Question Three: Why don’t the tools break in the cold temperatures? Do all the joints expand and contract at different rates as the temperatures fluctuate? (by Avril Hall-Evitts)


This is a major problem that we face here.  99% of the time if we have a problem it will be due to something outside failing or about to fail.  The cold makes even the simplest of things almost impossible to achieve and you can only spend so long working outside in these temps.  For instance, I had to work outside all day yesterday [actually, Tuesday] in temps down to around -35C, not including wind chill.  Anything that’s not well-insulated will freeze.  Electric cables turn into stiff long snakes that want to go anywhere apart from where you need them to, my gas burning regulators froze after 30 minutes and stopped supplying me with oxygen.  Any tool with a plastic handle on will shatter on impact and going with my usual methods of engineering, (if it doesn’t work first time, get a bigger hammer) this could cause trouble.  Even in the shelter of our storage container things stop working.  We had to defrost the generator that powers the welder inside our larger plant room just to get her started.

I would work for 30 minutes, then move all of the tools back into the warm to give them chance to defrost before taking them out for another session.

Luckily our tool sponsor is the amazing Snap-On, so all of our tools are of the highest quality and tend to last well outside.   We do have a large selection of battery-powered drills, impact guns, torches and grinders; however, the worst thing for a battery is the cold so they don’t last that long.

The joints in the Cats certainly do have a hard time of it, freezing down to minus 30C at night then warming up to 100C in places on the machines during the travelling hours.  Luckily we have two very experienced and methodical Cat engineers who won’t let a single inspection go past its hourly rate for fear of something going wrong.

The mantra for all things in cold environments, especially Antarctica, is to ‘keep it simple, stupid’.   If a pen freezes in these temps, use a pencil.  The same goes for everything we have here. If it’s too complicated then it will go wrong, so try and keep to the simplest, easiest and quickest methods of engineering.