Polar Radar for Ice Sheet Measurements

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Special Report: The Ship And Its Facilities
Hello out there in the land of trees and soil and buildings and things.

What if I tell you a little about the ship now? In a later note I’ll tell you a bit about the people on board and shipboard life.

The RSV Aurora Australis (RSV stands for Research and Supply Vessel) was built in Newcastle Australia in 1989 and sails under the Australian flag with an Australian crew. The vessel is 94.91metres long, deadweight 3893 tonnes and is classified as an Ice Class 1A Super Icebreaker. The vessel has accommodation for 24 crew and 116 expeditioners and is owned and managed by P&O Polar Australia. It is one of two ships chartered by the Australian Government for use on its Antarctic programs and in support of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE).

The ship is fitted out for the carriage of expeditioners to the Antarctic bases (as if it were a passenger ship, but without all the trimmings of cruise and tourist ships), but it also has space for the carriage of all manner of cargo items - most of this is in containers but there are also lots of crates, boxes, pallets, machinery etc. The ship also has facility for holding around one million litres of oil which is used as fuel for the powerhouses on the stations. The ship also has various laboratories for scientists to work at when the ship is engaged in a research program - these laboratories include computer rooms, lots of equipment for measuring conditions continuously - sea temperatures, salinity, echo sounding for ocean depths, echo location for ‘chasing’ fish, whales etc. There are ultra colds rooms (-80 Celsius), laboratories with fume hoods for working with chemicals etc. The on board science programs can range from studying fish, krill, plankton, oceanography, geosciences, UV radiation. There is constant monitoring and recording of birds, whales, icebergs, sea ice, seals - but a lot depends on the skills and interests of those on board at any one time.

We have people doing bird and whale observations and when we get to see icebergs we will have people maintaining the iceberg log. We also make notes and report on sightings of aurora, noctilucent clouds, debris in the ocean (drifting plastics and other rubbish) and fishing activity.

The ship also has a helicopter hangar and a landing deck for helicopters. We have two medium size helicopters on board - Sikorski S76 helicopters which can carry up to ten people, but usually only four to six and their gear.

The ship has a number of decks. Let me start at the very top and work downwards.
At the very highest is what we call the Monkey Island. This is an open deck though it has a couple of observation ‘cubby houses’ that are used by people who might be doing observations of birds, whales etc. This deck also leads to all the radar dishes, communications antenna and so on. This was a nice spot while in Hobart and at Port Arthur and for the first couple of days - now it is cold, wet and windy.
Below the Monkey Island is the Bridge. This is where the ship is controlled from. It is where the steering, command, charting, communication and navigation is carried out, where the officers steer the ship and liaise with the engineers on the engines; the communications room is also here as well as a Meteorological office. Expeditioners are generally free to visit the bridge though it is closed for certain operations (eg when we are conducting flying operations). Gordon calls this ‘A’ Deck – A for Action, because this is where it all happens.

Next down is an accommodation and working area. The ships captain, deck and navigation officers, the ships engineers, the bosun and the Chief Steward have their cabins here. The Deputy Voyage Leader (that’s Gordon) and Voyage Leader (Suzanne) have their cabins here as well. There is a small conference room. Gordon’s cabin has an ‘office’ area separate from the bedroom part (he can hide all his junk if he has visitors which seems to be all the time). There is a small kitchenette where we can make a cup of tea or coffee and have some toast or a biscuit. There is also a laundry and ironing room. This deck is where all the senior people have their cabins and offices, so Gordon calls this ‘B’ Deck – B for Bosses!!

Next down is ‘C’ deck which is where we have the doctor’s cabin, the ships surgery/hospital and the quarters for the remaining crew members. At the back of the ship on this level we have the helicopter landing area and a big hangar in which we keep our helicopters snug and warm. ‘C’ is for Crew.

Next one is ‘D’ deck where the expeditioners have their cabins. The cabins can accommodate up to four people; each cabin has its own bathroom and toilet and cupboard space. There are also laundries down here, ironing rooms plus a theatre where we have talks, briefings and where we can watch videos. Mmm, a new word to learn, ‘D’ stands for Donga which is a word used in Antarctica for expeditioners’ bedrooms.

And down more stairs to ‘E’ deck. This is a very important spot. This is where the food is. So, ‘E’ deck because this is where the ‘Eats’ are!! The kitchen (which on ships is called the galley) and restaurant are here. Ships officers, crew and expeditioners all share a common menu and sit anywhere they wish. We all work together so we have no discrimination in the use of facilities. The restaurant can seat up to about 80 at a time so when the ship is very full some people might have to wait a while before space becomes available. Since Gordon was on the ship last, the food service arrangements have changed - all food is now put out in serving areas and people help themselves to what they want. One part of the restaurant has also been turned into a lounge where people can sit comfortably, drink coffee and have a chat. On this level we also have the main computer room and various laboratories. At the back of the ship on this level is the trawl deck. This gives access to a ramp down to the water and there are winches and gantries and small cranes and all manner of equipment - all of it is related to the scientific work which might be done on the ship. It is from here that Gordon will do his CPR work and from where we deploy and recover the Sediment traps – but more of those things another time.

And the last one which we can go to – ‘F’ deck - there is a small shop here we can buy things like chocolates, there is also a small gym and sauna and also a bar where we can have parties or a quiet drink with friends. This deck is very much for fun things, so ‘F’ is for Fun. OzGold and I are too young to be allowed into the bar but I’ll have to see if Gordon will take us down there and take a picture of us.
At ‘F’ deck level there is also the start of the engine spaces but this is very noisy; we’ll probably go and have a look there when we get into calmer waters and the Engineers think it’s safe for us.

We are generally free to go wherever we want to on the ship though some of the working areas are off limits. Also the front part of the ship can be very dangerous when we are in the open ocean like now so we aren’t allowed here. It will be different when we get into the ice. Most of our cargo is carried in special holds on the front of the ship at D deck level and also at E and F and a bit below that.



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