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Postcard from Scott Base

LAC Sam Shepherd stands in front of his accommodation for the night during Antarctic Field Training. WN0910041016

By LAC Sam Shepherd

It’s all go here at Scott Base, with what has been an event-filled season. Recently, the New Zealand programme had over 50 people in the field including family members who lost relatives in the Erebus aircraft crash, science teams using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to collect air samples over the McMurdo Sound sea ice, and the construction crew who have been working hard to build three new wind turbines. The turbines enable the base to switch to renewable energy, eliminating the dependence on diesel-fuelled generators.

We have been very fortunate with the weather so far, helping ensure the visiting science event teams were able to complete their projects on the ice. While the temperature was usually sitting around -30 to -40°c when we first arrived, it has reached the dizzy heights of 4°c, which comparatively makes it feel like summer has arrived here at Ross Island!

The eight member New Zealand Defence Force Scott Base support team is made up of four communications operators, two plant operators, a cargo handler and the Senior National Officer—who all make a huge contribution to the day-to-day running of the base. Squadron Leader Nick McMillan is constantly flat out balancing an ever-changing flight schedule with weather, logistic, and personnel requirements to ensure science events are where the need to be, when they need to be there.

Meanwhile, Corporal Angie Welsh co-ordinates the never-ending cycle of passengers and cargo to and from New Zealand, and Engineers—Sappers Bobby Vickers and Regan Stead-Hill—spend their days driving, which can see them operating heavy plant around base, or taking part in 18 hour traverses across the sea ice transporting science equipment and field camps.

Lastly, the four Communications Operators—including myself, Staff Sergeant John Leef, Leading Steward Theresia Muller and Leading Aircraftman Reece Gutsell—maintain a 24 hour watch, ensuring the safety of scientists and Scott Base staff in the field, along with making certain everyone has the right, and most up to date information.

However, while the daily operations can be demanding, and the environment harsh, it’s not all ‘work, work, work’ at Scott Base. There’s constant opportunities to experience Antarctica—from up close encounters with Emperor Penguins to visiting the huts of the Heroic Era explorers like Shackleton and Scott—every day ends up being a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. And if that’s not enough, we even held the opening of the ski field, with some of the best snow you could hope for.

Antarctica is a great place to work and play, and for a photographer like myself I can barely keep up with all there is to see and do. We’ve just reached the halfway point for the season, and I’m trying hard to make sure I fit everything in before the flight home, which is quickly approaching.