Measuring “Adam’s Flat”

Once a month I head out to a place that has been nicknamed Adam’s Flat.  It’s a site that the Australian Antarctic Division is investigating for suitability to build a rock runway.  Having access to a stable rock runway would allow personnel to be flow to and from Davis Station directly from Hobart.  This could save cost, fuel and environmental impact by reducing the use of ships and Wilkins Runway at Casey Station.

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My task, along with whoever accompanies me for the day, is to download data from some automated temperature loggers and to measure the water levels in a handful of small wells drilled into the ground.  On this particular day it was -20 degrees Celsius with next to no wind and hardly a cloud in the sky.  Lovely weather for outside work if you’re wearing enough layers.

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On the left is the blue Hagglunds that we used to get out to the site.  The snow is too deep and soft to use a ute or a quad bike at the moment, so this is our only option.  To the right of the frame you can see the empty drum (filled with rocks) used to hold the flexible solar panel above the snow line.  This keeps the batteries charged, which in turn stops them from freezing (discharged batteries have a lower acid concentration, which makes it easier to freeze the water in them).

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We use a Toughbook to connect to the data loggers with an RS-232 cable.  The software is then opened and used to connect and download the data.  Downloading the data takes about 10 minutes per logger (there are two in this Pelican case).  I’m giving the thumbs up here because the software connected first time without a problem.  It’s nice when everything just works!

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As you can see the area is, indeed, quite flat.  The terrain is suitable for a runway, but they need to evaluate how the water table moves, where and when the subterranean water freezes, what effect the yearly melt would have on a runway, etc.

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Here’s Craig, one of the diesel mechanics (and my chauffeur for the day) lowering the weight and measuring tape into one of the small drill holes.  It’s a simple measuring of finding the water level in the tube and writing down the measurement at the top of the tube.  There are about 10 of these drill holes spread across the ‘Flat’.

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To provide a bit of scale, here’s a crop of the first photo of me in this post.  Just next to my head you can see the blue ‘Hagg’ in the background, and on the horizon is the station.  To get out here takes 45 minutes by ‘Hagg’ or 2-3 hours by foot depending on the snow conditions.

This is just one of the science and survey projects we support year-round.  Once the sea ice has returned we also have tide guages to measure.  Where the data loggers on land take 10 minutes, the tide gauges take hours to download data from.  Still, it’s great to get off the station and away from my desk for a day.  There aren’t many jobs where you get field trips like this!

P.S.  The featured image was actually an accidental firing.  I didn’t even know I had this picture until I checked through my photos afterwards.  I quite like photos with reflections from goggles/sunglasses.

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2 Comments on “Measuring “Adam’s Flat”

  1. Hi Robert! I just read your article in TableAus – fantastic! I was particularly interested as I’ve applied for a Communications Officer role with the AAD over the last few roles – I’ve got extensive IT skills and experience, but not so much (well, none :-P) on the radio side of things. Hopefully one day I’ll be a good match for the skills they require – until then I’ll enjoy Antarctica vicariously via your blog – all the best for winter!
    Cheers, Bernard.

    • Thanks 😀 You don’t necessarily need the radio skills for a technical position. Candidates are picked on how suitable they are for life in Antarctica as well as professional skill sets, and the expeditioners are chosen to suit both the station and the skills that are needed overall. One station currently has a radio specialist who hates computers and an IT specialist with no professional radio experience—both have a great deal of knowledge in their respective fields. Conversely. at Davis the two of us are ‘jacks of all trades, masters of none’. I think both stations are in good stead this season.

      The Communications Operator roles are exclusively operating radios (and the satellite phones) in an often-quiet-sometimes-manic environment, especially during resupply operations.

      Cheers,
      Rob.

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