My name is Terry Trimingham and I work as a communications operator
here at McMurdo station. I work in the "Field Operation Communications
Center" which is a small room filled with radios. It kind of looks like a
console that Captain Kirk would like...lots of buttons and lights, a
computer and a swivel chair.
My job is to monitor the radios to make sure everyone out in the
field camps is OK. There are many scientists here that leave McMurdo to
camp out while they study different things about the Antarctic. Once a
day they have to call in on the radio to say that everything is OK. If I
don't hear from them once every day, I have to alert the proper
authorities that they may be in trouble. If more than 48 hours goes
by we will talk seriously about sending out a search and rescue
team to see if they are all there and that nothing has happened.
Thankfully, in the two years I have done this job nothing like that
has happened. Sometimes a camp will miss the check-in time, but
that is usually because the radio waves weren't cooperative and we
just couldn't hear them.
Another part of my job is to monitor the movement of anyone driving
off of established roadways on the sea ice. The ocean here is
frozen for most of the year, and is thick enough to support the
weight of trucks, bulldozers, and other large vehicles.
Every year there is an ice runway out on the sea ice where the
planes land, and there is a lot of traffic active between McMurdo
and the runway. The road is marked by flags and maintained by a
There are other roads leading to fish huts, study sights and other
areas of study that people have to travel to that are not
considered "established". These are more like just flagged routes
leading to different destinations. Any time someone wants to travel
on one of the flagged routes, they have to call me on the radio and
check out, telling me where they are going, how many people, and
when they think they will return to McMurdo. We have people check
out for safety reasons; if they don't check back in at the time
they said they would arrive, I have to send out a search and rescue
team to find out if they are OK.
This year we had one scientist get caught in a snow storm. It was
a white-out and he lost his way. When he was overdue we called out
the search and rescue team and it took them 6 hours to find him.
He had been out in a raging blizzard for 11 hours and was a little
disoriented, but OK. I am glad that he was safe when they found him.
I listen to 4 HF radios and 6 VHF radios. The HF radios are for
talking to the field camps all over the continent, and the VHF
radios are for talking to the folks that are here close to McMurdo
(line of sight). Besides the 10 radios, I have 5 phone lines that ring in
my room. There are 4 business lines, 3 of which I can hook to the HF radio
frequencies. It is pretty neat. If a scientist out in the field has
his snowmobile break down, he can call me on the radio and I can
patch him on the telephone to a mechanic here in McMurdo about how
to fix it. I also answer all the incoming satellite calls that
come in from the United States on official business. Sometimes
other people call on the satellite lines, like last year when a
French ship was in the area and wanted information on the ice
conditions around McMurdo.
On a busy day it is not unusual for three radios to be talking to me at
once and the telephone ringing too! During the day there are two
radio operators working to keep up with all the calls, in the
evening and at midnight there is only one person at the console. We
have four different people working as radio operators and there are
four shifts we work, rotating around to cover all 24 hours in the day.
I love talking to the scientists out in the field; it is a good
feeling to be able to take and pass messages for people. I know I
am their only link with McMurdo. Aside from my voice all they have
is each other and the great vast whiteness of ice all around them.
I am a chef by trade, but I like to go to remote areas and have
worked in many isolated places similar to McMurdo (up in Alaska and
British Columbia for example). I learned about radio when I went
to Palmer Station Antarctica in 1897 as a cook. Radio was the only
way I could call home and talk to my family. After I got back from
Palmer, I studied ham radio and got my license. I first came to McMurdo
in 1992 as a cook, but knew I would rather be a radio operator. I feel
very lucky to have the opportunity to be here. Antarctica is definitely
one of the most beautiful places I have seen. I am pretty well-versed in
the local history of Ross Island; also the wildlife there.