Snowflake, sunrises, HF upgrades, plus seals and seal biologists at Davis this week.

Snowflake perfection

Snowflakes, just small clumps of frozen ice crystals but so exquisitely beautiful. These shots were taken by Chris as he waited for the ute to warm up — which then illustrated another feature of snowflakes, their ephemeral nature.

We all know that they come in a variety of shapes and sizes but don’t often see that many to make a comparison, white on white being the general case. On the blue ute bonnet this day there were several different sorts visible — a case for the AAD to buy more coloured utes for definite.

The complexity of the shapes indicate these have been exposed to differing temperature and humidity regimes, making each individual snowflake virtually unique in structure. Although relatively large these have a long way to go to be the largest: a 38cm wide snowflake was recorded in Montana during January 1887! 

Making the most of the day

As the time between sunrises and sunsets shortens by nearly 15 minutes a day we are fast losing the light. Most of our work is now carried out in semi-darkness.

There are always compensations though. The extended sunrises and sunsets when the skies are clear are fantastic, each one spectacular in its own right. Even the bad days are good as the following images illustrate.

If the day is rubbish then there is the chance that the clouds will clear and there will be an aurora. How lucky are we?

HF radio upgrades

This week the Comms team, Tom and Greg, have spent a considerable amount of time upgrading the HF radio system on station. 

Out in the Transmitter Hut, they are replacing the old Barrett 950 HF Transceivers with shiny new Barrett 2050 Transceivers with 1kW linear amplifiers. 

They hope to finish by Friday and will then be able to contact the Indian communications Officer who is anxious to try out their setup at Bharati Station in the Larsemann Hills.

Last of the Ellies

This week we said goodbye to the last of the noisy smelly neighbours, the final two elephant seals vocalised their farewells and departed the beach for regions unknown. Who knows how long it will actually take them to clear the sea ice and get into open water.

Looking over the records for the past few years, this season was better than most for elephant seal numbers. The peak population and the departure of the last seals being somewhat later than usual in each case. The seals are usually gone by ANZAC Day.

With the sea ice having formed early, around the beginning of March, we will have plenty of evidence they were here for the months to come. The impressions they have left by moving around on top of the ice have been etched in now and every time the wind blows clearing the snow we will be reminded of their presence. Now it’s just the snow petrels, and us…

Doc’s Dozen — Clive McMahon

Clive McMahon


Welcome Clive, would I be safe in saying that you have been to Antarctica before and why do you keep coming back?

Yes, I have been lucky enough to spend quite a few seasons down south, first with the South African program, then a few times with the Australian program and then with the French and Kiwi programs. I return for the elephant seals of course. Who wouldn’t travel to the end of the earth for a glimpse of these magnificent beasts.

What is it like being a sealer at Davis?

It would have to be about the best job one could have while still dressed. You can’t beat the early morning amble down the beach counting seals and watching the world wake. Early mornings are a pretty special time of day and field biologists get to see quite a few, so all round we’re a pretty lucky bunch.

If not a seal biologist, what job would you do Clive?

Catching seals is good for one’s soul. I don’t think I would like any other job really. (I’ve seen you catching seals Clive, I think it’s good for getting fit and being quick on your feet!)

What has been the best gig as a seal biologist?

No doubt, weighing weaned elephant seals on a blustery day in the sub Antarctic.

What has been your best Antarctic experience?

Being amongst magnificent beasts and being able to return.

As a very experienced campaigner Clive, what do you love about Antarctica?

I love that I have been lucky and privileged enough to come back a number of times. I think it gets into your blood.

Who inspires you?

Good question, a number of people but notably Jan Smuts (South African President, philosopher and naturalist back in the 1920s), Laurence van der Post (South African humanist and author), more recently Nelson Mandela (and Klerk for the part he played) for saving South Africa from a blood bath and especially for the forgiveness he showed, and finally Mary White, a paleobotanist extraordinaire, a great thinker and living treasure. (Wow Clive, that is a pretty impressive list!)

If you were a car, what car would you be?

I would probably be an old Land Rover, slow and steady.

If you could be someone else, who would you be?

I ‘m not sure, I kind of like being me but a smarter me and a me that can play and sing the blues would be pretty grand. (Clive, you are already pretty smart in my book. I’ve never had dinner with anyone else who has nearly 100 published papers!)

What have you learned living in a small community?

You can run but you can’t hide, so it’s best to be kind to one another.

Clive if you were granted one wish what would it be?

I wish that we all spent a bit more time thinking about the world around us.

What are you looking forward to the most when you get home from your latest Antarctic adventure?

Feasting on home grown tomatoes and hanging out with my lovely (and very patient) wife Lou.