This page is intended to answer some of the questions commonly asked by ANSMET field party members as they get ready for their season in the field. Think of it as “frequently asked questions” specific to fieldwork preparation.
If you’re NOT currently an ANSMET field party member, you might be better served by the broader FAQ link at the top of the page.
Question #1: Where are we going? When?
Answer: To the ends of the Earth. A post serving as a season preview is available. Search for it using the menus or tabs to the right listed as “2018-2019 Season Preview”(or whatever year you’re interested in).
We’ll leave the US right after Thanksgiving, get to Antarctica (via New Zealand) near the first of December, and be in the field by about the 8th or 10th of that month. We’ll get out of the field near the end of the third week of January in the new year, and you can get home by February if you hustle.
Question #2: You’ve invited me! Now what do I do?
Answer: If you’ve been formally invited to participate in ANSMET you already know we communicate a lot by email, and that’s where you’ll get most of your instructions. But here’s the simple formula…
-we gather some personal information from you, and send it to the US Antarctic Program’s contractor (currently a company with the uninspiring name Antarctic Support Contract, or ASC), so they know who you are and that you’re officially part of our team.
-you’ll get an email from ASC that sends you to a USAP webpage where you’ll be asked to download a package of medical, dental, and information forms.
– you fill out the forms, successfully complete medical and dental exams, and send them back to the contractor.
– you either pass all that stuff and become “Physically Qualified (PQ-ed)”, or you get asked to take more tests, or (rarely) you fail.
-You join us in the fall for ANSMET’s “Boot Camp”
-You gear up with required and recommended stuff (as described here, and in emails)
-You work with us and the contractors in the early fall to make final travel plans.
-We meet up, travel to NZ to get our cold weather gear, then fly to Antarctica and get to work!
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Question #3: Yipes! Physicals and dental exams? Sounds scary and expensive. What if I fail? Who pays?
Answer: Don’t worry, youngling. We’re here to help. The physicals and dentals are time consuming and exhausting but worth it.
Medical and dental facilities are extremely limited in Antarctica. There is no real hospital on the entire continent, and in the case of ANSMET, we’ll be several hundred miles from the nearest doctor. If someone needs anything beyond simple first aid it may take many days to get them back to McMurdo and/or New Zealand. Because of this, the US Antarctic program mandates a set of medical and dental exams for all program participants to help avoid hidden conditions (or conditions that require constant maintenance) that might put you, your team, or others in jeopardy.
The physical is very similar to that taken by military and commercial pilots; a thorough check of basic health, including lab tests and bloodwork. Depending on your age and personal history there can be a lot more (I personally am very tired of running on treadmills). The dental exam is equally thorough, including duplicate x-rays and a check for high-maintenance conditions; it’s designed to make sure your needs for dentistry in Antarctica are minimal.
Typically, newcomers to our program are pretty self-aware about their state of health, and most wouldn’t have volunteered it they weren’t pretty healthy to begin with. Correspondingly, the failure rate among ANSMET volunteers is pretty low, but not zero; about 1 in 40 ANSMET volunteers have failed the physical to the point they could not go to Antarctica. Dentistry, however, is a complete ‘nuther topic. Many ANSMET volunteers end up needing dental work before they can be considered “PQd”, some including extensive root canals and extraction of wisdom teeth. We’ve never had anyone fail to complete the dental stuff to go to Antarctica, but I’d say every few years we have someone who needed a pretty complete (and painful) overhaul.
Who pays? Hopefully your insurance. We have a small budget to cover the costs of the examination but in the modern era of health care, costs vary widely. Some of us can get an annual physical covered anyway, so the ANSMET physical costs nothing. Others end up costing a lot of money. In the past it has always averaged out to allow ANSMET to cover the costs of all required exams. Please note we do NOT cover the costs of any work you need to have done to pass those physicals. For example, we cover the cost of the dental exam but if that exam shows you need wisdom-teeth pulled or a root-canal job, we can’t pay for that procedure.
Question #4: Do I get a guidebook?
Answer: Most of the info needed to participate in ANSMET can be found at USAP.gov. This website has tons of stuff and most useful to you will be under the Grantee Support tab > Travel and Deployment. Under Travel and Deployment you will find the USAP Participant Guide for your perusal and you will also be able to find all the forms needed under Deployment Packets. Of course we are always available to answer queries by email or phone and we will step you through the process from the time of your invitation to ANSMET to the time of deployment.
Question #5: Do I need to train? What’s that Boot Camp thing. What’s that “survival school” I keep hearing about?
Answer: You don’t need to be a hardcore athlete or outdoors person to succeed in ANSMET, but being in good physical condition and being comfortable in a primitive camping environment will definitely help! For example, the typical ANSMET team takes about 20,000 lbs. of gear into the field and basically we are constantly packaging, moving, storing, carrying, bundling and hauling that gear across Antarctica for 8 weeks. One ANSMET vet lamented to me that “half of ANSMET is moving s**t;” indeed, 10 tons of it. Likewise, we are living in tents on the ice for six weeks, so be prepared for sleeping on pads on the ground, cooking all your own food, no running water, very primitive toilets, etc.
In 2017 ANSMET added an obligatory pre-season training camp to the field team schedule. The purpose of the camp is straightforward; to better prepare ANSMET volunteers (both veterans and newcomers) for the upcoming field seasons. Our work is both rigorous and regulated, and takes place about as far away from civilization as you can get; and a weekend of preparation (more informational than physical) really helps our volunteers get ready for the ANSMET experience. The Boot Camp is led by Ralph Harvey and held in October at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.
Survival School is the name we give to about several days of discussion and training in McMurdo, culminated by an overnight “shakedown” trip 4-8 miles outside of town. During that shakedown trip we’ll learn some basic ropecraft suitable for travelling in glacial terrain, do some simulated rescues, and practice many of the more mundane aspects of ANSMET life: setting up tents, safe operation of stoves and snowmobiles, and properly lashing a sled. The shakedown allows our team to test their gear and equipment (and their mettle) before the real field season starts.
Question #6: Will I need to buy anything?
Answer: The short answer is “yes, but not much.” Some folks really want to use the ANSMET trip as an excuse to go shopping, but in truth everything you need, with just a few exceptions, will be provided to you from USAP or ANSMET stock in Christchurch and McMurdo. The issued clothing is up to date and functional, if not fashionable. For the most part it consists of layers of polar fleece, polypropylene, gore-tex outerwear and other modern gear. Field gear such as sleeping bags, thermarests, rock hammers, binoculars, ice axes, thermos bottles, backpacks, etc. will also be provided.
There is some gear we want you to buy for yourself to help the project meet its goals, and we can reimburse you for most of these key items. Our recommendations are below, catagorized into four categories: Must Buy, Recommended and usually reimbursable, Recommended but probably not reimbursable, and Might Want. Only two things fall in the Must Buy category, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Must Buy items (without these you will be useless to us)
Sunglasses: These are so important that we’ll discuss the issue separately in the next section
Sunscreen: Any sunscreen can work and you don’t need much; you’ll probably only be covering your face. The biggest issue is that water-based sunscreens can turn into hard blocks when frozen, so try out your sunscreen in your freezer before leaving. Alcohol-based sunscreens don’t freeze (but can sting your eyes). The runny kind you get in a pump-bottle usually works well too. But the key is to test them out before the season. And don’t forget some lip-balm with sunscreen in it too! Note we can’t reimburse you for sunscreen costs but the stuff is cheap.
Recommended and usually reimbursable (because of they significantly improve our working ability)
Socks: ASC provides nice, new wool tube-socks, and in good years they might give you up to 6 pairs. More likely, however, the supply will be limited and they may only give you two pair. Thus we recommend buying a few more pair. Any good heavy sock will do, but wool seems best; it breathes, keeps you warm when wet, and handles the abuse. Look for socks that are thick, fluffy and open-weave. And note that you don’t need pricey “smart wool” to be happy; Ralph’s been buying his Antarctic socks at Walmart for years. Poly is okay, but really holds your “fragrance”. Thin poly liner socks are also useful, quick to wash and dry and adding comfort.
Long Undies: Ditto. ASC typically provides limited light long underwear (a top and bottom), so most people need a few more sets. There’s no right or wrong to this, but minimalists tend to get by with just 2-3 sets total, and others might take 6 sets. Evaluate your own needs- how long you want to wear a given set, whether you want to try doing laundry, etc. As with socks, some people wear a thin “liner” set of washable undies under their long underwear to extend the comfort range. Polypropylene (Capilene if you buy from Patagonia) is great but quickly absorbs your odor; Merino wool feels drier and absorbs less smell, but shrinks if dried in a household dryer and of course some people find ANY wool itchy. Medium weight is probably fine for most people; you want the warmth but too much bulk and you’re working against your clothes all day.
Insulated pants: USAP typically provides a set of heavy fleece (jacket and pants) as an insulating layer, with the intent that they go over long undies and under the parka and windpants they provide. While the parka provided by USAP is superb, The windpants are less so; uninsulated, bib-style, lightweight and limited in terms of size and fit, particularly for women. We therefore recommend that everyone who can afford it buy a pair of sturdy, insulated ski, snowmobile or mountaineering pants or bibs. If they have built-in knee pads or a pocket for knee pads, that’s even better. There’s a big market for ski pants (skiing is a fashion-conscious industry) so you’ll have no problem finding some; but finding a pair that are durable takes a bit more effort, and a bit more money. Look for cordura patches at the hips and knees, good zips at the ankles, pockets, belt loops and if they’re bibs, a drop seat for unmentionable moments. Make sure they fit loosely enough for you to wear a layer or two underneath. And if you’re a guy, make sure they have a zip fly…. Another alternative is insulated underwear. Hard to find (the hunting retailer Cabela’s sells some thinsulate underpants), but some swear by it.
Lightweight insulated booties: For wearing in the tent and around camp. Most ANSMET vets need only two pairs of footwear; their issued boots and some nice insulated booties. I wouldn’t go to Antarctica without them myself. You want is something that’s well-insulated and compressable, high-tops, without too many hard parts or buckles. An example of what has worked well is shown below. Baffin, Sierra Designs, and The North Face are common brands.
Head and Neckwear: Keeping your head warm is a pretty important priority. For a large part of the field work, you’ll be in a full upright position with your head proudly exposed to the cold Antarctic wind. And while your issued parka will have an excellent hood, it limits vision. Thus while USAP will provide a very basic knit hat (maybe with earflaps), a balaclava, and a neck gaiter, most vets supplement or replace these with a few options of their own to ensure function and comfort. There are a thousand possible styles, of course, but the most important features to look for are windproofness, the ability to reconfigure (layering, earflaps up, earflaps down, brim up, brim down, etc.) and fit (covering the ears, neck and forehead). Some are more technical than others, some more comfortable, but really anything goes as long as it’ll keep you warm and covered. Similarly, there are all kinds of neck gaiters on the market, from those that simply cover your throat like a scarf to long tubes that provide extended coverage and are wearable in multiple configurations. Windproof balaclavas are a perennial favorite, protecting all the parts of your head that aren’t often covered in the civilized world (like earlobes, throat, neck, etc). One popular style among veterans is to get one big enough to wear a ballcap underneath- that combo provides comfort, warmth and good sun coverage.
Handwear (gloves and mittens). USAP usually provides you with a lot of good options here that span the range from uncompromising protection and zero dexterity (such as the giant fuzzy fur and leather Bear Paws) to “choppers” (not quite so giant leather shell mitts with wool mitten liners) to insulated ski gloves and mittens to insulated and uninsulated leather work gloves. If you’re a newbie, you’ll want them all- there’s probably more variation in what people consider comfortable “hand warmth” among people than any other body part. Smart folks therefore often add even more options. Having several pairs of thin polypropylene or woolen glove liners can be very useful; they offer a little extra warmth under heavier gloves or mittens, a little extra protection while doing jobs requiring dexterity (such as working around a meteorite, fixing a snowmobile, etc.). Just don’t spend a ton, since they hole easily and can wear out in a couple of days of normal use. For those with less cold-sensitive hands (and perhaps a self-punishment leaning) fingerless gloves or glove/mitten combos can be really useful during those dextrous tasks. Pay attention to wrist coverage; your blood vessels there are very well exposed there (that’s why you take a pulse there) and a warm cuff can really help keep fingers warm too.
Recommended and probably not reimbursable (because they aren’t really essential, just nice to have)
A light nylon wind-suit: Fleece is comfy but not windproof or snowproof, and kind of sticky to other fabrics, so may ANSMET vets wear a thin nylon layer over a fleece layer around camp. It keeps snow out of your clothes, adds a surprising amount of warmth by trapping air in the fleece, and also lets you slide around on your sleeping bag more freely. Windshirts are easy to find but windpants are rarer. Again, make sure to consider that you’ll be wearing them over a layer or two. Avoid “water resistant” or “waterproof”; otherwise you may find condensation freezing inside your clothes, not a comfy thing.
Flannel-lined jeans are the nicest thing ever for wearing around McMurdo. I practically live in them, warm, comfy, durable and wind-proof. If you live somewhere there’s winter you may never go back to fashionable pants.
Baseball cap: Antarctica is Big Sky Endless-Summer country (when we’re there) so a hat with a brim can be really useful. And as noted earlier, when combined with a knit cap or tube or balaclava it creates a warm and protective system that’s adaptable to conditions in McMurdo and in the field.
Other clothes: People that have their own technical outerwear, (parkas, gore-tex shells, etc.) can certainly bring them along; sometimes it is just nice to have your own stuff along. If you have a favorite, go-to jacket for temps around freezing and steady winds (like a lightweight down parka) can be a nice touch from home and much nicer for crusing around McMurdo than the bulky and heavy issued parka. Similarly, if you are a small or otherwise extraordinary-sized person, having a jacket or gloves, mittens, hats etc. that you KNOW fits can be a tremendous aid to overall comfort. But be aware that whatever you choose to bring along, you will still be required to wear the NSF- issued parka, windpants, boots and other gear during flights from NZ to Antarctica and back, and there are big limits on how much gear you can take on USAP flights and cart around in McMurdo and the field. Don’t use the ANSMET trip as an excuse to shop and don’t overload yourself. Always remember you can get by with just the gear USAP issues you- you don’t truly need anything else
Tools: Some sort of pocket knife is extremely handy both in McMurdo and in the field. You’ll be constantly opening boxes or sealing them with tape, cutting open bags or trimming broken shoelaces, etc. etc. Leatherman-style pocket tools are similarly awesome given the number of everyday fixes you’ll need to do on both your gear and ours. Rest assured we carry a very extensive toolkit but if you’re the kind who wants to be self-reliant, a good multi-tool will take you far. There are thousands of options, so no single recommendation makes sense, but if you’re a novice to such things, I’ll give you two key phrases to remember: “locking blades” for safety and “one-hand opening” for use with gloves or mittens.
Amusement: Books, laptops and personal electronics are the biggest sources of amusements, followed closely by playing cards and small tabletop games. Small musical instruments are okay, but suffer in the Antarctic environment (particularly if you play them loudly and John smashes them). If you are an “artsy- craftsy” type, bring down the raw materials you need for your craft (e.g. sewing or knitting supplies). Other recommended items to bring to Antarctica include small decorations for your tent; flags or pennants to leave in the breeze; a small speaker to share your tunes. Again, remember there will be some space and weight restrictions on what you can take to the field; you’ll be happiest if you’re not constantly worrying about all your gear. And you’ll have a roommate almost all the time, so don’t assume your tastes will work with others all the time.
Question #6.5: I have this excellent parka/ hat/ mittens/ boots from my years as a polar-bear wrestler / walrus wrangler in Minnelaska- Should I bring it?
Answer: Maybe. Having your own gear is nice as noted above, but make SURE it is appropriate for the absolute coldest place on Earth. Which leads us to….A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT GEAR:
On a number of occasions, people have gotten fixated on some aspect of their gear to the point where they get in trouble. Here’s a mythical example: Your loved one (we’ll call that person “Boopsie”) buys you some $300 mittens knitted by blind monks from virgin monkey fluff. You feel completely obligated to bring them, and Boopsie keeps reminding you to pack them, and when you get to Christchurch you decide to leave all the other mittens behind because you promised Boopsie you’d wear the mittens every day. Then you get out in the field and Boopsie’s mittens suck- they make you sweat, they absorb moisture, don’t block the wind, then they freeze and your hands get really cold and stiff, and your fingers go from hurting to numb, and well now you don’t have any other options…….. and you’re in trouble.
The moral of this story is not to trust sentiment, salespeople, internet diaries, or even generic Antarctic veterans if they tell you they’ve got the one best answer to your “boots/glasses/mittens/underwear/hat/you name it” questions. Never limit your clothing options unless you really, really know what you’re doing. Everybody is different and if you’re not an ANSMET veteran, you can’t really know how your body will react to life on the East Antarctic Plateau.
Three things you can trust:
(1) Having several clothing options (particularly for heads, hands and feet) always helps.
(2) The USAP gear, augmented with the “Must Buy” stuff listed above, will provide a baseline level of comfort for ANSMET work. But baseline.
(3) Those of us leading ANSMET are very very happy to help you figure out gear questions, as are most ANSMET veterans Just call or email.
More on the clothing issue under “What should I pack?” .
Question #7: Okay, NOW can we talk about sunglasses?
Answer: Yes. First thing to note is that USAP does not cover the cost of eyewear for ANSMET team members, and provides only one set of goggles not very useful for ANSMET field work. Don’t be confused by the statements to the contrary you’ll find in your travel and deployment packet, that stuff is for ASC employees only.
So yes, you need to buy sunglasses and/or goggles. If you don’t need prescription lenses, we’ll cover the cost of at least two sets of eyewear (your choice of sunglasses or goggles or both). If you do need prescription lenses, ANSMET will reimburse the cost of one pair of prescription sunglasses and one pair of cheap (less than $50) backup sunglasses for use if your primary pair is lost or broken. Please note that ANSMET is not allowed to reimburse costs for contact lenses, or for ordinary (non- sunglasses) eyeglasses.
Let’s start with sunglasses. You’ll need them for eye protection both in the field and in McMurdo. In McMurdo any old sunglasses will do, as long as they protect you from the sun and blowing wind and dust. You’ll probably wear them anytime you go outside.
Sunglasses for the field work have to meet higher standards. First, they should filter out 100% of the UV. Luckily, virtually any modern lens will do that; most glass and polycarbonate are good UV absorbers. Second,we HIGHLY recommend a very neutral grey lens (a flat transmission spectrum for spectroscopy geeks). Lenses which have a strong green, purple, yellow or amber tint are heavily and consistently marketed for “contrast enhancement” but don’t fall for it- they make identifying meteorites (from terrestrial rocks) very difficult. You can’t tell a brown rock from a grey rock from a tan rock when they all look black due to contrast enhancement.
Photo-sensitive lenses (photo-grey) work very well outdoors in Antarctica, just remember they will not darken in environments where the UV (which activates them) is already filtered out. Polarizing lenses also can work very well, but since many stressed plastics (like airplane windows) or LCD screens are also polarizers, this causes issues when your sunglasses “cross the polars” and create distracting visual effects.
Field sunglasses should also block the wind, either because of side-shields or because of a “wraparound” fit. Wear the sunglasses and see if you can look out around the sides of them in any direction; if you can, then they are going to let wind and light in.
Goggles are an option favored by many ANSMET vets. They exist to block the wind and the light, are widely available and usually you can find them with appropriately-colored lenses and/or inserts for prescription lenses. However, their advantages in poor weather become disadvantages in warmer windless weather, due to fogging. For that reason we usually recommend people have both goggles and sunglasses if possible. The bestest goggles have a tight fit across the lower part of your face (nose and cheekbones) while also providing ventilation at the top and sides (to let out your eminations).
Another popular option is goggle/facemask combos. ANSMET used to provide these, but for them to work the fit needed to be personalized and it grew too difficult to make everyone happy. Now when people are looking for full-face protection we recommend people consider paintball masks. Widely available, these offer outstanding coverage and many recent field party people wear them constantly. But fit is important- many paintball masks have ear or throat protectors that get in the way of other clothing, and some level of “hacking” inevitably occurs.
Buying: If you don’t need prescription lenses, there are endless places you can get sunglasses or goggles. Find what works for you following the guidelines above. But let us add one other option that can be very, very nice- modern designer safety glasses. They’re UV and shatter-proof, sturdy, come in many styles (including wraparound or side shields) and most important, they’re inexpensive. For the price of one pair of Oakleys you can have 30 pairs of safety sunglasses. And if you sit on them or scratch them, you simply pull out another pair. This has been Ralph’s solution for decades and typically he’ll bring down 3-4 pair for a season, total cost under $40. And it’s the best way to change your fashion statement mid-season!
Prescription sunglasses are not rare at local optical shops, but designs suitable for Antarctica can be hard to find. ASC employees are usually directed to the online company Opticus, who specialize in prescription sunglasses for extreme environments. Another option is to buy quality non-prescription glacier glasses, and have your local optical shop replace the lenses. We have had good success with this historically, as long as the original frames are good.
IF YOU NEED BIFOCALS, get them! You’ll be searching for meteorites at a distance, then recovering them using procedures that require close-up vision. We’ve seen a couple of cases where “bifocal denial” meant field party members who couldn’t work at both long- and short-distances. Bifocal sunglasses are a “thing” and not at all hard to get.
Contacts in general work great- the biggest issue is freezing (which seems okay with many contacts) and cleanliness. Ralph has worn contacts in Antarctica for over 30 years with no major problems. If you can handle the kind you wear for a day and then discard, those seem to be the best option.
Question #8: I am worried about cold feet. What are the issued “mickey mouse” boots like? Are these things really comfortable enough to be worn all the time? You mention other boots for McMurdo, would you recommend hiking boots, Sorrels, something else?
Answer: We are big fans of the “mickey mouse” or “bunny” boots, which are basically rubber boots thickly insulated by wool and a vapor barrier. The vapor-barrier action of the bunny boots is the key- it keeps moisture from building up in the insulation, preventing freezing. Some complain that they keep your feet moist, but moist and warm is better than frozen, and with good socks you should be fine. Other factors in favor of the bunny boots is that they are fairly supportive and the rubber they are made of is the stickiest stuff we’ve found on the blue ice. They are also exceptionally large and attractive, and suitable for formal occasions.
There are other options. ASC provides other styles, including foam- or felt-lined mukluk-style boots, which some people have preferred. Other field party members have brought their own Sorel-style pac boots. You can add vapor- barrier action to these with neoprene or gore-tex socks, too. However, if you’re not experienced in wearing cold-weather boots for days at a time, stick with the Bunny Boots. When in doubt, don’t commit to just one style; If you want to bring your own boots, bring the bunny boots too, just in case. When your feet go bad, the party is over.
I do NOT recommend hard-soled mountaineering boots- they can be warm but brutally slippery on the blue ice, and wearing crampons gets pretty old after the tenth time you’ve caught them on your snowmobile and fallen over (not to mention the holes in your thermarest).
In McMurdo you’ll be doing a lot of walking around, loading, packing and carrying boxes, that sort of thing. Cheap hiking or work boots are the best answer, but some people get by with just athletic shoes. There are opportunities to go running or work out in McMurdo so something athletic is also not a bad idea.
Question #9: Are there other expenses I should know about?
Answer: Basically, you are expected to have sufficient money of your own to cover the personal expenses of the physicals and such, and then ANSMET will happily reimburse you. Similarly, you should have enough money to cover your living expenses while we are in New Zealand as a part of our trip, and ANSMET will reimburse you on our return. You will want some personal spending money both in NZ and in McMurdo. CWRU is a stickler for correct reimbursements, so please collect all possible receipts for your ANSMET travel expenses, such as lodging, meals, shuttles, taxis, etc.
Question #10: How do I get reimbursed?
Answer: After you PQ for the season you will get an email detailing the reimbursement procedures. Read this and follow it to the letter, and you will be reimbursed in a timely manner! Basically you are going to fill out paperwork to do three things- be recognized as official within the university accounting system, submit a Travel Form, which will detail your travel expenses, and submit a letter with a detailed list of other non-travel reimbursable items like medical and dental co-pays, sunglasses, etc. Remember to get receipts for everything you want to be reimbursed for! And when in doubt, ask us if something is covered before you buy.
Question #11: What special conditions and/or financial obligations are there for non-US citizens participating on the ANSMET team?
Answer: Participants from outside the US should be aware of additional financial burdens. ANSMET funding is limited and we often cannot cover the full cost of the required physicals in countries where medical care is expensive. In addition, ASC will not pay for airline flights originating outside the continental US. As a result, European and other non-US participants must pay for their flights to and from a US point of departure.
NOTE: Non-US citizens also bear full responsibility to ensure that you have the appropriate passport and visa allowing you to travel to Antarctica via both the United States and New Zealand, with multiple entrances to New Zealand.
Question #12: What should I pack? Tell me what to pack! TELL ME, I’M FREAKING OUT!
Answer: Okay, you’re freaking out.
During your tenure as an ANSMET field party member you will spend:
-about 3 days each way traveling on airplanes
-anything from 2 days to a week in temperate New Zealand (each way)
-around 2 weeks in McMurdo Station
-around 6 weeks camping on the Antarctic Icesheet
Needless to say, each of these environments will constrain your choices of what to bring. For travelling, be comfortable: it’s a long flight from LA to NZ and if you are lucky you will sleep in your clothes. In NZ, expect springtime weather, anything from wet and cold to warm and sunny. So, pack for a few days in NZ and be aware that you can leave a bag at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) while you are on the ice. McMurdo will remind you of a farmtown in winter; warm workclothes and a pair of sturdy boots will serve you well. While you can wear the CDC clothing in McMurdo, most people wear jeans and thermal shirts and such. In the field, you will wear the issued gear for the most part. Most essential for you to bring are those things you need on a day-to-day basis that ASC does not supply or that you personally cannot live without. Toiletries, towels, washcloths, chap-stik, writing supplies, batteries, safety pins and name-brand compulsories (like chewing gum) are best brought by the individual. You will not need laundry soap, flashlights, ice-axes, crampons, backpacks or bedsheets; you will need your own soap, shampoo, sunscreen and towels. You are not allowed to bring alcoholic beverages to the ice. But people have done it.
NOTE it is strongly recommended that you keep your personal belongings to a minimum. If you cannot comfortably carry the sum of your baggage over extended distances (and believe me, you will have to many times), you have too much stuff. There will be weight and size limits on what you can bring to Antarctica, and into the deep field.
If you absolutely positively must have a packing list, look for “the ANSMET packing list” on the “downloads” page.
Question #13: Can I call, write, email, Tweet, etc. while I’m in Antarctica?
Answer: While in McMurdo you will be very well connected, you can make voice calls to the outside world with a calling card. Calls to the US originate from the ASC home in Denver, CO, so they are considered a domestic long distance call You can call the rest of the world from McMurdo with a long distance calling card. So get a calling card, it’s worth it. Folks from home can’t really call you except in extreme emergencies (see a later question)
The availability of mail in Antarctica changes from year to year . Currently, NSF and ASC discourage package mail to McMurdo due to limits on south-bound flights. Earlier this season they suggested that if you send package mail from the US by October 15 it should get there, but honestly there is no guarantee with package deliveries. First Class flat/envelope mail is not restricted, so that’s the best option. Your address in McMurdo will be…..
[Your Name Here]
PSC 469 Box 800
APO AP 96599-1035
McMurdo has its own post office for outgoing mail, and you can purchase stamps and a few other things. Sending flat mail to and from McMurdo uses the same postal rates as the US.
E-mail works fine in McMurdo: computers are available to those who don’t bring their own and many buildings have wireless connectivity. If you have your own WiFi device and pass all the IT security tests, you should be in good shape. Please note that Skype and video calling is prohibited in McMurdo due to bandwidth restrictions
While we are in the field, communications get more limited. Iridium satellite phones are our main connection to the outside world and we will have one or more available in camp for personal use. These calls are free of charge, at least for now. ANSMET business gets priority on the phones, but that won’t take more than an hour or so at night and in the morning. Also, family and friends can send texts to the ANSMET iridium phones through the iridium website http://www.iridium.com/ . Note these are not private (we share the phones) and are limited to about 160 characters.
Mail is usually delivered to us when resupply aircraft visit us during the season. We can usually send mail out with the resupply flights as well.
PLEASE NOTE that we will not have email while in the field. Amazingly low bandwidth, difficult equipment, and the overhead in terms of time spent maintaining the system is too high for us to mess with it. Hopefully you will find, as we have, that a 5 minute voice conversation every few days carries a LOT more information than an email can.
We currently plan to maintain a weblog during the coming season, as we have in most recent seasons. Everyone will be asked to contribute. Our blog has been extremely well received by family, friends and fans over the last couple of years and it allows us outgoing communication on a pretty much daily basis. But it’ll be one-way communication; blogs and pictures out, nothing back in.
There will be no Tweeting during the field season. Or facebook updates. Or…….. (your favorite social media here). Enjoy the break.
Question #14: Can I use a credit card or get cash if I need to buy anything in McMurdo? Will I have problems getting money in NZ with a US credit card or ATM card? Can I buy critical things like batteries/toiletries/sunscreen, etc.?
Answer: Credit cards are accepted at both McMurdo and Scott Base, and there is an ATM at McMurdo. You shouldn’t have a problem getting money in NZ if you carefully check the network of the ATM machine, and ATMs usuaally give a nice exchange rate (though watch for “international transaction fees” which can take 2-3 percent!). We recommend a mix of ATM cards, credit cards, and cash, so you have as many options as possible. Note that in the rare situation you end up at South Pole Station, their store only takes cash.
McMurdo has a small store, as does Scott Base (about 2 miles away), but they typically never have exactly what you want. If you want shampoo they have pantyhose. If you want Preparation H they have hair gel. They do have souvenirs like shirts, mugs, stickers, postcards, etc., and they try to stock the essentials. Best is to bring necessities from the states if possible, and if it turns out you forgot something, we’ll find a way to replace it. Note you can certainly get everything you need in NZ, but it may be different brands than you’re used to or more expensive.
Question #15: Just how tough is life in the field? Can we be comfy in the tent?
Answer: In my opinion, as long as you are ready for the cold, and familiar with living in a tent, life in the field with ANSMET can be more pleasant than camping in the states. No noisy Winnebagos, no trash at the campsite, no bugs or snakes, no rain – it’s ideal! In general, living conditions will be spartan, but comfortable. We’ll live in Scott tents, which are double-walled to insulate and about 9 ft on a side, and we’ll sleep in down bags. Toilet facilities will be the most limited consideration. We cook with small propane stoves, which also warm the tent. Satellite phone contact with McMurdo is maintained daily. Usual weather conditions call for temperatures between -10 and -20 °C with steady winds around 20 kph. It can be a lot nicer than that, but it also can be a lot worse; it’s not unusual to be stuck inside your tent for a week or more as the wind howls at 60 kph or faster. We tent and cook in groups of two, but often gather sociably. Workdays usually are spent on snowmobile (you’ll have one of your very own) or on foot (you’ll have two of those) looking for meteorites. With 24 hours of daylight, we may work irregular hours as the job-at-hand demands.
The tent is a weird thermal environment. Typically the snow we’re camped on is a cold-sink at about -40, but with the stoves going, the top of the tent can easily be 90° F, so you have a huge gradient. Usually people hang around in a light fleece layer, with a wind layer on top of that, and fluffy booties on my feet. That’s plenty to keep you warm indoors and even for 10-15 minutes outdoors.
Question #16: What is the electricity situation in the field? Should I bring my laptop, iPod, Kindle, camera, etc.?
Answer: We plan to provide each tent with a solar panel-based power unit that puts out both 120V AC and 12V DC. These solar power units are fairly reliable but limited in wattage- in full sunshine, they make 50-60 watts available. That’s barely enough to keep a small laptop charged (most laptop chargers are in the 70 watt range), so keep your expectations low. Don’t expect to charge a laptop AND a camera AND a Kindle AND an iPod all at once, you simply don’t have the power. Also remember that your tentmate will probably have a few gadgets as well, you’ll have to share. Keeping up with charging things can be a source of stress- the fewer things you need to carry, keep safe, keep warm, and keep charged, the less of a burden it’ll be for you. Also note that if trouble does develop with a power unit, ANSMET gear gets priority for charging, and getting a new one out of McMurdo can take weeks.
If you can keep those limits in mind, you are encouraged to bring a laptop, tablet or other electronic gear. History suggests that these gadgets are mainly used for entertainment purposes, which is fine- we all need some recreation, and the daily survival chores of ANSMET don’t leave you with much time or energy to do work.
Question #17: How can someone at home contact me in an emergency?
Answer: To get an urgent message to someone in Antarctica, have them call ASC headquarters in Denver (303-790-8606). Have them describe the emergency and they will take care of the rest. This is for emergency only, and calling ASC is the critical first step that opens all the subsequent lines of communication.
Question #18:: I’m a scientist; what can I do for myself while in Antarctica?
Answer: By volunteering for ANSMET, you are in effect agreeing to put ANSMET science goals ahead of any personal goals. Therefore you should not necessarily plan any non-ANSMET related research for execution in the field, and ANSMET goals will always take priority over any other activities.
However, we can be receptive to projects initiated by field party members as long as they don’t interfere with the goals ANSMET (i.e., investigating the nature of meteorite concentrations, improving the quality of the field work, or noting interesting related phenomena, etc.). You must clear any such project with me far in advance. The main problem is that funding for Antarctic research is very limited and very competitive, so if we do anything beyond meteorite recovery, it might appear that we are dodging around the existing peer-reviewed proposal system to get other science done. If you discover something interesting while in the field, let us know and we’ll decide if it’s an opportunity worth pursuing.
Question #19:: Will we celebrate the holidays?
Answer: We will, and I recommend people bring down small gifts they can give to their field party members. My preferences generally run toward real estate, impressionist paintings, and small subsidiary companies, while John has always wanted his own ski- and float- equipped Twin Otter. We tend not to make too big of a deal of the holidays, but we do use the season as an excuse to get together and have a group meal, relax over a steaming mug or two, and swap presents and stories. History suggests that creative, personalized gifts are as valuable as chocolate!
Question #20: Will I be able to vacation in New Zealand or wherever before or after the season?
Answer: Absolutely, but not at the project’s expense. By fall, our dates for the field season will be firm, and at that time we will ask you for your travel plans (US departure city, when you want to return, etc.). The Antarctic contractor will provide round-trip tickets from continental US cities to Christchurch, New Zealand on American Airlines, and they are usually happy to let you arrive early in NZ or leave late, as long as it doesn’t cost them money. Be aware the contractor gets cranky if you try to change your original flight schedule once it has been set, and they have no ability to accommodate complicated travel plans, such as flying in to NZ from one location in November and flying somewhere else on the return in January. The contractor manages about 5000 different trips to Antarctica each year, so try not to make their life complicated. My recommendation is to treat the ANSMET trip as a free round-tripper to NZ and make any side trips before or after the season self-contained.
Question #21: Should I purchase extra insurance?
Answer: ANSMET volunteers are considered covered by a “traveller’s aid” policy taken out by Case Western Reserve University, but it’s extremely limited in scope- it basically gets you to a hospital and pays you a pittance if you are injured so badly that you wish you were dead. In other words, it is NOT medical insurance- this policy will not cover your care, only your emergency transportation. Nor does this policy cover personal belongings. It is your responsibility to ensure that your health insurance will cover your hospital and other medical expenses in NZ and the US and any other country you plan to visit. This is especially important for citizens of countries with socialized medicine; you should ensure you can cover your own emergency medical costs in other countries. Details on CWRU’s traveller’s insurance are available on request.
Question #22: Can one truly know the future, great swami?
Answer: Ah, little grasshopper, The future is known to those who live there. Perhaps your future has already been written, to be read by those who can.
Question #23: Any other questions?
Answer: I’m sure there are. Call or email Jim or I anytime, but read the crap that preceded this to make sure you didn’t just skip the answer!