This week at Davis: 28 July 2017

This week we're enjoying the blizz tails around station and a visit from an emperor penguin, and off searching for an elusive jade coloured berg.

Station update

Field trip to Platcha Hut

The weather in Antarctica can change quite quickly so we all keep a keen eye on the models to judge the best time to make a foray away from station. Last Friday there was an opportunity to get out to Platcha Hut, with Sharky and Kirsten, so while the wind was easing off there was a frenzy of activity to pack all our survival gear and food in readiness for an overnight trip in the red Hägg.

Another party in the pink Hägg were heading to Brookes Hut so we played tag team Hägg for part of the way, although they did have an unscheduled sightseeing stop. Most of our journey was uneventful but there is a section of rafted ice in Long Fjord that is always tricky to navigate and even more so when visibility has dropped due to blowing snow. We did hit one large bump and the suspension is very unforgiving so that jolted us out of our slumber.

After arriving mid–afternoon and removing a little snow from inside the hut and the outside loo, it was time to light up the gas heater and get some warmth happening. A short walk up to the high points above the hut was a good leg stretch and a chance to take photos of frozen tarns and nearby ice cliffs. Appetites were keen after time outdoors, so cheese and biscuits followed by a hot main course was greatly appreciated.

The following day wind had increased to around 40 knots. The travel through the rafted ice was a challenge with visibility dropping to zero at times. Thank goodness for GPS and radar but it doesn’t prevent the possibility of nose diving in to a big dip. Sharky stayed cool, reversed out and found a way to get past the gnarly bits.

All in all it was a great break from station routine and a chance to share conversation in the cosy warmth of Platcha Hut.

Davis blizzard

This week we are enjoying a welcome respite from the strong wind that was previously whistling and moaning around our living quarters and making outdoor travel between buildings quite an undertaking.

There has been a payoff in the sense that we have many big mounds of snow in the lee of our buildings i.e. blizz tails. The wind has sculpted the snow and produced many fascinating shapes that is like eye candy to those of us lucky enough to get up close and personal. To add to the drama we have had snow covering most windows of our living quarters so the view out has been quite restricted. Now that some melt is happening there are some curious patterns emerging that look that a graphic design artist has gone a little crazy and created pop art with snow.

The strong winds have also broken some of the sea ice and reduced our super freeway escape route off station to a single lane country track. It does seem a little odd to look out to Prydz Bay and see open water after viewing frozen sea ice for so long. However it will freeze again once the temperature drops.

A welcome visitor

On Monday afternoon a lone emperor penguin was sighted on the sea ice walking towards the wharf area. It’s been quite a while since we have seen any wildlife so with cameras at the ready a small group of us walked down to get a little closer to our visitor.

The emperors are so photogenic with their plump bodies and that characteristic orange/yellow colouring around their neck. Let’s hope that we see some more of these beautiful birds before end of season, which is approaching way too fast.

Davis station winter group photo

Another bonus that has accrued from the large snow mounds around station is that they make a sensational back drop for photo opportunities.

The whole station gathered so that we could be shot by Barry B1 and framed when we get home. Much fun ensued as we clambered up the steep slopes of the snow hillocks and poised there for a photo memory.

The 70th ANARE winter team, a great bunch of people and a pleasure to live/work with.

Rob (Station Communications Technical Officer)

Blizz tails now extend from the buildings right down to the water's edge.
Blizz tails down to the bay.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
An expeditioner sitting down with an emperor chick in front looking at each other.
Daleen and the emperor penguin check each other out.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Open water is seen on the horizon off station.
Open water, again.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The blizz tails, looking like surf waves, around the living quarters.
The blizz tails, looking like surf waves, around the living quarters.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Architectural snow sculptures within the blizz tails.
Architectural snow sculptures within the blizz tails.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Group photo out on the snow dune in front of the living quarter.
Group photo out on the snow dune in front of the living…
(Photo: Barry Becker)

Search for the jade berg

Antarctica is a great place to see it all and do it all – weather permitting! When the conditions are favourable you take an opportunity to get off station to experience a slice of this amazing continent.

I was lucky enough to get my first Hägg trip of the season to Platcha, a hut right on the edge of the plateau. Nestled on the rocky edge of a bay it has a sloping wall of ice behind that goes up, and up and up – next stop South Pole!

While we left in mild conditions (less than 20 knots of wind and only −20°C) things changed drastically as we approached the hut. It seems to have its own microclimate, with lower temperatures and howling katabatics. The cosiness of the Hägg was soon forgotten in the 50 metre walk carrying gear into the hut. The small amount of daylight was eaten up by the semi-blizzard conditions and any thought of wandering about to take photos was quickly squashed.

Fortunately the people I was with are as amazing as the environment (in their own special way) so the evening was spent in talk and laughter that comes with having our own special little place to share. My compatriots? Bryce – the studliest man in Antarctica (his words, not mine) and definitely the loudest; B1, or Barry, our station photographer who does meteorological stuff as a hobby; B2, or Barry – THE Davis electrician (in joke). A funny bunch of 'B's, all with a fanatical passion for AFL – so guess what most of the talk was about!

Eat, eat, eat. Talk, talk, talk. Sleep. A great night and a leisurely wake up. The weather at the hut remained dire and not explorer friendly so we loaded the Hägg back up and headed back towards station.

As we exited the bay that Platcha is situated in the conditions improved markedly, so we decided on a roundabout path, hoping to find the famous 'Jade Berg'.

On the way out we had spent a lot of time drilling the sea ice along the pre–marked route we travel on to confirm the condition and thickness. This gave us great confidence as to the general condition of another pre-marked route that is further out and amongst an area known as 'iceberg alley'. With time on our side and much improved weather we slowly explored the vast plain that was littered with a wondrous variety of icebound bergs.

The day slid by, daylight fleeting, and the moon appeared. The light became dull and inconsistent. We searched, we checked the ice thickness at intervals and we kept our fingers crossed, but fate seemed to be against us. I have been told many stories by previous winterers who have seen a jade berg along the iceberg alley route, though they have all referred to different locations. They all agreed it was far from the station, closer to Mikkelsen’s Cairn. As we got ever closer to home hope began to fade.

Then a voice said, 'Hey! What’s that?'.

Sure enough there lay a darker blob off to one side. We made our way out to it, nervously checking the map and the sea ice as we went. As we got closer we could see the deep jade colour mottled through a small berg. We traversed the last 100 metres on foot and then around it, cameras clicking. It was dirty, indistinct but definitely a jade berg! Success!

After 10 minutes or so we piled back into the Hägg, happy to go back. A quick consult with the map and the GPS showed us a way to link back to our marked route a few hundred metres away. Surprisingly we were not far north of Anchorage Island, which sits directly outside the station. As we drove through the last few bergs elated and proud to show off our photos B2 piped up.

'Hmm, I think it’s around here. Wait – there!'

Sure enough, his cryptic words (and finger) pointed us to another jade berg! Directly out from Anchorage Island and only a few kilometres from station. It would actually be visible from station if the island was not in the way!

So we probed the ice again and made our way to a small but gloriously coloured berg. Clean and smooth with a much different structure to the other one, it was beautiful. More photos were taken and the position was carefully logged into the GPS, so everyone can visit it.

After four years of coming down here and not seeing the famous 'Jade Berg' I saw two in one day!!

Geez I love this place!

Rhys (Carpenter)

A iceberg with a corrugated texture is seen through the Hägg window.
Pretty, but not a jade berg.
(Photo: Rhys Francis)
A towering iceberg frozen in sea ice; impressive in its height.
A good reason not to get close...
(Photo: Rhys Francis)
The Hägg is parked in front of a marbled jade berg. Two people are standing on the ice, either side of the Hägg admiring the view.
This could be it!
(Photo: Rhys Francis)
Three people are seen on the ice. They have walked around the jade berg which is seen to the right.
Lap of the berg complete, back to the Hägg.
(Photo: Rhys Francis)
A beautiful ice berg that has a dark colour in contrast to others that are often quite light.
Jade berg number two with gorgeous colour.
(Photo: Rhys Francis)
The pink Hägg is driving on sea ice, amongst the icebergs. The moon is seen above the Hägg.
Daylight, moonlight, floodlights.
(Photo: Rhys Francis)