Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

In September 2012 I began a second 13-month contract as the Scott Base communications engineer for Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ and Downer Engineering. Six months of sunlight, six months of darkness, temperatures of +3 to -50degC, interesting people and varied work are just some of the many features of spending a year in this icy environment.

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.

Diaries from the 2010-2011, 2014-2015 and 2016 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013

Anthony-ScottBase-small.jpg (10124 bytes)
February 2013
  • 25/2/2013: Two cruise ship visit/tours this week put a bit of a strain on our dwindling resources. The German ship MS Bremen visited last Tuesday and I was one of the tour guides showing 50 or more people through Scott Base. That afternoon when the tour was finished, the captain invited a few of us on board for lunch. The Zodiac ride from the shore to the ship was a lot of fun, some moderately rough seas made for an exciting and wet ride. We had lunch in the four-star restaurant complete with delicious German beer on the captain, followed by a brief tour of the ship.

    Friday saw the visit of the Spirit of Enderby with a slightly smaller tour group.

    Meanwhile, the container ship Ocean Giant has nearly been loaded with cargo returning to NZ and America. Three of us had the opportunity yesterday to tour the 12-month old cargo ship including lunch with the captain and a detailed tour with the chief engineer. Loved it!!

    Seven people left for NZ yesterday as well, a combination of remaining summer staff and visitors. Down to 16 on station now, one left to return home when the container ship loading is complete and it'll be time for the 15 of us to bunker down for winter.

    It was also the first sunset of the year five days ago. Started with the sun below the horizon for 20 minutes per day. Today the sun sets at 11:39PM and rises at 4:39AM. Another couple of months of daylight left in the sky yet.

    Bremen_from_shore.jpg (109781 bytes)
    Here's the MS Bremen anchored just off the coast of McMurdo Station. I especially loved the Zodiac ride out to the ship!

    Bremen_restaurant.jpg (148995 bytes)
    We had lunch in the casual dining room/bar which was slightly lower key than the main dining room. Apparently a cruise on this costs around $40,000. I can see why. There were approximately 70 passengers and 70 crew which ranged from a small army of Philippine workers to biologists who gave the odd lecture to the guests.

    Bremen_swimming_pool.jpg (125141 bytes)
    The Bremen also featured a swimming pool, though for some reason none of the guests were keen for a dip. No idea why, it was only -15C that day.

    OceanGiant_ice_pier.jpg (138951 bytes)
    This is the Ocean Giant being loaded at the McMurdo ice pier. Second ship tour for the week, can't get enough.

    Hut_point_OceanGiant.jpg (118970 bytes)
    Captain Scott's hut at Hut Point as viewed from the bridge of the 166m long Ocean Giant.

    OceanGiant_container_hold.jpg (161607 bytes)
    The view into the hold of the ship. The cranes are capable of lifting 400 tonnes each.

    OceanGiant_main_engine.jpg (147135 bytes)
    Looking down on top of the ship's main engine, around 15,000 horsepower. Did I mention that I love ships?

    OceanGiant_centrifuge.jpg (181698 bytes)
    These centrifuges spin at 17,000 RPM and are used for cleaning the main engine oil and also the fuel.

    OceanGiant_aux_generator.jpg (147635 bytes)
    One of the two auxiliary generators on the Ocean Giant with an output of around 600kW.

  • 17/2/2013: We're now down to 23 people on station following the departure of most of the summer staff last Monday. A few have remained to help with the cargo ship offload, which will be the focus of work for several days to come as many containers of food and supplies are unloaded and waste is loaded onto the ship for return to New Zealand.

    The newfound peace and quiet is quite welcome!

    Heather_bar_performance.jpg (110101 bytes)
    Heather and I played a short set of music in the Scott Base bar the day before she left with the rest of the summer crew. Dammit, I now need to find another vocalist. Her performance of the NWA song Straight Outta Compton was well received. No-one really expected Heather to be the type to belt out a punchy bit of gangsta rap. We also performed Outkast's Hey Ya and Don McLean's American Pie. Yep, last Sunday was certainly the day the music died, in more reasons than one.

    Winter_flag_ceremony.jpg (125013 bytes)
    On Monday we held the summer to winter handover ceremony with the flag changing to the winter one.

    Plant_alarm_control_card.jpg (130037 bytes)
    Now that the larger C17 aircraft are flying again, we've finally got a bit of freight movement. I received the new printed circuit boards I'd designed last month. Gold plated, nice. Yes Murray, they did work right first time. Another box ticked in Christine's destiny.

    McMurdo_17-2-13.jpg (136747 bytes)
    In the last few days the sea ice has mostly broken out around McMurdo Station. The orange and white container ship, visible right of centre, docked a couple of days ago and is in the process of being unloaded.

    Crater_Hill_17-2-13.jpg (93663 bytes)
    I made the most of the good weather this morning to finish off a few last jobs at our Crater Hill radio site. At long last the new power cable is in and working well. No more prayers required to keep the dodgy old power cable intact.

    Seals_in_pressure_ridges.jpg (110592 bytes)
    Also in the past week, we've had hundreds of seals return to the pressure ridges in the sea ice at the front of Scott Base.

    New_Hagglund.jpg (112143 bytes)
    Fresh off the container ship is the new Hagglund. It's been knick named Kermit for obvious reasons. The mechanic and I are already making bets how on long it takes before someone does something stupid and breaks it. Someone has already driven one of the brand new Toyota Landcruisers through the hitching rail and into one of the old Hagglunds last week.

  • 10/2/2013: This past week has seen virtually the end of the summer work, including the last of the radio site battery and equipment removals prior to winter. While many of the summer staff have been working extremely hard to tidy up the last few ends of summer work, there are a few others who reluctantly plough through their last one or two days here. Fortunately the hard working and dedicated people are a majority. I'll especially miss some of these colleagues whom I've grown to know well over the past five months.

    Next up on the events calendar is the container ship off-load. The cargo resupply ship visits once per year to deliver large amounts of food, tools, vehicles, building materials, beer and more. Waste is transported back to NZ and America. While a majority of the cargo is for the larger McMurdo Station, approximately 5-10% of the cargo is for Scott Base. The fuel resupply ship is also due in about now to deliver a year's supply of AN-8 (low temperature diesel) and mogas (low temperature petrol).

    Daily temperatures continue to drop; -10C is the new daily average as we head towards winter.

    To answer a few questions from my Australian relatives (don't worry, I'm not Australian):
    • The NZ Defence Force supply around eight people for the summer to help run Scott Base. Their roles include plant operators (heavy machinery drivers), communications operators and cargo handlers.

    • The ice runway on the permanent sea ice at Pegasus Airfield is just beginning to freeze again with the cooling temperatures. If it's too soft, then wheeled aircraft cannot land. It needs to be at least 28m wide for a C17 to land or around 38m wide for a Boeing 757 with the total length just over 3km. They've reduced the width back to 90ft/28m to hopefully get the workhorse C17 flying again next week, else the smaller Hercules will have to run dozens of trips from Christchurch to complete the remainder of summer work and the beginning of winter. Apparently part of the runway testing involves pulling a very heavy sled down the runway. If it sinks into the ice, then it's too soft for the aircraft.

    • If the larger aircraft (C17, Boeing 757) cannot land then in previous years they've had to put some people onto one of the boats to go back home. Someone calculated that if the C17 flights don't go ahead then they will need around 40 Hercules flights or about two flights per day until the end of the summer season in early March.

    • The barbeque on the yellow sled (see 5th photo from the bottom of this page) was just left on the transport sled that gets towed behind the Hagglund. It was otherwise filled with tents and sleeping kits.

    • For leadership over winter, two of the winter staff apply/volunteer for the position. I was the engineering supervisor in 2011. This year, a couple of others were keen on the base manager and engineering roles, so I was more than happy to leave them to it.

    Ice_channel.jpg (63335 bytes)
    The Russian icebreaker ship has cut a path through the sea ice for the fuel and cargo supply ships. The breaker continually drives up and down the channel in a zigzag pattern to prevent it from re-freezing.

    Hut_Point.jpg (109589 bytes)
    A view over Hut Point; McMurdo Station is hidden over the ridge line while the icebreaker ship is visible right of centre.

    Icebreaker_by_pier.jpg (200585 bytes)
    And the icebreaker moving in beside the Americans' floating ice pier in Winter Quarters Bay beside McMurdo Station.

    Honeycomb_rocks.jpg (113510 bytes)
    During the week, I completed the radio equipment removals from the Dry Valleys on the Antarctic mainland. The helicopter pilot insisted on showing me this ridge shown in the foreground which he thought would look right at home in a Peter Jackson movie. He was right; although it's hard to see, the wind has carved these rocks into jagged honeycomb shapes.

    Orcas_in_ice.jpg (63939 bytes)
    On the way out to the Dry Valleys job, there were plenty of hungry Orcas/Killer Whales hanging around the ice edge. The black dots in the water are the surfacing whales.

    Ship_at_ice_edge.jpg (69931 bytes)
    It must be tourist season or something. We also saw a boat visiting the ice edge. A few people are out walking on the ice, not sure what they're aiming to achieve.

    Hoopers_cloud.jpg (91691 bytes)
    After three days of weather delays, we finally made it to Hoopers Shoulder on Mt Erebus yesterday to remove the radio equipment there. Some interesting colours in the increasing cloud atop the treacherous volcano.

    Southern_Lakes_Heli-Hoopers.jpg (172713 bytes)
    See if you can spot the Southern Lakes Helicopter from Te Anau hidden among the snow and rocks high on the slopes of Mt Erebus at 2185m above sea level.

    Ray-Hoopers_Shoulder.jpg (161833 bytes)
    Mr Ray Carter with a frozen face while helping me on Mt Erebus. It was a chilly -24C and having a couple of extra hands was very much appreciated. Murray and Han: see if you can spot the T700. More proof that Tait radios are cool!

    ScottBase_9-2-13.jpg (179337 bytes)
    One last look at Scott Base from the air for the summer.

  • 3/2/2013: Only eight days until the bulk of the summer staff are due to return home. Some of them can't wait to get back to NZ while others want to stay as long as possible. Some are working hard to the end while others have already 'checked out'.

    This week we met the five new additions to our winter crew; a total of fifteen of us. The new folks are from the Antarctic Heritage Trust who will be spending the winter conserving artefacts from the historic huts. We all departed for a night of team building and camping which included a delicious barbeque and a couple of hours on the ski field.

    Remote radio site pull-ins are now underway. Batteries and radio equipment is returned to Scott Base for the winter as there will be no sunlight to keep batteries charged.

    Winter_AFS.jpg (134339 bytes)
    The winter field skills training session was more of an evening of team bonding over a fairly relaxing evening with an overnight stay away from Scott Base.

    AFS_Barbeque.jpg (127931 bytes)
    Our power engineer Dave cooked up some delicious steaks on the barbeque during the winter field skills evening.

    ScottBase_2-2-13.jpg (142403 bytes)
    The outside temperatures are slowly falling again, it's now around -2 to -10C and the sea ice at the front of the base has probably seen just about the last of the seasonal melting. We're unlikely to see temperatures above zero degrees Celsius for the rest of the season.

    Pegasus_airfield.jpg (74299 bytes)
    Here's the Pegasus Airfield seen from the air. The runway on the permanent ice shelf has a soft spot in the middle which is preventing movement of the larger aircraft, which will slow down the return of many Scott Base and McMurdo staff to Christchurch. Those eager to leave are hoping for cold temperatures to freeze the runway. Those keen to stay a while longer are praying for a heat wave.

    Black_Island_2-2-13.jpg (138713 bytes)
    I retrieved the batteries and radio equipment from our Black Island HF receiver site yesterday, a lovely day for it. Mt Erebus is visible on the left side, the edge of White Island on the right.

    D4_Crater_Hill.jpg (125539 bytes)
    Another achievement of the week was the installation of the new Crater Hill power cable, which turned out to be more involved than expected. Thanks to Brendon R from the NZ Army for his expertise in driving the large drum of cable up the steep slopes of Crater Hill with the D4 bulldozer.