Alison Dean, Casey station leader:
Hi I am Ali and I am the station leader at Casey Station in Antarctica. The building that you can see behind me is the Red Shed that is our living quarters. Casey is located on a rocky headland just at the margin of a huge Antarctic ice sheet. It was mid-winter on June 21 and after that the days started getting lighter and brighter and as the sun gets higher in the sky hopefully we will get slightly warmer temperatures.
Well most of us stay here for about a year, some more, some less. The team that is here at the moment most of them arrived around November last year. They will stay until around the first week of December this year before heading back to Australia. There are a few that will stay on until summer so they won’t go home until February, March next year. So we have an eight month long winter and you can do an awful lot in an eight month winter. I am going to go through the team and tell you a bit about what each person does.
We have got a carpenter on station. He renovates and fixes things through the winter mostly inside the building. At the moment he is renovating all the bathrooms we have got. We have about 30 odd bathrooms. We have two electricians. They check all the wiring on station over winter and they test all the electrical equipment making sure it’s ready for next season. We have two plumbers, they make sure we have fresh water all the time and they also keep the wastewater treatment plant flowing which is a really important thing. Who else have we got. We have got four diesel mechanics. They keep our generator going — you might be able to hear it in the background. They also service all the vehicles that we have on station over the winter to make sure they are ready for the summer season. We have a plant operator. He assists the diesel mechanics and he also drives the big machinery that we have on station. He shifts all the snow around making sure that we have access to all our buildings. We have three met people (Bureau of Meteorology) and they monitor the weather on a daily basis and they also put two balloons up into the atmosphere each day — they look at what is happening up a few kilometres into the atmosphere. We’ve got two communications officers. They keep all our radio and satellite communications going plus they service all our IT equipment, making sure that we have computing right through the year. We have got a doctor who looks after our health through the winter and he looks after us if we get sick or we have an accident. And of course we have a chef, most importantly, to cook our meals — unless it is his day off and then we do the cooking. That makes 18, counting me as well.
It’s not all work at Casey we get to go off station quite often. There are huts in the surrounding area that we can visit. It’s quite an adventure to head off over the sea ice. It’s an experience that you would never get anywhere else. It’s good to get out and about. We do a lot of things together as a group.
It’s just past mid-winter as I said for mid-winter we had a huge celebration. We had a nine course meal that took eight hours to get through. We also have a mid-winter swim. We cut a hole in the ice close to station that was about a metre thick and the water temperature was around minus 2 and air temperature on the day was around minus 20 so there was quite a contrast there. It’s a tradition but it is not compulsory and every time I get to go down the steps I think to myself “what am I doing.” It’s like getting into a slushy — the water is starting to refreeze almost immediately.
Just a few weeks ago the plant operator Kerry cut a screen and seating out of a snow bank that was close to station and we watched a movie under the stars all rugged up. That was a lot of fun as well. While there are no scientists down here over winter there are a lot of science projects still running that we monitor and support. For instance there is one project that requires air sampling every month. There is another where we download and service cameras that are fixed on Adelie penguin colonies that are close by. It’s a really good time to do that because they are all off at sea getting fat again for the next breeding season so we are not disturbing them.
Sometimes we can’t go out of the building at all. Sometimes the wind is so strong it can get to over 200 kilometres an hour here and the air can be so thick with snow that you can’t even see a metre in front of you. At that time it’s good to know that everything is secure and that everyone is safe and warm inside. We certainly would not survive that long outside if we weren’t prepared.