Graham Cook – Davis station leader 2011
Davis Station Leader Graham Cook:
Hi I’m Graham Cook, commonly known as Cookie, I’m off to Davis this winter. This is my fourth trip to Antarctica. I’ve been a station leader at Mawson, Davis and Casey in the past, I have a background in people and project management and I head South because I love it. As a 12 year old I read a book about Frank Hurley called “Once more on my adventure” and was inspired to work in Antarctica as a result of reading that book. It took me till I was about 52 to get there, so I am pretty slow, but I did get there.
Your first trip to Antarctica and any subsequent trip after that is an absolutely amazing experience. My first iceberg was quite a small iceberg but wow it was amazing. My first time cracking through sea ice, I stood on the bow of the ship with several other people and one of them said to me, “I’m sorry I’ve got tears in my eyes”, and I said “So have I”, and the person next to me said “Well so have I”. It ended up five of us on the bow of the ship had tears in our eyes from this amazing first experience. Once you get through the ice and step on the land it’s the culmination of a dream, pretty amazing stuff.
Davis has a major infrastructure program this summer to finish off a new LQ (Living Quarters) there. A lot of exciting science, there’s a fair size flying program which will take some of our Geoscience Australia guys into the Prince Charles mountains. We have some Chinese working with our AAD scientists at Amanda Rookery with emperor penguins. We have some guys doing some snorkelling looking at the near shore marine environment and the impacts of our habitation and other impacts like ocean acidification. Work on the Amery Ice shelf and some comings and goings between the stations. Which is going to make it an exciting summer and a few programs during the winter that will keep us busy as well.
Working through the winter there is a few challenges for the station leader. Some of those are the separation issues, it’s not unusual for relationships to either end or become fragile, so you work with your expeditioners through those. There’s obviously the community living type things, we live together, we have a long period of darkness and sometimes we are not that happy with one other, but we work through that and nut it out and usually end up a fairly happy family by the end of it.
This winter there’s a few things that I would like to do, I would like to explore some of the areas of Davis that I didn’t get to see last time. I get a great deal of pleasure out of watching the people that are there for the first time enjoy the place and hopefully can show them some places that add to the enjoyment that they have.
Tracking the secret life of snow petrels
Australian Antarctic Division Ecologist, Dr Colin Southwell:
The Southern Ocean is changing, it’s changing due to a number of impacts, past fisheries, current fisheries, climate change, tourism. We want to try and understand some of the changes that are happening in the ecosystem, but it’s very difficult to do but very few of the species we have access to, to measure and monitor. Seabirds are a bit different in that they come to land to breed, and when they are on land, researchers can access them and we can study them.
We have been studying both penguins, both Adelie penguins and Emperor penguins over the last couple of decades. We will be extending that to flying seabirds as well and in particular we will be focusing on the snow petrel.
We know very little about snow petrels at present and that goes for most species of seabirds. They come to land to breed in October, they stay through the summer months, until about April, and in winter they will be foraging out in the ocean. We don’t know where they forage, we don’t know what they are foraging on during that time.
The research program that we will be doing on the snow petrels this summer will have a number of aspects. We will be doing a population survey on the islands off the Mawson area and that will be the first survey that’s been done, we will be using that as a baseline for future monitoring of populations. We’ve started monitoring breeding success of Béchervaise Island, the number of chicks that are produced each year and we will be extending that this year. We want to collect some samples of guano and feathers, so we can use those samples to infer what they are eating. And we are going to be attaching very small geo-locators which track where they are foraging when they move away from their foraging sites at Mawson, and Davis and Casey.
Snow petrels are very small birds, they weight about 500 grams. So we need to make sure any instruments we place on them are very small and don’t disturb them. The geo-locators are about the size of a 5 cent coin, they weigh about 1.5 grams. We put them on their legs, attached to a leg band. What they do is when the bird is flying they record information on the ambient light levels and the time and from that we can infer generally their location by latitude and longitude.
This research will help us understand the broader scale changes that are happening in the Southern Ocean. Through the fact that we are studying a suite of species, so the snow petrel is one species that we are studying, we are also studying the Adelie penguin and the emperor penguin. And what we are trying to achieve is a suite of ice dependent species. These species will tell us particularly what’s happening in relation to changes in sea ice in the long term.
Hobart farewells expeditioners 1911
Voice-over: “For weeks previous to our departure the good ship Aurora was berthed in Hobart, taking on stores and equipment which were to last for two years.
The 2nd of December 1911 and we were ready to depart. The adventurers were aboard. Dr Mawson and Captain Davis were on the bridge and a great crowd had gathered to see us off.
So we got down the Derwent feeling as if we were aboard a fairy ship bound for a realm of wonderment, enchantment and mystery.”