Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

In mid-January 2016 I was suddenly in the situation of returning to Scott Base at short notice to resume duties of my 2015-2016 counterpart communications engineer who had experienced medical difficulties. It began with completing the remaining month of the summer season, which then evolved to staying on for winter 2016. This will be my fourth season for Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ International and Downer Engineering.

This is a more unusual situation, arriving abruptly part-way through the season with daily temperatures around zero degrees Celsius, cooling slowly towards the end of summer in February before returning to the more familiar -20 to -40 degree C days of winter along with the impending 24 hour darkness.

Below is a diary of progress and interesting events along the way, oldest at the bottom and most current at the top. Note that these are my own personal views and experiences which may not reflect the views of Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ or Downer Engineering.

Previous diaries from the 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
January 2016 February 2016 March 2016 April 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016

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April 2016
  • 24/4/2016: So what's been happening this week? Well, with no parts in due to the cancellation of the April cargo flight, a lot of jobs are on hold. There's not a lot of project work happening and the annual maintenance is mostly complete. So the answer is that not much is happening. I'm getting into some early development project work - writing software for modules I don't have so can't test anything. Fun times.

    DeathAndTaxesParty_16-4-16.jpg (239313 bytes)
    The Americans' Death and Taxes party last Saturday was considerably more eventful than this past week. My band played a set of live music at the Carpenters' Workshop. From left to right is Mark on bass, Julie on backing guitar, Zac on drums, myself on guitar and vocals and Ursula on keyboards.

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    Another view of the Death and Taxes party live music performance.

    April_sunrise.jpg (95612 bytes)
    Today is the official last sunrise/sunset. Due to the low angle of the sun, there's still plenty of ambient light either side of the sunrise at 12:33PM and set at 1:08PM.

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    Anthony Powell continues to capture some great night shots, the TAE Hut in the foreground, looking south towards Black Island and Mt Discovery. Spot the Iridium satellite flare to the left.

  • 17/4/2016: It's been a very deja-vu-ish week with the cancellation of the single cargo flight being provided by the NZ Air Force. This time last year I was writing about exactly the same thing where the Australian passenger flight was exactly on time, but the NZ Air Force flight had a week of weather delays followed by a complete cancellation due to a reported mechanical failure of the aircraft. While we didn't have any super critical cargo on the flight, it was more of an annoyance of not being able to get any fresh food delivered and various jobs have been delayed six weeks until the US Air Force make the cargo flight in June.

    The Americans at McMurdo Station have been affected in much the same way. Though it's only bought us more flack. First was the wave of many frivolous remarks from the Americans how the NZ Government had spent $26 million dollars on changing the flag but we've still got the same flag. Now we're hearing the same relentless joke over and over:
    Q: What are two things native to New Zealand that can't fly?
    A: The kiwi bird and the NZ Air Force

    It's also around five days until the last of the sunshine, we're down to 4 hours and 40 minutes daylight today.

    It's not all gloom and depression however. The good news is that the McMurdo carpenters hosted a fantastic live music party last night. The bad news was that I was stuck on Scott Base fire crew, as usual. But good news that I managed to exchange crew duty with a reluctant someone, which was fortunate as my band was part of the live music for the evening. So managed to have a great time in the end, but as usual, such a pain in the arse trying to make it happen.

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    Mt Erebus at mid-day yesterday. We've actually had a brilliant run of weather recently. A fairly constant -30C and light winds.

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    One Hagglunds Bandvagn 206 remanufactured by Hellgeth Engineering, Germany, parked at the hitching rail. Read all about this type of vehicle here.

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    Yet another group photo. The official version is one with the NZ flag that the government spent $26 million dollars changing, and we've still got the same flag. This is the unofficial version of the photo with the significantly more fun flag. I'm pictured far right - I think I was getting bored at posing for photos at the time so was looking at some antenna jobs on the roof of the building.

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    This is Gracie and Jen, two of the McMurdo 'fuelies'. Apparently they'd been wanting to stage a certain photo shot for a long time....

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    So they borrowed me at lunchtime yesterday where we went to the McMurdo bulk fuel storage area....

    Jen_and_Gracie_at_J-5.jpg (113973 bytes)
    Where they pointed out (as everyone regularly does) that there's a two million gallon fuel tank with a designation of J-5. For those that don't know, my nickname in Antarctica is Johnny 5, which everyone here knows me by, which is frequently abbreviated to J5.

    J-5_tank.jpg (21905 bytes)
    And this was one of the poses of me with this fuel tank that they'd been wanting to stage for a long time. With Jen involved, a simple pose is never enough, hence the outrageous (for me) decorations.

    Antz_with_quadcopter.jpg (92831 bytes)
    This is professional photographer, Anthony Powell, whose photos (below) I often borrow/steal as I have no interest in photography myself while he enjoys taking a range of excellent pictures. He's on a mission with his quad-copter that has a camera mounted underneath, which gets some great aerial shots. The issue is that the radio controlled aircraft isn't that happy operating at -30C. He has to bring it inside to warm it up before it will fly, though once it's in the air it operates happily enough with a range of about 1km.

    Antz-before_aurora.jpg (159635 bytes)
    Anthony Powell captured this photo outside Scott Base one night this week. Nothing much happening other than a vague aurora in the distance.

    Antz-full_aurora.jpg (148226 bytes)
    Then in the space of three minutes, the sky was lit up like this.

  • 10/4/2016: The departure of eight early-winter staff on Thursday following the recent completion of construction/expansion work has left the place suddenly desolate. We're now down to 11 people on station, meaning the weekly rotation of fire duty, kitchen duty and various other additional tasks on top of your paid job happens even more frequently. The number seven (days in a week) is not a multiple of eleven (people on station) which means there are some weeks where you're doing a lot extra on most evenings. Fancy a bit of time off work to help maintain that all important work/life balance? Sorry!

    Fortunately I'm using the infrequent time between "additional duties" and correlations with breaks in the weather to spend a bit of time with some of my friends from McMurdo Station. I'm quite enjoying the social scene which this week has ranged from a sushi making/eating party to practicing music.

    The shift out of daylight savings time last weekend has resulted in the evening daylight becoming even shorter; today's sunset at 4:20PM and sunrise at 9:25AM. Just 15 days from the last sunrise/sunset. Daily temperatures seem a little chillier than usual for this time of the year, now often in the -30C range with frequent dips below -40C.

    EarlyWinterStaffPhoto.jpg (86436 bytes)
    It's also the group photo time of the year. This was last week with all 19 of the early winter crew here. I'm pictured centre front, sitting on the rock since everyone was moaning I was standing too tall or too low or in a bad place. A bit like Goldilocks with the porridge. Someone back home was recently asking if I still wear my shorts in Antarctica. There's your answer.

    April_crew_leaving.jpg (134537 bytes)
    These are the eight departing people getting dressed to leave on Thursday. As usual it was a mixed feelings moment with some people quite eager to return home, but I think all of them were quite sad to be leaving. Some of them will be returning in August to continue the next stage of the construction work they started this year.

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    The departing crew leaving Scott Base in a Hagglunds for Pegasus Airfield where the Australian A-319 Airbus had them in Christchurch later that evening.

    Hitching_rail_7-4-16.jpg (106320 bytes)
    It was a nice day for the flight on Thursday, no wind and clear skies. Those are the days they usually cancel the flights on for some reason, but this one time they saw fit to fly on a nice day.

    Dail_6700_for_help.jpg (129331 bytes)
    Spot teh relly guud speling. What's up with that then? We have these telephone directory lists by all the phones everywhere that have a large line in the top centre that reads: "DIAL 6700 FOR HELP". In bold. And in red. But for some reason this is not enough. Not to mention the two times I called 6700 for help in the summer when I was in the field because no-one was answering any of the radio channels, none of the four communications operators answered, so I had to daemon-dial random Scott Base numbers from in the field via the radio network until I eventually found someone who could be bothered answering the phone. Anyway, despite the fact that you're clearly unlikely to receive any help by dialling the comms operator, who has gone off to catch a movie or something, they still felt the need to have the same communications operators print all these labels and stick them to all the phones. Not only are some of them spelt wrong, most of them immediately fell off because the surface wasn't cleaned first and most were stuck on at a big angle that makes the phones look like crap. And that label tape doesn't come cheap, over $30 each per cartridge of a few meters of tape. I'm so pleased our dearly beloved country is defended by the hands of such kwality Defence Force Personnel.

    • Copy of the Oxford English dictionary on base... check!
    • Online dictionary available... check!
    • Google auto-spelling correction in case you still somehow can't manage the previous two... check!
    • NZ Defence Force personnel with basic literacy skills... ohhhhhhhhhh...

    I wish I could say this was a one-off thing, but it's not. It happens all the time! The photo below is the result of different NZ Defence Force personnel tasked with printing hundreds of pages for new sign-out book a couple of years ago.
    "Should we take one second to check the single line of text before printing these hundreds of pages? Nope, that's one second less Faceb**k surfing time."
    O for awesome. Or maybe you should have picked an 'N' for needed to stay in school.

    Please_cotact.jpg (129086 bytes)

  • 3/4/2016: The first Saturday in each month forming a 2-day 'long' weekend has come as a welcome break as always. Before the Leighs Construction guys leave next week, we thought the long weekend would be an ideal time to hold the annual Scott Base mini golf, this time with a horror theme. This involves people spending a day to make some props and set up a golf hole in a section of Scott Base, we did the golf thing with many American visitors last night, then clean up today.

    I always seem to have too much on as it is, so instead of exhausting my limited creativity on a golf hole, I helped a few other people with theirs. One example was writing a bit of computer software which would play a random scary sound when a golf ball was sunk into a hole.

    The place is still a bit of a mess this morning. I'm off to practice some music soon with the Americans at McMurdo Station, so I'd better type quickly....

    Karl-Clown_face_hole.jpg (114880 bytes)
    Karl made a scary clown face golf hole using some waste foam from the Field Centre construction project and some epoxy resin.

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    Jason's Workshop Massacre golf hole proved to be popular. Nice use of some old overalls from the rag bin.

    Grubb-clowns_and_rabbits.jpg (85930 bytes)
    Grubb's golf hole, called "Clowns and Rabbits" featured just that. Despite the simple course, the detailed artwork made up for it. He used a video projector to help sketch the base image onto some old wooden crate sides, then painted them up.

    Santa-Bunny.jpg (65036 bytes)
    I don't dress up very often, but I felt obliged to make some kind of an effort for the Americans' Easter party last Saturday night. I found a Santa costume and some rabbit ears, hence Santa Bunny was born.

    Aurora_31-3-16.jpg (55322 bytes)
    Anthony Powell captured this faint aurora on camera at 2AM on Thursday.

    BeckyStoleMyChair.jpg (120895 bytes)
    Becky stole my chair at Base Meeting. I'm getting quite fat again, which made her regret it.

    StarLake_ice_ponds.jpg (99994 bytes)
    I did a few jobs out and about this week, including checking the fibre and power cables on the way to the Satellite Station. You can see them going around the side of the hill, left of centre.

    NewTideGaugeSupport.jpg (39757 bytes)
    Since a passing iceberg damaged the old NIWA tide gauge support (left), Andy made a new one (right), meaning that the tide gauge is nearly back in action again.

    SquareFrame-refuel.jpg (79469 bytes)
    Scooter refuelled the 'Square Frame' recreational hut during the week. Despite the diesel heater running on near maximum, it's still below zero degrees inside at present. Perhaps time to have something with insulation that works at -30C?