Monday, March 23, 2015

Work in Antarctica

After my last post, I got a lot of people asking "What are you doing for work this Winter?" and I realized that I should probably talk about that.  While there's a lot of cool stuff to talk about in Antarctica we are here to work and that's what we spend most of our time doing.  

There are TONS of jobs here in Antarctica.  Last year we spent the summer as Stewards-washing dishes and cleaning toilets (for science!).   It was a great entry position, we met some amazing people and we moved on to other jobs this year.  Jamie continued on with the same company and he moved into a new role in the Galley.  For the summer, his job title was "Food Clerk" and his job was to do the ordering, organizing and supplying of the food for the Galley. His work was based out of our main kitchen but he talked with and supplied food for all the USAP fieldcamps across the continent as well as any work center party/event/needs.  Everyone who needed food talked to him and I would regularly get comments like, "Jamie Lyon is your husband?!   He is wonderful!  He helped me out just yesterday. What a great guy.”    Now that Winter has started his job has shifted a bit to “Galley Administration”.  He’s now responsible for Galley payroll and paperwork. He continues to do the food clerk position but now he also works in the kitchen as a cook.  Every day he’s  in the Salad room processing lettuce and freshies to keep the community from getting scuvy.  He’s been making our prepared salads and learning all the various machines, how to make some delicious salad dressings and how to chop a million veggies without getting carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, once week he’s the breakfast guy so he gets up to plan the meal and then he works on the egg line making everyones eggs to order.  By the end of the year,    He’s going to be an incredibly well-rounded Galley worker. 

Over the summer, my title was Aviations Operations Coordinator and I worked in the Aviations Operations Department.   That department coordinates any movement to Field Camps via fixed wing planes (Twin Otters, Baslers, and LC-130s) and Helicopters (Astars and Bell 212s).  My job was to help organize any passengers or cargo that was going out on those flights.  During the winter, the helicopters are put away and the planes all leave so I had to find a new job. I am now a  Recycling Technician for winter at McMurdo station.   This is just the end of my first month and I’m still learning about the things that need to get done. There are three of us working in the Waste Department for the winter (we’re called “Wasties” in the McMurdo lingo).   Travis Groh and myself in solid waste (paper/plastic/non-recyclables/etc) and Rob in Haz Waste (fuel/batteries/poisonous materials/etc).    Each day Travis and I take a drive around town changing out full dumpsters and then spend the rest of the morning processing the trash.  While that sounds simple, I’ve been amazed at how much garbage needs to be processed and sorted for a town this size (700-900ish in summer, 168 now). Last week we spent the day up  at the wood chipper trying to make a dent in the mountainous piles old wood, yesterday I was loading barrels of Urine/Grey water into a milvan the day before that I learned how use the the ram with our forklift.    Every day someone comes up to our barn and asks me a new question that I need to ask Travis about and every time I pick up a new waste bin I learn a new technique for handling my loader in a safe and efficient way.   I would say the most exciting part about my job is learning to drive the equipment.   We have two loaders, one skid loader (think Wall-E) and one Pickle (an outdated old military vehicle great for loading Con-X boxes.).    I really enjoy learning new strategies for moving things around and I’m having a lot of fun learning the equipment. In general, it's been nice to switch t a new job for Winter as it allows me to start fresh and be rejuvenated at work. 

If you are interested in what other jobs there are in Antarctica, or maybe you want apply (Applications are now OPEN for the 2015-2016 season (Oct-Feb). The earlier you apply, the better.) 
 Here are the links for the various subcontractors:
You have to apply separately to all 3 stations (McMurdo, South Pole, Palmer)

Me and a Twin Otter!
The Twin Otter BBV and the pilot Henry at Tucker Glacier. 
The view from my window when I was in the Helo Hanger working for Aviation Operations. 
My co-worker Meghan and I sitting up in the cockpit of an LC-130.
An LC-130 getting ready to load that cargo and bring it back to McMurdo. 
Finished up loading the plane. 
All the helicopters tucked in for the long winter. 
Travis and I, you know. posing on Sarah Jane-one of our loaders. 
The ram I had mentioned earlier. 
Ramming the Non-recyclables into a milvan. 
Jamie cooking on the eggline.  This was his first morning and it was a bit hectic at the time so it was a bit unfair of me to take the picture right then.   However,  these days he generally has a smile!
The wood chipper!  Travis is in Sarah Jane and dropping the wood into that big drum and it comes off the conveyor belt on the right into a pile of woodchips. It was my job to put the woodchips into a milvan. 
This little machine is a Skid Loader. This is what I was using to lad the woodchips but it's clearly also useful for carrying cargo straps around. 
This is a typical line of trash containers. Starting from the left is wood, cardboard, fuel containers, glass, papertowels (aka compressible non-recyclables),  aluminium cans, food waste, papertowels, and fabrics. 
Me driving around in our other loader, Terminator.  We use these loaders to pick up those full trash containers when they are full, bring them back to the Waste Barn and processing them. 
Another part of my job is "spill response."  Spills in Antarctica are a big deal and when one happens we response as soon as we can.   This was my first spill response!  Some glycol has spilled out from a broken pipe and we arrived to scoop it all up and bring it up to burn off the hazardous. 
Jamie at another part of his job.  Receiving and organizing all the food for our kitchen! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Winter is here!

For the residents of McMurdo Station, Winter is not marked by a set day, but rather by the last flight of summer.  On March 5th, we had a Champagne Toast as we watched the final flight of summer leave the continent.   On April 24th the sun will set and won’t rise again for four months.  It will start snowing, the stars will come out and hopefully we’ll see some Auroras. Both Jamie and I are excited about this coming season.  This winter at McMurdo will be an entirely different experience from previous.  This winter the USAP program will flying flights all season.  There will be three before the usual “winter fly-in” flight in August:  April, June, and July.   This is the first year the program has done this and many people are sad about the loss of an isolated winter.  Jamie and I, however, are indifferent as this will be the first and only winter we can compare it too.  The station population right now is 168 and will go down to the 150s after April.   I’m already beginning to recognize close to every person that comes into the Galley at mealtimes.  Aside from a decrease in population the station is also moving into winter mode.  Many dorms and buildings are being winterized and departments have started the long process of inventory and repair.  Most Science has stopped for the winter.  There is one scientist on station at this point in the year and a research assistant that will monitor the science experiments that don’t need a constant attendant.     We can still go hiking in the winter but now we need to formally check out with the firehouse, carry a radio and go in pairs.   

Right now the sun is setting and rising like a normal day.  We can leave our shades open at night and in the morning the natural light wakes us up.  It's not 100% dark when the sun "sets", it is more of a dark twilight time, but it certainly feels like a solar rotation.   For awhile, I didn't' even realize the sun had been setting because I go to bed around 10pm and it's still light out so when I was up until 11:30 one night, my mind was blown because it had gotten darkish.  Now, by 10 it's a dark twilight and around midnight it's almost truly dark out.  Very exciting to see nighttime come creeping in!

If you have any specific questions about life here,  post them in the comments and I'll work on answering them.  I'm never really sure what people want to know about!  

Everyone gathering to watch the last flight take off. 

Champagne at the ready!

There is is! The last plane of summer.  After being delayed 6 days those people were THRILLED when that plane arrived.  

Winter is finally here!  
Nothing like a little baked goodness to celebrate the start of a season. 

And now just some Antarctica scenery pictures: 

Just a lovely photo of some piping and Mt Discovery to the left and the Royal Society Mountains to the right.

A great picture of the Fata Morgana, a mirage that Jamie and I think looks like a Windows error.