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

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Until Next Time……..



Parked in the Ice

After arriving at Davis Station – one of the most amazing sights is to see the Aurora Australis parked in the ice.

The Davis re-supply takes place over the sea ice. At the 3 other Australian Antarctic bases the re-supply takes place over water.

As mentioned in previous posts – the AA finally made it through the fast ice to a location at which it was safe to carry out the re-supply of cargo and fuel.

As there was not enough beds on station – some people were still sleeping on the AA and coming ashore for ‘day trips’. A couple of days after arriving at Davis I was fortunate enough to get a ride to the ship in a hägglund to bring a couple of day trippers back.

Driving out over the sea ice to the Aurora Australis
On the way out to the AA – passing Anchorage Island

The Aurora was parked around 3.5 km off Davis – re-supply was in full swing and they had run the fuel line from the ship to the station fuel tanks.

The Aurora Australis in the ice – the fuel line can be seen on the starboard side

At the stern of the ship was an open channel – the ships path through the fast ice. There were many adélie penguins resting on the ice alongside this channel.

A gathering of adélie penguins alongside the channel cut through the ice by the AA

Over 3 days around 830,000 litres of diesel was transferred from the AA to the station fuel tanks.

The fuel line extends from the starboard side of the Aurora Australis
The bright red/orange colour of the ship is a stark contrast to the snow and ice. Also the blue hägglund is small against the imposing size and shape of the AA
Amazing to see the Aurora Australis from this perspective
Many of the local adélie penguin population came to take a closer look at fuel line and the big orange thing that appeared in their world
Adélie penguins make their way to the stern to where the open water may supply a short cut to the open waters
Our blue taxi awaits


I managed to go out to the Aurora Australis a second time, but this time a group of us walked out across the sea ice on under a beautiful, clear and sunny sky.

Walking across the sea ice towards the AA – following the channel made by the fuel line

On the way out to the ship we came across a group of adélie penguins. in their myopic state they come towards us – thinking that we are also penguins. Then they suddenly realise that we are not what we seem.

Adélie penguins coming to check us out
A picture tells a thousand words
An impressive sight out on the ice
A pair of beautiful adélie penguins 
The ice bergs look amazing 

As we got nearer to the AA – one of the crew came out towards us. It turned out to be the captain Gerry O’ – it was great to see him.

Captain Gerry O’ and I pose in front of the AA
Re-supply was still in full swing and going well
The AA looks impressive from every angle
The pink hägglund “Opal” was being used as a taxi

I got a ride back to the station in ‘Opal’ the pink hägglund – I had to be back to open the Post Office. The mail bag would depart with the Aurora Australis.

Later the same evening I had one last trip out to the ship – this time I brought along all the postal stuff (first day covers, stamp packs, and post cards) for the crew to purchase and send.

Last view form the Aurora Australis trawl deck

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Until next time……


Welcome to Davis

Stepping out of the helicopter onto the helipad at Davis – I had this overwhelming sense of familiarity.

As we walked down the road to the Living Quarters (LQ) It was amazing to look out across the frozen expanse of Prydz Bay. The Aurora Australis could be seen amongst the distant icebergs slowly making its way to its ‘parking area’.

The AA making it’s way through the sea ice to its ‘parking area’. The winter crew has graded a road to and from this parking area

This is the third time I had been to Davis. First as a forecaster during the southern summer in 2005/06 and the 2nd time was on my way home from Casey Station in 2008.

Most of the buildings were familiar, though when I stepped into the new Living Quarters it was like stepping into a ski resort.

After some familiarisation I brought my gear up to my room (44) in the SMQ (Sleeping and Medical Quarters.

This is what I was greeted with when I entered my room
The view from Room 44 in the SMQ

After some lunch in the spacious dining area – I was included in a group of new arrivals to go through station induction, which concluded with a tour of the station.

Station tour – looking west – The ANARESAT radome on the left, the yellow Operations building in the centre and the corner of the Green LQ on the right
Meanwhile re-supply was in full swing – one of the helicopters sling loading a cage pallet

We entered a new building that housed the brand new waste water treatment plant – a state of the art treatment facility that is of such good design that it is said to produce water that is of drinking quality – though this will not be its purpose.

Part of the new Davis Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTP)
Water tanks in the Tank House

Next stop on the tour was the EVS (Emergency Vehicle Shed) This is where Davis’s version of a fire truck – which is a Hägglund with the trailer converted to a water tanker and pumping station. Also in the EVS is the SAR (Search and Rescue) Hägglund and to SAR Quad bikes.

The Fire Hägglund and the SAR Quad bikes in the EVS

Continuing our tour we entered as many of the buildings as was safe to do so.

there are 3 Hägglunds on station – this blue one would soon return to Australia on the Aurora Australis

Many of the buildings are made up of modules which are reconfigured shipping containers.

A bit of comic relief in the Science Project marshalling building (shared with Field Store and Boating shed)  – note this building is mostly constructed with shipping containers

There are also many large vehicles. These give the station the look of a mine site.

A serious fork lift – complete with snow chains
There are many shipping containers scattered all around the station – mostly used for storage

At all four Australian Antarctic bases the biggest building on station is usually the Green Store. This is where most the supplies for the year are kept. The Green Store at Davis also has a Gymnasium, spa and sauna room. Because of its height it also has a decent climbing wall.

Inside the Green Store – several huge storage racks which are moveable on rails. There is a fork lift which can reach the highest shelves
Inside the Green Store – The awesome climbing wall on the right and on the left access to the gym, sauna and spa

When we arrived at Davis the summer melt had just begun. On the 11th of November the sun was set at 11:25 pm and rose on the 12th at 3:38 am. In the hours between sunset and sunrise the sun was only just below the horizon, so during these hours it was twilight.

The sun would set for the last time at 1:11 am on the 24th of November then rise at 1:56 am – from this time the sun would be above the horizon until the 18th of January 2017.

Snow drift near a small fuel tank next to the Science building
During the winter season the snow would accumulate on the lee side of buildings, hills or any large object – this is known as a blizz tail
Snow sculptured by the wind around some of the site services – The pipes carry water, waste water and fuel between buildings – these are well insulated and have heated wires (traces) through them to stop them from freezing
Blizz tail in the lee of the old, unused LQ (Living Quarters)
A different view of the blizz tail in the lee of the old LQ
Wind sculptured blizz tail in the lee of the new LQ
Semi permanent blizz tail of Anchorage Island – about 2 km from station
The Aurora Australis close to its parking spot on the 12th of November – view taken from in front of the Weather (BoM) building showing the Pineapple and old Weather balloon building (red)

There is plenty of International co-operation in Antarctica. On the 12th of November we had a Chinese Basler aircraft land on the sea ice in front of the station. The Basler The plane is flown by Canadian pilots. This aircraft was used to ferry expeditioners and some supplies between Casey, Davis and Mawson stations.

The black flags mark the skiway/runway on the sea ice in front of Davis Station. In the background are hundreds of icebergs embedded in the sea ice
The Basler approaches the skiway from the south
The Basler just about to land on the sea ice runway
The CHINARE Basler has landed
Expeditioners await the arrival of passengers from the Basler

Whilst the station was in full re-supply mode – I was in the Met office for a few days with the outgoing Met OIC (Craig) as he handed over the Met office duties. This is quite a intensive time on station with so much happening.

Wide-angle phot0 of some of the weather instruments – Stevenson Screen and snow guage
Another wide-angle – showing the anemometer, Craig and the blue Met building

During some down time – I managed to have short walks to familiarise myself with the station.

The AA in its parking spot about 3.4km off station. In the foreground big tide cracks and ridges can be seen
Standing in front of the Davis sign post

For seven days the station was very busy with re-supply and re-fueling. Around 900000 litres of diesel fuel was transferred from the ship to the station in a 48 hour operation. Also all the food and other supplies came ashore and were packed away for the up-coming year.

All hands on deck – unloading produce from a sea container into the cold store beneath the LQ
A brand new ‘ferrari red’ hägglund arrives on station

A very important vehicle arrived on station – a pink hägglund called Opal – a tribute to those whose lives have been affected by cancer. There will be more about Opal in a future blog post.

Opal the pink hägglund arrives across the sea ice to Davis Station
Opal arrives at the station

I came back to my room after a shift and found I could not enter. All my gear had arrived and as a joke they piled all the boxes and crates in my doorway. It was exciting unpacking and setting up my own space.

Unpacking all my boxes and crates

one of my jobs on station is Post Office Manager. in the middle of re-supply I received the crate filled with postal stuff – including First Day of issue envelopes and stamps. It also included all the packaging and other paraphernalia needed to send letters and packages back to Australia and the rest of the world. That night I opened the Post Office.


Late one evening after 10pm the conditions outside were superb – so I went for a walk around station taking photographs, trying all the lens that I brought. It was a beautiful still and sunny night.

Looking out over the sea ice at the distant ice bergs 


The soon to be RTA’d (Return To Australia) red hägglund parked near the link (disused) between the SMQ and the old LQ
Icicles form on the snow and ice that has been graded from the roadway – The AA in its parking spot
The Davis sign next to the Operations Building
A closer view of the Davis sign
The LQ (darker green) and the SMQ
I love my new Nikkor Micro 105mm f2.8

Next Time – The Aurora Australis parked in the Ice….

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