Field Work

The life of an Argo Float

By Bethany

Back in June of 2013, I sailed across the Great Australian Bight (the area of ocean below Australia) on the RV Southern Surveyor. One cold and windy night, myself and several other scientists scrambled out onto the deck with an expensive, large, yellow, plastic float. We threw released it over the side of the boat and watched it as it disappeared into the night.

Continue reading “The life of an Argo Float”

Aloha, Mahalo and Goodnight!

By Jo Ward

I was lucky enough to go on the recent Geological Society of America’s Hawaiian volcanoes field trip with a fabulous bunch of students from Australia, New Zealand and the United States.  It was an amazing geological experience and a fantastic opportunity to meet people from around the world. For those of you who are not familiar with Hawaii, the culture is unique and exhibits a lovely blend of Polynesian traditions and if you think you can’t take a good photo, it is the place for you! I challenge anyone to take a bad photo of the Hawaiian landscape, it won’t happen.


There is an uncanny fondness for Chihuahuas across the island state and a reverence when referring to Pele, the goddess of volcanoes and the creator of the islands. The mythology surrounding her describes her as a fair but fiery lady who is not to be trifled with. She is so highly respected that during volcanic activity, locals in Kona visit the henna parlors to have images of her and the volcano imprinted on their bodies.  The locals are conscientious in their attempt to not lose their cultural roots and are happy to chat about almost anything, for a place that is so regularly devastated by natural hazards the spirit and generosity of the people was absolutely phenomenal to experience.

The trip was organized by Gary Lewis of the GSA and co-run by the lovely Amy Magoo, the whole trip was well planned and expertly executed. I’m an ore-focused geologist and had a limited knowledge of volcanology but that did not inhibit the experience or my understanding on this tour. Like many geo’s it is not until you go out into the field that you gain a deeper understanding of how all the features for a deposit/ landscape fit together.


The trip delivered awesome activities like hiking some truly incredibly impressive lava fields and volcanoes, coastal treks, whale watching and an amazing ‘doors off’ chopper ride over the currently active Kilauea volcano summit with an adept Belgian pilot named York who provided an excellent playlist. I can honestly say the combination of Jonny Cash’s Ring of Fire while flying over ropey Pohoehoe flows decimating a pine forest and feeling the heat and smoke off the ground was a once in a lifetime experience, and what can I say I love volcanic gasses in the morning.


We also ventured to an ocean worn  ancient lava cove which holds one of the world’s only green beach, or for the discerning geologist a beach with sand consisting entirely of olivine. The water was unlike any colour I’ve seen and there was something almost trippy and definitely enjoyable about lying in green sand.


The sunsets are spectacular, the cocktails were creative and tasty (I suggest trying a ‘Lava-flow’) and the geology was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. I’ve snorkeled with a 3-legged turtle, learned many things and seen the ‘glow’ of a volcanic crater at night. I had an absolute ball and cannot more highly recommend having a geo-venture in Hawaii.


Hilarity ensues – Part II

Or: Why you should do fieldwork

By Tanja

After last weeks post covered “why you should do fieldwork” this weeks post covers “why you should do fieldwork”. As promised – a sort of daily account of all the fun and action.

Figure 1: A bit of Rottnest island. Still haven’t booked it? How will you ever see the adorable quokka?! Google images just won’t do it justice!

Day 0

Free day before the actual work. Spent it on the Rottnest Island (Figure 1). Beautiful place, highly recommended for a 2-3 day vacation. Lots of cute quokkas (Figure 2), two amazing lighthouses, scenery galore and – oh my god – the beautiful beaches.

Go. Book it.

You can cycle the entire island in one day and you will still have more to see.

Figure 2: Artist impression of a quokka.

Day 2

After servicing a station with the rest of the crew (three guys) somewhere in the red bush outside of Esperance, I had to quickly pee before proceeding. So I moved away from the cars and squatted. As I was relieving myself, from the bush across from me (~2m away) a snake crawled out and started moving towards me. First I cursed silently and since that didn’t stop the snake and didn’t minimize the chances of it crawling right past my backside I had to throw away my pride and modesty, risking the guys to see me – and I stood up.

The snake stopped. I looked at it. It looked back at me as it caught me (literally) with my pants down.

I guess it decided “Daymn I don’t want to bite THAT” because it turned around and crawled back where it came from. After visually inspecting the area around me I squatted back and finished my business.

Coming back to the car (the guys luckily didn’t witness this brave battle) I told the rest of my party what happened. Christian (the trip leader, and the person who actually needs the seismic array) had this to say: “Figures, I’ve been here so many times, never saw a snake and you get to see one on your second day”.

Day 3

After installing a station I touched onto my pants pocket where I could feel the outline of my camera and asked my trip leader if he needs a photo of the location. We needed some before because we installed two in the Cape Arid National Park and the park ranger asked us to take and later send her photos so she knows what they look like. The trip leader said this wasn’t necessary as we’re not in the park anymore. Leaving my camera in the pocket I walked back to the car, where I remained until we reached our next camping spot in the middle of nowhere. As I sat down on the camping chair and popped open a can of EMU beer I asked “where is my camera?”. Searched everywhere in the car, in and around it and the camping gear, everywhere on the camping spot – camera was nowhere to be found. We weren’t that far away from the station we just installed and the guys assured me it is probably still lying there. Umar and I will go and look for it in the morning.

In the middle of the night something wakes me up. Through the opening of my swag I observe a dark outline of something grazing next to Umar’s swag. It looked like a camel or a horse. I fall asleep.

Day 4

First time that our party separates into two groups (one car in each group, two people per car). According to our trip leader Umar and I had three easy stations to service. Not very far away, easy to reach… we will be finished by 2 o’clock, three at the latest.

Figure 3: Fraser range station. This photo taken from the logo of features the cottage where we stayed

Umar and I started very early to get my camera and start this easy service as quick as possible. We wanted to reach Fraser Range station (our stay for the night, Figure 3) as soon as possible as it was our 4th day without a shower. Went back to the station, looked everywhere – couldn’t find a camera. And you’re wondering why there are no photos in this post that I shot myself? The camera is still somewhere out there. The guys reckon it might be found when someone comes to service the station next time (3-6 months from now). It is game on for all the fieldies in WA now.

Anyways… It took us around two and half hours to reach the station we had to service. It was a really shit road with lots of obstacles and holes and bumps. When we finally reached an approximate location of the station, the GPS informed us that the station is now 560m from the car. In the bush. Through the very thick f***ing bush. And so Umar and I started through the bush, him hauling a heavy recorder. Found the station and replaced the battery. Walked back to the car (we exited about 200 m to the right of it, as stupidly we didn’t take its position – it is easy to get lost in the bush). At the car, I check the data on the laptop – no good. We have to change the recorder entirely. This time we took the position of the car and walked back through the bush, exchanged the recorder and then again got back to the car. This whole endeavor of servicing took just over 45 mins. By the time we were ready to go to the next station it was lunchtime and we knew – we are not finishing by 2 o’clock.

Took us another hour and a half to reach the second station. We had a flat tire on the way there. When that happened, Umar started freaking out about all the smushed crackers in the back of the car. They got smushed because of all the holes, bumps and bush bashing. Which is also what caused our flat tire. I said something like “so this tire”“Nevermind that, look at these crackers!” Umar interrupted. “They’re all over the place! How am I supposed to eat them now?! Don’t worry about the tire, that’s no biggie”. True to his word, he changed the tire in 15-20 mins, all the while cursing the crackers.

The second station was around 200 m into the bush, after another bumpy track. Also required a change of recorder.

By the time we reached the third station it was five o’clock, and we were still around ~1.5 hours drive from Fraser Range. Since we were in government vehicles and they are not really allowed to drive in the dark (it is frowned upon) we didn’t have much time (WA doesn’t have daylight savings). The third station was installed on an ants nest. Umar didn’t take his gloves with him that one time and payed for it. Everything that could have been wrong with this station was wrong – in other words, it didn’t work at all. Whenever we turned it on, it turned itself back off. We exchanged three different recorders and two batteries to try and correct for this but nothing happened. This means around 6 trips to and from the car through the bush. Eventually we didn’t know what to do and we took the recorder with us and left. Meaning there was no station there when we finished.

Figure 4: A part of Eyre highway that I have actually seen. This bit of road turns into an airstrip if needed. Umar tells me that what happens is you see an airplane descending towards you and you wildly swerve over to the side to let it land. Cursing everything and everyone as you do that. Straya.

On our way back when we finally reached a wide enough dirt road we pushed our side mirrors out again (we kept them in for bush bashing of course). In my mirror – horror – we see one of the flaps on our car broke and a seismic recorder is hanging over the side. Emergency stopping – quick check, everything seems to be ok and not missing. Keep going. Almost hit a kangaroo. After about 45 minutes of bush bashing and another ~40 minutes on Eyre highway (Figure 4) we reached Fraser Range station exhausted and pissed off around 7 o’clock. Luckily showers were available.

Aftermath: In the fridge my bacon was marinated in Corona beer that spilled all over because of bumpy tracks. Cherry tomatoes were smushed all over the fridge. Fatigue. And the necessity to go back to that last station again to put any recorder there sometimes later in the trip. Comfortable bed.

Day 5

Staying at trailer park in Norseman because total fire ban and 40+ degrees. Unexpected shower and bed.

Day 6

Camping in the bush again. While setting up camp I realize I have no idea where my sleeping bag is. Did you guess it? Fell out of the back of the car when our flaps broke.

Day 7

Returning to the station that was left empty – traveling back on the same road. And what do you know? In the middle of the road (about ~30 minutes from the spot where we realized our flaps broke two days before) lies a big, blue bulge of my sleeping bag. So much win!

Day 8

Fraser Range station again. Showers and bed again (yay!) Doing the laundry (yay!). Cleaning the smushed tomatoes in the fridge (yay!).

Apparently Billy the python (yes, the python) sleeps in the roof of the cottage where we are staying.

Days 9-13

Various hilarity. Moments worth of a photograph, but no camera in sight.

Towards the end of the trip, one of the last stations to serve…. We are very close to private property, farms and paddocks. We stop at a supposed location of our station, right next to the dirt road and the fence of someone’s farm. The GPS tells me I’m basically standing right where the station should be!

But it’s not there.

Umar observes the tracks on the side of the road leading straight to where I’m standing and with Sherlock-like precision breaks down the events: Someone brought a heavy vehicle (of bulldozer type) and pushed dirt and branches and whatnot to the side of the road, right where our station had been. Our station was hence buried a few metres beneath the visible pile of dirt I was standing on. Why would this happen? Maybe there was a reason. And maybe the farmer thought ANU is spying on him. Be as it may – as Umar put it: that station is half-way down to China bro.

Today we finish early. Obviously. 

Day 13

Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Showers and bed (yay!) Mining town, seems a bit dead but otherwise it’s good. I have phone reception!

Day 14

Visit to the Super Pit (Figure 5) – it is big. It is mind-boggingly big.

Super Pit_0
Figure 5: Kalgoorlie Super Pit.

A tour of one of the last still working brothels in Kalgoorlie. Yes, you read that correctly. Mind you – and I have to stress this – we did this at our own expense. University or government were not involved in this. It was an… interesting… experience. A middle-aged madame was telling us stories while sitting next to a few massive…. Toys. Enough said.

Skimpy bars. The only type of bar you get to see in Kalgoorlie. Enough Said.

Taking all of this into account – this was probably the best Valentines day ever (and yes, it was Valentines).

Day 15

Flying Kalgoorlie-Perth-Canberra.

Moral of the story? You should do fieldwork, because you don’t just learn something. You get to laugh out loud, visit dodgy places, visit beautiful places and you get to lose your camera. Don’t take your camera.

Fieldies of WA – I get you a crate of beer if you find my camera and no photos end up on the internet! Game on.

Hilarity ensues – Part I

Or: Why you should do fieldwork

By Tanja

Just under a week ago I came back from a two-week long fieldwork in the bush area of Western Australia. Not sure if that area really counts as the outback as the nearest town (Esperance) was ~300 km from where we were and we were around ~800 km from Perth… I know it can get way more isolated up in the Kimberleys apparently. So anyways… before I tell you a few short stories about interesting things that happened let me tell you something about this fieldwork itself and why we went there and back again.

In seismology we collect our data by downloading a bunch of seismograms and then processing them in some way – which varies depending on what you need to extract from them. In order to have seismograms you need seismometers that will record earthquakes from around the world. There are plenty of these distributed around the globe and data is readily available.

Figure 1: Project area and the array in question. On this particular trip we serviced/installed all the stations shown in either half-red or full-red symbols.
Courtesy of Christian Sippl.

But sometimes you maybe want to study a specific region or a particular structure within the region – this is when you need a seismic array (usually in some shape – elongated, circular, L-shaped, spiral…). There are a lot of global arrays (one of the most popular being the moving USArray) but sometimes you don’t have arrays where you need them. And that is when you have to physically install them. One such array has been installed around ~2013 in remote regions between Esperance and Kalgoorlie in WA (Figure 1). Since then those stations needed to be serviced and occasionally more needed to be added to the array.

On this particular fieldwork I was in the role of a little (literally) helper – my job was mostly to service the already existing stations, but I was also shown how to install them. This involves fun cardio activity that is sure to get you out of the gym, out into the sun to around 40 degrees where you then dig ~1.5 m deep holes.

In the gravel!

Sand if you’re lucky.

Being already involved with a gym and several different cardio activities I had to pass on this brilliant opportunity and was required to service the stations (Figure 2) only.

Figure 2: Recorder of seismic data. The big, black, enclosed, bulky thing is the battery. Plugged into the recorder are seismometer (buried in the ground) and a GPS antenna.
Courtesy of Christian Sippl.

This means I have to change the battery in the seismic recorder, to assure it keeps running. I have to collect the data from the recorder – in the form of an SD card, check them on the spot and make sure they are recorded correctly (for example, you can observe an earthquake on them, no components are acting strangely and are active and such) and then close the station, hide it – wrap it into green tarp and cover it in branches so the animals won’t chew on it (Figure 3) and lost humans wouldn’t mistake it for a water cooler. Then you move to the next station.

This whole service usually takes around ~15 mins in total. If something is wrong with the data you have to additionally change the entire recorder. Recorders weigh around ~12-15 kg (I think, at least that’s how it felt) and carrying them back and forth through thick bush is another brilliant cardio activity.

So anyways – that is what I have been doing for the two weeks of my stay in WA. A lot of driving on 4WD tracks (think bumps, holes, sand, fallen trees, salt lakes), traipsing through the bush with a heavy recorder (but I had a helper of my own! I will get to that shortly), trying to find the hidden station by means of a precise GPS, servicing the station, checking the data, potentially changing the recorder, traipsing through the bush back to the car and then some more driving.

It was mostly driving.

Figure 3: What happens when animals (cows in this case) investigate you recorder – the tarp is scattered in the background and the cables are chewed through. This is why you need to properly hide the recorders and wrap them snugly in a tarp.
Courtesy of Christian Sippl

In the car with me was a member of our project partners called Umar. Umar is the greatest. There I said it – let’s move on now. He was the one who hauled this heavy recorder through the bush while I was carefully stepping and navigating in front of him with my GPS trying to find the station. Thanks to him and his sense of humor I had an excellent time and every time I found something hilarious – so did he. This resulted in a lot of laughs and giggles.

Let me share some of the stuff that happened in the remote areas of WA. I will try in chronological order, but what happened on which day exactly is a bit of a blur – I mean when camping in the bush (mostly) you wake up with the sun (around 6 a.m. if you have trees above you) and go to your swag around 8 p.m.

9 p.m. if you feel very lively.

Days soon become one long stretch.

So … if you are up for a daily account of my adventures in WA, you can find it here.

Walking with purpose

By Kelly

To continue on from my last post, I am regaling you all with stories of my thesis submission. As Evan pointed out, having a hard deadline is really important because you could go on refining the document for years, for a life time in fact. My carrot at the end of a stick four years long was the opportunity to participate in the Simpson Desert Paleontological Survey. The site was so remote that the only way we could access it….was by walking in with camels. I ask you, who wouldn’t stay up until all hours, forget to include both their acknowledgements page and to reference their own paper, as well as missing a typo in the final sentence*, for such an opportunity? Not me, that is for certain.

I’ll talk more about the dig in next week’s post, this week I’d like to focus on the trek, on the camels, and losing yourself to both. Today, we are walking with purpose.

Continue reading “Walking with purpose”

The A-factor

Akademik Shokalskiy stuck after weather conditions changed and sea ice closed down behind the vessel.
Akademik Shokalskiy stuck after weather conditions changed and sea ice closed down behind the vessel.

By Bianca

I just stumbled over a detailed media report about the Russian Akademik Shokalskiy that recently had to be rescued out of Antarctica’s sea ice, and have been reminded about our excursion to the continent.

Although I do agree that a lot went wrong on their expedition, and human failures played an important role, it has also be admitted that you simply can’t change the A-factor and you need to adapt to it as much as possible.

The A-factor simply stands for the Antarctic-factor and is a common saying under Antarctic expeditioners as the climate is so unpredictable and weather conditions can change quickly. Continue reading “The A-factor”

First days on the Antarctic continent

By Bianca,

After our arrival near Davis station we got flown out by a helicopter to catch our plane to Mawson. The Aurora can only park in the sea ice, around 3-4 km away from Davis station and usually people just walk over the sea ice. However, due to the delay we already had, people who weren’t staying at Davis got rushed out,

Icebergs in the sea ice in front of Davis station
Icebergs in the sea ice in front of Davis station

to fly 2,5 hours to Mawson. One of the reasons was the fantastic weather we have had these days, with a blue, sunny sky and almost no wind. Arrived at the station we got loaded with work, which was a sudden change to the lazy and relaxed life on the Aurora. After some more information and briefings we got our equipment and started our overnight field and survival training on the next day. We mainly got trained on how to survive in case of a sudden weather change and the risk of getting lost. Under really bad conditions you can miss your team colleague or the hut even when it’s just 20m beside you and finding shelter, without falling into a crevasse would be your main concern. We walked over the sea ice in Mawson bay, did some mapping and GPS reading exercises, drilled into the sea ice to check the thickness, exercised whiteout conditions by finding an object walking with a pillow case on our heads and carved our bed for the night into the snow. This night was an exercise to survive in an emergency just with your survival gear (warm clothes, map, compass and GPS, ice axe, sleeping bag and bivvy) by

Bivvying in the snow as part of the survival training
Bivvying in the snow as part of the survival training

quickly setting up a shallow hole where you can place your bivvy. The night was rather cold (ice formed inside the bivvy) and we were all happy when we went back to the station early on the next morning.

After arriving back at the station we had some breakfast, a shower and some more sleep before we started our day. We began to organise the food for our camping trip and the field equipment that will be required (a bit more luxury than the survival night). In the evening we were lucky to get a ride in one of the Hägglund (Hagg) with the chief of the station up to one of the mountain huts. That means going up the big Antarctic plateau, all just pure ice. We got an incredible view over the plateau, mountain ranges and the sea with its icebergs, and the thought about the fact that you were standing on

The Hägglund we used on our trip up the ice plateau. The front door got blown inside the Hagg by the katabatic winds and had to be repaired after our trip
The Hägglund we used on our trip up the ice plateau. The front door got blown inside the Hagg by the katabatic winds and had to be repaired after our trip

almost a kilometre of pure ice was, and still is, just unbelievable. After a couple of hours and a tea in the hut, we went back to the Hagg to go somewhere else…and learned why you have to be prepared for everything here in Antarctica. The Hagg didn’t start for any obvious reason and could not be fixed. Meanwhile the katabatic winds started to blow and within five minutes conditions changed from beautifully calm and mild to windy and freezing. Considering weather conditions and time (by then it was 9.30pm) the decision was made to stay in the hut.

Fortunately, it was a surprisingly comfortable night, with a real bed, a little kitchen and plenty of food (all kinds of food, as everything survives in the cold). On the next morning, after the loss of one of the Hagg doors due to the very strong katabatic wind and some more hours of trying to fix the Hagg we were successfully on our way back to the station.

On the following day we decided not to go anywhere, with the hope to finally sleep in our bed at the station. The weather has been really good again, although we had strong winds. Tomorrow we are likely to start our field work, if the weather doesn’t change we will fly out to set camp at Richardson Lake in Enderby Land and to set up our GPS stations (previous blog post).

View to the mountain ranges from Mt. Henderson
View to the mountain ranges from Mt. Henderson

Icebreaker versus sea ice

View from the bow of the Aurora
View from the bow of the Aurora

By Bianca

More than a week after the estimated arrival time we are still fighting our way through Antarctica’s very thick sea ice.

With ice conditions as tough as it can get (10 out of 10) our progress was more than slow and the outlook of arrival had been uncertain for a long time. New rumours started to spread daily, including that we would have to turn around and go back. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and by now we are close to Davis and actually just got told that we are likely to arrive tonight. Continue reading “Icebreaker versus sea ice”

Life on the Southern Ocean

The Aurora Australis docked in Hobart
The Aurora Australis docked in Hobart

By Bianca

We are now somewhere around 60 degrees South, heading along Antarctica’s sea ice coastline until we will start breaking through the ice somewhere near Davis station.

We started our journey on the Aurora Australis last Tuesday, already with a two hour delay, due to cargo, and a further delay has occurred due to strong westerly winds. As soon as we left the protecting shores of Tasmania we quickly learned what’s lying in front of us: the forties and fifties of the Southern Ocean, famous for their roughness. Out on the open ocean we immediately hit a stormy sea with swells up to 6 meters. Good thing we all went to bed and our bodies could get used to it during a night sleep. The next day things didn’t seem too bad.

Stormy weather on the Southern Ocean Image: British Antarctic Survey
Stormy weather on the Southern Ocean
Image: British Antarctic Survey

That however only lasted for a day until we hit another stormy weather front with waves up to 12 meters. That afternoon many of us didn’t feel too good and I think I figured out why. If the ship rolls left to right, which is quite normal, everything is fine. As soon as it starts rolling in all directions, i.e. forwards and backwards and up and down, that’s where you find most people in bed… Continue reading “Life on the Southern Ocean”

Blog at

Up ↑