(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the August/September 2017 issue.)
Imagine operating U.S. government funded food service venues in the total absence of any pest control programs.
Implausible as this may seem, that’s exactly how it goes in Antarctica, according to Tom Senty, culinary manager of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP).
“One benefit of operating a food service program in Antarctica is the lack of pests,” Senty emphasizes. “No professional pest control service is needed here. During December and January, the warmest months, when the sea ice melts, there may be a Penguin or Skua seabird sighting around town (McMurdo), however there is nearly zero chance they could make it into a food service or storage area.”
In the glorious absence of rodents, cockroaches, flies, and ants, Senty oversees the food service at the three U.S. year-round research stations on the frosty continent: McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole, and Palmer.
Without interruption since 1956, American scientists have been studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet. The National Science Foundation, headquartered in Arlington, Va., funds and manages the USAP, including all U.S. scientific research and related logistics in Antarctica, as well as aboard ships in the Southern Ocean. The program’s goals are to understand the Antarctic and its associated ecosystems; to understand the region’s effects on, and responses to, global processes such as climate; and to use the region as a platform to study the upper atmosphere and space. Research is supported in Antarctica only when it cannot be done better elsewhere.
Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, USAP research focuses on astronomy, atmospheric sciences, biology, Earth science, environmental science, geology, glaciology, marine biology, oceanography, and geophysics. In addition to the three stations, the USAP operates several summer research camps and two research vessels that sail in the Antarctic waters.
The program’s annual budget for research and operations, including all food service, is approximately $350 million.
Carrying forward U.S. goals supporting the Antarctic Treaty, the USAP strives to encourage international cooperation, maintain an active and influential presence in the region, and continue to conduct high-quality science research, all while sustaining funding efficiency.
The Frozen Tundra
Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, harshest continent, and with only about 2 inches of precipitation per year, it is actually the driest place on Earth. Antarctica spans roughly 5.4 million square miles and has an average elevation of more than 6,500 feet. Some 98 percent of Antarctica’s landmass is covered by an icesheet estimated to be seven million cubic miles in size.
McMurdo Station, the main and largest U.S. station, and the largest of any in Antarctica, is located 850 miles north of the South Pole and boasts a mean annual temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. McMurdo, where Senty is based, has a maximum population of about 1,100, including researchers and support staff, with an average of 900 to 1,000 during the austral summer operating season.
Senty hires all the USAP food service staff, which includes more than 80 employees at McMurdo, a dozen or so at South Pole, and a couple at Palmer. “Plus we have team members at deep field camps and helicopter sites,” he says. “There are many field camps but only the larger camps have food service team members.”
In consideration of the harsh and isolated environmental conditions, to be what is considered “deployable” for USAP positions of any kind, individuals must pass rigorous physical, dental, and even psychological examinations. “As part of the medical screening, applicants must disclose any severe allergies they have to the medical department,” Senty adds.
Exceptional Talent Pool
“Unlike many U.S. food service establishments, we have a large pool of over qualified candidates that would love the opportunity to be part of the USAP,” Senty says. “Thus, we generally hire individuals that would qualify for higher level positions stateside. For example, our production cooks often have career experience as sous chefs, and our sous chefs typically have previously been executive chefs in the States. One of the benefits of this talent pool is that our team has a high level of awareness and focus on food safety standards.”