Monday, February 14, 2011

Wireless and Radio on Land and Sea in Artarctica

Tragic News Bulletin from the Antarctica Mainland

Antarctica is a barren and forbidding land, and yet it displays its own unique blend of form and beauty. It is the 5th largest continent and it is located right at the bottom of our planet. The twin names Arctica & Antarctica come from the ancient Greek language and have reference to the northernmost lands and the southernmost lands upon Earth.
The Antarctic continent is more than 3,000 miles across and it is larger than Europe and larger than Australia. Most of the continent is covered with ice and snow one mile deep and it contains more fresh water than is found in the rest of the world. In the harshness of the sunless winter, the temperatures reach more than 100 degrees below freezing, and in the 24 hour sunshine of the summer, the temperatures never reach above freezing. In fact the world’s coldest temperature ever recorded was measured at the Russian base Vostok in August 1960 at -127 degrees Fahrenheit, -88 degrees Centigrade.
Although Europeans in their explorations long looked for a continent down under, Terra Australis, yet it was not until the years 1773 & 1774 that the southernmost continent was circumnavigated by the famous explorer, Captain James Cook. This voyage established the fact that Antarctica did exist, but it was not possible for his ships to penetrate through the ice floes and make a landing in the coastal areas. The first humans to land on the Antarctic continent were crew members from a seal hunting expedition led by the American, Captain John Davis on February 7, 1821.
These days 30 different countries operate permanent research stations on the Antarctic mainland, and an additional 30 temporary camps are established each summer. The winter population in Antarctica is around 1,000, and the summer population is around 4,000, all of whom are involved in various forms of scientific research.
It was on December 2, 1911, that the small ship Aurora left Hobart Tasmania with personnel & equipment for exploration into the Antarctic regions. The expedition was led by Dr. Douglas Mawson and the first point of call nine days later was Macquarie Island where a small party of men disembarked for the purpose of establishing a wireless station to act as a relay station between Australia and the Antarctic mainland.
A month later, the ship Aurora arrived further south in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica and they established a base camp at Cape Dennison. Work commenced on the installation of a wireless station, the very first on the Antarctica mainland, but the work was very slow, due to the harshness of the environment.
The equipment for the wireless station consisted of a 1½ kW Telefunken spark transmitter tuned to 500 KHz, a French made 9 horsepower Dedion petrol engine as the electricity generator, a sloping aerial system with masts 115 ft high & 20 ft high, and a simple crystal set receiver. Transmissions from this station began in September 1912, though it took a long time before meaningful messages got through.
We list now, several of the messages that were transmitted from the Antarctic mainland, taken from contemporary documents and newspaper reports, though we have been unable to discover just what callsign was in use at this wireless station.

* 1912 Sep: Transmissions began with the use of a temporary antenna.
* 1912 Sep 25: Antarctica sent a Morse Code message to station MQI on Macquarie Island asking that they relay a message on to the AWA station at Pennant Hills in Australia, but MQI could not read the content of the message.
* 1912 Sep 29: Antarctica reported to MQI that they were experiencing great difficulty in erecting the regular antenna due to weather problems.
* 1913 Feb: Transmissions re-commenced with full sized antenna system.
* 1913 Feb 3: First transmission with completed antenna system heard by MQI Macquarie Island. Bad news, Douglas Mawson & two fellow expeditioners were overdue from a long sledding trip inland.
* 1913 Feb 8: Antarctica transmitted a message asking the ship Aurora to return to the main coastal base. The ship received this message, but was unable to return due to the floating ice pack, and the ship could not reply because no wireless transmitter was aboard this vessel. Antarctica reported that two expeditioners had died; one fell into a deep crevasse and the other died from food poisoning. This message was heard by MQI Macquarie and it was passed on to Australia for publication.
* 1913 Feb 20: Two way communication between MQI & Antarctica was finally achieved. Antarctica confirmed the death of two of their explorers, and MQI informed Antarctica that Robert Scott and four of his men in another exploration party died on their return journey from the South Pole.
* 1913 Nov 18: The New York Times printed a message from Dr. Mawson in Antarctica, outlining difficulties faced by the explorers, including heavy snow falls, huge icebergs in the bay, strong winds, and the inability to retrieve supplies buried by the snowstorms. This was the last known transmission from Antarctica’s first wireless station.
* 1913 Nov 20: With the progressive increase in daylight, wireless communication on 500 kHz was no longer possible

During the time of its active operation, the Antarctica wireless station was occasionally heard by station MQI on Macquarie Island, which lies about half way between Australia and Antarctica, and on these occasions news was also passed on for publication in Australia and the United States. There were occasions when Antarctica was heard in New Zealand; and just once only was Antarctica heard in Hobart Tasmania, and by AWA Pennant Hills in Sydney.
The Antarctica station complained about interference from other wireless stations in Australia, from ships plying the waters south of Australia, and by spark discharges from the antenna system, known as St Elmo’s fire.
With the increase in daylight, communication by wireless was no longer possible and the station was closed. Thus, the first wireless station on the Antarctic mainland was on the air from September 1912 to November 1913. It was in use for a little over a year, in the transmission of personal messages, official communications, and news reports for publication.
(AWR/Wavescan, # NWS 103 via Adrian Peterson)