Inside Aera
Ventura, General May 31, 2017

From Antarctica to Aera: Toughing It Out in Support of Science

Aera Energy’s Elise Welterlen proved her mettle in the coldest place on Earth

It’s the world’s coldest, windiest, driest place and Earth’s largest single mass of ice. For hostile living conditions and extreme isolation, Antarctica has no equal.

And it was home to Elise Welterlen for most of a decade.

Today, Welterlen is a purchasing agent for Aera Energy’s Ventura, Calif., operation, but from 1999-2007, she worked as a contractor assisting the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), which supports scientific research in the southernmost continent.

For nine seasons on “the ice,” Welterlen served first as a firefighter and emergency medical technician and later as a specialist in supply/logistics and load planning. Her work schedule mostly spanned six to eight months at a time, but two stays each lasted more than a year.

It was an experience that “taught me to think outside of the box and be creative with materials and workspace,” said Welterlen, who also oversees Aera’s Ventura warehouses for surface and subsurface materials. “I learned how to always evolve work processes and work safely in challenging environments.”

Welterlen first learned of the USAP in 1999 while working in Boulder, Colo. After taking extensive fire-fighting training and passing strenuous exams, she was deployed to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station.

On call at the South Pole

At McMurdo, which counted some 1,200 people during the summer months, Welterlen protected buildings from fire and provided medical aid. Despite the challenges and loneliness of the March-to-August winter, when there was no daylight, “it was exciting to support science,” Welterlen said.

Welterlen later transitioned to an electrical warehouse materials position. During her last year, she served as a load planner, creating passenger and cargo manifests for all large planes flying in and out of McMurdo, field camps, the South Pole and back and forth from Christchurch, New Zealand.

“That was one the most challenging and high-pressure jobs of my life,” Welterlen said.

She still prizes the experiences of flying to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to train its fire crew and helping supply materials as the new station was being built. She’s also proud of learning to operate fire engines and tankers, aircraft rescue vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and forklifts.

Having fun on ‘the ice’

Welterlen tested her mettle outside of work too. She completed the Antarctic Marathon “in negative temperatures with a significant wind chill,” she recalled. Four times she participated in the annual Polar Plunge, a winter tradition of jumping into a hole cut in the sea ice. She learned how to skate-ski on the Antarctic sea ice. She observed penguins, whales and seals in their native environment.

In September 2007, Welterlen moved to Ventura to work for Aera, where her Antarctic adventure still proves its worth.

“I learned to appreciate what it is to work with people that you consider your family, and to balance work and life environments,” she said. “I know too that if you can get materials to Antarctica, you can do it here.”

DID YOU KNOW? Aera Energy is a three-time recipient of the Forbes America’s Midsize Employer List, placing ninth in the 2022 ranking and securing its spot in the top ten midsize companies to work for in the United States.

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