Posts tagged ‘South Pole’

April 15, 2013

How to Get a Job in Antarctica 2013-2014: Links

Elissa moves 55-gallon drums of fuel with a tracked loader

Elissa moves 55-gallon drums of fuel with a tracked loader

 

I’ve been getting a lot of requests for info on how to get hired for a position in Antarctica this coming season, and I have great news for you: Bill Spindler has very nicely compiled a page of links with all the subcontractors.

Check out the whole post here: http://www.southpolestation.com/trivia/ncs/jobs.html

If you’ve read anything at all about the hiring, you probably understand that Lockheed Martin is the main contractor, and there are a bunch of subcontractors for different departments. What that means is that there isn’t a streamlined collection of all jobs on one webpage; this is not necessarily a step down though. If you applied through Raytheon during the last contract, you will remember that their webpage kind of sucked. And by “kind of sucked,” I mean that it made you want to gouge out your eyes with a shovel.

I can’t speak to how the application process is on most of these sites: the one I applied through was pretty easy. If you’ve already applied, let us know how the experience was for you in the comments section.

Lynnette mapping 55 gallon drums

Lynnette maps 55-gallon drums on the berms

 

Trudy Lyn training us on the finer points of chainsaw safety

Trudy Lyn trains us on the finer points of chainsaw safety

 

Here is the abbreviated link list, with companies hiring for on-ice positions. If you have any confusion about what to do or how to apply after you get to a website or why you would even want to go to Antarctica in the first place, just back up a minute and go to Bill Spindler’s website.

Lockheed Martin: Program Management and Integration, Site Management, Functional Area Leadership, Technical Management & Administration (TM&A), Science and Technical Project Services (S&TPS), Information Technology and Communications (IT&C), Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) and Transportation and Logistics (T&L)

PAE: Infrastructure and Operations (I&O), Transportation and Logistics (T&L).

GHG: On-site Information Technology and Communications (IT&C).

University of Texas Medical Branch: Medical Services

Best Recycling: Waste

Gana-A’Yoo: Food Services, Housing & Janitorial Services, Retail & Postal Services.

January 24, 2013

Flight missing from South Pole

I don’t know if you’re the kind of person who prays, but if you are, maybe say one for these folks.

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1319018–three-canadians-missing-on-flight-over-antarctica

Three Canadians are missing on a Twin Otter flight that was going from South Pole to Terra Nova Bay, an Italian base on the coast. Their plane went down and the emergency locator beacon has been activated but bad weather is making the rescue search difficult.

Living in a heated station in Antarctica makes it easy sometimes to forget that it is still a pretty dangerous place to be. I hope these guys are safe.

***

The wreckage of this flight has been located, and memorials are being held around the continent. Rachel, one of my very best friends from Pole, wrote some poignant words about the tragedy:

Such sad news for the Antarctic family…it might be hard for many people to understand, but the continent is like one big family. I often feel like the world could truly learn a lot from Antarctica. All the stations seem to experience the same things…to get to station is always a long flight or a long boat ride, we all live in cramped quarters, we all have to deal with extreme temperatures and learning to work in the cold, we conserve water and recycle everything, eat three year old expired food, we are all here for research, which is often shared amongst nations, most research being performed at any one station is usually a collaborated effort among many, most stations medical and fire is volunteer, and during the winter we share a film festival were we can relate to each video, because they always represent the many similarities that we all go thru instead of the differences.
We are connected in so many great ways that I won’t be able to do it justice, but one of the other ways we are connected is in sadness. When a helicopter went down a couple years ago at another base, an American C-17 was just departing McM and immediately diverted to search for survivors. There was no “bureaucracy” to figure out who would pay for it, or if it was allowed. It just happened. When a fire broke out at a base on the Antarctic peninsula, research ships from other nations immediately came to get the survivors. When the fire happened last year, I was in the midst of fire school before heading to Palmer. We were all stunned. The reality that that could be “us” was overwhelming. While at Palmer I was on the fire team. In that fire the two people that died were on their fire team that had gone back into the fire to try and shut stuff off to prevent further damage to the station. When this plane went missing two days ago, it again reminds me how we are all connected. Kenn Borek Air flys twin otters and baslers for many countries here on the continent. Their pilots are the last people we see at Pole before winter starts and the first ones we see to start summer. I don’t know if I have ever met them personally, but it doesn’t matter…they were part of the Antarctic family and their loss will be felt across the continent. The pilots at KBA have flown to some if not the most remote places in the world. They have landed in places never touched before by humans…they have rescued people from the South Pole where the temps were so cold their skis froze to the ground, and they bring us freshies. On their first flight to Pole each spring, they always bring freshies. I don’t even like most freshies, but it is such a kind gesture when they know it has been about 8 months since we last tasted a banana.
So keep their families in your thoughts tonight…I’m sure most “Antarcticans” will do the same.

September 12, 2012

I can see your breath…

Remember when I told you about the 300 club?

I love this photo. The sun is coming up at South Pole Station, and it’s still a hundred degrees below zero.

 

Photo of Sven by Jay Studer.

July 19, 2012

Antarctica on Google Street View!

Sometimes I seriously love the internet. This is so cool:

Certain parts of Antarctica are now available for you to visit from the comfort of your own computer. Despite the dorky  “armchair explorer” title given by the articles about this, it is really a pretty neat thing. My favorite was Scott’s Hut, which is a 10 minute walk from McMurdo Town and full of polar explorer artifacts–I never got to go inside while I was there but was able to look around here! I had never heard of the World Wonders Project before this, but it’s really interesting; panoramic, navigable, street-level images of world heritage sites. Seriously. Go check it out: http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/worldwonders/.

This is the Dark Sector on street view, the off-station site that is home to many of the research projects including South Pole Telescope, Bicep and IceCube a little further down the road.

Here is the Ceremonial South Pole view:

If you’re not familiar with Google Street View, when you go to the actual page you can click on the white arrows to move yourself around within the photo’s span.

Read more about this here, here and here. Well.. the last link is a bit sketchy, due to its photo caption “Penguins in the South Pole.” Do your homework, people.

July 11, 2012

Dazzling Winter Photography from the South Pole

Midwinter has just recently passed at the South Pole–the sun has been down for months, ambient temperatures have dropped below -100F multiple times throughout the season, and life in the name of science is presumably carrying on as normally as it possibly can when you are utterly and completely stuck in one of earth’s most unwelcoming locations.

I am not sure whether I have it in me to winter at South Pole–I want to, but in a way that is more abstract than real right now. On one hand, you are quite literally trapped, come hell or high water or cancer or fuel shortages. As much as the program does to screen for potential illness (physical and mental); and as much fuel as is saved in the emergency caches; despite the fact that the power plant runs four generators and that there is enough frozen food to last for a decade, I really don’t know how I would feel when the last plane of summer left. Maybe I would feel finally free, relieved that the summer contractor population was gone. Maybe I would slowly succumb to massive hypochondria. Not sure. Now, I’m being facetious, but the thought really does worry me a little.

The thing that draws me back to maybe-wintering is the night sky, the aurora australis and the neverending stars and the moon. Every picture I see reinforces the possibility.

Sven Lidstrom is a winterover who is responsible for the day to day running of the neutrino detector/telescope IceCube. For as many times I’ve heard and read the purpose of the detector and the definition of a neutrino, I think I’ll let their website explain: “IceCube is a particle detector at the South Pole that records the interactions of a nearly massless sub-atomic particle called the neutrino. IceCube searches for neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical sources: events like exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars. The IceCube telescope is a powerful tool to search for dark matter, and could reveal the new physical processes associated with the enigmatic origin of the highest energy particles in nature.” Sven was also my Scott-tent-mate for Happy Camper Training, which you can read about here.

These photos are all by Sven; please do not use them without permission and credit.

South Pole elevated station by moonlight and by Southern Lights:

TDRSS and GOES, the satellite dishes that link South Pole to the rest of the world:

Winterovers checking the fuel levels in the off-site emergency fuel cache at the End of the World:

This last photo is one of my favorites: these are the jamesway tents we lived in, which are slated for demolition sometime in the next few years, completely drifted under by blowing ice:

May 25, 2012

On death, breakups and Big Positive Thoughts

Death is not clean or punctual or forgiving. It has its own clock, makes its way through the beds of wet kleenex feathers full of snot and mascara when you have your eyes closed. Death sometimes comes when you have left for a sandwich, when you have gone to feed your elderly mother, or sometimes when you’re sitting right there, waiting for it. This breakup was bookended by the death of two sweet grandfathers, first my partner’s and then mine.

In February, a few weeks after redeploying from Antarctica to New Zealand, I found myself standing ankle-deep in the Pacific Ocean, feeling that odd vertigo that is specific to when the sea is pulling itself out from under you, eroding the very earth you’re standing on, one grain of sand at a time, creating heel shaped divots under your weight.

It all felt quite significant, like I was in a movie or something and the next thing you knew I’d be walking out and disappearing and the ocean would eat me and the credits would roll. I sang to myself, to add a soundtrack and expand the melodramatic fantasy. D had broken up with me about four days before that. I felt like shit. But I knew that realistically, instead of dying, I would rather go back to the hotel and have beer and pizza and talk more with him about what the future held for us, for him, for me. We had ten days in New Zealand to talk and process the highs and lows and confusing, hairpin-turn-roller-coaster delirium that ensued when our framework and the life we had together began to dissolve. It was kind of fun, in a contradictory way, getting to be painfully honest and brutally interrogative, to cry together and sometimes to even feel like things would be okay in whatever way they came to manifest. I’ll spare you the details, for privacy reasons. But we were seriously in it. We talked about everything.

What I will tell you is that I spent months after getting home (well, okay, I still feel like this sometimes) as a split self: part of me feeling really calm and collected, like the gift in all of this could be a new beginning, a rebirth, an infinite possibility of freedom. The other, smaller part was rebellion and ricochet, like certain isolated atoms of my being were on the verge of nuclear meltdown, destructive and explosive and very, very dangerous.

Everything inside of me felt visceral and raw, while simultaneously too-okay and oddly emotionless. I drank a lot of whiskey. I ran around the lakes, wrote pages and pages and pages of angry, confused words. I tried to do yoga, but it didn’t have the same physical release as running. I read a lot of classified ads, trying to assemble the puzzle pieces into something that resembled a life, and extended little prayer tendrils for good things in all directions, and tried to think Big Positive Thoughts.

After my grandfather died, I wish I could say that it gave me a new perspective on what things are important in life and what things are better to let go, but it didn’t. I just felt sad and panicky. Both of our grandpas’ memorials fell on the same weekend. I watched my grandmother cry wordlessly, a sad gift that in her dementia, she knew he was gone. I saw a lot of friends that have known us for all of the last twelve years as a couple. I felt immensely selfish, thinking about the breakup when bigger things were happening. Life and death things. It was terrible.

I’m not much of a prayer person. But Anne Lamott wrote, “here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me,’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'” And I can totally handle that. So I tried to ask for a lot of help, and I got it in a lot of different forms. So to those of you who sent love and positive energy; who sent me lots of supportive messages and gave me chocolate and wine and a place to sleep; who listened to my drunken narcissistic stream-of-consciousness rants and then made me laugh or cried with me; who told me your own stories of breakups that were far more traumatizing than mine: thank you, thank you, thank you. I really mean it. The little boat I’m in is lost at sea, paint peeling and leaks sprouting, but it’s still buoyant. So thank you.

April 9, 2012

The 300 Club, Vicariously.

And now, the answer to the age old question of what exactly to do when the ambient temperature at the South Pole hits -100F: you take off all your clothes and run around outside!

Here’s the tradition: when the on-station meteorologists announce the official temperature to be at or below -100 degrees, you strip naked and head into the sauna, which is set at a toasty 200F above zero (to make a 300 degree difference), overheat for a bit, put on your boots and gloves, and take yourself outside for a stroll around the pole itself.

You can read a full post by my friend Lynnette, who is wintering in Materials at South Pole, here.

Image

March 3, 2012

NPX-ZCM-CHC…&MSP

I left as the 24 hour rotating shadows were starting to become a little longer at South Pole, the wind getting sharper, the population getting smaller and more saturated with people getting ready to stay for their winter, bonding with each other and letting go, in a way because they have to, of summer contractors.

From the plane, hearing the drone of the props, watching the map underneath us change from flat white nothing to the volcanic soil of the mountains and coast, glacier tongues literally melting into sheer, vast open water, to sea ice. The view, visually overwhelming, seems to elicit poetic thoughts from even the most unlikely of mouths.

Being on McMurdo’s runway, letting comparatively temperate air and sun touch our ears, cheeks, necks, starved for that sensation. We watched firefighters shoo a penguin off the runway.

The stress of work peels away on that plane like a sheath of irrelevance—things that were immensely important just a few days before mean nothing at all now; it’s a blissful release, an absolution but also a kind of sad amnesia, because friends are invested in the same issues for the length of the winter season and it feels like giving up, abandoning them in a way.

Off the aircraft and though customs, the sweet New Zealand night air smelled like grass and flowers and rotten leaves, fresh or perhaps imminent rain (rain!), the sky dark and the moon ringed in a cloudy little rainbow. The group made the motions of the unceremonious chaos, dropping gear off at the CDC and boarding a shuttle, realizing that for the first time in a long time, you’re surrounded entirely by people you’ve never met.

The next day, waiting for and sitting through Daniel’s surgery, wondering at the pigeons outside the windows and the wind agitating the mature trees, wondering what happens if there’s an earthquake and they’re mid-surgery; wondering who was in the middle of surgery during the last earthquake and what happened to them, and then trying not to wonder that. And then it was over and he came rolling back up the hall in his bed and hospital gown. He’s totally fine now, no evidence of anything ever having been wrong.

We spent a week in Wanaka, south of Christchurch, soaking in a hot tub with friends and eating avocados, drinking bloody marys, decompressing from the season.

And here we are at home. It’s good to be back. Keep watching for more photos… there are plenty I want to share with you now that I’m back in the lands of plentiful internet.

February 4, 2012

Berm is a Four Letter Word

This season I’m working as a Materialsperson, which means basically I work with stuff—and we have a LOT of stuff here at South Pole, warehouses and stockrooms and berms and drawers and airplanes full of it. You can’t get rid of much because if you did, and then someone needed it, it would take two years and a lot of money to get it back. But seriously, a lot of it is junk.

South Pole station has a hoarding problem.

Anyway, we like to keep track of the stuff we have, and we do the best we can given the short season and the high volume of stuff being flown in and going out to work orders. My main project this season has been doing a deep inventory of the C-Berm (one of like 20 berms) which is home to most of the Heavy Shop and Power Plant stuff, as well as Fuels, IT and the greenhouse. To give you an idea of how screwy this berm is, our database, MAPCON, lists about 1000 different kinds of machine engines, CAT track shoes, bolts, cylinder heads, coaxial cable, fuel hoses and other things like that. After taking EVERYTHING off this berm, opening many and recounting all of the crates, researching their contents and shipping documents, putting everything back on, mapping and recording and crosschecking it, I discovered that we are missing 598 kinds of stuff (some of those stock numbers have hundreds of themselves listed in MAPCON but are nowhere to be found). That included three huge engine heaters, two whole snowmobiles and one $92,000 generator for the power plant. It’s not like people put this stuff in their suitcases and took it home, they just used it and didn’t write it down.

There are things that do not belong that we found on this berm, including dumbbells for weightlifting, science equipment and 200 pounds of Ramen Noodles from 2003.

To do this project, we first removed all of the crates and boxes, setting them aside so the heavy vehicle operators could reform and grade the berm, basically carving a neat, 3 foot tall platform that was fifteen feet wide and hundreds of feet long. I took away a lot of things that were obviously trash, and parts for vehicles that we no longer have. I opened lots of boxes that had dubious contents, counted, labeled or laughed at the stuff inside, and if we were keeping it, re-banded and crimped it.

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When it was time to start putting things back on the berm, I can use either a 277 or a 953 CAT loader. The 277 is a responsive, zippy little vehicle that is pretty fun to drive. It operates with a joystick and feels like a really big toy with a rollercoaster-like safety bar, and its name is Emma.

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The 953 is a huge loader (well, not huge in the world of loaders, but huge next to Emma) named Sundog, and Sundog is a huge, rickety loader that has two speeds: crawly and jumpy (also stabby, as in stabbing boxes with the forks, but that’s not really a speed).

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I used whichever loader was available, and sorted and stacked the things into categories as well as I could, leaving as little space as possible to prevent snow drifting, a major challenge when next year’s team (maybe including me) has to inventory the whole berm again, although not to quite the extent as this year. I learned a lot working out there by myself, about operating the loaders and the differences between the machines.

I put lots of track rollers on the berms…

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And dropped some of them, which was really frustrating…

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And put some things up really high…

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And then it was done! Now it’s all ready to get completely drifted in over the winter, and then we’ll shovel it out and recount everything next year, although hopefully it will be much, much easier.

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February 2, 2012

Thoughts on Leaving: Soccer, Broken Bones, and a Very Personal MedEvac

As you may know, Sundays are our only day off here in Antarctica, and we have to make the most of them. There are all kinds of community-led activities, writing and photography classes, volleyball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, impromptu craft parties and wine tastings in the greenhouse.

This Sunday, I went to yoga and spent a while in the sauna before heading for dinner, and Daniel went to the first soccer tournament of the year—soccer players practice a few hours every week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, and it’s a big part of Daniel’s exercise regime, something I remember him telling me on the phone in 2009 when he first came down to the ice. During the game, Daniel had a collision with another player, both men running full speed and focusing on the ball instead of each other. He fell and got up, and finished out the tournament.

But when he was still in pain later that evening, we decided to call Medical, even though Sunday is their day off too. Something seemed wrong; it looked like there was at least swelling on the left side of Daniel’s face, if not a maybe-different shape than normal. The PA was on call, and after looking for a bit and making sure Daniel wasn’t suffering a concussion or any head injuries, she called in the doctor as well. After poking and prodding and examining and xrays, the prognosis was a broken zygomatic arch, Daniel’s left cheekbone, and he was immediately scheduled for the next flight out. An unresolved fracture is an automatic NPQ (the opposite of PQ, when we are physically qualified to come to the ice at the beginning of each season).

That night, we sat together in bed after packing Daniel’s stuff, dealing with his physical pain, regretting this seemingly small accident, and grappling with our mutual feelings about the season having to end like this, but having flashbacks to food poisoning and malaria scares in third world countries and being grateful that here, at least we speak the language and understand the medical system. We decided together that it made the most sense for me to stay and carry out my contract, since I’d be leaving in a week and a half anyhow.

And then before I could think straight or even realize this was real, he was on the plane and I was crying on the runway. His two sweet coworkers stood on either side of me as we watched taxi and takeoff, the contrail behind the plane like a physical thing, looking as though the runway itself buckled up to assist the plane’s loft.

He is in New Zealand now, getting ready for appointments and maybe a small surgery, and hopefully will be ready for a real vacation in about a week when I get back. I miss him a lot, and it feels weird and hollow and different to be here without him in this big, cold bed, but I know that this is the best way to have a medEvac; finish your soccer game, pack your own bags, walk yourself unescorted onto the plane, and be ready for a kiwi roadtrip in a week. And I know it could have been so much worse, so I’m grateful for that.

And I’m grateful for the community response to this, the support I’ve gotten, the off-ice medical and insurance help that Daniel is and will be getting, and the hugs and offers for help packing and airplane bag lunches from friends. I’m even more ready to go, now that work is getting frantic with things to finish before station close and people, including me, are dirty and cranky and just over being here. The funny thing is though, I know we want to come back.

So here’s to fast healing and minimal pain, to friends who stand beside you when things go wrong, to the end of this season, and perhaps to the beginning of the next one.

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