This week at Davis we're learning about Ralph’s insights, visiting Platcha Hut and replacing an engine in the Main Power House.

A few things I have learnt since coming to Antarctica

Hi all. Hi mum! Having a ball, and keeping out of trouble. The longer I am here the more fascinating this place becomes. Here are a collection of thoughts that I have stumbled over since arriving.

  • I have grossly underestimated cold!

I thought cold was cold. You sort of got to a point of maximal being cold and that was it. Oh no, there are so many levels of cold, cold just keeps getting colder. You think you are as cold as you can be, and then it gets worse! I am concerned that there is still more cold to come.

  • Goose down is the bomb

I have been getting around in my summer winter jackets, and my winter jacket, but last week I tried out my winter winter jacket. Its huge, its red, it has furry bits and it so nice. I spent an afternoon driving around doing science (sea ice thickness measuring), and was so happy and toasty. I am never going back!

  • The sunrises and sunsets are epic

I think it is all about the contrasts. The sky becomes a lovely collection of pinks; the icebergs get a blue haze to them. It’s rather magical, sort of not real.

  • I miss rain

I think I am going crazy because some nights I swear I can hear rain outside. I really miss the sound and smell of a good storm. Snow is beautiful to look at, and the crunch of dry snow is great but there is no smell.

  • Nothing can keep good old Davis dust down

No matter how much I think it is gone and the snow has finally beaten it, a few days of wind and the dust is back again. It coats the sea ice turning our beautiful white ice brown! I have serious questions about the geological age of this place for there to be so much dust still here with so much of it blowing out to sea! At what point do we run out?

  • Take your time, get the clothes right

Time spent ensuring good pants to boot overlap, and balaclava to neck wrap thing coverage make all the difference.

  • Salad is amazing

I was never a big salad person (says the Doctor), but as more green things become available here I am realising how nice it can be.

  • Metal rim glasses were a poor choice

Dealing with glasses fogging (and then freezing) is one issue, but metal…what was I thinking!

  • Work vehicles will never quite compare

From summer helicopter rides, now to quads and soon Häggs, it is certainly very different to getting around Australia. I am not sure if I have a favourite yet but the Hägg does come with heating…

Well I hope you enjoyed my collection of epiphanies. Until next time.

Ralph (Doctor)

Trip to Platcha

The sea ice has well and truly formed. After many weeks of drilling the sea ice it was deemed that it is now safe for travel on quad bikes.

A couple of weeks ago a group of expeditioners led by Lötter drilled the ice all the way along the prescribed travel route to Platcha Hut. After the success of this trip many on station anticipated a quad bike ride to one of the huts.

Last week two groups put in trip applications — one to Bandits Hut and the other to Platcha Hut. Along with Bryce (trip leader), Barry Balkin (B2) and myself (B1) we planned the much anticipated trip to Platcha.

By smoko on Saturday we were all ready, having loaded the bikes with our survival packs, quad recovery kits, food, water, extra fuel and of course, essential camera gear. The two groups VLZ1 and VLZ2 finally left together around noon. We stopped at every waypoint on the route to drill and measure the thickness of the sea ice. At BR02 we parted company — VLZ1 continued north, taking the coastal route to Bandits, while VlZ2 (the 3 B’s) went east.

It was overcast and continuous snow was falling. Not too unpleasant, but we had to be vigilant as surface and horizon definition were both poor.

As we travelled up Long Fjord, the dramatic scenery unfolded — the stark contrast of the hills against the white of the snow. Stopping at intervals to drill the sea ice, we had time to take in the scenery and also marvel at the many snow petrels which were darting back and forth — no doubt they were inquisitive about us.

We finally made it to waypoint PL09, the entrance to Breid Basin. After the many kilometres travel over flat sea ice, we encountered a landscape of rafted ice, sastrugi and heavy snow drifts. All of a sudden the going was pretty slow and heavy. We managed only 200 metres into this terrain, each of us getting bogged several times. We actually got to use some of our quad recovery training.

As it was around 4 pm (sunset was at 4:40pm) we decided to abandon trip and head back to Brookes Hut. A shame as we were only around 3km from Platcha Hut.

Arriving at Brookes we found that VLZ1 hadn’t made it to Bandits. Something about a few small icebergs in the way. So after a quick visit the 3 B’s decide to head back to Davis while there was still light.

Despite not reaching Platcha, we all had a great time and are looking forward to making another attempt in the near future.

Barend (Barry) Becker (Met Senior Observer)

Changing out an engine from the Main Power House

As is the nature of mechanical things, they wear out over time and fail. This was the case with the generator engine #4 at Davis station last week.

We had walked out of the workshop in the afternoon and could immediately hear that something was wrong with one of the engines in the power house so we all ran up there to see what was amiss. Upon inspection and diagnosis (head scratching), we discovered that one of the intake valves had failed and caused some internal damage, which we were able to see with a small camera inserted into the still assembled engine.

Because the engine was so close to the end of its lifespan, the decision was made to just swap it out rather than repair it here. These engines are usually run for 40,000 hours and then removed and returned to Australia for a full rebuild.

To remove and replace one of the engines is not a small job, but a good procedure exists for doing it and with the team on hand, it certainly ran smoothly.

The first job was to complete a Job Hazards Analysis and review our procedure to make sure we did the job safely, this is paramount in Antarctica since you are so isolated. Then we prepared the new engine by removing all the ancillary parts from the old engine and installing them onto the new one, then we had to remove the old engine and make it safe to lift out of the building as well as bring the new engine from the workshop to the main power house, ready to be installed. Next came the fun part, we needed to remove the wall from the building to get the old engine out and the new engine in! So, we came together to do our Take 5 safety meeting, making sure everyone was clear with the procedure and we were safe to proceed.

We used an elevated work platform and a telehandler to remove the door and place it to the side, thankfully it is like a huge esky lid and only weighs 200kg so it was easy to manage. Next we removed the old engine from the building, replaced it with the new one and then set to work re-installing the new engine. The work has just been completed and we are running the new engine as I write this. After we’ve run it for a couple of hours, we will shut it back down and flush the cleaning solution from the cooling system and then refill it with fresh coolant. We will run this engine in position three, so it will only operate intermittently, for the first 1000 hours of its life, then it will become our spare set. Our bench warmer, if you will.

All’s well that ends well!

Marc (Mechanic)