Action stations: Australian activity in Antarctica

Action stations: Australian activity in Antarctica

Video transcript

Robb Clifton, Operations Manager

It’s a little bit like a game of chess and playing with a Rubiks cube at the same time, and at the end we come up with an answer that is a plan for the season.

So in an average year, we probably run 80 to 90 projects in Antarctica or the subantarctic and around about 500 to 600 people will travel south over that summer period.

So there’s a whole range of factors that come into play about when we actually need to schedule various activities, and then we need to deconflict those activities if they’re trying to pull on the same resources.

So for example some resupply operations we need good and thick sea ice to undertake the operation, and some science projects might need animals at a certain phase of their biological cycle, so they need to be somewhere at a certain time.

It can be very hard in the Antarctic to link things up. Often you are travelling vast distances that are beyond the range of an aircraft for example, and so you need to have intermediate fuel stops. Now they may or may not exist, you may need to place them yourself, then there’s a long process to do that safely and then do the actual flight that you want to do.

I think the other factor that really comes into play in Antarctica are environmental factors. So it’s pretty unusual in Australia for a sea port or an airport to get closed for some reason, yet our sea port and airports get closed all the time in Antarctica, mainly because of weather, strong winds, the sea states too high, there’s too much sea ice, there’s not enough sea ice, or the visibility’s poor, and so we’re often trying to link up a range of activities, for example a ship arriving at a station with scientists to meet an aircraft to fly them to their science location, and to get all of that to actually happen and those weather windows over distance to link up is very difficult.

For us it’s about having a bit of a bag of tricks I suppose that you can roll out as things change or don’t work out quite how you would like them to.

[end transcript]

A Basler aircraft in the foreground, with A319 aircraft in the background
A Basler aircraft in the foreground, with A319 aircraft in the background. (Photo: Tony Fleming)

Planning a season of Antarctic operations is not for the faint of heart.

Operations Manager Robb Clifton describes it as a cross between a game of chess and a Rubik’s cube.

“In an average year, we run 80 to 90 projects in Antarctica or the subantarctic, and around 500 to 600 people will travel south over that summer period,” he said.

A strategic and flexible approach helps to overcome unique obstacles such as the extremes of Antarctic weather, ice conditions, distance and isolation.

“For us it’s about having a bag of tricks that we can roll out as things change or don’t work out quite how we would like them to.”

Find out more about Antarctic operations in the video below.