Maps: our work sites, the Amery region, the Vestfold Hills This is Jim's blog. Dennis has a blog too.

10 March 2007 - Saturday - 1:30 am - posted by Jim

Well, I guess I'm not signing off quite yet -- The skies have been clearing up over past couple of days, providing brilliant late-night viewings of the aurora australis. I have been experimenting with taking long-exposure photographs of them, and here are some of the results. A strong aurora is a wonderful sight; it is far more dynamic than you might guess, pulsating and swirling and changing shape in a matter of seconds (these photos are 30-second exposures). The whole display flares up and dies down over the course of tens of minutes. It has to compete with the light of the moon right now, but the moon's eerie white glow on the scattered clouds creates a lovely contrast.

aurora silhouette
aurora and barge

There is another Aurora Australis in view, the big orange icebreaker that's come to take the summering crew away. Barges have been ferrying cargo back and forth between the ship and the wharf since Thursday; Saturday should be the last day of transfers and then we depart on Sunday. I was back on drum detail with the geologists today, and I'll be manning a barge in the morning.

There are Korean and Chinese expeditioners on station; they are here with the ship. The Chinese government contracted the Australians to resuppy their base (Zhong Shan, just a little way down the coast, see the 29 January entry) this season, and the Koreans are interested in sharing access to Australia's Mawson station. Their flags, along with the Australian flag, are flying outside the operations building here at Davis.

Time to wander back outside and watch the aurora dance across the night sky some more before heading off to bed...

aurora wiggles aurora genie aurora fat
ellies and aurora wharf action flags

6 March 2007 - 10:18 pm - Tuesday - posted by Jim

In only a few more days the icebreaker RSV Aurora Australis will arrive here at Davis to pick up the summering crew and take us back to Tasmania, leaving the nineteen wintering crew behind to look after the station until the next ship arrives come November. I would stay for the winter if I could, to continue experiencing this amazing place, but my job here is done and so I have no choice but to get on the boat and go.

As I mentioned in the last entry, we finished up field operations a couple of weeks ago. Dennis and I got busy packing up all of the cargo and making the shipping arrangements, and now everything is boxed up and sealed inside cage pallets, ready to go.

There is plenty of work still to do: we have started compiling a document to summarize in detail everything we did during this field season, and all of that data needs to be processed and analyzed. But with a full month at sea coming up to work on those tasks, I took the opportunity to go out backpacking in the Vestfold Hills for several days.

blue bergs
trajer ridge melon

The Vestfolds are an incredible place, with areas of sandy desert, deep fjords, hundreds of lakes, glacially scoured bedrock criss-crossed by black dikes, and a stunning mix of ice and rock at the edge of the ice cap. I ventured out with comms officer Glenn Roser, helicopter mechanic Jeremy Crawford, and geology student Catherine Loye for several days; we hiked from Davis to Brookes Hut, Platcha Hut, Watts Hut, and back to Davis. It was supposed to be a longer walk but incoming bad weather forced us to make our way back to Davis; the wind ended up blowing 50-60 knots (57-70 mph, 93-111 kph) continuously for about two days so we were glad to be back at base.

The field huts, however, are very comfortable and well-equipped. They have been built and placed in the hills gradually over the past few decades to provide shelter for scientists working in the field, but nowadays are primarily used by jolly-goers to get away from Davis for a bit of sightseeing. Once the wind eased back Catherine and I caught a chopper ride out to the Trajer Ridge Melon (the red hut in the photo at left) and patched in a missing part of our original trek, exploring the area to the north of Trajer Ridge for a day and then hiking all the way back to Davis, a 25 km (15.5 mile) walk, the next.

The Vestfold Hills have only become ice-free in the past 10,000 years, since the end of the last ice age. The removal of the weight of the ice has led to post-glacial rebound, a phenomenon where the surface of the earth gradually rises up, relative to sea level. There are some seal remains laying on hillsides many kilometers from where the sea is today, but since they couldn't have crawled all the way up up there, where they lay must have been much closer to the ocean coast, or along fjords snaking into the hills from the sea. That also means the seal remains are ancient, thousands of years old. On a smaller and more subtle scale, beds of clam shells and fossilized tube worms are found high in the hills, as well.

A subtle beauty we found while hiking in the Vestfolds was air bubbles frozen into the newly iced-over freshwater lakes way back near the ice cap; there are two examples in the second row of photos down below. Walking across the frozen freshwater lakes is an amazing experience; the ice is crystal clear so it feels like you are hovering, and the fractures and air bubbles mingle with the rocky bottom to create intricate patterns. The larger lakes make some surreal sounds as well, as cracks in the ice grow and pressure waves ricochet through the liquid water down below.

seal skeleton

The biologists were out in the boats collecting samples on Sunday, and when they came back to station there was a raffle for places on the boats to head out for a sunset iceberg cruise. I was one of the lucky ones whose name was drawn, and the ocean didn't disappoint -- there was some great light on the bergs, as you can see in the photo up at the top of this entry, and we happened upon a pod of at least fifty Minke whales. The Minkes were everywhere, blowing steam out of their blowholes and occasionally swimming right up alongside and beneath our little rubber boat. I captured some video of them as well (video 1, video 2). Eventually it was time to head back in, and as we motored towards the coast the full moon crept up from behind the horizon, another stunning sight.

That pretty much wraps up my time at Davis Station for the season. There have been signs of the end lately: The darts tournament ended, with Dennis as champion (I made it into the final eight). We bleached out the hydroponics garden over the weekend (an annual requirement and a big dirty job), now Annette and the other winterers get to start it all over again from scratch. (Remarkably, we found some local water bears living in the tanks during clean-up.) There was a big fancy end-of-summer dinner on Saturday night where the cooks whipped up a delicious feast and the winterers were the wait staff; later in the evening we played the final band performance of the season. I've now turned in most of my cold weather clothing and field survival gear.

The ship will most likely arrive Friday and leave, with us aboard, on Sunday. My job while the ship is here is to be on the drum team once again (see the 22 Feb entry below). We will be calling in to both Mawson and Casey Stations, the other two Australian Antarctic bases, during the four-week journey back to Tasmania and hopefully will have a chance to get off the ship and have a look around. I won't have internet access, however, so this is me signing off until April.

Thank you for reading along!

big white frozen lake reflection glenn jez dune
frozen air bubbles blue old bones frozen air bubbles
rubble jez catherine cloud waves moraine
platcha hut trajer melon smile snow dusted hills
moonrise 2 moonrise 3 jim at lake stinear

22 February 2007 - 12:23 am - Thursday - posted by Jim

We have now completed field operations for the Loose Tooth project for this season. Last Tuesday Dennis, Hully and I flew out to the rift with pilots Frank and Dave and helicopter mechanic Jeremy to recover the gear. Through a combination of good planning, hard work, well-designed equipment, and sunny skies we were able to pull everything out and get all the way back up the coast to Davis Station in just a little over 12 hours, which was a lot quicker than any of us expected. The three helicopters returned to Sansom Island a few days later to pick up the rest of the gear (the passengers won their seats in a charity auction) and now Dennis and I are busy downloading all of the data from the sensors and and packing everything up for return shipment. The seismometers came from the PASSCAL instrument center in Socorro, New Mexico, and the GPS units came from the UNAVCO center in Boulder, Colorado. These places exist as sources of geophysical equipment for projects that get funded by the US National Science Foundation, and Dennis and I have both visited them to receive training on how to use all this stuff.

dennis diggingphoto: Anthony Hull
blue ice plateau

I made these two animated gifs to show the growth of the rift between deployment beginning December 30th and recovery on February 13th. There appears to have been plenty of rifting activity, and it differs from previous seasons in the way the rift has been propagating along parallel traces instead of just one. The extensiometer will stay out there, stretched across the rift, until next summer to measure what happens during the winter (when the rift is much less active).

I was a little sad to see the Amery for perhaps the final time -- I lived out there for two months last season, plus all of the trips back and forth for the Loose Tooth work -- it's an amazing place and I feel very fortunate to have experienced it up close. And the scenery along the coast, as I've been trying to show in this blog, is breathtaking. To the left is a contrast-enhanced image showing areas of blue ice on the ice cap, or 'plateau'. Another beautiful sight is the Publications Ice Shelf (see the map for its location); I made another animated gif showing its quilted pattern up close. Here is a nunatak sticking up out of the plateau. And one last chaos melt pool...

Back at Davis Station there is plenty of work that needs to be done, and Saturday afternoons are set aside for weekly chores and special projects; these are the 'Saturday Duties' that everyone who is on station is expected to help out with. This past Saturday I was assigned to Jibba's Drum Team -- Jibba was one of the blasters that came out to Loose Tooth with us, see the 29 January entry. Jibba used a small crane truck to move old fuel drums full of waste water from the reverse osmosis plant (see the 14 January entry) into containers for the return trip to Australia onboard the icebreaker, while myself, deputy station leader Jason Ahrens, and John Stoukalo worked the gripping claws and manhandled the drums into place.

John is a mountaineer from Russia. He came down here to play the part of Xavier Mertz in a re-creation of Mawson and Mertz's ill-fated trek during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14. He and Tim Jarvis, who played Sir Douglas Mawson, re-created the scenario as closely as possible, down to the type of clothing and equipment used back then and their lack of food. Malnourished, they pulled sleds across the plateau for nearly 50 days earlier this season while Dr David Tingay monitored them to learn how the body adapts to such excessive strain. Their trek was filmed by Fred and Wade, mentioned in the 24 December entry, and director Malcolm McDonald for a Film Australia project.

drum team
daaartsphoto: Glenn Menere

There is a small bar here at Davis where people convene in the evenings; it's in the living quarters building and is in the same general area as the kitchen, lounge, and (small) movie theater. Dennis organized a darts tournament and about half the people on station signed up to take part. It's been a good source of entertainment and camaraderie as people who don't work together have a chance to hang out and get know each other a little better.

Australians tend to leave out the 'r' when they pronounce 'darts', and it's customary to say 'darts' when someone has a good throw -- so you know an important game is on when you hear the whole room full of people all saying 'daaaaahts' in unison. We are into round two at this point; I'm still in it but my chances of moving on to the final rounds took a big hit today as I lost a key match.

We had another musical performance in the bar area this past Saturday; I posted a picture from the Australia Day concert down at the end of this entry.

I know there is at least one person named Zoe back in San Diego that enjoyed last week's penguin pictures so here's a few more; see the middle row down below. Here's a short video clip of some penguins on a small iceberg. And as promised last week, here's a video clip of the elephant seals battling in the shallows -- plus a short audio clip of the charming noises they make.

I spent a few hours up at the airplane skiway earlier this week to calibrate the electromagnetic gear on glacial ice (see the 6 February entry), and I was able to join an overnight camping trip to the Boulder Hill area in the southeastern corner of the Vestfold Hills yesterday. We saw ice caves where the plateau feeds into the Sørsdal Glacier, and now that the southern summer is winding down and the sun is setting for almost eight hours a night, the meltwater streams that flow through the hills in mid-summer are all re-freezing -- see photos down below. It's starting to get cold down here!

porp pengs
hully and dennis recovery sunset
porp pengs 4 pengs on berg porp pengs 3
icy stream ice cave rock n rollphoto: Catherine Loye

13 February 2007 - 12:24 am - Tuesday posted by Jim

I went a little overboard on pictures this week, but it's been a good one! I was able to sneak off station for a couple days with Chris Clark and Catherine Loye, the geologists from Adelaide University I mentioned in the 21 January blog entry. First we took a chopper ride down to the Rauer Islands and met up with Simon Harley and Nigel Kelley from the University of Edinburgh and their Japanese colleague Tomokazu Hokada. They showed us around Hookah Island, which is full of beautiful metamorphic rocks -- old sediments that were buried and heated up, basically 'cooked', and these geologists study how the minerals that make up the rocks changed during the cooking process. The rocks there were full of beautiful garnets, even more so than in the Vestfold Hills near Davis Station. The views were magnificent, and we saw a Weddel seal; see the photos in the top row down below.

rauers geologists
sorsdal edge, looking north

That evening we took a chopper back up to the Vestfold Hills and stayed the night at Crooked Lake Apple. The next day we walked across a section of the Vestfolds to the edge of the Sørsdal Glacier, which towers at least 30 meters (approx 100 ft) over the hills as it flows slowly out to the sea. I posted two more Sørsdal pictures in the second row down below. The Vestfolds are a stunningly beautiful, barren place with a remarkable number of lakes and, in the summertime, streams; we even encountered a roaring waterfall along our walk.

On Sunday afternoon I was able to join an iceberg cruise near Davis. Hully, the FTO working on the Loose Tooth project with us, was our trusty coxswain and Ruffy, one of the blasters from the 29 January entry, drove the other boat. The boats are small inflatable rubber jobs with outboard motors, they get you pretty close to the action. The icebergs are majestic and come in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes. The sky was on the grey side during our cruise, but it just highlighted the blue tint that is in so many of the bergs. I had to add just one more photo to the ones I've posted here...

berg cruise

First stop was an Adélie Penguin rookery at a place called Magnetic Island; see the second row, right hand side below. We encountered hundreds of Adélie penguins during the course of the cruise; they were swimming around us and hopping on and off of icebergs. When Adélies swim they actually do something called 'porpoising', similar to how dolphins leap up out of the water in arcs. There are two pictures of this down below. I have some video of them, too, but I'm running out of time tonight; I'll have to post it in the next entry.

We have some noisy neighbors at Davis Station: the male Elephant Seals that lay on the beach and wrestle in the shallows. They make some ridiculous bellowing belching and snorting noises that I only wish I could reproduce. They fight with each other pretty viciously, it's a wild thing to see up close. I have some video of this, too, that I'll upload next time around. I've been working on a photo series of ellies fighting in front of the sunset, two of those are posted down below.

That's all for now -- time for bed!

ellies at davis
rauers view weddel in rauers catherine and chris in vestfolds
sorsdal edge sorsdal penguin rookery at Magnetic Island
berg edge berg cruise 2 porpoising penguins
sunset battle sunset battle 2 porpoising penguins 2
ellie battle 1 ellie battle 2 ellie battle 3

6 February 2007 - 6:24 pm - Tuesday posted by Jim

Another week come and gone... We made another trip out to the Loose Tooth to finish off Phase Two by collecting some Transient Electromagnetic (TEM) geophysical data. TEM equipment, shown in the picture at right, is used to find electrically conductive things that are hidden underground. If the rift fills with salty seawater as it cracks open we might be able to detect that briny ice with the TEM gear; seawater conducts electricity fairly well, while the old glacial ice that makes up the shelf hardly conducts electricity at all. We used the fast turn-off NanoTEM system.

We collected more ice radar data as well, as described in the 21 January blog entry down below. This time Dr Colleen Sims, a veterinarian here to work on the Wedell Seal tagging project, joined Dennis, Hully and me for a day on the ice. Check out this photo I took from Ricardo's helicopter as we flew over the rift tip.


John Van den Hoff, better known as Snake, is a biologist working here at Davis this summer. He's involved in several projects, including collecting elephant seal poop from thousands of years ago. A more glamorous example of Snake's job is flying from lake to lake in the Vestfold Hills collecting water samples. He invited me to come along for a ride this afternoon, so I hopped in the chopper with him, pilot Frank, and comms operator Stewart and enjoyed a thrilling 90 minute whirlwind tour of the lakes of the southern Vestfolds. I even got to bottle a couple samples, very exciting indeed. That's Snake in the photo to the left, heading back into the chopper with a water sample. The middle row of photos down below has more photos from today.

Some lakes in the Vestfolds are mostly melted glacier ice, and are fresh enough to drink. These can freeze solid all the way to the bottom in the winter. Other lakes are many times saltier than the ocean and are thus called hypersaline; they can be so salty that they stay liquid all winter. Sometimes a fresh lake and a hypersaline lake will be right next to each other. There aren't any fish in these lakes, but there are plenty of little critters like bacteria and algae; that's what these samples will be analyzed for.

That grey metal box in the photo on the right doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside is the Davis hydroponics garden. I learned how to look after the hydroponics last summer, and have been working in there again this season. There are a few people pitching in, but mostly it's been me and Annette Schlub taking care of the garden this summer. That's Annette in the photo below. She's down here working as a meteorological observer for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

There are no native plants anywhere within at least a thousand miles of Davis station, so it's pretty neat to walk into this box and suddenly find oneself surrounded by a hot, humid jungle of greenery.

annette hydro

There are lots of goodies growing in there, like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers (Australians call them capsicums), basil, oregano, cilantro, bok choy, and peas. To keep both the plants and he people on station happy, we have to keep the water tanks full, test and adjust pH and nutrient levels, prune, and harvest. Since there are no insects around, we have to pollinate the cucumber flowers with a small paintbrush. I spend almost an hour a day up there on average, but it's enjoyable work, and it's great to see everyone pile the fresh greens on to their plates at lunchtime.

I don't normally run for exercise; I'd much rather go swimming or surfing. But down here there are no waves, and the water is a little on the chilly side, so I've been heading off jogging along Lake Dingle Road. It's a 4x4 path up a valley to a lake a few km inland from Davis. The scenery is magnificent -- a barren sedimentary plain strewn with boulders and surrounded by rocky hills. It feels like going out for a jog on Mars. A few weeks ago I encountered a pair of penguins waddling down the path, and it's pretty common to see a Wilson's Storm-Petrel, or be followed by a big Brown Skua circling overhead for part of the run. There is a gym at Davis, but I can't bear to exercise inside with this sort of scenery and wildlife outside.

dingle run
moon 2

One last thing to mention -- the sky was completely clear a few nights ago during the full moon. I noticed the moon heading down towards the northern horizon and decided to stay up and see if I could take some photos to compare to this one I took from here in November 2005. I stayed up until almost 5 am, but the moon never quite dipped down to the horizon... I did get a couple of neat shots of it hovering in the purple belt of venus, though. I happened to walk outside just as it was rising the following night; that's the middle photo below. There are two more photos of the amazing, colorful late-summer Antarctic nighttime sky in the bottom row below, along with two more chaos photos (see 29 January entry).

I guess that's all for now... We're going to start looking for opportunities to recover the main Loose Tooth array starting on the 10th, so hopefully we'll be back out on the ice soon!

moon 1a moon 3 jim hydrophoto: Annette Schlub
crooked lake and plateau pauk lake lake verkhneye
orange chaos crumble chaos cracks purple

29 January 2007 - 11:42 pm - Monday posted by Jim

We had another busy week, going on three trips out to the Amery Ice Shelf to continue collecting 'Phase Two' data. During the first trip we moved two of the Gillock Island shear zone GPS units and changed the batteries at the other two (see the 21 January blog entry below for details). The second day out we were joined by Jibba and Ruffy, the two tradies at Davis Station with blasting licenses. They set off small explosions at a few locations within the Loose Tooth array. Since we know the time, location, and strength of these blasts, it will help us better interpret the seismic data we are collecting to measure the natural icequakes that occur as the Loose Tooth rift cracks its way forward through the ice shelf. We will be, essentially, calibrating the seismic array by comparing the two types of signals. That's Hully, Ruffy, and Jibba in the photo at right. I also uploaded a short video.

On the third trip out we recovered the Gillock Island shear zone GPS units and brought them back to Davis Station. They all worked perfectly, and came home full of data.

swimphoto: Graham Oakley

Friday was Australia Day, pretty much the Australian equivalent of the 4th of July in the USA. There was a big barbeque dinner and a fun night of live music in the bar, but by far my favorite part of the day was going for a swim in the Southern Ocean. The conditions were perfect: overcast sky, air temperature 1°C (34°F), water temperature -1°C (30°F), and the wind was blowing at around 40 knots (46 mph). There was even an elephant seal swimming at the beach when we showed up (I'll get to them in a future blog entry). About a dozen of us charged into the sea but nobody lasted longer than about 45 seconds; that's me on the far left in the picture. What an amazing sensation! I came out and my skin was confused beyond belief -- I somehow felt both hot and cold at the same time, and my feet were completely numb. Fortunately we went directly to the pump house to warm up in the hot tub and sauna afterwards.

I wanted to get in on the the afternoon cricket match but was on 'slushie' (kitchen helper) duty. The Aussies love their cricket so I figure there must be something to it... oh well, maybe another time.

I've seen a couple of neat atmospheric optical effects in the past few days. One was a glory, that bulls-eye rainbow you can sometimes see from an aircraft. The one in the photo at right was visible as we passed over patches of low cloud during a recent helicopter flight. In the relative shade of a cloudy day the ice plateau near the coast changes from blinding white to baby blue. This blue ice is very hard and slick. When airplanes fly to Antarctica they need to land on blue ice runways unless the landing gear have been fitted with skis.

Last night we were treated to a sun pillar as the sun set behind the distant hills; see the photo down below at the end of this blog entry. The sun started setting again a little over a week ago but it still doesn't quite get dark at night.

chaos glacier

One last thing I thought I'd mention is the glacial chaos that makes for some incredible scenery along the coast near Davis. When the ice flows down over a steep cliff or over a large ridge or hill the surface breaks apart into a jumbled mess of blocks; this is called chaos. Imagine an accordion being opened up like a book and you kind of get the idea. The photograph at left shows the head of the well-named Chaos Glacier; this image is about 8 kilometers (5 miles) across. Several of the photographs I've posted show areas of glacial chaos.

The pictures below show some more scenery from our flights along the coast, including in the bottom row a view of Davis Station from the sky as well as Zhong Shan, the Chinese base, and Progress II, one of the Russian stations. In the second and third rows are photographs from Brattstrand Bluffs, a migmatite outrcrop where the geologists I mentioned in the previous post were camped out. We stopped there and had a chance to go exploring for about 45 minutes while the helicopters moved them to a new camp site up the coast. What an amazing place! The pictures don't even begin to do it justice.

big bang chaos crevassed chaos
bluff glacier bluff lake bluff rocks
berg flight bluff ice edge 2 bluff ice edge 1
glassy sea ice pattern spires
davis zhong shan and progress sun pillar
Davis Station Zhong Shan (foreground) and Progress II the sun pillar

21 January 2007 - 11:40 pm - Sunday posted by Jim

The skies cleared up so we were able to make two trips out to the Amery Ice Shelf this past week, Wednesday and Thursday, to work on "Phase Two" of this season's field operations.

We deployed four GPS units to a shear zone near the northeastern edge of the Amery Ice Shelf on Wednesday. Downstream from Gillock Island there is an area where the ice shelf spreads out and merges with tributary streams after being squeezed through a relatively narrow gap; this shear zone where the flow of ice 'turns the corner' results in the formation of enormous crevasses. We are monitoring the deformation of the ice shelf in this area by collecting GPS data at four sites; the GPS units record their positions every 30 seconds. We deployed the units around one of the big crevasses, which are tens of kilometers long and ~100 meters wide, about length of a football field! Steve Beaton, one of the electricians at Davis Station, came out to help us install the gear, he's in the photo at right. Hully has to check the landing zones to see if they are safe before we can get out and work, that's him in the photo below, with one of the giant crevasses looming in the background. Tyson Griffin, one of the helicopter mechanics, was able to join us as well.

steve at gillock
gillock site

On the ride home we stopped off at a peninsula along the coast so the choppers could move a group of geologists from there to a new campsite. It was an incredibly beautiful place; we had about 30 minutes there and I just wandered around the place trying to soak up as much of the scenery as possible -- I posted two photos from there in the grid down below.

Thursday morning we returned to the shear zone to leapfrog two of the GPS units further down the crevasse field. Next we flew back to the Loose Tooth rift where I was able to collect an ice-penetrating radar profile across the tip of the rift. Radar can look into the ground through the use of what are essentially really big light waves. Jeremy, the other helicopter mechanic, is helping me collect data right over the rift tip in the photo below, see the crack in the ice? That's Dennis and Hully walking across. I was also able to collect some electromagnetic induction data to look for seawater coming up into the rift from below, kind of like using a big metal detector. Salt water conducts electricity much better than the ice shelf, so it should be detectable; I'll be analyzing the data to find out. While I was doing this Dennis was able to check up on the extensiometer stretched across the rift as well as all the seismic and GPS units we deployed a couple weeks ago. After a long productive day on the ice shelf pilots Frank and Ric flew us back to Davis.

We would like to spend another couple days out on the ice shelf to collect more of this Phase Two data; hopefully we'll get some clear skies out there again this week. Since we couldn't fly out there today, I joined a rock-smashing expedition in the Vestfold Hills near Davis Station. Dr Chris Clark and Catherine Loye are geologists from the University of Adelaide who are mapping rock formations down here this summer. They were looking for some amateur geologists to come out and help them break off chunks of rock. Using sledgehammers! Brendan, Glen, and I gladly joined in the fun and we had a great day out in the field (and only broke two of the sledgehammers); I posted two pictures down below in the bottom row. The Vestfolds are an amazing place to go for a walk, once you get away from the water if feels like going for a stroll on Mars. Chris and Catherine will take these samples back to the lab in Adelaide for analysis; they are studying what happened in this area hundreds of millions of years ago, when this part of Antarctica was still connected to India as part of the Gondwana supercontinent.

The rest of the pictures down below are some more scenery shots from our helicopter flights up and down the coast between Davis Station and the Amery.

radar rift
crevassecrevasse in the shear zone hully and choppers chaos pools
islands icepattern reflection redux

geologists campsite

geologists dream
dave and tyson and sansomDave Pullinger and Tyson Griffin at Sansom Is. rock hammering ellis narrows

14 January 2007 - 8:15 pm - Sunday posted by Jim

Yesterday we celebrated the 50th birthday of Davis Station. On the 12th of January, 1957 a party led by Dr Phillip Law landed on a beach in the Vestfold Hills and established the second Australian outpost in Antarctica. By the following day the first shelter was constructed and a dedication ceremony was held to name the station in honor of Capt. John King Davis.

Several events were held yesterday to mark the occasion. In the morning there was a teleconference with Phillip Law (who is now in his nineties) and a number of the surviving expeditioners from those early years at Davis. They reminisced as dozens of us living on station today listened in. We all assembled in the afternoon by the first hut built on station at the end of the old 'Donga Line' to re-create the original station photo taken on 13 January 1957. As our station leader Graham Cook said a few words and read Dr Law's dedication speech, a lone Adélie penguin came waddling up to see what all the commotion was about (see photo at right).

davis bday

The Donga Line is a cluster of prefab huts that made up the core of the old station. It is remarkably small compared to the large sturdy modern buildings that were constructed at the station starting in the 1980s. Unfortunately the Australian Antarctic Division has decided to demolish and remove the old Donga Line to a landfill in Australia instead of leaving it in place as an historical artifact.

In the photo at left the opposite end of the Donga Line is visible between two rows of the summer accommodation blocks. Summering crew get to live in these luxury suites -- they are shipping containers fitted with freezer doors on the outside and beds and shelves on the inside. I'm in the second one on the left (along with six other people). There are only around 18 people at Davis in the winter and they all fit comfortably in the main living quarters (lime green building below), but in the summer the population swells to 75-100 so lots of people get to sleep in the boxes instead.

A new Summer Accommodation Module (SAM) is under construction, however, and will soon replace the old shipping containers. The tradies (electricians, carpenters, plumbers, etc.) have been working away on the SAM (in the center of the photo at right) and it is coming together quickly. The dark green building next to it houses several large fresh water tanks; these are filled from the reverse osmosis desalination plant, where salt water is turned into fresh water to supply the station (Brendan keeps the RO plant up and running so we can all have a shower twice a week, need it nor not). As you can see, all the pipes and electrical conduits are suspended above ground between the buildings.

Back to yesterday's events: after the photo re-enactment, the party began -- there was a big barbeque and, later in the night, myself and a few other musicians set up and played some rock-n-roll for the crowd in the bar. Good times!

**I uploaded a short video of a flight up the tip of the rift from last weekend; note the chopper on the left for scale.

pastel bergs pastel moon chopper brendan

8 January 2007 - 8:30 pm - Monday posted by Jim

The loose tooth array deployment is complete. We spent the day out at the rift Saturday and again today. Dennis , Hully and Frank focused on installing the strain gauge across the tip of the rift (see photo at right, the strain gauge box is just below the chopper); there is actually a wire stretched across the tip, anchored to a pole on one side and wrapped around a tension wheel on the other. As the rift opens and the wheel turns, a "data logger" computer records how much wire spools out.

Meanwhile, Dave and I hopped around the array and re-visted several sites where the GPS units seemed to be having trouble during the initial deployments. I had to switch a few of them around to make sure the high priority sites had the most reliable gear, and some of them needed to be re-wired to deal with uncooperative solar panel power regulators. Despite the fact that we tested all the gear back in Tasmania, it's no surprise that something had to malfunction, it's just how field work goes!

ground level

Incoming low clouds forced us to leave abruptly on Saturday, but we returned this morning to finish the job. We checked on the strain gauge and GPS units again, but the main task today was to install broadband seismometers at two of the sites; broadband implies sensitivity to a wider frequency range. What that means is these can detect very fast and very slow vibrations that the seismic sensors we normally use are unable to measure. These seismometers need to be carefully leveled and oriented, and sheltered from the wind and snow, so we dug vaults for them two meters (6.5 ft) deep. To cut into the hard "blue" ice that starts about 1 meter (3.3 ft) down, we brought... chainsaws! Using a chainsaw in a hole isn't too fun, though, because all the exhaust stays trapped in the hole with you.

This marks the end of "phase one" of the season for us. We are now preparing for phase two -- stay tuned!

As a side note, the photo to the left was taken looking across the rift tip, basically the same place as the above photo (those are sites N1 (left) and S1, with the strain gauge in between). One shocking thing about working at the rift is how difficult it is to see those enormous crevasses from ground level...

Photos below are an assortment from the past few days; the top two rows show some of the sights along the coast between Davis Station and Sansom Island.

rauers reflection caves
moon chopper turquoise rock and ice
PAHA two choppers sansom
airplane spotted near Druzhynaya at Sansom Island

3 January 2007 - 11:00 pm - Wednesday posted by Jim

The wind picked up last night, howling steadily at 40-50 knots (46-58 mph). It was strong enough to blow the remaining sea ice away from Davis. I was tipped off by Denise Allen, one of the meteorologists, that this would happen, so I took some pictures... Here's the harbor at Davis around midnight last night (please excuse the rough panorama stitches):

sea ice 1
Again at noon today:
sea ice 2
And finally, at 6 pm this evening:

sea ice 3

It's amazing how quickly some things change around here. Over on the right side of these pictures: the blue building is the 'Met' building where the meteorologists work, the yellow building is the science lab where Dennis and I have our office and workshop, and the red boxes nearest the coast are some old shipping containers acting as accommodation blocks for summertime personnel -- I share one of them with a few other guys. Oceanfront lodging with a view!

2 January 2007 - 4:50 pm - Tuesday - posted by Jim

The deployment has begun. We were given the go-ahead from the station leader and meteorologists on the morning of December 30th, climbed into the helicopters and flew down the coast. The scenery was incredible - the continental ice plateau crumbling at the coast; gleaming white icebergs scattered among the dark rocky islands; the sea ice, patterned with blue and green melt pools, fracturing into mosaics at the edge.

About 90 minutes after leaving Davis we arrived at Sansom Island, a granite outcrop at the northeastern corner of the Amery Ice Shelf. Inhabited by petrels and lichens, Sansom has fuel for the helicopters and a fiberglass 'melon' shelter (an extended apple), and is used by the Australian Antarctic Division as a staging base for operations on the Amery.

We made a quick stop at Landing Bluff, an island near Sansom that is home to Druzhynaya, a small Russian base, to service a permanent GPS station there. Next we loaded up the helicopters with the seismic and GPS gear and flew out to the Loose Tooth rift, pictured at right.

site w chopper

We found the visible tip of the rift, determined it's location and used that to compute where we would install each of the twelve sensor stations in the array. Hully, our intrepid field officer, gets out of the helicopter first. He pokes around with a long pole to make sure we are not on a hidden crevasse, a deep crack in the ice that would swallow us up. He stays tied to the helicopter with a rope, and the pilot keeps the engine running so that if he falls into a crevasse, he can be lifted back out. Fortunately, this hasn't happened yet!

At one point while we were waiting for Hully to clear the next site, David flew Dennis and I down into and along a section of the rift. I captured these short videos of the flight from the back seat.

Once Hully finds an area safe for us to work, we get out and deploy the station. The wooden pyramid for supporting the solar panels is assembled, the seismic and GPS units are powered up and tested, the GPS antenna is mounted and the seismic sensor is buried in the snow. Everyone pitches in; pilots Frank Ross and David Pullinger grabbed shovels and joined in the fun. We had two days of good weather out there, enough time to install eleven of the twelve stations.

Spending New Year's Eve at Sansom Island was a great experience. We returned from the Loose Tooth around 8 pm, secured the helicopters and had some dinner, leftovers brought out from Davis Station. We then hiked out off the island and around one of the big icebergs frozen in the sea ice nearby. It was simply gorgeous -- the sun low and strong, lighting up the icicles draped off the the giant berg. A few hours later I watched the hands on my watch tick into 2007 as I lay in my sleeping bag, drifting off to sleep out under the midnight sun.

Our luck ran out on New Year's Day, however, as we woke to thick low clouds. It only takes an overcast day to shut down helicopter operations on the ice shelf -- without direct sunlight to cast shadows, the situation becomes a 'white-out', where the ground, sky, and horizon blend into a milky soup and it becomes impossible to know how high off the ground the helicopter is flying; an unacceptably dangerous situation. The sky around Sansom cleared somewhat around noon, so we climbed into the choppers and flew home to Davis.

We are now standing by at Davis, waiting for the next weather window to head back out to Loose Tooth and complete the array deployment.

  newyearseveFrank Ross (pilot), Jim, David Pullinger (pilot), Hully, and Dennis in front of the Sansom Island melon on New Year's Eve (photo: Dennis)
islandsSansom Island at center, Landing Bluff at right

rift tipnotice the helicopter at left for scale

crevassean open portal into one of the crevasses
sea ice mosaicsea ice edge as seen from the helicopter cccpDennis, GPS station, and Soviet emblem in quartz stones on top of Landing Bluff sansom bergiceberg stroll with Sansom Island in background

28 December 2006 - 9:30 pm - Thursday - posted by Jim

When we arrived at Davis Station on Christmas Day the place was swarming with people. The outgoing wintering crew were given their ANARE medals (Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions) and officially handed over the station to the incoming wintering crew. On hand were all the summerers and a large group of round-trip expeditioners who had just spent a few days around Davis and the nearby Vestfold Hills. I knew the outgoing winterers from having spent last summer based out of Davis; it was nice to catch up with them again, albeit briefly.

Dan Zwartz kindly provided me with this map that shows the path of our ocean voyage south.

I was interviewed by the Totally Wild TV crew; I described the Loose Tooth project while helicopters buzzed back and forth between Davis and the Aurora in the background. With any luck, the project will get some coverage on this popular Australian TV show.

dennis and gear
totally wild interview photo: Dennis

The 'official' Davis Christmas occured on Dec 26, with most people taking the day off and the cooks producing a holiday feast. Dennis and I have been busy finishing preparations for equipment deployment, sorting through all the batteries and solar panels (each unit requires two big batteries like the kind that go in an automobile; they are continually recharged by the solar panels); going over to the field store where Hully, the field officer assigned to our project, supplied us with deep field survival packs (sleeping bags, ice axes, maps, etc.) and taking care of all the endless little details that crop up.

The gear was flown today out to Sansom Island (our staging depot at the edge of the ice shelf) in cargo planes and with any luck we will be following along tomorrow in the helicopters to begin deployments!

24 December 2006 - 10:15 pm - Sunday - posted by Jim

It's Christmas Eve and the helicopters have just now finished cargo and personnel transfer operations between the ship and Zhong Shan, the Chinese research base. We are crunching through the ice again, plowing our way back to Davis Station. Dennis and I will be disembarking tomorrow morning, Christmas Day, putting us another step closer to getting out on the ice shelf.

The past few days have been very Antarctic, as we are surrounded by sea ice and big icebergs, and we had a couple days of heavy snowfall. The air temperature is just below freezing. A group of emperor penguins set up camp near the stern of the Aurora Australis, using the hole we punched in the sea ice as a place to swim and dive for food. A minke whale has also been spotted numerous times surfacing through gaps in the ice near the ship.


A few of Santa's elves strung lights and decorations around the common rooms a couple days ago, and most of the people onboard came together this evening to sing christmas carols; I strummed along on my guitar. While we're certainly having a white christmas, with the solstice yesterday we are basking in 24 hours of sunlight. If you stay in the sun and out of the wind, it's actually tolerable to stand outside in a t-shirt.

Wade Fairley is a professional cameraman who has worked in the Antarctic filming an emperor penguin colony. He and his partner Frederique Olivier are on the ship and have been recording some stunning time-lapse footage. They have given me permission to post their footage of the ship pulling into the harbor off Davis Station a few days ago when we made our first stop there, plus this footage of some wind-blown sea ice.

18 December 2006 - 11:15 pm - Monday - posted by Jim

Ten days after leaving Hobart and we have finally made the turn in towards Davis Station; we are now at 65.5 degrees South, 76.4 degrees East. As I type this it looks like late afternoon outside -- we will cross the Antarctic circle tomorrow, which means we won't see the sun set again from then until sometime in mid-January.

We began passing icebergs on Friday and entered into the sea ice yesterday, with freezing temperatures and light snow flurries now commonplace. The ice is mostly broken up into plates of around 10-20 meters in diameter; the ship zig-zags through the open water between them. Occasionally, however, we plow right through the bigger chunks; you can hear a satisfying grinding noise as the ship bumps and lurches along.

clouds ice water
neptunephoto: Glenn Menere

Spirits are high as we get closer to the continent. The bridge and outdoor decks are full of people photographing the stunning icescapes, with occasional sightings of penguins and seals. Some fun ship activities have helped bring people closer together, as well -- there was a charity head-shaving event, a festival of short films made by some of the expeditioners while onboard the ship, and a visit from King Neptune demanding homage from anyone who had not passed into Antarctic waters before. Neptune's visit is a time-honored seafaring tradition where the uninitiated kneel before Neptune and his entourage and get covered in sticky and foul-smelling 'penguin poop'. Dennis and I have fortunately been through the ordeal before, and I was happy for the opportunity to play Neptune in this year's ceremony.

The next several days will be very busy with people and cargo being exchanged at both Davis Station and Zhong Shan, the Chinese base a little way down the coast.

11 Dec 2006 - 10:00 pm - Monday - posted by Jim

When we left Hobart the sky was hazy from smoke rising from wildfires in the hills nearby -- it's springtime in the southern hemisphere and fire season in Australia, with some major fires burning near Melbourne right now as well. Tasmania sees plenty of rainfall, but fires can be a problem there, too. Something else that surprised me about Tasmania is that it is strongly affected by the ozone hole centered on the south pole. Even though it is not a particularly hot and sunny place, you have to be extra careful about wearing sunscreen or you'll get burned in no time!

As I type this we are at 50 degrees 37.79 minutes south, 128 degrees 56.84 minutes east. We are heading southwest on a course of 242 degrees. It's starting to get cold -- both the air and the water are around 43 degrees F, but with the wind blowing 40 knots (around 45 mph) the wind chill is down around 9 degrees F. All that wind is making big waves, 10-20 feet tall, and since we're heading into the weather the ship is moving at a speed of only around 8 knots (9 mph).


The rough seas are tossing the ship around quite a bit -- it shakes and shudders and rolls back and forth up to angles of 25 degrees. It's been stormy like this for a few days and the motion is making a lot of the passengers seasick, unfortunately, so a lot of people are laying in their bunks waiting for the weather to improve. The view of the stormy seas is fantastic, however, if you can stomach the ship's motion -- from the bridge deck (up at the top of the ship) you can watch the endless white-capped waves break over the bow and erupt in clouds of cold foamy spray, and there are Sooty Albatrosses and Dark-Browed Albatrosses swooping around -- they are magnificent, enormous birds that glide between the wave crests seemingly without effort, wings outstretched and unflapping.

The mix of people on board makes for some interesting conversations. There are scientists: biologists, geologists, chemists, glaciologists, meteorologists, physicists; there are tradespeople: carpenters, electricians, diesel mechanics, machinists, plumbers; there are mariners: ship's officers, crew, engineers, galley staff; there are medical doctors; there are engineers and technicians; there are two different television crews, one is filming adventurers that are re-enacting a trek of Sir Douglas Mawson (an early Antarctic explorer) using old-fashioned clothes, food, and equipment; the other TV crew is filming for a popular Australian show called Totally Wild. There is a member of the Australian parliament on board. There are also twenty Chinese people riding down to Zhong Shan, the Chinese Antarctic research station. The Chinese have an icebreaker as well, the Xiu Long (which means "Ice Dragon"), but it is in dry dock right now so the Australians are lending a hand.

8 December 2006 - 12:00 pm - Friday - posted by Jim

We are finally boarding the icebreaker RSV Aurora Australis and leaving Hobart, Tasmania, bound for the Antarctic! Only one week behind schedule, due in part to damaged fuel tanks on the Aurora. Dennis and I spent a little over three weeks in Hobart preparing the equipment so that we are ready to go out to the ice shelf as soon as we get to Davis Station. We spent most of our time in Hobart working at the Australian Antarctic Division Cargo Facility at Macquarie Wharf, and at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). Prof. Richard Coleman of UTAS provided us with the means to get our work done and Dr Tony Sprent of UTAS prepared solar panel frames for the field sites (pictured below). The guys at Macquarie Wharf were very good about giving us a place to set up and work. Fortunately, we were able to prepare all the gear with enough time left over for Dennis and I to go hunting for surf down on Bruny Island.

Dennis programming seismometers Jim with the deployment boxes at Macq Wharf Tony Sprent and one of his solar panel pyramids
hobartdowntown Hobart surfDennis and Jim ready for a surf at Cape Bruny cloudy bayCloudy Bay on Bruny Island



Dennis's blog