Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Letter

It seems that my Christmas letter sent out on Dec. 14th has not arrived in many places. To keep it timely, I have placed it in google documents such that as long as you have the link you can get to it.  Click here to preview the letter.

And if I didn't have your address then this will be your only access.  If you would like a post card or letter postmarked from the South Pole, then you can send it to my gmail account.  The address starts with numbers "3324wilk". 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

(Yes it is Christmas from Christmas day thru the 6th of Jan, i.e. 12 days)

Happy New Year from South Pole

The second Traverse Team came in last week with fuel for the station.  They had quite a trip making 1000 miles in most of a month due to mechanical problems.   For three days they had to pull one of the tractors and half the load at a time until parts could be flown in.  So they stayed for the Fabulous New Year's Eve Party that we had last night.   Click here for the photo Album.

Here is a shot from that night with one of the Traverse crew.  He made up the T-Shirt.

Definitions 1 and 2 are from the dictionary.  He added #3

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading Accoutrements for South Pole

Here is a peak at the station.  More to come.... I am lining up photos.  I know I keep promising it but I want to get down and help set up for the New Years Eve party and the network will be gone for the day by the end of that.  Click here for this album.
Slippers, water, Nook-Book, radio and reading glasses

Reading accoutrement for the Pole station.

Actually, I wear the slippers around the station a lot but it adds to the picture.  We always carry water around, the air is very dry.  And the radio is on hand because we are always on-call and to know what is happening with the flights, etc.

My new reading glasses, that I got just before leaving home.  It was a close race for them to get in before I departed.

I brought the Nook e-book reader that I bought last March after getting the tax return.  It is a nice little color computer for the money.  I thought it better then bringing a load with me.  And it is not like there is anything else around here to read (sarcasm, please).
Library and Quiet Reading Room - more paperbacks in the B1 Game Room.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Greenhouse Lighting

Jason and Debi setting up the light meter.
I roamed past the green house taking a break from reading the nook and noticed Lane going back and forth from the greenhouse.  Volunteers are encouraged to help plant and harvest but the unit is being refurbished for the year with few plants left (we ate them yesterday for dinner).  I was passing as he was coming out and asked if he needed any help and he accepted.  We had just started and another volunteer arrived.

The task was to measure the light intensity of two lamps.  The current lighting is by High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps which take an enormous amount of electricity and have a yellow/orange color to them.  One bulb was replaced by an LED lamp which has a whiter light to it, is a bit brighter and uses much less electricity.  However, the light from the LED lamp is directed downward while the HPS lamp throws light in all directions.  So the objective was to measure the amount of light just below each lamp and 1, 2 and 3 meters away.  From this, Lane can determine how many LED lamps he needs to outfit the full greenhouse, which will be more than the HPS ones but is still projected to be a significant energy savings.  And electricity - everything - is expensive around here counting the cost of getting it here and any energy needed to support it.

The greenhouse is a valuable addition to the elevated building that wasn't available in the old dome.  In the winter it is the only source of fresh vegetables and still only provides enough for a couple days a week's meals.  It was in full bloom when I arrived and was an impressive display for the many distinguished visitors coming this year.  Last night we ate it up and you can see the empty trays behind Jason and I in the picture.  We were setting the meter at the right height to take the measurements in the photo above.

Lane and a volunteer in the front section where people like to hang out when the greenhouse is in service.  I will add to the album as I go, click here for it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Excursion 2 - Into the Quiet Sector

Dec. 22, 2011 at 9AM we grouped at the back door and loaded into the Piston Bully track vehicle for a short drive out away from the station into an area called the “Quiet Sector”.  The primary research in this area are a set of seismometers and it is considered the “quietest” station in the world.  In this case, quite means no vibrations.  This translates into they don’t want people going into this area if at all possible.  But we needed to do some maintenance on the facility there so 4 snow machines roared off and the piston bully rumbled along after them disturbing the peace by generally making a seismic ruckus. 

My supervisor Al was driving since he was the only one who knew the way and was familiar with the delicacies of entering the facility (though I did read the manual).  I was riding shot gun to learn the route.  The winds were down from yesterday and the visibility was considerably improved from when the PB let us down (see previous post-click here).  Surely they would give us a different one, but no, they fixed some parts and drove it back yesterday so they gave it to us again today. 

Battered flags mark the research equipment buried below.
In Antarctica, away from the station, visibility of 1 mile vs 3 or 5 looks about the same; very white.  And with the clouds thick enough to obscure the disk of the sun and no direct light, looking through our big Smith goggles, the scene had an eerie orange/gray appearance.  The horizon was lost in the wash and the flag line had not been refreshed for the season and was a mix of short and long bamboo poles and red and orange wind battered flags and some poles with no flags.  The snow mobiles had gone ahead but with out direct sun, the lack of shadows the tracks were barely visible.  Also the humps of drifted snow were not clear until we were upon them but the PB was designed for just this type of terrain.  The goggles made the scene look somewhat dim but I tried taking them off and without them, the scene was a complete white wash.  I tried another pair of sunglasses and still could not see as well as with the big dark fly-eye goggles you see in the pictures.

I looked back over my shoulder and I could easily see the station standing out so it wasn’t as bad as it looked except for the lack of contrast.  As we trundled along we exchanged comments about the terrain and Al added that even more eerie is that you can get out in these conditions and with the altitude induced hypoxia and make bad decisions – but you don’t care because of the hypoxia.  (I am pleased to report that personally have been handling the altitude quite well.)

As we quietly plowed along, both watching the road carefully, I had an odd sense of pleasure at really feeling like I am in Antarctica.  About half way down the line, the beast lost power for a moment.  “Oh ooh”, Al said.  He adjusted things a bit and after less than a minute it was stable again but didn’t seem quite like it was the same.  I wondered if we would turn around but earlier Al pointed out that we could walk back for no farther than we were going. 

We finally arrived at the vault where two of the snow machine’s were stopped and the guys were digging snow away from the top of the vault a mere 5 miles from the station.  As we approached, the horizon still foreboding, some snow was oddly blowing up from nowhere and across our path.  I notice that the wind was now a different direction and I was a bit nervous.  Indeed, we had a survival bag and such a circumstance is the reason for the snow school 10 days ago, and the heated building below was a potential retreat but not for so many people.  Oxygen concentration in such a small confined space was also an issue for this trip and part of the care in entering the vault.

But, we got out and very soon the wind was back from the original direction.  Above the station was a patch of blue that was slowly growing as we worked.  The guys were just ready to open the vault and head in to take care of business. 

The carpenters measured inside the vault.  The electrician inspected the high voltage – everything looked good.  The UT person inspected the utilities; found the emergency lights for a power outage were not working – assume bad battery (future repair), the fan associated with the switch in the shaft rattled rather loudly.  The IT person changed out a unit.  Al and I were there to make sure the science was undisturbed and proper measures were taken.
She is in the driver's seat

Additionally, though, I took a big snow sample in a ½ gallon jug to look for micrometeorites.  And John Rask (fellow MDRS Mars Hab veteran) also partook of some rouge science taking snow samples to look for bacterial life.  He has a paper from 2000 where some Antarctic critters were found where they were not supposed to be found so he is following that up with more samples.  We have tentative NSF approval to do this and from these preliminary findings justify getting approval for a more extensive exploration. 

The snow machines headed off first and just as we were ready to leave the other two machines that had been farther out, returned.  They helped close the vaults and the 5 of us piled back into the machine only this time with me in the driver’s seat.  The vehicle has two speeds generally, not moving and chunking along. With my foot all the way down we were going about half the normal speed and when we didn’t show up on time, the Comm’s staff called us and we reported we were still in transit.  We returned to the station about an hour after leaving the vault and just in time for lunch.   Click here for more photos.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We had to be rescued - kind-a-sort-a

Tuesday Dec. 20, 2011 a new set of frantic scientists arrived in my perview.  (Don’t’ tell them I called them frantic).  Anyway, they have a limited amount of time to get all their science done so they are eager to get to work.  So Wednesday, Al and I escorted them to where there equipment is in the RF Sector (on the other side of  Summer Camp from the station) riding in one of the famous track vehicles around here called a Piston Bully.  It is a lot like driving a tractor designed to carry people instead of the things tractors do. 

The weather was rather forboding.  We came out Destination Alpha (the front door) and the wind was blowing the flags straight out towards the entrance.  Generally its blowing 90 degrees (crosswise to the station).  This is the direction that the worst storms come from.  The snow was blowing also reducing visibility to a mile.  Marcus happened to be taking the same exit and asked us where we were going on such a fine day.  I had some reservations but my supervisor Al was a veteran of the pole and we were staying within the “Operational Sector” of the station.   I actually came closer to questioning the actions when he commented that the machine was not driving quite right, remembering my friend Deidra in Alaska many years back, aborting her solo flight because something didn’t feel right and indeed the craft had a potentially fatal malfunction.

We forged our way, Al driving and I am riding shot gun so I could have a refresher on driving this beast.  Training on it was two weeks stale and it is a mildly complex vehicle.  Al picked an isle down the “burms” and driving to the other side and approaching the VHF antenna field, finally stops and is not sure which way to go with the limited visibility and having been a year since he had been there.  The one science member who had been there before remembered it was on the other side of the antennas so we made a right hand 90 degree turn and soon Al recognized where we needed to go.

We approached with the wind blowing across our path and slowing down as we approached the vehicle stopped (it has no brakes, you just take your foot off the peddle).  Al says “Uh oh.” And plays with the controls a few times; it won’t go forward.  I suggested trying reverse.  No luck.  He turned the wheel (which drives the tracks at different speeds) and still nothing.  But we were basically there, so we go out and took some new flags and the scientists decided where they wanted the new hole and flagged it off for the surveyors and the labor crew to dig a new hole.

Al tried the vehicle again with the same result.  So we all hoofed it back the direction we came to an equipment shelter by the internet satellite dish.  Called the Comm’s to report the problem and then for a shuttle to come get us and the vehicle department to report the broken vehicle.  All told we were gone from the station for just over an hour.

At the safety meeting earlier in the day, Al gave us his standard warning, “the pole can kick your butt anytime it wants”.  We heard you Al, you didn’t need to give us a demonstration.

Behind the Piston Bully (mid-ground object) to the left (small speck) was our refuge.
Indeed, we would not have gone any farther from the station given the conditions none-the-less conditions can get so bad (more often in McMurdo then here) that in the same circumstances we could have been stuck along the way....Antarctica!  Click here to see a few more shots from our brave adventure.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Amundsen Centennial Dec. 14, 2011

So this post is a little overdue but better late than never.

One hundred years ago, two teams raced to be the first people to reach the South Geographic Pole so 2 weeks ago we had a big pow wow here in celebration of Amundsen being the first expedition to arrive and the only of the two to survive to tell the tail.
People gathering in preparation for the Prime Minister Speech

The Prime Minister of Norway and a contingent of news people were here for 4 days and barely got out on the last flight on Thursday - all other flights that day were canceled (frankly, the plane came for them when they would have probably canceled for the regular crew).  So we had a rather busy week the 11th thru the 15th with the Prime Minister addressing station staff on the 12th, a photo-op on the 13th (the big group at the Pole sign) and the Prime Minister's recorded speech at the Ceremonial Pole marker on the 4PM the 14th local time.  He also broadcast a speech 4AM local time live to his constituency back in Norway.  Additionally, during the speech he unveiled an ice sculpture but of Amundsen which is still in pretty good shape 2 weeks later - at few days ago.

Asle T. Johansen joins me in a photo at Amundsen's sculpture
A record number of tourists spending many 10's of thousands of dollars to a company to come and camp outside the station for a week.  And several expeditions of skiers also took the opportunity attempt the actual journey following in Amundsen's foot/ski steps.  The Antarctic Treaty disallowed them to use sled dogs so they had to pull their own gear and ended up taking longer than he did.  They were then faced with the dilemma of letting the plane come pick them up and bring them in for the ceremony or stay on the track and complete the journey late.  Some chose to come on in.  One of them, a rather famous Norwegian skier Asle T. Johansen, joined me for a photo next to the ice sculpture.  I had forgotten my camera on the way out to the speech so I have been a the mercy for others for photos.  After coming in, I found folks still outside milling around and so I took the camera back out.  Turned out they were all Norwegians by they sound of them speaking.  I found a fellow taking pictures of the sculpture and pole marker and offered to take his picture with his camera and he appreciated that.  So I had him return the favor for me and on the second shot, I took off my goggles, noted motion to my left and found I had company for the picture.  Way cool, huh?

Oh, and there will be a smaller celebration for Scott's Centennial, Jan. 12th, 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chrismas Reading

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shown.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, 
and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed,
as on the day of Midian.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him 
Father Forever,
Prince of Peace.

His dominion is vast and forever peaceful,
from David's throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!

Isaiah Chapter 9.
Click here for Christmas pictures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Race Around the World - except you can't see it.

As I listen to the wind blowing outside the station editing pictures for this blog, I am further amazed that we followed through with annual "South Pole Race Around the World" with less than a mile visibility and 20 to 25 knot winds.  Yes, indeed, perhaps it is freeze dried brains, maybe just a once in a lifetime thing for many so we braved the elements and appreciated the warm temperature reducing the risk of frozen lungs.

The alarm woke me from a deep sleep and I got up to prepare to walk the race around the world.  I checked the weather:

It was a lovely -1.1 but reporting 25 knot winds.  Outside I could not see past the summer camp.

Others in the ladies room were asking the same thing, are we still having the race at these conditions.  I was feeling under the weather yesterday so I almost just weinied out on the race, telling myself they would not hold the race in these conditions and got back into bed.  I did not fall back to sleep in 10 minutes so I knew I was up for the day and got up and dressed and ready.  Holiday brunch was not going yet, but James was ready on the espresso machine so I got a cappuccino (made with instant milk and seems to be one of the few ways the powdered milk actually works) and a bowl of Rice Crispies and headed down to the lounge where my secret stash of box milk (real milk but ultra pasteurized and is stable warm for travel) my sister sent me for Christmas would supplement both of my breakfast components.
And they are off for a Race Around the World in 18 to 50 minutes.
And she made it to the end in good shape.
Indeed, it seemed the race-was-on so a bit on the tardy side, I had my gear on and headed out.  I did put a pair of shoe warmers in my hiking boots which were actually almost burning my feet as I headed out.  A fair sized gathering of colorfully dressed folks were at the starting line and in a couple minutes they started us off.  Some were on skies, some running, some walking and a contingent of vehicles and floats followed us around on a slightly longer route.  The track when around the pole marker, clockwise around the station, going out past the arches and in front of summer camp - where the wind was in our faces.  Almost to the dark sector (now on the other side of the world) the track wound around a bit and past the visitor's camp and back to the pole.  It was a total of 2.3 miles. I hoofed it the whole way, not even attempting a run, in fact, stopping for pictures and I came in second to the last.

Merry Christmas Eve from South Pole station.  You can pick up the photos by clicking here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solstice 2011 at Pole

I am making posts out of order trying to get the current events current, namely Solstice for the moment.

Often being from Alaska people I meet ask me if it is always light/dark out all the time?  Sometimes they will have 6 months in there. I spell out the dynamic changes in daylight in detail giving them a $50 answer when they probably wanted a 50 cent one.  But that is what you get when you ask me a question so be prepared. 

At the South (and North, of course) pole you do get almost exactly 6 months of day and 6 months of night with sunset/rise lasting like a day and a half.  So the last 3 months the sun has been slowly and imperceptibly (on a daily basis) climbing higher and higher in the sky to reach a maximum of  23.4 degrees, consistent with the tilt of the earth. At 6:30 PM yesterday, the 22nd, (21’st in the US), the sun reached its peak.  While the rest of the day, was the most overcast day we have experienced so far, suddenly around dinner the sky opened up which I noticed at my desk drafting my next blog posts.  Having made a facebook post about probably not getting a solstice shadow shot, I had to put my coat on and go out to the ceremonial pole and take a few pictures.  It was a record high of 6 below zero at dinner time so I went in my jeans, bunny boots, neck gater, and big red coat and medium gloves, and of course the goggles to not be blinded.  As I stepped outside the air did not even feel cold, though my face was telling me otherwise by the time I returned. (Fun trying to take photos with an LCD screen and those fly-eye looking dark goggles.) 

So the pole marker was 4’ 8”  (56”) shadow was almost 12’; 130 ½ inches.  You do the math.  Just kidding.  Damn, now I have to do the math.  ArcTan(56/130.5) converted to degrees is 23.25 very close to the expected value of 23.4.  So despite suspicions of late, the Earth is not off its axis of rotation after all..  As you can see from the picture, it is a bit tough to tell exactly how long the shadow is.  So good enough for Raytheon work.  Unfortunately, the geographic pole was casting its shadow onto the sign at the time so it wasn't an option for this shot.  With some new weather blowing in, a mechanical delay on today's flight (first since Tuesday) it is unlikely that I will get out and see if I can get a more accurate measurement at the geographic pole marker.  Meanwhile, if today's flight does not go on several McMurdo people are stuck here for a fabulous Christmas dinner and until Monday for the next possible flight.  Thankfully, my sister's Christmas package arrived on Tuesday's flight so I have some gifts to open.  Thank you, Kathy.  More Photos, click here

Monday, December 12, 2011

A night under the Sun.

Sorry, it was too much for one post.  ... Continuing from previous please click here to read it first.

Kitchen to the left, short mountain tents and peaked Scott tents.
While a few of the guys opted to continue crafting with snow caves, my back was hurting and I turned into my tent, which I have since learned actually did have a floor that could have been rolled out but which we missed. So I was rather startled to find a snow floor.  Which is another option allowing for one to craft an interior with ice shelves tables and chairs by digging then out and then having standing room inside.  I was packed off to one side with my bedroll and my gear in the middle leaving room for a cave dweller to bail out and bunk on the other side.  I really wanted to just crash but of course I still had to arrange the bed.  I tried being inside both bags, complicated by the inner bag lacking a zipper and additionally, the felt liner inside.  After much rummaging around and exhaustion I was in the bag, only to find the cold seeping up through the sleeping pads and both bags.  The last thing I wanted to do was move around  so after a bit of a rest, pulled myself out and put the inner bag which was all nylon under the bigger bag which had a flannel lining and was much thicker on top with the fleece lining.  Ahhhh....????

No.  Not too bad, really but not good enough.  I had foot warmers inside extra socks, wool leg warmers to my thighs (toasty warm legs), a wool sweater (thank you Hellen Mount), a hat and scarf and mummy bag over my head and all was warm except where there was no wool, i.e. my ass.  Working around inside the bag was nothing short of a work out, using arm, torso and leg muscles that one just rarely uses.  So laying there staring at the top of the tent, pondering what I might have to work with, I remembered a fleece airline blanket that I aquired before leaving Fairbanks.  It was folded up in the backpack.  Which meant getting my arms out and scooting around; no real choice but to do that.  It would be too much work to put it inside the bag (apparently where I needed it) and so I put it under the bag as more insulation to the snow.  Not much effect and it took awhile for the cold parts to warm up.  I managed to drop off to sleep a couple times only to wake feeling like I wasn't getting enough air.  
Keeping my face warm and still breathing - barely
After a couple hours, the camp settled down and the requisite trip to the out-wall was coming due so I had a bit more to drink which would help keep me warm and the getting up and moving around would do more to warm my ass than not.  Additionally, I had to remove the extra socks and foot warmers as they would not fit inside my bunny boots.  On returning I put new foot warmers on my feet and the old ones under my butt.  Ahhh, the solution at last.  I also remembered a wool hat (sorry Ruth) which I could put under me.  I had a regular knit cap that was tight on my head and I rolled down over my eyes to block out the light - creating a Dumb Donald look (from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids) but kept my cheeks covered.  And the scarf over my chin and then I could breathe out the space in between with the mummy bag over my head and the base rolled down in front making a channel for the fresh air to come down and breath it.  And whether my deep breathing while sleep was truely confined or it was the altitude, most of the night I would fall asleep and then wake with a gasp soon after.   I finally awoke after some sleep and felt like it was morning but I checked my camera for the time.  I hoped the time was off, from it being in my coat pocket and its hand warmer run out hours ago, but no, it was 2AM.  Being essentially overbundled in the bag and not sleeping was getting cramped.  I had to apply some Avatar techniques to control my reactions and managed to get through the night until the early morning "call of the wall" got me up.  Back in the sack I actually finally got to sleep an hour or two before the 7AM wake up call.

Waiting for the bus
 We opted to skip much of a breakfast, just hot drinks and breaking camp to get to Brunch at 10:30AM.  Breaking camp meant stowing everything back into the second Scott tent, taking down the first, breaking down the kitchen, out-wall, and the much of the old wall (the next team needed to be building their own).  We left our beautiful wall and we continue to get compliments on it.  The next team was headed out today for more happy camping.

A few more pictures are in the album - click here.

A Fine Antarctic Experience - Snow Craft 1

The Scott Tent and the previous team's wall, snow machine
with food, water and other supplies, part of our team.
Required survival training for going into the field or a certain distance from the base (white out conditions can come up fast and leave you stranded) is officially called Snow Craft 1.  It is unoffically called Snow School or Happy Camper. Yes, camping out under the star (sun) in Antarctica - the stuff of every young child's dream.  Okay, not every. 

Last weekend I was part of an 8 person training mission with John Loomus of Talketna, Alaska.  My seven cohorts in this fine Antarctic adventure were Brook, Shaun, Joshua, Patrick, Steven, Kurt, Troy and Carolos, yes all men.  We spent the morning in the conference room learning about the hazards of the elements and the tools of the trade.  AFter lunch we convened at destination alpha (the front door) where we loaded up in the piston bully for a 15 minute ride out into the Antarctic wilds (okay only a couple miles from the station).  We unloaded, the PB left us and Loomus began our training.

Handing off the blocks for the wall to the right.
 A couple nights previous the first set of happy campers had broke ground at the camp leaving one scott tent (holding the rest of the gear we were to use, and a swiss cheese wall, a duggout hole with a half cirlce wall formed the "out house", more like an "out wall". Loomus regailed us with a few stories of how the Scott style tent has stood the test of time and Antarctic storms and his own experiences of the concequences of failing to build a sufficient snow wall around his tent.  A second Scott tent was folded up in its case and we learned how to set it up without letting it or any of its parts, blow away in high winds.  Thankfully, we had light winds the whole time but we needed to be prepared for other conditions.  BTW, the temperature was the standard 24 below zero with -40 something wind chill and very clear skies and 24 hours of sunshing.  On the down side, the pressure had dropped to an equivalent equatorial altitude of 10,900 ft give or take 50 which was higher than typical to date giving us thinner air than of late.
Ice Block Wall under contruction.

So where does the craft in "Snow Craft" come from?  That would be building an ice block wall and digging snow caves. Loomus pointed out the flaws in the previous team's wall and showed us how to cut blocks with a saw and a shovel.  Despite my many years in Alaska, this was new for me and my favorite part of the adventure.  We built a lovely wall between the two scott tents.  The wall was positioned in the direction of the worst storms which doesn't even guarentee that it will be in the right place.  Such is the life of Antarctic expeditions.

"Behind" the wall we pitched 3 mountanineering tents which supposedly held two people.  These tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and extra fleese liners were all stored in the first Scott tent.  The Scott tent has a tunnel like entrance of two layers of material.  It can be quite a job to get that much gear in and out without it getting caught up in the material.  It was also a challenge to crawl in and out, each time as I my big red coat got hung up, I though, "one of the least graceful ways to die in Antarctica".

Entrance to the snow cave, narrow channel covered in blocks.

So we each got two sleeping mats, two sleeping bags, a fleece liner, and our bags and picked a spot.  I opted for one of the Scott tents since it looked like they would have more room.  As it turned out I ended up with it by myself as half the crew opted for snow caves.  I liked Diane's comment, if you have the choice why not take the cave and be able to say you did it but I was too tired by that point to want to dig one. 
Another dugout pit with a wall and snow shelf formed the kitchen and then Loomus showed us how to light the stoves.  They turned out to be problematic.  Generally this course is taught in McMurdo so the parts and pieces in use here were not working as smoothly as usual.  But we got hot water and "dinner".  The rations are labeled as a serving for two.  While it doesn't fill you up, with one serving, I just didn't want to eat more than one.  It is hard to get it cooked at 20 below, even by carfully closing them up with little air inside (zip lock bags) and tucking them in your coat to give them the 15 minutes to cook, risking a mess.
Story continues in the next post click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Album links not working

Sorry folks.  I don't know what is up with Google.  My old album entries are not loading.  It takes you to a login point, which if you do, you can probably see the album.  But try this one for now, and you can see them all.

Click here for albums

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

There is a Road You Know

These Vehicles and the trailer (where the crew lived during the Traverse) "drove" from McMurdo across the ice to Pole following a specific route.  It took 4 years to establish the route.  This is SPoT1, SPoT2 is on its way.
Having driven vehicles to the States, I have had several experience where someone would ask if I brought the car on the ferry. I would say, “No, I drove....there is a road you know”. And most would say, “No, I didn't know”. To say there is a road to the Pole is a bit of an overstatement but one of two sets of vehicles arrived a couple days ago. The program is called “Traverse” or SpoT (South Pole Traverse) as in they traversed the ice sheet to get here? Why? Why not? Okay, primarily to bring fuel. They are twice as efficient (half as in-efficient) at bringing fuel than the LC130 Hercules Airlift process. This particular crew has a second duty which is to continue “East” to a site called ARA which has completed its mission and several pallets of stuff must be extracted. So they will bring it back here and hopefully take it all back to McMurdo this year. If time is short, they may have to leave it here and take it the rest of the way next year. Part of the Antarctic Treaty is that you have to take it allllll back out.

I have taken this opportunity to make an album of the ”Beasts of the South”. They are as unique as any other part of the place.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So what is she doing up/down there?

I seem to be forgetting my camera at just the wrong times.   It has something to do with lots of clothes to put on and getting it into my pocket of a big red coat that makes you feel like a big balloon.  I was assisting in the cryo-lab where they were loading some liquid helium for the telescope projects.  They need a new dewar full every 6 days.  The out-gas line off the dewar was so cold that air from the room was condensing on it and liquefying and running down.  I will get a video of it later and add that to the post here.  It took about an hour to fill a dewar about the same height as a tall propane tank but almost 3 feet across.

The facility has 3 big tanks and only one has a usable amount of helium in it.  And someone goofed on the ordering.  It will be tight to get enough in for the scope to operate over the winter.  The project is called BICEP and it uses it to cool the millimeter wavelength detector (radio telescope). 

Standing at the South Pole Telescope with the BICEP, SPUD and MAPO machine shop in the background.
The  yellow shield in the background is where the BICEP telescope is.  Farther back and to the right is the station house.  This was my first excursion out.  Fortunately, Julie had here camera because mine froze just when we were ready to take pictures.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Midnight Sun

My previous experiences with the midnight sun was near the arctic circle or just north.  And then only for a day or so.  The perpetual sunshine is different than the perpetual daylight of Fairbanks, where at least you get a sunset and twilight to represent times of the day.  After just two weeks, it seems like the sun has taken on a relentless persona even though it is far from hot, nominal temps are -20F.  Worse yet, is that 3AM is when the sun shines into my berth window and onto my bed.  I have an opaque shade that is easily opened and closed and a eye shade to sleep with but I am going to try the cardboard to see if I can get better sleep early on in the night.

8AM photo from my office window, ceremonial pole and flag

Getting a photo (or set of photos) that is indisputably taken from the pole is challenging.  The best I have done so far is a set of "flag shadow" photos outside my office window.  I look out at the ceremonial pole surrounded by international flags.  They are far enough out that the shadows are distorted so that didn't work very well.  In the first photo in the album (click here) was taken at 8AM and includes the ceremonial pole (also seen to the right).  The Noon shot has the shadow almost directly away from the building.  You have to look closely at the 6PM shot the flag shadow falls along the snowmobile track and all the way to the left in the photo.  This one also probably best represents the altitude of the sun from the horizon.  While the shadow lengths appear different it is only the perspective because the flag is a distance away.  And the "Midnight" (was up at 11PM) photo shows the sun shining toward the building.  The 5th photo is the sun shining in the window of the lab at 11PM.  The two windows (reflections on the cabinet at left to be excluded) surround my desk.  The right most window (middle glow) is the one in which the pictures were taken.  I just looked out and they have doubled the number of blue flags along the snowmobile path.  Actually, they mark a fuel hose running along the building, around to where the ski-planes land.  Julie tells me that there is a project to bury it this year so they no longer have to worry about it getting damaged by say, snow machines driving over it.

Also in the album are photos of me at the pole.  It is called "Hero Shot".
Ceremonial Pole with flags and me.  My office is to the right of the Antarctica banner on the building.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eclipse Pole 2011

Thanksgiving dinner was great.  It is Saturday, local time, Nov. 26th.  Yesterday was the Solar Eclipse visible only from the "bottom of the world".  The morning started with about half the winds of the night before (previous post) i.e. 9 to 10 knots.  The sky was slightly overcast but the sun was still casting sharp shadows so I was optimistic about still having a good eclipse viewing party in the galley.  However, as the day went on, the clouds got thicker and thicker.  Julie and I went out to visit the Icecube project facility and I was doubtful.  But we looked at the sun and the clouds made a nice filter where we could actually look at it and see a very fine sharp boundary for the disk of the sun.  So I knew we could at least see the eclipse but not the sunspots if I get the binocular projection system working.

We came inside a bit before 4PM and I rested for awhile after the walk in heavy gear (still -20F with a
-44 wind chill) and to be ready for the eclipse party.  By 5PM, the sky was almost completely clear.  Stan had finished the adapter for the binoculars and tripod and with a quick check I knew we had a good tool for safely viewing the eclipse.  And it was.  My pin hole projection box was completely upstaged by being able to look at a sheet of paper behind the binoculars and see a projected image of the sun, complete with sunspots (those dark spots on the picture, running from side to side).

I ate dinner and was set up for 6:30 and quite a few people (total of 80 on the station, 30 or more came by) taking pictures of the projected images.  A few had cameras and were taking shots directly, from the windows.  Looking out to see if the sky was getting any darker, we saw quite a few people going out to the Pole markers for pictures (stay tuned for mine).  We could barely detect a change in brightness; mostly the contrast of the snowy terrain seen looking through the tinted windows of the galley was our only indicator that the amount of light had changed.  It gave the landscape a very lunar like appearance.

All in all the public service program was a success.  And yes, we are allowed (even expected) to do these types of things as part of the job.  A sequence of shots of the eclipse are in the album. (Click Here).

In case you want to confirm that those are sunspots check the  nasa SOHO image for the day:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Will the Real Antarctica Please Stand Up

We slid into Pole on greased rails so to speak.  It was the best weather at both McMurdo and Pole for the season as we are headed into Summer Solstice in December.  Above zero in McMurdo, 20 something below here at Pole.  Here the sky was mostly clear, a lovely blue, much like the Arctic blue sky, and could see to the horizon.  Someone mentioned to me that this was the first at had been this clear, too.  Temperatures dived over the next few days to 57 below and came slowly back up, crossing 40 below with Fairbanks where temperatures dipped that low still with beautiful clear weather and modest winds.

This week were were running 20 below but a low pressure system was moving in and the relative altitude kept climbing.  Wed. Nov 23rd started clear but the horizon started to gray out with blowing snow and ice crystals.  By dinner time, the wind was very strong blowing crosswise to the station and visibility was way down.  It produced quite a bit of drifting over the night.  But the visibility effect was only at the surface.  Above, the sun was still punching through to make shadows so seeing the eclipse the next day was still hopeful.

Onward and Upward and Southward.

Bright and early we convened to weigh in for the flight.  We checked in at the Denver airport with a head count of 18 to 20 RPSC employees.  Before leaving Christchurch a number of other groups, mainly project scientists from Universities, we had 80 people on the flight to McMurdo.  Now we are down to 10 or 12 headed for the Pole.  Four of us, Stan, Dianne, Flint and myself were from the original 20. It was a 3 hour flight but seemed longer than the 5 hour one the previous day.  We were sitting on the sides with an on-time departure of 8AM and soon after taking off, they allowed us to move about.  The plane was still slanted upwards.  Turns out it is slanted up, climbing the whole way to the Pole.  At first there were mountains sticking up out of the ice.  Then more and more ice and large glaciers.  And eventually, just ice.  We leveled off about 1/2 hour before landing at 9000+ ft above sea level.

We landed pulling up to the station door, almost.  Flying as cargo, we don't know that until we get out.  But they announce we are at the South Pole and it was quite exhilarating.  I was fumbling with my gear to get the last pieces on following other's examples of putting the big googles on, so I was one of the last off the plane.  The temperature was 27 below zero Fahrenheit with a modest wind.  Stepping down and looking around, recognizing the station from the pictures, heeding the person with the wands, as they did not shut the engines off, I was so excited I was panting at the realization that I had made it.  I was inhaling exhaust from the jet but didn't care.  Finally I had to stop walking so I turned around took a few pictures before reaching the welcoming parting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

No Boomerang.

I forgot to mention the boomerang bag.  We had to identify one bag as the "boomerang" bag during bag check in.  No limit to the number of bags with the Air Force, just a limit of 1501b.  Poor weather is common at McMurdo and can come up at any time so every flight has to be prepared to spend another 5 hours headed back to Christchurch, called boomerang, in which case the only bags you have are your carry on and your boomerang bag.  I set up my carry on as my boomerang.  I discovered after landing at McMurdo with only 1 night, and leaving my other bags ready for loading in the morning, that it was poor preparation.  But since we were back on a plane in less then 24 hours, it was irrelevant.  But alos no penguins nor many pictures in McMurdo.

Antarctica Landing

Monday the 14th of Nov. 2011, our flight landed outside of McMurdo at the airfield in the early afternoon New Zealand time.  Nothing says Antarctic like odd looking motorized vehicles.  "Ivan" The Terra Bus was the first thing we saw getting off the plane.  See more of the album for the surrounding view.  We loaded into the bus for a short ride to the actual station which could not be seen from here.  Inside the station we got out of our gear and had another orientation in the cafeteria. We found our rooms, made our beds and extracted a few items from our bags.  At 7PM those of us headed to the Pole had to (not so much pick up) identify our bags, show our ECW gear for the next day's flight.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flying as Cargo

Monday morning (Nov. 14th NZT) we reported to the Antarctic Center with packed bags, and our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather Gear).  We checked in for our flight with the Air Force giving over all but our carry-on and ECW which we were to wear on the plane.  We had time for breakfast at the visitor center before a short orientation video.  Then we loaded on buses to drive across the street to load onto the Air Force cargo plane.  We had an on-time 10AM departure for a 5 hour flight to McMurdo.  We all had earplugs so the flight was not conducive to conversation.   see album (click here).

New Zealand Tour

We had 48 hours in Christchurch, New Zealand.  We were in a hotel next to the Antarctic Center (for which I neglected to get a picture).  Which was nice because Monday morning, we rolled out of bed and trundled over to get on the plane for Antarctica.  It was away from town so we had to figure out how to get anywhere interesting.  We arrived Saturday, local time, 2PM.  1PM Sunday we got our cold weather gear, i.e big red coat and bunny boots.  A few other travelers and I found the Center bus would take us downtown which was just opened up after recovering from the earthquake last Feb.  You can see that this monument (which looks intact) is fenced off so it probably is structurally compromised.

You can check out my (click here) google + album from our wanderings around downtown.

Epic Journey South Begins

Back in action at last.  Welcome followers old and new.  To the right is the only picture I was able to get in Denver where I joined up with about 20 other Raytheon Polar Services Corporation (RPSC) employees deploying to Antarctica.  The poster is in the hallway of the Polar Services Building.  We had a day and a half of orientation preparing us for our epic journey South.

The afternoon of Nov. 9th, we boarded a plane to LA and waited 6 hours for your 13 hour flight to New Zealand.  However, that was still not the end, we had another hop from the North end of the North Island (Aukland) to Christchurch (middle of the country).  In Aukland, we cleared customs smoothly, picked up some local money, and proceeded to the domestic terminal for the second flight.  Which we barely had time to do.