Acting Ambassador Ms. Susan B. Niblock attended an extensive program of briefings, functions, and events on September 27-29 in Christchurch to celebrate the beginning of the summer season for polar research and exploration.
Ms. Niblock met the Mayor of Christchurch, Hon Lianne Dalziel, to thank her for the outstanding assistance from the Christchurch City Council. The establishment of the Antarctic Office within the ChristchurchNZ economic development agency is a positive step to pull together the different strands of Antarctic effort among the U.S., NZ, Italian, and South Korean national programs, which all operate out of the city as one of five international “gateway cities” to Antarctica. Senior managers from the U.S. National Science Foundation, who run the U.S. Antarctic program, provided Ms. Niblock a very interesting briefing on the plan for the rebuild of McMurdo Station. In meeting Major General Tim Gall, Commander Joint Forces of the NZ Defence Force, Ms. Niblock was able to convey the gratitude of the United States for the close co-operation between the two countries’ militaries. Ms. Niblock attended a business incubator seminar showcasing a range of local innovators and entrepreneurs in the geospatial, space launch, cryogenics, and augmented reality sectors. She had the opportunity to meet the conservators of Antarctic exploration heritage. In particular, a tour of the Port of Lyttelton outlined the historic launching points of the Antarctic explorations of the “heroic age” – where Scott and Shackleton set off on their missions of discovery. It was also a chance to see the work underway to increase Christchurch’s container and cruise ship facilities as part of the earthquake rebuild.
A key message Ms. Niblock took away from the weekend events was how grateful New Zealand is for both the logistical assistance which enables Antarctica NZ to conduct their own program of research, but also for the significant investment into the local economy of around US$120 million each year derived from the U.S. Antarctic Program choosing Christchurch as its gateway city. At times, one will hear American accents in just about every hotel, shop, and taxi cab in the city – which is a great boost for local businesses.
While in Christchurch, the Chargé d’affaires also met young Pasifika leaders, and promoted the U.S. Air Force presence. As well as attending the formal civic reception for Antarctic Season Opening, Ms. Niblock enjoyed hosting Josiah, Maria, Oki, Viane, and Wesley from PYLAT – a Pasifika youth leadership group – for a breakfast. The group then took a VIP tour of one of the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft which supports the U.S. and NZ Antarctic programs. Ms. Niblock had the opportunity to meet the military personnel who crew the heavy air transporter, and thank them for their service. For the first time in living memory, the U.S. Air Force had two of the giant Globemaster III aircraft on the tarmac at Christchurch airport, and the free public tours had proven very popular: being almost immediately booked out. Ms Niblock then took the PYLAT group through the International Antarctic Centre, which showcases international co-operation on the ice. A highlight of this visit was the opportunity to pat an adorable rescue huskie dog, and see the penguins – many of whom had also been rescued after injuries.
Along with the announcement of four new NASA scholarships for young New Zealanders, the NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infra-red Astronomy (SOFIA) flying telescope presence, and the partnership on Rocket Lab making NZ the 18th spacefaring nation, working together on the ice rates as a key area of scientific co-operation between the U.S. and NZ. Ms. Niblock enjoyed learning more about the important research being undertaken in the Southern Ocean and on the frozen continent, and meeting many of the intellectually impressive and hardy folks who do this work.