This week at Davis: 7 July 2017

This week at Davis we're enjoying the recent powder snow, visiting Platcha hut and Hawker Island, and winterising the waste water treatment plant.

Davis finally turns white

Although the winter season started a few months, back Davis station has remained pretty much devoid of any of the white stuff we all come to Antarctica to see. The fabled 'snow' that is supposed to frequent the continent, has pretty much decided to give us a wide berth down here and left the whole station looking akin to a mining camp in outback Australia on a freezing cold morning! Any snow that has fallen here since the beginning of the season has been proceeded by winds usually blowing in excess of 50 knots for a day or two. This has had the effect of blowing what little snow we did get, straight out onto the sea ice!

Amazingly, the day after midwinter was celebrated, it was as if the heavens heard our call and opened up with a beautiful powder dump. We had a few days straight of snow, not always heavy but a good buildup ensued. Thanks to a few days of it being able to settle on the ground before we got our 60+ knot blow, most of the snow stayed put. We did finally get snow falling whilst the wind was blowing and this as well as the bit of loose powder around culminated in some spectacular formations in the lee of buildings and machinery. The only downside has been that we have needed to carve a lot of new stairways in to get up, over or around all the new snow features on station.

Strangely, when I went to work last Saturday I couldn’t find one of our Ring Main Unit’s (a little blue building that distributes our power) that I swore was installed just past the sleeping medical quarters. After some pondering I grabbed a shovel and proceeded to dig a tunnel in the general direction of where I remembered the building being. After three hours of this, I had somehow luckily dug straight up to the door first go and opened an area big enough to allow access to this building. The RMU houses all the circuit breakers etc. that supply power to the living quarters so it was important that we had access to it at all times. After three hours and about two cubic meters of snow removal my work was done.

Now we have had a few days without wind and the snow looks like it’s firmly stuck we may have seen the last of the rock and dirt for the season. Fingers crossed.

Sharky (Electrician)

The blizz tail outside the LQ on the weekend.
The blizz tail outside the LQ on the weekend.
(Photo: Paul Daniels)
The architectural peaks of the blizz.
The architectural peaks of the blizz.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The dump of snow behind the SMQ.
The dump of snow behind the SMQ.
(Photo: Paul Daniels)
The blizz around the SMQ.
The blizz around the SMQ.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
Sharky digging towards the RMU - it's in there somewhere.
Sharky digging towards the RMU - it's in there somewhere.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Happiness is finding the RMU door inside the wall of snow.
Happiness is finding the RMU door inside the wall of snow.
(Photo: Paul Daniels)
Sharky's tunnel to the RMU.
Sharky's tunnel to the RMU.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The thick layer of snow recently deposited on station.
The thick layer of snow recently deposited on station.
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The snow dunes between the Science and the LQ building, making walking around station interesting.
The snow dunes between the Science and the LQ building, making walking…
(Photo: Kirsten le Mar)
The snow also partially buried machinery.
The snow also partially buried machinery.
(Photo: Paul Daniels)

A quick trip to Bandit's Hut

Davis station is an absolutely wonderful place to live. It’s quite amazing to think that such a small station that is home to 17 can include a gym, theater, climbing wall and a decked-out workshop with all variety of tools to suite your creative needs. But even so, sometimes you just need to get back to the basics.

That 'basic' is Platcha hut. It’s the closest of the huts to the plateau, with an amazing ice wall being just 100 meters away. It’s roughly two hours away when travelling in the vehicle of choice down here, that being of famous pink Häggland named 'Opal'. She is a superstar who never fails to get us to where we need and provide warmth and comfort the whole way…well, 'comfort' may be exaggerating it a bit.

The trip include myself (Bryce), Rhys, Barry B1 and Barry B2. Along the way we drilled the depth of the ice at various way points to ensure that this week’s Hägglands retrieval from 'Woop Woop' could be achieved.

The ice proved to be over 100 cm thick which was a relief. As we went along Barry B1 impressed all of us with his change of driving techniques. A few weeks ago, it was believed that he may have won the Dakar Rally in record time. But now, he maneuvered like a fish in water and barely a jolt from the seat occurred. Impressive.

The short trip away took a turn towards terrible when it sounded like the hut was going to blow away during the night. Also, somebody woke up Sunday morning to the news that they missed out on winning a substantial amount of money after they could not complete a certain transaction. Boy, was he upset! The freezing cold winds ruined our plans of exploring the area and getting some pictures of the gorgeous plateau. Instead, we went on an iceberg cruise and found two of the best 'jaded' bergs to be seen. The beautiful greens and aqua colours seen are mesmerizing. A lovely way to finish the weekend and add another couple hundred photos to the collection.


Bryce (The Electrician)

Opal, the pink hagg, travelling up Long Fjord.
Opal, the pink hagg, travelling up Long Fjord.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Platcha hut with ice cliffs from the plateau visible in the background.
Platcha hut with ice cliffs from the plateau visible in the background.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Digging the snow blizz out from Platcha hut.
Digging the snow blizz out from Platcha hut.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A Platcha still life photo with bottles and candles with snow on the window and condensation inside the cosy hut.
A Platcha still life.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The windblown texture of the snow on the sea ice.
The windblown texture of the snow on the sea ice.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Iceberg with caves.
Iceberg with caves.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Icebergs with a rising moon.
Icebergs with a rising moon.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Icebergs in moonlight.
Icebergs in moonlight.
(Photo: Barry Becker)
A berg with jade green sections.
Jade berg
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Jade berg
Jade berg
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Jade berg
Jade berg
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Bergs in civil twilight: soft pastel skies of pink and peach.
Bergs in civil twilight.
(Photo: Barry Becker)

Seabird cameras at Hawker Island

During the week Lötter and Rob got out to Hawker Island to retrieve data from the automated seabird cameras. Hawker Island is located around 7 km southwest of Davis station and is home to the southernmost breeding population of southern giant petrels. 

There are only four known southern giant petrel breeding sites on the coast of East Antarctica, making Hawker Island special. In fact, it is a designated Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) whereby a special permit is required to access the site. The other three sites are Frazier Island near Casey, Giganteus Island near Mawson and Pointe Géologie in Adélie Land.

While giant petrels are quite fierce and formidable predators, they are nervous breeders. This makes them extra sensitive to human disturbance and challenging to study. The solution to this problem is to study them remotely. At Hawker Island this is done using cameras set up around the nesting area, or breeding colony. The cameras take several pictures a day in order to survey the population. This enables the ecologists to look for patterns in colony size and breeding success both over the season and between years. By observing changes in these data over time, we will gain a better understanding of population levels and trends for this species within the Australian Antarctic Territory.

At this time of year, a few birds can still be seen around the colony although many of them will have headed north for the winter. Lötter and Rob were lucky enough to see two giant petrels on Hawker Island. The other birds will return in September, at the start of the next breeding season. This makes winter a good time to access and service the cameras, download the data and send it back to the seabird ecologists in Hobart for analysis.

Rob standing in front of Opal, the pink Hägglands.
Rob with Opal, the pink Hägg.
(Photo: Robert Bonney)
Lötter with an automated seabird camera.
Lötter with an automated seabird camera.
(Photo: Robert Bonney)
Inside the automated seabird camera case.
Inside the automated seabird camera case.
(Photo: Robert Bonney)
Lötter checking the solar panel.
Lötter checking the solar panel.
(Photo: Robert Bonney)
A southern giant petrel on Hawker Island.
A southern giant petrel on Hawker Island.
(Photo: Robert Bonney)

Winterising the muncher

Life is full of firsts, even in Antarctica. The Waste Water Treatment Plant at Davis was only commissioned last year in early 2016  but we have had to wait a full 18 months to actually put the plant into its first official winter mode. This process is basically so that we can give the plant a well-deserved rest throughout the winter months, before the arrival of our 80 plus shiny new expeditioners in November.

To do this Chief Fitzy, of the 'Davis Handsome of Plumbers' and Sharky from team 'Davis Shock of Sparkies' put the plant into a semi bypass mode (all the chunky bits were still removed) then began the task of winterising the plant. We do this through the winter months, because with only 17 people on station, there is not enough waste (food) to keep the plant running at its optimum, so by shutting down the aerobic tank this allows us to save on energy, maintenance costs and ultimately saving our pristine environment here at Davis.

The filtration tank is put though a 24 hour cleaning process using a number of chemicals over a controlled cleaning cycle to remove sludge from the filter-membrane. After this cleaning faze the waste water from this process is run through the centrifuge to spin off the solids. The biomass from the aerobic tank is then pumped into the filtration tank. The filtration tank now also acts as the aeration tank once the plant is place fully into winter mode.

There you have it a first for Davis in 2017.
Fitzy (Plumber)

Fitzy is dressed in breathing apparatus protective clothing, including air tank and mask, to work in the confined space of a tank.,
Chief Fitzy: the things you do for kicks.
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
Fitzy, wearing the safety gear, inside the tank and looking out through the closed door.
Chief Fitzy: Let me out, let me out.
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
Sharky (electrician) examining machinery in the treatment plant.
Sharky (electrician): is this thing working?
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
Sharky testing equipment in the treatment plant.
Sharky: Is this thing on?
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)
A view of the Waste Water Treatment Plant from above.
The newly winterised Waste Water Treatment Plant.
(Photo: Craig Fitzmaurice)

Vestfold Hills Rock On

During the summer season I had a few opportunities to do some walking around the Vestfold Hills for field training and jollies and sometimes it became difficult to avoid the rocks so here are some of the ones I found special. I don’t know the names of what type of rock they are so I have given them a name.
Richard (Station Mechanical Supervisor)

A grey rock with green copper extrusions.
'Copper impregnated' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
A grey rock with bits all around it that have come from the larger central rock.
'Moulting' rock.
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
Rock that looks like a hand with one finger pointed up.
'Pointing' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
A mottled looking rock.
'Mottle' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
A rock with a hollowed out centre.
'Cave' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
A rock with the crystalline texture of fibreglass.
'Fibreglass' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
A rock with brown scale like outer surface which reminds Richard of turtle skin.
'Turtle' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)
A sand and wind eroded rock that has the appearance of coral.
'Coral' rock
(Photo: Richard Coleman)