Friday, March 30, 2007


I love food. I love to cook and bake too but here at the station we have awesome cooks who are much more talented than I am and they make us three wonderful meals every day, except Sunday which is fend for yourself day.

We do have opportunities to go into the kitchen and dabble around with whatever we’re inspired to make.

Here’s Robert showing Francie how to make spatzle, a favorite dish from his native Germany. Note the steely concentration as they extrude the dough to make little spatzle balls. And it’s a requirement to wear pseudo-lederhosen while making Bavarian dishes.

My own little claim to culinary fame around here is making the bagels during the winter. Every couple of weeks I make a batch of about 7 dozen bagels.

This is the dough after it’s risen – my favorite part is punching it down.

I always recruit helpers for rolling out the bagels.

Stef has the bagel rolling technique down and Brien is behind him churning out those dough blobs.

Brien is my senior dough cutter and he now has an innate sense for what a 4 oz portion of dough looks and feels like. Steffen, another German scientist but sans lederhosen, is learning how to roll the dough. He did a fine job of turning the 4 oz blobs of dough into round bagelly looking things.

And this is the final product.

Michael is the one who turns them into beautifully bronzed and glazed bagels, first boiling then baking them and then topping them with various goodies.

By the way, Michael Rehm is our local celebrity.
Michael modeling for the action figures soon to be marketed in Polemart

Last night, he was featured on the Colbert Report for the second time! Click here to see the segment. It’s quite funny and Steven Colbert has issued forth the challenge to Michael to design a Colbert Nation flag that he wants flown at the South Pole instead of the other nation’s flags. Hmmm. I guess anything would better than that boring French flag (just kidding Denis).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sunset 2007

We bid farewell to the sun last night.

Two days past the autumnal equinox, all we're seeing is the refracted light of the sun as it gets ducted into the atmosphere above the horizon, although it appears like a spector of our old solar friend.

We had a gala feast last night to mark the beginning of winter's darkness.

The galley was transformed into a formal fine dining establishment and people wore clothing other than their usual fleece and Carhartts.

Terry the greenhouse tech and Andy the station manager vogueing in fashions seen only in Antarctica.

Brien, Steffen, Derek and Robert standing around looking handsome and hungry.

Leah the galley materials person posing with the beverage of choice for the meal.

Once again, our fabulous chefs treated us to another spectacular meal worthy of a five star restaurant.

Seared salmon with smoked gouda polenta, sauteed green beans and Chinese greens topped with a beurre blanc sauce.

Brien with his grilled filet mignon topped with shrimp in a wine reduction sauce, served with roasted russet, sweet potato and root vegetable mash and gorgonzola butter.

Francie's world famous chocolate mousse was the decadent dessert to finish off the feast.

Francie is the best friend of anyone who loves sweets or carbs around here.

We toasted to a fine meal and the beginning of a great winter. Afterwards, there was dancing and strange party games, such as table bouldering, a unique way for climbers to keep in shape without a climbing wall.

Kris, the meteorologist turned trash man making the crux move on the 5.10 table.

The eleven women on this winter's crew got together for our first group photo.

Standing from left: Claire, Dainella, Leah, Laura, Francie, Katie, me, Liz and Kari.
Seated: Lynette and Terry. Photo by Robert Schwarz.

It was a fine evening and a fond farewell to the last rays of the sun. We'll have another similar celebration to welcome the sun's return in 6 months.

Oh yes, currently it's -81.2F or -63C.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Our link to the world

Another field trip!

Walking towards the berms and the Radome in the distance.

This morning, a few of us took another field trip, this time out to the RF building and Radome to see the facilities and get familiar with the hazards (lots of high voltage wires, microwave radiation) and what emergency supplies are kept there.

For me, it was more of an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the gorgeous morning and the last rays of the soon to be setting sun.

The giant golf ball is the Radome, a domed covering for the Marisat satellite dish. We are connected to the outside world through three old satellites, ranging from 23 to 31 years old, older than some of the people here. These satellites were formerly weather or communications satellites that have fallen out of their original orbits and brought closer to polar orbits and now we use them for internet, phone (VOIP) and up and downlinking data.

Sat Comm tech Robert explaining the systems to Lynette, Jason and Jack in the RF (radio frequency) building

Between the three satellites, they overlap to give us about an eleven hour window of connectivity to the outside world. Currently the window goes from about 5:20 pm to 5:55 am (now that we just ended New Zealand daylight saving time) and it gradually shifts forward 4 minutes a day. During this time, we can surf the internet, make phone calls to home and post to blogs. In 2005, we gained the ability to send and receive small emails over an Iridium satellite so outside of the regular satellite pass, we can still get mail. Before that, we had to wait until the pass started, then your inbox would suddenly flood with messages and you knew the satellite was up.

Neal having his "I'm King of the world!" moment.

Everyone was taking photos this morning.

Tomorrow is equinox, when the sun crosses the equator. And down here at the south pole of the earth, it is roughly around March 21 when the sun will start to go below our horizon. It may not actually start to dip below the horizon for a few more days and if it's clear out, we can watch it as it slowly sinks lower and lower. Stay tuned for some sunset will be the only sunset we see down here for 2007.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Once the near constant snow grooming of summer ends, the landscape of the polar plateau around here starts to change back to its natural form.

Sastrugi is a Russian word that means wave. It's the word that we use to describe the elegant ripples and ridges of snow that are sculpted by the wind into delicate contours, knife-like fins and undulating patterns of grooves.

Sastrugi that have formed on the skiway and Sven in the distance out for a stroll.

Snow is deposited by the wind in the prevailing direction, collecting on the leeward side of even the smallest irregularities on the surface. It starts out resembling ripples in the sand but soon these depostions will grow and grow while getting eroded away on the windward side by the same wind that's forming them until sometimes an overhanging projection is formed.

My footprints are in the lower right corner. I nearly stepped on this, as I do to most sastrugi, until I saw that paper-thin window on the top of this fin.

If you look closely, Jack is standing on top of the station.

It's all part of the polar landscape and what we're seeing now is just the infant stage for what this place will look like at the end of winter. I've had numerous face plants trying to walk over the uneven sastrugi in the dark during other winters and they can get so big, I have to jump down off of them, landing with both feet.

I also often have inner conflicts when I encounter an especially beautifully sculpted ridge of pristine snow. On one hand, I want to step back and admire it and appreciate every graceful contour and on the other hand, I'm faced with an overwhelming urge to stomp on it for the sheer pleasure of hearing the hollow crunch as it collapses, like a giant styrofoam meringue.

Fortunately, I don't have to feel like an environmental villian if I do step on a particularly nice sastruga (singular form, but it sounds too weird) - there are millions more like it and besides, it will just grow back even bigger like a weed.

We're about a week away from the sun slipping below the horizon and the shadows are getting
even longer now.

Here's a final parting shot:

That's me and Neal this afternoon on our walk out to ARO for another training session. The low-lying sun on the horizon is a great equalizer because Neal is about 3 feet taller than I am but our shadows look like we could be decent dancing partners. Of course as I was taking the picture, he said, "I see a blog posting in the making..."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A gala event

We may be thousands of miles from the nearest vineyard, but last night we transformed the galley into a festive, happenin’ scene that would rival any in Napa Valley.

Robert was a fine wine steward for the evening.

Or I should say Barossa Valley…I hosted a wine tasting event and featured five new Australian red wines that we got in this season for Polemart. Our selection this year is outstanding and wine aficionados down here are quite happy. We had a huge turnout, with 32 people enjoying the vino and a large handful of others who came for the ambience and company.

We sampled Penfolds Koonunga Hills Shiraz, Mirroll Creek Merlot, Somerton Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot, Banrock Station Cabernet Merlot and Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon, each one paired with an exquisite appetizer prepared by our talented chefs.

Neil and Michael raising their glasses.

Neil is our sous chef, down here for his first winter and he is keeping us well-fed and happy. He’s got a devoted following for his Friday night steaks grilled to order and makes the best fried catfish and hush puppies outside of North Carolina, where he’s from.

Michael is back for his second winter and pampers us with mouth watering Thai food, the best homemade cinnamon rolls, his signature monkey bread and soon will be doing a Sunday brunch once a month, the return of BBIA or Biggest Brunch in Antarctica. The last photos of him on this blog were from the steamy hustle and bustle of Bangkok. He recently restarted his blog Cooking South.

Michael's miniature Beef Wellingtons with a wine reduction sauce, served with the Banrock Station cab merlot.

Francie is enjoying her first winter as well and has mastered the art of baking at altitude. We have fresh baked bread every day and desserts for lunch and dinner. This was her creation for the wine tasting, mini berry tarts paired with the cab sauvignon.

Baked Brie with crostini, made by Ice Cube beaker Claire after she warmed up from the fire drill. This was the perfect complement to the Somerton blend.

It was a lovely evening enjoyed by all and requests for another wine tasting are pouring in. I was thinking of next doing all Aussie whites…or a selection of our Kiwi wines…or the best of the California wines…or…

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Winter's first drill

In the previous post, I had some photos taken during our training exercise out at Ice Cube Lab. Today we had the drill. The scenario involved an electrical fire, lots of smoke and two of the scientists getting injured in the process - an electrocution and head injury for Claire and for Sven, he fell down the stairs rushing to help her and suffered a broken leg and clavicle.

The fire team arrived on scene, in full bunker gear, and went into the smoke-filled room to put out the fire, find the victims and secure the scene. Then the trauma team came in to tend to the victims, get them packaged up for transportation back to the station to Medical.

Trauma team making their way down the ICL stairs with Sven on a backboard.

I was acting as an observer to see how the trauma team functioned and they did a great job. Sven was crumpled up in a narrow stairwell inside and they had to uncrumple him, stabilize him, put him on a backboard, put him and the backboard in a Dr. Down sleeping bag, carry him down 2 flights of stairs and load him into an awaiting vehicle. It was a difficult scenario with lots of confounding factors but the team worked smoothly, carefully and seemed like seasoned pros throughout the drill.

We don't have an ambulance here but we do have the Screamin' Eagle and the Plumber's Express.

The Screamin' Eagle is one of the LMC 1800 Spryte tracked vehicles and it's towing a homemade sled that is equipped with a couple of benches. It's nicknamed the Plumber's Express because it was used by the plumbers to commute out to the Dark Sector every day for a while.

The Plumber's Express, now being used as an ambulance.

The drill went well, both fire and trauma teams learned from the exercise and we discovered a few kinks that we'll hopefully work out before we ever have the real thing. Both victims survived and made miraculous recoveries, although poor Claire nearly got hypothermic for real as she was transported without her parka. Another lesson learned.

And in my last post, I had a photo taken from the elevated station looking out along the flagline to the Dark Sector, which is completely obscured due to blowing snow. This is what it looks like on a nice day:

You can see the Ice Cube Lab, the far building on the left and on the right is the South Pole Telescope and MAPO. The station is casting a long shadow down the flags. And at this time of year with the sun so low on the horizon, even I can feel like a giant.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A nice day for training

The day started out with a little field trip.

Heading out to the Ice Cube Lab from DSL.

This morning we had an exercise to familiarize people with the buildings in the Dark Sector, and took tours of the Dark Sector Lab, which houses BICEP and the 10 meter South Pole Telescope, the Ice Cube Lab and MAPO, which houses QUAD. The purpose of the exercise was to learn about hazards in the work areas there, to know where the fire extinguishers and egress points are and where we have stashes of emergency trauma gear.

Everyone on the crew here has to serve on either the fire team or trauma team. If there's an emergency, we are the ones who have to deal with it since we can't call 911 and have professional fire fighters or paramedics come over. And since we have only two medical providers, we rely on trained members of the community to help out with emergencies or mass casualty situations. We all spend a lot of time training and drilling and responding to alarms both real and false. So far we've been lucky but still we keep practicing challenging scenarios for drills just in case we're faced with a real incident.

I took these pictures as we were walking to and from the different buildings.

Ice Cube Lab, which used to be the El Dorm.

Just one week ago, we were doing the human hoist with literally tons of beer. It was a beautiful day with sunny blue skies and little wind. Today it was blowing steadily at 16 knots, overcast with poor visibility with the blowing snow. It's still not all that cold yet, only about -60F or -51C. The sun is low on the horizon, as you can see from the above photo and the light is getting softer and dimmer.

This shot was taken from the first level landing of the elevated station looking along the flagline that goes out to the Dark Sector. Normally you can look out and clearly see the buildings there but today, you could barely see to the skiway. That's the reason why we flag the route in the winter, so that when it's dark and the visibility is poor, people can follow the flags and get to where they need to go.

In case you're wondering about the Dark Sector and the science that's going on there, I'll feature it in a future post soon. The science is, after all, the real reason why any of us are down here at this frozen end of the earth.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Thing, version 3.0

Earlier, I wrote about our station closing tradition of watching "The Thing", both the original and remake. Well, we had our own Thing-like experience a couple of weeks ago:

Photo by Robert Schwarz

After noticing winterover crew members here acting strangely, attacking others and then morphing into deadly mutant imitations that burst out of bodies, a team led by our station manager Andy set out with thermite bombs and flame throwers to investigate a bizarre flying saucer-shaped object just under the ice.

OK, the real truth...this wonderfully rendered photo was taken by Robert from the galley windows. It captured the laborious effort to try to dig out a 25,000 gallon fuel bladder that was filled over the summer and left on the surface just outside of the Dome. We needed to increase our fuel storage capacity and so two such fuel bladders were used, the one here and another put in the arch where old BioMed used to be.

This one on the surface got covered with a bit more drifting snow than expected and they were digging with shovels for hours before they got it uncovered enough to drain out the rest of the fuel and roll up the bladder for storage.

If you've ever seen the original "The Thing", you'll appreciate Robert's artistry in interpretation of a scene that really resembled the discovery of the alien ship in the old classic movie. As for our crew, we're still all acting pretty strange but it's probably due to reasons other than aliens taking over our bodies.

Not your typical work day

This station was clearly not designed by a woman or else there would have been plenty of storage space.

As the Polemart manager, I have a unique problem to deal with - no room in the station to store our supply of beverages sold in the store.

Cargo DNF - Nate is dwarfed by pallets of beer. Photo by Brien Barnett.

We received about 50,000 pounds of beverages, mostly alcohol, towards the end of summer and had no place to store it except for the Cargo DNF (Do Not Freeze) and old cryo buildings, both of which are small heated spaces a couple of hundred yards from the station. These are just temporary storage spaces and I had to move most of the beverages out to make room for stuff coming out of the old garage that's scheduled for demo this winter. And anyway, these buildings are nowhere near the store where we sell the stuff. Restocking would be a real chore having to haul heavy cases in on a sled in the middle of winter.

Getting the pallets to the station is the easy part as they can forklifted over. Getting them UP into the station is the tricky part. We have a hoist, which, when it's working and not frozen, can carry things up to the second level. The problem is the hoist is often not working in temps colder than -60F. And it can only go to the second level. The store is on the first level. We used to have a snow ramp that the loaders could drive up and deposit pallets into the gym on the first floor but there have been worries of the weight of the snow ramp causing uneven settling of the snow and station, so the ramp was bulldozed away over the summer.

So this is how we now get things up into the station:

The human hoist at Destination Alpha, the entrance closest to the skiway. Photo by Jack Anderson.

We got the entire crew involved in the laborious process of handing up case after case up the stairs and into the station.

Precious cargo - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that's even still in date! Photo by Jack Anderson.

And once it's in the station, we had to make storage space where there was none before. So now a coat room is being used for most of the beer and the first floor of A4, a berthing wing that is unoccupied during the winter, has all of the rooms filled with the various different types of libations.

Kiwi Paul and Aussie Derek taking a break in the coat room that works nicely for beer storage.

Passing the cases down the hall of A4 to be stored in one of the bedrooms. Photo by Jack Anderson.

It's not the best wine cellar but this bed platform and a pallet on the floor will have to do for half of our collection of reds.

In all, it took nearly 50 people about 4 hours of heavy lifting to move about 40,000 pounds of beer, wine, liquor and sodas to their resting place for the winter. Fortunately there were no human injuries but we did have some liquid casualties:

It doesn't take long for beer or soda to freeze outside when it's about negative 60F and although we were working as quickly as we could and none of it sat out for long, some Tui (Kiwi beer) unfortunately did succumb to the elements. Your first clue that the beer is in trouble is when you smell it and hear the bottles hissing.

And so all is good and we have plenty of beverages to get us through the winter. There's no way we'll drink it all in 8 months, as hard as people might try, and unfortunately, we'll have to go through the same process again before station opening and move everything back out of the berthing wing. To where, I have no idea but I'm glad that we'll have gravity helping us move it all DOWN the stairs.