Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

In mid-January 2016 I was suddenly in the situation of returning to Scott Base at short notice to resume duties of my 2015-2016 counterpart communications engineer who had experienced medical difficulties. It began with completing the remaining month of the summer season, which then evolved to staying on for winter 2016. This will be my fourth season for Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ International and Downer Engineering.

This is a more unusual situation, arriving abruptly part-way through the season with daily temperatures around zero degrees Celsius, cooling slowly towards the end of summer in February before returning to the more familiar -20 to -40 degree C days of winter along with the impending 24 hour darkness.

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.

Previous diaries from the 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
January 2016 February 2016 March 2016 March 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016

Anthony-ScottBase-small.jpg (10124 bytes)
September 2016
  • 25/9/2016: A change to daylight savings time, a week to go until the scheduled start of the summer 2016/2017 season and only a month until I'm hopefully back home in NZ. Everyone at Scott Base is simultaneously on the end of season wind down while trying to take care of those jobs that get procrastinated over all season and left until the last moment. Things such as inventory spreadsheets, orders for the large stuff that needs to be sent on the container ship in January, and more.

    This September has been overly nice compared to previous years. While ambient temperatures have warmed to around -25C, previous Septembers have sprung a lot of surprise nasty weather with the less usual combination of both cold temperatures in the -40s and strong winds. But so far there's been a lot of blue skies, reasonable temperatures and moderate winds.

    Another milestone this week was passing the equinox of 12 hours equal daylight/twilight.

    CraterHill_22-9-16.jpg (93872 bytes)
    A job at our radio site on Crater Hill during the week was actually very pleasant for a change. You tend to forget how nice the place is with a bit of sunlight. Temperatures on top of the 300m high hill around the -20C mark and no wind made the job worthwhile.

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    I've probably taken this same shot a dozen times over the years. The wind farm adds a nice element of interest to an otherwise boring photo of ice and rocks.

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    It was even worth yet another photo of Scott Base during the walk up Crater Hill during the week.

    Becky-FieldFood.jpg (142556 bytes)
    Becky was sorting out some food this morning for her five day traverse to Marble Point with the Americans next week.

    Keith-FruitLoaf.jpg (132006 bytes)
    Keith the chef with a freshly made fruit bread loaf ready for the oven.

    PorkBelly_veggies.jpg (103841 bytes)
    Thursday's dinner was a nice treat with one of my favourite dishes, pork belly. The six week old lettuces are holding up not too badly, there was even a few nice semi-wilted green leaves under the funky brown ones.

    PA_amp_monitor.jpg (106643 bytes)
    One of yesterday's jobs was designing and building a remote monitoring circuit for a new public address amplifier. Because having a set of relay contacts in the equipment that you can connect to monitoring equipment seems to be too simple anymore, it's somehow necessary to instead have a 2Hz square wave output meaning that the amplifier is healthy. So this device holds a set of relay contacts open when it sees the square wave output from the amplifier. If this signal disappears, the relay de-energises, closing the contacts and creating an alert on the remote monitoring equipment.

    McLeods-SBsign.jpg (100081 bytes)
    One of the guys here last winter is friends with the good folks at McLeod's Brewery from Waipu who arranged to send me a case of their craft beers in exchange for some photos with the Scott Base sign. Although it's only usually available in the North Island, their Traders Scotch Ale has become one of my new favourite beers.

  • 18/9/2016: Two weeks to go until main body and the start of the new summer season, and about a month to go until it's time to go home to Christchurch.
    The usual last minute mad rush of trying to get the last jobs done hasn't been at all bad this year, things have actually fallen into place quite nicely without the usual dramas of too many things left to be done.

    Despite the return of sunlight and now having sunrise/sunset times the same as New Zealand at present, people are still wary and run-down due to the relentless six day per week work schedule. Needless to say, everyone's looking forward to getting home and are often talking about the first things they're going to do when they get back. Desires range from standing in the rain to mowing the lawn to visiting a nice restaurant. The things you miss often defies belief.

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    Windy Wednesday bought wind. Nothing dramatic, but enough to get loose surface snow moving.

    Andy-Robbo_RO_plant.jpg (150467 bytes)
    Andy completed the project of installing new membrane housings this week in the reverse osmosis plant that turns sea water into fresh water for drinking and washing. The plant, originally installed around the early 1990s, has apparently been in dire need of replacement for years. It's one of those things that gets bought up every year, and then inevitably falls into the too hard basket. Meanwhile, various sections of the plant keep being replaced with something more modern and new, so by the time they actually get around to replacing it in the year 2587, it'll have been rebuilt from new several times over.

    Sea_water_filter.jpg (111538 bytes)
    The coarse sock filter in the reverse osmosis plant filters out larger debris from the sea water before it goes through various other filter stages prior to the 900 PSI high pressure membranes. The sock filter gets cleaned out each day as it quickly builds up with various forms of marine life, some of which glow in the dark. I tried taking a photo of the glowing blue specs, though neither my camera nor photography skills were cutting the mustard that day.

    Cape_Bird_DC.jpg (151755 bytes)
    An ongoing project of mine for the past couple of weeks has been the tidy up of the Cape Bird 12V DC system. This is the new solar regulation, telemetry and 12V DC distribution board. It started off as just a solar regulator replacement. I then added radio telemetry for remote monitoring. So then I had to write installation instructions so that some bone head wouldn't say "Well, there was nothing to say not to install it in the ocean, so...." I've never been to the site so was basing everything from random photos I'd found. The more I looked at photos, the worse the condition of the wiring and everything. So I've ended up re-doing just about everything to make a kit of parts and detailed instructions for someone to carry out this coming summer. By which time I'll be in my garden having barbeques and beers.

    Cape_Bird_Batteries.jpg (104824 bytes)
    This is one of the many photos from Cape Bird Hut that I was basing my design from. As you can clearly see, the battery cabling is anything but professional, and this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Of course it'd be a shame to make half the job nice, while the rest of it looks like crap. So I made up new battery cables to deal to this too. Along with everything else.

    Cape_Bird_Hut.jpg (120318 bytes)
    And this is Cape Bird Hut, which I've never been to and probably never will either. It's where tourists go to watch penguins and make a mess of DC cabling.

  • 11/9/2016: I think I'm happier now than I usually am at this point in the season. For a start, a number of jobs I've had in pipeline have taken much less time than expected to complete, probably because there's been less interruptions than usual; meaning I'll actually achieve everything I wanted to get done this winter. Secondly, various friends and colleagues have sent me both expected and unexpected packages of some excellent craft beer, enough for one nice beer every couple of days. This rare treat is a definite morale booster.

    Another rarity for this time of the year is that most of the Scott Base team are not experiencing the all too frequent "I'll do nothing all year then act all surprised when I suddenly have to achieve 12 months of work in three weeks, so I'll get everyone else to do it for me". Everyone seems to be well on top of their workload for a change. Partly because there's been almost no engineering project work on this winter, and the crew generally seem motivated for a change.

    Cape_Bird_regulator_testing.jpg (170977 bytes)
    A job I have in progress right now is designing and building a new DC distribution system for the remote hut at Cape Bird. Having never been there myself, I've had to do it all based on a few photos. The Cape Bird hut is used for summer research, which I think is another name for "a place to send tourists to look at penguins", given that they always send a lot of people there to complete various maintenance tasks and the only result seems to be a bunch of photos of penguins. This new DC system includes a more efficient solar regulator and also telemetry so that battery voltages and solar charge currents can be remotely interrogated by radio.

    Andy-HFC_aurora.jpg (45210 bytes)
    Andy's aurora photo featuring the Field Centre.

    Andy-water_tank_aurora.jpg (60122 bytes)
    Andy's aurora photo from the water tanks, featuring the Scott Base power house and administration building.

    Grubb-Shackletons_Hut.jpg (60685 bytes)
    They went out to Captain Shackleton's historic hut at Cape Royds during the week to check that it hadn't blown away. Which it hadn't, just as it also hasn't for the past 108 years.

    Erebus_west_and_Hagglund.jpg (60289 bytes)
    Looking up to the summit of Mt Erebus from Cape Royds on the western side of Ross Island.

    Hagglund_ice_wall.jpg (86961 bytes)
    Hagglunds by an iceberg frozen in the sea ice.

    Hagglund_sun_dog.jpg (47182 bytes)
    The phenomenon known as sun dogs is caused by ice crystals in the air refracting the low elevation sunlight. The apparent origin of the name is because the halo-like refraction follows the sun. In the same way that a towed trailer follows your car, meaning your trailer needs to be renamed a car dog. Seriously, some of the people who come up with these ridiculous names need a smack in the face.

    Becky_Cape_Royds_trip.jpg (88752 bytes)
    Another photo from Becky, taken somewhere on the way to Cape Royds.

  • 4/9/2016: The sunlight is officially back at Scott Base and the rush is on to get various projects finished before the arrival of main body in only four weeks. From past experience it's one of those blink-and-you-miss-it times of the year, there's a month left to get stuff done and then suddenly winter is over and the new crew of the 2016-2017 season have arrived at the start of October.

    Unfortunately there's very little opportunity to get anything productive done once main body hits. All of a sudden the place is overwhelmed with around 40 to 50 new and excited people running around the place causing general mayhem. Then you've got to start training the new people. Then fire training starts, which is a solid week of constant fire drills, in which you get nothing at all achieved. By this stage you're itching to get out of here and back home to New Zealand. Management don't want you about anymore because you're suddenly just a piece of trash taking up valuable bed space. The new people want you gone because they're all too eager to get stuck in to their new jobs. Plus they're either overwhelmed with all the new information, or think they know it all after 5 minutes of arriving. Either way, by this stage you have no hope or desire of trying to pass on a year or more of knowledge in the space of two weeks, so it's home or bust.

    And Happy Fathers' Day to my father, Earl, if you're reading this. I think he enjoys talking on the phone about as much as I do, which is usually as little as possible. Our six monthly telephone conversations mostly consist of: "What's been happening there?" "Not much." "You?" "Not much either." "Hmmm, OK....seeya". Of course I can fully sympathise with him; while growing up whenever the phone rang, it would be greeted by angry shouts of "Who the f*** wants what this time!" I'd have to agree at times that telephones are all too often another way to annoy people remotely. Which isn't always the case of course, it's still great to get social calls from friends and family, including my cousins in Australia who called a few weeks back - which reminds me, thanks for sending the pesto almonds! Despite being addressed to The South Pole, it somehow still made it here to Scott Base, 1300km north of the South Pole.

    Hagglund_iceberg.jpg (105424 bytes)
    A couple of nice photos from Becky from yesterday on the trip to Cape Evans, which I wasn't on because I was on fire crew again, and cooking dinner. This is one of the Hagglunds by an iceberg frozen in the sea ice somewhere on the way to Cape Evans.

    Iceberg_watching.jpg (115006 bytes)
    This is probably someone having a fierce stare-down with an iceberg. "Grrrr, I'm watching you! This place ain't big enough for the two of us."

    White_board_map.jpg (82079 bytes)
    I've got no idea what the hell this is about, some kind of danger map that someone's drawn on the whiteboard for reasons unknown. At the top is either three giant daisies in a rock garden, or a crude sketch of the wind farm in unusually rough terrain. The blue teeth at the bottom obviously represent a giant band saw blade where the sea ice currently is. Falling off The Road on the way to 'Murica' (to see the Americans at McMurdo Station?) is dangerous if you fall onto a giant band saw blade along the way. Be careful of this.

    Warm_porch_new_lighting.jpg (141468 bytes)
    Joe from Aotea Electric has been working hard this week on installing the LED lighting to the new Field Centre warm porch. He's got about half of it installed now and you need sunglasses inside. Can't say it's not bright enough.

    Misty_Mt_Terror.jpg (77319 bytes)
    Meanwhile, I'm going around Scott Base taking random photos inside and the occasional shot out the window, then interleaving them here so that it looks as though I'm actually taking an interest in all this when in actual fact it's just a bunch of crap photos acting as space fillers on my web server's disk storage array. If you were curious, this is Mt Terror as seen at 11AM today with the sea ice pressure ridges in the centre of the shot.

    Container_dock_linkway.jpg (164379 bytes)
    Another sneaky interleaving action shot. The Leighs Construction guys are working hard to try and achieve several months of interior construction work in the space of four weeks. This is the metal framing on a linkway before it gets lined with Gibb board.

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    Without doubt, the most photographed volcano on Ross Island - Mt Erebus. With some shipping containers appealingly stored in the foreground.

    SB_powerhouse_3A.jpg (78446 bytes)
    There's been a lot less snow this winter compared to previous seasons. In 2011 the snow buildup in this same section was deep enough to walk onto the roof of the power house building on the left.