Davis mark an historical week, an expeditioner exchange, various scientific endeavours, and much more.

Opening thought for the week — Scott’s arrival at the South Pole

I am currently reading one of the many many fascinating books about Antarctic history. In the book I got, it talks a lot about Scott’s so called ‘Terra Nova Expedition', 1910–1912. I found it inspiring and breath-taking how the boys (sorry, no girls at that time) back in the day managed their everyday living and working. Certainly a very different approach and risk tolerance to nowadays.

As we mark the 100 year anniversary of Scott, Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Evans’ arrival at the South Pole this week (Tuesday 17 January 2011), I would like us to take a moment to contemplate and appreciate what they and many other early day expeditioners achieved, and how thankful and grateful this makes us to have such a fantastic setup here at Davis.

Big thanks to all that have made it what it is today, and to all that are constantly developing it further — that’s you fellow expeditioner, cheers!

International visiting and visiting internationals

Last week we had three visitors from the Chinese Antarctic Program (CHINARE). At the same time, three of our expeditioners were hosted and shown around their station, Zhongshan.

So while our expeditioners stayed at Zhongshan, we had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Liu, the Party Secretary of the 28th CHINARE, Dr. Han, the station chief and Ms. Ruan, a summer journalist.

Ali Dean (our fantastic station boss), doctor Jan Wallace and scientist Nick Chang greeted them upon arrival here on the helipad. First stop was the new living quarters. The six enjoyed a nice hot cuppa with a fine selection of international freshly baked pastries, whilst soaking in the majestic views of the ice-free but iceberg strewn, Davis coast. Real Aussie vegemite crackers were enjoyed by our neighbours very much — how cool is that?! A station tour followed and Mr. Liu, Dr. Han and Ms. Ruan where very interested in our hydroponics house, the water supply we use (we use a reverse osmosis process, making salt water into fresh water), and the medical and science facilities. They commented on how well spaced out our setup is. After dropping off some mail to be stamped with our official Davis station stamp, they returned back to their home. However, not without a jar of Vegemite in their luggage!

So whilst we were busy hosting over here, Cathie Young, Theo Davies and Louise Carroll were greeted at Zhongshan by the head of the Chinese science team and then were shown around the Chinese station premises with the help of an interpreter. First was a tour of their meteorology program, followed by a visit to the upper atmosphere program, where they do similar work to what we do here. All were impressed with the state-of-the-art equipment and the very spacious science building. Some of the station’s power is produced using a environmentally friendly wind generator. Zhongshan station currently hosts 75 summer expeditioners. In winter this number will be reduced to about 25 folks, all of them being male. They enjoy a huge basketball court and play badminton in there too.

The station is situated 120km south of Davis and is only 1km away from their Russian neighbours at Progress 2 station. Both nations share a good working relationship. The living quarters are very spacious and built on 2 levels. A new sleeping quarters, as well as a power house, is under construction.

The Chinese ship Xuelong, laden with expeditioners and supplies, travels from China via Fremantle to arrive in Antarctica after a month-long boat journey. Their summer season runs from November to February.

Cathie, Louise and Theo were served a lovely meal with typical Chinese specialities and really enjoyed the very generous hospitality displayed. They even got the chance to sample the funky and very tasty Chinese Antarctic beer called REEB, which apparently is brewed with Antarctic water (a miniscule amount) in China.

All this was followed by a very scenic 45 minute helicopter ride with Flight Commander Dougie (VH-SES), before touching down in Davis land again.

Beaver Lake ‘apples'

Steve Edwards and Matt Morley spent a few days out at Beaver Lake, 500km west of Davis, working on the ‘apples’ there. Steve is doing the rounds of all the huts maintained by Davis, installing new gas appliances. Matt came along to do some of the never-ending maintenance that huts require.

Although Beaver Lake was enjoying days of clear skies and sunshine, Davis was enduring a continuation of cloudy days, and it looked like their return might be delayed. However, it was not to be. Bob Heath and Al Moore picked them up in their Twin Otter and in a fine bit of flying landed safely at Woop Woop in light snow and poor visibility. The visibility was too bad at Woop Woop for a helicopter pick-up but resident AGSOs, Dave Russell, Matt Ryan and Matt Donaghue, had a plan. They ferried the party down to the edge of moraine in the yellow Hägg where Frank Ross met them in his helicopter and flew everyone safely back to base. A nice bit of team work from the air crew.

Boating starts at Davis

The sea ice has gone and boating season has arrived. The Marine Biology team, Mel Ho (leader), Dr. Glen Wallace, Cass Price and Lucas Koleits, have been waiting patiently for the sea ice to clear so they can get out in the IRBs (Inflatable Rubber Boats), to collect some small sea creatures in the bay as part of their science project. Greg Wilson and Michael Goldstein, the boating officers, spent several days setting up the IRBs, and with the help of dieso’s Rob Cullen, Joe Glacken and Jose Campos, got the engines on and ready to go. We are all looking forward to iceberg cruises, one of the highlight activities of the season.

Davis crags it up

Yeah, here we go… the climbing wall is in the final stage of being completed and we have another fantastic method to stay physically and mentally fit whilst having fun fun fun. Due to big help from several tradies (see the January 6th edition), the setting up of the very flash and textured main wall (thanks to head office for providing us with that, cool stuff) was completed last week. This week Mike assisted in the setting up of the anchor points and ropey stuff before the team of Glenn, Darryl, Timo and Martin screwed on the holds establishing the first routes. We chose a variety of grades, from a techo hardcore one to other really enjoyable climbs suitable for everyone.

Last night saw the first ascents of the routes “Stairway”, “First Love” and “Ferrets Fantasy”. It will be a good mix of ability and really anyone can have a great time on the wall. Please understand that before you are allowed to use the wall, you need to undergo an induction. That way you will learn and understand the necessary safety procedures such as PPE, knot tying, belaying technique, lowering procedure, and so forth, so you will always remain safe.

Darryl, Glenn and Timo will be the climbing wall managers, so watch this space for more. Soon they will open her all up for us to enjoy, so come on over to the green store to check it all out.

See ya there and stay pumped!

Search and Rescue, Davis Station 2011/12

As we expeditioners live in a very remote environment down here, it is essential to have a well trained and capable Search and Rescue (SAR) team available at all times. The season so far has provided this throughout winter, with SAR members as well as previously trained or experienced crew.

However, the season is ticking along and in almost less than 60 days a red boat will be seen outside the station, and believe it or not, it will bring new potatoes for the winterers’ kitchen, and take the old ones (us summer crew… ha-ha) back to civilisation.

So we recently started the process of training the current and over winter SAR team. Big interest was shown by many, and it is super to have this many folks keen to help people in distress.

The training did really start a long time ago with first sessions in navigation, radio use, knot craft and patient handling on the boat journey south; however we will now fine-tune these skills in a progression of learning modules, all linked to each other. That’s why it is great to see the commitment from expeditioners to attend any sessions, ask questions and seek further clarification, and to be able to implement these learnings in the following session.

To perform a rescue, often in wild conditions such as poor weather, and dealing with injured folks, it requires a strong commitment to give it your very best — this has been displayed by all. The windy weather of last week gave us the opportunity to present several topics. First our friendly FTOs mentored people in stretcher-handling, such as getting a patient into a stretcher, transporting the stretcher in a Hägglunds, and unloading at the medical facility. The learning was further developed by our Doc Jan showing SAR members the use of the oxygen setup. Great input and learnings from all.

Later in the week, while still windy but becoming fine (for a day or two…), we ran a harnessing-up session, leading into knot craft, while Jan instructed people how to safely remove a helmet from an injured person, how to get them on a back board and the fitting of a neck collar.

In the next sessions we will look at how to remain safe in glaciated terrain, crevasse extraction and pulleys, anchors and their attachments, and many other skills involved. Hopefully an abseiling session in the big green store will take place soon — a great skill for any SAR member (this will also be a fun activity available for everyone). The team is already excited about the field sessions ahead, which we will run once everyone has learned the necessary components and the weather and work commitments are nice to us.

Lots of folks are practising knots as we now have official training stations in the living quarters (little booklets and spare rope). So next time you are enjoying that cold one, how about tying a double fisherman, or ask Frank to show you the monkey knot.

Keep it up team, because we: Train Hard and Rescue Easy!

Snow Petrel project, Filla Island 2010–2012

In the summer of 2010/11 Barbara Wienecke and an AAD Colleague raised interest in the winter travelling patterns of Snow Petrels. It is currently still unknown where they go over this time in eastern Antarctica, however, this is about to change…

Off they went last season to the beautiful and close Filla island in the Rauer Island group, just 10 minutes flight time south of Davis station. Filla island is the highest island of the Rauer group (smashing elevation of 85 meters above sea level, get those oxygen tanks out and keep climbing…), providing big rock faces, which are ideal breeding sites for this small beautiful white bird. Snow Petrels are found exclusively in Antarctica and breed in rock crevasses to be protected from the everlasting threat of the Skua birds, as well as from the elements. They are about the size of a pigeon and nest close to the coast, which provides them with their diet made up of fish, squid and skrill. The island is completely ice-free; any lakes there are saline lakes so fresh water is always carried in. Barbara shared with me that she believes the apple accommodation unit (sleeps 2) was originally set up for a science project about 10 years ago. 200 nesting sites are spread over the island. What the 2 of them did last year was to identify accessible nesting sites and tag 20 birds with a standard identification ring, while 10 of them where tagged with an additional tiny and lightweight (1.5g) “geo locator device”. The geo locator tag collects daylight information, which then can be related to location and their travel pattern. Body measurements were also recorded to assure that this technique was remaining safe for the birds, once checked again in the following year. The same procedure took place at Mawson station. For the next 12 months our little beautiful white friends now supported AAD science by doing what they do best: fly, feed, sleep, and look pretty.

That brings us to this season…

Barbara Wienecke and Nobuo Kokubun set out last week to Filler Island for 7 days. As Snow Petrels mate in November, lay 1 egg and breed till mid-January, this is the time with the highest chance of finding these 20 birds again. Their goal was to first find the petrels, then to check the tagged birds’ body measurements and retrieve the geo locator tags. A smashing 75% of the tagged birds returned to their previous breeding site and Barbara and Nobuo where really relieved to learn that the technique they used had zero impact on the birds’ health, body mass and living pattern. 8 of 10 geo locator tags where collected and we are now facing world-breaking news over the travel pattern of Snow Petrels during winter. This, however, will require some more help from a lovely gentleman from the comms crew, who is pretty slick with computers I hear!

6 new rings and tags were deployed during their recent visit — have a look at Nobuo’s finger to understand what is involved in their work — it is almost perforated from many sharp Petrel beaks!

So we are all looking forward to learning more in the near future. Cheers to Barbara and Nobuo for battling the elements and sharing your discoveries!

PS I also want to mention that the 2 had a visit from a British gentleman secret agent last Sunday during the strong wind, however that is another story… ;-)

Behaviour change in Antarctica

Here we are living isolated from the rest of the world in Antarctica, one of the most pure and untouched environments found on our planet. Plenty of wildlife, big icebergs and blue glaciers, wild weather and endless amounts of pure, fresh crisp air…

What a great location to increase your smoke-free time.

Many expeditioners have chosen to become smoke-free in the past, and we have all heard the story of last year’s winterers burning all their remaining cigarettes in the big warren oven, making Davis a completely smoke-free station for their season.

More recently our summer team members Mark Davis, Tim New and Rick Oates have also chosen to begin their smokef-ree journey down here at Davis Station. I am very thankful to them for letting me share with you their motives, thoughts and experiences.

There are many reasons which have driven them to follow their path, such as gaining better health, fitness and an overall feeling of wellbeing, smelling flowers (and lovely seal poo…) again and tasting Bridget and Renato’s yummy food even more. Rick is inspired by his children Digger, Lachlan and Raine, and for some the thought of role-modelling as a possible future parent is a strong reason. I learned that one was thrilled about the now possible visit to our beautiful hydroponics house to check out some real greenery (fact: people who smoke are not allowed into the green house because the nicotine residue they carry can have a negative impact on the very fragile plants).

All three of them have had the goal of becoming smoke-free for some time already, and are now using this fantastic opportunity of a fresh start in a new environment to achieve their goals. While Mark went cold turkey, by choosing to arrive at Davis without any cigarettes, Tim and Rick decided to change their behaviour after their arrival in Antarctica. A good substitute for Mark to keep his goal up is working out in the gym. Rick followed Mark’s path of cold turkey here on station and only found out through a casual conversation with our lovely and bubbly Doctor Jan that she and the AAD provide support in terms of counselling, the opportunity to speak to Quitline staff (yeah, free calls to the mainland), and supply with nicotine replacement patches. Tim found out about this type of support whilst chatting with Rick. So Jan would like all expeditioners (AAD wide) to know that your station doctor can help if you should you also choose to become smoke-free, just come and see them!

So what are some of the challenges for our 3 heroes to deal with? Well, being in an environment where people smoke is one of them. It’s also tricky having smokes offered, and just generally overcoming the enemy within yourself. Stay strong team, you can do it!

They are highly motivated and will remain strong to keep it up, living a smoke-free life.

I truly believe you are doing something amazing and know that you will achieve your goals.

Well done all of you for choosing to change yourselves for a healthier lifestyle!