Icebreaker issues


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  • #1323
    Iceman
    Member

    I don’t know if many know about the “icebreaker issue” that may or may not be effecting the upcoming summer season and beyond, but here’s an email from good old Sam Feola, enjoy!

    Dear Raytheon Polar Services Employee,

    I’m writing to provide an update about the operational status of this coming season. The Swedish icebreaker Oden is not available to the USAP for the 2011-2012 season. Despite NSF’s best efforts, they have not been able to secure another icebreaker to date. However, NSF is continuing efforts to line up a replacement icebreaker. Based on this knowledge, we have begun developing contingency plans to accommodate the potential impacts to the USAP, while keeping open the option of a successful McMurdo resupply and a science support season.

    If an icebreaker is not available to clear a channel in the sea ice, fuel and cargo resupply ships may not be able to reach McMurdo Station. We could possibly airlift enough cargo to maintain most operations, but fuel is another story.

    Fuel is critical for the McMurdo and South Pole station power and water plants, flight operations, field camps, and even support of other national programs. We will need to plan in order to reserve enough fuel to last until late January 2013, which could be the earliest that we could re-supply fuel, if there is not an icebreaker this season. As fuel conservation is the highest priority, all of our planning must revolve around that objective.

    I want to specifically address staffing levels, because this could affect offers made to contract employees. We have been reviewing each and every full-time and contract deployment. If a minimal operation scenario were implemented, only staff essential to the baseline priorities would deploy, and possibly for an altered period of time.

    We have not been tasked by NSF to reduce our scope of operations at this time and are keeping open the option of a successful McMurdo Station resupply and science research season. We are proceeding with WinFly as planned and employees should continue with the PQ process. At the same time we must continue to develop contingency plans for the potential outcomes of NSF’s negotiations for icebreaker support. NSF will continue to keep us advised of their progress, and by mid-August we expect a decision as to our Mainbody tasking and contract scope.

    This situation is very challenging and we need to remain flexible. There could be a last-minute breakthrough in icebreaker accessibility. I will continue to be forthright and provide routine updates. Please keep in touch with each other and your hiring managers.

    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This is the most highly skilled and motivated team that I’ve ever worked with. I know that we not only will get this job done, but we will exceed all expectations. I will update you with new information as it becomes available.

    Regards,

    Sam

    Sam Feola
    Program Director
    Raytheon Polar Services

    #10985
    Sciencetech
    Keymaster

    Thanks for posting that.

    @Sam Feola wrote:

    …There could be a last-minute breakthrough in icebreaker accessibility.

    Har har. And now the US is caught with its pants down because our own icebreaker fleet is mostly old and often broken. Not to be too cynical (oh, okay, I will be) this might be the nudge that the government needs to finally address the problem — especially if we have to contract with a Russian icebreaker, gawd ferbid.

    I suppose they could always try ramming their way into station with the NBP. It’s a good thing the ice broke out this year, that might make things a bit less rough.

    #10986
    Iceman
    Member

    I heard that they (NSF) either don’t want to or can’t use a Russian icebreaker and they can’t use nuclear powered ones either. It’s definitely going to be a very interesting summer season. They can just fly down the 5 million gallons of fuel they need! 🙄 Along with all 900 millvan’s worth of cargo! (I wonder how many 10s of millions that would cost) First the 2 year delay with the award contract, now this icebreaker fiasco, I definitely can see that people at NSF in the Polar Division have plenty of foresight. :mrgreen:

    #10987
    Sciencetech
    Keymaster

    As the USCG ships Polar Star and Polar Sea aged, I suspect that many at the NSF, Coast Guard, and elsewhere in the government saw that problems were brewing but were unable to do much about it. Many of us on the Ice certainly saw it coming.

    Now, with the Arctic opening up, the need for icebreaker-class support vessels will only become more acute. My hope is that a small fraction of the funds that might otherwise be spent on yet another aircraft carrier, nuclear sub, or stealth bomber might be redirected to building another icebreaker for the USCG. I also hope for world peace, which is just about as likely.

    #10988
    thepooles98
    Keymaster

    Well all I can say is that it is going to make for a really interesting season assuming we go down this year. I wonder what a skeleton crew would look like.

    #10989
    Mradyfist
    Member

    My boss seems to think that we will be getting a Russian icebreaker, they’re just ironing out the details on it now. He called to warn me and confirm that I’d still deploy even if my girlfriend’s position was cut, but doesn’t think it’s likely.

    #10990
    Idan
    Member

    @thepooles98 wrote:

    I wonder what a skeleton crew would look like.

    like this perhaps: 😆
    And wouldn’t it be a fairly standard government-agency procedure to wait till the last minute on something that could have been deal with a long time ago, only to spend unnecessary money at the last possible second for an inferior temporary solution? 🙄

    #10991
    MATKATAMIBA
    Member

    @thepooles98 wrote:

    Well all I can say is that it is going to make for a really interesting season assuming we go down this year. I wonder what a skeleton crew would look like.

    I was told a skeleton crew at McM would be about 100 operations people and 50 scientists.

    #10992
    FoCoTechie
    Member

    They have been looking at many scenarios from absolute bare bones – NO science, winter over sized staffing to keep the base running all the way to full operational size and many steps between. I’ve been told that after analyzing all of the scenarios, IF we do not secure an icebreaker, they have decided the program would be able to run somewhere around half capacity; 600-700 support staff and limited science, so somewhere around 50% reduction of support staff but this is not completely linear and I imagine that the different departments would not be affected the same. I have not gotten much information about the extent of reduction of science, so I refrain from commenting on that aspect short of saying it will be reduced.

    A few points to keep in mind:

    Winter IS bare bones, meaning only enough staff to maintain the base in a minimal state so any rumors of less support staff than the normal winter crew of around 350 just plainly does not make sense.

    HR had a hiring freeze for about one week for mainbody, which has been lifted and hiring has been resumed. WinFly hiring was never affected and the NSF has asked to proceed with full WinFly deployment. (in my mind this is a good indication of the state of affairs for support staff)

    With all of that said, I have confidence that a solution will be found and the program will continue at a somewhat normal level. Also, anyone who experienced the population levels of McM last year might agree that a small reduction might even be nice…

    P.S. Glenn, I thought I knew you, we went diving at Aurora! I’m thinking about trying to get to the Blue Hole before I’m deployed again, I’ll ping everyone and make a post on SB.

    #10993
    Iceman
    Member

    @FoCoTechie wrote:

    Winter IS bare bones, meaning only enough staff to maintain the base in a minimal state so any rumors of less support staff than the normal winter crew of around 350 just plainly does not make sense.

    I think the W/O population is more like 190-220, I think back in ’05 they had 241 and that was the highest W/O population since the Navy days. I agree that that would probably be the “bare bones” population of a worst case senario with no icebreaker. Maybe rotate people (full timers and contract) in and out as needed. Think of all the salary dollars Raytheon will be saving with such a small contract work force.

    So basically, if you wanted to experience a winter (population wise), but in the summertime in Mactown, this might be the year to do that! :mrgreen:

    I wonder what is the smallest summer population they have ever had in McMurdo over the last 40 years? Bill might know the answer.

    #10994
    FoCoTechie
    Member

    @Iceman wrote:

    I think the W/O population is more like 190-220

    Yeah, the current winter population at McM right now is 149 and I think they have had only one person medivac. The 350 I wrote was influenced from the lowest scenario, scenario 0 of all the scenarios that Raytheon and NSF where using that I mentioned.

    “Scenario 0 – Bare bones, 350 people total at McMurdo, 250 being RPSC and NANA.”

    I trust my source that said it has been decided without an icebreaker, the program would not be scaled to scenario 0, it would be more in the range of 600-700, but we’re waiting on the final answer, which should be made mid-august.

    But of course the important take away here is that the summer program will probably not be bare bones or Scenario 0, although I sure would have enjoyed my own room in 209, third floor, overlooking the ice 😀

    #10995
    MATKATAMIBA
    Member

    I was also told that several power reduction scenarios are being considered. The strictest scenario with the minimum bare-bones crews would put about 100 at Pole during summer. The minimum number I was given for McMurdo was so low I won’t even mention it here because I either misheard or my contact did. Nothing was said about field camps. My contact said the same thing as FoCoTechie – winter crews are already bare-bones and won’t change much if any.

    I was also told that early closings are being considered. For Pole there is a contingency plan to close the station in January rather than in February. This means that 2012 Pole winterovers could be deploying up to a month early. Pole has to stay open long enough to cache enough fuel and reserves to last the winter and that usually happens in January, so a Jan closing is doable. I’m sure early closing scenarios for McMurdo have been worked up too, but I didn’t get any details.

    Please keep in mind that these are just some of the scenarios being worked up. I’m sure the current plan is to find an icebreaker.

    #10997
    Idan
    Member

    It seems to me that fuel is the most important resource, especially at Pole, because of its use for heat and water. Food is obviously second. I’m just curious if those two (along with fresh water on-hand) are constantly monitored because of their importance. Are fuel levels and food supply monitored daily? And how much “reserve” of each does the station carry?
    Also, I know the station generators run on diesel, as does the heavy equipment. Is there anything at Pole that uses regular gasoline, or do they not bother with it and stick to a single type of fuel?

    #10998
    skua77
    Keymaster

    Several comments…

    First of all, while I do have a large collection of numerical statistics and other useless trivia, I have no idea what the largest/smallest summer season in McMurdo might have been. Certainly the Navy had a larger summer population in their days…that is because the Navy is in the training business on the ice as everywhere else, so they brought along unskilled low ranking workers to train into positions, rather than sticking to qualified folks.

    Why is the ODEN not coming? Well, it seems that there were complaints because ships got caught in the ice in the Baltic Sea during the northern winter, and people asked, why is our best icebreaker down in Antarctica? So…politics.

    Several comments on the fuel situation (first, Pole does have a few pieces of equipment that use mogas (gasoline) but the quantity needed is measured in a few drums). Several years ago there was a massive construction effort to build additional fuel tanks at McM; one reason was to theoretically be able to stock enough fuel on station so that the tanker trip could be skipped one year in three. Of course, that would mean that the tanks would need to be filled…while yes, the fuel statistics are monitored daily, I have no idea how full the tanks are now.

    And then there is that great Kiwi innovation known as the wind farm, which certainly puts a dent in the McM fuel requirements.

    Not much can be done to reduce winter fuel consumption at Pole unless you start to shut down the outlying buildings…which are all used for science 🙁

    #10999
    Ridgewood
    Member

    Any new (last couple of days) scuttlebutt on the icebreaker issue?

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