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

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September 2012
  • 30/9/12: Less than a day until myself and the rest of the 2012-2013 season winter crew for Scott Base are due to fly south from Christchurch. If we actually make it or not is totally dependant on the variable Antarctica weather, although the forecast suggests that it looks promising until the evening. Takeoff is 10AM and all going well we'll land near Scott Base about 3PM. Also my 34th birthday tomorrow, so will be my 3rd consecutive birthday at Scott Base if we get there as scheduled. Essentially that involves me putting free drinks on the bar.

    There was an open day held at Christchurch Airport on Saturday to allow the public to walk through some of the aircraft, including the C17 Globemaster we'll be riding on tomorrow. I didn't go to the open day, sounds as though it was very busy anyway. Will probably see more than enough of the inside of it tomorrow. Even more so if we get a 'boomerang' flight, which involves flying to Antarctica, circling for an hour or so until they decide the weather is unsuitable for landing, then flying back to Christchurch. A 10+ hour flight where you get off where you started from. I'm hoping that will not be the case, fingers crossed.

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    Here's the C17 aircraft we'll be on tomorrow. Special thanks to Vaughan H who took this photo at the open day yesterday at Christchurch Airport.

    FireTraining-GasFires.jpg (65103 bytes)
    And of course we completed the fire training this week. Lots of flames and fun as always, although it seemed much tamer than when I last had this training in 2010.

  • 23/9/12: As expected, the awareness week at Antarctica NZ in Christchurch had an air of repetition from last season, though of course there was new content as the result of continuous improvement. Always nice to see. Naturally there were many different presentations and activities on subjects ranging from health & safety, environmental protection, logistics, operations, reading weather conditions and many others. Plus of course there were a few of those touchy-feely subjects and a number of team building exercises. Wasn't as bad as it may sound, it was all good fun and of course a good way to help meet all of the new people and remember names.

    This week was also the first time the 35 or so new staff have all been together. One of my delights was meeting the winter chef, who commented to me "I was thinking about getting some pork belly sent down, but I'm not sure if anyone would eat it". Needless to say that there was an emergency action to rapidly ensure the chef that these delicacies would indeed be consumed. Death by pork overdose is one of my secret fantasies.

    On the cards for next week is five days of fire training with the NZ Fire Service. It's very much hands on, everyone gets hot and sweaty and of course we get to play with real fire. It's also an incredibly good way to know each other as it's all heavily focused around operating as a team.

    So only seven days left in the real world. The more I think about the many annoyances of living in a city, the more I'm looking forward to getting back to Scott Base. No traffic, no crime, no barking dogs, no advertising, no cellphones. The place sounds almost too good to be true. Shooting my neighbour's incessantly barking dog is also one of my secret fantasies.

    Time to get back to packing. At least this time round I know exactly what I need to take with me. Still, it's not a small job bringing enough clothing, tools and equipment to last you the year while avoiding the temptation to bring too much crap. Taking my nice guitar this time, it already looks like we may have a few musically talented people in our group so I have high hopes of bashing out a few tunes.

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    Hazardous substances training with the NZ fire service, this is a photo from 2010. We'll be covering this and many other fire training subjects next week.

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    Much of the fire training we'll be doing is with self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). You quickly get hot and tired running about all day in that clothing while carrying a heavy steel cylinder on your back.

  • 16/9/12: I'm back for another year and by popular demand I'll also be maintaining this photo diary again which I expect to update weekly as before in the 2010-2011 season.

    I'm not sure if it's insanity or if I'm just a sucker for punishment, but I agreed to sign up for another 13-month stint on the ice. Deep down I suspect that the delicious food and cheap beer available at Scott Base may have had an influence. Plus there's the interesting project work from last season that I ran out of time to even start last time round.

    This week was the official kick off, so I met the new Scott Base engineering team on Monday. A few familiar faces in the bunch was a warm welcome and the new people are all very friendly and enthusiastic.

    A day trip to Wellington on Thursday was used for a catchup with the Telecom International technical managers to see what's on the plate for the coming season. Not too much it turns out, which is a potentially good thing. While some of the Telecom equipment at Scott Base is a little aged, the reliability and quality of the equipment suggests it should be good for at least a few more rounds. In fact I'm hugely in favour of the older stuff. If it isn't broken, why fix it, right?.

    Next week is the first time the entire Scott Base 2012 season crew will all be together. It's the Antarctica NZ induction week. Of course I've done it before in 2010 so there won't be as much to remember as last time. The other purpose of the week is to give everyone the opportunity to know each other. The photo below shows one of the many team building exercises we had in 2010.

    My scheduled date to fly to Scott Base is the 1st of October. After meeting the new engineering team, I'm now quite looking forward to the new season.

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    Although it looks a bit cheesy, the various team building exercises we'll have over the coming week is a surprisingly good way to meet and understand the 30-something new people I'll be spending the next year with.