Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

From September 2014 to October 2015 I'm on my third summer-winter 13-month contract as the Scott Base communications engineer for Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ International and Downer Engineering. I'm still uncertain what keeps me coming back, possibly a combination of great people and interesting work. Temperatures of +3 to -50degC, the constant daylight of summer and the relentless darkness of winter are part of the many challenges of living and working at New Zealand's Antarctic research station.

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, 2012-2013 and 2016 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
September 2014 October 2014 November 2014 December 2014 January 2015 February 2015 March 2015 April 2015 May 2015 June 2015 July 2015 August 2015 September 2015 October 2015

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September 2014
  • 30/9/2014: So 24 hours later the flight went ahead and we landed at Scott Base at 3:30PM to a beautiful day. See October 2014 for the images.

  • 29/9/2014: Back by popular demand is my all new 2014-2015 Scott Base photo diary. I'm unsure why I've had so many requests for these badly written anecdotes featuring my tragic attempts at photography, lengthy commentary of various work projects which would probably bore most people senseless, quirky writing style and all too frequent sarcasm.

    While I was due to be landing on the ice this afternoon for day one of the new season, flights have been delayed by 24 hours due unfavourable weather down south. Suits me, it's still sunny and warm here in Christchurch, so a good opportunity to tackle the remaining list of low priority jobs, plus juggling around a bunch of HTML code to get this diary kick started for another season. Let's see how many links I manage to break in the process.

    Tomorrow is take two for the same flight, so we'll wait and see what the weather delivers.

    To quickly bash out a few answers to frequent questions I've been recently bantered with:
    1. The flight in the C-17 Globemaster aircraft takes about five hours from Christchurch to the Pegasus airfield by McMurdo Station.

    2. Not sure what electronic development projects I'll tackle this winter. I do have a few things in mind, but will wait and see what else comes through the pipeline.

    3. No, I'm not really looking forward to the start of the season. There's always an awkward vibe from the previous winter crew who have had just had their quiet home invaded by a bunch of overenthusiastic newbies. Then week two of the season is on-site fire training, so the many jobs and handover tasks are all too frequently interrupted by the abrupt blaring of the fire alarm, followed by a base-wide evacuation and an hour or two of being part of the fire crew undertaking the latest training scenario. A necessary evil of course, but it really does cheese you right off when you're attempting to get a lot of stuff done in a short time.

    4. We do have a good mixture of returnees this season, possibly a quarter of the staff have worked at Scott Base before in previous years. It certainly helps when you know a few people at the beginning.

    5. Yes, I'm bringing my guitar down again. No, I haven't really got a band as yet, but it's certain that something will fall together. Maybe something like that scene in The Blues Brothers: "We're putting the band back together."

    6. Don't worry Lorraine; we'll attempt to look after Alec (Ale Can Jr). He's a bit of a cheeky monkey but he's got some great plans for a few new craft beers at the Scott Base bar, which I'm particularly excited about.

    So as usual, the last couple of weeks have been filled with the pre-deployment training. So that's the 'Awareness Week' with Antarctica NZ in Christchurch followed by five days of rigorous fire training with the NZ Fire Service in Woolston, Christchurch.

    In addition, the biennial (that's once every two years) IceFest festival is currently featuring in the centre of Christchurch city. They talked me into doing a 'Winter Antics' presentation there yesterday afternoon, in which no-one stormed out in a great fury, no little kids started crying, no little old ladies fainted from being generally offended and only about half of the large audience appeared to be deeply shocked. Certainly a world first in my books.

    Anyway, here are a few photos from fire training last week. These are actually from last season (2012), but it looks virtually the same each time. It was interesting to note that the intensity of the training week had been scaled back a lot compared to previous years. For the first time we only had a few people screaming in fear and no-one pulled out or refused to have a go at anything.

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    Marching around the Woolston fire training centre to get used to working in BA (breathing apparatus) sets.

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    Here's me pondering what scenario the fire trainers will spring on us next. Chemical spill, vehicle fire, missing person, helicopter crash, gas explosion or kitchen fire?

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    Nope, just the building on fire with any number of 'victims' in dire need of liberation from the heat and flames. Go on, get in there! It's only 300-400 degrees C, what could possibly go wrong?

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    Everyone gets very black, wet, smoky, battered and bruised. But at the conclusion of the week everyone agreed it was a hell of a lot of fun, even though most people are well outside their comfort zones on many occasions.