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

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October 2016
  • 22/10/2016: Things are settling down after being home for a couple of days now. I'm back into real world tasks such as laundry, grocery shopping, gardening and catching up with various people. There wasn't the same levels of anxiety as with the first couple of times returning to New Zealand from a season in Antarctica. In the back of your mind you know you're going to experience more than two vehicles on the roads at the same time, there's going to be green things growing, dogs barking, children shouting and rain pouring. And because you're mentally prepared to experience these alien things, the surprise of seeing them again is somehow less daunting.

    After being at Scott Base for a little under two years this time, the daily routine and the way you do things becomes ingrained in your mind. In the otherwise normal routine of leaving the house a day ago to catch up with friends, my mind was churning through a horrendous array of detail - Have I signed out? Nope, don't need to. Am I on fire crew? Nope, none of that anymore. Have I got a charged radio battery? Don't need that. What's the temperature and wind speed? Who cares, it's going to be above 0C. What's the weather forecast for the next few hours? Doesn't matter. Do I have enough cold weather clothing with me? Shorts and T-shirt is more than enough.

    Needless to say, it's great to be back. And it couldn't have come any sooner; Scott Base has just swollen to a population of around 83 people, which is just hideous compared to the casual life of winter. With the station nearly at maximum capacity, you're queuing for the coffee machine, queuing for dinner, queuing for a shower. And there's all these people constantly shouting, and wanting stuff, and managers demanding things, and dozens of lengthy meetings about all sorts of things you never knew you needed a meeting for. But never mind, I now have the pleasure of sitting in the sun and feeling warm for once. Perhaps the most arduous part of the day is deciding which craft beer to drink first. Now that's much more like it.

    Until next time, or not?

    Anthony Hoffman.

    AHT_labs_sunset.JPG (83435 bytes)
    It'll be the last sunrise in a day or two at Scott Base and therefore 24 hour sunlight again until late February. There's been the usual display of colourful sunrises and sunsets over the past month. In the foreground are the Antarctic Heritage Trust container labs, which they're using for the restoration of the TAE Hut, the first Scott Base building from 1957 and the last original building remaining. They're aiming to have it completed in time for the Scott Base 60th anniversary in January 2017.

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    On a walk around Hut Point last Sunday, I had Anthony Powell and Scooter point dramatically at nothing so I could take this cheesy action shot.

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    The completed ice pier in the foreground, waiting for the fuel supply ship and container ship to arrive in January. McMurdo Station and Observation Hill in the background.

    Hoopers_hut.JPG (121928 bytes)
    Between Mark and I, we completed the radio equipment installation work for the beginning of the summer season just before I left. This is the equipment shelter on Hoopers Shoulder, on the Western side of Mt Erebus.

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    The USAP Bell 212 helicopter at the safe landing zone at Hoopers Shoulder. As opposed to the dangerous landing zone, where the helicopter either slides down the mountain or is consumed by the liquid hot magma inside the active volcano.

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    Final images of the Radio Workshop before I left on Wednesday. I was still working on a bunch of stuff a minute before I was out the door and heading toward the airfield.

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    We arrived at Pegasus airfield just in time to see the C17 from Christchurch landing. Then it was another two hours waiting for the explosives to be unloaded in the safe area, the passengers to depart, the pallets of cargo to be unloaded and the helicopter to be unloaded.

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    Unloading the Southern Lakes Helicopters Squirrel from the cargo door of the C17.

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    The C17 was pretty much empty when it departed around 6:30PM on Wednesday with around 10 of us on board and just a bit of checked baggage. Then five and a half hours later we touched down in Christchurch. And that was the end of that.

  • 20/10/2016: Following a day of weather delay, our departing aircraft left Pegasus airfield at 6:30PM yesterday and we touched down at Christchurch airport at exactly midnight. It felt great to be walking in the door of my house a bit before 1AM this morning. More in a day or two once I've sorted out a heap of baggage.

  • 16/10/2016: After another week of putting up with bossy management, over-enthusiastic new people and new people who are already checking out after only two weeks, I'm itching to get home more than ever. My handover with Mark has made slow progress due to various jobs on the go and many fire drills. In the last two weeks I've probably shown him about half of what he needs to know and as expected he's suffering from information overload at times. I feel kind of bad for him with having to pull an executive dump-and-run like this, but if I keep hanging around for "just one more day" then I'll never get home.

    On the plus side, we completed the first radio site setup job for summer at Black Island during the week.

    And I'll going well, I'll be departing Scott Base for home in Christchurch this Tuesday afternoon together with most of the remaining winter crew.

    Mark-BlackIsland.jpg (95106 bytes)
    This is Mark in the Black Island HF receiver site equipment shelter during the week. To his credit, he's catching on fast and the Black Island job went smoothly.

    Helicopter_to_BLI.jpg (118500 bytes)
    The USAP Bell 212 helicopter at Scott Base, our transport to the job at Black Island to install the radio equipment and batteries for the summer season.

    MikeL-FeedPlate.jpg (183211 bytes)
    Mike from Field Support with a damaged feed plate from the Black Island conical monopole HF antenna. Wind resonance causes these aluminium plates to eventually crack after many years, so we replaced it with a new one.

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    The new plant operators clearing snow from around the Scott Base yard with the loader.

  • 9/10/2016: The entire summer 2016 crew arrived this week, and unsurprisingly, the general chaos has begun. It's actually not been as bad as previous years because they haven't had any science groups in yet, meaning quality time to spend on handovers and fire training, which also began yesterday. It's also been the first season opening I can remember where there haven't been any flight delays due to weather or mechanical issues with aircraft; things are actually running on track for once.

    The annual winter to summer flag ceremony was also yesterday, marking the change from winter to summer operations. I've got perhaps another 10 days or so here, after which I can hopefully get home to a Christchurch summer for more than three months this time.

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    The second half of the summer 2016 crew arriving at Pegasus Field on Tuesday afternoon. All fresh and smiley for now.

  • 2/10/2016: I don't think anyone is looking forward to the first flight of the 2016/2017 season tomorrow. It's not only the major change to the daily routine of life from the past seven months, but it's also that the influx of some 40 or more people on station means more mess, more disruption, queuing for the coffee machine, queuing to use the showers, queuing for dinner.

    Otherwise the past week has been work as normal, with the emphasis on getting stuff done before the new people get here next week. Unfortunately a lot of my outstanding jobs have relied on others doing their bit first. So after they're done with their procrastination and get it finished at the last minute, my part of the job takes place after the last minute has elapsed, resulting in a lot of sudden urgent jobs. But never mind, it's still good to be getting things done and seeing many long term jobs actually getting finished.

    38th_birthday_cake.jpg (147647 bytes)
    It was also my 38th birthday yesterday, and my seventh consecutive birthday here at Scott Base. Keith the chef made this nice chocolate cake, and pretty much the entire McMurdo Station sang me happy birthday as part of the live music at the Carpenters' Workshop party last night, the final event of the winter season. Apparently I've become a local celebrity in recent years.

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    New local area public address system amplifiers that I installed and commissioned during the week along with various telephone circuits.

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    The construction project guys have been busy cleaning and painting over the past week, trying to get the place from looking like a construction site back to its regular role as a tourist destination with occasional Antarctic science.

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    Jason operating the telehandler, moving boxes of parts to the old Hangar building for storage.