Field work, polar science and overnight at Brookes
Last week a group of us completed an overnight field trip to Brookes with a few stops along the way. There is some monthly tasks that are undertaken in the area, and I had some pre-winter checks to do on our field repeater so the tasks were combined and four intrepid expeditioners set off in freezing conditions for our walk.
We all rugged up and set off from station shortly after 8 AM. Now that winter is setting in there was some debate about what the best gear to wear would be. There is the mandatory survival clothing – woollen thermals, fleece, windproof shell, beanie, gloves, mits, goggles and neck warmer that must be carried at all times when off station. The boots offer some more flexibility and I chose to wear my hiking boots whereas the other three wore the winter boots that are not as well suited to hiking, but are warmer. I wore two polar fleece jumpers and had the survival shell in my pack handy in case the wind picked up. I was warm enough but we all discovered that as soon as you stop you very quickly get cold. We stopped for no more than 10 minutes to quickly eat lunch and found our hands starting to stop working by the time we were putting packs back on to get going. I swapped from regular gloves to the ‘bear paw’ survival mits and found them to be much warmer than fingered gloves.
Keen to get going after lunch we set off for our first objective – the repeater on Tarbuck Crag. Tarbuck is a high feature in the Vestfold Hills so is well suited for the Channel 21 VHF field repeater we use to communicate with field parties off station. It’s only 140 meters high, but the hills before it, snow, cold and survival packs provided a challenge to reach the summit. While the others enjoyed the views I carried out the checks to make sure we’d still have field comms once we stop getting sunlight on the solar panels. We didn’t spend too much time so as not to freeze again!
Next stop was Deep Lake for our ‘polar science’ task to take temperature and water level measurements. A hypersaline lake that is quite unique to Davis and the Vestfold Hills, it’s 10 times more saline than the ocean and expeditioners at Davis have been taking measurements at Deep Lake monthly since 1976! Because it’s so salty it has never been known to freeze, and is believed to be the only lake in Antarctica with this characteristic making it a valuable climate record.
Our last task was to take an air sample nearby to Brookes Hut that runs overnight for us to collect in the morning. A small pump collects any airborne particles in a filter disk which is later analysed. This isn’t strictly science, fitting more as an operational task as it’s part of a study to potentially build a paved, year round runway nearby Davis station. Having said that, all data that the AAD collects is used to better understand the unique environment in Antarctica and can be used in other research programs. The site has some automated instruments in addition to the manually collected samples.
When we finally arrived at Brookes it took at least an hour to get the hut warm and habitable. As we weren’t moving anymore we once again got cold pretty quickly! Luke and Ryan huddled in front of the heater (Luke had to defrost his beard!) and Joe and myself got in our sleeping bags to warm up.
Eventually the hut did warm up enough to get everyone going again. Everyone agreed that Mike’s cottage pie he made on Monday was just as good the second time round (boiled in vacuum packed bags) and went down a treat. A comfortable stay compared with last time I was at Brookes…
I think we were all glad the next day to have finished our three jobs for the trip and to have a leisurely start leaving the hut around 9 AM and bee-lining it back, which took just less than 5 hours . It was a rewarding trip with the multiple work tasks, cold weather and additional effort taking the dog-legged route to the required sites. Soon we’ll have the sea ice available for travel and will be able to get about a bit more with the use of quads and the Hagglunds, so I was pleased to have made the trek on foot this time in the colder than usual weather.
Thanks for reading – Matt.