Battelle's Steve Dunbar: From Mountaineering to Managing Antarctic Operations

Steve Dunbar doing work in the arctic

How do you manage the transition from standing on actual mountaintops to summiting virtual ones? Steve Dunbar, a Battelle Program Manager, has personally navigated the journey from mountaineering to managing large operations in some of the world's most challenging environments.

The first part of his life was not a bellwether for what was to come. Born and raised in Hartford, CT, Dunbar's family was not outdoorsy whatsoever.  But local rock-climbing trips with friends and winter mountaineering trips in the White Mountains of New Hampshire changed Dunbar’s path, inspiring a passion that led him to climbing trips all over North America, Mexico and Peru and eventually a job as a mountaineering guide.

His expertise eventually led him to Antarctica as a staff mountaineer for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), where one of his first field assignments was on a remote glacier, moving 100,000 pounds of drilling equipment in highly crevassed terrain. The project was to drill through the glacier to help understand why it was moving faster than the surrounding glaciers.  This unique role required a blend of industrial rigging skills he had learned while working on remote construction projects and mountaineering expertise, a combination that would come to define much of his career and position him as the lead of search and rescue operations for the program.  After a mix of teaching survival skills, assisting science projects in the field, and acting as the search and rescue lead during the Antarctic summer seasons, Dunbar got a pilot’s license and was set on a change to pursue a flying career.

Steve Dunbar enjoying the winter at home in WyomingSteve Dunbar enjoying the winter at home in Wyoming.

Before starting his advanced training however, he was approached by Raytheon, which had just won the competition to become the Antarctic support contractor to the US National Science Foundation.  Dunbar was hired as Raytheon’s head of field science support. Dunbar rose to head the entire science division for the contractor, charged with all science support activities, including overseeing lab operations, icebreaker operations, field operations, aviation planning, and more.  He left the USAP for an extended break to help care for a family member at home. 

Dunbar returned to icy landscapes in 2013, again for the USAP, this time as the McMurdo Area Manager for the new support contractor, Lockheed Martin.  Here, he managed a team of over 500 employees, overseeing operations for the main USAP logistics hub with a peak population of nearly 1,100 people. Next, looking for a new challenge that allowed him more time at home, he took a new role as the Medical and Emergency Manager for the USAP contractor. But the role took on a new dimension during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was tasked with managing the medical department's response to the crisis, which included developing and implementing screening and quarantine protocols, setting up contingency treatment facilities, and managing deployments under challenging conditions.

Seeking to get back to his roots supporting science, Dunbar joined Battelle in 2023 where he has been supporting remote sensing programs around the globe. “I started in Antarctica for the adventure, but I stayed for the science. I have been lucky enough to have been involved with some of the major scientific inquiries of the era; ozone depletion, climate change, the search for dark matter and dark energy.” Since joining Battelle, he has combined his passion for challenging environments with his dedication to making a positive impact on humanity on a variety of projects. “I like working for a company that measures its results by how much money we give back to the communities we operate in and how we improve the world,” he said. “I appreciate being surrounded by people who share those same values.”  

Polar Research Operations

Supporting NSF Funded Research in the Arctic.

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June 18, 2024
Battelle Insider
Estimated Read Time
4 Mins

Polar Research Operations

Supporting NSF Funded Research in the Arctic

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