As we come to the end of May, we’re now entering the heart of winter in Antarctica.
What does that look like?
The days are getting shorter. We’re losing 15 minutes of light each day. Today the sun will rise at 12:56pm and set at 2:34pm; so 1 hour and 37 minutes of daylight. So when I look out my office window in the afternoon to a magical peachy sky, I’m not always sure if it’s a prolonged sunrise or an early sunset. There are cloud shapes, formations and colours that we’ve not seen before. Peachy pink coloured skies with bizarrely shaped clouds. The more we learn about them the more we want to see.
The dark periods are also darker than you’d expect. On overcast days there is a sense of vast darkness that’s hard to describe. When it’s clear though, the stars are quite extraordinary. You can see the Milky Way and the stars are a bright white. You can also see a couple of satellites. Lots of wishes have been made on these ‘falling’ stars no doubt. Then there are the auroras. So far they’ve been more of the wispy cloud variety, best captured by camera. Last night, however, we had an explosion of aurora curtains. You could see the green and magenta hues. You need to walk up the road to get away from the building lights to really see the colours of the aurora. So we walk around in the dark, staring up at the sky, until your face goes numb or your hands get too cold, and more clothes are required.
How does it feel?
We’re half way into our time on station. Six months have passed already and we have another six months to go. This time goes quickly here but slower at home. Loved ones are missing us and we’re missing them. We’re checking in on each other while making sure everyone has some space. We’re on the cusp of the real deal. The period of total darkness. This will take place this coming Saturday, 3rd of June, when the sun sets for the last time in 37 days. It will reappear on the 10th of July, when day length will be less than 32 minutes. I’m missing the light already and it hasn’t even gone yet. Actually it’s more that I’m excited in anticipating its return. Already the time of day is confusing. Sometimes you have a moment when you don’t know if it’s early in the morning or late at night. Peoples’ sleep is starting to get affected. Overall though we’re excited.
The other main feeling is coldness. Davis is considered as the ‘Riviera of the South'. It has the mildest climate of the three continental stations. That said, Davis has been consistently colder than Casey and Mawson over the last couple of months. We’ve quickly become conditioned though. Anything higher than −18°C is considered mild. More than −10°C is balmy and of concern as it usually means a blizzard is on its way. Below −30°C is record breaking for our group and therefore OK too. The wind blowing less than 30 knots is also pleasant. 60 knots no longer phases us. More than 80 knots is exciting but we don’t envy the others with their 100+ knots when you’re building–bound for days.
Another feeling is the connection we have with the environment, especially the sea ice. Our sea ice is our highway to huts, islands, the plateau and recreation time. It is mind–blowing to be travelling over sea ice by foot, quad bike or Hägglunds and know you are walking on frozen ocean. It is the eighteenth character in our wintering party.
Last weekend we had a blizzard and lost a substantial amount of sea ice from the front of station. This was a section of our recreation area and the start of our highways to the local fjords. As the wind was gusting on Sunday morning, people stared out the windows in shock and disbelief that so much of the sea ice had broken off and left us. The icebergs were surrounded by open water. Can you grieve the loss of sea ice — it seems you can. A day later when the temperature dropped, the sea ice started to reform and all was well again. The good news being that the ice that remains is thicker than ever and will still allow some travel while the other ice reforms.
Joy of anticipation is another emotion. The midwinter celebration is also on the horizon. We are starting to organise activities in earnest. Invitations are being made. A play has been written. Most of the team is in the play so I think we’ll need to take turns to be the audience.
The play is the classic Cinderella (as Mawson’s team performed), but with a Davis twist. The script has the voice of our team members and is a bit cheeky, written to bring us delight and make us laugh. There will also be a performance from the band. Some people are learning instruments for the first time just for the gig. Lots of good life skills to pick up on an Antarctic station. The other big item on the day is the swim. This has been talked about ever since before we left Hobart. Now knowing what −30°C feels like however, puts another twist on it. The idea of taking your clothes off at that temperature and then plunging into the ocean seems ridiculous — yet still tempting.
You will of course hear more about these activities as they take place, but for now we’re enjoying the journey that winter is taking us on and invite you along for the ride.
Kirsten (Station Leader)