It was a big news week at Davis station.The plumbers make the cut in site services, field parties out to Hop Island and Amanda Bay, drinks with the Doctor, Australia Day celebrations, science in the field, a review of the AGSO season that was, and introducing the newest member of the Davis weekly news team.

Cut in day

Friday was the day of the cut-in to the heating hot water for the new wastewater treatment plant for project plumbers. It was a nice warm day — about two degrees Celsius, 10 knots wind — which gave the perfect opportunity to take the station’s heating offline for a few hours. After a minor power issue in the morning, everything else went according to plan and we now have the new treatment plant connected to the site services.

Hop Island maintenance

In the anticipation of the helicopters leaving us for Mawson shortly, field hut maintenance is continuing in earnest this week. Last Wednesday two crews were out in the Rauer group of islands, with one team at Filla Island and another at Hop Island. The team at Hop had some gas work to upgrade, a new solar panel had to be installed for charging the radio, and fire extinguishers and blankets needed to be changed out.

A general inspection was carried out on both the smartie hut and the melon hut to make sure they are prepared for the winter and the following summer when they will play home to teams of scientists.

Amanda Bay

Last week I was lucky enough to be included in the trip out to Amanda Bay. The area is a restricted Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) due to the presence of an emperor penguin rookery. Entry to the area and activities carried out are controlled via permit to prevent disturbance to the colony. 

At this time of year most of the penguins have left the colony and only a few isolated groups were left. As a part of the ongoing monitoring and scientific research aerial photos are taken at specific times of year to count penguin numbers. There are also cameras powered by solar panels setup to take several pictures a day all year round to monitor behaviour, breeding success and population changes.

The three cameras at Amanda Bay were first installed in 2011 at two sites, and were due for replacement. Adam has been carrying out the work locally and was is charge of replacing equipment, removing the old cameras and taking them back to station to download the data.

The trip was successful with many photos taken along the way.

The Penguin Watch project from Oxford University also uses these photos and others from penguin and other seabird colonies at sites around each of the stations. They are always looking for volunteers.

Vicki Heinrich 

More information 

Wanted: volunteers to count Antarctic penguins (AAD News, 2014)

Penguin Watch website

Team AGSO: a season in review

Immediately upon arrival at Davis the AGSOs (Aircraft Ground Support Officers) were swiftly put into action, supporting helicopter transfers of priority cargo and passengers from ship to shore. A handover of the sea ice ski landing area with the wintering team and facilitating cargo flights to Mawson was the game. Hampered by weather, we sat tight waiting for the opportunity until finally a window opened and we said goodbye to our Mawson guests, along with hundreds of kilos of food. “Don’t forget the cheese”, they said!

“The sea ice ski landing area was quite often over run by penguins, using its perfectly smooth surface as a highway,” said one AGSO.

Helicopter operations based on station kept the resident AGSO and helicopter crew busy, supporting many science and maintenance projects with sling loads and passenger transfers throughout the season.

With the condition of the sea ice deteriorating, it wasn’t long until the time to move operations to Davis Plateau ski landing area (Woop Woop) arrived. With support from other work groups, we traversed our snow groomers and other essential equipment to the plateau and got to work constructing the ski landing area and preparing the living quarters that would act as our base, and the launch point for the remaining fixed wing operations of the season.

We and our visiting Chinese observer Xiaosong 'Sean’ Shi, very much enjoyed going to Woop Woop and getting away from the hustle and bustle of station life. Each of us took turns to cook dinner, do the dishes and make cups of tea along with refuelling aircraft, providing weather observations, grooming, clearing snow, maintaining equipment, loading and unloading cargo, managing passengers and so on. In our last week of aviation operations, possibly our busiest, Woop Woop played host to a DC-3 Basler cargo plane, a Twin Otter, an American C130 Hercules and the station’s two B3 helicopters.

Before we knew it, our fixed wing aircraft had departed Davis for tasking elsewhere and so pack-down began. Preparing the camp for winter is essential for a smooth set-up the following summer season, so we meticulously went through all of our equipment and plugged any void that snow may find its way into.

A busy aviation season means a lot of empty fuel drums. The glamorous life of flying around in helicopters is over and crushing drums fills the days. 

Such is the life of ‘Team AGSO'. Our thanks to all who have been a part of the team over the year for all their hard work: Nick W, Jenn M, Lance Q, Scott N, Ben M and Xiaosong S.

What’s up doc?

Last Friday evening, our end of week workplace gathering was held in the Davis medical facility hosted by our station doctor, Dr Jan, and our lay surgical assistants.

A clinically inspired selection of drinks were served in novel dispensers to the large gathering. Attendees were kept guessing with the ‘medical mystery object quiz', the responses to which ranged from the creative to the bizarre. 

Australia day

The weather here on Australia Day wasn’t particularly conducive to outdoor festivities. Cricket was cancelled due to gusts of wind that made bowling from the Heidemann Bay end near impossible. Still, it didn’t deter a hardy group of individuals from taking on the challenge of the annual Australia Day swim. One of the local elephant seals thought the whole thing was thoroughly entertaining. The day concluded with a BBQ and a pig on the spit whilst listening to the end of Triple J’s Hottest 100.

Science in the field

Our journey started with a meteorology briefing, like any other flying day. The weather is good, let’s jump in the helicopter.

Beaver Lake is located in the Prince Charles Mountains, an almost three hours flight from Davis station. With a helicopter, it means flying first to Sansom Island, refuelling, having a break, and then continuing our trip to Beaver Lake.

The trip to Sansom Island is worth the refuelling: in the middle of the Antarctic summer, the glaciers and icebergs are colorised by the melting pool from the surface melting, forming the deepest and purest blue one has never seen. Their shapes leave our imagination sailing, from the camel shapes to hearts.

Sansom Island is the last piece of rock on the coast before the great white of the Amery Ice Shelf. From there, we fly south, keeping in sight the spiky rock of the Prince Charles Moutains, growing and growing over an hour.

Here they are, encircling Beaver Lake, the famous frozen lake shaken by the tides. The antenna unit which has been installed in the past is shining in a gorge, at the bottom of the mountain jaw. After a few minutes flying over, we can spot it. Now we start our job: setting up a GPS unit with two batteries using the previous antenna, and then record its position for over ten days.

This is a way for the geophysicists to measure the uplift of the crust in that area. This movement is created by the post-glacial rebound, the mantle pushing the crust as a consequence of the last deglaciation and disparition of the ice pressure on top of it.

But the signal is tiny: only few millimetres per year. Over ten years our GPS is able to record the change.

The GPS installation is supposed to be easy, only a few minutes are required to plug in the batteries, the antenna and the GPS, but this is without dealing with the Antarctic wind blowing. The helicopter can hardly land: in few minutes we empty the helicopter, install the unit and jump back in the chopper.

Good luck GPS. Let’s see you in 10 days full of useful data. We are now flying back to Davis with the sun touching the horizon.

A bientôt!


Introducing our roaming reporter.

Introducing the newest member of our Davis station news team, roving correspondent Mr G.B. Brendan, made from the finest correspondence stock the Davis’ Christmas desserts platter has to offer.

Stay tuned for the latest freshly baked news stories from this intrepid, very tasty reporter.