News | Aug. 28, 2016

Supplying the Ends of the Earth

By Brianne M. Bender and Christopher Goulait


On a warm day in January each year, Defense Logistics Agency Distribution and DLA Energy help support the nation’s scientific advancement by supporting the resupply of a research ship.

Warm being a relative term — because the January in question is in Antarctica, whose seasons are opposite those of the Northern Hemisphere.

Each year, personnel from DLA Distribution at Port Hueneme, California, and from DLA Energy have supported the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic research by helping load supplies onto the ship and providing various types of fuel for the research station to use during the year. Due to Antarctica’s harsh climate, the resupply occurs in the month when the ice is thinnest.

Last year the MV Ocean Giant, chartered by the Military Sealift Command, arrived in Antarctica Jan. 22. The ship returned to Port Hueneme a month later, with a load of trash for disposal, along with a year’s worth of scientific data and ice core samples that will assist the NSF’s continued study of the Antarctic.

During the 2015 mission, DLA Distribution personnel from the Preservation, Packaging, Packing and Marking team packaged more than 3,500 line items of general and hazardous cargo; made more than 1,100 custom pallets and wooden containers; and built more than 1,400 fiberboard boxes for surface and air shipments, to protect the items from damage.

The Ocean Giant departed Port Hueneme Dec. 31 with more than 400 containers, vehicles and pieces of equipment. It then traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, to pick up more cargo before heading to its final destination, McMurdo Station — the logistics hub for NSF’s Antarctic research mission and the largest inhabited station on the earth’s least-populated continent.

For its part, DLA Energy for each Deep Freeze mission delivers several types of fuel: mid-grade unleaded gasoline, marine gas oil and kerosene-based aviation fuel — JP-5 and JP-8. Each was chosen specifically for Antarctic use, according to Richard Knapp, supervisory quality assurance specialist with DLA Energy.

“The remote locations and cold operating conditions of the Antarctic dictate the procurement process,” he explained.

That process takes place more than a year in advance of the shipment. Bids are normally solicited in September for a delivery window of Dec. 1-Jan. 31 the following year, plus a 30-day carry-over period, Knapp said. And procurement is just the tip of the iceberg.

“To get the only annual shipment of fuel from Western Europe to Antarctica and McMurdo Station’s ice pier, MSC vessel follow a route that can involve some of the worst sea conditions and hazards that exist anywhere,” Knapp noted.

Weeks at sea are needed to make delivery, due to unpredictable and harsh weather, along with increased hazards from floating ice, Knapp said. While the region is most accessible in January and February, the last 17 miles of the journey still need icebreaker ships to create a channel through the ice shelf.

“The U.S. Antarctic research mission has three objectives: expanding the fundamental knowledge of the region, fostering the research of global and regional problems of notable scale, and the use of Antarctica as a platform to continually sustain research efforts,” explained Michael Sneed, packing supervisor at DLA Distribution San Diego at Port Hueneme. His group works closely with NSF contractor Lockheed Martin to load cargo in a way that minimizes shipping costs and waste.

The NSF funds the U.S. Antarctic Program through its Office of Polar Programs; the agency also coordinates the research and logistical support of civilian contractors, the military and several other federal agencies in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

San Diego’s Port Hueneme site has been assisting the NSF with this mission the last six years, since the site was obtained as a detachment through the Navy warehouse transfer. Before that, the Department of Defense had been supporting the mission for over 30 years as part of the NSF-DoD Memorandum of Agreement.

The first petroleum support provided as part of Deep Freeze, between 1955 and 1956, was a combination of packaged products with bulk shipments of Arctic-grade diesel and aviation gasoline, Knapp said. At that time, there were no tanker ships, and so a construction battalion out of Davisville, Rhode Island, loaded 55-gallon drums aboard the vessel, he recalled. And because above-ground storage tanks were still being built by U.S. Navy Seabees when the fuel arrived, personnel created temporary storage “by allowing two fuel vessels to freeze in the ice offshore,” he said.

The commander of DLA Distribution San Diego noted the value of DLA’s support. “It is an exciting mission for DLA Distribution San Diego, California’s Port Hueneme site to be partnered with the NSF’s polar program, as part of the DoD and NSF MOA, in providing preservation, packaging, packing and marking of crucial material that supports the various research stations in Antarctica,” said Navy Capt. John Soracco.

“I am very proud of our Port Hueneme team in what they do every year to prepare the thousands of items for transport to Antarctica that directly supports the 3,500 people stationed there to fulfill their research and other missions year-round,” Soracco said. He noted that the Port Hueneme PPP&M team was recently awarded the DLA Distribution Small Team Performance of the Year Award and the Superior Civilian Service Award for its work.

“Operation Deep Freeze is a very critical mission for the people who live and work in Antarctica,” said Navy Capt. Sylvester Moore, former commander of MSC Pacific. “Without this resupply mission, all operations in Antarctica would end, and the scientific community would lose the opportunity to conduct research and study not only the continent of Antarctica, but its impact on our global climate.”

Brianne M. Bender is a public affairs specialist for DLA Distribution. Christopher Goulait is the web content manager for DLA Public Affairs.