Friday, February 29, 2008

The Women of 2008

Among our crew of 60 people this winter, 12 of us are women. Our feminine constituents include a carpenter, a cook, a meteorologist, materials specialists, a work order planner, a green house technician, a scientist, a physician assistant and our leader, the Winter Site Manager.
From left: Katie, Deb, Calee, me, Jane, Robin, Mandi, Amy, Leah, Terry, Katie. Sue had to launch a weather balloon.

Continuing the tradition from last year, we had our first Ladies Night last weekend. It was a gathering out at ARO (Atmospheric Research Observatory), the building in the Clean Air Sector where the NOAA personnel carry out climate research. With the location of the building and instruments upwind of the rest of the station, they're able to sample the cleanest air on earth. It's about a quarter of a kilometer from the main station so it always feels like a getaway going out to ARO. We were going to watch chick flicks all night and have a sleepover but we ended up all heading back to the station at the end of the night to get a good night's rest in our own beds.

In this photo taken by Leah, you can see the entire front of the station as we were walking back.
It was a fun evening of chatting, gossiping and laughing and hopefully the first of many Ladies Nights to come this winter.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The state of the Dome

The Elevated Station isn’t the only thing around here that underwent some radical changes over the summer.

The beloved Dome, which served as the South Pole station from 1975 until 2005 when building demolition started, is slowly getting reduced to just a metal shell on the snow. The big wooden sign that said “The United States of America Welcomes You to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station” was removed from the entrance and then the tunnel itself that was the entrance to the Dome was also taken away.

What is left now in front is a metal arch that connects the fuel tank storage arch to the old garage arch and it completely blocks off the front of the Dome. To enter the Dome, you have to come from inside the arch, go out a hole in the back of the arch.

The old Dome now just sits there, not connected to anything else. Todd is one of the carpenters working on constructing big wooden doors to seal off the Dome and arch from drifting snow during the winter.

Inside the Dome, it looks pretty much the same as last year, just a big warehouse for mostly food, like a frozen Costco. On Fridays, a few of us do the “food pull” to bring up the food that will be eaten the following week. You have a list of items and using a sled for a shopping cart, you go around to the different aisles pulling cases of broccoli florets or chicken breasts.

This last time I had the bakery section and had goodies like chocolate graham cracker pie crusts and pre-made croissants on my list.

You’ll find some casualties scattered around like a bag of polenta that broke open. I’m not sure why the hard hat is there.

All of the cases on the shopping list will get loaded into triwall boxes like the one Nate is standing in. Then on Mondays, the pallets of boxes get forklifted over to the Elevated Station, lifted up to the second level on a hoist, unloaded and stocked in the kitchen, outside on a deck or in an empty berthing wing. Unfortunately when they designed this new station, they forgot to add storage space so we stash stuff wherever we can find empty room and during the winter, food is literally stored in empty bedrooms.

The arch that used to house the old garage, carp shop and gym is now the site for a new building for the Logistics department and storage room for "DNF" (Do Not Freeze) cargo. Inside construction will take place over the winter. The thing I'm not sure about is why there is a window at the top.
The arch will be fairly dark and the view from the window will be pretty much this, plus a bunch of pallets of food eventually. The old Galley under the Dome used to have some plastic flowers and a little section of picket fence...maybe they can spruce up the pallets with something scenic to gaze out at.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Changes during our absence

When you leave for the summer, there are always lots of striking changes when you return "home" in the fall.

The new Elevated Station was officially dedicated on January 12, 2008 and the panel crew worked hard to finish up the gray siding on the front of the station in time for the ceremony. The ceremonial flags that normally fly not too far from the geographic pole were moved to be centered more in front of the station. It makes for a prettier picture.
Because the ice sheet that we sit on is steadily moving about 30 feet a year, the geographic pole is moved on New Years Day to the actual spot that marks 90 degrees south latitude. It is now no longer right in front of the station but marching off towards the Clean Air Sector.

Here's the entire front of the station, although the photos turned out a little dark as it was overcast yesterday after work when I went out for a stroll. I'll try to take more pictures on a better day for later.

This is the main entrance to the station, what we call Destination Alpha (to distinguish it from the other entrance that most people use, Destination Zulu where the trash line sits). It's the closest entrance to the station from the flight deck for the newly arriving passengers stumbling off of the plane gasping for air. The top deck is an observation deck that is great for watching auroras during the winter.
The American flag no longer flies on top of the Dome. Its new home is at Alpha next to the flag for the National Science Foundation. It's hard to tell in this photo but the flag pole for the US flag has a compass cross that points north in all four directions. The NSF flag has a continent of Antarctica.

The paneling now wraps around to the backside of the station and this summer they finished the far wing which holds the gym and then got as far as the B1 wing. This is the berthing wing where I live and my windows are the bottom left two (I have a double room again this year). The B1 wing also houses the emergency power plant and the tank at the very bottom left corner is the emergency fuel tank.
This is the backside of the A2 wing next to the beer can and they'll have to finish the siding here next summer. We've moved the smoking lounge, the 2.0 bar, right next to the beer can. Last winter it was next to Destination Alpha but resulted in lots of snow drifting so this location was chosen in hopes that the drifts won't build up too much. The smokers get only a little temporary building because all of the USAP stations are to go smoke-free by 2010. It's small but the guys make the most of it and have plans to paint the interior this year.
More photos to come...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Closed for winter

Station closing day came early this year. A forecast for bad weather here on Friday led to a late announcement on Wednesday that the last flights of the season would come and go on Thursday. All of the remaining summer folks who weren't planning on staying for the winter were sent scrambling to pack their bags, clean up their rooms, finish up last minute projects and say their goodbyes.

So on Valentine's Day, plenty of hugs were shared as we assembled to see the last plane off. Skier 93 landed early at 1pm and a steady stream of parkas filed out from the station to the flight deck. They didn't waste any time loading up the plane so goodbyes were quickly said and the last passengers hauled their orange carry on bags to the awaiting LC-130.

Following tradition, Skier 93 did a flyover of the station as we waved goodbye. We started walking back when the announcement came over our radios that the pilot called and said he was going to do another, probably because the contrails left a murky haze and we weren't able to see the plane too clearly on the first flyby. It was worth waiting around for a few minutes more as the plane roared by in a low pass, dipping its wings at us in a final farewell.

And now we are once again left here at the bottom of the world for another polar winter. This year we have a crew of 60, including 11 women. It's a good mix of seasoned veterans and fresh new faces. Some in the crew have been here all summer and some just arrived 2 days before closing. There are many names and faces I don't know here but I'll have the next 8 months to get to know people.

The next month will be busy as we prepare for the long winter, moving supplies in, shutting down outlying buildings, taking down skiway flags, marking routes with other flags. This morning we're going to move in the last pallet of our freshies that we received and will enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables for hopefully a couple of months until they run out or rot.

So, let the winter fun begin!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lots of frequent flyer miles

After nearly 20 hours sitting in planes and 7 hours waiting around in airports, we finally arrived in Christchurch, NZ on Feb 3. Saturday was lost altogether in a travelers time warp as we crossed the international date line going forward in time.

It seemed like we had never left. Cathedral Square was still crawling with tourists and Dux de Lux still had great beer on tap. The one noticeable difference is that the American dollar is tanking even more against the Kiwi dollar, another sad indicator of our pathetic economy.
We did indeed watch the Superbowl live on TV at the Holy Grail sports bar, except kickoff was Monday 1pm NZ time. Of course, our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear issue time just happened to also be at 1pm Monday at the Antarctic campus near the airport so we missed the first half of the game and arrived to standing room only at the bar. Wow, what a game. As a football non-fan, someone who likes the sound of a football game in the background while I’m cleaning house but cares little about the game itself, I was riveted. I would have been on the edge of my seat, if I had one but actually after all of that sitting, I didn’t mind standing at all.
Tuesday morning we boarded the C-17 right on time with no such luck of getting any weather delays to strand us in Christchurch. Besides five of us heading to Pole, there were a bunch of McMurdo winter veterans and some high ranking Air Force brass on a boondoggle trip. We were squeezed around two large helium dewars and a fork lift while the brass sat up in the cockpit. It’s no wonder you feel like cargo yourself on these flights.
In McMurdo it felt like a perfect calm, wintry Christmas morning kind of day with gently falling snow. Not that I ever experienced those growing up in Tucson, but I've seen them on TV
We boarded our ground transport, Ivan the Terra Bus, which must have a top speed of about 10 miles an hour. The Air Force brass got on that private van which flew by us on the sea ice road back to town.

Thankfully we had to endure only one night in the big city and flew out to Pole the next day in an LC-130.

There was a four hour delay in takeoff due to a poor weather forecast that never materialized with poor weather so we took off in beautiful clear conditions that continued all the way to Pole.

We had a nice view of Mt. Erebus, the active volcano near McMurdo that continually puffs away.

And just like Christchurch, it almost feels like I never left South Pole. They were busy over the summer, making progress on the exterior paneling, preparing the old garage arch for a new logistics facility and more demolition. The place looks a little different, improved, in some places but mostly the same, just ridiculously crowded. There were over 200 people on station when I arrived but the summer folks are steadily redeploying and now we have 187 people here.
In one week we'll close the station and winter will begin. The crew number is expected to be somewhere around 60-65 or so but so many last minute changes happen that the number fluctuates crazily and you never know who you end up with until you count heads after the last plane leaves.
I'll work on wandering around to take some photos in the next few days...