How to Get a Job in Antarctica in 2012

Alright, here we go.

Go to

Scroll down, and in the keyword field, type “NSF-ASC” and click on the Search button.

Jobs are being posted already, so get your resume ready and watch their site for new postings! We’ve heard that there may be a subcontractor called PAE for some or many of the positions–I’m not sure what kinds of jobs would be under that umbrella, but it sounds like mine might be.

Historically people who are on ice currently have had the ability to apply for jobs internally before postings were made available to everyone, but it seems like that might not be the case…so we’ll see how this goes. We are planning on applying for another season, though. I like this life.

Check out the discussion on the Antarctic Memories forum for a more in-depth analysis.

Here‘s another article about the transition.

Good luck!

And the New USAP Contractor is….

The wait to find out who we’ll be applying for jobs with next year is over, and the winning bidder is……

Lockheed Martin!

More information to come soon. I will be posting information on how to apply for a job with the US Antarctic Program next season just as soon as I find out myself.

We should have more details soon on what the turnover will be like. In reality, the season is over in six or seven weeks, and that doesn’t leave very much time for the new contractor to come in and make changes before the last plane leaves. It will be really interesting to see what happens; this is after a three-year extension to the Raytheon ten-year contract, something that could have happened before we even applied for jobs with the program in 2009.

We’ll keep you updated.

Flying from the Ross Ice Shelf to the South Pole

Flying in Antarctica tests your flexibility.

My original flight from McMurdo to South Pole was set for November first at 5 am (New Zealand time), moved forward to the 27th of October, cancelled because of weather delay, and moved to the next day, the 28th.

We took a Delta, a passenger vehicle that looks like a giant red metal ant, out to the ice runway in the morning, optimistic and excited at the weather reports for both takeoff and landing. There are two main types of delay here: weather and mechanical. We had all forgotten about mechanical delay.

Our group sat crammed in the Delta, feet going numb and legs getting stiff, blowing bubble gum bubbles that popped with a little puff of foggy breath, optimism waning with each update on the plane’s sorry status. Six hours later, tired and hungry and wishing we had landed three hours ago, we crunched and groaned and bounced along the sea ice in our Delta, returning to McMurdo for the night and hoping that there would still be beds for us despite the hundred-some people that had landed in a C-17 that day. I was disappointed but spent the evening with some girlfriends from Pole who bought me a birthday beer and told me that tomorrow was another day.

And it was. Now just three days before my scheduled flight and over a week after some other people’s, we skeptically dragged our bags back up the hill to cargo in the morning. We sat in the vehicle, comparing the food we had packed, learning a lesson from the hungry day before. Soggy sandwiches (for those who had been smart enough to pack them the day before our first scheduled flight), flat sat-upon doughnuts, granola, an avocado, or two pieces of french toast. As we progressed, we drove straight out to the runway, arrived directly at the plane (the first good sign) which was already fueled (the second good sign) and took off right on time (the third good sign).

The weather at Pole was flirting with the temperature limit that a C-130 can land in, so we crossed our fingers that our flight wouldn’t boomerang, which means exactly what it sounds like, and tried to not get too excited until we started our descent to Pole.

The flight was amazing. Laden with Emergency Cold Weather gear, boots and overalls and huge jackets and layers, you have to carefully plant each step to move about the plane and not step on or awkwardly straddle another passenger for too long. Through the tiny porthole window, and without any sense of how far up you are or how big the landscape below you is, you can see the terrain evolving below, pressing your head on the cold metal of the plane, the roaring drone of the props vibrating though your skull.

I said goodbye to dirt, watching the mountains melt into flat, blue ice like a lake surface. The face of the earth became flatter, whiter, flatter, whiter. You can see evidence of glacial flow, like seeing time pass, wrinkles and pockmarks and silky snowy spots like aged skin, shiny crusty ice that looks like you could stand on it until you shifted your weight and broke through, some marks like crop circles. Icy blue, as uninspired as that sounds. On we flew, over crevasses that look like dry, split fingertips in the winter, tiny and feathered on one side, gaping and deep and scary on the other side. I wondered if we were flying over any ski-in expeditions or what route they might take, and if they could hear us and whether they were waving at us from so far below.

(The following photos are by Marie McLane, who works cargo here at Pole and is a science tech in Greenland, and whose blog, AntarcticArctic, is pretty neat and has lots of photos and more info about flight Ops than mine so you should probably check it out.)






We landed, the engines getting louder like a volcano about to explode, and without being able to see and because of the rattle of the plane, it sometimes would seem like we had touched down even when we hadn’t. When we finally did land, I felt us turn off the skiway and onto the apron, and we droned along for what seemed like forever. The NY air national guard crew dropped the rear cargo door down, the plane yawning and flushing us with bright, bright fog and snow and steam and sucking the heat and moisture out of the plane all of a sudden. Out slid the cargo, disappearing immediately into the whiteness, and the crew closed up the door and the plane slowly crept forward and stopped.

Even though I knew what to expect this time, disembarking the aircraft was overwhelming. The ambient temperature was close to –60, the windchill nearly –90, the air was dry and the altitude was steep and the roar of the propellers just off to the side was immense and the sun was bright and here I was, returning to the South Pole, a little bit excited and pretty emotional and really really cold. I choked on my first few breaths. A crewmember held a line out from the door, to guide us and prevent passengers from getting thunderstruck and confused and turning left instead of right, walking straight into the props and losing their head, literally. All the way up to the nose of the plane came the ground crew, our friends and coworkers, putting out little guide markers showing where to walk to exit the apron.

There were cold but happy reunions with winterovers, jumps for joy and breathless hugs and frozen tears. There were new people as well as returnees with cameras and cold shutterfingers and a holy shit, I’m at the bottom of the planet stance, and, I would imagine, wide eyes behind their goggles and gaiters and balaclavas. Having arrived about a week before us, Daniel came to carry my bag for me, which seemed much heavier than it had been at sea level, and gave me a cold, wet, polarfleece little kiss.

It feels really good to be back.

More soon on the new job and life at the pole. If you’re missing blog posts and want to get more updates right to your inbox, you can subscribe for free to email or rss!

A Pickle Named Hysteria

Here at McMurdo station, Polies are starting to be ready to leave. To get going, or to go home, in a way. I’ve been learning a lot while I’m here though, trainings and briefings and orientations and meetings.

After a first night spent pretty dehydrated and dizzy, we went right to work in the morning, doing a session on operating CAT loaders: an articulated 950, a 953 and a 277 skid steer, a sweet little loader that has a safety bar like a rollercoaster and operates with a joystick. After a lot of PowerPoint slides and an informal quiz, we got to it and headed out to Willy field, a few miles off Ross Island and onto the permanent sea ice. Past giant spool parking lots, elevated fuel hose lines, piles of fine grit for making tread on ice, pickup trucks and a hazardous waste yard that was fenced off and looking like it should be guarded by an icy bulldog. Up and down a huge hill and past New Zealand’s Scott base (aptly painted kiwi green), with built up pressure ridges, huge rippled ocean waves frozen in time. Onto the ice road we drove, past radome/satellite dish protective housings, odd little eight foot spheres on sleds with red and white siding, like a giant metal beach ball or, as Ed the fuelie put it, “strange fruit of science.”

We learned about doing walkaround checks, noting glycol and engine oil levels, hydraulic fluid dribbles that needed to be scooped up off the ice, and spending quite a while shoveling, sweeping and gently ice-picking solid packed snow out of the engine compartments, air vents, and in some cases, the cab of the machine. Some of the women in the group were total pros. They didn’t need to be trained, but it was awesome to watch them work.


Finally, the vehicles started up. The 955 never made it to the driving stage, unfortunately.


We practiced going up a hill. We practiced making a K-turn on top of the little plateau. We practiced picking up concrete blocks on the forks as well as chaining them to the boom (a really different feeling, as you have a huge, heavy pendulum on the front tip of the machine). We practiced moving around an outhouse that was out by the camp (happily frozen), and marshaling the driver since the vehicle had about 30% visibility with the latrine in front of the windshield.


We spent a good amount of time sorting through, unpacking, counting and labeling South Pole food that came in on the sea vessel last season (February 2011). To be outside in the sharp wind, labeling hundreds of individual packages of fennel and cumin and coriander, hauling and hoisting huge 50-lb sacks of oats and flour, or unpacking and counting and labeling and repacking 2,000 individual pounds of butter while the wind picked up our clipboards and literally threw them in our faces, seemed a little ridiculous. And on top of it, off in the distance our backdrop was mountains with glaciers sliding out between them and this stunning, icy beauty, helicopters and C17s landing on the runway, and later the black volcanic dirt under our feet steaming in the sun, melting the ice and releasing a slow-floating mist. A strange juxtaposition of cold and uncomfortable and weird and intense and frustrating and wonderful and lovely in this special recipe that defines nearly everything we do in Antarctica.

We used a vehicle called a Pickle to unload the crates from the milvans (milvans are metal storage units the size of trailer homes). It’s a crotchety little articulated, wheeled vehicle from the Korean war era, a military specific front end loader that is no longer made anywhere in the world because the visibility is terrible, but it’s perfect for what we use it for. And its name was Hysteria.


A few days later, the group attended a sea ice and survival lecture. The sea ice safety isn’t really pertinent to those of us going to Pole, since there is no sea ice around for thousands of miles, but it was still interesting. We watched a time-lapse video of still sea ice, dynamic in nature and shifting, heaving, breathing like a living thing, which I suppose it is in a way. The survival lecture was a review; I myself haven’t taken the class, nicknamed “happy camper,” but might get to this year. In the introductions attendees were encouraged to talk about any close calls they’d had, or times they had needed to use a survival bag. One woman, from Minnesota, was caught in a storm with her team while doing research in the mountains. Winds reached 150mph and picked up and threw around 800 pound snowmobiles like toys. Of the three Scott tents the team had, all five people had to squeeze into the single tent upwind of the camp while everything else was being destroyed.

I went with a coworker on our day off to the Observation Tube, a claustrophobia-inducing steel and glasslike windowed silo buried twenty feet into the ice.






Once in the tube, with the cover shut to keep out the town din and wind and equipment and helicopter noises, it was pretty intense. You could hear the ice above you creaking softly, and seal sonar—animal clicks, slides and coos, like pressing your ear to someone else’s tummy and listening to their stomach noises, except more amplified. There were hundreds of thousands of little tiny krill with angel wings floating suspended in the water like snow, and bitty jellyfish. The mint-blue sea ice underside had frosty florets crystallized in the foreground and crept into an ombre blue-black unknown sea. it was peaceful and humbling and awesome. At one point, all the krill shot off in the same direction, and a few moments later from the opposite direction came a seal, silent, graceful, hulking, quick. Unfortunately my camera lens was frosted over by then.




McMurdo has far better scenery than Pole, but I’m ready to go, to unpack my suitcase and sleep in “my own” bed, to not feel like a transient, in the way of daily business. We’re getting a lot done here, but we’ll get more done when we get there, settle down, get in our groove. I’m excited.

Emergency Air Drop, Night Vision Goggles and Barrels of Fire

The folks wintering in Antarctica have had a rough season. In June, right around midwinter, an employee at McMurdo was ill enough that the National Science Foundation had to medevac them to Christchurch for treatment. This is pretty rare, and only carried out in the most extreme of situations. (Read the official news report here and check out a firsthand report by a McMurdo winterover here.)

And now, the US Air Force has performed a successful air drop of “urgently needed medical supplies” for a Pole winterover. This was the first emergency air drop to Pole in almost ten years, and the very first performed with a C-17. The Air Force flew the 800 miles to Pole, and using night vision equipment to spot the drop zone lit by the ground crew with burning 55-gallon drums, they aimed two 200-pound cargo pallets equipped with parachutes and pushed them out of the C-17.

From inside the C-17. Photo credit Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura,
The drop zone in the distance, a few hours after the drop as seen from the station. Photo by Christy Schultz

It goes without saying that we’re crossing our fingers for the crew at South Pole in their dark isolation; the first plane sill won’t be able to land until late October. I’ve heard that it’s easier to mount a rescue expedition to the international space station than it is to get to the South Pole in the winter (but don’t have a source on that, so don’t quote me–does anyone know?). From what I can tell, the combined forces of the South Pole air drop team and the US Air Force was a perfect match, and everything went as well as could possibly have been expected, and the winterovers’ practice during the summer season really paid off.

South Pole air drop ground crew. Photo by Christy Schultz
Dan the Fuelie supervises the burn barrels in a summer air drop practice last season. 12-11-2010

This article in the Antarctic Sun has really interesting information on the logistics of the air drop: “Personnel used GPS coordinates to place each barrel at a precise location for the drop zone, located about two miles from the main station. It took heavy equipment operator Rob Shaw about 30 hours to groom, or flatten, the snow around the drop zone.”

The weather at Pole during the air drop was rather warm according to the article, about -70F; from what I understand, nearly none of our vehicles run at below -80F, and many won’t run under -55 or so. The current temperature is back down to -90F. I’m not sure what they do if they have to perform an air drop in colder temps when the heavy equipment really just won’t run.

Antarctica, the Beautiful

I celebrated my 25th birthday differently than any other year, waking up at 5am, slightly jetlagged, to catch a pre-arranged shuttle to the Christchurch Clothing Distribution Center. All of the people in my training group, plumbers, electricians, bakers, power plant operators, IT staff and manual laborers such as myself, were presented with two worn orange duffel bags filled with loaner extreme cold weather (ECW) gear, washed and folded. Our project for the day was to try on each item and make sure, for comfort and safety, that everything fit well.

(Click on images to enlarge!)

Inside the bag was a pair of off-white rubber bunny boots, awkward but very insulated Cold War Era footwear so named for their rabbit’s foot-esque appearance; a heavy red parka with a faux fur-lined hood; Carhartt overalls and work jacket; slippery windpants; multiple pairs of expedition-weight long underwear; polar fleece pants and jacket; fluffy gray tube socks; balaclava, fleece hat and neck gaiter; huge leather bearpaw mittens; work gloves, and a few other odds and ends. Once it was all tried on and any misfits exchanged for different sizes, we repacked everything, leaving it in the Center until our morning of deployment.

Daniel in bunny boots

We flew to the continent in a commercial airliner, which afforded us an amazing view on arrival, veins of cerulean and navy blue ocean, striking through cracks in the sea-ice. The stewardesses transitioned from their skirted, nylon’d and heeled uniforms, to soft fleece pants, to black overall snowpants and chunky Sorel boots.

Flight path screen
Sea Ice and Clouds
Mount Erebus
A seat with a view

All of us, craning towards the windows to see the ice, the land, steaming Mount Erebus—like giddy kids on a school bus, sitting backwards in our seats, climbing over each others’ laps to see outside. We landed on the ice runway, McMurdo in the distance like a construction town during a Minnesota winter, dirt churned up in the snow.


Daniel looking out the plane window
Kiell getting ready to disembark
Ivan the Terra Bus, our ride into McMurdo

We walked to New Zealand’s Scott Base one morning, about a mile away. As we crested the ridge dividing the stations, the wind picked up, stinging our faces in the gaps between our balaclavas and snow goggles, making me feel like a kite in my huge jacket. Walking down the hill toward the frozen shoreline, textured by pressure ridges where the ice crushes up against the earth and vaults up a bit, the wind blew snow past us, slithering like smoke on the road. An American mechanic was kind enough to give us a ride back against the headwinds, all ten or so of us piled in the bed of the pickup like red marshmallows. I took my hands out to take a photo, and by the end of that minute, my bones were aching and my hands were so stiff I nearly lost my mittens to the gust as I tried to put them back on.


Kiwi Scott Base

We climbed steep Ob Hill, spectacularly overlooking the town and the ice runway, struggling up in our ECW gear, crab walking and sledding down on our bottoms in the parts that were too slippery to walk.


View of McMurdo from Ob Hill
Russell the Electrician and Kiell on Ob Hill, with McMurdo town in the background (about 10 pm)


Kiell sliding back down

Walking back from Hotel California, home to the infamous 24 bunk male dorm room not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Man Camp,” near midnight— the sun glaring brightly, everything was silent but the wind, straight line and brutal, playing with power lines and handrails, sounding a bit like a boatyard in a storm. People struggled by with their parkas cinched up around their faces. I drank hot tea in the galley, getting ready to fly to the Pole in the morning.


This post is dedicated to the four French workers who died in a helicopter crash in Antarctica the day we arrived on the continent. My heart goes out to their families.