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29 March, 2000

Howie Tobin, Senior Lab Instrument Technician

Question 39: What is the Antarctic Treaty?

On our dive today we took along the underwater camera for the first time. We will soon be using a digital video camera as well; hopefully underwater pictures will be included in future journal entries. There were scattered patches of clear sky today and the most beautiful sunset yet!

Howie Tobin is Palmer Station's Laboratory Instrument Technician. He is a member of the support staff and is employed by Antarctic Support Associates (ASA). He deals with the set-up, maintenance, upkeep, and break-down of all the lab instruments used on the station. He assists science groups with their lab needs, finding supplies, equipment, and facility space. He also keeps an inventory of all the equipment, spare parts, etc. Keeping an accurate inventory here is vital. If you don't know how many of something you have, the station could run out unexpectedly. This is a problem when resupply from the nearest store takes about a month to get here from the time the order is placed.

The preparation for a science group begins well before it arrives. Howie uses the group's SIP (Supporting Information Package) to put together all of the equipment the science group has requested. The SIP for our project is an eighty-eight page document that was filled out almost a year in advance. It covers all science needs from equipment already at the station to the amount of freezer space needed (and at what temperature), from equipment that will have to be shipped in to the amount of air we will use for diving, from minutely detailed chemicals to the number of station computers, and from field radios and GPS units to the number of test tubes. At least we are not doing field camp work out of McMurdo. Then we would also have to go into nitty-gritty detail about all the things the group will need for living, up to and including the amount of toilet paper!

Howie is also one of the four people on the meteorological team. Seven days a week, every six hours, one of them observes, records and broadcasts the area's weather. This is his first time on the ice. Previously he has done environmental lab work with inorganic chemicals and trace metals. He has been here since the end of October, five months. Next summer season he will be here seven to eight months. After a month off, he will be working for Raytheon (the company which takes over from ASA in April) at their Denver office in science group communication putting SIPs together, ordering things and dealing with vendors, manufacturers, and suppliers. He plans to continue working in Antarctica.

One of the things that Howie likes about this job is the schedule. The travel opportunities are very appealing. When you are finished with your time on the ice, you are in South America, New Zealand or Australia with vacation time. Another plus is the forced saving as there is not much to spend your salary on here. However, working in Antarctica is very disruptive if there are things that need your attention in the States. Once people have families it becomes difficult to work here. There are very few people who have worked on the ice for 10-12 years (for more numerical information about the people here see the 5/5 journal).

Answer 38: No one. The Antarctic Treaty froze all territorial claims made on the continent by other countries. Activity in Antarctica is governed by a group of nations. Anyone who can get to Antarctica safely may go there.

Sunset over Torgersen and Litchfield Islands.

Howie Tobin packing up lab equipment after the science group using it has left.

Bill Baker preparing to dive with his underwater camera.

Howie's office space.

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