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.
December 20th, 2017 | A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
30 Years of Yanmar Involvement & Power Generation Support for the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (Part Two)
The Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2017. Yanmar has been involved in this activity based at the Syowa Station for over 30 years since 1984. On this occasion, Y MEDIA conducted a roundtable discussion between a total of five people including members of the Antarctic observation team from the National Institute of Polar Research (hereinafter referred to as "Polar Research Institute"), which is the parent organizer of Antarctic observation, and Yanmar. In the first part, I asked about the history and composition of the Antarctic observation team, the basic operations that are conducted at the site, and the roles of Yanmar's generators and employees within the operations.
In the second part, we discuss themes such as life in the Antarctic, unique episodes that only team members with knowledge of the area can tell, and the future of Antarctic observation.
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
The "Comforting Sound" that the Generators Produce Throughout the Syowa Station Adds a Positive Air of Tension to the Observers and Techs
―― When I hear "Antarctica", I imagine an extremely harsh environment. Was the daily lifestyle really that rigorous?
I am often asked questions such as, "Do you eat canned foods every day?" and "Are you able to bathe?" but the conditions are not this severe (laugh). The living environment is well arranged and you can live comfortably at the base, just like you can in Japan. Of course, the environment is severe when you step outside.
For outdoor observations, we were sometimes required to travel tens of kilometers away from the base on snowmobiles and live in a tent for a week. On those occasions, we were really forced to experience the severity of life in Antarctica first hand.
―― I expected there would be some level of comfort within the base, but the fact you say it is no different than life in Japan, is a little surprising. Considering the necessary energy, including air conditioning, the role of the generators supplied by Yanmar is truly important is it not?
Yes. The generators are the lifeline of all the team members, so I feel a strong sense of pressure and a personal mission to bear the responsibility that they function properly. Actually, there was a problem that occurred while I was in charge. Due to my mistakes, there were about two instances where I stopped the generators. The whole base became dark, and with the power supply of all the equipment dropping, it became really quiet.... 。 I never want to experience that silence ever again.
Living on the base, the noise of the running generators can always be heard, and it has a very calming effect. So, when the sound completely stops, my heart also stops.
During the summer period, we always train for power outages. We completely shut off all electricity and actually go through the restoration procedure in order to prepare for a potential power outage.
While we train hard for the restoration procedure, if the power supply of the observation devices drops for even a few minutes, it opens up a hole in our observation data measurements. To think that I am the cause for this hole is very painful.
I have heard of cases where observations or measurements that had continued for many years were ruled incomplete due to the lack of data during power outages. We have a very great responsibility.
The primary purpose of creating electricity in the Antarctic is, of course, observation. If there are no observers, there is no purpose for the operations team. On the other hand, there are times when observers tell us, "Thanks to operations, we are able to conduct our observations". This mutual feeling is very ideal, and in reality, neither side would be able to do their work without each other.
As observers, if we are unable to gather good data due to our own mistakes, we will be letting down the various members of the operations team that support us. I feel that this pressure to not let each other down is good sense of tension for both sides.
Flip the Switch and Relax
What is off time like in Antarctica, where managing your health is also unique?
―― During work hours, it seems that there is a good sense of tension, but what is it like after hours?
While there are some researchers who seclude themselves and are devoted to observation, for the most part, people here have a solid on/off switch.
Operations team work hours are very clear from 9 am to 5 pm. When I finished work, I spent my time relaxing by taking a bath and eating. The recreation facilities are substantial with bars and billiard tables, so I was able to enjoy myself while I lived there for a year.
Just like in school, we had different people responsible for various duties. For example, the person with the "theater duty" was responsible for scheduling and holding movie screenings. We also held birthday parties. In April, volunteer members secretly decorated the hallways with artificial flowers to reenact rows of cherry blossom trees in Japan during the middle of the night. Everyone woke up very surprised.
―― Even within the limited space, you were always able to figure out ways to have fun. I heard that there are also medical staff on site. I am interested in hearing about health care.
People don't catch colds in Antarctica.
―― What, really? I would think that immunity drops in the cold...
It is said that it is because no viruses exist. It is extremely dry, so while in Japan, throats would be stifled and fevers would break out, here, it is not infectious.
―― It is an interesting situation unique to Antarctica, where we are distant from human society.
You need to be careful of your eyes. Because the surroundings are all white with snow, the reflection of sunlight is very strong. During summertime in particular, many people became snow blind. Sunglasses are a necessity. Because ultraviolet rays are very strong in Antarctica, people are apt to getting skin diseases. You have to be careful and look after yourself.
There are also problems with teeth. There are no dentists at the Syowa Station. Although medical staff undergo training and there are dental examination facilities in place, there are limitations, so we tell everyone to get treated before going.
"One Year of No Electricity Outage" Achieved After Previously Failed Attempts
―― Speaking of encounters unique to Antarctica, there are natural phenomena and animals.
The most impressive were the auroras. On days I knew they would appear, I sometimes stayed up all night to watch them. They would often appear in the middle of the night or near sunrise.
When auroras appeared, we were notified through radio at the base. It is a phenomenon related to solar activity, so it cannot be seen every day as it heavily depends on the right weather conditions. You don't often see the beautiful auroras that are frequently shown in photographs. However, we could see blurry ones relatively often, and they always reminded me that I was in Antarctica.
Animals, similar to auroras, are not as special as the images frequently shown around the world. We would frequently see penguins, seals, skua, and the like. The penguins were most impressive, but only Adelie Penguin could be seen near the Syowa Station. Although once during wintering, Hashida and I saw an Emperor Penguin, which got me excited at the time. The habitat of the Emperor Penguin was far from the Syowa Station, but from time to time, they would get lost and wander over to the base.
There were 8 penguins at that time.
I was also able to catch a glimpse of Emperor Penguins once during wintering.
―― The memories of wintering experiences in Antarctica will last a lifetime won't they...
Speaking of unforgettable episodes, Hisakawa mentioned the power outage during his first wintering, but there was no power outage during his 2nd wintering with the 54th expedition. This was impressive to me. Since power outages can occur due to various factors, it is very rare to be able to spend an entire year without power failure.
My lack of experience was the cause for the generator to stop the first time, so when my second visit was confirmed, I vowed to make "One year of uninterrupted energy" my goal. I think good luck was a factor, but I was glad I was able to do it.
I was also there at that time, but about 1 month before the winter alternation, I remember everyone was excited at the possibility of going one year without any power outages.
I bet everyone was nervous on that last day. It was similar to the last inning of a baseball game where a perfect game was on the line (laugh).
A generator runs for a total of about 8,000 hours in a year, but only length of time it consecutively runs is displayed on the generator. During the 54th expedition, the generator was never stopped, so when we were able to return it to zero at the time we switched with the 55th expedition, it felt really good. It was a feat we were able to accomplish due to the first mistake, so everyone helped me celebrate. It is an experience I will never forget.
The Significance of Continuing Observation at the Syowa Station, and the Yanmar Generator that Supports It
―― It has been 60 years since the start of Antarctic observations. From the era of pioneering places unknown to mankind, we have undergone various stages to get to where we are today. With such a long history of Antarctic observations, what responsibility do you feel as members of the Antarctic expedition?
As members of Yanmar, up until now and hereafter, our primary objective is to provide reliable, high quality electricity so that Antarctic observation proceeds smoothly, and so our team members can live more comfortably on site. This will never change.
However, speaking from my own experience, there was a change in consciousness by participating in the observation team. As members of the operations team, before actually going there, many of our feelings are centered around "getting to go to an undiscovered place called Antarctica". But as we witnessed the various observation sites with our own eyes and watched our fellow wintering members present their achievements and findings on the international stage, we come to clearly understand the importance of our work supporting the scientific team. Our work is also definitely useful for environmental preservation and the global environment. I am glad I am able to realize this now.
―― Ishizawa, you joined the observation team in the 1970's and have been an active participant in recent years, so you have witnessed the Antarctic observation for a long time. Do you feel any changes?
In the past, the main purpose was simply to "get to know about Antarctica", but now that the number of unknown elements has decreased, the emphasis has shifted to "making observations that are useful for the entire planet", such as using the special environment of Antarctica to conduct astronomical observations and exploring issues surrounding global warming through Antarctica. For me personally, from the position of a member of the operations team, my mission has always been and will always continue to be the safe return of all team members.
―― Antarctic observation is like a space project. Its necessity is not clear to everyone at first glance. The basic topics we discussed today are still not well understood by the general public. Are there efforts being made to continue the expeditions?
I am always thinking about how to maintain and develop Antarctic observations. For argument's sake, if we suppose that Japan puts a stop to Antarctic observation, many people will probably be against it, but that alone is not enough. Why does Japan need to actively dispatch observation teams to Antarctica? Preparing a persuasive explanation to answer this question is our duty as researchers of the Antarctic field. I feel that it is important to constantly convey this necessity in accordance with changing times.
―― Currently, where do you think the significance of activities in Antarctica lies?
What we understand about Antarctica is still really limited. For example, there are signs of rapid global warming in West Antarctica where bases of other countries are concentrated, but in East Antarctica where the Syowa Station is located, the clear signs are yet to be seen. In addition, there are still many facts that cannot be elucidated from the effects of global warming, such as the increase in amount of snowfall in Antarctica, or the reasons why sea ice is melting at the north pole while it is expanding around the south pole. To understand why it is this way, and the impact it has on the entire planet. The major goal of observers today is to elucidate these causes and to provide evidence that backs it.
Japan considers it an important point to continue to maintain and develop Antarctic observation, by making full use of its base in East Antarctica, where there are still many unknown elements that remain.
―― It seems that the efforts of Yanmar in the Antarctic are likely to continue.
It's almost time to change the power generators in operation at the Syowa Station. Even after the new power generators are installed, as a veteran member, I would like to ensure that Yanmar employees continue to come to the South Pole and create an environment where young members follow every year.
―― Finally, can I ask what is expected of Yanmar from the polar research side?
Yanmar employees have been taking care of a central part of the Syowa Station for more than 30 years since the 25th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE). I believe that it is thanks to the maintenance of the power generators and other maintenance work that Yanmar does that the Syowa Station is what it is today.
I really appreciate that every year, a dedicated up and coming engineer makes the sacrifice to leave the company for over one year. It must be quite tough. It’s not something you can force on someone, but I keep asking! (laughs) I hope we can continue to contribute to Antarctic research together.
In the prequel of this article we heard a lot about the history, types and significance of the work from the beginnings of Antarctic research until now and the role played by Yanmar in all these accomplishments. The stories show that today’s situation is a result of people from different walks of life passing on their knowledge and creating results year by year, continuing on a path a few pioneers created 60 years ago.
With the search for solutions to issues like global warming continuing, Antarctic research is likely to become increasingly important. Yanmar's statement A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE, points the direction for us towards the realization of a resource recycling society and these Antarctic activities are an important step in that direction…
Local reports from currently dispatched team members are periodically posted on Yanmar's official Facebook page. People who found this article interesting can consult those reports as well.