Tag Archives: Macquarie Island

Akademik Shokalskiy

6 Jan
Douglas Mawson was the first to enable communication from the Antarctic mainland to Australia by setting up a relay station in Macquarie Island in 1911. This year, scientists and enthusiasts chartered the ‘Akademik Shokalskiy’ to follow Mawson’s 1911-14 expedition of ‘The Aurora’.

Mawson’s vision had been to make a series of bases on the costal margin of the Antarctic mainland directly below Australia. His purpose was to make scientific and geographical discoveries and especially, to locate the position of the South Magnetic Pole more accurately than on his previous attempt (1908).

However Mawson could only make one land base in Adelie Land and one ice-shelf base off Queen Mary Land

Mawson wrote, ‘Here was an Ice Age in all earnestness. A picture of Northern Europe during the Great Ice Age some 50,000 years ago’.

To-days plight of the passengers, scientists and crew of the ‘Akademik Shokalskiy’ has been shared with the rest of the world in real time and has confirmed that even modern, up to date, state of the art ice ships can become locked in ice, at the mercy of the elements, precisely as their predecessors, but happily aided by modern communication. This has enabled assistance to be mobilized with evacuation of  passengers and scientists by helicopter and then boat transfer to the ice breaker ‘Aurora Australis’.

History tells us that ships locked in sea ice are at the mercy of sea currents, wind force and ice thickness, combinations of which are unpredictable. We await the larger icebreaker ‘Polar Star’ to see if a channel can be made in the sea ice to the ice bound ‘Akademik Shokalskiy’

Aurora’s track.       Mertz Glacier as in 1911.


23 Oct


I have been re-reading accounts of Douglas Mawson. His pioneering expeditions opened up the section of Antarctica (hardly seen, let alone explored), with a series of scientific explorations. His primary interests were geography and geology but he was the first to facilitate radio communications between Antarctica and the mainland of Australia (Morse Code via Macquarie Island), and he took an airplane to Antarctica on his later expeditions.

His personal expedition in 1912 was the Far Eastern Journey (along the coast from his base on Adelie Land towards Cape Adare, where some men from Scott’s party had been based), was overshadowed by the awful deaths of his two companions. ‘Cherub’ Ninnis disappeared silently and shockingly into a crevasse. Mertz died horribly, suffering from stomach pains, muscle weakness and exhaustion, plus his skin peeling away by the handful. It is thought that he and Mawson may have suffered from

Hypervitaminosis A, caused by eating dog livers on their desperate return.

When the emaciated exhausted Mawson fell into a crevasse, he thought that ‘this is how it a shall be’ but his thoughts quickly turned to 2 lines of a poem by Robert Service:

Buck up. Do your damnedest and fight

It is plugging away that will win you the day

He surely lived up to this exaltation.

He got back to his Base in 1913. He was cared for fro a year by companions who had remained behind when their relief ship left Antarctica and who had been searching for his party.

Many think Mawson’s journey to be the greatest example of survival in Antarctica

He showed leadership, courage and resolution to survive against all odds.







Communication in Antarctica

12 Nov

I am constantly amazed at the current level of communication between the vast snowy wastes of Antarctica and the outside world.

Felicity Aston, who was the first woman to cross the Antarctic alone , an unbelievable achievement, took a combination of Twitter and iPadio. She sent messages from her satellite phone to TwitterMail and her comments appeared as Tweets. iPadio apparently creates podcasts and transcribes them to blogs. It also uploads audio and text files to a website. Felicity just had to ring a number on her satellite phone and talk.

She carried a Yellowbrick Tracker which bleeped her position every eight hours.

In my research on the early Antarctic heroes the fact that strikes me most is their total isolation. They were literally cut of from all lines of communication to the outside world. Scott had an early form of internal communication in that when he set out on his final journey and realized  that he was without Queen Alexandra’s flag. he was able to communicate with Base from the first depot. Mawson broke new ground when his expedition up a communication network between Macquarie Island, Australia and the Antarctic.This painfully ground into some action. The American, Admiral Richard Byrd ,was the first to really master communications in his huge expeditions. Details of his flight over the South Pole were broadcast in Times Square N.Y.

There are stupendous scientific developments in Antarctica now and communication is one of them