Hey Cambridge, it’s a school board member calling… from Antarctica


CAMBRIDGE — For three months a year, Cambridge School Board member David Shay Price makes a hell of a commute to board meetings.

He works in Antarctica from November to February each year.

Nothing is simple in Antarctica. Price was only able to attend one meeting for 60 minutes.

But it was a window into his unusual work environment. He was deployed to McMurdo Station, where he worked as a navigator in the Air National Guard. He is part of a crew that flies six days a week from McMurdo Station to various field camps, bringing in scientists and equipment.

“McMurdo as a whole has less bandwidth than an American household, but there are 500 people there,” he said. “Checking emails there is so frustrating. I’ve had days where it took 20 minutes just to connect to email. You cannot watch videos. Attachments – forget it.

That means Zoom isn’t readily available for board meetings, but more importantly, it means aircrew can’t get detailed weather forecasts. To find out if they will fly in a storm, on a continent larger than North America, they call forecasters in the United States.

“They just don’t have the computing capability to run the weather modeling” at McMurdo Station, Price said.

Nor are there as many meteorological sensors on the mainland.

“Sometimes it’s a gamble,” he said. “We have to be very careful not to launch into potentially bad weather conditions. This is always a big concern. »

Meteorologists in the United States do the work, then painstakingly try to send the information to Antarctica.

“We’re actually talking to someone in Charleston, SC,” Price said. “And they will send the results of their modeling in much smaller data packets.”

They receive hourly updates during a flight and make decisions based on what they encounter.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have abortions,” he said.

Science camps have enough fuel, food, and other essential supplies to be self-sufficient for a year or more, so a weather shutdown won’t put them at risk.

In another indication of limited internet access, IT staff have set up 30-minute video conference calls so workers can see their families over Christmas. There is only one computer that can handle the job.

So getting Price to attend three school board meetings, all of which were supposed to last three hours or more, was not in the cards. The IT team tried to get it to work, but only succeeded once.

But the isolation of McMurdo Station has its advantages. After three weeks of quarantine in New Zealand and a week of wearing masks at the train station, everyone has been declared free of COVID-19. Over the next two months, Price was able to lead a life that was in many ways far more normal than most Americans.

“It’s kind of nice to come to some sort of normalcy,” he said. “Having all the rules lifted and having life…it was a nice break. To return to the way things have always been.

They played volleyball and basketball between shifts, celebrated Christmas with a huge dinner and watched movies when the weather grounded planes. Their “extremely small” rooms reminded them of the three weeks they spent in quarantine in New Zealand before flying to Antarctica, and no one wanted to lock themselves in alone again, so they found activities low-tech group, Price said.

He returned home on February 5. Two days later, he caught COVID. He has now recovered and is enjoying the photos he took during the few moments that weren’t working.

“It’s mostly hard work, but the key is knowing what you can experience and being ready to do it,” he said. “Either you get fired up for it and go do it, and experience it, and or later, you wish you had done it.”

This year he found penguins swimming and playing in the ocean, after going outside on a freezing day.

“There are guys who say, ‘It’s too cold, I’m not going’, and then they see my photos and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had gone,'” he said. “If you handle it right, there are some really cool things to see. That’s what I’ve always liked – I can go to really cool places and do cool stuff.


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