This week at Davis: 2 June 2017

This week at Davis we're enjoying the Dreamtime at the G footy match for Reconciliation Week, experiencing our third blizzard, watching the sea ice and anticipating the winter darkness.

Dreamtime at the G and Davis station!

It’s hard being a Richmond supporter. For any of you readers out there who support the Tigers faithfully, you know my pain and anguish. They lift you up, to then drop you right back down again season after season. Yet your faith never surrenders and your hope never diminishes. Yellow and black, through and through. The only thing harder than being a Tiger’s supporter, is being the only one at Davis station in Antarctica!

The weekend just gone marked the AFL’s indigenous round which recognises indigenous players and their culture in the sport. It’s a recognition of how the Aboriginal people have helped create the AFL into an exciting game to watch but more importantly, stands to show that the Australian people are supportive of our heritage and stance against racism.

Some of the AFL supporters here on station thought that with the help of the Australian Antarctic Division, we might be able to show our support of this cause. The 'Dreamtime at the G' match, between the mighty Richmond Tigers and exciting Essendon Bombers on Saturday night, is the highlight of the round. Luckily, we have two supporters from either team on station and we took the chance to show our support to our clubs and the indigenous people.

The only problem, there is no live AFL here on station so we had to wait till Sunday evening to watch the game, which was promptly provided to us by our fantastic comms officer, Rob.

Many a sledge occurred between myself and Fitzy during that game with some other team’s supporters also having a dig at my support! But like I always knew they would, the Tigers came through for the win. Now Fitzy has to do my next Saturday duty… cleaning the downstairs sleeping/medical quarters!

Carn the Tigers!

Bryce (Electrician)

Bryce and Fitzy are holding the aboriginal flag in front on the Living Quarters building. Bryce is in Richmond gear while Fitzy is wearing Essendon gear.
Bryce (Richmond) and Fitzy (Essendon) show their support for Reconciliation Week and…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Bryce (Richmond) and Fitzy (Essendon) firing each other up before the game.
Bryce and Fitzy firing up before the game.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Barry B2 (Geelong Cats), Bryce (Richmond Tigers), Shoey (West Coast Eagles), Fitzy (Essendon Bombers) and Barry B1 (West Coast Eagles), show their true colours.
Barry B2 (Geelong Cats), Bryce (Richmond Tigers), Shoey (West Coast Eagles), Fitzy…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Bryce in his Richmond gear on a cold day at Davis.
Bryce proud to be a Richmond supporter.
(Photo: Barry Becker)

The swinging weather moods of Davis

From when we arrived at Davis in early November 2016, the weather has been relatively benign and calm with extended periods of amazing weather interspersed with short bursts of snow and the occasional bout of windy weather. We even had a day of freezing rain which deposited rime ice on windward sides of buildings and infrastructure.

Then on the last day of April we experienced our first blizzard accompanied by a wind gust of 78 knots (145 kph). We were all excited to have experienced our first blizzard. We also thought this doesn’t happen that often at Davis – only nine blizzards for the whole of 2016.

The weather returned back to normal with lighter winds every day. As the days were getting shorter and the sea ice thickening. Almost two weeks into May the temperatures dropped to the minus 20’s (degrees Celsius).

With all this lovely weather we were all anticipating trips out to the huts. So two weeks into May there was a trip planned by three expos to Bandits Hut. The forecast weather was for the winds to pick up late on Sunday, so plenty of time to get back to station. This trip became the subject of last weeks story 'Weekend at Bandits'.

The winds did pick up and so did the snowfall, resulting in our second blizzard. Conditions at Bandits were even worse as the wind and blowing snow lasted into the early part of the next week.

The day after the blizzard the station took on a very winter–like look with big drifts and blizz tails in the lee of every building. During Monday the sky cleared giving us keen photographers a chance to get out and take some photos.

Again some of us were anticipating a trip the following weekend. The 'weather God’s' saw to it that this trip wouldn’t take place. On Saturday we experienced our third blizzard in as many weeks, with the wind peaking at 86 knots (159 kph). The winds this time only eased slowly over the next five days.

The weather models were then forecasting another period of high winds. So just as the winds eased a little during the week – they ramped up again on Thursday night and continued through to only ease again on Monday morning. This time the wind peaked at 81 knots. No blizzard was recorded, because there was no loose snow to blow around. As a result only the loose dust and sand was blown away – transforming the landscape into a brown dirty scene.

As I type the wind has picked up to gale force, but the weather models are predicting a week ahead of light conditions – here’s hoping as I anticipate going out this weekend.

Barend (Barry) Becker (Met Senior Observer)

Blizzard swirling snow around the Living Quarters building.
Blizzard swirling snow around the living quarters building.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Taken during the blizzard. Lots of snow being blown around has reduced visibility. Building outlines are just detected through the white haze.
Blizzard reducing visibility around station.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The view from inside the sleeping quarters building during the blizzard: glass covered in snow. (The plant is fake).
The view from inside the sleeping quarters building during the blizzard. (The…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The day after the blizzard the LQ building is covered on the outside with snow. A large blizz tail has also formed.
The LQ the day after the blizzard. Buildings are covered in snow…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Deep snow deposited around the site services after the second blizzard.
Deep snow deposited around the site services after the second blizzard.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Snow sculptured by the wind. A pointed blizz tail, which looks architectural, is downwind of the incinerator building.
Snow sculptured by the wind.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Sculptured blizz tail near the heli pad. This one more rounded in shape.
Sculptured snow near the helipad.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Dirty blizz tail near the Emergency Power House after the third big blow.
Dirty blizz tail near the emergency power house after the third big…
(Photo: Barry Becker)

Sea ice situation

Last week I did an article on Hägglunds vehicle recovery and mentioned the possibility of the sea ice breaking out and why we need to prepare for such events. Well, I'm no prophet but it actually came true over the weekend. The winds actually blew out a lot of our sea ice! Jinx!

I have written about the A–factor previously; [Aye–fak–ter]

'A–factor; A set of conditions unique to Antarctica. Similar to Murphy's Law. Conditions are variable enough that no forecasting can accurately predict when they will change. Things in general take much longer to complete than ordinarily. When you lose something, it stays lost.'

Now, in this case, while the winds were predicted, the sea ice blowing out was not! Around Davis the ice is usually very stable due to being 'locked in' by islands and grounded icebergs, but the prolonged period of high winds (which were all over East Antarctica at the time, check out Mawson's story on the Rumdoodle Hut) has caused the ice to break out. This happens by breaking away pieces of the ice from the edge which then retreats back. This is fairly common, but for it to break out the extent it has over the weekend is quite rare.

Due to this, we are unable to follow our predetermined way point route to the north, to access the plateau and fjords as some of the waypoints are now located in water! We have other routes we can take and tomorrow a team of us will head out and survey alternative routes via the coast, testing the ice as we ride. We will ensure this new route is safe to travel on and record it so it can be used accurately in the coming months, hopefully the winds abate and new sea ice forms for us to use.

Tune in next week for an account of that expedition and test results.

Marc (Mechanic)

Looking through the flag poles to the sea ice south of station.
Looking through the flag poles to the sea ice south of station.
(Photo: Marc Mills)
Sea ice to the south west of station. You can see open water out by the icebergs.
Sea ice to the south west of station. You can see open…
(Photo: Marc Mills)
The open water out front of station. Anchorage Island is on the right of the photo.
The open water out front of station. Anchorage Island is on the…
(Photo: Marc Mills)
The ice edge just off station in Prydz Bay.
The ice edge just off station in Prydz Bay.
(Photo: Marc Mills)

Winter has arrived

As we come to the end of May, we’re now entering the heart of winter in Antarctica.

What does that look like?
The days are getting shorter. We’re losing 15 minutes of light each day. Today the sun will rise at 12.56 pm and set at 2.34 pm; so 1 hour and 37 minutes of daylight. So when I look out my office window in the afternoon to a magical peachy sky, I’m not always sure if it’s a prolonged sunrise or an early sunset. There are cloud shapes, formations and colours that we’ve not seen before. Peachy pink coloured skies with bizarrely shaped clouds. The more we learn about them the more we want to see.

The dark periods are also darker than you’d expect. On overcast days there is a sense of vast darkness that’s hard to describe. When it’s clear though, the stars are quite extraordinary. You can see the Milky Way and the stars are a bright white. You can also see a couple of satellites. Lots of wishes have been made on these ‘falling’ stars no doubt. Then there are the auroras. So far they’ve been more of the wispy cloud variety, best captured by camera. Last night, however, we had an explosion of aurora curtains. You could see the green and magenta hues. You need to walk up the road to get away from the building lights to really see the colours of the aurora. So we walk around in the dark, staring up at the sky, until your face goes numb or your hands get too cold, and more clothes are required.

How does it feel?
We’re half way into our time on station. Six months have passed already and we have another six months to go. This time goes quickly here but slower at home. Loved ones are missing us and we’re missing them. We’re checking in on each other while making sure everyone has some space. We’re on the cusp of the real deal. The period of total darkness. This will take place this coming Saturday, 3rd of June, when the sun sets for the last time in 37 days. It will reappear on the 10th of July, when day length will be less than 32 minutes. I’m missing the light already and it hasn’t even gone yet. Actually it’s more that I’m excited in anticipating its return. Already the time of day is confusing. Sometimes you have a moment when you don’t know if it’s early in the morning or late at night. Peoples’ sleep is starting to get affected. Overall though we’re excited.

The other main feeling is coldness. Davis is considered as the 'Riviera of the South'. It has the mildest climate of the three continental stations. That said, Davis has been consistently colder than Casey and Mawson over the last couple of months. We’ve quickly become conditioned though. Anything higher than −18°C is considered mild. More than −10°C is balmy and of concern as it usually means a blizzard is on its way. Below −30°C is record breaking for our group and therefore OK too. The wind blowing less than 30 knots is also pleasant. 60 knots no longer phases us. More than 80 knots is exciting but we don’t envy the others with their 100+ knots when you’re building–bound for days.

Another feeling is the connection we have with the environment, especially the sea ice. Our sea ice is our highway to huts, islands, the plateau and recreation time. It is mind–blowing to be travelling over sea ice by foot, quad bike or Hägglunds and know you are walking on frozen ocean. It is the eighteenth character in our wintering party.

Last weekend we had a blizzard and lost a substantial amount of sea ice from the front of station. This was a section of our recreation area and the start of our highways to the local fjords. As the wind was gusting on Sunday morning, people stared out the windows in shock and disbelief that so much of the sea ice had broken off and left us. The icebergs were surrounded by open water. Can you grieve the loss of sea ice – it seems you can. A day later when the temperature dropped, the sea ice started to reform and all was well again. The good news being that the ice that remains is thicker than ever and will still allow some travel while the other ice reforms.

Joy of anticipation is another emotion. The midwinter celebration is also on the horizon. We are starting to organise activities in earnest. Invitations are being made. A play has been written. Most of the team is in the play so I think we’ll need to take turns to be the audience.

The play is the classic Cinderella (as Mawson’s team performed), but with a Davis twist. The script has the voice of our team members and is a bit cheeky, written to bring us delight and make us laugh. There will also be a performance from the band. Some people are learning instruments for the first time just for the gig. Lots of good life skills to pick up on an Antarctic station. The other big item on the day is the swim. This has been talked about ever since before we left Hobart. Now knowing what −30°C feels like however, puts another twist on it. The idea of taking your clothes off at that temperature and then plunging into the ocean seems ridiculous – yet still tempting.

You will of course hear more about these activities as they take place, but for now we’re enjoying the journey that winter is taking us on and invite you along for the ride.

Kirsten (Station Leader)

The sun is rising, lighting up the snow to a gentle pink colour out the front of Davis station.
Sunrise at Davis.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Kirsten enjoying the sunset over Prydz Bay.
Kirsten enjoying the sunset over Prydz Bay.
(Photo: Christopher Darlington)
Kirsten enjoying a recreational walk in minus twenty degrees. You can see the hair on her eyelashes and eyebrows are icy, not to mention the beanie and facemask.
Kirsten enjoying a recreational walk in −20C. Nothing beats a good face…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Davis - home. Snow covered Vestfold Hills behind station and the beloved sea-ice in Prydz Bay.
Davis - home. The snow covered Vestfold Hills behind station, along with…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Four icebergs are seen frozen into the packice.
Icebergs and sea ice. Some of the best things about Davis.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
An image of three icebergs, all on different angles, looking like abstract art.
Iceberg architecture.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
A pink sky at sunset over the icebergs off station.
Pink skies at sunset.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Dramatic sunset over the icebergs as an orange light beams through the dark grey clouds.
Dramatic sunset over the icebergs.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
An orange sunset over the icebergs.
An orange sunset over the icebergs.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A cloudy orange sunset over the icebergs.
A cloudy orange sunset over the icebergs.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The night sky at Davis station, the stars seem extra bright.
The night sky at Davis station.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A bright green aurora lighting up the sky above Davis.
An aurora lighting up the sky above Davis.
(Photo: Barry Becker)