Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2008

Brothers pursue Antarctic ‘wanderlust’

Nathan Williams, left, and his brother, Kevin Williams, work at McMurdo Station, a permanent research station in Antarctica.

Nathan Williams, left, and his brother, Kevin Williams, work at McMurdo Station, a permanent research station in Antarctica.

May 18, 2008


The last place David and Valeita Williams thought their sons would end up pursuing work is Antarctica, the driest, coldest, windiest and emptiest place on earth.

"People ask me what did you do to them to drive them that far away?' " David joked.

The Lawrence father blames the Boy Scouts for encouraging his sons' - Nathan, 33, and Kevin, 27 - sense of adventure.

"It created a wanderlust," said David, a warehouse manager for Haldex in Kansas City, Kan. "It built their self-confidence to want to do things outside of the box."

Despite an occasional longing to have their sons closer to home, the Lawrence couple is proud of their sons continued work at McMurdo Station, a permanent research station in Antarctica funded and managed by the National Science Foundation to support the U.S. Antarctic Program. At McMurdo, scientists work on research projects such as trying to understand the role of the Antarctic in global environmental change. Including Nathan and Kevin, hundreds of people are employed through Raytheon Polar Services to provide operational support to the scientists.

"It's a great experience, and it's a unique place," said Nathan, a 1992 Lawrence High School graduate.

The brothers' paths crossed in February. Nathan returned to Denver, where he works for Raytheon, a worldwide defense and aerospace supplier, and Kevin is beginning his winter term as a waste manager.

Nathan earned a geology degree from Kansas University in 1997 and a master's degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. After college, he moved to Denver and began working with Raytheon. When he learned Raytheon Polar Services offered jobs in Antarctica, he jumped at the opportunity.

"I got excited about it, and I got my brother excited about it," Nathan said of his younger brother Kevin.

Nathan chose to work in environmental compliance. When he arrived at McMurdo last September, he was responsible for monitoring field projects. For example, he ensures fuel and chemicals were properly contained and not being released into the environment. He also keeps scientists informed of proper practices to conform with the Antarctic Conservation Act.

"We're trying to decrease the impact, the footprint of people down here," he said. "It's a special place. We try to keep it as pristine as possible."

"I like my job a lot because I feel like I'm a scientist," Nathan said. "I got to meet and see a lot of the scientists in action. Technically, everyone Raytheon is serving is a scientist, even the cooks."

And the dishwashers, which is how Kevin, a 1999 LHS graduate who earned a degree in graphic design from Kansas Wesleyan University, first got himself to the South Pole. He recently went back to begin his second winter, now as a waste management technician.

"I returned because it's a good job," Nathan said. "I save my money while I am here, and it gets me out traveling when the contract is over. I like the traveling aspect of this gig, the change from a normal work environment and the adventure of it all."

Part of that adventure is the extreme winter, a stark contrast to Nathan's summer environment. There is nearly 24 hours of light in the summer months, and Kevin's sunlight is slowly diminishing before it's gone completely until August.

"That is truly an odd experience on both sides of the spectrum," Kevin said.

With no light, Kevin can observe countless stars such as the Auroras and Aurora Australis.

Last week, Kevin said, the average temperature was negative 10 degrees and the wind chill dropped it to negative 40 degrees. It's only going to get "chillier," he said. Strong winds blow snow around buildings and vehicles so Kevin said people constantly are digging themselves out.

Sticking through the winters with a small, interesting community of about 300 people has influenced Kevin's decision to return.

"I get to work with and meet some amazing and odd individuals from all over the U.S., New Zealand and various other parts of the world," he said. "People I may not normally meet in one town."

In the summer, between 900 and 1,200 people are at McMurdo Station.

"It runs a whole gamut. There are a lot of first-timers like myself, but then there's the lifers, going back over and over again, working in the summer," Nathan said.

Nathan said he may become a "lifer," and his brother may again follow suit.

"It may have ruined my desire to work in the real world," Kevin said.

An even bigger draw to the Williams brothers is the simplistic lifestyle. Their basic needs are provided for; they sleep in dormitories and eat in a cafeteria. When their contracts are over, they have taken advantage of travel opportunities and explored places such as Bangkok, Mongolia and Tasmania.

Meanwhile, back at home, Mom and Dad continue to learn about the continent. The couple also has continued to learn about their sons.

"We're still amazed that our boys have taken this on," David said.


secretresistance 10 years, 1 month ago

the aurora australis isn't a star, it's the southern lights.

BigPrune 10 years, 1 month ago

I wonder if they get satellite TV. I don't know what I'd do if I missed the Flav O Flav marathon.

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