Ice-olation vs isolation; pandemic parallels at Davis this week!

Fast-ice return further isolates 24 intrepid expeditioners

Every year at Davis, the sea freezes over — usually in late-March, but it varies every year depending on weather conditions. It’s quite an experience waking up one morning and seeing a thin sheet of ice covering the sea in front of station for as far as the eye can see, and really makes you aware of the descent into winter.

The appearance of the ice also marks the start of the sea-ice observation season, where once the ice is thick enough to walk on, members of the station community make weekly trips to measure the thickness of the sea-ice at seven specific points in the bay in front of the station. The kind of sea-ice we can travel on is called “fast-ice” (naturally, because it doesn’t move), so-called because it is stuck (or fastened) to the land.

While ice might seem like a bit of a clichéd thing to study in Antarctica, it is important to observe as its yearly cycle is an integral component of the polar climate system. By keeping a detailed multi-year record, it can provide important insights into global climate patterns.

While I can personally vouch that everyone at Davis is passionately dedicated to science, there are also other motivations for the station community to keep a close eye on its growth: once it is deemed of sufficient quality, it is the best way to travel around the Vestfold Hills and to access a number of the more distant field huts for both recreational and scientific purposes.

Recently, we've had small groups cautiously venturing out to test the thickness of the sea-ice at various distances from shore to assess its thickness and quality. While the elephant seal tracks criss-crossing the snow show that they clearly apply different standards when judging sea-ice load capacity (seals are known for their recklessness), it still shouldn’t be long before we too can start taking advantage of this natural highway.

- Dan Dyer, Electronics Engineer/Sea Ice monitoring program co-ordinator