31/1/2016: I've been back at Scott Base for just over a
week now. It's surprising how quickly I dropped back into the usual routine.
The first couple of days felt a bit weird, but now I've almost forgotten about
summer in Christchurch and it's as though I've not been away for three months.
Fortunately the workload is now under control again. The trickiest bit was
getting to grips with the outstanding jobs and what state things were in. So
as you'd expect, the urgent stuff got dealt with first and the to-do list
whiteboard now has a few gaps in it.
The Scott Base summer season is rapidly winding down with many science events
returning from the field and returning to New Zealand. A few final activities
such as the annual rigging maintenance visit is just beginning. Plus over the
week we had some visitors that included Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime
Minister, Bill English, plus Minister of Transport, Energy and Resources, Simon
Bridges. The ministers were both good fun to have about, they were only too
keen to fit in with everyone else with a few drinks at the bar after work and
seeing the variety of daily work throughout Scott Base.
Next week my end of summer helicopter work begins with the removal of a temporary
radio site and repairs to our remote HF receiver site. Never any shortage of
things to be done.....
My ex co-worker from Tait Electronics, Vaughan, sent this interesting plot of
our second failed LC-130 flight on Wednesday the 20th. Vaughan works on the
flight RADAR systems for Airways, so he's easily able to see what flights are
doing. In the image above, you can see that the plane took off from Christchurch
Airport (CHP) to the north, began the south bound flight route before turning
back to Christchurch just 10 minutes into the flight after the aircraft started
smoking yet again.
The US icebreaker, Polar Star, keeping the ice channel open for the container
ship that arrived on Monday. Since then the plant operators, cargo handlers
and Field Centre crew have been working 24-hour shifts to unload 60-something
containers and re-load containers for waste being returned to New Zealand.
The entire operation was finished in around four days. The Americans at
McMurdo Station are equally as busy; in comparison they're dealing with
literally hundreds of containers to and from the ship.
Meanwhile Leighs Construction are solidly working on stage two of the Field
Centre expansion. The earthworks shown above are the beginning of the new
warm porch. Materials for this have arrived on the ship and construction
is due to begin over the next few weeks, with the framing and panelling
expected to be completed in early April.
And on the western end of the Field Centre, construction has just begun on
the new container lab dock. As with the warm porch above, the major
construction is scheduled to be finished in early April. Internal fit out
is planned from August onwards so that the new facilities are ready for the
beginning of the 2016/2017 season in October.
The view north to Mt Erebus on the left, Mt Terror on the right and the
very slushy road to William's Field in the centre.
Last Sunday was a great opportunity for a walk up and over the hill for a
routine inspection of the power cable and fibre optic route from Scott Base
to the Satellite Earth Station. The sea ice surrounding Scott Base on Pram
Point has many melt pools, but no sign of breaking out to open water as
The power cable and fibre run down from T-Site glacier towards the
Satellite Earth Station. In winter the snow is at least another metre
deeper than what it is here. The metal elevations keep it out of the
snow pack to prevent the downhill movement of the snow from damaging
This is the warmest time of the season, with daily temperatures often
above freezing. These large melt pools are usually solid ice lakes
except for this time of the year. I took the opportunity to move
cables out of the water to minimise the risk of damage. It's a lot
easier just to lift the cable out of the water now than it is to spend
weeks trying to chisel away solid ice in the middle of winter to fix
a cable problem.
Walking back to Scott Base via McMurdo Station. The Americans are also
into that dry and dusty time of the year. I had to drop off some antennas
that I'd hand carried down on the flight last week to some friends
working at NASA's McMurdo Ground Station.
I interviewed Ministers Bill English and Simon Bridges on my 9AM radio
show on Scott Base 97FM during the week. As opposed to asking the hard
questions, I took the less curly approach of just talking a bunch of crap
and making up questions as we went along; was quite a laugh. Afterwards
I put Deputy Prime Minister Bill to work on my computer to record a new
promotion for the radio show. A day afterwards in an evening Q & A
session, I asked our visitors what their favourite radio station on
the Antarctic continent was, to which they unanimously agreed on Scott
Base 97FM. Nice to have the full patronisation of parliament for my
24/1/2016: And after another 24-hour weather delay, we
eventually had an incident free seven and a half hour flight from Christchurch
to Scott Base on Friday the 22nd. It's been quite surreal to return at this
time of year as half of my mind is still in winter mode where the ground is
frozen, daytime temperatures are around -20C, not many people about; while the
other half of my mind is enjoying beers and barbeques in my garden at home in
Christchurch. Instead it's the middle of the Antarctic summer where the ground
outside is dry and dusty, daily temperatures are a shorts and T-shirt zero
degrees Celsius and the place is bustling with activity. Fortunately I already
knew most of the staff and event visitors on station, so it's certainly a step
better than walking directly into the unknown. I'm rapidly fitting back into
the daily routines of life at an Antarctic research station.
I'm also still coming to grips with a lot of work to sort out. Because my
counterpart, Grumps, was evacuated to NZ at short notice, there are various jobs
left in partially completed states. And in the two weeks between him suddenly
going to McMurdo Hospital and myself arriving, there has still been science
events getting issued radio equipment by people who don't understand the systems
we have in place for this, so the desk in front of me is littered with dozens of
scraps of paper with cryptic notes and numbers scribbled down. In addition to
that, there have been a number of recent network equipment failures needing
urgent attention. Never a dull moment.
The LC-130 having just landed at William's Field on Thursday afternoon after
the relatively pleasant seven and a half hour flight from Christchurch.
Fortunately this particular aircraft was significantly less smoky than the
one we'd been playing musical chairs with earlier in the week.
Another first, my first ride on Ivan. Since I've always been arriving as
part of summer main body or leaving at the end of winter, we've always
travelled in the Scott Base Toyota Land Cruisers. There was around six
of us bound for Scott Base, so no problem to catch a lift with the
Another familiar face from previous seasons, here's Kerre from McMurdo
shuttles driving Ivan with much enthusiasm.
Crossing the William's Field skiway on our sweet ride.
You know that Talking Heads song, Road to Nowhere? Yeah, well it's
not about this road, which leads to Scott Base and McMurdo Station.
The road is compacted snow, which is turning very slushy in these warm
daytime temperatures, often above zero degrees C.
20-30 minutes from William's Field is the approach to Scott Base. It
was certainly a mixed feeling moment. Part of me was wondering how the
hell I'm back here so soon, while it also had that exciting feeling of
returning home. After all, I've spent significantly more time living at
Scott Base than in New Zealand since 2010.
Straight into work yesterday. Here's a substandard photo of the receiver
rack at the Satellite Earth Station during a job.
Looking south-west out the door of the Satellite Earth Station across the
McMurdo Ice Shelf; Mt Discovery to the left. I forgot how easy it is to
do outside work at this time of the year when the weather is nice.
20/1/2016: Three days later and I'm still in Christchurch
after a series of flights dramas. Tuesday's departure went to schedule, though
an hour into the eight hour flight there was an alarmingly strong smell of
burning avionics equipment. The US Air Force crew quickly tried the find the
cause of the issue while we turned around and landed at Christchurch two hours
The flight was rescheduled for this morning and overnight they'd "repaired" the
aircraft. After a number of 2-hour weather delays we were in the air again a
little after 1PM. 10 minutes later the ominously familiar strong burning smell
returned and the plane was hastily turned around, arriving back in Christchurch
after about 30 minutes into the air. The backup plan was to wedge us into the
cargo flight that was scheduled for later this afternoon, but that too was
cancelled due to the snowy weather at Ross Island that wasn't clearing.
So third time lucky tomorrow??
This is the view inside the tightly packed LC-130 Hercules a few hours ago,
shortly before our significantly shorter than expected flight.
17/1/2016: In only three months to the day, I wasn't
expecting to be writing another lot of these HTML pages so soon. As friends
and family may have heard, I was contacted during the week regarding the ill
health of my counterpart at Scott Base, who was being returned to New Zealand
for diagnosis and treatment. Hence the urgent request to have someone resume
his duties at very short notice. It's been a hectic few days filled with the
necessary organisation that needs to be made before leaving the country for up
to nine months.
It is possible that my counterpart will make a rapid recovery and remain
in good health for the minimum time required before retuning prior to
winter, so it may be possible that I'll only be required at Scott Base
until March or April. However, given the strict medical clearances required
to live and work partially isolated in Antarctica for six months until the
beginning of the main body summer flights in October, his short term
return to Scott Base would seem unlikely.
Of course this means I need to prepare for not only a rapid deployment south
from my home in Christchurch, but to plan ahead for the next nine months.
In the more usual situation, you have many months to do all this, but in
no time at all I have to try to figure out what to do with existing customer
work in progress and other contract work I had partially committed to.
With my lengthy to-do list now almost in the clear, I might just about be
able to pull it off. On Tuesday, in less than two days time, I'm due to be
on the LC-130 ski Hercules bound for an all too familiar icy continent.
Depending on the weather and mechanical breakdowns, this is supposed to
be my scene in under two days time; an eight-hour LC-130 ski Herc flight
from Christchurch all the way back to where I was hoping not to be for
at least another year. Oh well, my 3-month break was nice while it