Field Training: Travel Part 2 – Walk to Watts

This is a continuation of our field training  which was covered in my last post Field Training: Travel Part 1 – Trajer Ridge  Note – there is a couple of short videos towards the end of this post.

This was to be a straight forward hike from Trajer Melon to the Hut at Watts Lake around 11 km to the Southwest.

Just leaving Trajer Ridge Melon – we had to cross a melt stream

The first part of the hike is along the deep (permanent) snow bank that fills the valley to the south of Trajer Ridge. The sides of the snow bank, closest to the ridges on either side of the valley have been scoured by the wind and one has to be very careful near these edges as they mostly have an overhanging ‘lip’.

The wind scours are an indication of the fierce winds that occur
Easy hike up the snow bank towards the Southwest

At this time of the year (January) there is also a lot of melt water flowing under the snow and close to the rocky ridges.

Melt water flowing under the bank of snow

The walk along the snow ridge is about 3.5km – there are many places that along the route for a scenic photo.

Looking back to the east towards the Ice Plateau
An example of lenticular cloud resulting from the air aloft moving quickly over the plateau
A great example of a large wind scour
The vivid blue colours of the snow melt water in the wind scour

We finally came to the end of the snow bank and climbed up a saddle. At the high point of the saddle we had amazing views, to the east along the route we had just walked as well as to the west across Lake Druzhby.

Amazing view to the east from the rocky saddle – Trajer ridge is on the left and a couple of huge wind scours on the right of the valley we had just traversed
From the rocky saddle – To the west with Lake Druzhby nestled amongst the Vestfold Hills

Just beyond the saddle we located a steep slope of snow, where Nick (our Field Training Officer) instructed us on how to ascend and descend the steep slopes.

Nick (FTO) shows us how to go up and down a steep bank of snow

We then walked to the west towards Lake Druzhby, along the gentle downward slope of another broad bank of snow.

Heading west towards Lake Druzhby
Looking east up the gentle slope of the bank of snow
The valley narrowed and we had to negotiate our way across this rocky field

The valley became very narrow and we had to skirt around a small melt lake. To continue on we had to clamber over a field of rocks.

Kerryn, who was ahead of me, managed to lose her footing on a wobbly rock. Her natural reaction was to break her fall by putting her hand out. Her left hand landed on the sharp edge of one of the large rocks. When I arrived to where she was sitting I noticed quite a lot of blood. She had a big gash on the palm of her left hand.

We got out the first aid kit and proceeded to stem the bleeding then wrap her hand in a bandage. The decision was made that she would need proper medical attention. Nick radioed VLZ and a helicopter was sent out to retrieve Kerryn.

It was also decided that we would all go back to Davis.

Kerryn relaxing on the rocks, after first aid was applied to her injured hand

Nick went about 200m further to the west and found a suitable place for the incoming helicopter to land

This is the site Nick selected for the helicopter landing pad

15 minutes later we were ready and waiting at the landing site. We didn’t have to wait long, before we heard then saw the helicopter approaching from the Northwest.

More Lenticular cloud provides a spectacular backdrop as the helicopter approaches from the Northwest

The following short video is of Nick guiding the helicopter (Uniform Uniform Hotel) to our position on the snow. (best viewed in high definition)

Within minutes we were all aboard the helicopter, then airborne and on our way back to station.

Our route to the station took us directly over Lake Druzhby. This fresh water lake was named during a 1956 Soviet Antarctic Expedition. It is fed by the melt water of the Ice Plateau and flows into Elis Fjord.

The following is a short video of the take off then flight over Lake Druzhby (best viewed in high definition)

Uniform Uniform Hotel tracks over Lake Druzhby towards Davis Station in the west
Flying back to Davis with Chris onboard Uniform Uniform Hotel
Following Dingle Road to VLZ Davis
Arriving back at Davis Station

We arrived back at station at 4:30pm. Kerryn and I went straight to the medical unit. Dr Ralph cleaned up the wound then inserted 6 stitches.

Being back on station meant that we could enjoy a nice hot meal.

At 6:45pm Rob, Nick and I made our way back to the helihut. We would fly out to Watts Lake Hut to complete our training. Unfortunately Kerryn couldn’t join us.

Next… The 3rd part of our Field Training: Travel

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Field Training: Travel Part 1 – Trajer Ridge

Another very important Field Training exercise was – safe travel in the field, especially the Vestfold Hills. The first part of this training was to fly to Trajer Ridge which is around 21km east of Davis Station

One of the most exciting things to do in Antarctica is to get a flight in a helicopter.

Approaching the helipad to board our flight to Trajer Ridge

When taking a helicopter flight from Davis – We bring our survival pack and other cargo to the Heli-hut. This is the “arrival/departure lounge” at Davis. It is made up out of four containers that have been fitted out. This building was at Davis when I was at this station in the summer of 2005/06. Inside you will find drawings and the names of many of the expeditioners that have passed through this wonderful station.

The interior of the Heli-Hut. The painting on the right is on the entrance door to the hut
The opposite wall of the interior of the Heli- Hut

The following is a short video – departing Davis for Trajer Ridge.

The flight route – departed Davis to East-Northeast following a string of lakes – Dingle Lake, Lake Stinear and then across Deep Lake.

Kerryn, Rob  and FTO Nick were also on the flight
Dingle Lake below with the elongated Lake Stinear in the middle then onto Deep Lake at the end


Toby – Our pilot for today 

Deep Lake is a hypersaline lake which is 27% salt, making it 10 times saltier then the ocean. Because of its salt content it never freezes, even when the temperature of the air above drops to -30℃ to -40℃ (-22℉ to -40℉). The surface temperature of the lake can drop to  -20℃ in winter. Surprisingly the lake harbours a unique flora of salt-loving Archaea that survive at temperatures way below freezing.

Flying over the eastern shore of Deep Lake

After Deep Lake we proceeded east  towards the Plateau and Trajer Ridge.

Club Lake, on the left follows another valley to the northeast – next to it is Lake Jabs
Approaching Trajer Ridge with the Ice Plateau on the horizon

We passed over Trajer Ridge and the snow filled narrow valley to the south of the ridge. We then flew a tight curve around a high (124 metres above sea level) hill to approach the Trajer Melon (refuge) across Pauk Lake.

Just south of the high cliff of the hill to approach the Trajer valley across the lower Pauk Lake

The following is video of the approach to Trajer Melon (refuge)

Approaching the snow covered Trajer Valley over a un-named lake
Looking west down the valley with Trajer Ridge on the right (north) – You can see the Trajer Melon perched on the small hill on the left
Coming in to land on the snow near the Trajer Ridge Melon

After landing on the snow, we crouched down with our packs just in front of the helicopter. After the helicopter  disappeared to the west, we gathered our packs and decided to go to the hut and have some lunch. We got to the rapidly moving melt stream just below the hut. From our side it looked as though the stream was to wide.

After landing, we donned our packs and headed towards the hut
The hut is so close but yet so far – decided not to cross the melt stream
The small melt lake near Trajer Melon is and amazing azure blue in colour
A closer look at the beautiful, serene melt lake near Trajer Melon

Our FTO, Nick, decided we would go for a walk, carrying our survival pack up the high hill just the west then approach the hut from the slope.

We headed west along the bank of snow – Trajer Ridge is on the right

The Vestfold Hills is home to many snow petrels. Where there are snow petrels there are also Antarctic skuas. Snow petrels are hunted by the skuas, so all through the hills you will find body parts and bones of the victims. In many cases all you find of the petrels is their wings.

A pair of snow petrel wings (angel wings) in the melt lake
getting ready to climb the steep slope of the 124 metre hill – A great example of a dolerite dyke (seam) which criss cross the Vestfold Hills
Rob and Kerryn climbing the steep hill
Another snow petrel wing amongst the Vestfold rocks
There was some heat here in the distant past
Nearing the top of the hill
The stunning landscape seen from the slope of the hill opposite Trajer Ridge
The vivid turquoise blue colour of Copper oxide seeping from a rock
Rob nears the top of the hill where the view to the Northwest is spectacular – Trajer Ridge lies on the opposite side of the narrow snow covered valley
Near the top of the hill – Nature’s Art – comprising of colourful patterned rocks and lichen
View from the top of the hill (124m ASL) – you catch a glimpse of Lake Druzhby on the right and the larger Crooked Lake on the left
View to the East from the top of the hill – Trajer Ridge on the left, The Ice plateau straight ahead and a glimpse of Pauk Lake in front of Rob and Kerryn
Beautiful rock collection near the top of the hill
Just one more gentle slope before reaching Trajer Ridge Melon

After descending the gentler eastern slope of the hill we finally made it to the Trajer Melon. We stopped here for lunch and a cup of tea.

The welcome sight of Trajer Melon – a cosy refuge in the eastern Vestfold Hills

The Trajer Melon was removed and replaced by a newer larger structure during the summer. We were some of the last expeditioners to take advantage of its comforts.

Rob and Kerryn enjoy lunch and a nice hot cuppa inside the Trajer Ridge Melon

After lunch we packed up and left Trajer Ridge Melon. This time we successfully crossed the snow melt rapids.


After safely crossing the melt stream we set off to the west on the next part of our field training.

This will feature in the next post…..





Overnight Field Training at Brookes Hut

Another part of our training for the wintering group was to “Sleep Out” overnight in the field. 12 of the wintering team set out for Brookes Hut. The logistics of this involved being transported by helicopter to the hut. This was done in four flights.

My red taxi awaits – I was on the 4th and final flight to Brookes Hut

The short flight from Davis to Brookes takes you over the amazing landscape of the Vestfold Hills

Looking back to the south at Davis Station – Heidemann Bay lies just behind the station with the Sorsdal Glacier in the distant background
View to the East across the Vestfold Hills and the distant Ice Plateau – Dingle Lake is on the far right with Lake Stinear to it’s left. The iced over water in the foreground is Weddell Arm
Weddell Lake with a glimpse of Lake Stinear in the top centre right
In this view to the Southeast – At the end of the valley on the left is Deep Lake – Also the dolerite dykes (seams) stand out across the Vestfold Hills landscape

As we approached Brookes Hut – we could see two FTO’s (Field Training Officer) standing on the snow and ice next to the hut. Their job was to guide the helicopter pilot (Toby) in and once it landed they unloaded the cargo panniers and guide the passengers.

Approaching  Brookes Hut across Shirokaya Bay
View to the Southeast – Brookes Hut on the shore of Shirokaya Bay – The two FTO’s are on the snow to the left of the hut
Circling around to approach the landing spot, from the northeast, into a light wind 
Jock steps out of the helicopter onto the snow in front of Brookes Hut

Now that we were all at the hut, the FTO’s, Psycho (Chris) and Gideon gave us a talk on Map reading and compass use. I must say this is one of the most amazing classroom’s.

Group photo of everyone at Brookes Hut
Some final instructions before going out on the snow 
View to the Northeast from the balcony of Brookes Hut

After a group photo we did some practical training out on the snow. How to use a ‘throw bag’. As the name implies it is a bag that contains rope and should be part of everyone’s survival pack.

If a fellow expeditioner falls through the ice – the rescuer, while holding on to the rope end and then throws the bag towards the person in trouble, who grabs the bag and then holds onto the rope or ties himself to it, while the other person or persons pull the stricken expeditioner out of the water or across the thin ice.

Being shown the use of a ‘throw bag’ and also using pulleys and anchors to gain advantage in pulling a heavy weight

As we had 24 hours of daylight – we participated in another practical excercise.

At 6pm we set off on a hike. We split into 2 groups each with a group leader. We were to navigate using map, compass and dead reckoning to make our way to a high point to the Southeast of Brookes Hut.

Departing Brookes Hut – hiking through the hills on a navigation exercise
The Vestfold Hills has has many interesting geological features – this is about 1 metre in length and has been well weathered by the sometime fierce winds that blow through these hills

Once we reached our desired destination we had further lessons in navigation. We also had a lesson in radio protocol and how to carry out a scheduled radio call (SITREP) back to the Station.  These scheds occur at a pre-determined time – usually 7pm and sometimes also in the morning. A group or party in the field also has to radio in, when leaving or arriving at a destination.

The SITREP is as follows

Alpha: Position information – can be a Lat and Long, Grid reference points, Feature or Hut name.

Bravo: Number and Health of the party.

Charlie: Conditions of vehicles – mechanical or otherwise.

Delta: Intentions – describe intentions for the next 24 hours, including intended routes and departure and arrival times.

Echo: Weather – Provide a weather observation.

Foxtrot: State of the track or route.

Golf: Other info or requests.

Finding our way in the Vestfold Hills to our next waypoint
Group Photo on a hilltop
Navigation training on a hilltop in the Vestfold Hills about 1 km from Brookes Hut

Just after 7pm we headed back along a different route towards Brookes Hut.

We walked along a narrow valley, which would end up at a point behind and near the hut
Continuing along the narrow valley that is behind Brookes Hut

We arrived back at the hut just before 8pm. We were all very hungry, but first we had another training session in the use of fuel stoves.

FTO Gideon shows us how to prime a fuel stove

It was time to prepare and cook our evening meal using the newly acquired skills of using the fuel stove. Before leaving station, we had each selected freeze dried or dehydrated  food packs which we now re-hydrated and heated.

I had an army ration pack of dehydrated beef stew, which I re-hydrated and cooked in it’s own pack, using water boiled up from melting snow and ice in a saucepan. It was quite tasty, though that may have been because of being quite hungry.

After dinner it was time to prepare our sleeping quarters? Most opted for the idea of digging a hole in the snow and ice. The hole was dug to a depth of around 50cm (2ft) and 75cm wide and 180 to 200 cm’s long. The advantage of sleeping in this ice ‘coffin’ was that it was out of the wind and quite well insulated.

I, along with 4 fellow expeditioners opted for sleeping in a bivvy bag (essentially a tent without poles). I found a position on the hill behind the hut, that was reasonably flat and sandy and preferably behind a rock or boulder to provide some protection from the wind.

One person set up a polar tent, which probably was the most comfortable option.

Tent in front of Brookes Hut – Only one person chose this sleeping option
There are several snow sleeping ‘coffins’ being prepared in the snow below the ridge – while others prepare their ‘bivvy’ sleeping site

Before going to bed and I went to the hut (heated) and had a nice hot cuppa. Then it was off to brave the elements.

One of the weathered support beams on the eastern (windward) side of Brookes Hut
Just after 11pm – settled in my warm down sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag. My survival pack is also inside – providing a support (like a tent pole)

Several things happened overnight…..

Firstly – trying to get comfortable on a narrow, 1 cm foam mattress on rocky ground isn’t ideal. Surprisingly I was quite warm, probably because of the several layers of clothing and the down sleeping bag.

I did wear ear plugs, though they didn’t seem to help that much – the slightest breeze made the bivvy bag flap around and when the wind picked up occasionally the noise is likened to ‘sleeping inside a potato chip packet’.

The next problem is light – at the time of the year (December) we were already experiencing 24 hours of daylight. I wore the headband over my eyes so that alleviated that problem.

During the night i came to realise that the bivvy bag doesn’t breath very well. Once I did get to sleep, it was short lived as I woke up with the strange sensation of snow falling on me. My breathing resulted in moisture condensing on the inside of the bag, then quickly freezing and flaking off with the slightest waft of breeze. Hence my exposed face was covered in ice and snow crystals.

Despite all of this it was an amazing experience and I woke at around 7am feeling quite refreshed. After packing everything away it was time for breakfast – Gideon had prepared a large pot of hot porridge.

6:38 am – the view from my bedroom
7:30 am – Beautiful ‘delta wing’ cloud over Shirokaya Bay

By 8:30am we were all watered fed and packed. The two groups that were formed yesterday were to stay the same and we would depart Brookes Hut 20 minutes apart. I was in the first group and over breakfast we had marked or intended route on our maps, including land marks that would confirm we were on the right path.

We left for Davis around 9am.

8:35 am – Packed and ready to go
9:12 am – Our first part of the journey was to walk along the shore of Shirokaya Bay until we reached a small island the was near the entrance to a valley that headed south

After reaching the island we decided to cut across some low hills and intersect the valley. This didn’t work to well. Although we came into a valley it wasn’t the right one – so again we decided to go cross country on a compass bearing – this required us to climb a steep ridge.

9:48 am – At the edge of a valley contemplating the steep climb up the ridge
9:57am – reassessing our options after reaching the top of the ridge

After reaching the top of the ridge – the plan was to follow the shallow valleys that generally were on a heading to the Southwest – the only disadvantage of travelling in valleys that the snow melt found its way into them forming little tarns which we had to make our way around. Also many sections of the ground were soggy under foot.

10:08 am – ‘Broken Heart’ rock

We came to a valley that was at 90º to the one we were travelling in. It was heading south and we could see a large lake at the end. Realising that it was Lake Stinear, we decided to change our plan – head to the lake and turn west and follow the northern shore.

10:54 am – The north shore of Lake Stinear is a well travelled route to and from Brookes Hut
11:20 am – View of the amazing dolerite dykes of the Vestfold Hills – taken from the North shore of Lake Stinear
12:07 pm – Maybe we should have travelled the South shore of Lake Stinear to look for buried treasure

After reaching the western end of Lake Stinear we travelled across and open wide valley that lie between Lake Stinear and Dingle Lake. As with a lot of the Vestfold Hills it was strewn with rocks and boulders. One has to be constantly aware of the next foot placement in this landscape.

12:26 pm – Travelling across the rock and boulder strewn landscape can be treacherous – the western end of Lake Stinear can be seen in the left of picture 

Finally we came to Dingle Road – it was now just a case of following the road for around 3.5 km to Davis.

1:06 pm – Stopping for a lunch break on Dingle Road 
1:20 pm – heading toward Davis Station along Dingle Road
1:25 pm – A geologists paradise

Dingle road was a nice change to walking over the stone and boulder strewn landscape. As we got closer to the station the road deteriorated – There was still a lot of last winters snow and ice across sections of the road. Other sections were under water and we had to go off-road to avoid getting bogged down in the mud.

1:46 pm – The ice and snow made the last sections of Dingle Road wet and muddy

We got back to Station at 2:15 pm. It was a successful Field Trip – a good preparation for the year ahead.

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Until Next Time…..


Quad Bike Training ….Take 2

During the Winter months at Davis the main mode of transport, besides walking, is quad bike travel. So before the sea ice disappeared in December the summer Field Training officers took 16 of the wintering expeditioners, including myself, on a day of quad bike training.

Before travelling we were introduced to all the bits and pieces that make up a quad bike

Before we actually get to ride we have know our way around the bike. They are fitted with high floatation tyres, surprisingly only inflated to max of 3 to 4 psi.

Another important factor is wearing of warm clothing and a special cold weather helmet.

After we were fuelled and ready to go we drove down to the edge of the sea ice.

Walking out on the se ice – finding the best way to negotiate the tide cracks

It is difficult to transfer the bikes across the threshold of where the ice meets the land. Although the ice has little movement horizontally it does move vertically with the rise and fall of the tides.

Once on the ice it is quite easy travelling, but the rider must be vigilant for thin ice and sastrugi . When travelling over ice it is wise to check the thickness of the ice. On one of the quad bikes was a ice auger for drilling so as to measure the thickness. A safe thickness for quad bike travel is 20cm (8 inches).

Drilling the sea ice to check the thickness

We travelled on a pre-determined route which had been installed on a GPS unit. We each had with us a hand held GPS, but 2 of the quad bikes had a GPS unit mounted onto the front. One of these bikes led the way. The maximum speed of travel is 30kph.

Heading out to the next way point

We turned right after Anchorage Island then headed parallel to the coast for around 6 km before heading right again into Long Fjord. At narrow sections of the fjord the ice tends to be slushy and not so stable. These narrow sections need to be negotiated very slowly and with great care. Two of the bikes went ahead to drill the ice of the ‘narrows’ to check for thickness.

Two of the group up ahead checking the thickness of the ice in a narrow section of Long Fjord
Large tide cracks in the ‘Narrows’ the route into Shirokaya Bay – note the 2 weddell seals on the left of the tide crack
Waiting for the 2 riders ahead to give the all clear that it is safe to proceed through the ‘Narrows’

After negotiating the Narrows we entered Shirokaya Bay and could see the bright red colour of Brookes Hut across the bay. We stopped at the hut for lunch.

We had to safely negotiate the tide cracks to get to Brookes Hut 

Brookes Hut was built in the early 70’s and is named after the person who built it. It is nestled on the shore of Shirokaya Bay. Originally and still at times today it is used for a base for science projects, including research on Deep Lake, which lies 1.3km to the south. Today it is mostly used for  recreation by expeditioners wanting to have a break from Davis Station.

An extract from the Brookes Hut log book – the last time I was here was on Boxing Day 2005

Brookes Hut is the closest of the recreational huts to Davis Station – the distance (if walking is around 13km and is usually via the shore of  Lakes Dingle, Stinear and Deep.

At Brookes Hut on a beautiful day – the dolerite dykes are a stark feature that criss cross the Vestfold Hills
The Iconic Brookes Hut
Leaving Brookes Hut after lunch

After a pleasant lunch at Brookes Hut we gathered at the quad bikes on the ice and carried out some training – setting up a bivvy between 2 quad bikes plus becoming familiar with the quad recovery kit. This included the use of ice screws as anchor points.

On the ice in front of Brookes Hut – Setting up a quad bivvy bag and becoming familiar with the quad recovery kit
Looking across a tide crack near Brookes Hut – The stark dolerite dykes (seams) of the Vestfold Hills

We made our way along the designated GPS route across Shirokaya Bay then turned right and made our way along a narrow frozen channel towards Long Fjord.

Looking back at Brookes Hut from the way point in Shirokaya Bay where we turned right and headed towards Long Fjord

We turned left into Long Fjord and along a wider section of the fjord we encountered a wide ‘creek’ or crack in the ice. Here we learned the technique of walking the quad bikes across this crack.

Long Fjord – the ‘creek in the ice that we had to negotiate by walking our quad bike across 

We eventually made our way into a little bay off Long Fjord and at the head of this bay, up a small rise was Ace Lake Apple – another small refuge, mostly used for science projects.

Here we learned another quad bike skill – riding up a slope covered with snow and ice. The quad bike is a ‘rider active’ vehicle so the body is used to counter- weight inclines.

Near Ace Lake Apple – learning to ride up (or down) a snow and ice covered slope
Near Ace Lake Apple – near the top of the slope with someone there to assist if need be

We had a short break at Ace Lake Apple.

Taking a break at Ace Lake Apple
Getting ready to ride my quad bike from Ace Lake Apple

Whilst heading out from Ace Lake Apple we spotted something on the opposite side of the bay. As we got closer we realised it was a few seals. A few of us parked our bikes about 200 metres away and walked across the ice. Kirsten (our station leader and a biologist) identified them as weddell seals.

A couple of weddell seals and a skua in attendance – near a tide crack 
The quad bikes parked on the ice while we checked out the weddell seals – Note: Ace Lake Apple can be seen in the left of the picture. Also lenticular cloud shows strengthening wind aloft heralding  the approach of weather system
Another weddell seal near the tide crack about 100 metres from the other 2 seals

With the weather system approaching, the wind started to increase and the temperature drop. It was decided to make our way back to station. We took a slightly different route back, which took us close to some embedded ice bergs.

The amazing lenticular cloud provides a backdrop for a couple of ice bergs embedded in the ice 

One of the features of the quad bikes here in the Antarctic is that the handlebars and throttle are heated -plus as you can see in the photo below there are insulated sleeves that also fit over the handlebars.

The quad bikes we have here in the Antarctic

There are tide cracks around all the ice bergs – so one of our last lessons was probing the ice near the bergs, using our ice axe.

Negotiating our way through some embedded ice bergs before heading back to station

Once we arrived back on station – a final part of the training was to re-fuel the bikes and carry out a final check on the bikes so they are ready for the next use.

Until Next Time……

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Sea Ice Drilling

This is a short post about an ongoing project of drilling and monitoring the sea ice off Davis Station.

The pink hägglund “Opal” out on the sea ice off Davis

Every week during the winter, the sea ice thickness is measured at seven waypoints as part of an ongoing monitoring programme (AAS #2500) with Dr Petra Heil at the University of Tasmania as the projects leader. This information is fed into a larger study of the sea ice characteristics around the Antarctic.

This winter the Weather Bureau wants this project to be part of our duties. So both Daleen (Bureau of Meteorology Technical engineer/observer)  and I (Senior Bureau of Meteorology Observer) went out with Ladge (Senior Science engineer) and Lotter (this winters Science Engineer) to learn the method of drilling and monitoring of sea ice.

Lotter and Ladge at first drill site

To have consistency in the project – 7 drill sites have been determined and several measurements are taken at each of these sites every week.

Ladge about to drill  a hole in the sea ice, while Lotter looks on and ready to write down the measurements

The auger (drill) is 2 metres long, though more sections can be added. Once a hole is drilled right through the ice – a string with an attachment is lowered down the hole and once it is through the attachment is opened and anchors at the bottom of the ice. The depth of the ice is then measure off the string. A second string tied to the attachment is pulled so it folds and can be pulled up through the hole.

Ladge measuring the thickness of thew snow covering the solid ice below

When the ice returns in late March or early April we start the measurements and monitoring. The 7 waypoints (measuring sites) are found by their GPS coordinates. A cane is then embedded in the ice so the site is easily located for the next reading in a week’s time.

View back to the station from one of the waypoints
One of the waypoints was adjacent to Bluff Island – 4km off Davis Station

All the measurements were fairly consistent with the ice thickness between 1.4 metres to 1.7 metres thick.

On route to the waypoints we passed close by some beautiful ice bergs embedded in the ice.

A adèlie penguin and ice berg just to the south of one of the waypoints

The sea ice was breaking out several kilometres from Station. As we drove further out we could not see the outer marker and we knew that the open water would not be to far ahead. So we stopped and Lotter climbed on top of the hägglund to try and spot the last waypoint cane.

Lotter trying to locate the last drilling waypoint
Me on the sea ice about 5 km from Davis Station

Lotter couldn’t locate the cane, but he could see the open water so it was considered that the last waypoint was in the ocean. During the months of November and December the sea ice eventually breaks out completely.

We turned around and headed back to station.

We passed another beautiful ice berg as we made our way back to Davis Station

Apart from the measurements a long term record of the sea ice depth and consistency -it is also vital for operational and recreational safe travel over the winter months as well as use of heavy equipment during the station re-supply.

Ice berg embedded in the fast ice off Davis Station – which can be seen in the background

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Until next time……


Davis – A November Snapshot

With re-supply over the station was still a hive of activity. The wintering crew of the 69th ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition were on their final day on station. While the new incoming 70th ANARE were already busy organising their busy program for the up-coming summer.

At meal times the mess was busy – this is the main cold porch to the LQ (Living Quarters)

We had a handover ceremony – with the out going station leader handing over the ‘keys to the station’ to Kirsten, the incoming SL. More or less after the ceremony the outgoing crew boarded the two hägglunds and made their way out across the sea ice to the Aurora Australis.

Some of the winter crew (ANARE 69)  and some ’round-trippers’ leaving  Davis in the new pink hägglund (Opal)
The last of ANARE 69 ready to board Opal for their trip out to the AA

The next day the Aurora Australis slowly turned around in the ice and then sailed down the path she had made a over a week earlier.

The Aurora Australis departing Davis

The busy summer had begun – It was going to be a hectic time on station in the up-coming weeks with many projects and programs to commence.

Apart from emails – the station white board is a good source of important notices and information
A few minutes before midnight – sunset would be at 14 minutes past midnight and then rise again at 0251 – it was strange not to see the AA parked in the ice

One of the first things to put in place is the fire  and emergency response team. So in the first week we had training sessions in fire response as well as the medical team (Lay Surgical Assistants) having a training session. The winter expeditioners were split into two Fire/ER teams.

Fire Team #1 practice their skills

Meanwhile the trades started their work programs.

Michael Goldstein (Goldie) work on a important piece of equipment – a drill rig – which will be used extensively for the “Modernisation Project”
Plant Operator – Doreen – uses a large excavator to clear snow and ice around the station

Because of extensive daylight hours – there was plenty of opportunity to explore the station and surrounds (Station Limits). On the 24th of November the sun set at 1:18am then rise again at 1:49am. Then it wouldn’t set again until the 19th of January.

Late afternoon sun still high in the sky to the East

One of my favourite tricks in photography is to take a picture of a reflection, particularly in small puddles of water. Some examples of this to follow.

A small puddle on the road – Science building on the left and Green store on the right
Arrival and Departure terminal at Davis Station
There is some very big machinery around Davis Station
A startling sunny day  looking towards the ‘pineapple’ – No sunset from today. This bulding was the field store when I was here in 2005 – it is now the band room
The Met building – where I work. The tall doors on the right is where we launch the weather balloons

As mentioned in a previous post – I am the Post Master on Station. We have a building which is  the Post Office. This small building has an amazing history – originally it was built on Heard Island in 1953 and housed the radio theodolite for tracking balloons. It was from a World War II design and prefabricated for easy construction at Heard Island. It was moved to Davis in 1959 after a brief stay at Mawson Station.

According to Davis Station Heritage Study (Rando & Davies 1996), this small, hexagonal shaped building was constructed of eight timber-framed, plywood-clad panels, filled with ‘Dufaylite’ insulation. It was used as a radio theodolite hut until 1962 and was then used mainly to store paint and clothing. When I was here in 2005 it was being used as the music/band hut.

The Post Office – originally constructed at Heard Island in 1953 and is the last surviving building of its type

There are also other old buildings around station – one of which is a remnant of the old Davis Station. It is now used as the ‘hobby’ hut and is stocked with tools and machinery for expeditioners to construct their hobby projects.

Hobby Hut – a remnant of the old Davis Station
Reflection of the Hobby Hut with the current Davis Station in the background

Once again I took out my Nikkor Micro 105mm f2.8 lens with the following result.

Amazing ice crystals sparkle in the bright sun light
The Davis Living Quarters and Operations building reflected in a small road side puddle

After re-supply many of the containers and equipment was stored in various places around the station until a place could be found for them. This included the beach in front of the station.

Grader with trailer to carry shipping containers parked on the beach

Included in the cargo to arrive on station were two work boats, which will be used to survey the surrounding  shipping channel and ocean floor in the local area of Prydz Bay.

Geo Science Australia owned a yellow boat called the Howard Burton. The second, red boat called the Wyatt Earp is owned and operated by the Royal Australian Navy.

Geo Science’s Howard Burton on the beach in front of the station
Royal Australian Navy’s  Wyatt Earp 
New skidoo arrives at the station – for use at Whoop Whoop (Davis skiway on the plateau)
The pink hägglund Opal returns from the seaice – where some AGSO’s (Air Ground Support Officer) have been dismantling the runway on the ice

One evening after work a group of 8, including myself, went on a walk around the Station Limits to the northwest of the station. We came back along the shore of Heidemann Bay.

“Oh what a feeling” moment out on our walk around station limits

There are some amazing rocks and rock formations out in the Vestfold Hills

This rock is around 1 metre in length – there was once some extreme molten heat in this part of the world
Smiley Face in the Vestfold Hills
Some Serious Rock Art in the Vestfold Hills near Davis
Another ice crystal photo with my Micro lens
Old Traverse Van at the back of Station

One of the jobs at the beginning of summer was to clean the windows while the temperatures were mostly above 0℃ (32℉). You would have thought that some of the external windows (double glazed) were inaccessible.

View from inside the LQ – Cleaning the external windows
View from the outside the LQ- Cleaning the external windows
Our incredible view from the lounge of the LQ

My job at Davis is to do weather observations. Part of the job is the release of weather balloons – this happens twice daily at 0615 and 1815 local Davis time which is 2315 UTC and 1115 UTC. At these times weather balloons are released and tracked all over the world, with the data fed into supercomputers to produce model profiles snapshots of the entire Earth’s atmosphere.

Beneath the balloon is attached a radiosonde – a instrument that transmits pressure, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and wind direction as it makes its way up through the atmosphere. It transmits this information back to base every second until the balloon bursts at anywhere between 25,000 and 37,000 metres (this takes between 1.25 and 2.5 hours).

On Wednesdays we send a bigger balloon with ozone senses.

Ozone radiosonde balloon release from Davis Weather Station

Thanks for your attention.

Please leave comments or questions.

Until Next time…..





Adélie penguins of Gardiner Island

Adélie penguin on Gardiner Island

Just after arriving at Davis and while the ice was still ‘in’ we had an opportunity to walk out to Gardiner Island and have a look at the large adélie penguin colony. We were taken out by Jen and Vas who had just completed a winter at the base and were field trained.

Negotiating a tide crack in the sea ice – on our way to Gardiner Island
Heading out across the sea ice to Gardiner Island on the left with Anchorage Island on the right
Passing a small ice berg embedded in the sea ice on our 4km walk to Gardiner island
Tide cracks surround this ice berg embedded in the sea ice

It is a 4 km walk across the sea ice to Gardiner Island. Long before we got to the island we could hear and smell the adélie penguins.

Adélie penguins live all around the Antarctic coast and on the sea ice. They come to their breeding grounds in October or November. The male builds a nest made of rocks. The female will lay one or two eggs.

Gardiner Island – adélie penguins sit on their rocky nests – a egg can be seen roughly in the middle
The male penguins wander far and wide for the choicest  rocks to build the nest – sometimes they steal them from other nests

The eggs are incubated for 32 – 34 days with both parents taking shifts on the nest. The shifts are usually around 12 days with the brooding parent not eating during that time, while the other parent is out foraging for food.

Scattered all over Gardiner Island were adélie penguins incubating eggs on rock nests 
Every available space is used for nesting – these penguins at the top of the ridge have a ‘room with a view’

All the while skuas gather at vantage points awaiting an opportunistic meal. Penguins that are distracted lose their eggs or young chicks to these skuas.

Antarctic skua on a high vantage point to keep a vigilant eye over the colony
A skua’s vigilance pays off
Magnificent view of Davis, the Vestfold Hills and the distant plateau from a high point on Gardiner Island

Based on a 2014 analysis (Wikipedia) there were 3.79 million breeding pairs of adélie penguins in 251 breeding colonies around Antarctica.

A larger flat area on high ground on the eastern side of Gardiner Island were many nesting penguins
An Adélie parent tends carefully re-positions its egg – a couple of welll constructed rock nests
View to the Northeast across a large group of nesting adélie penguins

Always on the periphery of the breeding colony are many young adult penguins and/or breeding penguins that have lost their eggs. They look for opportunities to steal a nest.

Adélie penguins on Gardiner Island
A nesting adélie penguin shows its brood pouch – if you take a close look you will see that it has 2 eggs
Life and Death in Antarctica – this dead chick may have been here for years
View of the station from a high vantage point on Gardiner Island
View to the Southwest from Gardiner Island

The skua’s also hunt snow petrels, sometimes taking them in mid-air. When they catch a snow petrel they will eat everything except the bones and the wings. It is not uncommon to find pairs of snow petrel ‘angel wings’ around the Vestfold Hills.

Snow petrel ‘angel wings’ after being eaten by a skua
On the way back to station we passed another ice berg embedded in the sea ice – again surrounded by tide cracks

The chicks start to hatch just before Christmas. Once hatched they stay in the nest for around 22days then leave and join other chicks in crèches. The chicks then moult into their juvenile plumage and go out to sea after 50 to 60 days – some time in March. All the while the adult parents take turns feeding – going out and fishing, feeding themselves and adding reserves to feed the chick or chicks.

The next time I was at Gardiner Island was early February when the chicks were 5 to 6 weeks old and in their crèches.

5 to 6 week old chicks in a crèche on Gardiner Island in early February
The chicks gather in big crèches while most of the adults are out fishing occasionally returning to feed their chick or chicks
2 chicks chasing their parent for a feed
Plenty of adélie penguin chicks waiting to be fed
Come the time – these chicks have a long haul down to the sea
Adèlie penguins with their chicks on Gardiner Island
The breeding and non-breeding adult adélie penguins seemed to use this natural rocky ramp to enter and exit the water

Penguins in general are a hardy lot and show amazing agility, strength and ingenuity to traverse their harsh and extreme environment. They are truly one of the wonders of nature.

“Follow Me – I know where all the good food is”


The water temperature is around -1ºC – sea water freezes at -1.8ºC


Non breeding adélie penguins hang out at the waters edge

The following photographs of adélie penguins were taken (by me) when I spent a summer as a weather forecaster at Casey Station in 2007/08.

Adélie penguin near Shirley Island (Casey) 2007
Leaving the water – Shirley Island near Casey Station 2007
Onto the sea ice – Shirley Island near Casey Station 2007
Airborne onto the sea ice – Shirley Island near Casey Station 2007

Enjoy and please share and/or send comments

Until Next Time……..