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Into the heart of the Antarctic

By Tawaddod Alkindi / Sustainable and renewable energy engineer 21/04/2019

In February of this year, I left Abu Dhabi and embarked on the long journey to the Casey Research Station located on Vincennes Bay in the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle.

I was representing Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company), to participate in the installation of 105 solar panels and three inverters to provide 30 kW of power into the station’s power grid - the first solar power array at an Australian Antarctic research station.

The solar array was a collaborative project between Masdar and the Australian Antarctic Division to help reduce the reliance on diesel fuel currently delivered by boat from Tasmania, more than 3,000km away.

The solar PV panels are built to withstand extreme weather conditions in the Antarctic, the coldest continent on earth, where katabatic wind speeds can reach nearly 300 km/h and the average temperature ranges from -10 degrees Celsius to -60 degrees Celsius depending on the time of year.

It was a fantastic opportunity for the team based at the station to be able to see that Masdar is actively implementing solutions to address global climate change and environmental issues, while also displaying how the company works in all kinds of remote locations to implement innovative energy solutions.

My days began early, often at 2am to see the aurora – the captivating and awe-inspiring southern lights. Following breakfast, I would meet with my engineering expert and mentor to discuss in detail the busy schedule for the upcoming day. Some days I would spend in the rugged terrain outside, learning about the range of facilities and the different activities taking place at the station such as the mechanical workshops, maintenance facilities, water purification facility, remediation site, powerhouse, survival tools store, and the solar power integrated system.

On other days, when the weather conditions were harsh, I had tours inside the accommodation building and learned in detail about the heating and cooling systems. Usually at 4pm the whole station crew, including scientists, technicians and academics would gather to attend informative seminars and talks or watch relevant documentaries.

Around 7pm, we had dinner together and were early to be 9pm each night, usually exhausted. I found meal times were particularly informative and rewarding. On every single occasion, I had the pleasure to sit and talk to someone new that came from a different culture and background. It was so inspiring to hear the dreams and the experience of each person I met and every time I talked to them they took me on a journey to a different part of the world.

It was such an enriching experience. I was delighted to tell the people I met all about the culture of the UAE and the efforts that the government makes to empower Emirati youth and support women in all fields and industries.

I also did a very special thing that I know not everybody gets the chance to do, which is take part in survival training in the cold desert! I participated in a survival course, learning navigation skills, how to use a map, compass, and GPS to reach the camp safely. We hiked for 10km carrying a backpack that weighs 10kg and boots weighing 2.5kg. The weather conditions were harsh with the wind speed reaching 42 knots and the snow falling all around us. After 3 hours, we reached the camp and started cooking our own food, and made our own beds in the pristine snow. We slept securely overnight and headed back to the station in the early morning.

During my spare time, I would go hiking with colleagues and watch the mesmerising spectacle of thousands of penguins going about their day in their natural habitat.

What helped me a lot that for this trip is that I had previously been to Iceland and experienced a cold climate, and of course not forgetting the three layers of clothes and thermals provided by the Australian Antarctic Division as well as the specials type of insulated boots, socks, and gloves.

In 2017, I had participated in the trip to Iceland as part of an international educational programme, where I studied sustainability and renewable energy at Reykjavík University. I conducted a course project, which was a feasibility study of initiating a solar energy consultation company in the UAE, as well conducting site visits to a hydropower plant, geothermal power plant, and a biodiesel production farm.

As a Material Science graduate from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, my syllabus included courses related to sustainability, renewable energy, and advanced technologies. These gave me a solid background that helped me have a better understanding about the different projects in Antarctica and their objectives as well.

The entire trip to Antarctica was an incredible experience and I learned so much. The visit to Casey Research Station has increased my awareness and made me want to contribute even more to any project or activity that will have a positive impact on any part of the world.

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