mi. away and 50�
warmer. One feels cold of course, especially in the ears and fingers,
but it's not painful.
It has been very warm over the last few days, temperatures up to 26�F,
little wind, up to 14 hours brilliant sunshine. The accumulated snow is
beginning to melt. Pools of free water are now lying about on the
rocks, and streams trickling down from behind drifts. Beaten tracks
across old drifts are no longer crisp and firm but soft and slushy.
Sunset is back to nine o'clock local time, and the southern sky is
bright all night.
A magnificent day today, virtually cloudless. The blue sky over the
plateau is marred only by one lonely orographic cloud above Casey
range. On days like this the dark misery of winter seems little more
than a dream.
We had our first seals steaks today, very enjoyable though dark and
rich due to much blood still in the tissues. They had been soaked all
night and were considerably more tender that some beef steaks I have
Last night icebergs about a mile out to sea were still sunlit less than
an hour from midnight. We had over 17 hours of sunshine recorded. The
Nella Dan leaves Melbourne for our relief in only 10 days, and should
be here in five weeks.
Perhaps the finishing touch to the return was the view of night-time Perth from Kings Park, bright lit, busy, bustling, noisy even at a distance. The silences of the South were a long way away.
Col Christiansen is the one to thank for this web site, on which my pieces and pix have been appearing. He will be continuing to post new pix as I extract them from my laptop, so there are good reasons for continuing to drop by the site.
The final set of clips from my old diary is below. I have enjoyed transcribing these and I hope you have found them interesting, but they are just fragments and slivers and not the whole picture. Much more happened and affected me profoundly. The year in Mawson in 1966 was one of the high points on my life, though I did not realize that fully at the time.
15 December 1966
Just about all the snow drifts are now gone. There remained only the skeletons of the massive drifts behind the surgery and in Market Square. Large open areas of water can be seen among the pressure ice, which is rotting away. The fast ice ends just beyond the nearby islands. Within a few days the sun will be above the horizon and 24 hours a day but hidden from us at the base by the shadow of the plateau. Perhaps catalysed by the approaching end of our isolation, more open personal criticism is being expressed, though it is generally taken even-handedly.
18 December 1966
Some excitement today, due to a massive fall of ice from cliffs in the West Bay. We could hear the ice creaking and groaning for days past. Huge pieces of ice lie scattered on the fast ice 200 yards from the base of the cliff. I begin to think that the cold has become more bearable as we are gone on because we are increasingly familiar with it. We have lost our fear of the cold and so the fear response does not shut down the circulation to our fingers and toes and other extremities, and therefore we do not feel so cold.
22 December 1966
I wandered up onto the plateau last night to photograph the midnight sun on the longest day of the year. I managed to catch a glimpse of it through a valley in the Ranges to the south. They are melt streams everywhere. One was 2 ft. deep with small rapids, merrily gurgling though the air temperature is below freezing. I came upon the VW bogged, with a couple of shovels stuck forlornly in the snow. There was little wind, and no sound at all until I returned to camp and could hear the generators and the wind in wires. Travel on the sea ice is not okay after Sunday, so large contingents are going out to the islands to see the first Adelie penguin chicks.
25 December 1966
Mawson surprised us with a white Christmas; 40 knots of wind, some mild drift and a little sleet. Before a battery of cameras, still and movie, Pat Lee, our Mawson Santa, has begun his rounds.
2 January 1967
We are into the New Year, with the usual minor riot in celebration. The arrival of the Nella is now barely two weeks away. The ship should be here before the spring field trippers return. The fast ice in Horseshoe Harbour continues to break out, split from side to side by large cracks curved so they run approximately parallel to the southern shore. As the fast ice goes, more seals are appearing, about 20 now in East Bay
11 January 1967
Gloom! Despair! The Nella has been caught for four days in pack ice north of Wilkes. It has moved only 20 mi. since the 7th. ETA here is now the 28th, it had been the 15th. Morale is up and down. Some are except in the delay quietly, others noisily. There is little incentive to work and tempers are rather shorter, there was great excitement when it to engender Russian plane flew over, so-called and made off northwestern. Everybody raced out from chompers to see it. This is our first visual evidence that the rest of the world still exists!
19 January 1967
Life drags on. The Nella remains trapped in ice, now for 12 days. It seems unlikely that she can free herself. Another unusual happening to be added to the collection of the 13th Mawson wintering party; rain, light rain, the first ever recorded here, a consequence of the temperatures being well above freezing (40� F).
22 January 1967
The Nella has now been 15 days in the pack, with little sign of movement. The prospect of being left at Mawson for another year is being openly discussed, and with growing seriousness, I think I could face it, but I still hope not to have to. The boys are becoming more lightheaded, with talk being loaded even more than ever with sexual and homosexual references.
30 January 1967
The cleanup around camp is mostly finished, even to the stage of sweeping down the rocks and shoveling away gravel. The spring field trip is due back this afternoon, one month late, after 115 days in the field. The Nella Dan and the Thala Dan remain is this -- in the ice outside Wilkes. The Nella has now been held for more than three weeks. It may now bypass Wilkes and comes straight here. We must be clear of the continent before the season finishes around the start of March.
5 February 1967
A US icebreaker has arrived off Wilkes to help our ships, though there is talk that the Nella has been freed by an easing of the pack. Accurate information is hard to come by. We seem to be forgotten! Rumours are rife. In the present condition of anxiety and frustration, people will believe just about anything.
9 February 1967
Now the end really is in sight. The Nella is on her way with from Wilkes, making 9� of longitude per day, and may be here within a few days, if there is no pack ice at Mawson. Morale is soaring sky-high with the approach of relief and mail from home. Temperatures are falling again as the sun declines towards winter. Melt pools are freezing. The high water mark in the Harbour is etched in ice.
14 February 1967
The Nella finally arrived at 11 o'clock yesterday morning, almost exactly one month late. It was first seen from the plateau 15 mi. out and then from the camp steaming among the islands. After lunch the first DUKW ashore brought mail, fresh beer, fresh fruit and eggs. The new party came ashore and wandered about. I spent today indoctrinating in my successor. One has the sense of having spent a year in a backwater, while outside life is flowed on.
23 February 1967
At last we are on our way home. Following a luminous changeover party last night with attendant hangover, the DUKWs were taken aboard, the mooring lines were let go from shore and Nella swung slowly to head off out of the Harbour. Cameras worked hard. I doubt that, right at the moment, anyone has other than profound relief that we are finally away. Mawson slowly faded into the enveloping brown of the rock outcrop and was soon lost sight behind an island. Only some masts and the glaciology caravan were still visible to mark the place of our year long voluntary exile.
8 March 1967
62 weeks, 15 1/2 months, 434 days since leaving Melbourne, we are on the run into Hobart, moving at speed up the Derwent estuary, with wooded hills with on all sides. It is a joy to see living green again, this being the only colour missing from the Antarctic palette. We have reached Hobart in eight days, after an almost perfect run. The boys naturally are very boisterous. Some have not been to bed!
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