Associate Professor (physical sciences) & Deputy Director (in charge of observations)
Center for Antarctic Programs, National Institute of Polar Research, Japan
Expeditions: JARE-39, JARE-44 and the JARE-54 winter expeditions (leader for 54) and several summer expeditions.
February 8th, 2017 | A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
30 Years of Yanmar Involvement & Power Generation Support for the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (Part One)
2017 marked the 60 year anniversary since the commencement of the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE) in 1957.
During these years Syowa Station has served as a facility for conducting continuous observations which have led to a range of world changing achievements, including the discovery of the ozone hole.
In the polar regions, where harsh conditions render the region almost non habitable for humans, tremendous amounts of energy is needed to enable continuous observation and research. Every year there are roughly 30 personnel stationed there for durations that last longer than a year.
From 1984, spanning over 30 years, Yanmar’s generators have been the primary source of energy and heating at the station.
In addition to providing the generators, each year Yanmar dispatches technicians to pass the winter on Syowa Station to ensure uninterrupted running and maintenance of the generators.
This time on Y-Media we are providing you with an exciting close up of Yanmar’s Antarctic research expedition personnel.
Five veteran expedition members from the organizing body of JARE, the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), and Yanmar, have gathered with us here at Y-Media; bringing to you this in-depth insight into Yanmar’s involvement alongside the more obscure aspects of JARE’s history and organization.
What kind of activities is JARE undertaking in Antarctica?
How is Yanmar leveraging its technology to contribute to the research?
Find out the answers here in this two part interview series.
Facility Support Team
Center for Antarctic Programs, National Research Institute of Polar Research, Japan
Expeditions: JARE-48 winter expedition and JARE-54 summer expedition (Dome-Fuji Station)
Polar Engineering Group, National Research Institute of Polar Research
Expeditions: 5 winter expeditions and 2 summer expeditions from JARE-19 onwards
Subsection Manager at the Control Group
Power Solution Business, Yanmar Co., Ltd.
Expeditions: JARE-41 and JARE-53 winter expeditions
Engine Operation Group
Amagasaki Plant, Power Solution Business, Yanmar Co., Ltd.
Expeditions: JARE-48 and JARE-54 winter expeditions
Syowa Station and JARE's Historical 60 Years of Polar Observation
To Unlock the Unknown
―― I’m excited to be talking with the people who have real-life experience in Antarctica.
First, I’d like to hear more about the events leading up to the start of JARE.
Following the end of the Second World War and the stabilizing of the global state of affairs which followed, researchers began turning their attention toward our earth and space phenomena.
In 1957-1958, which was named the International Geophysical Year (IGY), a large number of observational research projects were launched and Antarctica became an arena of both international competition and collaboration.
Despite Japan’s weakened position after its defeat in the war, due to the unrelenting efforts of Takeshi Nagata, PhD, who later became the first director of the NIPR, and Eizaburo Nishibori, PhD, who powerfully led the first JARE expedition, Japan was able to secure its place in Antarctica.
The lighthouse supply ship of the Japan Coast Guard, named Soya, was immediately overhauled and sent off to Antarctica where a station was erected in the vastly unknown territories and 11 experts passed the long winter there.
This all happened from 1957 through to 1958.
So exactly 60 years ago from now, is when JARE began.
―― Around what period was Syowa Station established?
Takeshi Nagata and Eizaburo Nishibori hoisted the flag on East Ongul Island on Jan 29, 1957, claiming the area for the establishment of the Syowa Station.
The ship could only carry the team as close as 20 kilometers short of East Ongul Island.
While approximate coordinates were determined in accordance with areas which had already been claimed by other nations, it was a matter of landing and searching for an adequate location from on the ground.
While it is known that JARE-1 anchored some way out from the current location of Syowa Station, as there are no concrete written records, the exact location was not known.
However during the winter JARE-48, Haruki Hisakawa and I managed to find the location.
The mountain and rock formations of the location we came across perfectly match those which can be seen in the background of the photograph we have of the first expedition members planting a bamboo pole in the side of a rock and hoisting the Japanese national flag. “This must be the place,” we thought.
Digging out the rock, we found the bamboo pole and material that covered it lying in the snow.
While, as we are told, all we did was dig it out (laughs) it was still a truly amazing feeling.
―― Your achievements to date can be traced through this somewhat romantic history.
While there have certainly been a lot of changes since that time, can you tell us about the overall organization of JARE?
As we use sea transportation to send expedition members and cargo to Antarctica, developments in the scale of the expedition were synchronous with upgrades and changes to our ships throughout our history.
In the first 6 years we operated with the ship called Soya. Following a 3 year break, we upgraded to the Fuji which we used from JARE-7 through to JARE-24.
The ship called Shirase was later introduced for JARE-25 and used up until JARE-49.
At the time when we changed from the Soya to the Fuji, the size of the expedition team had grown to around 60 persons*.
Furthermore, the changeover from the Fuji to the Shirase took place at the same time that Yanmar’s large diesel generator was installed on the station and the use of high-energy consumption observational devices became possible.
Developments in cargo capacity on the ship opened up further opportunities for research activities on not only Syowa Station but also at Mizuho Station and Asuka Station as well as Dome Fuji Station which is located approximately 1,000 kilometers inland.
By the time of JARE-58 which departed from Japan in November 2016, the expedition team had grown to 68 persons.
- ※Aggregate number of members from summer and winter parties. JARE-1 consisted of 53 members, of which 11 persons belonged to the wintering party.
―― JARE is divided into two parties. I was told that the summer party is stationed for the summer months only while the wintering party is stationed for over one year.
The research expedition departs Japan at the end of November arriving in Antarctica around one month later.
The summer party conducts research activities for two months, returning to Japan around the end of March.
The wintering party will remain behind at the station until February of the following year.
The principle goal of the expedition is observation and surveying.
Having hands throughout the winter is necessary to enable continuous long term observation.
Currently, numbers are higher for the summer party. Of the 68 members on JARE-58, 35 belonged to the summer party while only 33 were part of the wintering party.
―― What other differences exist aside from the time period and duration?
Between mid December and mid February, the summer team takes advantage of the favorable climatic conditions to complete as much as they can in preparation for the winter.
Tasks include, for example, the construction of buildings or repairing the generators.
The party also conducts research, such as observations of penguin colonies and geographical surveys, which can only be completed in the summer months.
The pace of activities varies to that of the wintering party who are stationed for a longer time.
If the wintering party went at the same rate as the summer party, they would burn out by the winter.
In summer, the sun doesn’t set, meaning that it is constantly daylight.
Winter, however, is an endless night where sun doesn’t rise.
As expedition activities of the summer expedition are completed in constant daylight before returning to Japan, we call it a “one-day trip.” On the contrary, the wintering expedition is called “a one night stay.”
If I said to one of the veterans that I was going on the summer expedition they would often remark, “Oh, your doing the one-day trip then?” (laughs).
Those Involved with Set Up Keep Them Alive
Those Involved with Observations Deliver the Results
―― How is the expedition structured in terms of station operations and observational research?
For a 30 member wintering party, there would be say an 18 person operations team and a 12 person research team.
The operations team consists of specialists in a range of fields including mechanics, communications, construction, and conservation (water treatment and waster management), alongside medical practitioners and chefs.
Each person and their duties are essential.
For example, the communication and data processing specialist manages the radio and satellite communications, ensuring contact between personnel at the station as well as with Japan.
The difference between having adequate communication and not, can be the difference between life and death.
Yanmar’s mechanics oversee the management of the generator engines on the station, ensuring the survival of the party.
When complications arise, it is up to each respective member to apply their expertise to address the issues swiftly, despite the limitations of the environment that they are in.
For that reason, we need highly skilled specialists who can think and act on their feet.
―― It is a situation where everyone’s job is connected to the survival of the party.Can you tell us more about the observational work that is being carried out at the station?
We are conducting continuous observation as well as focused observation of particular phenomena during a specified time frame.
The continuous observation program covers observation of atmospheric composition relating to the weather and global warming, seismic activity and the aurora.
Researching such phenomena over a long-term provides valuable insights; one of which led to the discovery of the ozone hole.
The ozone hole, which was discovered by the Japan Meteorological Agency, was observed and found to be a phenomenon whereby the layer of ozone in the sky above Antarctica suddenly and rapidly depletes at the beginning of the Antarctic spring. This layer of ozone is what protects us from the ultra violate rays emitted by the sun.
The discovery was the catalyst for a global push to restrict the use of specific chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) believed to be the cause of the ozone hole, was a tremendous achievement only made possible by our day-in day-out long-term observations in the Antarctic.
Furthermore, as there are few research stations in East Antarctica where Syowa Station is located, the observations being conducted hold a unique value for scientific research.
Observations in Western Antarctica, for example, have given recognition to the progress of global warming.
Whereas, such rising temperatures have not been observed at Syowa Station.
Knowledge of our earth gained through long-term observation is extremely valuable.
―― What areas are you researching when it comes to observations which are focused on a particular subject?
Recently an MST/IS atmospheric radar was built at Syowa Station.
The device has 1,045 three meter tall antennas which have been designed into one large radar, enabling researchers to precisely survey the atmospheric conditions in heights reaching up to approximately 500 kilometers.
With this equipment we hope to gain an even more detailed understanding of the polar atmosphere and our earth’s systems.
We are continuously introducing various new projects in response to the present day conditions and arising demands.
When measuring carbon dioxides and other greenhouse gases, it can be difficult to get an accurate reading in areas where there is a lot of human activity or external elements, which affect the results. The isolated environment of the Antarctic enables us to get highly precise measurements.
From this point also, observational research in the Antarctica offers a lot to scientific research.
Without Power Everything Would Freeze in 4 Hours
Yanmar’s Generators are Vital
―― So we have covered the key background and characteristics of JARE.
Next, I would like to talk more about Yanmar’s involvement.
Yanmar’s generators have been in use at Syowa Station for 33 years, from March 1984 up until our present day. Can you tell us the events leading up to Yanmar’s involvement?
In 1983, JARE-25 departed from Japan aboard the new ship, ‘Shirase’ which was built to replace the ‘Fuji.’ As was mentioned earlier, this opened up opportunity to transport larger cargo and therefore expand our activities on the station.
This enabled us to replace separate smaller generators used for observational work and for station operations with one larger unit, leading to the introduction of Yanmar’ 6RL-T generator engine (photograph above).
―― What kind of generators are currently being used?
For continuous operation generators, we have two S165L-UTs (300KVA); the first was installed in 1995 and the second in 1998. For emergencies use, we have two 6HALC-DT (200KVA) generators which were both installed in 1995.
We have all the power needs of Syowa Station covered.
The main generator which runs continuously 24 hours a day is swapped over every 500 hours.
We also have a separate generator for observation which requires a lot of power or for remote observations.
As a standard we swap over the generators every 500 hours, which is also the time frame for conducting periodic inspections.
While we change over the main generator; the generator which is swapped out is still utilized as a standby generator in the case of an emergency.
While this one day task is our primary job, our daily tasks also involve checking other equipment and helping others out with the work of other machine technicians on the station.
It is said that the station would freeze over within 4 hours, if the generators were to stop.
Therefore, there is certainly a lot owed to the work of Yanmar at the station.
Well, there are the seasons and climatic conditions to consider, so unless it actually happens we don’t really know how many hours it would actually take (laughs).
If the generator stopped and we couldn’t get them up and running, the entire expedition would perish.
The responsibility we carry on our shoulders is quite heavy.
In mid-winter, which is shrouded in darkness, without the generator it would be completely pitch black. With outside temperature of minus 20-30 degrees, the piping would freeze over in moments.
Therefore, we are working under a lot of pressure.
―― For collaborative companies like Yanmar, how do you select expedition members?
In the case of Yanmar, generally it starts with an employee asking either their manager who had previously been on an expedition or from someone asking a retired Yanmar employee who went on the exhibition.
While more young employees have been expressing interest recently, for me, it happened that few people had put up their hand that year; so Yanmar approached me.
“We’ll need an answer by next week,” said my superior suddenly as he pat me on the shoulder (laughs).
No one is forced to go if they don’t want to.
There’s no way to go home part way through the expedition if it gets too much, so the selection starts from an expression of interest from the employee.
―― It appears then, that specialists in each respective area are not selected simply by their knowledge and skills to respond to the situation, but also by their demonstrated preparedness to deal with the unique environment of the Antarctic.
Is the training undertaken prior to the expedition?
Yes, we undertake basic knowledge and skills training for activities taking place in Antarctica, under the instruction of experienced Antarctic researchers, prior to departure.
After a full health check, we take part in a one week comprehensive winter training program from mid February through to the beginning of March of the year that we will depart.
In addition to training which covers basic knowledge and skills through to emergency survival, we also focus on team building skills. This all takes place high in the snowy mountains.
In June we spend one more week going over the details of any changes to our activities on JARE. After that we get together for several meetings before our departure in November.
―― The lead up to departure seems to be quite a long road.
Peoples’ backgrounds are quite varied: from people who have never seen snow before through to serious mountaineering guides.
Of course, there are also differences in age and gender.
The training prepares each person to be in top form so that they can perform at their absolute peak in Antarctica for 4 months, or 1 year and four months.
―― I imagine that each person must be quite strong both mentally and physically. Is that right?
It takes a slightly special type of person to want to go to the Antarctic in the first place (laughs).
In the two times that I went on expedition we had a group of quite individualistic and interesting characters, meaning we were bound to have a fun time.
In this first part of our special feature, we covered the history, organization and current activities of JARE.
In the second part, we will explore deeper to find out the current status of these activities alongside hearing the exciting stories relating to real-life experiences of expedition members in Antarctica.