This week at Davis: 16 December 2016

As we approach mid-summer, things are getting busy on station: the Met team are finally all here, the aircraft ground support officers are working out of Woop Woop and the physical scientists are finishing data collection while the sea ice is still present.

Team Met is complete

With the arrival of Daleen last week and Rachel, the senior forecaster completing her field training, the summer meteorological (Met) team is now complete and the full program will be up and running in a few days.

The Met building is now humming along nicely with most of the stores that arrived on V1 safely secured in different parts of the building as well as a shelf in the Green Store.

It has also been a time for the members of team Met to get some kilometres into their legs. Damo and Aaron ventured out to Law Cairn. Then Rachel, Damo and Aaron joined others on a couple of walks out to Gardner Island and Anchorage Island.

Damo, Barry and Rachel also had an opportunity to acquaint their senses with the odoriferous and visually vibrant place that is the Old Wallow. After taking in all the sights and smells we attempted the arduous climb up to the Lookout – the view was magnificent.

Meanwhile back at the office – the forecasts issued by Damo and Rachel have been fine, factual and favourable and have been well received by all who use them for planning their every day work and recreation.

The observers, Barry, Aaron and lately Daleen have been launching two balloons per day. Attached to the balloon is a small package (radiosonde) which has sensors and a GPS on-board. The radiosonde transmits vital information of wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure as the balloon rises up through the atmosphere. The data is sent to the Bureau of Meteorology’s super computer in Melbourne, where it is used to model the atmosphere for the future and also as an ongoing record of the climate.

Aaron and now Daleen have been maintaining all the equipment in the Met building to keep the office and program running smoothly.

Cheers and Season's Greetings

Team Met

Daleen, Barry, Damo, Rachel and Aaron are lying in a half circle, on the ground, looking at the sunshine recorder. This device looks like a hybrid between a sextant and a crystal ball.
Team Met for the summer: Daleen, Barry, Damo, Rachel and Aaron
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Two sunshine recording devices, on a pole, held upright by gyropes.
As we are south of the Antarctic Circle we require two sunshine…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Aaron is standing outside the met building, dressed in safety gear. He
Aaron launches the Wednesday ozone sonde balloon.
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Rachel is standing on a rocky hilltop, looking out over the Vestfold hills with her binoculars.
Rachel captures the grandeur of the ice plateau across the Vestfold Hills.
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
A skua is flying in an Adélie penguin colony. In the background are penguins sitting on nests.
Skua in flight above the penguins at Gardner Island.
(Photo: Damien Everett)
A skua is in the penguin colony, looking for feeding opportunities
Skua at Gardner Island
(Photo: Damien Everett)
An Adélie penguin is sitting on its nest, incubating its eggs. Only one of which is visible.
Adélie penguin sitting on eggs.
(Photo: Damien Everett)
A mumified elephant seal flipper, where the skeleton has been exposed, is lying on the ground.
Skeletal remains of an elephant seal flipper embedded in a bank of…
(Photo: Damien Everett)

Woop Woop Domestic Terminal - Antarctica

Imagine a state-of-the-airport surrounded with the latest technologies and modern comforts to get you to your next destination. Fast, reliable WiFi, duty free shopping, Frequent Flyer lounges where you can separate yourself from those flying in the lesser classes. Fine dining, several bars to choose from. Hell, even just fresh coffee. Oh and no delays… yeah imagine that. Just for second.

Now let me tell you about Woop Woop or Davis Plateau ski-landing area (DPSLA) as it’s formally known. Which, by the way has none of that. It’s bitterly cold, it’s nearly always windy, and the Frequent Flyer lounge is a shipping container which may or may not be heated depending on the serviceability of the generator on the day. Don’t worry though; we do supply a bucket if you need to go to the toilet before your flight.

Every year around the middle of November to early December the sea ice runway out the front of Davis station begins to melt and there comes a point where it is no longer safe to land aircraft. It’s around this time that the AGSOs (Aviation Ground Support Officers) are sent up to Woop Woop to begin construction of the aerodrome.

Woop Woop is probably (I haven’t actually checked) one of the most remote airfields on earth. It is around a 40 kilometres flight from station, and once the sea ice melts it is only accessible via helicopter. This is a logistical nightmare when you’re trying to transport large amounts of cargo and people.

Depending on weather, snow conditions, the state of the machinery and a million other factors, construction could take anywhere from three days to three weeks to complete. This year, mostly due to having an astounding team we managed to get a safe landing surface within a couple of days. Likely to be a record time, and much faster than any other AGSO team in previous years.

Construction of the aerodrome is done using two snow groomers. Most of the work is completed by dragging huge steel beams behind the groomers which helps cut the large snow caps (sastrugi) before doing the more meticulous work using the blade and then using the tiller for the final finish. At the end of it, you have a smooth hardened surface of snow for aircraft to land safely on.

This year Woop Woop is 2200 metres long in anticipation of a US Air Force Hercules LC-130 flight later in the season. We will also have the Basler (Turbo-prop DC3), Twin Otter and Squirrel use the airfield.

Because of the location and the logistics of Woop Woop, quite often the AGSOs will spend the night (or several… often several) in a camp placed near the runway. This consists of two living vans, each with four beds. Space is extremely tight, and the food is usually two-minute noodles or ration packs. Although if you bribe the chefs sometimes they will send up something a bit better.

It’s not all bad though, not too many people can say they get to fly in a helicopter to work every day. It sure beats the morning traffic in Melbourne!

Matt

Aerial view of Woop Woop - four shipping containers and some equipment - sitting in snow, on the Antarctic plateau
Woop Woop before the camp is repositioned and constructed.
(Photo: Matt Donoghue)
Ground shot of the helicopter sitting on a groomed landing area. Behind are the shipping containers, now accessible as the blizz tails have been removed.
Woop Woop after construction.
(Photo: Ross Nimmo)
Ross is clearing snow with a groomer, in order to make a runway where planes can land
Ross hard at work in the groomer.
(Photo: Matt Donoghue)
Matt is holding the sling line which is connected to the helicopter hovering above him. He is walking towards a cage which he will connect to the sling line.
Matt hooking up a sling load.
(Photo: Chris Gallagher)
The team of four aircraft ground support officers: Matt, Lance, Trevor and Ross, pose in front of a tied down helicopter
Aircraft ground support officer team: Matt, Lance, Trevor and Ross (on the…
(Photo: Wade Maurer)
Trevor is carrying markers to put out on the ice runway. He is standing next to a Hagglunds.
Trevor placing out the runway markers.
(Photo: Matt Donoghue)
Lance is inside one of the living vans at Woop Woop. There is a tiny kitchen area and a pantry. It looks like the inside of a caravan.
Lance inside one of the two living vans at Woop Woop.
(Photo: Matt Donoghue)
The Basler aircraft, fitted with skis, taking off from the Woop Woop skiway.
DC3 CHINARE Basler taking off from Woop Woop.
(Photo: Matt Donoghue)

Trip to Kazak, Pintado and Bluff islands in Opal, the new Pink Hagg

The return of the warmer summer weather and glorious summer days was very welcome after the cold dark winter, however it could also mean travel on the sea ice may not be possible for much longer.  I decided it was getting urgent to return the Kazak Island automated sea ice camera to the island after some servicing and also to replace its faulty solar panel with a new one.

We had received a new Pink Hägg on V1, so as far as I know I had the honour of taking it out on its first trip off station. As everything was getting rather busy it was decided to kill two birds with one stone so to speak, and Lötter (the incoming Davis engineer) and myself took two seabird scientists Louise and Anna along to investigate some sightings of pintados (cape petrels) at Pintado Island, as well as investigate some possible locations for a base station to track sea birds at Bluff island.

The summer has also meant the return of the wildlife which was a very welcome change after eight or so months of winter where we were the only sign of life in the vast expanse of the Antarctic landscape around Davis. We now have had large numbers of Adélie penguins as well as seals and all the sea birds returning to the landscape around Davis.

The weather was on our side and we had clear blue skies for the entire trip. Re-installation of the automatic camera went smoothly and we also took the opportunity to check the automatic weather station while Louise and Anna had a look at the Adélie penguins nesting on Kazak.

Next on the list was Pintado Island to have a look at the cape petrels (pintados).  They were there but the island was too steep for reasonable access to be able to tag any of them. However, as Pintado Island is close to the side of the Sørsdal glacier, we were able to enjoy some spectacular views of the glacier and many photos were taken (You can never have enough photos of the glaciers).

Last on the list was Bluff Island only about three kilometres north of Davis. Bluff is much more accessible and we parked the Hägg near the tide crack and this time we were able climb up to have a look at the cape petrels and find possible sites for a base station that would be able to capture the data from the tiny trackers that some birds would be tagged with. Once again some spectacular views and far too many photos taken.

Ladge

An Adélie penguin is standing on the sea-ice. In the background is a large glacier.
Adélie penguins beside the Sørsdal Glacier near Kazak Island
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
A camera is on a tripod, located on an Antarctic island, aimed towards penguins which are out of view of the photo.
Automated camera re-installed keeping an eye on the sea ice looking NE…
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
The photo is taken from a high point, looking down on the pink Hägg, travelling on sea-ice.
The Pink Hägg parked up at the tide crack on Kazak Island.…
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
A small colony of nesting Adélie penguins, on a rocky and icy island. The automatic weather station is seen in the background on a ridge.
Adélie penguins on their nests with the automatic weather station in the…
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
There is a pool of crystal blue water, lying on top of sea-ice, abutting an Pintado Island.
Melt pool and cape petrel at Pintado Island.
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
A photo taken from a high point of the pink Hägg travelling over sea-ice,
The Pink Hägg parked on the ice at Bluff island.
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)