Monday, October 27, 2008

A South Pole welcome

After another day of weather delay, the Basler finally made it here to South Pole carrying 17 new people. We've changed the appearance of the main entrance, Destination Alpha, just a tad:
Little did anyone know that during the winter we were taken over by pirates who made an unfortunate Polie walk the plank from the Observation Deck.
Even worse, they put the station up for sale and given the state of the housing market, it's probably now worth less than what the taxpayers paid for it.

The only person who can save the tired meteorologists who have been doing hourly weather observations around the clock is their replacement, Tim. He wintered last year and is back for more fun.

We're waiting for the McMurdo CSI team to come in to work this crime scene. Our scroller is now listing the population as "56 wankers, 17 hypoxic avengers and me". And it should grow again today as the second flight is scheduled for this morning.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The first landing

The Basler finally showed up yesterday morning.

Only 3 days behind schedule, it flew from the British station Rothera on the Antarctic peninsula and landed here around 8am. Because the station generator exhaust was blowing right over the skiway, we couldn't see the plane until it was nearly parked.

It stayed only long enough to take on 600 gallons of fuel, then took off again for McMurdo. It was a strange sight to see a plane on the ground and strange new people in black walking around.

The Canadian crew from Kenn Borek brought us gifts from Chile:

We snacked on fresh apple and orange slices at lunch and Michael grilled this fresh pineapple to serve with the sirloin steaks and BBQ chicken for dinner.
A few hours later, the Twin Otter KBG arrived and its crew has spent the night with us. Again, it was a little freaky to see new people eating in the galley.
What the heck, I just found out I can't get on the plane! Oh well, the Basler is scheduled to return here today with a load of people and flu shots. Hopefully the newcomers won't be shedding germs that will surely take advantage of our sluggish immune systems. Last year, I came down with three colds within the first month of getting out of here. We may not have fresh food during the winter but on the flip side, we don't get sick much either.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fly by

Three days ago we were expecting to have our first plane, the Basler, land here but the weather at Rothera had other plans for it. We did however see a plane yesterday:

The FAA flew a Challenger jet from McMurdo to here to inspect our skiway, which has been shifted to start further down and ends just past the station now.

They made four low passes along the skiway and we all came out of the station to gawk at the strange sight of an aircraft in the air. The South Pole Telescope out in the Dark Sector is in the background.

Various photographers snapped these photos, including this one with the end of the station and the ceremonial pole.

Even though our skiway is nicely groomed and ready for something to land on it, the Challenger only flew by. It couldn't land here on wheels anyway. But we are expecting more company this morning - the Kenn Borek aircraft are en route now and the Basler will be landing in an hour. One Twin Otter is following it and the crew will spend the night here so tonight our population will be 63. And tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, the Basler will return with 15 summer people and from then on, the population will just keep growing. Yikes, time to get out of here!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Last day to ourselves?

We're just about ready for company.

Monday we had our big station-wide cleanup day in order to do some final spruce ups for the new folks. I was on a team that worked on getting Summer Camp ready. It's a collection of Jamesways, Korean War era huts that we use as berthing for the summer. The Jamesways had to be cleaned with new linens put on the beds.

We also cleaned up the head module which is totally covered with a snow drift on the backside.

Here's Mandi going into Altie Meadows to check on stuff in there.

We were expecting the Basler and one Twin Otter to come through here yesterday on their way from South America to McMurdo but weather has delayed them by a couple of days. They both just made it this morning to Rothera Station, the British station on the Antarctic peninsula and they're now planning to take off again tonight to arrive here tomorrow morning. If all goes well, they will be the first planes we've seen since mid-February. Then the Basler would return here on Friday with the first passengers from McMurdo and our long isolation will be over. Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Ahhh, the signs of springtime around this place...we don't have budding trees or the sweet sound of songbirds in the morning but we do have snow falling off of buried heavy equipment as the sun starts to hit them.

Make no mistake, the sun is not making it toasty warm yet and we're not wearing shorts outside . It was -72 degrees F when I took these pictures yesterday, but it is bright and beautiful outside and you can just about see forever.

The heavy equipment and vehicles have to be winterized before they're stored outside. All fluids are drained and for the shuttle van, the tires are removed too.

The long hibernation is nearly over for us and the equipment. We're still digging out snow, cleaning up the station and getting outlying buildings ready for occupation. The Basler and a Twin Otter will transit through here in 5 days on their way from South America to McMurdo Station. Then the Basler is scheduled to return in a week with the first new people that we'll see since February.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shoveling is good for you

My favorite graffiti scribbling on station is inside the Hypertats, where someone scrawled with a sharpie on one of the plywood walls, “Shoveling is good for you”.

The Hypertats is a series of four berthing modules out in Summer Camp, each named after a Flintstone - Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty. We used to have to dig them completely out at the end of each winter but now that they’re no longer being used, they just get more buried by snow drifts.

Shoveling is a constant activity at South Pole. The amount of snow falling as precipitation can be measured in a mere few inches but the amount accumulating as snow blown in from elsewhere is measured in feet. With our prevailing winds blowing in from grid north, snow can travel for hundreds of miles across the Antarctic plateau before it hits our buildings and settles down to create our drifts.

In the summertime, there’s an army of General Assistants, or GA’s, who tackle snow shoveling all over the station. Over the winter, we let most things drift over except for doorways and other things that we have to access. Then before station opening, we unleash our own small army of shovelers (us) to uncover the buildings that will be used during the summer.

The other day I helped out Katie C. dig out these milvans where some construction supplies are kept. Yes, that’s a metal Christmas tree on top on one. It was a nice sunny day in the -70s and we had fun shoveling and gossiping as we girls like to do.

And yesterday we did more shoveling, this time digging out the construction Jamesways. Kiwi Paul and Katie worked on this one:

and I started on this one:

It got a bit more blustery as we worked and my hand warmers didn’t last the hour and a half that I was out there but Paul and Katie got their Jamesway doorway all dug out.

There’s plenty more shoveling to do around here, as well as other activities to get the station ready for our first plane in less than 2 weeks. Hopefully these winds won’t blow all of shoveled snow back and obliterate our hard work!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ozone hole - it's for real

Neutrinos and cosmic microwave background radiation aren’t the only things being studied down here at the South Pole.

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) folks get pretty busy this time of winter collecting data to evaluate the ozone hole on top of us. Ozone has been getting depleted from the stratosphere every year for the past few decades, forming an ozone-less hole over Antarctica. Man-made CFCs make their way up there where chlorine atoms eventually destroy the ozone molecules as the sun’s light starts hitting the stratosphere. The Antarctic wind vortex prevents new ozone from moving in and in that area of our atmosphere, the ozone level goes down to zero, allowing harmful UV rays from the sun to reach the earth’s surface.

Ozone levels are studied throughout the world but nowhere on earth are the levels considered so important to watch closely as down here.

Carpenters Andy holding the balloon as Travis watches

How do they do it? A big plastic balloon is used to lift a little disposable instrument as high as 30km into the sky.

The instrument has an intake tube that brings in the surrounding air and measures the ozone molecules as they cause a change in current across a cell and the data is transmitted back to a computer through a radio sonde. The signals are turned into data which measures the ozone in partial pressure. The levels are plotted versus altitude and results in a graph that looks like this:

The blue line shows the baseline ozone at a nice healthy level in August. The red line is what’s going now…zero ozone.

The balloons are being launched every other day right now as the ozone up there is currently bottoming out. The majority of the ozone destruction is taking place between 12 and 23 km above us. The level will eventually rise again back to baseline levels as the vortex eases off and allows more atmospheric particles to circulate into the area of the hole. The whole process repeats every year and will continue to do so until the CFCs up there degrade, which may take decades more.

It was a gorgeous morning for being outside. A crisp -82F temp reminds us that it's not quite spring although the sun is on its way up into the sky. In just 3 weeks the first scheduled Basler plane is due to arrive here with new faces and that will truly mark the end of the winter for us.