Antarctica

Week 8 December 12 2004 "Iceberg B-15"

The Project Director, JY, left the Pole this week. IceCube is a large project with collaborators in lots of counties and many institutions. To manage the organisation it has a complex management structure. Complex in the sense that it is large for a science project. There are many governing bodies and agreements to deal with the wide range of participants. To get the basic work done there is Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with 3 levels of formal management. My job is at the lowest level of this management structure, level 3 manager for Data Handling. The title does not reflect well the work covered. However my management level does reflect well my position in the food chain.

One of the problems with the waste lands of middle management as I see it is that you end up with the worst of both worlds. I don't have enough time to properly do technical work, but I'm required to have a good understanding of the technical tasks. While on the management side I have no say in the overall scheme but am required to produce a detailed budget and schedule (within semi arbitrary limits set more by political agendas than technical requirements) which, along with the contributions from all the other level 3 managers, are the foundation for the overall projects budget and schedule. It's taken me awhile to work out how to work the system, but I'm getting there. On the management side do the bare minimum required. Give the budget and schedule your best shot and then leave it alone. I put my focus on the team I work with and try and make them as productive as possible. I've managed to put a great group of people together that are very productive, and in the long run this will hopefully allow me to spend some more time on the technical and interesting side of the job.

Having said that, JY felt there needed to be an on ice management structure. After he left this week he made me the on ice lead for IceCube. I have no desire to climb the management bean stalk, but this was very satisfying. There are no major activities happening over the next few weeks until the next senior manager arrives. I have no extra power, responsibility, or any of the other things most people want with a higher level position. But there is one big thing that is a continued annoyance to me. We have experts in many fields and topics. My main expertise is working in Antarctica (and computers I guess). I see people senior to me struggle with problems that have obvious solutions if they'd only had more experience in Antarctica (a lot more). These same people are usually very intimidated by ice experience and reluctant to accept advice (they certainly wouldn't ask for it). It's not worth the effort. These days I'd rather watch money wasted and inefficient work practices than try and help and put up with the grief you get in return. But JY's gesture of making me the on ice lead, even for a short period, was nice recognition of my experience and is very satisfying. I bet you've guessed by now that our management is dominated by men.

There was a town meeting on Saturday afternoon. These happen about once a month to keep everyone informed. This meeting was run by the Winter Over Site Manager. Despite his title he is a really great bloke. We wintered together in 2000 (he had a different job then). He has the knack of not making meetings too serious while still stressing the points that are serious. I think this approach is working well. One of the ways he lightened this meeting was to have a rumor control segment. Rumors are a major pastime in Antarctica.

A lot of the rumors have to do with a big iceberg called B15. B15 is one of a series of big bergs that calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000. There is a problem in that it has moved in front of McMurdo Sound and holding the sea ice in. The ice breakers will have to break as much as 80 miles of ice to resupply the stations. We get our supplies from McMurdo and are thus affected.

I guess you may have seen this in the news. I heard one of the major networks ran a story on this in which they described the situation as desperate, supplies running out at the station. It was funny that I was told this at lunch as I was eating a soft serve ice cream. It's a harsh continent!

It is true that NSF are writing contingency plans for the situation that fuel can not be delivered to McMurdo, and many other variations on the theme. This is typical behavior for NSF. This berg has been around for awhile, and this is not the first time they have gone through the exercise. However it has now moved into a position that it is certainly going to make life difficult. However a deal has been done to get access to a large Russian ice breaker which should help. More on the deal done in the next couple of weeks.

Is there a problem? Yes. Are they going to evacuate the stations? No. In recent years when the sea ice hasn't gone out from McMurdo the ice breakers have made a channel in, typically 10 miles. With 2 ice breakers they should be able to break a fair way in. Then it may be a matter of using fuel lines and pumping fuel in if they can't make it all the way. It is certainly going to cost a lot of money.

One of my favorite seasonal parties was this weekend, the annual Met party. The Meteorology Department have a really nice work area. They have made it that way over the years, and show it off each year with a party. It's a very sophisticated event with wine and cheese served (though beer and peanuts is sophisticated here). Met is an important group in the summer because they do the observations needed for flight operations. This is serious work and they treat their work with the respect it deserves. But they always seem to be a happy bunch. Their work area always gets decorated for the holidays. They have a candy bowl which they encourage most people to help themselves to. Despite their heavy responsibility they are very relaxed people. This makes their annual party one of the best each summer.

To be continued....

John and Tony in their work space, Met.

Left to right - Fire shack, annex, comms and lunges, old galley.

The annex and upper berthing. My room is the hatch second from right with frost above it. I keep the hatch slightly cracked to keep the temperature down.

NSF press release about B-15

B-15. Icebreakers have to make a channel to just the other side of the thin peninsula where Scott Base is marked.

Nice image of the Ross Sea region with B-15.

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