Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

On the 30th of August 2010 I began a new role of telecommunications technician for Scott Base, Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ and Downer Engineering. It began with a tightly packed four weeks of a variety of training before flying south to the ice on the 30th of September. The contract length of the position is around 13 months, hence it is known as 'wintering over'.

Below is a blog 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 2012-2013, 2014-2015 and 2016 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011

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June 2011
  • 26/6/11: Everyone enjoyed the mid winter celebrations on Thursday evening. A number of invited guests from McMurdo Station tipped the dinner numbers to around 30 people, so the dining hall was the busiest it's been in months. The fine dinner was to the theme of Captain Scott's dinner on Ross Island exactly 100 years ago, or 46 years before Scott Base existed. We even had a number of McMurdo staff over as waiters; the whole event was in-line with a fancy restaurant.

    Antarctica NZ in Christchurch celebrated the event in tandem with the visitor centre packed with 140 people or so. We had a short video conference link prior to the dinner to exchange formalities and speeches.

    SB_MidwinterMenu.jpg (121674 bytes)
    A copy of our menu. The painting was done by Julie, one of the Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators. The appearance and content of the menu was done as a part-replica to Captain Scott's menu with detail down to hand made chocolate cigars. Everyone pitched in a lot of effort in terms of decorating, preparation and clean up. Special credit to Lance, our chef, who spent days in advance preparing the food.

    MidWinterTeam_23-6-11.jpg (75166 bytes)
    The obligatory semi-formal Scott Base mid-winter group photo. I'm in the front row, left of centre in the blue shirt. Can't remember the time I last dressed up so nicely.

    Winter_polar_plunge_hole.jpg (56854 bytes)
    Here's the hole cut in the ice for the mid-winter polar plunge last Sunday, in front of the sea water intake pipe. Photo taken a couple of days afterwards, you can see the sea water freezing over already. The return water to the ocean is slightly above freezing (the ocean stays about -1.8C) so it prevents ice from forming around the pipes. Tide movement would otherwise damage the pipes.

    Sea_water_pump_house.jpg (96807 bytes)
    Just a few metres away on the solid land lives the sea water pump house. The pump pictured above supplies sea water to the Scott Base reverse osmosis plant to produce fresh water. As with every critical system there are two of everything, hence the secondary pump just visible in the foreground.

    New_pressure_ridges.jpg (39057 bytes)
    Meanwhile some new pressure ridges are slowly forming. All the old ones floated away in the sea ice break out in February. The ridges slowly form when the frozen surface of the ocean (about 2 metres thick) presses against the permanent ice shelf (several hundred metres thick) as a result of ocean tide movement.

  • 19/6/11: A comparatively eventful week to the usual monotony. The warm strong winds, up to -9C and 60 knots, have finally subsided which have returned temperatures to the usual -25C. As I type this, the mid-winter polar plunge is currently underway. Personally I consider this to be a mammoth waste of time and effort, which involves several people sawing a 2 metre square hole through the sea ice at the front of Scott Base so that a few of the Americans and Scott Base staff can take a 5-second dip in the -1.8C ocean. Cutting the hole invoves clearing a metre of solid snow off the ice surface, then using a combination of chainsaws, hand saws and shovels over about three days to cut through the 80cm thick sea ice. They did the summer version of the same thing in February (see 5/2/11) which was a little easier considering there were more people around to help and you could see what you were doing outside. Fortunately I can find far more productive ways to spend my work and personal time.

    The biggest event of the week was the mid-winter celebrations. This is a tradition celebrated by all stations in Antarctica. Typically we have no contact at all with other bases, aside from the American McMurdo Station next door. But at this time of the year, there are dozens of Emails flying about between various stations with mid-winter greetings. We've received nice photos and messages from the Japanese, Brazil, Maitri Station (India), three UK stations; King Edward Point, Halley, Rothera. The three Australian stations; Davis, Mawson and Palmer. Plus the Americans, including their South Pole Station.

    McMurdo celebrated their mid-winter with a formal dinner, to which we were invited last night. They put on a most impressive dinner (see menu below) and decorated their dining hall in the theme of 1910 Antarctic expeditions. Our event will be celebrated this coming Thursday as this will be exactly 100 years to the day when Captain Scott and his crew celebrated their last mid-winter before setting out for their ill-fated mission to the South Pole in 1911. Our chef is re-creating some of the dishes from the original menu, although I think the Seal Consumme may be out of the question.

    McMurdo_mid-winter_menu.jpg (105544 bytes)
    A copy of the menu we were presented with last night at the McMurdo Station formal mid-winter dinner. The nights offering is on the left, while on the right is a copy of Captain Scott's menu from the 23rd of June, 1911. Click on the image above to see the entire menu.

    Lunar_eclipse_16-6-11.jpg (17025 bytes)
    Another event of the week was the lunar eclipse on the 16th. Although the weather was mostly cloudy, a brief clearing provided an open sky glimpse of the eclipse in progress.

    ScottBase_light_tower.jpg (41662 bytes)
    What it looks like outside all the time when it's not windy. Darkness is just part of everyday life. The light tower (centre) illuminates the Scott Base grounds throughout winter. Everyone seems to be coping OK, though a few individuals have had problems sleeping; making them tired and cranky during the day.

    Snow_leaking_in_door.jpg (30638 bytes)
    Snow blowing in through a tiny gap in the door seal in our bar. With 60 knots of wind, the snow creeps into places you wouldn't expect.

    Current_detectors.jpg (71207 bytes)
    Just noticed the other day I've got little more than 4 months left here. It can be a struggle getting things on the to-do list crossed off with the many other tasks that keep on cropping up. The fact that the workshop here is really not set up for electronics development work makes progress slow. As an example, I had to make a series of circuit boards by hand, pictured above; using a 0.5mm cut-off disc in a die grinder in order to use some surface mount components in the design of a current detector.

    SouthPoleWinterGreeting.jpg (77138 bytes)
    A copy of one of the many nice greeting photos we received this week. This one from the Americans wintering at the South Pole. A copy of the greeting montage we sent from Scott Base is here if anyone wants a look.

  • 12/6/11: Much bad weather this week bought some strong winds up to 60 knots with heavy snow falls. On the plus side, the bad weather brings some warm temperatures, it's a balmy -14 degrees C at present. A short break in the weather yesterday afternoon gave us the opportunity to get outside to dig the packed snow away from the various blocked doors.

    Matt_D4_11-6-11.jpg (68301 bytes)
    Matt having a lot of fun in the D4 dozer clearing the huge piles of snow from behind Scott Base. These photos taken at 4PM; the constant darkness is simply part of everyday life now.

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    Molly driving the 926 loader out of the vehicle workshop to help with the snow clearing tasks.

    Hitching_rail_11-6-11.jpg (43622 bytes)
    Hitching rail with a Toyota Landcruiser (left), Hagglunds (centre two) and Isuzu truck (right) cold parked during the winter.

    Box_conservation.jpg (76260 bytes)
    Inside, the team of four Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators continue to preserve ancient artefacts from Captain Shackleton's hut. Pictured above is a 100 year old wooden box which once held food. The box is glued to prevent further deterioration and it will eventually be returned to Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds along with clothing, cooking implements and hundreds of other artefacts.

    Aurora_29-5-11.jpg (98601 bytes)
    This week there were a lot of solar emissions from the sun which would in theory have produced some spectacular auroras. Alas the bad weather this week has resulted in a thick layer of cloud. Molly took the photo above a couple of weeks ago at the end of May. We'd be seeing similar sights right now if the sky would clear.

  • 5/6/11: The fact that it's incredibly hard to find interesting things to photograph remains a constant hindrance.

    The long (two day) weekend just passed was certainly the highlight of the month for many of us. The long awaited 'Hunters and Gatherers' themed party was held in our vehicle workshop on Saturday the 4th was very well received. Of course we had many visitors from McMurdo station who kindly loaned their stage and band setup for the performance of live music from the Americans plus our Scott Base band.

    HuntersGatherers_group.jpg (67171 bytes)
    One of those impromptu party group photos. The costumes ranged from some surprisingly detailed efforts to my three second search through the clothing room and grabbing the first shirt that fitted. Dress-ups ranged from monkeys to leopards to murder victims to hillbillies to Colonel Gaddafi. I'm in the red and black bush shirt on the far right.

    GadaffisRebels.jpg (75313 bytes)
    Our band, Gaddafi's Rebels, probably didn't have the same stage presence as the Americans, but we certainly made up for that with quirky music ranging from a reggae version of REM's Man On The Moon to an Ice Cube gangsta rap performed as a love ballad to a punk version of Hotel California. Interesting. I'm on the left playing rhythm guitar, Julie on backing guitar, Lance (as Gaddafi) on drums and Victoria right on the bass guitar.

    Stage_setup.jpg (79528 bytes)
    Here's the stage set up the night before hand. Odd to think that the same workshop was packed full of skidoos (see last month) a few hours before hand. We used a collection of old bed sheets and other recycled materials to make some themed decorations to disguise the fact it's obviously a vehicle workshop.

    Russel-GibHole.jpg (39215 bytes)
    But the reality is that there's far more time spent doing serious stuff at work than there is partying. Russell the carpenter came busting through the wall above my work desk with a jib saw. He's installing new air ducting, not murder rampaging.