EDIT: Thanks for the questions! If you're looking for more pictures and random stories about life on the ice, check out my blog at http://frozennerd.blogspot.com/

EDIT 2: What the heck, front page!?

FINAL EDIT, FOR REAL THIS TIME: Holy smokes, I did NOT expect this to blow up like this! I know I answered all the questions I could; if you asked something and I didn't respond, it's likely because someone else asked something very similar previously. And on that note, I've gotta go! Look at me still talking when there's science to do!

The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) maintains three year-round research stations down here, and I'm currently stationed at the smallest one of them: Palmer Station, with it's maximum capacity of just 44 people, located about 700 miles south of Chile.

Wondering what it's actually like to live on an extremely remote scientific research outpost? Ask away! If there's something specific you'd like to see a picture of, feel free to ask; I'll do my best to run around station and snap pics of whatever people are most curious about.

Cover My Butt: I do not speak for the NSF, the USAP, or any of the companies providing workers to the stations. My opinions and statements are mine and mine alone.

My Proof: http://i.imgur.com/0gWS5E7.jpg

fake edit: Because I know it'll get asked a billion times, the cold: This station that I'm at right now is not as cold as you'd think: We're quite far north and right on the coast, so temperatures rarely drop below -5F (-20c) even in the dead of winter. Currently it's 33F (1c), and the middle of summer will usually see temps rise into the low 40s (~6c). However, we DO regularly get absurd winds: http://youtu.be/QcziKDfjFUI. A few days ago we had sustained 50 gusting over 60, and the week prior we saw an 83mph gust.

Fake edit 2: It's a 3mbit up/down internet connection provided via satellite, shared by the whole station. No, Netflix doesn't work.

Comments: 1297 • Responses: 85  • Date: 

e6c410 karma

How much trash do you produce and what do you do with it?

TotallyToast527 karma

Good question!

Most of our garbage and recyclables is sorted, packaged up and taken out of station on the monthly resupply ship, and disposed of in Chile. Hazardous waste (such as motor oil, solvents, paint, and lab debris) is stored on station, and then once every two years the resupply ship takes it all the way back to the USA where it can be processed and disposed of safely.

Human and most food waste goes through a primary treatment process and is dispersed into an active tidal zone near station. (Translation; it's diluted, ground up and dumped into the ocean). Our impact is very minimal; it's only organic matter that is dispersed this way, and it's not a large volume. I think the ballpark is something like 80lbs per day for the whole station; by comparison, the penguin colonies on the nearby island of Torgeson produce 3-4 tons of guano per day at the peak of the season.

Any poultry food waste (chicken bones, egg shells, etc) and human medical waste is stored separately, and incinerated on the resupply ship once a month. This is due to concerns about any bird-born diseases infecting the local penguin and seabird populations.

lawebley224 karma

Do you ever pretend that you are MacReady from 'The Thing'?

I'd totally do that all the time.

TotallyToast317 karma

Well that was set at McMurdo, a different station, but there are flamethrower jokes made frequently enough. :)

At least once a season we'll have "Bad Antarctic Movie Weekend", where we'll all watch "The Thing", "Alien vs. Predator", "Virus", and whatever other terrible Antarctic-related movies we can find. Usually while inebriated and throwing popcorn at the screen.

EllieMayC51 karma

About this inebriated thing and I guess supplies in general. In another comment you talked about the supply ship, so do you put in your order ahead of time and you pay to have stuff delivered to you or is there a commissary in your outpost?

A few other general q's:

How far away from other stations are you? Is it possible to visit back and forth?

Do you ever get cain fever? Ever see anyone freak out because of the isolation?

thanks and thanks for doing this AMA.

TotallyToast120 karma

There's a station store that's about the size of a closet, and sells tolietries and booze, along with some tee-shirts and postcards and other trinkets for the tourists when the cruise ships stop by later in the summer. Oddly this is one of the few things I can't provide a picture of, as we usually keep it locked outside of the hour or so a week that it's usually open for.

The nearest station to us is Vernasky, a Ukrainian station (they used to be British) about 30 miles to the south that's only 13 people. Aside from that, I think the closest outposts would be at King George island, roughly a day's sail on the resupply ship to the north. So no, it's not really possible to visit. If it were a DIRE emergency, we MIGHT be able to take a zodiac boat down to Vernasky, but that's 30 miles of open ocean in a 12 foot long inflatable boat.

Honestly, we don't really get much cabin fever, because it doesn't feel that isolating. The internet's good enough, and there's enough to do and enough going on that it helps break up any monotony. And later in the summer the cruise ships will start stopping by station, which is a LOT of fun. That really helps break up the season, it's like a mini-vacation.

Methedless41 karma

What do you do when the cruise sips stop by?

TotallyToast86 karma

Smaller ships (<200 people) we'll bring them on shore and give them a tour of the station. The larger ships, we'll go out to the ship and do a presentation/Q&A.

iesvs20 karma

I never even knew cruises ventured that far. That's awesome. So is it the Polar Bear crowd, like everyone's ready to go for a swim, or what?

TotallyToast50 karma

Nah, it's mostly wealthy people who are . . . "very experienced at life".

alphyc169 karma

Does it feel surreal at times looking around seeing almost nothing but an empty and barren frozen land? Like you're on a different planet? How do people cope with this feeling of isolation?

TotallyToast273 karma

It's EXTREMELY surreal, but probably not for the reasons you think. It doesn't feel isolating at all.

This place is anything but barren; we're in a small archipelago and it's teaming with wildlife. Not just penguins, but also seals, whales, and many different flighted seabirds. A could of Weddell seals have just given birth to pups a quarter mile from station, and we've been keeping track of their progress with telescopes and binoculars.

And for the most part we're all friends here and all get along really well, and do a good job of supporting each other if someone is getting homesick of having a rough go of things.

rule1795 karma

How big is the team there? What do you all do to socialize?

TotallyToast220 karma

There's ~25 of us here right now, maximum we can hold is 44. We do the usual things you'd expect; play a lot of Mario Kart, hang out in the bar, go for hikes, go boating (later in the summer once the sea ice melts).

SWgeek1005694 karma

You have a bar? cool!

dcole101165 karma

What about your sexual needs? Are there any women in the station? If yes, how often you folks mate?

TotallyToast435 karma

. . . how often do we "mate"? WTF?

Male/female ratio is pretty even, but it depends on the time of year and how many scientists are on station. We mostly focus on marine biology, which is a VERY heavily female dominated field.

It fluctuates between 70/30 and 50/50 male/female. Dating happens, maybe not as freely as in the real world, but it happens.

uberlad149 karma

How'd you get your job? What exactly do you do?

TotallyToast254 karma

I got my job the same way you'd get any other job; I went to the website and applied. (I don't think I can link directly to the job boards as there might be some weird legal thing due to me being employed by them, but I will say that if you google for "Jobs in Antarctica", it's literally the first result)

I'm a Utility Mechanic/guy with a wrench who fixes things. Most of my day-to-day stuff is building maintenance, but this place is so small that job duties are vague and ill-defined. If something breaks, I'll fix it or help the other mechanics and technicians here fix it.

WantsToKnowStuff89 karma

Does fixing things take up all your day? If not, what do you do for the rest?

Do you ever get breaks from work, such as weekends/holidays? If so, what do you do during them?

TotallyToast177 karma

For the most part, yes, that's my job is to fix stuff.

We work 9 hours a day, six days a week. Sundays are off, as are federal holidays.

There's LOTS to do in the down time. Hiking up onto the glacier or onto the islands around station is always fun. Or going out in the zodiac boats and taking pictures of all the wildlife, or going into the carpentry shop and making stuff. Lots of people knit and sew, or do woodworking, or just zoning out and watching movies/TV shows bought off iTunes.

WantsToKnowStuff62 karma

What kind of wildlife is there around there?

TotallyToast148 karma

Aside from the penguins, there's LOTS of flighted seabirds. Albatrosses, Skuas, Mollymawks, kelp gulls, sheathbills (nicknamed "Sh*t Chickens), petrels, etc.

Also plenty of seals, whales, and occasionally Orcas.

TotallyToast135 karma

Or doing AMAs on reddit. :)

pissingshrimp55 karma

What does your resume look like? I applied through Raytheon a few times but they told me it was tough without naval experience.

TotallyToast98 karma

My resume is a strange mix of random jobs here and there. Mostly IT.

It depends what sort of job you're trying to get here. Getting a job here is VASTLY easier if you have hands-on experience in a skilled trade; we ALWAYS need plumbers, electricians, carpenters, welders, pipe-fitters, etc.

Pickle570117 karma


TotallyToast222 karma

We sign on for ~6 months at a time, usually for a season; either the whole summer, or the whole winter.

We don't get to leave, but during the summer cruise ships will stop by and often they'll let us go out and run around on them for a day, which is a cool mini-vacation.

denkyuu87 karma

Is the pay enough to support you comfortably during the off season?

Also, what kind of qualifications would i need to get a job at one of these bases?

TotallyToast185 karma

Be able to work with your hands; we always need skilled tradespeople. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, welders, etc.

And yes, the pay is enough to support me well enough in the off season, however I'm not trying to maintain a house or car or something year round. For the most part I just travel in the off-season, I don't really have a home.

denkyuu58 karma

That sounds incredible! So no official educational requirements? I'm gonna have a degree, and I can definitely work a wrench (motorcycle maintenance). How's the training?

TotallyToast93 karma

They're pretty flexible with the "Or equivalent work experience in lieu of a degree" part. But if you don't have at least a few years of actual solid work experience as a mechanic, be prepared to take some some sort of helper or assistant position for a few seasons.

There is no training; this is a job like any other job. You're hired and expected to be pretty functional and independent from the start.

SevanEars113 karma

I'd love to see more pictures of the place to get a feel for your living/working conditions and the station as a whole.

TotallyToast262 karma

Well the widest lens I have is on my iphone, but here's a few basics:

Our coffee line/galley: http://i.imgur.com/kELMELL.jpg (That inlay of the continent on the front of the cabinet is an example of the pride that the people who work here take in this station. That was done a few years ago by a carpenter over the winter; one of the popular things to do outside of work hours is projects such as that, to make the station just that little bit nicer for future generations of researches and workers)

Kitchen: http://i.imgur.com/XkFrKhH.jpg

Berthing hallway: http://i.imgur.com/cjeiRpP.jpg

My room: http://i.imgur.com/ZPaBhXv.jpg

View out my window: http://i.imgur.com/0yorOJ7.jpg

Lounge/TV room: http://i.imgur.com/LAwcK6n.jpg

View looking out over the pier: http://i.imgur.com/ix9477G.jpg

Gym: http://i.imgur.com/O0EMd5W.jpg

HumanWasteland74 karma

Are those all movies on the shelves in the Lounge/TV room pic?

TotallyToast163 karma

Yup, we've got about 2,000 DVDs

meinerHeld72 karma

Don't lie...you took down your Farrah Fawcett/Cindy Crawford/Natalie Portman, and Transformers/TMNT/Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers posters.

TotallyToast175 karma

Oh god, you caught me! I'll never stop being a Belieber!

e6c106 karma

Have you ever considered ordering a 3D printer, so you can fabricate/print a missing part instead of waiting for it to be sent to you?

TotallyToast176 karma

The idea has been mentioned, but often the parts that we direly need and don't have are not something that could be 3D printed. It's often things like ceramic seals, or gaskets that have precision mated surfaces, or water pumps, or filters, or electronic actuators or ball valves and all sorts of things like that.

Off topic, but I often roll my eyes when I hear people crowing about the upcoming 3D printing revolution. They're great for some things, and I've ordered plenty of stuff from Ponko for my own personal projects, but the sort of things that usually break in a tradesman's world are not something that a 3D printer can help with.

NibblyPig46 karma

If you direly need something, how long before it can be sent to you?

TotallyToast98 karma

Up to a few weeks. Last season the compressor on our walk-in fridge crapped out, and it was about a month before we could get a replacement.

WillBreezy11104 karma

What does Penguin taste like?

TotallyToast261 karma

I don't know, but if they taste ANYTHING like they smell, I've got no interest in finding out.

Fallstar95 karma

Do you ever go out flying kites?

For science, of course.

TotallyToast250 karma

Sure, all the time. The doctor last season was a big kite fanatic and was always making kites out of whatever scrap materials he could find around station.

ContinuumGuy92 karma

Two questions:

1) What "time zone" are you on, what with being closer to a pole than most people?

2) How do you follow the events going around- news, sports, entertainment, etc.? Do you have TV or just an internet connection or what?

TotallyToast135 karma

We're on the Atlantic time zone.

We've got no TV service (by choice), but we have reliable internet access. We've got a really nice 110" screen with a 1080p projector in the lounge, with about 2,000 DVDs, and we can always buy stuff from iTunes or Amazon's digital services.

MarB9341 karma

How fast is the internet? I would imagine its pretty bad?

TotallyToast87 karma

3mbit with very high latency.

cheezewiz0538 karma


TotallyToast89 karma

Not enough bandwith for that, not nearly.

snacksizedd91 karma

How do you receive shipments of essential supplies (boat, plane, etc.)? And how long does it take?

TotallyToast163 karma

This station is TINY, we could fit the whole place on a football field with plenty of room to spare, and there's no airstrip. So all of our supplies, and people, are brought in on the resupply ship that stops by about once a month. The ship docks in Punta Arenus, at the southern end of Chile, and depending on the weather it takes anywhere from 4-7 days to get from Chile down to our station.

darkrider9984 karma

What are the phenomena that are exclusive to Antarctica and not the rest of the world ? If any, did you get a chance to experience it/them ?

What's the most profound thing you went through or experienced till now ?

TotallyToast273 karma

Hearing a humpback whale singing blew my mind the first time I heard it. The only people who don't care about saving the whales are the people who haven't been up close and personal with them in the wild.

alcibiades8783 karma

What is the most dangerous situation that has happened while you've have been there?

TotallyToast124 karma

Honestly, the company is very good about ensuring a safe work environment and everyone takes safety very seriously here. There's many things we do that could potentially be dangerous (small boat operations especially), but we take every precaution we can and have regular training in emergency response scenarios.

VeryLittle114 karma

Do you have a contingency plan for pirate raids? This is actually a serious question.

TotallyToast149 karma

No, it's not realistically a threat. The oceans around here are very treacherous and we are extremely far away from any sort of port that pirates could base out of. You need a serious, solid ship and a lot of experience to make it across the Drake Passage.

thombudsman77 karma

May I send you a letter?

TotallyToast109 karma

Not easily. You'd have to send it to our corporate headquarters in Denver, and then someone who's coming down on the next resupply ship would put it in their luggage and hand-carry it down.

jawshie69 karma

Do you have your own room or do you have to share?

TotallyToast123 karma

It's dorm-style living, two people to a room with bunk beds and communal bathrooms.

StuBenedict139 karma

How's your roommate?

If he doesn't use Reddit, be extra honest.

furiousfart366 karma

I'm awesome.

klfossum86 karma


TotallyToast182 karma

Yes, he is. He's our station electrician.

Rudetoy65 karma

1.How do you deal with your sexual needs?

  1. Are their any Sexual tensions between male and females?

  2. Are their any sexual relationships where you work?

  3. Are you allowed to keep a porn stash?

TotallyToast105 karma

shrug There's some dating that happens, there's a few pre-established couples that came down together, some married and some not, and as the season goes on there's bound to be some people that get into ice-relationships.

Official National Science Foundation (NSF) policy is that government and work computer systems or internet services may not be used for any illicit or adult uses. But whatever you bring down on your own laptop is your own private business.

3Pedals_6Speeds11 karma

"ice-relationships" So, common enough there's a name for it.

TotallyToast14 karma

The relationship exists only for the period of time that the two of you happen to be at the same station. As soon as one party moves away, it's over, clean and simple.

NoImpulseControl62 karma

I just need to know how many blankets you use at night.

TotallyToast108 karma

Just one? It's plenty comfortable inside the buildings.

NoImpulseControl157 karma

Then why the hell are there ten on my bed with it's in the seventies outside?

I'm sending this to my damn fiancee.

TotallyToast73 karma

HA. Turn your A/C down. We keep it around 60-70 inside the buildings, depending on people's personal preferences.

Jartipper58 karma

How much do you make? How did you get your job?

TotallyToast198 karma

I make probably 1/2 to 2/3rds what I'd make in the states doing this same job. The upside is that almost everything is provided; I don't pay for food, housing, transportation, etc. The only way to spend money here is at the tiny little station store which sells toiletries and booze; other than that, every dollar you make just sits in your bank account.

It's amazing how easy it is to save money when you don't have to pay for rent, or a car, or gas, or insurance, or a phone bill, or food, or on and on and on.

I got the job like you'd get any other job; I went to the website and applied.

kylexys55 karma

Would you like a pet penguin?

TotallyToast207 karma

Oh, good god no. They STINK and they're filthy animals.

And for as cute as they are, they're some of the dumbest creatures I've ever met.

diablo108655 karma

I dont know if you are allowed to discuss this, but what kind of biological research (if any) is carried out at this facility? I am a molecular biologist and I have been very interested in working on one of these facilities considering they are now finding submerged lakes with life in them.. Just to be able to sequence an absolutely new and unknown genome sounds like a great way to use my skill set!

TotallyToast153 karma

Oh I can discuss it all I want, but all my knowledge is second-hand from what I've learned over lunch/dinner conversations with the scientists. :)

Most of what we do here is marine biology, especially micro marine bio. LOTS of stuff regarding alge/plankton, coral, krill,that kind of thing. We do a little bit of research on penguins and the like, but I'm pretty sure that's just because people expect us to. We keep track of the colonies, and how well they're doing, but to be honest there's not much we can actually learn from penguins.

Most of the really important work is in ocean salinity, how much and what types of gasses are dissolved in the water and at what depths, how much biomass is in the water at various depths, etc. The Antarctic ocean is one of the few places on the planet where the surface water is actually colder than the deep water, and this causes huge convection currents that move massive amounts of nutrients through the water column. This mixing is very critical to the health of the worlds oceans, so more than anything that's what they're studying here.

xanatos149 karma

Man I so want to work there I would do anything too bad you don't need former infantry soldiers with 2 year programming degrees.

TotallyToast70 karma

You mind washing dishes or carrying heavy things from point A to B?

xanatos151 karma

nope not at all i have carried many heavy things from point A to B in my infantry days

TotallyToast97 karma

Apply for a job as a GA (General Assistant) or as one of the various "Tradesman's Assistant" type gigs. I think they give preferential hiring to veterans.

DrunkRawk46 karma

Did you bring any boardgames with you? If so, which ones?

TotallyToast169 karma

Someone brought down "Cards against Humanity" this year, which should make for some interesting evenings. We've also got "Settlers of Catan" and all the expansions. Mostly we play a lot of card games (Wist, Hearts, Gin Rummy, etc).

officeface46 karma

Have you pissed and then your pee froze while you were pissing? I'm really interested.

TotallyToast56 karma

Nah, it's not nearly that cold here. :)

nihao_xiongmao39 karma

Does everyone get along?

TotallyToast91 karma

Generally, yes. It's sort of like being at summer camp when you were a kid, but smaller. You've got your friends, and people you like but aren't as close to, and maybe a few people you're not fond of, but you can get along as needed to get a job done. Places this small can get toxic quickly if there's too much animosity between individuals, so as a community we put a lot of effort into making things work.

Illbjammin37 karma

What happens in a medical emergency?

TotallyToast77 karma

We have a doctor on station, and a small clinic with good diagnostic and keep-the-guy-alive capabilities. X-ray and ultrasound capability, bloodwork, good supply of medications, things like that. If we really have a dire emergency, and the resupply ship is in Chile, they can be here on station in as little as four days, and then it's a day's sail up to the airstrip on King George Island, where they could be flown to South America.

Easih32 karma

as little as 4days? might not want get appendicitis or anything that require fast surgery

TotallyToast73 karma

We had that happen during my first season in 2008, and it's something that the doctors do worry about. But generally they can pump a patient full of enough antibiotics, and if necessary put a drain into it long enough to keep it from rupturing until they can get to South America.

theglobalguy71 karma

Hi TotallyToast...I wintered at Palmer in 2005, and we actually managed to medevac a person out who had appendicitis via air. The glacier in the backyard is just large enough for a twin otter to land, and we were lucky enough that the British had just opened Rothera for the year, so they had planes available. I wrote about it on my blog...sorry for the crappy images..they didn't survive a random wordpress upgrade at some point in the past.


TotallyToast31 karma

Yeah, I heard about that! Sketchy, and the glacier has melted back a LOT since then. They probably wouldn't be able to do that again.

Scarykidscaringkids35 karma

What exactly does your job entail?

How many other people live in the base with you?

TotallyToast61 karma

My job is "Fix stuff that breaks". :) Official job title is "Utility Mechanic", but because this place is so small, on any one day I could find myself doing anything imaginable. Mostly it's trades-related, but some days find me shoveling snow for 9 hours. It depends what's needed at the time.

The maximum capacity of the station is 44; right now we've got around 25 people here.

grilledchzzz34 karma

What's with the Stonington, CT marker? Seems like a random small town to be measuring from.

TotallyToast59 karma

Honestly, I'm not sure. I think someone that works here is from there, so they just whacked up that sign for fun. Or it's possible that one of the universities or organizations that we work with is based there.

EDIT It's actually the birthplace of Nathanial B. Palmer, for whom our station is named. :)

dustythreads33 karma

Is there a way for spouses to live at the research station?

TotallyToast58 karma

No, unless they manage to get a job here as well.

relevant_thing31 karma

How fast is your internet?

TotallyToast80 karma

3mbit, up/down, shared by the whole station. It's over the Iridium satellite network, so the latency is high but it's very useable. Youtube can be pretty slow, but we've got a very effective packet shaper doing QoS, and it keeps things prioritized well.

nihilisticzealot31 karma

You mentioned tourists visiting the outpost during the summer. I live in a cruise ship town myself, and we accumulate lots of fun and also cringe worthy stories of tourists. Any wacky stories? Funny or silly questions they asked? Hawaiian patterned parkas?

Also, how can you call John Carpenter's The Thing a bad movie!?

TotallyToast113 karma

Most of the cruise ship passengers are . . . uh, "Experienced at life" as our manager so delicately put it. One time we had an older gentlemen ask if all the women are station were "the domestic help". (Ironically, almost all the women on station are scientists or grad students; the men are mostly the help)

jednorazowa29 karma

What was most surprising about living in Antarctica, i.e. what did you not anticipate at all before you arrived there?

TotallyToast66 karma

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the job before I came down, I'd done a LOT of research and reading of people's blogs before I applied. So I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the work, and what I'd be doing.

But what really surprised me is the strength of the culture and community of people who live and work here. I guess I expected it to be like an oil rig, full of gruff surly guys only here for the money, but it's so not that.

PeterBraden29 karma

Do you often go outside, on walks etc? What do you do in your down-time?

TotallyToast54 karma

Oh sure, all the time. I spend the vast majority of my day working outside.

The hiking here is a bit limited, but it's beautiful.

kappetan16 karma

What are the average temps in the "summer"? How long can/do these hikes actually last?

TotallyToast29 karma

High 30s and low 40s in the summer. You can go hiking all day if you want.

defy_the_static28 karma

What is your meals situation like? Do you get good variety and how accommodating is the station to different diets- vegetarian, gluten free, kosher etc?

TotallyToast68 karma

Cafeteria style, and the food is quite good. Freshies are in perpetual short supply as we only get resupplied once a month, and the majority of the ingredients are frozen, but the cooks do amazing jobs with what they have. It's mostly a function of the small size; unlike at huge stations where they have to cook for hundreds of people at once, here they're cooking for 20-40 and can have much more leeway and variation in their meals.

The cooks are as flexible as they reasonably can be regarding special diets, but they give much more heed to intolerance and allergies (Someone who's SEVERELY allergic to common ingredients would probably not pass the medical screening to come down here in the first place). And every meal there's always a few vegetarian dishes, and they do a good job of letting people know if something has dairy or nuts in it.

If someone is strictly vegan or kosher, the cooks will do the best they can to accommodate that person, but they have to worry about feeding everyone else as well. If someone is a really picky eater, they're welcome to cook for themselves as long as they're not getting in the way.

Beegee773025 karma

Which way does the water flow in your toilet?

TotallyToast54 karma

Uh, down. They're all using flush valves, not tanks, so it's just water pressure doing it's job. :)

tingdeh24 karma

I've always had this hectic fantasy of going down to the South Pole/North Pole while holding a compass. Have you ever done that?

TotallyToast94 karma

The geographic south pole is about 1700 miles away from our station. :)

And a compass at the geographic south pole will still point south in the completely wrong direction; the magnetic south pole is just off the coast of the continent, due south of India.

thoughtsturnedoff21 karma

What does everyone do to stay in shape? I can't imagine there is a lot of space. Unless you guys cross country ski or something.

TotallyToast67 karma

Most of our jobs are very physical, lots of hard labor and tradespeople, but we all fight a losing battle against the cooks who are doing things like this every night: http://i.imgur.com/E8fcV3g.jpg http://i.imgur.com/FxEpyGJ.jpg

So we do have a decently equipped gym, with a small handful of stationary equipment and free weights. http://i.imgur.com/O0EMd5W.jpg

meeper8820 karma

What do you think about Antarctic tourism? Does the extra exposure and support make up for the pollution and trouble?

Assuming you're against it, would you be more okay with it if numbers were restricted to a fairly low number each year and everyone had to visit in an icebreaker/Class-A hulled ship?

And do you see any hope for a treaty that would do better at preserving the nature of Antarctica?

TotallyToast44 karma

Personally, I like the tourism. We get a bunch of the cruise ships stopping by our station during the summer, and for the smaller ships (<200 people), we'll bring them on shore and give them a tour of the station. Usually in the evening they'll invite us out onto the ship to do some Q&A and generally mingle, and it's like a mini-vacation.

And even in the big picture, I think tourism to Antarctica, as long as it's handled responsibly, is a good thing. You'd be shocked at how many people I've spoken to in the real world who can't locate Antarctica on a map, or don't even know that it's a continent. So anything we can do to encourage the general population to be more interested in the Antarctic, and to care more about the environmental impact that the rest of the world is having on the polar regions is a good thing.

As it stands, the ACA seems to be doing a good job of preserving Antarctica. I'm not sure any additional legislation is needed.

Recycle_Michael20 karma


TotallyToast43 karma

Getting parts is always a nightmare. We try to keep as many spare parts on station as we can, but inevitably something will break that we don't have a replacement for, and we have to bodge something together or just do without until the resupply ship gets here.

Sometimes it can take upwards of 3+ months to get parts, or longer, and sometimes the parts never show up at all. As anyone who's ever worked for a government agency can tell you, ordering and purchasing is a convoluted, time consuming and maddening process. Most of the things we need have to be bought in the USA, and then moved south through the USAP's cargo system until they get to the southern tip of Chile, and then put on the resupply ship which only stops by once a month.

e6c19 karma

Is everyone that works there a scientist or researcher of some sort? Is there any form of hierarchy among the 44?

TotallyToast65 karma

Nah, it's usually about 50/50 split between scientists and support personnel here at this station. And there's no hierarchy to speak of, this place is too small for that. Everyone eats with, hangs out with and goes hiking with everyone else, it's all very communal.

The other much larger stations (such as McMurdo, which is over 1,100 people sometimes) are very different. There, the support to science ratio is often as high as 10:1, and there's much clearer divisions of labor and responsibility.

kwongo17 karma


TotallyToast64 karma

I love living down here. It's much quieter, much simpler, and I get to feel really good about what I do every day. There's so many fewer things to worry about here; no bills to pay, no grocery shopping, no commute, no traffic, no cooking, etc.

I was raised in Chicago, but I am not a city guy. Even when I'm back in the real world, I still seek out the wilderness and nature, I have no love for urban environments.

Kaidenshiba16 karma

You should totally post some more pictures. Like of polar bears and penguins! And maybe of whatever research you're doing... but mostly of cute animals.

TotallyToast85 karma

Well most of the animals are still gone for the winter, but they should be showing back up very soon. We did have a Weddell seal give birth to a pup just a week ago: http://i.imgur.com/WRpvowe.jpg

Chickenzrck23 karma


TotallyToast31 karma

When the penguins start to hatch, I basically turn into a squealing ball of goo for like a month. :)

jednorazowa10 karma

What's the red thing on the baby seal? Is it bleeding??

TotallyToast31 karma

That's the remains of the umbilical cord. That guy is perhaps a week old.

bfaithr46 karma

polar bears live in the artic...

TotallyToast76 karma

(I've gotten so tired of correcting people about it that I've given up)

tinlo10 karma

Start telling people that if they lived in the Arctic and the Antarctic, they'd be called bipolar bears.

TotallyToast4 karma

That's actually the first funny polar bear related joke that I've seen in this thread. :)

e6c15 karma

How long is the average contract there? Or can you stay permanently?

TotallyToast46 karma

No, you can't stay permanently. Some people have done a full year, but after that they FORCE you to leave, because you've probably started to go a little crazy.

The usual contract lengths are ~6 months; you sign on for a season, either a winter or a summer.

_mediajunkie11 karma

I want to live and work in Antartica, but I don't think I have any special skills to offer even though I have a Masters degree (liberal arts). I don't even mind being a cook or a janitor for that matter. What are the chances of me getting a job down there? What can improve my chances for getting a job down there?

Do you get Internet access down there, so that you can watch stuff like Netflix?

TotallyToast16 karma

To be a cook you need actual culinary and industrial kitchen experience. You could be a DA ("Dining Attendant". Dishwasher), but that job really sucks. Being a janitor isn't a bad gig though, no real pre-reqs, you just have to be fast.

There is internet, but it's quite slow. Our station has 3mbit shared by ~40 people, and the big station (McMurdo) has a 20mbit connection, shared by 1,100 people.

Patrick_Martin11 karma

Is it possible for someone to take a boat there just to say they went to Antarctica?

TotallyToast14 karma

Sure, there's plenty of cruises that come down here during the summer (Dec-Feb), and a lot of them stop by our station for a visit. They're VERY expensive though, upwards of $8,000 per person for a week long cruise.

JarateIsAPissJar9 karma

So you have medical facilities, and I read that sometimes your job requires you to shovel snow for hours on end. But is there a fitness place at the station?

How is your room for personal stuff? I read that you can bring a laptop, but how much stuff can you actually bring? (A Laptop, camera, and an external HDD would probably be enough for me tech-wise)

Sounds like a unique job.

TotallyToast15 karma

Yeah, we've got a decent gym: http://i.imgur.com/O0EMd5W.jpg

I've got two laptops, a dSLR with a small pile of good lenses, three external hard drives, and iPhone and a Kindle. Most of what you're limited by is the 2x 50lb bag limit on the airplane.

randomopinionhere8 karma

What has been your most unexpected or strange experience while there, so far? And if you want to answer another, what do you miss the most about life at home?

TotallyToast15 karma

I'd say the strangest is walking around the luxury cruise ships when they stop by to visit; that's REALLY surreal. You go from the usual station life, where things are simple but functional, and then suddenly you're on these opulent cruise ships. White-gloved butlers waiting on you hand and foot, gold-rimmed fine china, chilled salad forks with your meal. That's a real mind job.

I miss my motorcycles, and a larger/more active dating/hookup scene. There is dating that happens here, but you have to take things slowly and be very careful. If you try to date someone and it doesn't go well, you still have to live/work with them for the rest of the season, you can't just avoid them or something.

ShotgunZen8 karma

Palmer Station is the smallest? Really? I was stationed at the Black Island Communication station in 96, and it was just me and one other person. Heres a link for you... http://www.adventure-journal.com/2011/04/weekend-cabin-black-island-antarctica/ And I have pictures and blog address if you would like them too.

TotallyToast33 karma

I think Black Island is technically considered part of McMurdo, and it's not manned year-round. Palmer is the smallest of the year-round independent stations. There are many summer-only stations that are much smaller than us.

NibblyPig2 karma

How are food and alcohol rationed out? Do you pay for it or is there some kind of distribution system? Is there enough of it?

TotallyToast4 karma

Food isn't "rationed" in any way. Hot meals are prepared three times a day and hot snacks twice a day, and there's perpetually leftovers in the fridge that you're welcome to help yourself to. Or just grab something out of the pantry if you want to get ambitions and cook something on your day off, or outside of usual meal times.

Alcohol is sold in our little station store, and prices are mostly in line with the US. We run out of stuff frequently enough and what we do get is unpredictable, but there's usually enough decent liquor and wine to keep people happy.

thebestbutler2 karma

How's the Internet connection? It's wild to me to think you can have Internet in Antarctica and I barely do in my state's capital.

TotallyToast8 karma

3mbit, both ways. It's not cheap; last I heard, our internet bill is something like $10,000/month. It's over the Iridium satellite network.

MyCreativeUser2 karma

PLEASE tell me you have seen a penguin

TotallyToast2 karma

By the thousands. There's over 2,000 breeding pairs within a two mile radius.

SunflowerRainbow1 karma

Is it possible to live in Antartica as a vegetarian (I eat eggs and diary though).

TotallyToast1 karma

Sure, no problem with that. Allergies are a bigger deal due to extremely remote location and distance to medical services.