This week at Davis: 7 February 2020

What do chefs and geoscientists have in common? They all love hanging around the Vestfold hills in this week's wrap up!

Chef Henrik recalls his best experiences of the Davis summer

I'm one of the three chefs here at Davis station this summer. This is my first time down south and it’s been an absolute blast to say the least.

Our kitchen here is a commercial setup, made unique by the involvement of the whole community who always are there to help and show a keen interest in the processes we use with lots of questions as to why, how and what. Naturally, this leads them to be involved in some of the cooking which I really enjoy because it enables me to pass on skills and knowledge to others. The community feel and its involvement in the kitchen has been a first time experience and I've enjoyed that aspect very much.

I’ve also had the opportunity to assist scientists on field trips collecting samples, surveying seals and looking for moss. The field trips are an amazing opportunity to experience the real Antarctica. My best experience was 3-day recreational trip starting with a night at Platcha Hut, in the shadow of the vast the ice plateau, then embarking on a 20 km walk to Brookes Hut over Stalker Hill, one of the bigger “mountains” around here. We slept at Brookes Hut and walked back to station the next morning. I was very tired as the terrain here is so rocky with many knee-high snow patches, demanding caution from every step.

Back in November I also walked across the sea ice to Gardner Island and saw my first penguin colony. I was surprised how inquisitive the Adélie penguins were at our presence. There are many more stories to share from my time in Antarctica but the memories and friendships I’ve made here will always be with me and will always remind me of how lucky I’m to have experienced this. I hope that one day I’ll get the opportunity to come here again.

In my final few weeks here, I’m planning a presentation of my trip for my partner, Miss Tam Burnett's class at Thornlands State School, Brisbane. They've been following my journey down here and recently sent me some beautiful cards, one of which is shown below.

Henrik Mortensen

A collection of greeting cards posted from a class of school kids
Some of the great cards Henrik received
(Photo: Henrik Mortensen)
Expeditioner stands on a peak high above a vast blue lake surrounded by brown rocky hills
From the kitchen to the hills. Henrik near Platcha Hut.
(Photo: Peter Luk)
A collection of greeting cards from a class of school kids
More great cards!
(Photo: Henrik Mortensen)

Vestfold Hills landscape vulnerability science project

When visiting sensitive locations, a common piece of advice is to, ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’. However, managing human impacts around stations in Antarctica is a complex task. Managers need to balance factors like scientific and aesthetic values, operational requirements, and safety, to name a few. In ice-free areas, physical impacts like walking and vehicle tracks can remain visible far longer than in other parts of the world.

Improving management decisions requires a detailed understanding of the environment, its characteristics, and how it will react when disturbed. At Geoscience Australia we have been addressing some of these information gaps in the Vestfold Hills with a 5-year research project under the Australian Antarctic Science Program.

This summer, I am back at Davis with Dr Jodie Smith for a second year of fieldwork, mapping the geomorphology (shape of the landscape and its characteristics) and revisiting test sites we set up in 2018/19. We have covered more than 200 km on foot, collecting soil samples, observations of the landscape, and drone footage to support our interpretations.

Over the next year, we will be drawing this information and data together to help us predict how impacts like walking and vehicle tracks will persist and recover in the cold, damp Vestfold Hills landscape and other similar areas in Antarctica. 

Steph McLennan 

Dressed in yellow outer layer clothing, two female scientists stop for a photo below a sandy, snowy hill
Work hard, play hard, Jodie and Steph out in the field
(Photo: Jodie Smith)
Steph examining a rock on a moraine line, with the ice plateau immediately behind her.
Anyone seen a set of quad bike keys?! Steph examining the moraine's…
(Photo: Jodie Smith)