Employment - Living/Working in Antarctica

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Employment in Antarctica

What It's Like:

Life on a research station:
Each research station is its own small community with an interesting variety of people, jobs and activities.

Work week: At US Research Stations support staff usually work a minimum of 9 hours a day, 6 days a week. There are times when more hours are required such as at McMurdo Station when the resupply vessel arrives. During "ship offload" support personnel are expected to work 12 hours a day until the ship departs.

Housing: The primary research stations (McMurdo, South Pole, and Palmer) have many similarities in their living conditions and creature comforts.
McMurdo and Palmer Stations have housing similar to college dormitories with a shared bathroom.
South Pole has small, shared or private rooms for winter-over personnel, with most summer residents housed in shared heated Jamesways (canvas Quonset Huts).

Meals: All stations have dining facilities with cooks who prepare meals cafeteria style with set meal times.

Daylight & Darkness: Much of Antarctica enjoys one long day (summer) and one long night (winter) each year with weeks of sunrise and sunset in between (spring/fall). There are spectacular displays of aurora australis (southern lights) during the winter darkness.

Recreation: Each station has a library, small gym, pool table, weight room, sauna, bar, and televisions and VCRs. McMurdo (the most comfortable station) even has recreation personnel arranging music lessons, dances, and other social events. Each station allows walks, x-c skiing and some limited hiking.

Communications: Computers are available at all stations 24 hours a day for Email, Internet and personal use. Satellite links restrict connection times to the Internet though. Telephones are available using your own credit card, but again limited by satellite link. Ham radios are available for calls to the US, but are limited by operators and signal strength.

US Mail is available but usually very slow (3-4 week turnaround in summer, none in winter).

Medical: A physician with emergency dental training is accessible at each station at all times.

Laundry facilities and detergent are provided for personal use.

Vehicles: Each station has a wide range of transportation ranging from snowmobiles, enclosed tracked vehicles to vans, trucks and passenger carriers. All vehicles are not available for personal use but for science or in support of science.

What should I pack? Prescription medications to last the entire season and then some, personal toilet articles, over-the-counter pain killers and cold relievers, your favorite indoor clothing, special cold weather clothing (in addition to issue clothing), towel & washcloth, prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses and supplies, recreation gear (skis, bike, music instrument), CD/Cassette Player and discs/tapes, camera & film, gym clothes, alarm clock, your favorite slippers/bathrobe, specialty food (good coffee, gourmet chocolate, etc.).
** Keep in mind that your entire weight allowance including your to be issued ECW gear is 70 lb. (145 lb. for winter-overs). Typical ECW clothing weights 20-30 lb.

Antarctic Clothing: If you are being employed under the US Antarctic Program you will be issued Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing on your way through New Zealand (McMurdo, South Pole) or Chili (Palmer) that is more than adequate to protect you, head to toe, from just about all the elements that Antarctica can throw at you.

Life at a Field Camp:
If you're fortunate enough to work at or be assigned to a remote field camp you will definitely get to experience Antarctica much more intimately. Field camp accommodations can range from a single "Scott" tent with another colleague or scientist to a more established field camp with a camp manager and staff cook. Life at a field camp will be more rewarding but also more difficult in terms of creature comfort and work load.

Some Important Terms:
Summer: When you hear reference to "summer" in Antarctica it is the southern "Austral" summer that is being referred to. Summer, for program purposes, begins in October and ends in February.
Winter, also referring to the Austral season and for program purposes, begins in February and ends in October.
Winfly is a pre-summer period beginning in August and ending in October.
Mainbody is essentially when the largest amount of personnel is in Antarctica October-February.

Download the complete USAP Participant Guide (NSF 01-108) (PDF File 2.915M)
Please Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader properly installed to read the PDF documents.