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 March 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016

Anthony-ScottBase-small.jpg (10124 bytes)
August 2016
  • 28/8/2016: WinFly - the contraction of the words Winter and Flight has been the focus of the week. For many years, the Americans have been running winter resupply flights around the same time as the sun returning on the 20th of August. The return of daylight of course making it much easier to land aircraft. There are usually around 3-5 flights over a period of a week; a combination of passenger and cargo movements.

    The highly changeable and difficult to predict weather patterns nearly always cause cancellations and delays, and this year has not been an exception. Despite a number of postponements caused by unfavourable weather and aircraft mechanical issues, we've gained another five contractors and staff here at Scott Base until the beginning of main body in October.

    It's actually been good having the new people about, most of them being returnees. While some of our winter crew have been unsettled and upset by the crew growing to a total of 15, the majority of us have found it to be motivating to have fresh people about who aren't yet morbidly depressed.

    Airbus_landing_23-8-16.jpg (18854 bytes)
    Since I rarely get out very much (my primary role at Scott Base would seem to be doing fire crew for everyone else so they can go out and have the day off work) so the photos today are from Vonny and Becky. The one above is the Australian Airbus A-319 as it landed on Tuesday.

    Airbus_disembarking.jpg (35623 bytes)
    40-something passengers departing from the first aircraft of Winfly. A majority of them bound for McMurdo Station, whose winter population of around 150 is set to swell to around 450 people with the completion of the last flight on Monday.

    Sunrise_22-8-16.jpg (96327 bytes)
    Just after 12PM on Friday last week it was the first sunrise since winter began. Not that we've seen it from Scott Base yet as the mountains are in the way. Or in the case of today, it's too stormy, so hidden behind much cloud and snow. I think one of these photos made it to media, which incorrectly said we could see the sun from Scott Base, which we can't yet. This photo was taken on Monday near Hut Point ridge, nowhere near Scott Base.

    Windfarm_sunset.jpg (182205 bytes)
    One of the things I love about this time of year are the fantastic colours in the sky during the dramatic sunrises and sunsets. By contrast, mid-winter is boring because it's always dark. And of course mid-summer is always daylight. This was the colour of the sky behind the Crater Hill wind farm on Thursday afternoon.

    Cape_Evans_10-8-16.jpg (141177 bytes)
    Also at this time of year they run a few day trips by Hagglunds out to Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans to make sure it hasn't blown away or something. In this instance it hadn't. Just as it also hadn`t for the past 103 years.

    Scotts_Hut_16-8-16.jpg (104823 bytes)
    Inside Scott's hut, everything is exactly where the Captain and his team left it back in 1911. Aside from the minor detail that everything has been removed, catalogued, preserved and put back by the Antarctica Heritage Trust over the last few years.

    Scotts_Hut_flour_boxes.jpg (123385 bytes)
    Some of the hundred or more Colman's Flour food boxes in Captain Scott's hut, each of them meticulously persevered by the Antarctic Heritage Trust specialist carpenters over the past few years.

  • 21/8/2016: The first sunrise on Friday was somewhat of a non-event due to the sun being obscured from view by the surrounding terrain and the three-day storm in progress.

    At least the storm has delayed the first of the August flights, giving us just that moment more of peace and quiet; long may it continue.

    Group_dinner_20-8-16.jpg (133495 bytes)
    The 12 of us and partners sat down to a delicious group dinner on Friday night to mark the end of the main chunk of winter. I'm sitting front, right. Apparently we're not supposed to mention the fact that we had tuna steaks, which we traded for something at McMurdo Station, because we're not supposed to trade stuff with McMurdo Station. What's up with that? I'm not great at history, but I thought World War 2 ended in 1945??

    Keith-carving.jpg (76027 bytes)
    Keith the chef carving up the bacon wrapped mushroom stuffed sirloin. Yes, it was every bit as tasty as it looked.

    Grubb-Scooter-48hr_film.jpg (50545 bytes)
    Grubb and Scooter acting the shot for the computer generated flame thrower effects in the Scott Base vehicle workshop.

    Votes are in for the 48-hour film festival from the start of the month. All 30-something participating Antarctic stations voted, the results were:
                    48Hr Best Film:  Arctowski (Poland) Lost in Translation
                    48Hr Acting:  Crozet (France) Elephant Manfive knots and the vehicles might
                                                  have had a snowflake or two land on them
                    48Hr Cinematography:  Scott Base (New Zealand) The Things
                    48Hr Editing:  McMurdo (USA) Night Flight
                    48Hr Sound:  Crozet (France) Elephant Man
    Keith-48hr_film.jpg (40878 bytes)
    Keith acting the chef part in the 48-hour film we produced one weekend at the start of the month. The story went that an unseen alien force is going around Scott Base and it was discovered that it was afraid of fire. These flames were real, Keith knows that if you cook with a lot of wine in a hot pan, it causes an impressive flare up such as this.

    SB_flames-48hr_film.jpg (27661 bytes)
    The ending shot of the film from Anthony Powell's quad-copter mounted camera. Complete with computer generated flames. See the Scott Base 5-minute film here.

  • 14/8/2016: Only a week to go until our quiet winter of 12 people on station receives an influx of new people. The first of the four August flights is next Saturday, bringing with it eight or so support staff, including construction staff to complete the building extension work that began at the start of the year.

    And only five days to go until the first official sunrise on the 19th of August. The increasing ambient light and lively colours in the sky are already brightening everyone's otherwise gloomy spirits.

    WorkshopBBQ-Steve.jpg (70222 bytes)
    The Scott Base kitchen and dining room were closed on Friday for the annual floor wax and polish. So we had a delicious barbecue in the workshop welding bay for dinner. The extraction fan was struggling to keep up with the smoke produced by Steve's cooking.

    WorkshopBBQ-Grubb.jpg (104735 bytes)
    Just as it was getting too hard to handle the smoke, Grubb took over with the breathing apparatus set.

    Vehicle_workshop_August.jpg (148064 bytes)
    There was a severe weather warning in place, so Jason brought most of the vehicles inside to prevent them from being buried in snow. Just as well he did; the winds rose to nearly five knots and the vehicles might have had a snowflake or two land on them.

    D6_in_workshop.jpg (133049 bytes)
    Even the D6 dozer got a break from its usual frozen parking spot outside.

    Container_dock_sprinklers.jpg (111362 bytes)
    Steve is still struggling to complete several months of work they sent him down for six weeks to complete. He's hard at work on installing fire sprinkler pipework within the new container lab dock at present.

    Nacreous_cloud_conical.jpg (64211 bytes)
    A rare treat yesterday at lunchtime seeing the colourful nacreous clouds over Crater Hill, the HF conical monopole antenna in the foreground.

    Nacreous_cloud_Erebus.jpg (58355 bytes)
    More nacreous clouds, technically known as polar stratospheric clouds, we saw at noon yesterday. The silhouettes of Castle Rock and Mt Erebus dominating the skyline.

  • 7/8/2016: Again, the rare treat of a 2-day 'long' weekend couldn't have come at a better time, meaning people should be a little less tired and cranky next week, for a few days anyway.

    This weekend is also the annual Antarctic 48-hour film festival. It was started around 10 years ago by film maker, Anthony Powell, who is with us at Scott Base this season. That gives us an overwhelmingly unfair advantage, having not only the professional film maker here, but also the originator of the festival and the driver for it again this year. The festival is essentially a short movie making competition between Antarctic stations. Mystery elements are selected by randomly chosen stations, which were all revealed on Friday. The idea is that you need to produce a 5-minute maximum film of any theme you like, providing it contains the mystery elements, and have it submitted on Sunday, today.

    So Anthony Powell had a script in mind, which is very loosely an abbreviated version of the 1982 movie, The Thing. We filmed the four scenes yesterday and Anthony has since been working on the editing last night and today.

    The addition of the mystery elements are so that it guarantees the film is made in that 48-hour period. This time the elements that the film had to contain were: the sound of an elephant trumpeting, the action of someone pretending to walk as a fashion model on a catwalk, the object of a stethoscope, the line of dialogue "may the force be with you" and some form of mythical creature.

    It's the first time I've been involved in something like this, which was both educational and fun to do. It's surprising how much is involved in film making and to see some of the professional tricks of the trade used by Anthony. It turns out that most of the magic is done by the video editing software these days, but there's still a lot of skill involved with camera angles, lighting and capturing sound.

    CRH_paging_receiver.jpg (124348 bytes)
    Friday bought the opportunity to install the POCSAG paging receiver at our radio site on top of Crater Hill, which is part of the new radio paging system I've been working on this past month. With finally a bit of light at mid-day, it was possible to walk up the mountain without constantly tripping over rocks in the dark. Though the strong wind at -30C was anything but pleasant to walk into, with all the pleasure of feeling as though you're being knifed in the face.

    Crater_Hill_sun1_5-8-16.jpg (64383 bytes)
    The northward sun under the horizon providing background illumination of two of the Americans' radio sites on Crater Hill.

    Crater_Hill_sun2_5-8-16.jpg (89888 bytes)
    Looking east from the top of Crater Hill towards the third American radio site on Crater Hill. Though the sun is not above the horizon for another two weeks, there's plenty of ambient light at mid-day as this photo shows.

    SB_sun_3-8-16.jpg (71753 bytes)
    And continuing the mid-day photo theme in case you're not sick of it yet; here's the sun behind Mt Erebus as seen from Scott Base during the week.

    Hagglund_aurora.jpg (64852 bytes)
    A large aurora display during the week got some of the others whipped up into a frenzy of photography while I was doing my regular part time job of washing dishes in the kitchen. This is Andy's proud shot of a Hagglunds at the hitching rail.