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)
March 2013
  • 31/3/2013: Happy Easter. Yet again I'd completely forgotten about Easter. I couldn't work out why I couldn't get hold of anyone in Christchurch on Friday. All I got was answerphones and Email out-of-office replies. When they announced at the weekly base meeting on Saturday that we were having an Easter egg hunt, the penny finally dropped. The pleasures of six day working weeks and no public holidays.

    Anyway, we did the Easter egg hunt thing this morning (Easter Sunday) where we were all given three chocolate eggs to hide somewhere in Scott Base and had to write clues of where to find them. Found mine in the drinks fridge in the bar, the engineering work clothing washing/drying room and in the reading room chess board.

    Front_deck.jpg (113069 bytes)
    On realising I'd not taken any interesting photos all week, time to run around with the camera in some half-arsed attempt. Here's the wooden deck out the front of the administration building. Gosh, it's snowing again. Haven't seen that for at least.... 20 minutes.

    Dave-EndOfYearStocktake.jpg (123290 bytes)
    Our power/fuels engineer, Dave, has inherited the job of looking after the bar and shop. Part of this includes stock and finance control. As it's the end of the financial year, he has to count everything. He didn't look overjoyed about having to spend all Sunday doing that.

    Seals-WetLab_31-3-13.jpg (83626 bytes)
    We had ambient temperatures of below -30C during the week, but now it's warmed up to -20C or so, a few seals have appeared again on the sea ice by the wet lab.

    Plant_alarm_complete.jpg (94377 bytes)
    I've finally completed the last of the engineering plant alarm project that has been on-going for about three years. Technically speaking, it was anything but complicated, but when you're working with different groups of people who all have different ideas around how things should be done, it seems to take forever at times to reach a final decision on something.

    Stefanie-rusty_man.jpg (92770 bytes)
    Here's Stefanie, our Irish conservator working for the Antarctic Heritage Trust who are preserving many of the artefacts from Captain Scott and Shackleton's expeditions. Some of the artefacts are quite mysterious, such as this man shaped piece of sheet steel with a leg that retracted about 10mm. No one is sure what it was used for. Stefanie made a replica from cardboard (left) to try and understand the purpose of the slightly retracting leg. Or maybe she just made the white version in the name of cultural diversity.

    Stefanie-food_bag.jpg (122432 bytes)
    Stefanie inspecting the contents of one of Captain Shackleton's food bags prior to preserving it. Yeah, I'm sure the Captain's 100 year old cheese will be good to go.

    AHT-pants.jpg (134567 bytes)
    A pair of woollen pants from Shackleton's party which are being conserved. They even plucked all of the pubes out, hence the tweezers and glass jar.

    AHT_flour_box.jpg (115518 bytes)
    One of hundreds of 100+ year old wooden food boxes also being conserved by the Heritage Trust. This one held Coleman's brand flour. Some of them still contain food in various states of disgustingness. The dry flour was in surprisingly good condition; it still looked and smelled like flour. Which is more that can be said for the 100 year old lard they defrosted last week.

  • 24/3/2013: We've had our first decent storm of the year. Around three days of gale winds, lots of snow and near zero visibility. About time, all of the nice weather we'd been having was getting a bit boring. It's also started getting properly cold at last, it's been below -25C several times over the past few days.

    We have also just passed the point of equal 12 hour daylight, 12 hour darkness. Of course it continues to get darker every day, well on the road into winter now. It won't be completely dark until May, so we have another 5-6 weeks of light yet.

    Things are all going fairly smoothly and everyone seems to be getting along just fine. We decided to watch the movie The Shining last night. It's a 1980 psychological horror that was recommended as must-see viewing for people doing a winter over. I can see why now, the remoteness, isolation, winter weather and cabin fever portrayed in the movie has many striking resemblances to Scott Base.

    Molly_in_storm.jpg (133734 bytes)
    Molly decided to take a quick walk outside to experience the full force of the storm. You can't really tell from the photo, but there was about 45 knots (83km/hr) of wind.

    SB_sign_after_storm.jpg (84042 bytes)
    Plenty of snow seen everywhere after the wild weather died down.

    Snow_drifts_21-3-13.jpg (80293 bytes)
    Plus of course many decent snow drifts and lots of shovelling to be done around the outside doors.

    StPatricksDay.jpg (227432 bytes)
    St Patrick's Day last Sunday turned out to be a lot of fun. The traditional Irish food cooked by the Irish member of our crew was truly delicious, consisting of crackling pork belly, Irish style roast potatoes and cabbage. We did a photo on the outside deck for the Irish Consulate of NZ who'd sent us a letter to commemorate St Patrick's Day.

    H1_at_Pegasus.jpg (158976 bytes)
    A few people took half of Saturday off work to take the new Hagglund out to see the Constellation wreck at Pegasus airfield, see below.

    Constellation.jpg (130870 bytes)
    The Constellation wreck is the remains of an aircraft from a crash landing in 1970. For some bizarre reason, they just left all of this crap sitting in the middle of the ice shelf. What the hell?! The place used to be clean and untouched by mankind. So they crash an aircraft into it and make no effort whatsoever to clean it up. It's not as though it's hard to get to or anything, just a short drive over the ice shelf. Plenty of interesting websites on the history of the crash here, here and here.

    Telephone_interface.jpg (179097 bytes)
    One of the projects I'm working on at present is some automation of our telephone system. During winter, everyone takes turns at one day per week on telephone duty - which involves answering all of the many incoming calls then trying to find the person that the caller is looking for. It's actually a huge pain in the arse and very distracting when you're trying to achieve anything. So this unit will answer all of the incoming calls, asks the caller who they want to talk to, then makes a PA system announcement throughout Scott Base who the incoming call is for. It'll do a bit more than that, but that's the basic principle of it. The photo above is the analogue telephone line interface I designed and finished building yesterday.

  • 17/3/2013: Happy St Patrick's Day. We're even fortunate enough to have an Irish person on station. Stefanie, one of the five Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators we have for the winter, is preparing some kind of elaborate seven-course Irish dinner for this evening. I've also put some Irish music on our FM radio station for the day.

    By the looks of the bar the morning, there were many drunk people last night attempting to decorate it. Though it has ended up looking more like the aftermath of some form of militant-hippie's Irish themed gay car bomb gone bad. There are badly cut-out clovers and weird green coloured crap stuck everywhere. Tonight's dinner should be fun however, I'm hoping it's not too much or I'll be the size of a house by the end of the night. It would be pretty rude not to eat anything when Stefanie has spent all night every day of the week preparing it all.

    Other than that, it's been winter work as normal. Chopping through the winter work list at a fairly rapid rate at present, ticked off several jobs that have been outstanding for the last year or two.

    We also started Friday night darts with the Americans this week which is always good fun. I can't stand playing darts myself, but quite enjoy being the bartender on the night. We usually have 5-10 regulars from McMurdo Station come over for a few hours every Friday for darts over winter. Sometimes we include the South Pole research station 1500km away via HF radio. But they're always suspected of cheating and it's rumoured that they don't even have a dart board there!

    Bar-StPatricks.jpg (132537 bytes)
    Here's what the bar looks like this morning, someone was up late last night. Going to be fun tidying all of that up...

    Erebus_10-3-13.jpg (114307 bytes)
    Despite the McMurdo weather forecaster predicting gale force winds, snow and low visibility for the past eight days, we've had some superb weather with mild temperatures ranging from -6C to -15C. Here's a shot of Mt Erebus that I took out the back door.

    Sunset_13-3-13.jpg (67718 bytes)
    Some spectacular sunsets this week, this one taken on Wednesday at 9:40PM. Mt Discovery in the background, Black Island seen behind the flagpole.

    Hagglund-RoomWithAView_small.jpg (190061 bytes)
    I just found this photo on the network, which was a failed attempt at getting a winter crew photo during February, featuring Mt Erebus in the background. Despite my protests, we were forced to sit in a Hagglund for two hours to drive to "Room with a view" which is just a small vacant hill on the lower slopes near Mt Erebus; there's no building there. For the shot, we were positioned on top of the two Hagglunds; then the photographer complained that everyone's face was shaded due the angle of the sun. I pointed out that there are two ways to fix this; either move Mt Erebus, or move the sun. Might pay to think it through next time.
    I'm the shady looking one. Click on the photo above to see the full panorama, which surprisingly isn't too bad.

  • 10/3/2013: At last, we're finally on our own for winter. The final flight of summer departed yesterday at 3PM; as a celebration we had some beer and wine outside at the flagpole. The final flight was not without its problems. The aircraft was one of the NZ Air Force's Boeing 757 which was reported to have some kind of mechanical issue that needed to be repaired before it departed Christchurch, which included several days waiting for parts. The 60 or so Americans who were due to depart at the beginning of the week were beginning to get grumpy as they'd missed a number of their connecting flights from Christchurch.

    The aircraft was finally ready on Friday, but the McMurdo weather forecaster had reported a large storm was due to hit on Friday afternoon, so the flight was further postponed. However, the weather all day Friday was one of the best days in some time, with clear skies, nice temperatures and little wind. Needless to say, there were some very angry Americans saying some very unpleasant things about the said weather forecasters.

    None of this affected us however; the last of the Scott Base summer people left a couple of weeks ago.

    Last_flight_celebration.jpg (119016 bytes)
    The 15 of us had beer and wine to celebrate as we watched the last flight depart at 3PM yesterday. We've finally been left in peace until August or October.

    Final_flyover.jpg (68463 bytes)
    They were nice enough to pass over Scott Base for the final flight. Not that you could really see much against the cloud.

    NZ_Airforce_757.jpg (43834 bytes)
    This is what the NZ Air Force 757 looked like if you had a telescope handy.

    Skua_8-3-13.jpg (145510 bytes)
    On the day that the southerly storm was predicted, causing the final flight to be delayed yet again, the weather was so nice all day that it was time for a cable route inspection to our satellite station. There were a couple of Antarctic skuas on the way who didn't seem bothered by me walking by.

    Castle_Rock_Rd_sign.jpg (135061 bytes)
    A warning sign saying not to drive off the road as there are ground laid cables. It was replaced a few years back, but it doesn't take long for the blowing snow and grit to etch off most of the paint.

    McMurdo_outside_storage.jpg (145970 bytes)
    Walking back to Scott Base via the McMurdo outside storage yard.

    Zen_garden.jpg (115123 bytes)
    Back at Scott Base the small hydroponics unit has just been set up to grow a few vegetables for winter. Plus the dining tables have been transformed into some kind of Zen garden, complete with ducks and swans.

    Sunrise_6-3-13.jpg (138830 bytes)
    The hours of daylight are quickly diminishing, sunrise at 6:30AM and sunset at 9:30PM; losing around 16 minutes per day at present. We do have some lovely sunsets at times however. Thanks to Becky for this photo from the top of Crater Hill. The Long Duration Balloon facility, closed for winter, is visible on the ice shelf as is the ice road to Pegasus Airfield.

    Sunrise_panoramic_small.jpg (68665 bytes)
    I've had many people Email to say they enjoyed the panoramic photo taken from Crater Hill last week. Here's another panoramic taken by Becky, click on the photo above to see the full shot of the sunrise.

  • 3/3/2013: Now that everyone from the summer has left and all of the fun things such as container ships have left, things have plunged into an abrupt silence. Not that it's all bad; the 15 of us here for winter have been looking forward to this peace and quiet for some time.

    Although it's not quite all over yet. There's one last flight early next week which will bring the last mail bag until August or October. The flight will also return 90 or so people from McMurdo Station back to Christchurch; the last of their summer staff and people from the cargo ship offload.

    And we have yet another cruise ship visit next week with 50 people or more wanting to tour Scott Base. That'll push our limited resources a little further and create some bustling last minute activity before winter really sets in. Must also update my job description to include "tourist guide".

    Merlo_telehandler.jpg (154651 bytes)
    Look, it's our shiny new Merlo telehandler. The old one was returned to NZ on the container ship where it will be sold.

    Merlo_bent.jpg (131306 bytes)
    Uh-oh, but what's this? Someone has already managed to wreck the new machine which is barely a few days old. The same person also managed to accidentally drive the brand new Toyota Landcruiser into one of the Hagglunds, breaking one of the headlights. I'm hesitant to say that Mike is careless or perhaps just accident prone, but it's certain that he and vehicles don't really belong together.

    Wind_turbine_view.jpg (128771 bytes)
    Either due to the lack of interesting things to take photos of this week, or my general lack of enthusiasm for taking photos, here's a totally unrelated photo taken by Ray, our summer electrician, from the top of one of the wind turbines last November.

    CraterHill_panoramic_2-3-13_small.jpg (42665 bytes)
    Our winter leader, Becky, took this panoramic photo from the top of Crater Hill yesterday. Click on the photo above to see the entire panorama with Scott Base bottom left, Observation Hill in the centre and McMurdo Station right of that. She was trying to take a photo of large section of floating ice that had broken off the Erebus ice tongue a few days ago as reported in the news. It's a regularly occurring event, even if it does only happen every 20-50 years. Nothing to get too worked up about.