A poem, vital water management and seabird research at Davis.

A note from the editor

This week’s Davis station news was created before the tragic events resulting in the loss of helicopter pilot David Wood, an Antarctic colleague and friend to many. We did not want to let down the readers of the station news, the family and friends of expeditioners who look forward to each issue, so we have provided the stories for you to read. More information can be found by visiting the news section of our website. Our hearts are with the expeditioners at Davis, and with Mr Wood’s family and friends during this difficult time.

A statement from the Wood and Macdonald families regarding David Wood

Location — Fascination

As a Station Leader, there is nothing more pleasing than getting some feedback on our station news contributions each week. This week I received a wonderful poem from one of our expeditioner’s mother. She is an avid reader and she based her poem on our stories so far. The station expeditioners were overwhelmed to receive this poem so please read and enjoy it as much as we did.

68° 34′ 36″ S, 77° 58′ 03″ E (−68.5766° S, 77.9674° E)

Location — Fascination

Davis, Antarctica –

a place of renown

Memories made here,

with rarely a frown.

One for all, all for one

No-one will shirk

Their duties, their care

And continuing work.

Painted in green,

The only green there 

Davis is home

To expeds who dare,

As temps do not soar

In this white frigid region

Summerers — Winterers

Their stories are legion.

Beautiful tucker

Prepared to perfection

Electrics, utilities

Sustained for protection.

Comfortable quarters

A mess room of fun

A great place to be,

When all said and done. 

- — -

For the good of mankind

Information is sought

Gathered, recorded

And given much thought.

The Quads and the Haggs

Maintained with precision

So that expeds can travel

In safety on mission.

Aurora Australis

Beyond wild delight

Dances its way

Into each night.

Adélies, Emporers,

Orca, Weddell

Add to the beauty

As many will tell.

Survival and science,

Weather and whales,

Observed every day

(e’en maybe thru gales?)

Along with their mates

At Casey and Mawson

With all in the Treaty

These people are awesome.

Antarctica's desert

Covered in snow

Windy and freezing

At minus below

A world almost strange

Silent, apart

A place to which many

Give their whole heart. 

© Anne N Byam

January 2016

Precious water

Fresh water at Davis is a very precious commodity. This seems strange when you consider that about 98 percent of Antarctica is covered in ice which is estimated to contain up to 70 percent of all the fresh water on the planet.

Davis station takes its water from a tarn which is a lake formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier and then fills from melted snow. This tarn is frozen for over ten months of the year and no water is available. The tarn water, when unfrozen, is a combination of melted snow and sea water which is pumped in as often there is insufficient snow melt. The tarn water therefore requires reverse osmosis technology to remove particles from the water before it is suitable for station use. So for about four to six weeks each year when the tarn is unfrozen, Davis can make water using the reverse osmosis machine.

Davis has total water storage of 1.45 million litres which consists of two large outdoor tanks that hold 600,000 litres each and several internal tanks inside the tank house that hold a combination of 250,000 litres. Once the tanks are full, water production stops and no more water can be produced till the following year when the tarn again unfreezes. 

For most of the year Davis has water restrictions to ensure an ongoing supply of water to station. These restrictions include only a three minute shower every second day and full washing machines only.

At this time of year, just prior to the commencement of water production when the tanks are nearly empty, there is an opportunity to do internal water tank inspections as part of our annual station management. This is a complicated procedure which involves working in an enclosed space and a lot of safety procedures have to be put in place.

Fortunately, water production has started and the occasional four minute shower can be sneaked in.

Seabird research in the Davis region

The seabird research group have been busy attaching trackers to a range of species to identify their foraging locations and to understand how they utilise the winds and water currents to travel. Previously we have done this for Adélie penguins in the Rauer Islands, but not for any of the flying seabirds.

Our field site at Hop Island is a stunning location with chunks of ice now snuggling in the bays. It is an incredibly special place because it provides habitat for a range of seabirds to breed including Adélie penguins, snow petrels, Antarctic petrels, cape petrels, southern fulmars, skuas and Wilson’s storm petrels. We have chosen the first five of these species to simultaneously study their foraging activities, location and diet. For the flying seabirds we are using small GPS units which include a solar panel for recharging and are able to download the data to a base station when the bird comes back to its nesting site. For the Adélie penguins, we are using GPS units which we need to retrieve to download the data and which are black making it incredibly difficult to find the black devices taped on with black tape onto the black back of the birds which stand amongst a sea of other black-backed birds!

We have also conducted broad scale surveys of snow petrels and Adélie penguins involving aerial photography from helicopters as well as ground surveys across a rather remarkable landscape. For the snow petrels this involves what is similar to a rogaining course where we set out with GPS units to find particular locations, search under every rock in the 50x50 m plot that a snow petrel could possibly nest under, and then continue to our next destination to repeat the process. Some of the plots have been on gentle undulating terrain, while others have required scrambling up scree slopes or large bouldered slopes. We are treading very carefully.

Amidst all of these more time consuming activities we have also mapped Adélie penguin and flying seabird colonies, and skua nests on Hop Island to understand the association between the predatory skua and its food source. We have searched for birds which were banded in the early 1980s, and have collected seabird faecal samples to determine diet and pollution content. Soon we will be joined by a visitor from Zhongshan station (China) to dig guano cores with us to identify longer term occupation of Adélie penguins and dietary shifts over thousands of years through isotope and DNA techniques.

It has been a busy period in the field which was interrupted by a welcome break back on station for Christmas and New Years (Station leader’s orders, thank you station leader!).

Louise, Nina, James and Helen