This week at Davis: 31 March 2017

This week at Davis we look back at some Amery ice shelf work conducted in February, talk with Daleen about her Masters study on Antarctic leadership which won an award, meet Chief Fitzy and see the first real sea ice in Prydz Bay.

Prize for Masters assignment in Antarctic leadership

In March this year, the University of Stellenbosch Business School, based in Cape Town, South Africa, awarded Daleen with a prize for the best research assignment in any Masters degree. As the study focused on Antarctic leadership, we asked her to tell us about it. Congratulations Daleen.

My experiences on the icy continent were invaluable when I started my MBA degree in 2013, especially when it came to selecting a topic for my final research assignment. My research project, titled Leaders in Extreme and Isolated Environments: Perceptions from South African National Antarctic Expeditioners, explored the perceptions that South African Antarctic expeditioners have concerning various aspects of leadership at Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations.

The South African National Antarctic Program (SANAP) annually sends three teams, comprising between ten and 30 members, to three remote research stations: Gough Island, Marion Island or SANAE IV. The extreme, isolated and confined environments encountered at these Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations provide unique challenges to management and leadership.

The study explored whether the perceptions around leadership differed between men and women, whether perceptions changed with more expedition experience, and whether the perceptions changed for teams that had experienced emergencies, evacuations, serious illness, death or constant and aggressive interpersonal conflict.

Expeditioners felt that an effective station leader builds a personal bond with them, and maintains a balanced involvement in their emotional well-being. Effective station leaders make an effort to create and sustain a positive team climate, and maintain a moderate involvement when it comes to team members performing their professional duties. Gender, experience and events at the station influenced perceptions of the station leader’s role in maintaining a personal bond, individual well-being, the team climate and intervention in professional duties.

The study found that most important characteristics and competencies for a station leader to possess were trustworthiness, conflict management skills and good communication skills. Expeditioners prefer an extremely participative station leader, where team members are consulted and allowed to participate in decisions that affect them. During emergencies, however, it is accepted that the station leader retains decision–making autonomy.

The position of station leader is seen as an important one and plays a decisive role in the success of an Antarctic station. The station leader affected individual adaptation and influenced the quality of the overwintering year, but did not affect the decision to overwinter again.

The participants were 180 returned expeditioners, with an age profile between 25 and older than 61, who participated in the South African National Antarctic Program between 1961 and 2015. Approximately 40 per cent of the expeditioners had completed more than one expedition, and women represented 16 per cent of the participants. Emergencies, evacuations, serious illness, death, or constant and aggressive interpersonal conflict were experienced by approximately 65 per cent of expeditioners.

Even though the research was done with South African Antarctic expeditioners, the findings may be of value to the Australian Antarctic Division when it comes to understanding how team members perceive station leaders. Previous research by Australian researchers that were used in this project included research from Desmond Lugg, J.R. Godwin, Julia Jabour, Dianne Nicol, Kimberley Norris, Aspa Sarris, Neil Kirby and Jeff Ayton.

This is my second winter in Antarctica, and my first one with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Antarctic Division. The experience at Davis station has been very interesting and educational, and it is a privilege to experience a different part of Antarctica. I hope to continue with my career in Antarctica over the next few years, and maybe explore the options of doing a PhD.

Daleen Koch (Technical Officer – Engineer, Bureau of Meteorology)

Daleen is wearing a blue puffer jacket, smiling at the camera. Sea-ice is in the background.
Daleen at Davis.
(Photo: Lotter Kock)
Daleen is dressed in safety gear, holding a weather balloon in front of the blue Met building.
Daleen releasing a weather balloon at Davis.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Daleen is standing in front of a tent out on the Antarctic Plateau.
Daleen at SANAE IV.
(Photo: Provided by Daleen Koch)
Daleen is crouching in front of some adult and chick king penguins at the sub-antarctic Marion Island. Tussock grass is also seen in the background.
Daleen with king penguins at Marion Island.
(Photo: Provided by Daleen Koch)

Amery Ice Shelf activities

In its heyday, the Amery Ice Shelf Ocean Research (AMISOR) project comprised of a few boreholes scattered about the Amery Ice Shelf. Today there are only two sites that remain active.

The purpose behind the boreholes, which are drilled through hundreds of metres of ice into the ocean below the ice shelf, is to measure the temperature profile all along the hole as well as the water temperature below the ice. This is accomplished by injecting light pulses into an optical fibre that is routed from top to bottom and back to the surface, receiving these light pulses and some clever signal processing to extract the data.

Annually we try to visit these two sites to download the data and kick–start the instruments back to life but this year we only visited the AMO6 site. This, as with most tasks in the Antarctic involved digging and more digging, especially on the Amery where annual snow accumulation can be a lot.

As the instrumentation enclosure has become quite deep under the surface (approximately 3 metres), it was decided to lift the box to just below the surface to simplify future visits. Three days and some blood, sweat and tears later this was accomplished, data was downloaded and the instrument was left for another lonely winter on the Amery Ice Shelf.

Lötter (Electronics Engineer)

The twin otter plane is parked on the ice shelf. Close by some scientific equipment is sticking out above the ice. This looks like solar panels and a wind turbine. Expeditioners are nearby taking photos.
AM06 site upon arrival. Dorzy taking a photo of the some of…
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
A large dug out section lies to one side of the AM06 equipment. There is a tarp and board over the hole to stop snow from entering between visits.
After day 1. To prevent snow from being blown back into to…
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)
At the end of the work, everyone is standing around smiling. Lotter is taking video of the AM06 equipment. Nick is having a hot drink. In the background Marc and Doug are loading equipment into the Twin Otter plane.
All smiles and last photos being taken just before heading back to…
(Photo: Ladge Kviz)

Chief Fitzy

Hi I’m Craig (Fitzy)

I’m part of the Davis stations 'Team Plumbing' for the summer/winter seasons of 2016/17.

This is my second time south having wintered in 2010 at Casey station, so I guess you can call me Mr Bipolar (having spent, nearly two winters in Antarctica). I also go by many names on station including… Fire Chief Fitzy, SAR Chief Fitzy, Macerator Fitzy, Speed ball Fitzy, Chin up Fitzy, Sensei Fitzy, Decanter Fitzy, Bicep curl Fitzy, Incinerator Fitzy, Site Services Fitzy, Tank House Fitzy, Poo Plant Fitzy, Waste management officer Fitzy, guitar playing Fitzy, cup of tea making Fitzy, plant operating Fitzy (have I missed anything Bryce?). OK you can just call me the puppet master!

When I find the time to drag myself away from my many tasks around station, I do find a little time to do the important stuff, like keeping the Waste Water Treatment plant running, operating the Reverse Osmosis plant to produce our drinking water, testing and installing back flow valves, keeping the diesel burners running that help keep our building warm and attending emergency call–out at all hours.

Part of living and working in a small isolated community, you are also called upon to contribute too many other general duties around the station. Duties may include being part of the hydroponics team, brew team, waste management and even the chefs slave for a day. Yep it’s never boring being part of Team Plumb on station at Davis.

I’m continually asked what’s so special about living and working in one of the most remote isolated community in the world. My answer, is always, the people you share this life adventure with.

Happy days!

Fitzy (Plumber)

Fitzy is wearing protective fire fighting clothing and is standing in front of the fire truck Hagg.
Fire Chief Fitzy
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
Fitzy is wearing high vis work clothes and is filling the air tanks which are used when fighting fires.
Filling the Breathing Apparatus Chief Fitzy .
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
Fitzy is operating the incinerator controls on the station's incinerator.
Incinerator Chief Fitzy.
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
Fitzy is in the kitchen, wearing a superman apron while being slushy.
Super Slushy Chief Fitzy.
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)

Winter is coming: Sea ice is forming

For several weeks now we’ve watched daily as the sea ice teases us with its presence. It forms bands of grease ice and then dissipates with the wind. It forms pancakes, then gets blown out. Ice forms along the shore but then melts away… Yesterday, however, it seems the sea ice finally starting forming in earnest.

Along the shoreline there are patterns of ice where the waves have left water on the shore that has frozen and built up over time. Larger floes are forming off shore. They are still thin as the ice is grey and patchy in colour. They fracture as they bang into each other with the wind and swell, and form rafted edges where they come together and refreeze. They are making some beautiful architectural shapes and interesting textures to photograph. So between this and the ever–changing light and various solar phenomena, one of our station–wide hobbies at the moment is to go down to the beach in the evening and watch the sunset. There are some pastel coloured skies – pink, peach, gentle oranges and yellow, but every now and again there are intense burnt orange, red or fuchsia clouds as the sun sets.

Meanwhile our dwindling southern elephant seal population is less enamoured by the architectural ice and pretty skies. They came here to moult and most of them are done but they seem reluctant to leave. The population was in excess of 100 animals at its peak. Today we’re down to 50 animals or so. Initially they were sub–adult males, now they are big boys with the developed noses or very young seals, possibly last year’s pups.

The ellies are being challenged by the ice. To reach open water out in Prydz Bay they now need to travel over the sea ice for a couple of kilometres to reach the ice edge. Meanwhile others are in the water, poking their heads up for air, and seem unsure whether they should be above or below the ice. With the large males come more battles, which are noisy and last all night long. They won’t be here for much longer though, so good to enjoy them while they are still here.

Kirsten (Station Leader)

Rocks down in the waters edge are covered in ice; including those below the water's surface.
Ice forming on the ocean edge.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
A view of the Davis beach with a thin layer of sea-ice out in the middle of the bay.
Sea ice in the grease ice stage out in the bay.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
New thin, grey sea-ice extending to the horizon, under a grey sky. Blue icebergs line the horizon.
New sea ice under grey snow clouds.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
An elephant seal is lying on top of the sea-ice while a second one is in the water below, poking its head up to breathe.
Elephant seals on top of the ice and in the water poking…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The ice has formed in a woodgrain type pattern along the beach edge as it freezes and accumulates over time.
The architecture of the ice as fast-ice forms on the beach.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Thin, grey, new sea-ice is seen in the bay offshore of Davis. The buildings are up on the hill behind the beach.
The new sea ice off shore at Davis.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The head of the elephant seal is clearly undergoing moult. The layer of skin and hair is being shed, making it look scruffy and patchy.
The moulting skin (a layer of skin and hair) of an elephant…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
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A solar pillar.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)