Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Accident in Antarctica

I haven't posted for a few days because I've been super busy. For the past three days, I've been working on the science buildings key card system. The software is from 1992-93 and the hardware may predate that. It was a painful process and I'm glad I'm done. I actually still need to go back to touch a few things up there, but the bulk of it is done.

There were a couple advantages to being over there though. The most interesting one is that I found out pretty quickly about an accident that happened out on the ice. A vehicle , a MattTrack, caught fire out on the ice and they had to send out SAR and HAZMAT teams to complete a rescue and clean up. Luckily, no one was hurt and they were able to clean everything up.

Initial view from an arriving helicopter

Burnt out MattTrack skeleton

I can't tell you how many times I have heard the word safety since I have been here. I guess normally there is 1 injury per man working hour a week or some weird statistic like that. Here, we average 17 normally. Again, I'm not sure what the official stat is, but there is a great disparity between home and here. Is it the attention to detail that gets lost when you are bitter cold and just want to head in? Are the weather conditions causing unpredictable working conditions? Are we just too tired after working 54 hours a week with only a day off? I have a 9x6 schedule. Others have a 12x5 with two days off, but the two days aren't together. Are we just a reckless lot who are willing to be shipped off to the windiest, driest, and coldest place on earth? I don't know.

After getting everyone out of the MattTrack safe, they had the HAZMAT team do a clean up. I'm not sure of the standard protocols for HAZMAT teams, but down here they don't leave anything behind. They try to recover every last bit of non-native substance whether it be liquid or solid.

A HAZMAT team member

HAZMAT shovelers cleaning up the last of the debris and a non-burnt MattTrack

I'm amazed by how much they were able to clean up. As far as I can tell, that last picture is the last few shovel fulls of the clean up. I doubt anyone would be able to even tell there was an accident in the area.

I'm also amazed that a full scale vehicle fire would not render the ice unsafe. The ice is averaging around 7 feet think right now and I'm sure they tested it to be sure it was safe, but I'm still amazed. I guess the wind would get rid of a lot of the heat in a hurry, but certainly not all of it. After the clean up, the MattTrack was towed back to base where our resident cataloger of everything, Ken Davis, wonders what someone did to his truck . . . .

Ken Davis wonders how to inventory the new and improved MattTrack

On a personal note, it is finally warm enough for me to trying running outside. I did two hours on Sunday, 80 minutes last night, and 60 more today. I wore wool socks, tights and wind pants on my legs, more tights, a long sleeve wicking shirt, and a fleece on top, two layers of gloves, a facemask, goggles, and a hat to stay warm. Today, I wore just a t-shirt and a fleece. If there was wind, I probably would have frozen. I'm using a combination of roads, trails, and sea ice to get outside. The trails are extremely loose and rocky - ankle sprain city. I already had one twist yesterday and expect more.

Tonight, I'm off to Scott Base for American night again and tomorrow I'm hoping to get into a super competitive game of Sorry. Sunday, I think I am going to get my second trip out to Cape Evans where more and more people are catching sight of Emperor penguins. Hopefully, I'll have a photo of a live penguin for you sooner than later. It should be a good couple days.


  1. You may want to consider two options
    A) ankle weights, either all the time, or just while running. It sound like you may walk around a lot during the day.
    B) specific excercises to strengthen your ankles. esp side-to-side. If you have trouble coming up with something ask a physical therapist. I imagine you guys have one down there ;)

  2. Brody,

    Since you spend most of your time working, I'd be interested to hear a breakdown of a "typical workday", if there is such a thing as typical in Antarctica.

  3. I'm really impressed by your desire/dedication to running--and glad it's been warm enough to do so.

  4. +1 for the HAZMAT. That's what those guys do best.

  5. does the air hurt your lungs when you run? I've heard running in extremely cold air can be bad for your lungs, but i dont really know the details.

  6. good luck with the penguin sightings!!!

  7. Acadia,
    The cold air hasn't ever bothered my legs. I've done some winter morning running in Colorado and Wisconsin and neither one was really that bad. I wonder if it has to do with the humidity.

    I still want ice cream.