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12 April, 2000

Chip Dunn, Communications Technician

Question 53: Who is Christine Island (one of our best dive sites) named for?

The weather continues to be very stormy today with huge waves. We will not go out diving until it calms down.

Chip Dunn is our station's only Communications (coms) Technician. McMurdo and Pole each have several. It allows them to rotate shifts so there is always someone in the coms room and available for repair. Chip has Sunday and evenings off. The doctor and science technician are on radio monitoring duty in the evenings. There is less night activity here than at the other two stations. Sunday radio duty is rotated among other staff members. This is Chip's third season on the ice. He spent two years at the South Pole and has been here at Palmer for 7 months. In the states, he worked as an electrical engineer for 15 years and then with satellite communications. After he retired, he tried out teaching middle school computer and math classes before coming to Antarctica.

Chip likes the sense of exploration and adventure, travel opportunities and chance to go somewhere very different that comes with working in Antarctica. History is intriguing to Chip, and the idea of following the Antarctic explorers is inviting. Living here, he gets a taste of the adventure without the suffering that they went through. He feels that it is the closest you can get to the experience of being an astronaut on earth. He used to work with the space shuttles at Boeing and had the chance to get in the program for payload specialists. Chip passed on the experience because of the 4-5 years of training in Austin for only a possibility of going into space.

The coms tech records and monitors all communication on station. Anyone away from the immediate station vicinity (except in the backyard) must have a radio with them and on at all times. This includes Zodiacs, glacier or island travel. We radio to coms when we leave the station and give him information about where we are going and how many people are in our group. We update the information from the field whenever there is a change. Coms keeps track of the location of all field parties and is responsible for alerting the station manager if a field team has an emergency, is out of contact for a period of time, or is late returning to station.

Chip makes contact with other stations in Antarctica and facilitates communication between stations and work parties. He coordinates plane and ship traffic between stations and around the Peninsula area (including tourist ships). There is a lot of responsibility in his job, mostly for things he will (hopefully) never have to do. He is responsible for preparation for and coordination during emergencies. He arranges medical help for ships and field stations in the Peninsula. This season, the icebreaker James Clark Ross got iced in and the people had to be flown out with four twin otters. On the cruise before our group boarded the Gould in March, Chip arranged the medivac of a crew member to a Chilean base and then on an airplane to Chile. He also deals with satellite communication to the States--all voice and data communication. This includes science business (NSF), station or support business (Raytheon), and individual connections to home for morale! Our email link and phones are all satellite based. Email is a relatively new addition to the USAP, available here only in the last 4-5 years. Chip does the mechanical and electrical repairs dealing with any of the communications equipment, anything from fixing the INMARSAT receiver to recharging field party radio batteries. Besides everything else, he does one of the daily weather records too.

To support all of this communication, the station is bristling with antennae. There are satellite transmitters for LES-9 (internet, data and voice, IP phone) , ATS-3 (radio, voice) and the INMARSAT (commercial satellite--voice, fax, and telex) on GWR and BioLab buildings. We have several big VHF towers and the ham radio tower. The VHF repeater is the tallest antenna in back yard (around 100 ft). VHF is for local area talk and close-range ships and planes. The wire cone is the conical monopole, an omnidirectional antenna. We can use it to contact McMurdo Station. The high frequency towers on Bonaparte Point are for long-range ship contact.

Phone calls from Palmer Station placed on ATS or the IP phone (internet based) are patched through to Florida's phone system. ATS calls are like radio, one-way at a time and not secure. They are subject to some interference and fading, as is any radio transmission. The IP phone is as secure as the internet and is two way, but is more subject to noise and drop-outs, especially during times of heavy internet usage. The INMARSAT is the most secure and reliable phone but also the most expensive. It is available 24 hours a day, while the IP or ATS operation is dependent on the satellite windows. Palmer also has an internal phone system combined with a public address system that can all-call the whole station or phone an individual location.

We have direct internet access during two six-hour LES-9 windows each day. Email sent when the satellite link is up goes directly to its destination. When the link is down, email is queued and then transmitted automatically during the next satellite window. The start and stop times of each satellite window are approximately four minutes earlier each day due to the satellite's orbit. There are satellite time schedules posted around the station.

Answer 52: Yes, Antarctica has the Transantarctic Mountains which divide East Antarctica from West Antarctica (also called Greater Antarctica and Lesser Antarctica). The mountain range is about 4800 kilometers (3000 miles) long. There are other mountains too, including those on the Antarctic Peninsula. The Vinson Massif is the highest point in Antarctica at 5139 meters (16,860 feet).

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