This week at Davis we have continued field and station operations on the ground, on the ice and in the air.

Station update

More field training for us at Davis in the last week along with the departure of 10 of our team for Casey and then Hobart. The weather came good for the flight through to Casey and the passengers walked straight from the Basler to an Airbus and were in Hobart that very same night.

We had a very windy weekend with winds from 100–125km/hr making it a quiet few days for everyone. We certainly spared a thought for our friends at Mount Brown where the winds were even stronger and the team were in tents. It was a challenging few days for them, but everything held up fine and they are now continuing preparations to start drilling the ice core.

At Davis we watched amazed as the fast ice in front of station gradually peeled away with the winds and the area we walked across just a few days ago is now open water.

This is the last weekly news before Christmas so to all our family, friends and colleagues we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Here’s some thoughts from Trevor, our communications technician and Deputy Station Leader on field training and in the article below you can read about the Vestfold resident Weddell Seal population.

This week four separate groups headed off for field/survival training with an overnight trip out to Brookes Hut sleeping in a bivvy bag (commonly known as a chip packet!). Some activities included the use of portable stoves to cook up dehydrated meals for dinner (well, boiling water to pour into the packet), sea ice travel and navigation. We practiced tossing throw bags to each other in case of breaking through the ice, and practiced drilling the sea ice to check the thickness so hopefully we never need to use the throw bag. Everyone survived their night in the bivvy bag, but we all agreed that the next night at Brooks would definitely be in the toasty warm bunks inside. 

The scenic trip of around 16 kilometers, walking through the magnificent and remote Vestfold Hills, finally brought us home to station where our wonderful chefs had a tasty dinner ready for us. ​

Robb (station leader) and Trevor (deputy station leader).

Wonderful Weddell Seals

As my boots crunched ice under microspikes and the quad bike engines hummed in the distance, I looked up into the face of the biggest smile I had ever seen a creature wear — the grinning, and wide eyed face of a Weddell seal pup. This summer, Marcus Salton and I are the field biologist team and have the privilege to work with some of the most charismatic creatures in Antarctica. In a magical wonderland of penguins and icebergs we recently spent ten days riding through fjords of fast ice (frozen sea) searching for Weddell seals to map their distribution in the Vestfold Hills.

Weddell seals live most of their life under the frozen fast ice of the Antarctic continent, and like other mammals and birds in Antarctica (with the exception of Emperor penguins) they breed during the summer months. Around October each year, females slide up onto the ice through tide cracks or holes they rasp away with their teeth, to give birth to a pup that weighs around 25–35kg. Within six weeks these itchy, curious, youngsters have reached around 130kg and are ready to wean, leaving mum and the fast ice for the underwater world.

Throughout December, we saw them moulting away their puppy coats. Itchy, vocal and sleepy, these youngsters are growing a coat that they will keep for a year before coming ashore to moult again as juveniles a year later. As they grumbled and scratched against the ice, yawning with eyes closed, we counted them and recorded their location on our hand held GPS devices. This information will be compared to previous surveys and used to document future changes in their movements. In a dynamic and changing world, understanding where and when marine mammals breed helps us understand and protect them against future challenges.

As we walked back to our bikes, despite the cold 20 knot wind and the −10oC temperature, I was in complete awe of the landscape. The ice cliffs of the Antarctic ice cap rose away on the horizon, and the dyke striated rocky hills spanned the coastline, I could hear the warbling chatter of Adèlie penguins: my smile, hidden under my helmet and neck warmer, beamed larger than any of the Weddell seals we came across.In that moment, and many more that week, my senses were overwhelmed, not only by the funny behaviours of the seals we observed, but of the astounding beauty that is ever present in this incredible place.

What a privilege it was to share it with these wonderful Weddell seals for a few days.

By Kimberley Kliska (biologist).