Out in the Cold: Working for the British Antarctic Survey

Out in the Cold: Working for the British Antarctic Survey

Carpenter Tom Griffin has been working in one of the most remote regions of the world for over a year, but the idea that the Antarctic is a cold and lonely place cuts no ice with him.

During winter, the Antarctic is covered in ice, shrouded in darkness and the temperature averages minus 61 degrees Celsius. If these sound like nightmarish conditions to you, then maybe working on the doorstep of the South Pole is not for you. Oh, and did I mention the killer whales?

Tom5But for some, like carpenter Tom Griffin, these are small potatoes compared to the grandeur and beauty of the world’s most isolated region – “knowing there’s not another soul for hundreds of miles, just the sky – it’s magical. I’ve never seen a sky like it.”

Working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), 29-year-old Tom battles the harsh conditions to provide maintenance work and carry out projects to aid the scientists in their work, and even during the summer it’s pretty cold: “The highest we’ve had this summer was +3°C.”

But despite the conditions, the work must get done eventually. His is an essential job in a place where practical skills are in huge demand. “The summer is our chance to do any outdoor work needed. At the moment I’m building a roofed corridor between the hangar and the containers where the air mechanics store their gear, I’m using full sheets of phenolic ply so any bit of wind won’t be good for that.”

One way to ensure everything gets done is to meticulously plan for the months ahead, which is especially important as relief supplies come but once a year, as Tom explains, “you can’t just pop down to Tool Station and grab it. So there is a lot of planning ahead, and everything has to be overseen.”

Of course, it’s not all work and no play. The Antarctic is the world’s largest playground if you have a sense of adventure – and that’s important if you’re out there for fourteen months like Tom!

“The amount of recreation we get down here is unreal. You can just go out skiing or snowboarding and do whatever


you want; you get the chance to mooch about on the boat with the scientists. There were killer whales just off the wharf yesterday which is just unreal to see these natural beasts in their home environment.”

The Antarctic clearly offers something you can’t find anywhere else in the world, and a sense of camaraderie amongst the team is inevitable, as Tom explains:

“For the training in Cambridge you do a lot of team bonding exercises. The dynamic of the base is really exceptional. There are not many places where you get such a different amount of people from different walks of life. The majority of people are here for the experience of being here. So we’ve all got that in common.”

Tom explained why he chose to go down there, saying “it’s a perfect opportunity to save up to go travelling. It’s a great platform for a young professional. You get opportunities to do so many things that you otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to.”

The BAS, it seems, has done a lot to transform the Antarctic into a truly liveable space. It’s surprising how exciting life could be down there. Tom boasted “we’ve got a great music scene here too; there are a lot of keen musicians. We’ve even formed a band down here, there are a couple.

We had an live music night in the boat shed on New Year’s Eve to entertain everyone.” The next Led Zeppelin, then? “Well, we’re called Simplify,” laughs Tom, “because we’re not very good, we simplify everything… We’re having fun though!”

Back home, Tom trained in Post and Beam carpentry – a traditional method of building houses using large oak beams – but you don’t have to be too old a hand to get started down there, as Tom explains “there’s a range of ages. The youngest person here at the moment is about 21, the oldest about 50.

“As long as you’ve got enough basic experience, they want people that are coming here because they want to be here, not just because it’s a job. The most important factor? Enthusiasm. You need to be enthusiastic about your work and the opportunity you’ve been given.”

And where next? Tom has some big plans: “I’ve worked in North Australia, which was pretty hot! I’ve been trying to get to Canada for years but I keep finding myself in other countries. I leave here in two weeks and I’m going straight to South America for the Rio carnival. It’ll be the polar opposite of here!”

Tom still has a lot of love for the UK though, adding “I’ve got a little business building music studios called Pirate Studios back at home that I run with a couple of mates, so I’ll be pretty flat out for the next few years with that. And I’ve got quite a few siblings that I miss. And peanut M&Ms, I’d bloody love a packet of peanut M&Ms!”




Related posts