This week at Davis: 13 July 2018

This week is about the sun and the moon cycles and a trip to Bandits hut.

Waiting for the sun

37 days, 23 hours and 32 minutes between sunset and sunrise. Somewhere, behind the cloud, on July 10th the sun drifted above our horizon for 26 minutes. The cloud, while it delayed the joy of the sun's first rays, brought with it welcome snow fall, dressing up the Vestfold browns with fresh clean Antarctic white. Davis has received only a quarter of its average annual snowfall up to the halfway point of 2018 so the fresh frosting is as much of a novelty as sunshine.

How quickly the brain adapts – it has stopped feeling odd to step out of a building in the middle of the day and turn on a torch to light the way. It will be a cool moment in the coming days to open a door and feel surprise at seeing bright, direct sunshine again, instead of darkness or twilight. Although, not all days were dark. A lovely experience of the long winter night was how long the full moon was in the sky. The June full moon toured the Davis sky for 21 hours and 44 minutes on the 28th.

With more cloudy days expected this week we will have to wait a little longer to see the sun's rays. It will be a longer wait again to feel real warmth from them. Until then there is exploring to do…

Snow covered rocks and ice with cloudy sky and a sunshine recording instrument.
Sunshine recorder at the ready
(Photo: A. Skinn)
Glass globe used for measuring sunlight hours with buildings and snow covered rocks in background.
No sun yet
(Photo: A. Skinn)
Coloured buildings in snow and rock landscape with moon rising over hills in background
Moon rise over Davis
(Photo: T. Barrell)

Quest for the sun

While those on station were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the sun on July 10th a group of 4 (Glen, Simon, Derryn and myself) mounted an expedition to search for it further afield. Bandits Hut was to be our base for two nights. We had a most enjoyable ride out on the 8th, meandering leisurely amongst the icebergs.  Each berg is majestic and unique, and you could easily admire them for days without getting bored.

Another group of four thought they would get the drop on us and see the sun a day or two earlier from the elevated vantage point of Woop Woop, the location of the summer ice runway. While they were thwarted on this account by cloud, they were highly successful on their primary mission which was to bring a couple of groomers back to station for servicing. It was a novel sight seeing their procession of headlights coming down off the plateau on the morning of the 9th

The 9th saw us exploring the northern limits of our known universe, the edge of our station operating area.  We visited Sir Hubert Wilkins Cairn at Walkabout Rocks, looped around Wyatt Earp Islands, and dropped in to Mikkelsen's Cairn. There is a cache at Sir Hubert Wilkins Cairn that still contains an Australian flag and a copy of the Australian geographical magazine Walkabout, deposited there by the intrepid Wilkins in 1939 to reassert Australia's claim on the region. Wyatt Earp Islands are named after the ship Wilkins was travelling on. There is still a weathered wooden flagpole at Mikkelsen's Cairn, erected by Captain Klarius Mikkelsen of the Norwegian whaling ship Thorshavn in 1935.  Mikkelsen was accompanied by his wife Caroline, one of the first women to set foot in Antarctica. Mikkelsen also gave the Vestfold Hills their name. We thought we might get a cheeky sneak peak of the sun a day early, but there was too much cloud about.  The upside to the cloud was the lovely light dusting of snow.  We did spot a glimpse of what could have been a solar pillar, suggesting that the sun was indeed eager to return!

Alas it was again too cloudy on the 10th to be able to greet the sun.  We still optimistically wandered a short way onto the Antarctic Plateau along the route to Woop Woop and climbed a small hill. The views were spectacular, the cloud and snow covered landscape adding to the atmosphere. We explored a massive wind scour, a crescent-shaped area free of snow on the windward side of a hill, carved out by howling winds.  Even though the sun was not sighted, we had a most enjoyable, relaxing and interesting trip. And we were treated to a red sunset sky silhouetted by icebergs on our return to station.

J. Davey 

Three majestic icebergs with a glow in the sky behind them. The left berg consists of clear crystal blue ice.
Admiring majestic icebergs
(Photo: J. Davey)
Glen, Simon and Derryn holding up an Australian Red Ensign flag at Sir Hubert Wilkins Cairn.
Sir Hubert Wilkins Cairn
(Photo: J. Davey)
A faint pink vertical beam of light seen on the horizon, looking across the sea ice in the evening, possibly a solar pillar.
Solar pillar, maybe
(Photo: J. Davey)
Glen, Simon and Derryn standing in the wind scour, the open space between a rocky hill on the left and a crescent-shaped wall of ice on the right.
Wind scour
(Photo: J. Davey)
Glen, Simon and Derryn on quad bikes with their headlights reflected off the sea ice, and icebergs on the horizon silhouetted by a thin band of sunset sky between the cloud and horizon.
Sunset sky on the way home
(Photo: J. Davey)