The first cohort of Scott Base staff flew out of Christchurch this morning for Antarctica – marking the start of New Zealand’s 2021/22 summer season.
They NEARLY got there on Monday, but the Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 turned back after four and a half hours due to poor weather in Antarctica. That’s fondly referred to as a ‘boomerang’ amongst Antarcticans. Inclement Antarctic weather kept the plane on the tarmac until this morning, when the Kiwi Hercules took off at 9am on its way to McMurdo Sound. With a suitable weather window in place, the Hercules landed at Phoenix Airfield at 4.07pm, and was due to spend a short time on the ice before heading back to Christchurch.
Sarah Williamson, Antarctica New Zealand Chief Executive says these staff members are essential to running Scott Base safely and the organisation has gone to great lengths to ensure they arrive in Antarctica COVID-19 free.
“Adding a two-week isolation period and multiple COVID-19 tests to Antarctic pre-deployment is a big commitment for our people heading south this year, but we want to ensure we’ve done everything we can to keep Antarctica COVID-19 free.
“We are excited to be sending our base maintenance staff south, and to see the return of our team members that have been in Antarctica all winter,” she says.
Antarctica New Zealand has organised accommodation in Canterbury to ensure all people flying south are completely isolated before travel. (This is not the governmental MIQ). There are several COVID-19 tests during the two-week isolation, and masks must be worn to ensure everyone is kept safe.
Once at Scott Base, there is a carefully planned system every time a new cohort arrives. This means masks and physical distancing are the new norm on base.
The summer Scott Base staff will work in Antarctica for the next five months, while twelve staff will stay on throughout winter until October 2022.
Due to COVID-19, fewer people will travel south this season compared with ‘normal’ years. Researchers begin to arrive next month, allowing New Zealand’s world-leading climate change science to continue on the ice.