During the Austral Summer of 2012-2013, I traveled to Antarctica to work as a Cook, EMT, Tour Guide, and Photojournalist at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. While I was living there, I took over 10,000 photos, hours of video footage, and published an article about life in Antarctica on my blog every single day. Here’s a brief wrapup of my time in Antarctica, with links to all of the content I produced.
All of my blog posts about Antarctica, including most photos can be found at: http://JeffreyDonenfeld.com/Antarctica
A brief audio recording on my thoughts on Antarctica…
Since I’ve started blogging about Antarctica, I’ve received a number of questions from readers. To address as many of those questions as possible, I’ve made a long FAQ document. Frequently Asked Questions about Antarctica.
My Job in Antarctica
During my time in Antarctica, I lived at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The station is American-run, but supports scientists from all over the world. For a bit more on the specifics of the station, check out the Wikipedia Article.
The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is an American scientific research station at the Geographic South Pole, the southernmost place on the Earth. The station is located on the high plateau of Antarctica at an elevation of 2,835 meters (9301 feet) above sea level.
Since the Amundsen-Scott Station is located at the South Pole, it is at the only place on the land surface of the Earth where the sun is continuously up for six months and then continuously down for six months. (The only other such place is at the North Pole, on the sea ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.) Thus, during each year, this station experiences one extremely long “day” and one extremely long “night”. During the six-month “day”, the angle of elevation of the Sun above the horizon varies continuously. The sun rises on the September equinox, reaches its maximum angle above the horizon on the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, around 20 December, and sets on the March equinox.
During the six-month “night”, it gets extremely cold at the South Pole, with air temperatures sometimes dropping below ?73 °C (?100 °F). This is also the time of the year when blizzards, sometimes with gale-force winds, strike the Amundsen-Scott Station. The continuous period of darkness and dry atmosphere make the station an excellent place from which to make astronomical observations.
The number of scientific researchers and members of the support staff housed at the Amundsen-Scott Station has always varied seasonally, with a peak population of about 200 in the summer operational season from October to February. In recent years the wintertime population has been around 50 people.
I was hired to work as a cook at the south pole station. My primary job was as the breakfast cook, and my direct employer was Gan-A-Yoo Services, which is a subcontractor under Lockheed Martin’s Antarctic Support Contract. I got up at 3am 6 mornings per week to single handedly cook breakfast for the entire station staff. For more info on my kitchen job, see my article: Working In The South Pole Kitchen.
I also worked as an emergency medical responder on the station’s “Team 4″, which was in charge of emergency medical response. I worked alongside the fire crew, our nurse, and the station’s lead physician Dr. Sean Roden. More: Team 4 – Emergency Medical Response.
Next, I was one of three station tour guides. When tourist groups would arrive at pole via flight or skis, I got to give them a brief tour around the station. More: Tourists At The South Pole and Welcoming Skiers To The South Pole.
And finally, I spent whatever free time I had acting as the station correspondent for the United States Antarctic Program’s Antarctic Sun Newspaper. Throughout the summer, I wrote a series of single-topic articles, as well as monthly station summaries, which were published on the USAP’s site. Articles published in the Antarctic Sun.
Traveling to and from Antarctica:
Although long, the journey to and from the south pole was incredible in itself. I flew via commercial air from Denver Colorado > San Francisco California, San Francisco California > Los Angeles California, Los Angeles California > Sydney Australia, Sydney Australia > Christchurch New Zealand. Then on US Air Force Operation Deep Freeze military flights from Christchurch New Zealand > McMurdo Station Antarctica and McMurdo Station Antarctica > South Pole Station Antarctica. The entire journey took a solid three days of travel, but was a spectacular tour. Articles on traveling to and from Antarctica:
- How To Pack For A Trip To The South Pole
- Moving to Antarctica Leg 1: Denver, USA to Christchurch, New Zealand
- Moving to Antarctica Leg 2: Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica
- Moving to Antarctica Leg 3: McMurdo Station to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
- Leaving the South Pole for McMurdo Station
- Departing Antarctica: McMurdo to Christchurch
Facilities at the South Pole Station
Living at a frozen polar station is interesting – super interesting. The entire station is suspended above the ice by pylons, and includes everything we need to survive. In addition to the elevated station, there’s also a labrynth of support corridors and arches buried deep under the ice. I documented as much of the station as I could. First, be sure to watch my South Pole Station Tour Video on YouTube. Additionally, below are links to my writeups on each part of the station.
- Ice Tunnels 1 and Ice Tunnels 2
- Climbing Wall
- Post Office
- The Slump
- Power Plant
- Fuel Supply
- Comms Office
- Plumbing Shop
- Destination Alpha
- My Bedroom
- Supply Arch
- Workout Room
- Quiet Reading Room
- Laundry Room
- Computer Lab
- B1 Lounge
- Golf Ball
- Band Practice
- HAM Radio Shack
- Medical Clinic
- Emergency Pod
Science at the South Pole
The primary goal for the South Pole Station is to support scientific research and exploration. There are an incredible amount of world-class science experiments going on there, and since I lived on station, I had the opportunity to explore almost all of them. Living and working with scientists every day led to a continous stream of once-in-a-lifetime conversations about their work, science in general, the universe, etc. Additionally, I spent much of my free time actually helping out a couple of the experiments. Notably, I spent a good amount of time in the field building the drilling rig for the Askaryan Radio Array, and helping out with drilling operations. Check out my time working with ARA. Here’s a collection of content about the science going on at South Pole:
- Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory
- Liquid Helium Cryogenics Laboratory (more)
- NOAA Atmospheric Research Observatory (video tour)
- Meteorological Balloon Inflation Facility (and Balloon Launch)
- Bicep2 Microwave Telescope (Refilling its liquid helium)
- Campbell-Stokes Sunshine Recorder
- KECK Array (or SPICE or SPUD) Microwave Telescope
- Automatic Geophysical Laboratories – Building Electronics
- Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (Super-DARN)
- Askaryan Radio Array
- South Pole Telescope
- South Pole Lorentz Invariance Test (SPLIT)
South Pole Life
Life at the South Pole is unique, but we still try to keep a bit of a normal life there. This includes celebrating holidays, lots of fun and games, and exploring the unique place we’re in. Notably, I had the opportunity to run the South Pole Marathon while I was there. More about life at the south pole:
- Open Mic Night
- Race Around The World
- South Pole Marathon – Running (training) (course map)
- Tattoos at the South Pole
Stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else, but is still interesting.
- Antarctic Extreme Cold Weather Gear Issue
- Elephant Man, the fire departments vehicle
- Landing an LC-130 (Video – Tour with the flight crew)
- Holiday Cards
- South Pole Traverse
- Icelandic Skier Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir Completes Her Epic Trek To The South Pole
- Adventure Network International Sets Up Camp At The South Pole
- Welcoming Skiers to the South Pole
- Adventurer Aaron Linsdau Arrives At The South Pole
Although I didn’t live at McMurdo Station, I did spend a few days there in transit. During my time at McMurdo, I did a bunch of exploring.
Getting a Job in Antarctica
On getting a job in Antarctica: Getting my job was hard. Very hard. It took over 4 years of constant research, training, networking, and organizing – and in the end, my job offer came just days before I departed. Definitely a hurculean effort – but after everything, I can truly say that it was absolutely worth the dedication and struggle. Working in Antarctica has been (and hopefully will continue to be) an incredible, life changing experience. If you stay dedicated to it, and make it happen for yourself, it will be an amazing voyage.
- How I got my job in Antarctica: Getting A Job In Antarctica: My Long Journey 2009-2012
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Other resources, see Bill Spindler’s Wrapup on Antarctic jobs and Jobs in Antarctica from CoolAntarctica.com
- If you’re not looking to put in the required effort to land an actual job there, you still have options on getting to the ice. I’d highly recommend looking at Adventure Network International. They run a couple very high quality tours to Antarctica, both to the coast as well as to the South Pole. During my time working at the south pole station, I had the opportunity to give station tours to a bunch of the ALE groups, as well as hang out at their camp. Writeups on tourists and tourism at the south pole:
During my time on the ice, I took over 10,000 photos, and shot hours of video. I shot on three main cameras: My Canon 5Dmk2 w/ EF 24-70 f/2.9L lens, Sony RX100, and Apple iPhone5.
- All Photos, on Flickr – about 700 photos
- Essential Slide Show – 120 photos
- All videos, on YouTube
- Station tour Video
- Interactive Panoramas
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any other questions!