Wednesday, March 26, 2008


So, a lot of people have been asking me a lot of questions about my upcoming move to Antarctica, and in general it's a lot of the same questions. So I figure I'll throw up a FAQ here to get most of them out of the way so I can stop having the same convo.

Wait, what's going on?

It's called a quarter-life crisis. Instead of buying an expensive sports car, like you do in your mid-life crisis, I simply quit my job, sold off almost all my possessions, and moved to Antarctica.

Why do you want to go to Antarctica!?

If you really need to ask that question, you're not going to understand the answer.

When and where exactly are you going?

I'll be putting up a detailed itinerary in a couple days, but the short version is that I fly out on or around April 24th (At least, that's when they say they start paying me). I will be in Palmer Station until September (roughly), and then transfer to either McMurdo or South Pole station from September through Feb/March of 2009.

What are you going to be doing down there?

At Palmer, my official title is "Carpenter's Assistant". Which basically means "guy who does the lousy jobs no one else wants to do". It's sort of like being a General Assistant, only with a few more specific skills and a little better pay. Work is 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. Expected work week is 54 hours, more at Palmer because there's so few people.

After my stint at Palmer, I'm looking at some IT/Computer jobs at McMurdo and Pole, that will pay much better.

The pay must be really awesome!

Not even close! You don't go to the antarctic for the pay, it's pretty poor. Maybe 1/2 to 2/3 what you could make stateside. The upside is that all the housing and food is provided free, so as long as you don't have financial commitments back in the states, you can't really spend any money. You come back and almost all your earnings are sitting in your bank. As long as you don't have a family, or mortgage or something, you can actually make a pretty good life working six months on/six months off.

Who are you working for/How can I get a job there?

I'm employed by Raytheon, they're a defense contractor and pretty much the epitome of the military-industrial complex. The provide all the support services for the three US bases in the Antarctic region. Getting hired is much easier if you have some sort of technical/trade skills, or a background in mechanics or construction of some sort. There are unskilled labor jobs aplenty for those who have no particular skills that are useful down there. Most common first-time jobs are DA (Dining facility Assistant, washes dishes and mops up), GA (General Assistant. Shovels snow, does grunt work), and Janitor.

To apply, you can give their slightly convoluted web-hiring system a shot at , but the best bet is going to their annual Polar Services job fair, which is held once a year in Denver, CO. This year, it was on Friday, March 28th, from 10am to 6pm at their headquarters in Denver. The real trick is to be ready to take whatever work they have openings for, and be ready to work some really lousy jobs for a while.

Do you have internet down there?

Yes, Palmer Station has a dedicated T1 line for 20 people, so the internet is quite reliable there. McMurdo has I think one T1 for the whole 1100+ base, so while you can get online year-round there, it's not as speedy. South Pole has internet for 12 hours a day, due to satellite coverage, and bandwidth is limited.

Aren't you worried about Polar Bears/Will you see any Polar Bears/blah blah Polar Bears blah?

Polar Bears live in the Arctic, at the North Pole and surrounding area, not in Antarctica. Probably why there are no penguins up there.

Take lots of pictures!!!

I'm spending over $3,000 on camera equipment, including a 70-200mm f2.8 IS "L"-series lens, with a 2x teleconverter. My total kit will be my 30D, a 17-85 IS USM lens, the 70-200 L lens, the 50mm f1.8 "Plastic Fantastic", as well as a storm hood, tripod, and other assorted gear. I think I'll also get a cheap point-and-shoot that can take short little movies and casual pics. So, don't worry. There will be pictures aplenty.

Is there booze there?

Oooooooh yeah. There is a lot of drinking that goes on down there, from what I've read. I guess it's needed to deal with the harshness of the job and climate. The little company store sells shampoo and booze, and the booze is cheap. Like $5 for a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Will you see penguins?

Probably, although given that I'll be there in the winter, not that much. Palmer is where it is because it's in the middle of the breeding grounds/feeding areas for a LOT of marine wildlife, so it's a hotbed of marine biology research. Lots of different types of penguins, seals, sea lions, whales, etc. And it's near where two major ocean currents come together, so it's a hotbed of undersea life, huge variety of underwater plants and animals.

That's it for this edition of Tsaven's Big Antarctic Experience. As people keep asking more questions, I'll post new answers as time goes on.

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