Last Austral Summer, I spent 3.5 months living at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. Among my many jobs on station, one of the most rewarding was the work I did with the Askaryan Radio Array drill and deployment teams. During my time working with the ARA, I got to spend some good time with Scientist Terry Benson. Here’s his excellent slide deck going over the science he’s working on at the South Pole, including details of the ARA Drill Rig I helped construct and test. Specifically, I helped construct the water tank overflow gutter, wired up the emergency stop switches, troubleshoot the main pump system, maintained the hose bindings, and tended to the drill as it operated.
So, you want to live and work in Antarctica? Sounds good! I lived and worked at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station during the 2012-2013 Summer season. Getting my position down on the ice was no easy task, and took a solid four and a half years of effort. Here’s how I did it, along with all of the resources I used. My first bit of advice would be to read through the documentation of my experiences, which will give you a good idea of what it takes, and will answer a lot of your questions.
How I got a job in Antarctica.
It wasn’t easy, and took me many years of effort. However in the end, every bit of time and energy I put into it was absolutely worth it. Here’s my personal story:
What it’s like to work there.
Now that you know what I went through to get a job at the South Pole, here’s my incredible experience acutually living and workign at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It really was amazing, and I did my best to document every aspect of it, including travel to and from.
And here’s my video playlist of all videos from the ice. This includes a full 30 minute tour of the South Pole Station.
Where to find job postings.
Jobs on the ice are run by a number of different organizations, including organizations on both the science side and the support side. Here are a few of the larger hiring organizations. Note that this is a shortened copy of Bill Spindler’s list. This is the version of the list updated by Bill on 20131015. Cool Antarctica also has a job resource page.
- Lockheed Martin (L-M)
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 Government Services, Inc (PAE):
Infrastructure and Operations (I&O), Transportation and Logistics (T&L):
- GHG Corporation
On-site Information Technology and Communications (IT&C):
- University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB):
- Best Recycling:
Waste Management and Recycling:
- Gana-A’Yoo Services Corporation (GSC, partnered with ESS Support Services):
Food Services, Housing & Janitorial Services, Retail & Postal Services
Answers to most of your questions.
Here are answers to some of the questions I’ve been asked about working in Antarctica. Hopefully these will help you too.
Frequently Asked Questions About Getting A Job In Antarctica:
I understand from your writings that March is the best time to apply. Are there any other hot spots for applications during the year?
March is the best time to apply for Summer positions, however jobs are posted throughout the year. It’s best to keep checking back on a regular basis.
Is applying in bulk really the best strategy?
Applying in bulk is not the best strategy if you have indispensable and unique qualifications and experience for one particular job.
Also, I have served in the Greek Airforce, in the airport defense unit for 18 months and underwent significant amount of warfare and survival training. Do you think that is worth mentioning or will it not be advantageous (since it was not the US army)?
If your military experience directly relates to the job you will be doing on the ice, then it’s totally worth mentioning. However, extraneous qualifications are not looked at very much. So many people apply for each job, they’re looking for solid, reliable, focused people who will be both a perfect fit for their job, as well as the culture.
I am still eligible to work in Antarctica as a US citizen (dual nationality actually) regardless of having served for the Greek Airforce but quiet unsure if I could turn that to my advantage.
I don’t know how dual citizens are treated for employment – that was never a consideration for me.
Is there anything youre willing to share with a girl who’s willing to work her fingers to the bone, to help with anything anyone needs, just so she can get there and see how audacious a soul has to be to cope with everything Antarctica can throw at it?
My main advice to you would be to hang in there, and keep trying. It’s very very very difficult to make it work, but you can do it if you really try.
Is there anything or anyone you think I should know or talk to?
Definitely look at my posted job board links, and get in touch with the hiring manager who is handling the positions you are best suited for and applying to.
I was wondering how you manage to pay for you travels?
I actually worked at a job when I was there, so I was paid to be there. That was the whole point, actually.
If you’d rather pay your way to the ice.
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:
- Adventure Network International Sets Up Camp At The South Pole
- Tourists at the South Pole
- Welcoming Skiers to the South Pole
If you still have questions after reading this entire document, as well as everything I’ve posted to and link to at http://JeffreyDonenfeld.com/Antarctica , feel free to shoot me a message. Cheers!
It’s truly a sad day for Antarctica. Because of the government furlough, science operations in Antarctica is being shut down as funds dry up, as a “result of the absence of appropriation and the Antideficiency Act.”, according to the official USAP.gov website.
Amidst all of the other shakeup and struggle operations in Antarctica have gone through in recent years, I’m sad to hear that another setback has fallen on operations on the ice. So much good science and engineering research is being done there, it’s a shame that the small fraction of the budget that is needed to support the USAP has been suspended. A breakdown of the actual cost of the program, from Change.org:
The total cost of the USAP program is approximately $350 million dollars. A value added amount of money which is small in terms of the $3.8 trillion dollar total budget that would be trivial not to have congress authorize a portion of it to allow international science to continue.
With any luck, the furlough will end soon, and funds will be made available again before too much of the continent has been emptied out. Effects of the shutdown, from Change.org:
The effects this shutdown will be the loss of continuity in projects that have been ongoing since the International Geophysical Year (IGY) some 50 years ago. Scientific data such as the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) which has been ongoing for 30 years will have a large data gap in at a crucial time in our understanding of climate change. A similar problem would be the abrupt end to 11 years of continuous data on the solar cycle that is used, for example, by the UC Boulder Lidar project. Since solar cycles are 11 years long, missing this last critical bit of data could jeopardize the multi-year investment. Also threatened is our understanding of rapidly changing ecosystems that is being generated by the study of Penguins in the Palmer Peninsula.
The full explanation on USAP.gov reads:
Planning and Implementation of Caretaker Status for U.S. Antarctic Program
October 8, 2013
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is responsible for managing and coordinating the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) on behalf of the nation. This includes providing support personnel and facilities and coordinating transportation and other logistics for scientific research. Due to the lapse in appropriation, funds for this support will be depleted on or about October 14, 2013.
Without additional funding, NSF has directed its Antarctic support contractor to begin planning and implementing caretaker status for research stations, ships and other assets. The agency is required to take this step as a result of the absence of appropriation and the Antideficiency Act.
Under caretaker status, the USAP will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.
As NSF moves to caretaker status, it will also develop the information needed to restore the 2013-14 austral summer research program to the maximum extent possible, once an appropriation materializes. It is important to note, however, that some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal workforce is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.
NSF remains committed to protecting the safety and health of its deployed personnel and to its stewardship of the USAP under these challenging circumstances.
More coverage of this story:
- Thanks to Government Shutdown, It’s About to Get Really Lonely in Antarctica on Slate
- Continued Shutdown Would Spell The End Of U.S. Scientific Research In Antarctica This Year on Think Progress
- U.S. Antarctic research victim of shutdown; losses are irreplaceable on LA Times
- Shutdown Forces Antarctic Research Into ‘Caretaker Status’ on NPR
- Shutdown Cancels US Antarctic Research Program on Discovery
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!
After living and working at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station during the summer 2012-2013 season, I’ve had the chance to see most parts of the station. Additionally, I also worked as a tour guide for the various tourist groups who visited the station. Here’s a brief narrated video tour of both the elevated station as well as the buried service structures. Shot on the Sony RX100.
For more on my time in Antarctica, be sure to see my Antartica Blog.