A team of military hydrographers are among New Zealand Defence Force personnel bound for Antarctica as part of the NZDF’s long-standing commitment to supporting scientific and environmental programmes on the ice.
Five NZDF personnel are already in Antarctica for the summer season, working as part of the support team at New Zealand’s Scott Base.
Soon a team of six from the Royal New Zealand Navy dive and hydrography unit HMNZS MATATAUA will join them. The team will carry out an underwater survey to assist Antarctica New Zealand with logistical planning for its Scott Base redevelopment project.
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said the NZDF had been providing support to Antarctica programmes since the 1950s, making this one of its most enduring missions.
Antarctica New Zealand Chief Executive Sarah Williamson said it was great to continue working with the NZDF for another summer season on the ice.
“Every season we look forward to NZDF staff joining our team at Scott Base. They help fill a variety of roles from communications support, to plant operators and logistics.
“This season the data gathered by the hydrographers will be a vital part of planning for the biggest project Antarctica New Zealand has ever undertaken, the Scott Base redevelopment project,” she said.
Under Operation ANTARCTICA, the NZDF’s support usually runs for about five months each year.
During the 2019/20 summer season, the NZDF sent 132 personnel to the ice with another 26 personnel based at Harewood Air Movements terminal in Christchurch, supporting flights to and from Antarctica, including for the United States Antarctic Program.
Last summer, the NZDF sent cargo handlers, engineers, drivers, aviation refuellers, communications operators and base support staff to Antarctica.
Rear Admiral Gilmour said a smaller number of NZDF personnel were going to the ice this year, due to Antarctic programmes operating a reduced season to minimise the possibility of Covid-19 entering the continent.
The Senior National Officer for Operation ANTARCTICA, Major Andrew Thornton, said all those deploying were meeting Antarctica New Zealand’s requirements, including undergoing Covid-19 testing and a 14-day managed isolation prior to departure.
“Antarctica is obviously an incredibly special and unique environment and we take our responsibilities seriously to keep it that way,’’ Major Thornton said.
It will be the first time HMNZS MATATAUA hydrographers have deployed to Antarctica and Lieutenant Commander Peter Jensen, the officer in charge of the military hydrographic group, said they were looking forward to the challenge.
“Our aim is to collect hydrographic data from the Pram Point area of Ross Island. This information will be used to verify previous work conducted by Antarctica New Zealand and confirm specific logistical requirements for the Scott Base redevelopment project and ongoing scientific operations. We’re excited about going, and hope the weather plays ball.
Lieutenant Commander Jensen said to collect the data, the team planned to use a single beam echo sounder, lowered through holes in the sea ice, set out at five metre intervals.
The hydrography team is expected to be in Antarctica for three to four weeks.
To prepare for the complexity of working in Antarctic conditions, during winter this year the hydrographers and divers carried out a one-week training exercise at Lake Alta in the Remarkables mountain range near Queenstown. They tested their survey and underwater search equipment to see how the gear would react in a cold environment.
Antarctica New Zealand staff, as well as ice diving experts from the New Zealand Police National Dive Squad, were involved. The training exercise helped the team identify limitations of equipment in operating under an ice sheet, and determine the best method to use to collect the survey data.
This summer, the Royal New Zealand Air Force is scheduled to operate about a dozen flights to Antarctica using C130H Hercules and Boeing B757 aircraft to transport cargo and passengers. The flights are due to get underway in November.