Glaciologist - Ian Allison

At age 13 or so, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Probably a train driver or fireman. By mid-high school I started to think I might like to be a research chemist (following up my interest in home-made bombs and rockets). By first year uni I had shifted to physics (you can make bigger bombs!).

What town or city are you from?

Melbourne (Caulfield).

What were your educational/technical qualifications when you first worked in Antarctica?

Master of Science (Meteorology).

What was your work experience before undertaking your position in Antarctica?

Casual jobs during uni vacations including land clearing and contract fence building. Summer jobs at the Bureau of Meteorology and the Antarctic Division during vacations, data analysis etc. Research experience as part of my Master of Science.

Why did you want to go to Antarctica?

As time went on at university I realised that if I wanted to go on in physics (to build bigger bombs) I would have to spend most of my time locked away in dark cellars fiddling with mass accelerators. This seemed to clash with an interest developed over 10+ years in bushwalking and skiing. I was exposed to Antarctic activities through members of the Melbourne Uni Mountaineering Club (many early expeditioners were members) and through reading. And about this time there was an intriguing red four wheel-drive-vehicle around Melbourne Uni with 'Dept of Meteorology' painted on one door, 'Dept of Glaciology' on the other door, and the roof rack weighed down with skis and other equipment essential for field work at Mt Buller. So I gravitated from physics to meteorology with the specific aim of doing something a bit more active and adventurous, and developing skills specifically targeted at an Antarctic job.

What is your Antarctic experience?

20+ expeditions commencing with a winter at Mawson in 1969. All others are summer trips, but many of three to four months duration.

What did you do in Antarctica?

Always a glaciologist. First trip was making detailed measurements of the energy exchange between sea ice, the ocean and the atmosphere (glacio-meteorology). But subsequently I have dabbled in most fields of glaciology and related topics - ice sheet dynamics, outlet glaciers,

Heard Island glaciers, surface climate of Antarctica, geophysical exploration of ice sheets, pack ice studies, Southern Ocean oceanography, etc.

What skills did you need to do that work?

Sound practical skills to undertake the field measurements. Scientific research ability with a variety of scientific interests, and the ability to develop research programs. Persistence and organisational skills.

What did you like most about living and working in Antarctica?

The grandeur of the place and the requirement for self sufficiency.

What was the scariest thing that happened to you?

In order:

Dropping (unroped) eight metres down a slot [crevasse] in the Southern Prince Charles Mountains while several hundred miles away from everyone except one other guy.

Engine-room fire on Aurora Australis. Ripping a hole in the bottom of Nanok S on a rock at 11 knots.

What was the greatest challenge for you?

Managing multi-disciplinary field projects so that resources are used as efficiently as possible, and everyone gets a good chance to complete their projects.

What did you miss most about Australia?

Very little.

What was the most striking thing you noticed when you returned from Antarctica?

How fast and how close to each other the traffic moves.

Do you want to go again?


What do you think should happen to Antarctica in the future?

Not much more than what is happening now. Basically try and quarantine it from human influence as much as possible.

This page was last modified on July 2, 2014.