Survey work 'a bit easier in Antarctica'

Survey work 'a bit easier in Antarctica'

Flying Officer Evita Ryan

While an obvious negative of doing survey work in Antarctica is dealing with sub-zero temperatures, one of the things that makes the job easier is there are no trees.

That was what struck three soldiers who were used to working in the Sunshine State. 

Six Brigade’s 6th Engineer Support Regiment surveyors Lance Corporal Michael Raymont, Lance Corporal Stewart Cox and Sapper Luke Carey recently completed topographic surveys at Davis Station in Antarctica, 4811km south of Hobart. 

"Operation Southern Discovery is Defence's support to Australia's Antarctic activities,” Lance Corporal Raymont said.

“It's a triservice operation and Army supports by undertaking topographic surveys for the Davis Aerodrome and Station Infrastructure Projects.”

In May 2018, the Australian Government announced its intention to construct a paved runway near the research station, subject to environmental and government approvals.

With the project now in a planning phase and the environmental assessment being prepared, the surveyors spent the deployment focused on refining the terrain model developed over previous years.  

“We refined the model to ensure a higher degree of accuracy so the project team could determine what earthworks, equipment and labour they would need to complete the project,” Lance Corporal Raymont said.

“We used a terrestrial laser scanner to survey the landscape and built a 3D-terrain model with a degree of accuracy of plus or minus 20mm.”

It's the kind of work all three soldiers are experienced at undertaking, only in warmer climates.

Lance Corporal Cox said it was a bit easier in Antarctica. 

“There aren’t any trees, buildings or people to get in the way,” he said. 

“You can just set the scanner and scan what you need to.

“It’s also satisfying work because you can see how you’re contributing to a real project.”

Lance Corporal Cox said he enjoyed his second deployment on Operation Southern Discovery.

“I can easily say it’s the best thing I’ve done in my military career,” Lance Corporal Cox said. 

For Sapper Carey, this was his first Antarctic experience.

“It was kind of surreal,” Sapper Carey said.

“The Adelie penguins walk straight through the station and right up to you, wondering what and who you are.” 

Arriving in Antarctica on board the Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis, in October 2019, Lance Corporal Raymont was later joined by Lance Corporal Cox and Sapper Carey in mid-December after they flew down to Casey Station via a RAAF C-17A Globemaster III and transited across to Davis Station on a Basler DC-3 ski plane.

Together with Royal Australian Navy Reserve Lieutenant Colin Davidson, a hydrographic surveyor, they worked six days a week through to early March 2020.

“We lost about 10 days because of poor weather conditions,” Lance Corporal Raymont said.

“Some days we had to stay inside – it was too bad to go out.”

That wasn’t the case, however, on Australia Day.

“On Australia Day, we went for a swim,” Lance Corporal Raymont said.

“I think the water was just above freezing.

“Everyone jumped in for about 30 seconds before running back up the beach.”

They also rolled out a cricket pitch on the beach to play a game.

Director of the Australian Antarctic Division Kim Ellis, a former Army Lieutenant Colonel, said the work of the ADF surveyors gave him a great sense of pride.

“Thanks to the skills and expertise of the 6th Engineer Support Regiment, and Littoral and Riverine Survey Squadron, the division now has a full feature survey of the proposed runway footprint as well as surveyed access road alignments and areas of additional infrastructure,” Mr Ellis said. 

“The Davis Aerodrome Project remains subject to environmental assessment and other government decisions, however, if approved to be constructed, the aerodrome will provide year-round access to east Antarctica, represent a significant capability boost, revolutionise our scientific activities and enhance Australia’s leadership and long-term interests in the region.”