Antarctica Dispatch

Journal of my Antarctic experience working to support the United States Antarctic Program.

Distress Call


A few pagers around station went off an people dropped what they were doing and headed towards their designated staging area. This was the Search and Rescue Team (SAR). However, it wasn't a problem at McMurdo, but out at sea.

The environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was out pursuing Japanese whaling vessels in the Antarctic waters. They lost contact with one of their zodiac craft with two personnel. McMurdo was notified because the coast Guard was in the vicinity and we had helicopters that were close enough to assist with the search. What's funny is when the environmental group issued a maritime distress call, the Japanese ships they were harassing had to help them search for the crew.

Needless to say, McMurdo didn't need to get involved, but it was a good reprieve from the norm. To read up on the story click here.

Life in the NOC


'NOC' stands for 'Network Operations Center' for those of you who don't know. This is where personnel manange the day-to-day computer and network operations. It's sometimes synonymous with 'datacenter' where all the computer systems are physically located.

It sounds profound and very official, yes? Many Network Operations Centers are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They resemble a 'Mission Control' environment with large screens displaying mulitiple data feeds from news media to software that monitors the various computer systems.

This is where I work with five other guys plus three additional personnel who comprise the Help Desk. The nice perk from last year is I've got a window that looks out over the water. Of course in a few months the view is going to be swallowed up by the darkness.

Like all true datacenters, the flooring is 'raised' to allow for ventillation and ease in bringing electrical and data circuits in. The systems produce a lot of heat, so the environmental systems are designed to keep the room below 65 degrees F. In addition, a positive pressure atmosphere keeps things like dust and other particulates out of the room. McMurdo's a very dusty place so in order to keep things clean, we swap out our 'outdoor' shoes for 'indoor' shoes. We have shoe coverings like used in hospitals for guests to slip over their shoes. It's very 'Japanese'.



In addition to maintaining three permanent Antarctic stations, the National Science Foundation conducts Antarctic maritime scientific reseach with two research vessels, the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP) and the R/V Laurence M. Gould (LMG). The NBP makes an annual port call at McMurdo. While in port they make use of our telephone system and data network through radio & wirelss technology respectfully. A Communications Tech (Comms Tech) usually performs this installation, but I went along as I was interested in seeing the ship.

Thetwo antennas had to be mounted at the top of the ship. There's an area called the 'Ice Tower', an enclosed 'Crow's Nest' that we climbed above to mount the antennas. Unfortunately it wasn't as easy as 'Plug 'n Play', and we spent many times going up and down the ladders and decks between the computer room on the 'main' deck and the 'Ice Tower' troubleshooting the problem so in the end it proved worthwhile that I came along.

I was surprised to run into a former Polie, Greg. He was the Comms Tech at the South Pole with me last year. Fortunately an opportunity presented itself and he was hired on the NBP.
Hmm maybe I might be lucky someday.

Sea Cruise


Robert Falcon Scott was the first to bring a ship down to McMurdo, naming the area where ships pull in now ‘Winter Quarter’s Bay’. Although C-17s fly in constantly starting in October, bringing in food and supplies, it’s the tanker and cargo ship that bring in the majority of ‘necessities’ to McMurdo.

In order to get down here, icebreakers must cut a channel from the Ross Sea. This year the Swedish Odin and USCG Polar Sea performed that duty. The Odin left by the time I got down here, but the Polar Sea was hosting two ‘moral cruises’ where they would take 200 people at a time. A lottery was done, and I luckily got to go on one of them.

It was a 3 hour cruise, which thankfully didn’t turn out like the S.S. Minnow. It was so nice to get out, away from McMurdo. In a few months I’ll be ‘Icebound’ once again. The surprise was the wildlife. I saw Waddell Seals, Minke whales, and even some Emperor penguins swimming in the water.

Unfortunately we had to return back. I felt a bit envious of the ‘Coasties’ who get to travel up to the North Pole.

Back in New Zealand


It was a strange feeling being back in New Zealand. There wasn't that feeling of being in a new and foreign place. I had just left here a little over a month ago so it was like returning back to something familiar, and yet not.

The one difference in my flight over was traveling Business Class. It cost me quite a bit in airline miles, but considering a 'Business' ticket costs nearly $6000, it was better than feeling like being in a clam shell back in Economy. The last time I enjoyed an upgrade I was 16, and flying back from London. Things have definitely changed since then. The seats recline all the way flat and put any LZ-Boy to shame with all the different positions and massage capabilities. Now if they ever put a spa in these 747-400s we'd truly be in luxury.

Going through NZ Customs was a different matter. I didn't think they'd let me in. Last time I said I was going down to Antarctica, and they passed me through. This time the lady grilled me. On top of that I didn't declare I was bringing in 'hiking boots', because last time it wasn't a concern. I wasn't going hiking in NZ, I was using them as work boots in Antarctica. That statement at least got me a reprieve, but in any case I got the third degree.

In Christchurch the routine started with the first stop at the USAP Clothing Distribution Center (CDC). I had learned my lesson about luggage. I unpacked anything I didn't need for Antarctica to leave in NZ. Anything I didn't need immediately I boxed up for it to get shipped down. Then all I took was a few things for my hotel stay in town, which is for two nights. Ah, it's so wonderful walking around with short sleeves, sun on your face, and 'green' all around.

Heading back down


I guess my year at the South Pole wasn't enough of an adventure because I signed up to go back down to Antarctica. This time I'll be at McMurdo for a change of pace and where there's more opportunity for wildlife spotting. One nice thing that I got out of my endeavors was a quote in WIRED magazine which "reports on how technology affects culture, the economy, and politics." To read the article, click here.

Since getting off the Ice back in November, I spent about a month in New Zealand's South Island. It's such a pleasant place to visit, and I know I barely scraped the surface. I wanted to see so much more, but in the end I really wanted to go back 'home'. It's amazing how much things change in a year. I arrived back in Colorado to see new buildings and things/people in a different 'light'. After 24+ hours travelling I opened the door to my place to see it exactly like I left it.

From then until now I've been trying to catch up with friends and along the way I starting dating someone of the female species which I'd been deprived of for so long. I got to enjoy an awesome day of skiing at Winter Park with fresh powder, go snowshoeing, and snow camp as if I hadn't gotten enough back down in Antarctica.

Colorado has been inundated with snow these last two months. The roads were pretty treacherous today on my departure date. It took us 2+ hours to get to the airport which is usually 40 minutes. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 4:20 PM, but it would take 1.5 hours before we pulled away from the gate and got 'deiced'. Finally at 5:55 MST we rolled down the runway, and my travel back down to the Seventh Continent began once again. This time though there was something tugging at me. I was leaving a girl behind, not to see her for months.