Thursday, March 27, 2008

Easter Bunny visits South Pole

Although we have plenty of fresh eggs this winter, we awoke on Sunday morning to find a different kind of treasure hidden all over the station.

At first it didn't register with me that there was anything out of the ordinary even though I was finding random ping pong balls in strange places. There has been an ongoing war using a huge bucket of balls that we got over the summer so it's not uncommon to sit on one or step on one around the station. I think it all started with a practical joke played on our System Administrator Nathan, who opened a cupboard above his desk and had hundreds of ping pong balls rain down on him. Since then, the little plastic balls get thrown around at people and they seem to be no longer be contained to the Game Room.

But ping pong balls showed up in the blankets in the laundry room...

...and on the anunciator panel which shows the location of fire alarms going off around station.

There were just too many ping pong balls in too many places. Every drinking fountain seemed to have its own collection.

The greenhouse was particularly hard hit, not only a ball amongst the dying sunflowers but also the control room on the CO2 tanks...

...and above the sink in all of the beakers.

The Easter Bunny found creative places for the balls like the sign out board for the entrance to the Emergency Power Plant.
Door handles were the perfect ledge for them.
In the Galley, balls outnumbered the glasses in the dish racks.
It was a cute Easter morning treat and we later found out that the culprits were up at 2am distributing ping pong balls. They've all been cleaned up now and put away but I know we're still going to be finding a stray ball here and there come May or June but at least they won't be rotten like real Easter Eggs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Goodbye sun

The only fitting way to bid farewell to the sun is to throw one big party.
The weather didn't quite coorperate and we actually had snowfall for most of March 21 which turned out to be a cloudy flat day. Although we couldn't see the sun, we still had our traditional Sunset Dinner and once again got out the table cloths for a fabulous plated dinner with your choice of salmon:
...fresh portabello mushrooms that were still actually fresh: 'n turf or just plain turf:

...and of course dessert, a choice of a sinfully decadent layered ice cream dessert or the best homemade apple pie you've ever had.

Our cooks Deb, Michael and Chris put in a lot of time and hard work to pull off a memorable feast that marks the real start of winter. When you're eating that well, it's easy to forget that you're in a frozen wasteland for a polar winter.
With the sun no longer dominating the landscape, the old familiar sights of winter are starting to appear. Today was our first good look at our forgotten friend the moon, which comes up for 2 weeks at a time then disappears for 2 weeks. The full moon seemed as bright as a lightbulb in the twilight sky.
And the sun isn't quite done with us...this afternoon as we were walking back from the South Pole Telescope Open House, a blazing orange sky over the station reminded us that the sun was just below the horizon. We'll have a few more weeks yet before the dark of the night begins.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Heading into the night

It’s that time of year again to say farewell to the sun until September.

The sun peeking through the columns of the A1 berthing wing.

At 6:48pm local time tonight, the equinox occurred when the sun was exactly halfway below the horizon for us. Now the last moment when we will actually see the sun’s rays will be anyone’s guess.

The atmosphere refracts or bends the light upwards so even when the sun itself is below the horizon, we can usually see its image for a couple of days after it sets if the weather is clear.

Today the weather was gorgeous. After some cold temps in the high minus 70s F earlier this week and then some winds up to 15 knots that stirred up the atmosphere a bit, it’s now about -70F with light wind and the waning sunlight casts soft pink light across the frozen plateau. Hopefully the visibility will remain clear for the next few days so that we’ll get to see the sun sink slowly towards the other hemisphere. And tomorrow night is our Sunset Dinner feast, photos certainly to follow.

In other Pole news, our trauma team held a training session in which I went over patient assessment in the field. The most important take home message was if the patient is outside, get them inside pronto and forget about the assessment stuff you just learned because it won’t matter much if your patient is frozen. Then after the meeting, the trauma team decided to do an impromptu practice drill on how to restrain and backboard a combative patient. Since the patient had no idea he was about to participate in a training exercise, he was truly combative.

The original targeted victim wasn’t in his office and the team was not to be disappointed so they marched around the corner and found our engineer Weeks, of the toilet paper wall fame, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the struggling, he was no match for about 10 team members who picked him up, plopped him on the backboard and strapped him down. They then practiced their board lifting and carrying techniques out of the computer lab and down the hall to the Galley where he was deposited onto a table for the gathering dinner crowd.

Weeks isn’t really an innocent victim…I must mention that he interrupted our trauma team meeting by opening the door and hurling ping pong balls at us so he should only expect revenge sooner or later. You can bet that as the winter goes on, the pranks will get more elaborate as people will be looking for ways to keep themselves entertained during the long dark winter.
To add to the humilation, he's wearing signs saying "Trauma Team Rules" and "You're Next Nate", the original intended victim.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Random shots

Last Sunday was a great day for a stroll outside. It's a different place around here compared to
the busy summer season now that we're just about ready for the 5 months of darkness.
Many of the vehicles and heavy equipment have been parked for the winter. Lines have been drained, batteries taken out and these Pisten Bully's and loaders will all accumulate a thick coat of snow and ice before they come out of hibernation.
The Summer Camp gym will be kept warm this winter so that we have another place to work out in addition to the gym in the Elevated Station. Even though it's a 5 minute walk to get here, this is preferable to some who want to work out in solitude. Some of the guys are putting together a new bouldering cave with brand new hand holds so the old boards are sitting outside for now. The old hamstring curl machine that was in the El Station gym was moved out here but looks like it didn't make it inside.
Spoolhenge is casting very long shadows now that the sun is so low on the horizon.
During the summer, there's so much traffic, they actually have to have signs directing which side of the groomed road to the Dark Sector the vehicles can drive on. Again, the tracked vehicles chew up the surface so much, they get their own lane separate from the vehicles with tires. During the winter there are only a few tracked vehicles running and they just have to watch out for people walking outside in the dark.
We have to be prepared for unthinkable emergencies and have a cache of survival gear out on the snow berms. There are extreme weather tents, sleeping bags, frozen food, cook stoves and other gear located out here in case we lose the station to a catastrophe but manage to survive ourselves. Each one of us has also set aside a big orange bag with a full set of ECW (extreme cold weather) gear. These are stored either in a big box on the berms or in an outlying building so that we would each have another parka, pants, boots, etc in case of an emergency.

What are these berms?

The Marisat satellite dish ball is in the background.

It's where we store a lot of stuff. Long rows of raised snow benches hold all kinds of treasures... food...

...extra mattresses and furniture...

...and the old washers from the laundry room that used to be in the Dome. I think I had another photo of them in an earlier post when they had just been taken out from there.
This year we have plenty of toilet paper. Not only do we have the restrooms in the El Station to keep stocked, the 2.0 Lounge, the only indoor smoking area, now has its own outhouse.

It's nicely decorated, has a seat carved out of blue insulating board and is stocked with plenty of TP. And another reason why we need so much toilet paper down here:

...for practical jokes like the one played on Weeks, our Facilities Engineer, who found his desk under a wall of Heavenly Soft yesterday morning. Fittingly, there's a Jesus bobblehead on top of the TP...and it looks remarkably like our dear friend Weeks.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Polar Pizzaria

Just like last winter, I have to brag a bit about how well we eat down here.

Last night was our first Reehmeo’s Pizzaria Night, featuring homemade personal pizzas customized to each crew member’s specifications. Order forms were filled out the day before and people could choose from 9 different meat toppings and 15 various veggie toppings. We still have freshies from one of the last flights and were able to offer fresh tomato slices, red and yellow onion, red and green bell peppers, mushroom and roasted garlic along with the usual canned and frozen items.

Our sous chef Michael made batches of homemade pizza dough, rolling out individual crusts the size of a dinner plate (the template was actually a dinner plate). Black was probably the not the best color to wear that night but he did earn the nickname of "Ninja Chef".

The next step was saucing the crusts with either regular pizza sauce or pesto.

Then the toppings are heaped on according to each order sheet. Here’s Leah adding some fresh herbs from our greenhouse. Some people ordered just about every topping available making for a very hefty pie. Others were very precise in their orders for half and half pizzas, drawing a diagram for the placement of the ingredients. One of the electricians added his own ingredient request, a little bit of “love” thrown in with the pepperoni. Lots of thank you's and smiley faces were added to the order forms.

In all we cranked out about 70 pizzas, mostly individual ones but also some regular sized ones with our own choices of toppings.

Personal pizzas fresh from the oven waiting to be sliced and served up.

It was a successful night for Team Reehmeo with lots of happily stuffed diners ready to kick off the one day weekend. This event is sure to be repeated a few times before the end of winter.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tour de Station

No matter how many times I've seen the sights around station, it's always fun to go on another tour. Last night our Winter Site Manager Katie led 5 of us on a tour around nearly the entire outlying areas of the station as a familiarization of the buildings and emergency response gear stashed in them.

After visiting the New Power Plant, the Logistics facility under construction, the Vehicle Maintenance Facility under the arches next to the Elevated Station, we took a ride to the outlying buildings in an LMC 1800, a tracked vehicle that barely fit the 6 of us. The tracks really chew up the snow and since we were going to drive over the skiway, we didn't want to leave it rutted with irregularities that would build over the winter into monster sastrugi. We attached a dragger to the back of the LMC to smooth over the tracks...yes it's a bedspring, a bit ghetto but it worked just fine.

The first stop was the Dark Sector and the South Pole Telescope, the giant 10 meter telescope installed last year that is scanning the skies for cosmic microwave background radiation from the Big Bang.

Here's a view of SPT from a window at the Dark Sector Lab next to it.
Then we went to MAPO then the Ice Cube Lab as pictured above. Ice Cube is a huge project looking for neutrinos using an array of detectors buried deep into the ice.
The most fascinating thing about this part of the tour was that they had their U-barrels (or pee barrels) outside but the commode inside was a little more civilized.
The tour then took us out to the Marisat Radome but we couldn't go inside because the satellite just came up and we would have been bombarded by microwave radiation. We did go into the RF building then back through Summer Camp and ended up at the Balloon Inflation Facility or BIF and the Cryogenics building.

The BIF.

A few posts ago when I was flying down here in the C-17, we were fellow cargomates with a large helium dewar. I don't know if this is the same one but the Cryo building has plenty of different types and sizes of dewars for the science experiements.

The last stop was ARO but it was getting late and I needed to get back to the station. Actually I really needed to pee but I just couldn't bring myself to use the pee barrel outside...