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,
2016 seasons are also available.
Select month to view:
27/1/2013: The bustle of activity calmed down
earlier the week after the departure of the Prime Minister and
associates. Then shortly after came the news of a
that sparked a large search and rescue operation between Scott Base
and McMurdo. In the last couple of days we've had three large scale
science events return from the field, so Scott Base is nearly filled
to capacity once more. Many of them are scheduled to fly out early
next week, after which the countdown to winter is set to begin. It's
only a couple more weeks until most of the summer staff will leave
for NZ. While it'll be sad to see many of these great people go home,
some peace and quiet will be most welcome.
As part of the Prime Minister's visit and Scott Base's 56th birthday,
various Scott Base staff had worked for days to create this fantastic
cake in the shape of Ernest Shackleton's ship
The ski field was lovely after the fresh snow from last weekend!
At long last, the new power cable installation to our Crater Hill
radio site is underway. The existing cable is many years past its
best before date.
The sea ice is going through its annual thaw with large pools of
water clearly visible (centre). This was also the location of the
sea ice runway/McMurdo airport in October/November last year. When
the sea ice melts each summer, all of the airport buildings are
moved to the further away Pegasus runway on the permanent ice shelf.
There are pools of water everywhere during the summer melt. The
reflection of our Satellite Earth Station is visible in this melt
20/1/2013: After various delays, it's now Prime
Minister Mania at Scott Base. Having John Key and his wife here is
actually quite nice, although the associated 14-something media are
somewhat daunting at times. I guess having a coffee with the PM in
the dining room this morning was a change from the norm.
Most of our freight that's been in transit since November has finally
arrived, so special thanks to everyone who kindly sent me kites, nuts,
pork crackle and craft beer before Christmas!
One of the reasons for the Prime Minister's visit to Scott Base was
for the unveiling of the new Scott Base signs. We put them up a week
ago and weren't supposed to take photos of them until they were
officially unveiled this morning in a ceremony with the PM and Iwi.
Despite the weather which has been snowing heavily for the past two days,
the ceremony went well. Scott Base sung a waiata (Maori blessing song)
led by the lovely Heather on vocals and myself on guitar. Trying to
keep the instrument in tune in the cold was certainly a mission, but
John Key later commented to me that it turned out better than some of
the many others he'd heard. Not sure if he was just being nice, but
he's a genuine kind of guy. Don't have any photos of this yet, will
have to try and acquire a few off the media people.
A photo of the new official Scott Base sign featuring Lou Sanson
the Antarctica NZ CEO (left) including Prime Minister John Key
(second from left).
The snow and cloud even cleared briefly for a photo of the new sign
and Pou Whenua - which is a statue carved from totara that faces
We've had the first significant snowfall of the season over the past
couple of days. The ground is now white and snowy instead of brown
A bit of a storm a few days before the PM party arrived nearly blew
the secret unveiling covers off the new sign.
13/1/2013: A combination of cloudy weather and
warm temperatures turning the ice shelf runway (Pegasus) to slush resulted
in many delayed flights this week, but they all got here in the end.
Scott Base was nearly filled to maximum capacity on Friday with 84 beds
At present we have large numbers of science events waiting on good
weather to get out into the field. Thick fog yesterday put a stop to
all flights but this morning it's crystal clear. The Southern Lakes
Helicopters pilot was keen to work today (Sunday) to ease the backlog
of flight work, but he's not allowed to fly without search and rescue
support and apparently search and rescue don't work Sundays. Wow,
first time I've heard of an emergency service who only work business
hours. You'd be calling them up and the conversation would end with
"As much as we'd love to help you out, it's our day off. Please
re-schedule your emergency after 8AM Monday".
Needless to say, my workload has increased with the arrival of the many
science events. One group had some kind of GPS unit that had a power
supply system resembling a large bird's nest of wires, looked as though
it had been assembled in a last minute effort by an eight year old
in someone's garage. So spent some time clearing that up for them.
I should try and remember to take photos of these things. But just
imagine a big ball of random wires and that was essentially it.
We also have a couple of staff from Downer Engineering on site at
present who are doing some long term maintenance work on the copper
cable network and a few other bits.
Here's a nice photo of Arrival Heights showing the Telecom NZ International
Satellite Earth Station in the foreground. Mt Erebus partially shrouded
by cloud in the background. Thanks to Mike B for the photo. He was a member
of two volunteer workers sent down once per year for about a month. They
generally get given painting jobs in and around Scott Base. During their
stay the place has been tidied up a lot, great job.
A view of McMurdo Station from Mike B, probably taken from the same location
as the previous photo above. Observation Hill in the centre.
Meanwhile around Scott Base, it's that time of year when the warming
temperatures starts melting the thin (approx. 2 metres) sea ice which
has seen the end of vehicle and foot traffic on the sea ice for now,
including the pressure ridge walk closing.
An Antarctic skua. No doubt about it, that thing would definitely peck
your eyes out. They're a fearless scavenger bird resembling a large
seagull that frequently attacks Americans as they walk around carrying
plates of food.
6/1/2013: We all enjoyed the three day break
over new year's. This included the 9-hour Ice Stock outdoor
live music festival at McMurdo on New Year's Eve. Spent a stunning
day at the ski field on New Year's Day, which was mostly quiet due
to a majority of Scott Base sleeping in after a big night of
But that's the last of the long weekends and short working weeks,
we're now back to the regular grind of six-day working weeks which
I particularly enjoy as it's fantastic for productivity. It's truly
stunning how much can be achieved by a small group of people when
they have no television and limited internet access.
January is set to ramp up with the arrival of around 54 people over
three flights next week. It looks as though we'll be maxing out the
bed numbers of 88 again very quickly.
I particularly enjoyed Ice Stock, which ran from 4PM on Dec 31st to
1AM on 1st of January. The actual New Year's countdown was a minute
or two out; naturally they didn't want to interrupt the song playing
at the time, good call! There was also a chili cook-off which a
couple of Scott Base staff entered and won the event. Neither of
them were our chefs, understandably the last thing they wanted to do
on their day off was more cooking.
Another relaxing day at our ski field on New Year's Day.
Behind the scenes I have plenty of jobs queued up as always. Here's
the working prototype of the new Scott Base plant alarm controller card
and one alarm channel card. The last crew were supposed to have this
project completed last winter, but didn't really get far which was
somewhat disappointing considering I'd already done a bulk of the design
and proposal work in 2011. I'm currently in the process of laying out
printed circuit boards after spending several days trying to remember
how to use the Protel CAD software.
Here's the drive system for Telecom International's satellite antenna
tracking controller which was upgraded when I was last here in October
2011. The tracking system only gets used in the event that we need to
use an inclined orbit or 'wobbly' satellite. I've just fitted a limit
switch to the bottom of the antenna to prevent the controller from
attempting to drive the antenna through the floor in the event of a
malfunction. It's happened before with the old controller. Messy.
McMurdo Station also held their annual alternative art festival. Only
saw photos of it myself, some nice pieces of work, some a bit unusual.
I really can't work out where they get the time to do all of this stuff.