This week at Davis we have put boats on the water, been given water from the ship, continued our work projects and celebrated Australia Day

Station update

We are in the final part of the summer season here at Davis with a pace that is accelerating towards the finish line. The return to Davis of the Mount Brown project folks and their precious ice cores has commenced with four of the team back now and three hardy souls left out at the camp to dig it out and run the skiway and cargo operations.

We have commenced the boating season here at Davis also with a number of trips to the front of the Sørsdal Glacier for expeditioners after dinner. It is an amazing trip between the islands, past numerous penguin colonies and finally to the front of the Sørsdal where it meets the ocean. Many of the islands we want to access for our biologists have remained choked with brash ice however recent winds have cleared them out we hope so we intend getting there in the coming week.

Our trade folks have continued scoring goals with their myriad of projects which has included the modifications to our living quarters link roof to prevent leakage of melt water into the building. The helicopter pads have been improved, powerhouse maintenance completed and much more!

We paused to celebrate Australia Day last week and although winds prevented the traditional swim we were put through our paces by Mick with a fantastic Davis Olympic Games. There was fierce competition for medals over different events with the tug of war and marathon proving brutal for participants! Spit roast lamb for dinner topped the day off.

You may also have followed the ship Aurora Australis visiting Davis the last few days to give us fresh water. With technical problems preventing us making water by reverse osmosis at the moment, we took the precautionary step of getting some from the ship. It was a great operation by the ship and station teams to move about 250,000l of water ashore using a tank on a barge.

Davis is an aviation enthusiasts delight this week with two Baslers, a Twin Otter, two helicopters and from tomorrow a US LC130 Hercules all operating from the skiway at Whoop Whoop and station helipads.

There are some great articles following about the science being done on the Sørsdal Glacier and the importance of tea to our operational capability!

By Robb (Station Leader)

Sørsdal Science

It’s no secret that the world’s big ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland are key to future sea level rise. Around the edges ice can be lost rapidly through icebergs breaking off, or through ice flowing into the ocean faster. While a lot of research has focused on the rapid changes in West Antarctica and Greenland, much less is known about the ice dynamics in East Antarctica. As a result, I received an email from Prof. Bernd Kulessa (Swansea University, UK) at the end of August last year which said…

It’s a long story that I'll all explain when you are back in Swansea, but to cut it short — would you potentially be interested and able to conduct self-potential, airborne radar and passive seismic fieldwork out of the Australian Davis station in East Antarctica from late November/early December until mid-late March?

…and so started my first trip South.

The work is part of a project, Outlet Glacier Dynamics on Princess Elizabeth Land, now in its third year. It is locally known as the Schoof Project as it is headed up by Prof. Christian Schoof (University of British Columbia), with much of the previous fieldwork done by the very talented Dr. Sue Cook (University of Tasmania). Bernd, Hannes Hollmann (University of Tasmania) and myself made up this year’s team, with a regretful early exit for Bernd, returning to Swansea University to inspire the next generation of scientists. The main aims of the project have been to make detailed observations, at an outlet glacier draining a part of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, of ice flow response to the formation of surface meltwater, changes in sea ice conditions and rifting/calving of icebergs and melting where the ice meets the ocean. Understanding how these processes affect how fast the ice flows will help to improve projections of future sea level rise.

The focus is on the Sørsdal Glacier, it’s a small outlet glacier by Antarctic standards but when you’re stood out on the ice it still seems pretty big. In previous years it has been observed that every summer the glacier experiences melt, resulting in the formation and later drainage or freezing of a number of large ponds. In Greenland the flow of the ice sheet speeds up every summer in areas where there is enough melting at the surface to cause water to pond. The ponds often drain down through the ice until the water reaches bedrock. There, the water acts as a lubricant, causing the ice flow to speed up. We’ve been focusing on three different lake systems which always form in the same location, Horseshoe Lake, Channel Lake and Twin Lakes. Each of the lakes has a different size and shape and the drainage mechanisms seem to be variable. So far we’ve been adding to a number of existing data sets and instruments already on the glacier, to investigate the formation of the melt ponds and determine how and where the melt water drains from the ponds through the ice. This involves

  • Deployment of seismometers, similar to those used to detect earthquakes, to detect the micro-tremors created by the water flow in the ice.
  • Airborne ice-penetrating radar measurements using the station helicopter, to detect and map the drainage pathways in the ice.
  • Deployment of self-potential electrodes allowing us to identify and measure the flow of water within the ice.
  • A salt tracer experiment by which salt is dissolved in the pond waters and then tracked by water sampling and radar measurements down flow of the lake.
  • Installation of meteorology sensors at one of the lakes, providing a full energy balance and near surface ice temperature profile.

An amazing number of blue sky days in early January afforded us great success out on the ice. We collected exceptional radar data, installed eight high frequency seismometers, three broadband seismometers, six self-potential electrodes and a suite of meteorological sensors at Horseshoe Lake. To add to this success, we have also been granted permission to leave three of the seismometers, the self-potential electrodes and the tower at Horseshoe Lake on the ice until next summer.

We can’t stress enough though, none of this would have happened without the awesome amount of help and support we’ve received from everyone here. From solutions to house our instruments to keeping us safe on the ice to flying us by helicopter not just to but also between our sites on the Sørsdal. Prof. Kulessa might regret his email last August though, now I’ve been spoilt, I’m never walking between field sites again!

By Sarah (Glaciologist)

Tea time

Getting your tea fix in Antarctica can be a tricky business. Depending on the flavour you desire and the vessel in which you choose to brew it and your location, many obstacles may stand in your way, not to mention the other tea aficionados in the line up for boiling water, planes waiting for service and emails begging for speedy replies.

Is the gas turned on in your hut? Do you have enough water for a brew? Is the teapot full of day old, sad dried tea leaves? Is there time? Where is that box of chai?

Luckily, there is almost always time, as tea is the warming energy source that is the key to keeping that spring in your step and a smile on your face along the path in a busy day, 35 knots of wind and blowing snow.

Many folks here at Davis start their day with a coffee from our industrial grade coffee machine, some people manage this with ease as they are actually barristas from Melbourne, posing as plumbers, Met Observers, surveyors and the like. Others struggle with the complexities of the coffee ritual and can make the milk warmer sound like an angle grinder setting off much muttering and eye rolling from the breakfast crowd and then there is the chore of removing your coffee dispenser from the machine, it is sometimes easier to leave it attached and attend to your burning toast across the room.

Here at Davis station we have an outrageous choice of teas to choose from. Green, Jasmine, Lemon and Ginger, Chai, Licorice (definitely can’t recommend that one) Chamomile, Blackcurrant, Earl Grey, Bushells, Irish Breakfast, the list goes on. Chai tea is a crowd favourite and just recently, anguish settled over the station (me) as a realisation came about that there were no replenishing stocks in the green store. The chai was out. This was almost crippling news for some of us who have a chai tea every couple of hours (me). Having been gifted a handmade ceramic teapot last year I just envisaged that it would be full of hot chai till sailing day. Thankfully after a furious search was undertaken at the Plateau Ski Landing Area, a couple of boxes were unearthed and this crisis averted.

At the ends of the earth a cup of tea from a little handmade teapot keeps me going ( along with some walnut slice and perhaps a bar of chocolate or two)

By Jenn (Senior Aircraft Ground Support Officer)