Thursday, 4 September 2014

I slept with an Apple!

So something that has been out of the ordinary lately is the amount of time we have been spending up on the Antarctic Plateau at Woop Woop. I'm sure everyone remembers my blog from when we travelled up there to retrieve all the equipment that was being used during the summer when I fluked 'that' Aurora Australis shot...

Anyway, the reason for Woop Woop's existence is as a summer skiway for any fixed wing operations in the area once our sea ice deteriorates. The fuel that the aircraft use, ATK/Jet A-1 which come in 200L drums is typically flown to Woop Woop via helicopter during the summer. This winter, it was decided that a more cost effective method of resupplying Woop Woop with fuel would be to modify some of our Smiths Sleds and tow fuel up behind the Prinoth BR350 Snowgroomers.

Modifying a Smiths Sled

Also happening at the same time is planning and preparing for a traverse across the Sorsdal glacier to the Rauer group of islands which is the closest landmass to the Vestfold hills where we are currently. Sarah and Alyce, our wintering marine scientists need to get over there to carry out a never before achieved winter sampling program on the lakes in the area.

Here is a map which shows exactly what I am talking about and how we plan on getting there.

Map of our 'Backyard'

Preparation for the traverse involves lots of training. The trip comes with inherent risks such as crossing crevasses on a glacier, extended periods in the extreme cold and wind on the Plateau and living from a camp-site at a hut for near to a week. So a logical decision was made to kill two Skuas with the one stone and head up to Woop Woop and camp for a night to 'experience' what we may be up for and also combine it with preparations for our Prinoth 'fuel runs'.

Lugging the machinery

Camping on solid ice at an altitude of 600m is an interesting experience to say the least. We had a pretty constant temperature of below -30deg and a persistent breeze of 20kts which really forced you to consider how to setup the camp. We went with four 'Polar Pyramid' tents with two people per tent. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of the camp as it was purely too cold, not for my camera, but for me. Once the tent was erected and the beds made the last thing on my mind was standing outside to take happy snaps.

Inside the tent, we positioned the two beds on the outside and had a storage and cooking area in the middle. During cooking dinner the temperature inside the tent mercifully rose to a balmy -6deg but also had the effect of drastically humidifying the air and acting like a sauna! Once our bellies were full the decision was made to retire to the sleeping bags and camping mats to make use of the 'warmth' we had created.

When you are in a place that is twice as cold as your Freezer at home it is crucial to use any heat available. This means putting anything that may ice up in the sleeping bag with you. I had my drink bottle (need liquid water for the morning), Pee bottle (I wasn't getting out of that sleeping bag for ANYTHING), Torch (batteries die pretty quick here), boot liners and socks (nobody finds frozen feet fun) and an Apple (for breakfast).

I found it a bit tricky getting to sleep, not because I was trying to sleep in a frozen 'supermarket' but because as you breathe out, you exhale moisture from your breath which of course instantly freezes and leaves nice little ice crystals on your beard and eyelashes. I somewhat bypassed this by covering myself entirely apart from a small hole for fresh air and managed to sleep for almost 12 hours!!

The morning involved packing everything up and returning to station. The experience was invaluable not just due to the stories we gained from the trip but also knowing what we could be in for if we have an issue on the traverse and just how much cold each of us can tolerate.

Back down the hill

Since I have no photos of the camping itself, ill leave you all with some from the fuel trip proper which were taken in the same area but a few days later.

Loaded up the day before

The convoy

Pretty amazing morning for it!

Picking a path through the icebergs

About to start the ascent

Pretty average weather at Woop Woop

Pesky bergs getting in the way...

They do look amazing in the right light though! (HDR shot)

Friday, 8 August 2014

Some station life

Living in a small community on an Antarctic station involves quite a few extra community duties and there is one particular job on station that polarises expeditioners.

'Slushy' as it is known consists of being a kitchen hand to the chef for a day. It is arranged on a rotating roster which includes 19 people and is for every day of the week bar the Sabbath day (Sunday) so it comes around fairly often. It involves doing dishes, restocking anything consumable, rubbish runs, looking after the salad bar, cleaning and arranging the dining area and if you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can help prepare and cook some meals.

Milking the 'Cow'

Breakfast Bar and Calorie Corner

Needs regular restocking

The 'Mess', got a pretty good view too...

It is a pretty full-on days work, always on your feet and washing an endless train of pots, pans and whisks. Many, many whisks. Despite the thousands of whisks, I find it a welcome change to the noisy workshop or cold and wind outside, I also enjoy helping prepare food and partaking in a bit of cooking if the chance comes up.

Pancakes for Smoko...

Pizza for Dinner!

As I mentioned previously we are currently a 'skeleton crew' of 20 people. Over summer this number swells greatly due to science and infrastructure programs and with all the extra people comes the need for extra accommodation.

Prepare for an acronym barrage...

Typically during summer, there can be 95+ people so the wintering team and a few select summering personnel reside in the SMQ (Sleeping and Medical Quarters) which is joined to the LQ (Living Quarters) via a convenient link-way which I will cover here soon. Majority of summering expeds call SAM (Summer Accommodation Module) or TAD (Temporary Accommodation Davis) home. If we have a great influx, OPS (Operations) also has dorm rooms set up.

SAM and TAD are cleverly constructed from insulated shipping containers and have all the creature comforts of home and are only a short walk to the LQ.

Introducing SAM the Summer Accommodation Module:

This is the largest of the extra accommodation here and comes quite well equipped!




As mentioned before SAM is constructed from insulated shipping containers and has conveniently colour coded hallways, not implying that summering personnel need simple colours to locate their rooms or anything...

Typical 'Donga' in SAM

Next up is TAD (Temporary Accommodation Davis)

It is a bit more utilitarian than SAM but still comes quite well equipped!

TAD Donga

TAD Bathroom

*Disclaimer: All these photos were taken early in the winter hence the blinding daylight and lack of snow. The place looks substantially different now...

Saturday, 19 July 2014

This is why I cant have nice things...

Some of you may have seen the video I made the other week of the engine change in the MPH. During filming for this I had a whoopsie and dropped my camera, my valuable Nikon D800E (both in monetary value and scarcity (I cant run down to the local Stallard's and replace it)), with my extravagant 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. From the top of a 7ft high cabinet. Onto a ceramic tile floor.

Warped baseplate

My first thought was "there goes a few $$'s" quickly followed by "what will I do for the rest of the winter without a camera!"

Bit of a 'hump' in the lens ring (down the bottom)

I picked up the 2kgs of magnesium, glass and unrepairable circuitry from its final resting place and was surprised at the initial lack of damage. The battery door had broken off, along with the internal battery clip. I put the battery back in and surprisingly it turned on straight away. I tried a few test shots and found it to be business as usual. Dodged a rocket there.

Broken battery clip (The door reattached fine)

This experience has had me contemplating carrying around a camera that is quite expensive on a regular basis. Some may think the risk of damage is too high. Through all this mulling over, I have come to the conclusion that spending a small fortune on camera gear and damaging it while using is far less of a waste than having the same gear sitting in your room and collecting dust because of the fear of breaking it. Or maybe I am just justifying my purchase??

Still good as new!


Just to prove the camera still works, we headed out on a Jolly last Friday night to Watts hut to explore the freshwater lakes in the area. Myself and Adam had a few ideas for some experimental photography which involved drilling holes in the glass-like ice and sliding in powerful lights to light up the frozen lakes from the inside out. Although the darkness of the night was reduced by a moon doing sun impersonations I think it turned out ok...

"Everybody look at da moon"

We had a LED aircraft landing light. It was actually classified as a Class 2 UV product so we couldn't look directly at the light itself and it seemed the cameras struggled too.

Even though it was incredibly bright, the red colour didn't penetrate the ice very well.

Then we tried a 24v rotating machinery beacon. Although due to the exposure the light looks solid, it was actually spinning around which was creating quite a 'trippy' effect. If there was going to be anyway of signalling aliens, this would be it...

But most successful was Adams 'lightsaber'. Simply 12v LED strips attached to a length of conduit. The clear, white light penetrated the ice amazingly and really bought out the blue of the fresh water!

The team.

Needless to say, we have got some even bigger ideas planned for next time! Stay tuned...

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Here comes the sun..

So it has been some time since my last blog and I think I know why...

Its not like there has been nothing to write about and things are far from stagnating here but motivation seems to be occasionally lacking for particular jobs and I can only put it down to one thing, the Sun!

As Davis is so far south we actually have one month, one week and one day (38 days) where the sun fails to clear the horizon. Although we still get a 'twilight' in the middle of the day with incredible 360 deg coloured skies, I haven't seen the sun itself since the 2nd of July at 1406hrs.

Rob, Myself and Adam having a beer and patiently waiting for the sun 

Lately our twilight has been increasing as the supposed magical moment of the suns return on the 10th June at 1342hrs approaches (yes, its past that date but it has been cloudy and we still haven't seen that glowing orb) but the attitude on station has become 'chirpier' for lack of a better word. Things never got terrible during the darkness here, which can happen some years but you could sense a distinct lack of energy in the group. This got me thinking, we do take Vitamin D supplements to try to negate the effects of living in darkness and artificial light but maybe we as humans are in some respect partially solar powered and that could be why we as a species have never properly settled in areas which go for days without seeing the sun? To the outsider looking in your first thought could be its due to the extreme temperatures (we are hovering around -30c at the moment) but you can protect yourself from the cold. We have comfortable accommodation and workshops, our clothing is fantastically suited to this environment but nothing we have can combat living in 24hr darkness. I find it isn't the cold, lack of vegetation or winds that are unnatural about being here, it is the time living without a sun.

Nope! No sun today, maybe tomorrow!...

Midwinter is a big celebration for people on the Antarctic continent, sub-Antarctic islands and some ex-expeditioners back in the 'real world' and is an important time to do crazy things and embrace the lightlessness. This year, we have done such things as building an outdoor heated water vessel (outdoor spas are against AAD policy)

Our heated water vessel (NOT a Spa!)

We cut a hole in the sea ice out the front of station and went swimming in -2c water (I didn't swim this year as I was being stubborn by not agreeing with all the extra rules and politics surrounding the swim at the moment)

Mmmm! Looks inviting!

Sarah testing the water

The Swim Team!

Some of us shaved our heads and wore dresses (as you do) and we ate to excess (Crayfish toasted sandwiches for breakfast anyone?)

Would you receive a Midwinters gift off these two lovely lasses?

On the work front, we recently had one of our powerhouse engines start haemorrhaging oil from numerous orifices and since it was knocking on the door of its '40,000 Hour' swap out, we decided to do it early and get a nice rebuilt engine in there to take its place. This is a big job at the best of times and in the middle of winter comes with even more challenges. I decided to try filming some video and time-lapse of the job and have uploaded it for everyone. I wanted to practice some video stuff with my camera so I done an intro of me walking up to the powerhouse, it gives everyone back home an idea of a typical 'commute' between the buildings here. Hope you enjoy!