Weather forecasting plays a key operational and safety role in ANI, whether it be a decision to launch an Ilyushin flight to our Union Glacier ice runway; planning ski aircraft movements around the continent; or climbing parties planning a summit bid on Mount Vinson. Meet ANI's forecaster, Marc De Keyser, who takes it all in stride...
Marc De Keyser
Number of Seasons with ANI: 6
Why did you want to work in the Antarctic?
I must say that I never dreamt of being a polar hero or some kind of explorer of the unknown. I started working as a meteorologist in the early eighties, building up valuable experience and knowledge in different air force bases. I was always looking for new challenges as a meteorologist. I worked for years in operational environments with helicopters and jets, mostly in Belgium but also in Germany and Italy. But then, in 1996, I saw an ad that the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) was looking for a meteorologist to work at their base 'Rothera' on the Antarctica Peninsula and I was excited about the idea of working in such a remote environment. So I worked one summer 1996-97 at Rothera and ever since I have had the Antarctic bug under my skin. Next season will be my 10th season in Antarctica.
How did you start working for ANI? Have you always done deep-field work?
Many of the people who work for ANI gained experience with BAS or other National Antarctic Programs and for me it was no different. I must say I was pretty nervous when I went to Cambridge to be interviewed by John Turner and John Hall for a position at BAS' Rothera station! At that time it was such a big adventure for me. When I got the job I was very excited and I could not wait to leave. On the other hand, my son Wouter was three and I must say it broke my heart to leave him for six months.
It is amazing how small this world is! Once you have worked in the Antarctic, and if people are happy with what you do, your name goes around quickly. So when ANI were looking for a meteorologist I was a natural candidate for the position.
At Rothera I spent most of my time on the base. And at Union Glacier, I am mostly in camp. People sometimes ask whether I get bored being in camp all the time. The other nine months I am in Belgium, which is flat and green, so the view, even from the comms box is pretty amazing!
What are your greatest challenges as a Forecaster in a deep field operation?
The job of a forecaster has its general challenges, whether you work in Belgium, South Africa or Antarctica. I find it very stressful once I have made a forecast, and people have made a decision based on that forecast, waiting to see if that forecast becomes a reality. There is nothing worse than people having to abort their mission, trip, or whatever because of a wrong forecast.
A challenge of deep field forecasting is that you work with very limited information. That is also the part that I really like! ANI has made a considerable effort to improve the information stream and it is amazing how much information I have at hand to make my forecasts, but it is still more limited than what is available in other parts of the world. Back home (in Belgium) we have tons of products and models to work with but that does not make it easier.
What do you love best about your work with ANI?
I like the kick of a good forecast. It feels good when people use my forecast to plan an operation and it all works out. I also enjoying seeing the same people back at Union Glacier each season. I think we make a pretty good team and it feels great to be a part of a team of such great people!
Editor's note: We think Marc probably enjoys competing in Antarctic Marathons and Ultra-Marathons too! Marc won the 2007 Ice Marathon, placed 2nd in the 2009 and 2010 Ice Marathons, and won the 2012 100K, with a course record of 12:06.51 hrs.
What do you do for the rest of the year, when you are not in the Antarctic?
I always say that the time I spent in Union is my annual holiday! No, seriously, when I am at home I am a full time hydro-meteorologist working in an onshore weather station at the Belgian coast. Along with that I have my own little company ‘weather4expeditions.com’, making forecasts for expeditions in the Arctic, Greenland, the Himalaya’s and other remote places of the world.