World’s Coolest Repairman: The Guy Who Services Antarctica’s ATMs

By Joseph Calamia | July 22, 2010 12:31 pm

atminsideResearchers at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station may face annual average temperatures of minus .4 degrees Fahrenheit and drifting snow of depths around five feet–but at least they have easy access to cash. Since around 1998, Antarctica has had an operating ATM.

The blog NeedCoffeeDotCom interviewed a Wells Fargo representative about the challenges of keeping an Antarctic ATM working. According to a vice president in the ATM banking division, David Parker, there are actually two of the machines in the remote McMurdo Station, but one serves exclusively as a back-up that can be “cannibalized” for parts in case the other fails. The machine recycles the station’s limited cash supply, since–beyond chucking dollar bills at penguins–there aren’t many things to do with cash outside the snug walls of McMurdo.

Parker says that the machines were a hard sell at first (the bank wondered “Why would we need an ATM in Antarctica?”), but researchers and workers employed by Raytheon Company have been putting the cash machine to good use for over a decade.

Station workers are trained to perform basic repairs, but Wells Fargo sends a technician every other year for complete machine tune-ups. Parker says that “mission: Antarctica ATM” requires a ten-month preparation process, and notes that the technician must wait in line to get a flight, since all flights are prioritized according to the station’s needs. Trash removal, for example, is ahead of ATM-repair.

The machines themselves are similar to Wells Fargo ATMs in more traditional locales except McMurdo researchers have one perk: no surcharge.

Related content:
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Discoblog: To Track Penguins, Scientists Use High-Tech Satellite Images of…Droppings
DISCOVER: The Coolest Science Experiments in Antarctica (photo gallery)
DISCOVER: The Ground Zero of Climate Change

Image: flickr / TheTruthAbout…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Nemesis

    It doesn’t make sense, unless Antarctica is where exotic dancers go to get away from the grind. Why would you need money? Are they betting with each other? Is there a penguin-owned 7-11? Weird..

    • Aa

      The article states what the money is used for.

  • Joseph Calamia

    Nemesis, The NSF website says that McMurdo Station has stores, though it doesn’t specify if they are penguin-owned.

    “Its 85 or so buildings range in size from a small radio shack to large, three-story structures. Repair facilities, dormitories, administrative buildings, a firehouse, power plant, water distillation plant, wharf, stores, clubs, warehouses, and the first class Crary Lab are linked by above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines.”

  • Tim Beauchamp

    ATMs are great to have, but when I was at the South Pole Station for a season, it was McMurdo’s beer vending machines that I made the best use of.

  • AAG

    As someone who has worked for the U.S. Antarctic Program for 18 years, via Raytheon Polar Services in the last ten, yes, this is poor journalism to leave out the why of ATMs. There is a station store at McMurdo where people can buy snacks, pop, liquor, and Antarctic souvenirs. There is also a coffee house and two bars on station that take cash for drinks.

  • Eagle Creek

    >> Trash removal, for example, is ahead of ATM-repair. <<
    I'd rather be out of cash, than around lots of trash ;-).


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