Davis station medical evacuation
Australian Antarctic Division Operations Manager - Robb Clifton
We are very pleased to report that we successfully transferred the ill patient at davis station onto the Aurora Australis last night and that the ship sailed for Hobart shortly after the operation was complete.
Over the weekend people have been working around the clock to refuel the ship and they’ve been working in quite difficult conditions, often below minus 10 degrees and with a fairly constant snowfall.
Before the transfer of the patient we did several test runs to make sure that we could do that transfer safely and efficiently and in the end it was done incredibly well by the folks in Antarctica.
The man who is a member of the station trades team is now getting really good care and support in the ship’s medical facility, and that includes telemedicine support from specialists and others here in Hobart.
We’ve managed to actually link the patient up by phone to his family to speak to them. So that’s been comforting for them and quite important.
These events can be quite traumatic for our staff in Antarctica. Obviously our Antarctic teams are very much a small family, very close knit, so when someone becomes ill it does have an impact on everyone. I think you can see the results of that impact is how everyone has put in a massive effort in difficult conditions to get their team mate to care.
So I am pleased to say that this massive operation went very well and the patient is now on the ship and enroute to Australia.
Antarctic blue whale voyage returns
Australian Antarctic Division Voyage Science Leader, Dr Mike Double
Occasionally you just sit back and go “how loud is that?” You know. It’s just incredible to think that these sounds from individual whales are travelling so far.
We covered about 15,000 kilometres on this voyage. We were deploying sonobuoys throughout, so these are the devices that listen to the low frequency sounds that blue whales produced. I think our longest detection was over 1000 kilometres. So we were hearing them at Terra Nova Bay and we were about 750 kilometres from the aggregation we had left. So we knew that we were detecting from 750 kilometres but really on the way back we were still hearing that aggregation over a thousand kilometres away. So we just have to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that these are some of the loudest sounds we hear in nature.
We actually encountered two blue whales at the Balleny Islands, but then we were hearing a lot of whales to our south-east. When we got into that area we realised we had found a lot of blue whales in a very small area. So in about 100 by 100 kilometres there were probably in the region of about 80-100 blue whales.
We could work with the whales, we could approach them, we could follow their behaviours doing video-tracking work. We took a biopsy sample.
During the day we were working with the blue whales at night we were running krill surveys. We found some really interesting data on the krill themselves we actually found there was a lot of whales, but not a lot of krill dispersed. But when we found the krill they were in very very tight swarms. So now we are trying to understand why this habitat is particularly attractive to the blue whales.
I mean I was really surprised to see so many blue whales in such a small area. When you’re on the ship and you are on the bridge and you’ve got almost 360 degree views and you are seeing these huge blows all around the vessel, you know that was really surprising. You’re dealing with a rare endangered species and yet you’re surrounded. And like Richard said we were becoming blasé about seeing Antarctic blue whales
Warm ocean water melts largest glacier in East Antarctica
Dr Steve Rintoul – Voyage Science Leader
The Totten glacier has remained a secret, has remained unobserved for so long because its so difficult to get to.
We were extremely lucky on this voyage. When we left Casey and started heading to the Totten I thought it was very unlikely that we were going to be able to reach the Totten itself because we had about 100 km of heavy sea ice to traverse to get to the front of the Totten. And we were very lucky we got just the right weather conditions, just the right wind conditions that allowed us to take advantage of a crack in the ice that opened up that extended all the way to the front of the Totten.
The Totten glacier flows off Antarctica and starts to float and the floating part of the glacier is about 120 km long. Out at the front of the glacier where we made our measurements the ice is about 200 metres thick. It then gets thicker as it goes back towards the Antarctica continent and the grounding line, the place where the glacier leaves the bedrock and starts to float is 2 km below sea level.
The surface of the glacier is sinking, it’s thinning. The question is why? It could be related to the dynamics of the ice itself or it could be because the ocean is melting the glacier from below. The Aurora Australis voyage that we just completed was aimed at testing that second idea – is there any evidence that warm ocean water reaches the glacier capable of driving melt of the floating glacier?
What we found is evidence that exactly that is happening. That warm water does reach the Totten glacier. The temperatures that we measured at the front of the Totten are about 3 degrees warmer than the freezing point at the grounding line and so that’s a measure of how much heat is available to melt the ice.
We can detect melting of glacial ice a few different ways. One is just from the temperature. If we see temperatures that are minus two degrees, we know that must have happened at great depth below the floating ice shelf. That’s the only way you can produce temperatures that cold. As the glacial ice melts, it also leaves a signature in the water, that we can detect using different chemical elements and isotopes.
One of the spectacular successes of the voyage were recovery of oceanographic moorings. One year ago the US ship Nathaniel B Palmer deployed Australian and US moorings near the Totten. So we were able to recover all six of those. Those are important because it will provide a year round record of what’s happening near the Totten.
I’ve been going down south for almost 30 years now. I’ve done 15 trips, 12 of them to Antarctica and I’d have to say that this is probably the most successful trip that I’ve been part of that entire time.
Jobs in Antarctica 2015
Davis station decorates the living quarters for Christmas
Happy New Year from Casey station
New Year’s Eve in Antarctica, Casey station – a combination of Australian, Italian and French expeditioners celebrating New Year’s Eve near the south pole.
Happy New Year to Australia and all our loved-ones.
Mapping East Antarctic sea ice
Dr Guy Williams – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
Sea ice thickness represents one of these sort of holy grail at the moment. It’s something that we have difficulty in measuring with great accuracy and with any sort of great success on large scales. So thickness is important because we want to know how much there is. We’ve got a good idea of the area from the satellites, but the satellites can’t tell us the thickness and without the thickness we won’t know the total volume or the total amount of sea ice.
Dr Clay Kunz – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
So this is an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, or AUV, and what it does is it’s a free swimming underwater robot. So it carries on board all of its power and intelligence and navigation equipment so that it is basically free swimming through the water and doing its own thing, as opposed to be being remotely controlled over a tether.
On this particular trip, since we are looking at the underside of the ice, we want to be pretty close to it. So we are driving around, so far we’ve been generally 20 metres underneath the water actually which is less distance under the ice because of course the ice sticks down into the water quite away.
The AUV has a lot of waypoints that it’s trying to get to as it is driving around underwater and the last waypoint that its set to get to is basically back where it started again, which is in open water off the stern of the ship.
Dr Guy Williams – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
It represents a leap forward in observational capability in terms of how we can measure thickness. The multi-beam sonar that we have on this AUV will provide us with a 3-D view of the underside of the sea ice. That will, together with the surface measurements that we are getting from other platforms, like the helicopter, we’ll have a full 3-D map of the entire sea ice flow.
Dr Jan Lieser – Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre
We are here in Antarctica to measure the thickness of the snow cover and the sea ice which is separating the atmosphere from the ocean. When we know how the thickness of the sea ice cover is changing over time we can estimate the influence of global changing climate on the overall environment down here, which includes not only the physical environment, in terms of sea ice, atmosphere and ocean, but also the biosphere.
We have this helicopter equipped with a whole heap of instruments which we call our flying toolbox. The flying toolbox consists of an aerial photography which is in this bucket down here, we have a radar, a snow thickness radar, which is mounted beneath the skids back there. We have a laser scanner and pyrometer on the front over here. And the whole thing will be combined together with an INS and GPS so that we know where we are and how we are orientated in a 3-D space. It is all driven with an electronics control unit which is in the centre here. This time around we also have a microwave radiometer from our Japanese colleagues which is installed in the boot there. So we fly about 60 nautical miles in one direction, then turn 120 degrees, fly 60 nautical miles in the next direction and then fly back to the ship.
What I like most about working in Antarctica is that so many people from so many different skills come together, work seamlessly, know what they are doing and we are all working towards one goal of gathering as much data as possible on sea ice environment down here.