Arrival at Davis

We’ve been on base at Davis over two weeks now. I’ve had a vague inclination to start a blog since I started training nearly six months ago! Occasionally I catch myself saying the same things over and over again to different people. Today was my best chance at getting some of this written down, yet it is nearly midnight, and I’ve barely started.

First impressions of Davis? So far it is living up to its reputation as the Riviera of the South. Most of the first week or two I was wandering around outside in shorts. The temperature has never been far from zero but it has mostly been sunny. It won’t set for around six weeks – tomorrow is the “middle” of the longest day. A few days ago we had our first big blow which pushed out some of the dirty lingering sea ice stuck to the shoreline around station. We got a peak of 52 knots but mostly it was struggling to even register gale force. Wet snow in the morning turned to raindrops in the afternoon. Around base is very rocky and it could be mistaken for a mining camp.

Davis station, with the ice plateau in the distance

Davis station, with the ice plateau in the distance

Exploring further afield is why we’re here. Everyone at the station has now completed overnight survival training. For my group we were dropped by helicopter at Watts hut,  with an afternoon walk exploring the low rocky terrain studded with lakes. We slept in a bivouac bag before crossing the fiord over sea ice the next morning and arriving back at Davis.

Wind eroded rocks (very common here) on our survival training

Wind eroded rocks (very common here) on our survival training

Everyone has been busy. This summer is comparatively very short so there aren’t a lot of gaps in the schedule. My job is mostly observations, for aviation purposes when there’s flying on, and synoptic weather reports for climate and forecasting purposes. Twice a day at 2315 and 1115 UTC we release a hydrogen balloon which carries a radio transmitter with GPS, pressure altitude, temperature, and humidity sensors, giving us a detailed snapshot of the state of the atmosphere, which I’ll explain one day. With Davis at UTC+7hrs, we have a long day when on “Obs”, from 5:30am to 10:15pm. Apart from that I have to familiarise with the technical side of the job, this is supposed to be 20-30% of my time in this role.

Tomorrow I’ll have another crack at this, it is starting to come together but I still feel I might be missing something. The next day we leave on three day field training, mostly based on the quad bikes. We need ice for this – the windy weather has made a mess of what was left at Bandits hut, so tomorrow the choppers will sling the quads to some moraine somewhere on the edge of the ice plateau. It’s all good fun.

We have an “airport” or skiway, 37km from Davis at a place called Whoop Whoop on the ice plateau. During winter you can get there with quad bikes or a Hagglund (vehicle with tracks and a trailer), but during summer we need the helicopters. One sunny day last week I went up there to replace the wind anemometer with a missing cup. Up there it feels a little more like authentic Antarctica. A skua flew by, flying low and slow, scoping out the place.

Building an igloo at Whoop Whoop

Building an igloo at Whoop Whoop

The Vestfold hills from the air

The Vestfold hills from the air

There isn’t a lot of wildlife around station but there has been the odd stray Weddell seal or penguin. I’m not convinced either is intelligent – especially penguins. I found out today they eat dirt to try and keep cool. There has been a juvenile Emperor outside our met building for the last few days. Apparently he has found some snow at last. That must be better than rocks. Since the ice has blown out we have started to see more penguins around – they are mostly Adelie’s here.

Life on station is great. Living conditions are great, we have our own rooms, our chef is excellent, and the living quarters are open and spacious with leather couches, darts billiards and ping pong, a small theatre, and a bar with great views of the icebergs in the bay. There are several buildings over station and the scale is quite impressive. BOM have already made a name for themselves with sunlight triggering a hydrogen fire sensor just when people have sat down at the dinner table. I’m on the fire team so I’ve been part of two impromptu drills already.

Everyone is in good spirits and getting along really well. Walking around with a smile on their face. It’s a good place to be.

The Aurora Australis from Davis, during the V1 resupply

The Aurora Australis from Davis, during the V1 resupply

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