A Year of Antarctic Science Support
Seven hundred scientists. One hundred projects. One frozen continent. And one year to make it all happen.
On April 1, Lockheed Martin successfully closed in on its first year as the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) prime contractor. Managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the USAP enables NSF-funded researchers and other federal agencies to conduct valuable scientific research in Antarctica, and it is Lockheed Martin’s role as the logistics and infrastructure provider to support this science.
But what does supporting science really mean? We asked program director Celia Lang.
1. Making sure scientists have everything they need to conduct their research.
“For any one project, we have to ask a variety of questions, such as how much food will scientists need to take into the field with them, how many snowmobiles and gallons of gasoline will they require, and will they need additional supplies flown to their camp? Can the scientists and their equipment fit in one plane to get there, or will it require two flights?” said Lang.
In the last year, Lockheed Martin asked these questions for more than 100 projects involving more than 700 scientists. Some of the science highlights of this past season included drilling into a subglacial lake located about a half-mile under an ice sheet; investigating the high thinning rate of the Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf; and re-entering a 3,405-meter deep hole in an ice sheet to extract additional ice cores for climate research.
2. Making sure that the cargo these scientists and support staff need is where it needs to be when it needs to be there.
In the last year, the team shipped 10.7 million pounds of cargo to Antarctica for the USAP. The majority of this cargo is food and operational supplies, according to Lang. “Because Antarctica has no supermarkets or hardware stores, every item that is used or consumed must be planned for and purchased a year or more in advance,” she explained. “Nearly 40,000 inventory items were issued by supply personnel, ranging from pens and paper to frozen hamburger and furnace filters.”
Although military flights come in and out throughout the summer season, the majority of the cargo gets to Antarctica via a resupply vessel that arrives in February. The same resupply vessel then takes all the food and material waste off the continent. This year, the outbound cargo also equaled 10.7 million pounds. Along with waste, science samples are also brought back to the United States on the ship, including ice cores and rock samples.
“All in all, the supply chain to Antarctica is the longest in the world – roughly 10,000 miles,” Lang noted.
3. Making sure scientists and staff get to and from Antarctica.
About 3,000 people travel to Antarctica through the USAP every year. Ninety percent of these people travel from the United States to New Zealand, where most people board U.S. military aircraft to reach Antarctica. The remaining 10 percent travel from the U.S. to Chile, where they board a USAP research vessel.
These passengers must be ticketed on commercial flights and manifested on the military aircraft and research ships. The majority of the 3,000 southbound passengers travel in October and most return to the U.S. in late January and early February. Before these passengers are ticketed to deploy, they must pass a physical and dental exam to ensure their health before leaving. “Our team tracks each person's process to ensure all appropriate paperwork is turned in before an airline ticket is issued,” said Lang.
Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest, emptiest and highest continent on Earth. As such, it provides unique research opportunities that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. And just as the research is extraordinary, so are the logistics and planning that take place behind the scenes.
Posted April 1, 2013
- Lockheed Martin successfully closed in on its first year as the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) prime contractor
- In the last year, the team shipped 10.7 million pounds of cargo to Antarctica for the USAP
- Nearly 40,000 inventory items were issued by supply personnel, ranging from pens and paper to frozen hamburger and furnace filters