‘Sunlight streams in at 2am’: life inside New Zealand’s Antarctica base – The Guardian


Matthew Jordan fell in love with the vast southern continent on a cruise. Eight years later, he’s preparing to spend months working through an Antarctic winter
My first trip to Antarctica was as a tourist in 2014. I booked a cruise from Argentina and spent 10 days sailing around the Antarctic peninsula. It was after that I decided Antarctica was the place I wanted my career to head.
The primary thing that got me was the natural landscape and visiting the research stations. Prior to that point I figured Antarctica was just for scientists and I didn’t realise there were a whole bunch of support staff from different backgrounds.
I have a background in civil and construction engineering and spent a lot of my early career working in a supporting role for the mining industry in Western Australia. I got to the point where that was not want I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to give back to the world and find an industry that was focused on issues of a global scale.
When I first visited Antarctica, an engineer there told me to reach out to the national Antarctic programme about jobs. Being Australian, I originally contacted their national programme, but actually the role with Antarctica New Zealand was the dream job. I have been with them since August 2017.
My work is supporting the Scott Base redevelopment project – it is the largest project Antartica New Zealand has ever undertaken. It combines the two things that I really enjoy – construction and project management – but also the Antarctic environment. This is the pinnacle of construction and engineering and it doesn’t get any better anywhere in the world. This is a kind of legacy project for me.
In the early days, I was going on two-week trips to Antarctica now and then, just to get my head around how the base operates and how things work. Nowadays they have extended out – I spend an average of two and a half months there every year. But my next trip, in 2023, will be eight months over the winter.
The only family I have in New Zealand is my partner who is from Perth as well. When I first got the job, I let her know it was a dream for me and that I would love to winter over at some point before we have kids – so she knew this was coming, but it is going to be a bit of a challenge being away from her for such a long period.
When it comes to spending a winter down in Antarctica, I’m really excited to see how the base differs. I hear it can be really brutal – the storms rage for days at a time and temperatures can get down to -57C. But there are days that sit in the -10 to -20 range, which makes it feasible to go outside and enjoy what Antarctica has to offer in the winter.
I thought the weather was going to be brutal all the time – I didn’t think there would be days where I could walk out in a T-shirt and a hoodie. In summer, the strangest thing to get used to is the 24 hours of sun. You drink a lot of water in Antarctica because it is so dry, which means going to the toilet in the middle of the night and getting out of bed to walk through a corridor with the sunlight streaming in at 2am. You can lose track of time.
I started a TikTok account in November, which has become a really good platform for me to spread the message about the work and the science that Antarctica New Zealand supports.
I put up a couple of videos about what kind of clothing we wear in Antarctica and a few others like that, but the first one to take off was the process of flying to Antarctica. The next video – of a penguin jumping in an excavator bucket – went viral and has now been viewed 7.5m times. It was a wild couple of weeks.
After that, I realised there was something in this – there were a lot of people asking questions, like “what is it like to do your laundry”, “how do you make water” or “what happens to the poo”. It’s stuff that is very normal to us who live here, but is interesting to those who don’t get to experience living on a research station.
Antarctica definitely attracts a certain type of person – adventurous is probably a good way to summarise it, but also people that have a larger strategic view of the world and a desire to make a difference. It’s quite cool.
Matthew Jordan is the Scott Base redevelopment manager at Antarctica New Zealand, and a TikTok creator.
As told to Eva Corlett

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