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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September 2011
  • 25/9/11: With now only a week officially left of the winter season it's not just me rushing to get projects finished and things tidied up. Three of the other engineering staff are working on a Sunday which is a somewhat rare occasion. The chilly September weather finally arrived late this week with ambient air temperature of -42C and wind speeds of 30 knots, adding up to a wind chill factor of an apparent -80C.

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    The bad weather finally cleared today, leaving even more snow and ice over everything in its wake.

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    Some more radio repeater testing. It was a clear calm night and about -35C but everything was still dusted with snow in the morning.

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    Certainly the biggest achievement from the last two months is the completion of the radio network telemetry controller. It contains a lot of smart hardware and software which I designed from scratch. It communicates automatically with all of our remote radio sites to collect data such as battery voltages, solar charge levels and temperatures, logs information to disk for generating trends and graphs, plus raises alarms if programmed levels fall outside programmed limits. It can also remotely control equipment at various sites.

  • 18/9/11: Despite that September is supposed to be the coldest and windiest month of the season, there's been barely a breath of wind for the past few days and it's been as warm as -9C at times. Some stunning weather over the week made for a welcome chance to spend a bit of time outside to snap a few photos. No wind today and a moderate -30C so might be nice to get out later for some fresh air.

    The incoming freight from earlier in the month was finally processed and I received my long awaited parts. Projects are now back on track with the radio network telemetry controller hardware complete and software now not too far away. I've bashed out over 5000 lines of C and assembly code over the past couple of weeks and am finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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    The place is looking nice with a bit of sunlight for a change.

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    We had a few days of more windy and snowy weather last week which gave us a lot more snow. This photo taken out the window in 50 knots of wind; the wind whips the snow into ridges and other interesting shapes.

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    The rear of the building now has another few metres of snow accumulation. There's a doorway somewhere under there.

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    And more snow around the cold parked vehicles.

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    These small portable buildings, known as wannigans, are on skids for towing by a Hagglund or bulldozer. They're used by science events in the summer as temporary accommodation and labs while working on the sea ice away from Scott Base.

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    Observation Hill as seen from Scott Base with one of the HF antennas in the foreground.

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    We've had a number of power blackouts this week for some reason, something to do with either the wind farm or something the Americans are doing; but no-one seems to be able to provide a direct answer. The alarm receiver panel above showing all of the equipment failure alarms at our remote Satellite Earth Station which had also lost its power.

  • 4/9/11: A welcome break in the snowy weather meant that the remaining 3 winter flights were finished yesterday. So that's it for freight delivery or travel until the main body flights begin in the first week of October. With a bit of luck I'll receive my long awaited parts on Monday when the freight is unpacked and processed.

    Only 4 weeks until the summer crew arrive, so I'm scrambling to get a fairly big hardware and software project mostly finished by then. I doubt that October will yield much productivity as the month will be spent on handover with my replacement for next season, plus fitting a new satellite tracking system and a bit of system commissioning before I return home late October or early November. Not really looking forward to going back to the "normal world" but I suspect I'll be happy to leave once the influx of new people arrive. Funnily enough, the winter crew last year said much the same thing when I asked if they were looking forward to going home.

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    A day of mostly clear skies and sunshine plus fairly warm temperatures at only -18C meant it was a good day for the monthly inspection of the 5km fibre optic and power cable between Scott Base and the Satellite Earth Station. Here's the cable running down the T-Site glacier at 2PM yesterday. It's held up on 1.5m metal stakes, but the cable still gets buried in snow and ice in places.

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    The cable running under a road crossing with about a metre of snow on top.

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    USAP "Building 70" at T-Site with the mountains on the Antarctica mainland in the background looking a lot closer than they are. The mountains are about 60km away from Ross Island where we are.

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    It's been a few months since we've seen the wind farm in full sunshine, but here it is again.

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    This microwave linking station at T-Site is used during the summer for communications to the Americans' Long Duration Balloon site. The green buildings of Scott Base can be seen below on the coast of Ross Island.