In my last blog post I wrote that we were going to visit the Emperor Penguin rookery east of Mawson station. But the weather has been so cold and chilly that we haven’t made it out there yet. We’ve been busy breaking temperature records here for the month – last week we dipped below -34.5 to make it the coldest day in May at Mawson since records began here in the 1950s. Not only that, on all but five days last month we enjoyed gale force gusts at Mawson. The highest wind speed was 130 km per hour – enough to knock me off my feet!
Amazing to watch the physics of super-cooled water. Throwing boiling water in the air at these cold temperatures turns it almost instantly into ice crystals! (photo: Mel Fitzpatrick)
Every day one of our meteorologists sends a radiosonde balloon high into the atmosphere to record temperature, pressure and humidity. (photo: Australian Antarctic Division)
While we’re waiting for the wind to drop and the mercury to climb, I’ll explain a little bit about the governance of this amazing continent. Firstly, no one owns Antarctica, although many countries make territorial claims. Australian Antarctic Territory covers nearly 5.9 million square kilometres, about 42% of Antarctica and nearly 80% of the total area of Australia itself. A landmark agreement signed in 1961 known as the Antarctic Treaty sets aside the continent for peaceful purposes and scientific investigation. This week Hobart is hosting the annual meeting of the 50 signatories to the Treaty.
Territorial claims to Antarctica (map: http://www.discoveringantarctica.org.uk)
Because Antarctica is such a sensitive and pristine place it’s important that we figure out how to best manage the continent into the future. Much of the public discussion at this week’s Treaty meeting is about environmental concerns – such as dealing with introduced species, cleaning up contaminated sites, and drafting guidelines for how tourism can be managed.
To avoid introducing pests and plant material, we have to meticulously vacuum all our clothing, bags and boots before arriving on the continent either by ship or by air.(photo: Australian Antarctic Division)
Stringent requirements under the Antarctic Treaty still allow the use of hydroponics to grow food. Here I am tending our healthy snow peas and enjoying some indoor sun! (photo: Mel Fitzpatrick)
So how many people get to Antarctica every year? The figures I’ve seen are roughly 7000 people attached to government research programs in Antarctica – that includes scientists, technicians, mechanics, pilots, doctors etc. But there are five times as many tourists – some put the figure at 33,000 tourists every summer. Right now there are fewer than a thousand hardy souls here.
Intricate ice crystals form on the outside of our windows – seen during the two hours of sunshine we have each day right now. (photo: Mel Fitzpatrick)
It looks like the weather is calming down today, so hopefully we’ll be visiting penguins by the end of the week. I’m looking forward to our Midwinters@Mawson celebrations on 21 June. Until next time, stay warm!