SENHIVE ENGINEER WOUTER PAESEN ON ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION
Providing mission-critical services sometimes goes beyond the comfort-zone of Senhive’s engineers. Wouter Paesen just finished his first expedition on Antarctica, he was responsible in designing and enhancing the smart-grid and renewable systems. Not only the environmental conditions were extreme, but also the systems..
Wouter, can you give a description of what your assignment consisted about ?
My mission was to bring software of the bases' automation system up to date. The automation system was originally put in place to manage the available resources in the most optimal way. Over the past years the base has received a number of upgrades to improve the renewable energy yield. I upgraded the automation system software to integrate these updates into the base.
How do the working conditions defer from a regular assignment?
All of my work took place on systems inside the base, so I was pretty much inside all the time. The base is equipped pretty well so the working conditions were good. It was challenging to work on the systems that everyone relies on to live. I couldn't just shut the systems down for an indefinite amount of time to perform updates or tests. Every modification had to be done on a live system and every time I had to make sure the changes were correct. Some modifications I did were improvements inspired by observation of the work routines of bases' operations team. Tedious manual routines were integrated into the automation system. Whenever this required physical modifications to the system I didn't have the luxury of going online and ordering new equipment for next day delivery. So we had to get creative by using the available equipment from the bases' store.
How is it living in a zero-emission station?
With regard to the living conditions in the base I would say that I have stayed in worse accommodations in and around cities all over the world. Everything you need is there: proper food, good sleeping quarters, toilets and shower facilities, a doctor.. Sometimes it can be a challenge to live together with a group of people in such isolation, but the team in place during my visit was a nice group and we all got along pretty well. That is important because if you want to go out into the field you always need to do this as a team and you need to know that you can trust each other.
How dependent are scientists, engineers, etc from the autonomy of the station?
From what I've seen the stations autonomy is important for all different teams working on and around the station. For the people at the station the autonomy facilitates working and living. For some teams daily work is done in harsh conditions. The knowledge that you can retreat into the comfort provided by the base at the end of the working day makes that more bearable.
For the people in the field (usually the scientists) the station is always there as a fallback. The knowledge that it doesn't depend on external resources and is always available is a good ground condition for working in the field. The base is equipped with gear and crew that can be deployed at any moment in case of emergency.
For the scientific research the autonomy is mission critical. Apart from missions during the arctic summer the base also houses some permanent experiments for a number of research projects around the world. The autonomy facilitates these projects all year long, so scientific data acquisition can continue, even when nobody is present at the station. It is amazing that all this is possible in the arctic conditions, using renewable resources only and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on this project.