Final Antarctic Post

At long last, it’s time for me to leave this awe-inspiring place I’ve called home for 18 months.  Since the ship arrived this morning I’ve been increasingly sad and excited.  It’ll be very sad to part with Davis Station and its denizens, but I also have so much to look forward to (and do) back home.

I don’t have a theme for this week’s pictures.  It’s the time of year when the grease ice is starting to form, the sun sets in the perfect spot for photos on the beach, and the chill in the air starts to return and remind us that Antarctica does get cold sometimes.

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A few different weather systems have give us onshore winds over the last few weeks.  One of them managed to blow chunks of ice ashore at high tide, leaving them stranded for my viewing and photographing pleasure.

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We have nearly 100 elephant seals in the wallow by the station now.  They’re still fighting, sleeping, stinking, swimming, etc. as much usual; perhaps even more now the the temperatures have dropped and they’re less prone to overheat.

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Of everything I’ve seen down here (it’s a lot; check previous posts!), the stunning vistas are still my favourite part.  Adelie penguins and their inexplicable antics are a close second, but sunsets, auroras, sunrises, icebergs, dykes, etc. are still the winner.

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At this very moment, however, my awaiting red taxi is my favourite view.

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When I’m asked what I miss the most, I don’t answer with ‘friends and family’.  I take it as a given that they’re the top of the list, so I instead think forward to the littler things I want.  My motorbike of course, but also simple things like walking outside barefoot, eating a banana, rain, smells, real coffee, etc.  So in about a fortnight I’ll be back in the real world enjoying these things.  I’ll post about my trip home after I get there, and I’ll also put up a final post about back home, so that this story can have a proper happy ending.

Thanks to everyone who has read my posts, commented on my photos, and generally kept me feeling connected with the world in the little ways.

Iceberg Cruise #2

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go out on a boating trip to check out the icebergs and penguins, just like I did last summer.  Unlike the trip last summer, the sky was quite overcast this time.  Despite the sky being less interesting and providing more glare off the ocean (I forgot my polariser), it changed some of the colours for the better.  And regardless, I’m not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.

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So at 1500 we all met at the boat shed to do all of the pre-checks and load the boats.  The photo above shows the boat ramp at the wharf, which you won’t have seem in my photos as it’s on the far side of the wharf from the station.  You can see we’re all suited up in Mustang suits, which provide flotation and warmth, and also minimise the flow of water through the suit if we should fall in.  They’re pretty neat.

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I’ve been using my 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom non-stop since it arrived at the start of summer, so I thought I really owed it to myself to go back to one of my primes for some shots.  I briefly considered taking my Olympus 45mm f/1.8, but I learned from last time that I’d want longer.  A couple of other people had lenses that went wide, so I went with my Olympus 75mm f/1.8 (equivalent to 150mm for you 35mm folk).  It’s a cracker of a lens anyway.

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As you can see, the chicks are in the late stages of molting.  The bit you don’t get to see in the stills is that they often chase their parents around, which is a funny thing to watch.

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We stopped by Gardener, Anchorage and Magnetic islands to look at some of the penguin colonies.  Another big difference to last summer is that the wind was coming from the opposite direction, so we weren’t downwind of the stink this time.  Quite a bonus.

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Here’s an idea of how far from station we are.  This shot is taken from near Gardener Island, around 3.5 kilometres from station.

And now an advance apology for any photography purists:  The last photos here have been processed to bring out some colour.  They’re not perfect representations of what we saw, but I enjoyed processing them, and I still enjoy looking at them how they are  🙂

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Visiting the XueLong

For the second time this season we’ve been lucky enough to have a visit from the CHINARE (Chinese Antarctic Research Expedition) icebreaker, the MV XueLong (which, by the way, means ‘Snow Dragon’).  The occasion for this visit is the collection of geological samples, which were taken by Chinese geologists a couple of months ago.

The team of geologists spent most of their time out in remote Antarctic places, so we didn’t see much of them.  Still, they were an interesting group when they were here, and even pitched in around station without being asked (like helping with sorting good potatoes from bad in the cold room).

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Here you can see the XueLong.  She’s a mighty vessel, and for both visits has anchored in roughly the same place as the Aurora Australis.  The arrangement this time was that they would send a few boatloads of people ashore, and in return they would accept a few boatloads aboard to look around the ship.  A formal dinner was also had aboard the ship by a few of our senior station management team (which was quite a banquet, I’m told).

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Here we are in the process of boarding the small transport boat.  Firstly we were given a quick brief on safety requirements, along with donning our Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs).  After the boat came alongside and the occupants disembarked, we clamboured aboard for our trip out.

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Here she is up closer.  Not too much to say here; I’m impressed by icebreakers in general.

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Our climb aboard the ship was quick, easy and scenic.  As precarious as some of you might think this looks, it’s a very sturdy cage and a very smooth lift by the crane.  In moments we were on the deck without climbing a single rung.

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Here we are on the bridge, with the Captain to the far right of frame.  The bridge was very large and very comfortable, and it’d be very interesting to be aboard for a voyage some time.

I must confess to taking very few photos of the ship itself.  I was too busy sticky-beaking or wagging my chin with the scientists and crew.  It should suffice to say that there is a lot of room in the research labs compare to our icebreaker, and that everyone was friendly and accommodating of our relentless curiosity.

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Here you can see the boat about to be divested of its last cargo; a gift of some Chinese beer.  Which reminds me, we had dinner aboard the ship too.  Aside from being delicious, one of the dishes was bok choi; the only fresh, green leafy anything I’ve eaten in quite some time!

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To finish, as is often the case, I’ve thrown in a couple of non-ship-related photos that I happened to take.  Thanks for reading.

Another summer hike

It had been a while since I’d gone for a decent hike (12 months, in fact), so I planned to spend two nights out in the field enjoying life.  As it so happened, however, the two huts within practical walking distance (Watts and Brookes) were both booked out for Saturday night this weekend.  My solution was to book Watts hut for Friday night, then walk to Marine Plain refuge for Saturday night.

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Here we are taking a short break on our way to Watts hut on Friday night.  We left an hour or so before dinner, so we’ve stopped off here for a quick snack and a check of the map.  As you can see, it’s quite overcast so we were pretty keen to get to the hut and get dinner on the stove.

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Speaking of food, here we are in Watts hut.  It might not seem that late going by the amount of sunlight, but we’re still a month and a half away from achieving actual darkness in the middle of the night.  Mark and Rhys are my two fearless (fearsome?) companions.  Gourmet sausages are our delicious dinner.

The next morning we slept in until around 10am, waking only to receive the day’s updated forecast via VHF, and to cook bacon and cheese sandwiches.  We then proceeded to kick back and enjoy life (and eat cheese and biscuits) for a few hours.  Shortly after 3pm we finally got into gear and had an unremarkable and windy walk to Marine Plain.

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Our walk to Marine Plain was quick, and we enjoyed a delicious stew and an early night.  I tend to sleep well in field huts, and both of these nights were no exception.  In the photo above (left is the ‘melon’ containing the kitchen, to the right are the two ‘apples’ that provide additional accommodation) we’re packed and ready to depart.  Finally a sunny day!

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We left early and were making better time than expected and so used the opportunity to take a couple of breaks.  Our path took us via Watts hut again, and we didn’t want to ruin the sleep-in for the occupants after all.  Ideal conditions, as you can see.

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This is Watts Lake.  We sat by the lake for about five minutes listening to the ice shear and make the most peculiar noises.  The noises echoed around the valley, sounding even more surreal.  It was quite magical.

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On the way back we passed a few interesting things, including a strangely hollowed out rock, a penguin who’d died with a stomach full of pebbles, and the group from Watts whom we’d previously passed.

All in all it was a most excellent weekend, and a delicious one too.  I don’t think I could possibly have eaten any more cheese and crackers despite the deliciousness of our vintage cheddar and creamy camembert.  I’m looking forward to sneaking another trip in before the season is out.

Thanks for reading.

Amery Ice Shelf sortie

Earlier this week I was asked to help with some very remote maintenance…on the Amery Ice Shelf.  Out at a site identified as ‘AM06’ there are a pair of masts and a rather large ‘space case’ filled with various data loggers and instrumentation (including an ice thickness radar, automatic weather station, seismic probes, GPS loggers, etc).  Not all of these instruments were working as intended, so the Climate Processes and Change (CPC) Engineer was assigned some helicopter hours to enable him to get it all working again.

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We prepared all of the equipment we needed on Wednesday, and loaded up the helicopters at 5pm.  The lot of us (two pilots, myself, the CPC engineer and one of the heli engineers) ducked down to the mess for a quick bite to eat, then headed back up the the helipad.  A few minutes later we were en route to Sansom Island to spend the night.

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The trip to Sansom Island was every bit as scenic as the last time I flew there, but with very different light.  I’ve included these to give an idea of just how much nothing there is out here, as well as all of the lovely details that you usually get to see in photos.

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Sansom Island was every bit as scenic as last time.  I grabbed a few quick shots before we tied the helicopters down and retired for the night.

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Aside from a distant rocky island with a glacier behind it, we were totally surrounded by nothingness.  Being out there made the Nullarbor Plain seem populous and verdant by comparison.  As for the eqiupment, well, we fixed more than we broke and even managed to install most of the new equipment that Adam had hoped to put in place.  Considering how much work we achieved in the 6 hour weather window we’d been afforded, I think it was time well spent.

We flew from AM06 straight back to Davis Station, which took around 1.5 hours and covered around 160Nm (nearly 300km).  We passed many glaciers and other amazing features, not to mention the Indian, Russian and Chinese stations, as well as the Rauers island group.  I’ll end this post with the whole selection of photos from that leg of the trip, including one I rather like of different coloured melt water (with and without algal life) with some seals nearby.  Thanks for reading  🙂

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Last minute adventure

Yesterday, just before lunch time, we were told that room had become available on a helicopter flight to Platcha Hut. It’s a quaint little hut (a pair of them, actually) that lives at the base of the plateau. Our reason for the trip was that Platcha is the only hut we hadn’t managed to give a thorough once-over for comms purposes. I’d been there during training, but not with a camera, a multimeter and some basic tools.

Many of the photos are thoroughly uninteresting but especially useful to us in the comms game. The coaxial cable, the mast, the antenna, the radio, the batteries, the solar panel, etc. are all in good condition. So in the end not only was the trip productive, it was also scenic and not too stressful.

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Here’s a quick shot of the mast on the small rise next to Platcha.  You can see the coaxial cable is a hanging down a bit where the ties have shifted.  This is the only problem that needs fixing, so it’s in good shape for a couple of years once the straps are replaced.

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Aside from the work photos, I took a small handful of happy snaps.  There are a sample of the view from the hill just above Platcha hut, including a view of fjord with the helipad in the foreground.

I also took an impromptu panorama from the top of the hill.  Considering it was taken by hand without any planning, I’m pleased with how it has turned out (WARNING: Quite a large file if you click on it.):

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This is a quick redux on my Beachcombing post.  The weather is great and the pack ice (that left us just a week or so ago) has been blown back to us thanks to a prevailing SW wind.  Pack ice in the bay means…penguins!

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This is what the chunks of our ice look like.  Normally the water in front of the station is clear of ice owing to the persistent NE wind that we get for most of the year.  Some manner of weather system is sitting off the coast and sending it back to us for a couple of days though.

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The wildlife don’t seem to be terribly inconvenienced by it, however.

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And while walking along the road towards Marchant’s landing, I had a small troop of funny little critters walking alongside me.  These photos are taken shortly after 8pm, so it was actually a rather lovely post-dinner stroll.

Beachcombing

After our most excellent Christmas and New Year celebrations (which this time I chose not take photos of and just enjoy) our first activity was to do an emu-bob of the station.  We had greatly below average snowfall for 2014, so a lot of rubbish that had not been seen for years had surfaced.  Not only did we find a lot of rubbish (most of a tonne in total, including a couple of hundred kilograms of steel) hiding around the station, we also found some more interesting details.

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One of the interesting things I came across is one of the concrete slabs from the ‘old lines’.  A few of the old accommodation containers have been repurposed and can still be found on station, but otherwise the old station is almost totally gone.  The concrete slabs remain though, and this one has recognisable names on it like ‘Lied’ and ‘Trajer’ (who have a lake and a field hut named after them, respectively).

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After having cleaned up, I decided that it would be worth a walk along part of the coastline around Davis Station to see what I could see.  It was an enjoyable walk for the scenery and the sound of the ocean.  After more than half a year of having fast ice thick enough to travel on, it’s a nice change to have the ocean as liquid water again.

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As I made it around to the beach a few of the locals appeared to say hello.  I was outside for about two hours in total just wandering around.  It’s inspired me to explore the station a little further now that the snow is practically all gone.  I wonder what else I will find.

It’s all melting

As the summer has progressed, it’s been great to see both new faces and ‘repeat offenders’ from last summer.  Now that we’re winding down to Christmas and the end of the year, we’re also at the peak of the snow melt.

In a more typical year, there would be more snow left and so the melt streams would be larger and more impressive.  We were below average for snow this year so we’re not seeing the same quantity of water.  That’s not to say that it hasn’t caused some strange and beautiful shapes and textures though:

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These photos were all taken on the beach-side of the station, which is where most of our melt water ultimately flows to.  Only the biggest ‘blizz tails’ still have any remnants thanks to the 24-hour sunlight and above-freezing temperatures over the last couple of weeks.

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And now this lot is all taken of the sea ice and the beach itself.  There’s not really much to say about the melt; we all know how ice melts.  The amazing part is just how many shapes and patterns are made by it all, and in that regard I will leave these pictures to speak for themselves  🙂

November pandemonium

Well, there’s a lot that goes on during resupply.  Immediately after resupply however, it gets even busier for comms.  Everyone has devices that need to be put on the network, empty offices become filled and don’t always work as intended, new equipment arrives and needs to be installed, etc.  Or, to paraphrase, I was just too busy to take many photos.

As things began to settle down, however, I pulled the camera out and (replete with my latest lens purchase, an Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12-40mm f2.8 PRO) took some photos from inside a helicopter.

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This wasn’t a sight-seeing flight, however.  It was a work trip that needed a couple of extra pair of hands, and I was lucky enough to go and help out on a blue sky day.

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The trip went out to a cache on Sansom Island.  It’s a mid-point between Davis and Mawson stations and is used as a refuelling point for helicopter flights between the two stations.  The pink drums in the photo above are full of aviation fuel that is past its ‘use by’ date.  All of these drums were sling loaded to an austere ski landing area on the fast ice immediately next to the island.  They were, in turn, replaced by fresh drums from station.

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The ferry flights to and from Davis were made in a Twin Otter, operated by Kenn Borek Air (KBA).  The KBA crews are all pretty cool folk, coincidentally.  The whole operation took five ferry flights over two days, both days finishing at around 10pm.

Here are some of the photos from the flight:

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Aside from being totally blown away by the brutal beauty of the place, it was also very educational to see how the different glaciers flow.  Some crack massively, others stay intact until they carve off into the ocean, others again crack and recombine as they flow over lumpy terrain, and so on.

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And to finish off, it’s the time of year where the melting and refreezing happens every day.  I did a post about this during last summer, and it’s just as fascinating this time around.

Thanks for reading.