I will be working and living at New Zealand’s scientific research station Scott Base; located on Ross Island, Antarctica, from late September 2014 until late November 2014. I’ll share stories, updates, photos (yes, penguins), and increasingly strange journal entries as the oppressive, ever-darkness of winter sets in and drives me mad. My role as Base Engineer involves the operation and maintenance of the life support systems (generators, heating, fresh water, etc.) and general engineering needs of the facility and the scientists who brave the short summer months to conduct their research and experiments (and possibly the odd film crew). I’ve always dreamed of doing this! I finally got the job! My First Month: September/October Sept. 12: Well, a whole week of computer system training just before I leave and I suddenly realize that I am the engineer (Samuel Jackson) in Jurassic Park trying to get all of the systems back online after Newman crashed it, and any moment now I’m going to have to run to the generator room and manually start the power again before the raptors escape their pen. Fun fact: For those who didn’t know, fire is a massive risk in Antarctica, despite the cold and all the snow and ice, because it’s one of the driest places on earth.
Oct. 1: My first day of work at Scott Base was accompanied by continuous heavy snow fall and tropical temperatures reaching -7.7C.
I had my first power outage to deal with this a.m. We share a common power grid with the U.S. base and allow McMurdo to control our little generators remotely while the wind farm is up and running. So when they have a power blackout, we do too. So I got a ‘baptism of fire’ as we had to rush to the plant room and manually take back control of our generators and start one up.
Oh $#!t I think the raptors escaped.
Oct: 4: Last night I was given some (brief) Antarctic survival training on our annual work camping trip. This involved pitching tents, digging a kitchen bunker, peeing in bottles, and pooing in plastic bags.
It was all fun and games until the weather tuned on us and suddenly it was -37C wind chill with poor visibility. My dinner kept freezing to my spoon before I could get it to my mouth! My lesson learned?
Don’t lick a metal spoon that’s been exposed to -37C if you value your lips and tongue. Also, peeing into a bottle in -37C offers a similar lesson—don’t let it touch the sides.
Adds a new meaning to freezing my South Pole off that I never wanted to learn.
Oct. 10: Last night the weather finally started getting bad by Antarctic standards. We went to Weather Condition ONE; this means no one is allowed to leave the building on fear of death…cold instant death. 100km/h wind, almost zero visibility, and about -40C wind chill.
So in accordance with Murphy’s Law, that meant that my engine room alarm went off at 3:30 am and we (all the base engineers) had to go outside and fix a door.
At least the sun was still up.
Oct. 16: I went out side just before 8 a.m., sunny (cold) and a bit of wind, to check the fuel levels in our main fuel tanks. This involves climbing up a 3 meter ladder and pulling up the dip sticks. By the time I was done, the weather had gone to condition 1 and I was in a complete white-out. Couldn’t see the buildings or any other land mark to guide me back to the safety of the workshop. We aren’t allowed outside in this weather for our own safety, but that doesn’t help if you are already outside when it changes. So I stumbled off in the dirrection I believed was home and a line of vehicles emerged out of the white haze, thats a relief, I’m heading in right direction, and then the buildings reappeared from the swirling snow.
It’s only 50m from the tank to the workshop, but it felt like a mile.
Oct 19: Oh, and then there were the penguins. Happy Feet! (They weren’t even dancing to Stevie Wonder though).
My next post involves a Wettle seal giving birth to a baby, the last sunset for 2014 (it’s soon to be continuously daytime), and wearing thermal imaging goggles, and some great photos.