This week at Davis: 28 April 2017

This week at Davis we're having a memorable ANZAC Day, visiting Brookes Hut, learning about quad bike recovery techniques and making hydrogen on station.

ANZAC Day

This ANZAC Day we found ourselves at Davis station. We were a long way from home but the ANZAC tradition held fast, as it does for most Australians and New Zealanders wherever they find themselves in the world on that day. Many of the polar explorers, including Mawson and his team, along with many early Davis expeditioners, were military men. So there is a strong tie, even in the polar regions to our military history.

The day started at 9 am with a gunfire coffee, with your choice of rum and watching the dawn service from Sydney recorded earlier in the morning. Then at 10:01 am, we had our own dawn service. The sky was a mix of pastel pink, lilac and blue and it was a crisp −17ºC. We raised the Australian, New Zealand and Aboriginal flags, had a formal address from the station leader, listened to some readings, played the Last Post, sang the Australian and New Zealand national anthems and had a group photo under the flags.

Then it was back to the mess to warm up and get ready for a quiet afternoon. The wind picked up to 40 knots, blowing away our beautiful powder snow from the building roofs. It looked like the buildings were emitting smoke, but it was just billowing snow. The afternoon was also spent nurturing the spit roast. After a delicious dinner we had a raucous game of two-up, betting our specially printed 'Davis' money. All in all, a memorable day spent in good company with a feeling of gratitude.

Kirsten (Station Leader)

The Australian, New Zealand and Aboriginal flags are raised for ANZAC Day.
Raising the flags for ANZAC Day.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The Address being given by Kirsten, Station Leader. The other expeditioners are gathered around listening.
The address being given by Kirsten, station leader.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A team photo under the flags at dawn, following the Davis ANZAC Day service.
A team photo under the flags at dawn, following the Davis ANZAC…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The flags flying at full mast on ANZAC Day at Davis. In the background are snow covered hills.
The flags flying at full mast on ANZAC Day at Davis.
(Photo: Barry Becker)

How the time has flown...

I cannot believe how the time has flown as it has been 20 years since I first ventured to Davis station as an expeditioner. Much has changed in that time but it still remains one of the greatest experiences that anyone can have, starting from the voyage across the Southern Ocean to the many sights and sounds that we experience in this place… a very special place indeed!

I remember way back then one of the privileges of station life was venturing out into the Vestfold Hills to one of the remote field huts which are available for recreation. The huts are an eclectic mix of old and new, mostly old but they all provide much anticipated relief from the elements and a nice place to hang out with your fellow expeditioners whilst enjoying the wilderness for what it is.

This week myself, Lötter and Daleen, my South African colleagues, headed off station to Brookes Hut, a field hut approximately 12 km walking distance from Davis station. The weather on this day was let’s say a chilly −24°C and by the time we arrived after walking with full packs for two and a half hours, yes the hut was a very welcome relief.

Brookes Hut is fitted out with a kitchenette, bunks, an ablutions facility, a radio and packed with food and supplies which make your time away from station comfortable and safe.

The first order of proceedings is to radio into station to inform them that you have made it to your destination safe and well. Next on the list is to open the gas for the heaters and stove, open all vents and unpack, which we carried with us as part of our survival packs, the Carbon Monoxide detector to ensure that the atmosphere inside the hut remains safe once the heaters are fully operational.

Within two hours or so the hut was at a good temperature and we could relax in a comfortable refuge in the most isolated and pristine continent which we all call home.

Until next time

Tony (Deputy Station Leader, Building Services Supervisor and Plumber)

Lotter takes a selfie during the walk. Behind him are Tony and Daleen.
Nice day for a walk.
(Photo: Lotter Kock)
Daleen, Lotter and Tony.
Daleen, Lotter and Tony.
(Photo: Tony D'Amico)
The red building of Brookes Hut nestled in the Vestfold Hills.
Brookes Hut nestled in the Vestfold Hills.
(Photo: Tony D'Amico)
The very simple, yet functional, kitchen at Brookes Hut.
The very simple, yet functional, kitchen at Brookes Hut.
(Photo: Tony D'Amico)

Quad recovery training

So the sea ice is in and it looks like it’s here to stay. Now that it is thick enough we can start to go out on the quad bikes to explore the recreation area. However, before we can do that we need to go through the procedures for the recovery of a stuck or partially sunk quad bike. All the station’s personnel have turned up to learn the required skills and to practice them in a controlled environment before they can be let loose on the ice.

The sky is clear and the breeze is cool, a perfect day to be out on the sea ice. We start out on land practising the rope work and basic anchoring we need to be able to use before we take the bikes onto the ice. A nice mound of snow has been made to allow us to bog the bikes down on purpose.

Once we have all been through and practised the self–recovery our chef Kerryn bogs her bike solidly into the mound. The teams hook up the recovery pulley system to another quad and then hoist the stranded vehicle back out.

Now that’s all done we headed out onto the ice to practice inserting ice screws as recovery points to pull from. Those of us on the search and rescue (SAR) team were already proficient in their use but it was a good chance for the other people on station to practice.

After all that we are now ready to go out and people have already booked the quads for an exciting weekend in the Recreation Area.

Sharky (Electrician)

Marc is bend down by an orange tarp, covered in tools. He is showing the team surrounding him, the different equipment used for quad recovery.
Marc (SAR Leader) takes us through the Quad Recovery Kit.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Robert's bike is bogged in the snow. He is beside the bike, lifting the rear and attempting to accelerate it forward to get it out of the snow.
Robert practicing self-recovery of the bogged bike.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Kerryn with her bike fully bogged in the soft snow.
Kerryn with her bike fully bogged in the soft snow.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The team try, unsuccessfully, to pull the bike out using ropes alone.
The team attempts to pull it out directly.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The boys use a Z-pulley system to pull the bike out of the snow.
Bryce and Shoey use a Z-pulley system to pull the bike out…
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Lotter is holding a long drill bit, used for taking ice cores, in an effort to teach us about how to drill sea-ice to test for ice thickness and quality. The team are standing around in a circle listening to him.
Lotter reminding us how to drill sea-ice to test ice thickness and…
(Photo: Barry Becker)

The Davis hydrogen generator

The Bureau of Meteorology sends up two balloons from Davis station each day. These balloons carry a small payload called a radiosonde, which measures the temperature, humidity, wind speed and wind direction as high as 36 km in the air. This information is sent back to Australia and fed into the weather models that help forecast Australia weather.

To get these balloons in the air, they need to be filled with a buoyant gas that is lighter than air. The Bureau of Meteorology opted for hydrogen, the lightest gas available. Hydrogen occurs naturally on Earth, and, when two hydrogen atoms attach to oxygen, it forms water.

Hydrogen can be manufactured cost effectively. To have enough hydrogen for daily flights, is can be made using water and energy, where the energy is needed to split the water molecule into its separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Previously an electrolyser system was used to produce hydrogen at Antarctic stations. By combining iron filings with a potassium hydroxide solution, hydrogen was formed as a by–product of the chemical reaction and captured for balloon filling. 

Since 2010, the meteorology team at Davis station has been making use of a Hogen S40 hydrogen generator. It uses custom technology, called the Proton Exchange Membrane water based electrolysis system, which splits the water into oxygen and hydrogen in a safe and efficient manner, and allows us to have hydrogen available on call for our everyday use. The same unit is used around the world to produce hydrogen for meteorological applications, semiconductor manufacturing, hydrogen fuelling systems and fuel cell development.

The Hogen keeps four large pressure vessels, located outside the meteorological building, topped up with the life blood of our meteorological operations. The energy it needs is supplied from the station electricity supply, and water is supplied from a small reverse osmosis plant that uses that station water and convert it to a deionised state.

The Hogen is kept running 24/7, and it is only shut down for electrical works and maintenance. It rarely encounters technical issues and has a rigid maintenance regime to prevent it from breaking down. However, when there are any issues, as Met. technical officer I need to immediately resolve it to keep our operations, and accurate Australian weather forecasts going. 

Daleen (Technical Officer – Engineer for Bureau of Meteorology)

The Aqua Solutions water purification plant. It looks like a metal box sitting on a bench in Met.
The Aqua Solutions water purification plant.
(Photo: Daleen Koch)
The HOGEN Hydrogen Generator. A large metal box of equipment, located in the Met building.
The HOGEN hydrogen generator.
(Photo: Daleen Koch)
A weather balloon is released from the back of the Met building. The Met staff is dressed in protective clothing for the activity.
Releasing the balloon.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Balloon release from the Met building.
Balloon release from the Met building.
(Photo: Barry Becker)