Tiny team, big dream: Getting TEDxScottBase to Antarctica

After nine long months of preparation, it's almost showtime for the team behind a TEDx event in one of the world's most isolated locations.

TEDxScottBase is the third such event to be held in Antarctica, but the first to be held at a Government base on the continent.

It was pulled together by a tiny team with big aspirations, with hours of painstaking preparation with almost military precision.

"If you forget a cord or if you don't have the right things with you, you can't even just email it or go and look it up on the internet, or go down to the shop," operations manager Trent Yeo told Newshub.

While most TEDx events have dozens of people involved in organising, the ScottBase team was only five members.

Four of them touched down on the ice last Saturday, with organiser Kaila Colbin staying in Christchurch to coordinate from New Zealand.

Like most TEDx events, all of them are volunteers.

"The crux of the work was done in nine months, and the team sort of came together pretty much weekly during that period and then probably moreso at the end, so we could be prepared to get this going," Mr Yeo says.

Around halfway through the planning process, they had to toss it all out and start again - the gear they wanted to bring down was too heavy.

"I think we came into this with a quite optimistic opinion that we could just take anything down to Antarctica because the Hercules planes that take the gear down are quite big," production lead Isaac Spedding told Newshub.

"A big challenge in producing an event down here is actually getting the equipment down here not only under weight, because every kilogram counts, especially towards the environment.

TEDxScottBase team at kit-out (TEDxScottBase)
(L to R) Jeff Willis, Trent Yeo, Isaac Spedding, Sutter Schumacher and Kaila Colbin at kit-out (TEDxScottBase)

"We had to redesign the whole event and also ship it nice and early because of the Antarctic Factor… a lot of our equipment was actually shipped in November, well before we were getting down here."

The reduced equipment and team isn't the only thing setting ScottBase apart from other TEDx events. The target audience here isn't a live one, but made to be broadcast.

While it's being filmed on Sunday, the public won't be able to see it for another week. The only people who can see it live are those already on the ice.

Around 50 people can fit into the event room and the crowd will be swapped partway through, to allow more of the 80 at Scott Base to see it.

"The folks who are going to be sitting here watching it are really just a lucky part of the process as opposed to the final recipients," co-organiser Sutter Schumacher says.

A single camera feed will also be broadcast to the neighbouring McMurdo station, home to the US operation, and through Scott Base's own systems.

"Because the internet and all communication lines are so minimal, we've had to do everything offline and carry it back with us," Ms Schumacher says.

The event will be broadcast worldwide January 22, after the team returns to Christchurch, giving people across the globe a look into arguably the most remote location on Earth.

"Our plan is not to have it just for 40 people, it's to help people all around the world really get an understanding of the extreme environment, the extreme commitment and the really important science that's happening down here," Mr Yeo says.

The event hasn't even been filmed yet but it's already gained attention worldwide, according to Jeff Willis, who's behind the event's social media.

"It's been really great to see the response people have had from all over, asking questions, really excited," he says.

"It's just generally it's really cool to be able to spread to the world what people know, the science that is happening down here, and what Antarctica New Zealand is doing."

TEDxScottBase team after touching down in Antarctica (TEDxScottBase)
(L to R) Trent Yeo, Isaac Spedding, Jeff Willis and Sutter Schumacher after touching down on the ice (TEDxScottBase)

Despite the challenges, the team are in agreement it's all been absolutely worth it.

It wouldn't have been possible without the work of Antarctica New Zealand, which is the Government agency in charge of New Zealand's activities on the continent.

Ten speakers touched down on the ice for the event earlier this week, including New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute director Gary Wilson, astronaut Dan Barry and musician Gin Wigmore.

The full TEDxScottBase event will be broadcast online next Sunday, with airings at 9am, 2pm and 7pm (NZ time).

A TEDx event is an independently run version of the popular TED conferences.