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.