Monday, December 27, 2010

Homeward Bound!

Ironically, I am sitting semi-trapped at home in North Carolina with remnants of a snowstorm outside so I thought it would be a good time to get some of the final South Pole pictures posted on the blog.  I'll probably have another couple of posts soon with some pictures taken out the windows of the LC-130, and some shots taken over the winter that did not get put up at the time  The following photos were taken during my last two days at the station and during the LC-130 flight to McMurdo.  Enjoy.

Home sweet home for the past nine and a half months.  Beautiful, isn't it.  This picture was taken on NOvember 4th, my last full day at the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station.  It was still too cold for planes to land so we were worried that the LC-130 aircraft scheduled to pick us up the next day, the first of the summer,  wouldn't make it.
BUT IT DID !!  It was still cold at -50F, right at the operating limit of the plane.  Visibility was very close to the minimum for the first flight but the pilot made a command decision and landed.  Visibility requirements for the first flight of the year are higher because it is a new ice runway.  The first flight must be able to see markers at three miles, while all the later flights have a lesser visibility requirement, one mile I think.
A bunch of us standing around. Some are waiting to get on the plane and some are saying good-bye to those leaving.. Look at those smiling faces.

More smiling faces.

My smiling face!

James Travis III, Maintenance Supervisor for the winter. James is crying because he doesn't get to leave on this plane.
Getting settled in the LC-130 before take-off. .It definitely isn't First Class, but were we ever glad to be there! L to R: David Holmes, Warren Lee, Virgil Porterfield, Genevieve Ellison.
All settled... waiting for the plane to start moving!
We're moving!  This is the Gang of Three, the maintenance folks over winter.  A great group of people.  L to R: Paul Smith, plumber; Shelby Handlin, general assistant; Kevin Berck, plumber.  These three, along with James Travis, Ricardo Lopez and David Holmes, kept the station running over the winter, sometimes in some very difficult circumstances. They cannot get too much praise from me.
L to R:  Boyd Brown, heavy equipment operator; Deborah Travis, food monkey extrordinaire; Emily Wilson, physician's assistant.
Francis Sheil, head chef
Virgil Porterfield, VMF supervisor; Genevieve Ellison, Waste, with a "startled chipmunk" look.  Genevieve, again, what waste category is dryer lint?
L to R: Chris Scadden, power plant; Cody Myer, chef; Boyd Brown, equipment operator.

L to R: Nick Morgan, Atmospheric Research Observatory; Mel MacMahon, station manager; Raul Salinas, chef. Raul is reading "Lone Survivor" - but wait, there are 47 of us!
Debra Kolmodin, engineering; Nick Morgan, ARO
Ricardo Lopez, maintenance
Jason McDonald, VMF (yes, he's under there).  Jason was the hardest working person at the station for the last month so he deserves to nap.  By the way, Jason drove to the Pole.
L to R: Genevieve Ellison,waste: and Sheri McKeen, logistics. Where did they get that candy!?
Warren Lee, galley staff and SP resident artist; Virgil Porterfield, VMF
A quick look outside the plane on the way to McMurdo.  I'll post more pictures of the Antarctic scenery  from the flight in a follow-up post.

And finally, the 2010 winterover picture now on the wall of the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station.  Deborah Travis took the group picture, Warren Lee designed the winterover patch under the photo, and David Holmes made the frame.  I designed the safety patch depicted on the award plaque (right) we received for having the first ever perfect safety record for a winterover crew.  Each winterover got a commemorative safety patch with the number of safe work days (274) , lowest winter temperature (-104F, actually -103.6 but who's counting?) and the size of the winterover crew  (47).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I haven't gotten lost.  After a few weeks of being grounded by weather and by the Airbus 380 groundings by Qantas, I finally made it home last week.  I haven't posted because I have not had internet access until yesterday.  After Thanksgiving holidays I will post some pictures of the LC-130 flight out from Pole and of the twenty of us winterovers who made it out on that flight.

After that I will make some final observations about winter at the South Pole (from a back-home perspective) and post some pictures that did not make it during the winter,. Internet access was very poor at Pole and posting anything, much less pictures, was very difficult and time consuming.  I don't want to think how often I got up at 3 AM to post pictures using the "good" satellite.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 8, 2010

I' m crying. After all the flight delays from the South Pole and then from Mcmurdo, i am now delayed in Christchurch NZ because of the AIrbus 380 groundings. It looks like I can't get out of here to go home until the 17th at the earliest.

Christchurch is a nice place but I Want To Go Home!!!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Just a short post from my ipod to let you know what is happening. I finally got out of Pole on wednesday and after more cancelled flghts by the C-17 flying out of McMurdo finally made it to Christchurch NZ early Friday morning. That meant leaving McMurdo at 2 am, but it was worth it. Soon i will post pictures of the LC-130 flight from SP last tuesday and all the very happy Polies on board. Need to get my laptop working first. Also have pictures of the C17 trip to christchurch with equally happy Polies.

Temperatures here are +50F! Temps at pole were -50F when i left! Much nicer weather in NZ to say the least. Better beer, too.

Pictures later.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

No way anyone is getting out of Pole today.  At 4 am visibility was less than a mile and winds were at 30 mph.  It seems the weather front that was supposed to be here this afternoon got here a little early.  Since the Herc needs 3 miles of visibility to land, we are not even close.  The forcast is for continued bad weather for the next few days.  I can't even see the South Pole Telescope from the main station because of the low clouds and blowing snow.  The front brought in lower pressures and we are now at 11,350 ft altitude.  That's not too bad for us winterovers, but the new people will be struggling today I think.

Its going to be a pretty boring few days I think.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Today is my last full day at the South Pole station.  Of course the plane to take us out has to get here tomorrow and we have not had any luck in that area so far.  Every scheduled LC130 has been canceled for one reason or another for over a week.  The most recent flight in had to turn back when one of its engines quit part way here!

Today is also Sunday which is the normal SP day off, so I have things pretty easy.  Up at 6:30 for toast and coffee and sitting around with other departing Polies until 10:30 when brunch was served.  Then brunch until 11, then reading and napping until 1 pm.  Yaaaawn.  I will go outside one last time to take pictures of my replacement at the Pole markers.

If all goes well I will be lifting off the ice here at about 12:30 tomorrow afternoon.  That's less that 24 hours!  About five hours later I will arrive in McMurdo where I will spend the night.  I'll leave McM Tuesday afternoon (Monday in the US), and arrive in civilization in Christchurch NZ that evening.  Trees, grass, birds, dogs, cats and all those other things I have neither seen nor smelled for almost ten months.  I can hardly wait.

I'll be in  Christchurch for about a week.  I'll probably continue to post on the blog during that time, but it is getting close to the end time for my adventure at the South Pole and I will probably retire 90Below in a week or two.
I don't like the tone this blog has taken over the past few days, so I am backing up.  I have deleted all the anonymous negative comments from Polies who won't identify themselves, and I have also deleted all my replies to them - both comments and posts.  I simply don't like the pissing contest this blog has been turned into.

Everyone can still comment, but if it is a negative comment from an anonymous Polie who just wants to complain, I'll delete it.  You can disagree with me, but do it in a less negative, aggressive way and it will be posted.

So this blog now reverts to its original character.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I am tired.  Bag-drag was today for my flight to McMurdo Monday so I'll be living out of a small overnight suitcase for the next two days.  I managed to mail most of my personal stuff home and don't have much to lug on and off airplanes on the way home.  I learned my lesson coming down here (or maybe I didn't - any comments anonymous?) and mail is much preferable to lugging suitcases.

We had a Twin Otter plane land a few minutes ago for refueling.  It is on its way to McMurdo, flying across the continent from Chile.  It will be flying various missions in Antarctica in support of bases and field camps.  We will get one of our scheduled C-130 flights in today, which will take out some winterovers.  The winterovers won't be able to go straight to Christchurch on the C-17 after arriving at McMurdo, but will have to stay overnight and fly tomorrow.

I'm basically a tourist at the South Pole these days, as all my duties have been taken over by my replacement.  I don't even have my radio any more.  My life now is packing and cleaning and putting stuff in skua for arriving people to use.
Here is a cute video of how to wear Extreme Cold Weather gear (ECW) at South Pole during winter.  The video features two current 2010 winterovers, Emmanuel on the left and Shelby (aka Michelle) on the right...

As for leaving, everything is in flux because of yesterdays crash of the French helicopter in Antarctica.  Our two C-130 planes have been reassigned to rescue/recovery operations and will not come to Pole today as planned.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No incoming planes tomorrow, so the dreaded 120 summer folks will have to stay in McMurdo.  The problem is that summer camp, which will house all the new folk, has a frozen sewer line.  That means no water can be used there so it is uninhabitable.  If we can't get it fixed we can't bring in people. If we can't bring in people, we can't leave.

[Note: I found out after posting this that we can open the jamesways at summer camp without running water or toilets.  We have solar-powered portable toilets believe it or not!]

We will get planes to bring in much needed fuel, but that is all - no people.  The winter engineering and maintenance crew have been working hard to get the sewer pipe unfrozen, and it looked like it was fixed over the weekend, but it froze again on Monday.  Will any winterovers be able to leave on those fuel planes? Well maybe.  We can't depopulate the station entirely, so many will have to stay until new people arrive.  My replacement got here on one of the Baslers so there is probably no reason for me to stay.  I may be able to hitch a ride on one of those LC-130s, but there is a complication that fuel-only planes normally don't take passengers either in or out.  It's complicated.

Frankly I don't know what is going on and there is no telling when I will be getting out of here.

In the meantime, all the incoming polies are hanging out in McMurdo unable to get to Pole, so McMurdo is packed with people sleeping on top of each other.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Things are certainly changing fast around here.  From "maybe" a C-130 this week we now will be getting three on Thursday.  Two of those will be carrying passengers, so that's 120 new people on Thursday!  I dread it.  I can't even tell you how much I dread it.  They are all going to be enthusiastic, excited, loud.

I will definitely (until changed) be leaving on Monday.  I may just hide in my room from Thursday to Monday.  I am getting my replacement up to speed, so I will be doing less and less in the safety area.  We have a few more days of turn-around and then he is the man.

Tomorrow we have our transition emergency response drill.  It will be a small fire and a minor casualty.  The winterover crew will handle it while the new crews watch, and then we will run it again while the winterovers watch the new guys.  It will probably take most of the day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A quick update on what is going on here.  My replacement did arrive on Sunday via Basler, and I am doing turnover things with him.  He tires easily so we are going slow.  There may or may not be an LC-130 coming in this week - it all depends on the weather.  The weather has to be good at both McMurdo and here.  Right now it is great at Pole but bad at McMurdo.

It looks like I might be leaving on the first LC-130 next week, possibly on Monday.  But maybe even earlier on Friday.  Then maybe one day in McMurdo (or not) and on to Christchurch.  As you can tell, it isn't easy to make travel plans here.  When I get to Christchurch I am not thinking about travel things for a few days just to relax and be a complete bum.  I'm going to hang out in their botanical garden (remember I haven't seen a plant other than in the greenhouse for nine months), try to find a dog or cat to pet, walk around without ECW gear, and watch the Sun rise and set once a day!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ouch!  A storm system moved in right after the first Basler arrived and we haven’t seen a plane since.  It is now Friday, and although there may be a small window to get a plane here from McMurdo on Saturday it doesn’t look very promising.  After tomorrow the Baslers are all tasked to supply other bases in Antarctica and won’t be coming to Pole.  Soooo, it will probably be the LC-130 on November 2 that will be the next plane.  That’s bad because that was the plane I was supposed to leave on!  Instead it will be bringing in my replacement and  I’ll then have to stay several days to provide training and turnover.  Now, instead of 10 days to departure it may be 20 days or longer before I get to a warm place.  Nooooo, please noooo.  I don't want the planes to not fly.

In the meantime we are doing turnover things with the 15 people who did get here Monday.  Today we are bringing up three more 5,000 gallon emergency fuel tanks from storage in the far reaches of the station and transferring their fuel to the main station tanks.  We will transfer two tanks to show them how it is done, and then the summer folks will do a tank while we watch.  This will be good training for the next winter manager (who was one of the 15 people on the first plane) as it will have to be done next winter too.  Plus we are almost out of fuel in the station’s tanks – a small but significant point.
Reviewing fuel-tank dipping procedures.  It's warm!  Only -38F and 10 mph wind.  The winter-overs are shedding our ECW gear as too hot while the summer folks are bundled up like mummies.
Paul Smith and Mel MacMahon in the emergency fuel module preparing to transfer fuel from the 5k outside tank to the station's main fuel tanks.

We are adapting pretty well to the new guys on station. Late at night when we are up and they are in bed we sit around and make fun of them.  It’s good natured and done in humor, but the phrase “F’ing new guys” always brings a laugh.  Truthfully, they are not too bad and there isn’t any friction.  But they sure are intense!  They want to do things NOW.  They want to get going on work while we all want to stop working.  I sometimes go hide somewhere in the station to keep them from asking me more questions.  If they really need me now they can call me on my radio.  Still, I suspect all this current goodwill will wane when 50 more "F'ing new guys" show up on station.

Joking aside, this intensity by the new arrivals is a serious issue.  After being here nine months or longer our people are really tired and are used to working at a slow and deliberate pace in dangerous winter conditions.  The intensity of the new managers puts a lot of stress on the winter-overs to get things done for them.  This can (and has) caused accidents to happen.  It is a constant battle to slow things down and to resist new tasking being handed to the winter crew..  It doesn’t help that the only airplane to arrive so far has held summer managers, and the only people on station to do the work are winter-overs.  We miss those two other planes with summer workers that did not make it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The first load of summer people arrived yesterday at Pole, and things immediately changed around here.  Two hours after arrival the hallways even had a different smell!  Not bad, just different. And not perfume, cologne or other chemical smells – different human smells.  I would not have thought my sense of smell would have been that sensitive, but after nine months of the station holding only 47 people, it is very clear that there are a bunch of outsiders in the station.  We winterovers are apparently a bunch of cave dwellers who have woken up to discover that 15 new people have started living in our cave.
Meeting the new arrivals and all their baggage.  Temperature warm... only -60F.
Fifteen people came in yesterday and we are expecting another 15-18 today (in about five hours), and then another group tomorrow.  After the third plane we will be outnumbered by new folks.  My replacement arrives tomorrow, at which point he will be the Safety Engineer for the station and I will just be hanging around with my hands in my pockets (yeah, right).  

2010 winter-overs waiting on the sidelines to meet the new arrivals.
After having the station to ourselves it is strange to have to navigate around all these new people in the hallways.   No one but us winter-overs who have had the empty station to ourselves for the winter would think it crowded, but these people keep getting in our way!  There can actually be five or six people in the hallway I am trying to walk down!

In their favor, they are a pretty friendly bunch, and they did bring us bananas, watermelon, apples and fresh eggs.

The next few days will be spent getting these people up to speed on what is happening around the station at the end of winter.  They need to take it very slow and easy for the first two days, or their chance of being medivaced goes up tremendously.  They flew from sea level to 11,000+ feet in four hours and are now stuck here, and that can have serious health consequences if they are not careful.  Navigating the station at altitude is hard even for us winter-overs, so just walking down a hall can be stressful for them.  How well I remember from my first week here.

After acclimation we will start the official turnover that will last about 10 days.  I will lead my replacement around the station by the hand and show him all the places he will need to work.  He has never been to Pole before so it will be all new to him.  We will avoid the six-story beercan for several days so we won’t have to activate the emergency response teams.  Do I sound like a stuck-up winter-over?  Oh yeah?  Whadda ya wanna do about it?  Just kidding, but even though it will be hard for him (I remember my first few days) - it is daylight, warm (-60), and you don’t take your life in your hands when you walk out the door these days, and we don’t think there are any undiscovered crevasses to fall into.

On the positive side of things Martin Lewis, the Area Director, hand-carried my replacement iTouch with him on the first Basler, so I now have music!  Thank you Martin!!  For those who don’t know, I washed my original one in the washing machine last June. I liked my new one so much I was tempted to roll around under the table with it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The first Basler of the summer season landed Saturday, so the end is near for us winterovers. It didn't bring us any people or fresh vegetables, but just stopped off on its trans-Antarctic flight for fuel. In fact, we got two Baslers Saturday, the second one half an hour after the first. Each was fueled and on its way in half an hour.

One of these two Baslers was supposed to return to Pole today with the first batch of summer folks, but the temperature here at Pole was -70F, a few degrees below their minimum operation temperature. Because the weather forecast is for clear and unusually cold temperatures it does not look like anyone will arrive until the end of the week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Things have been postponed here. The Baslers, which normally operate in Greenland and the North Slope head down to Antarctica about this time every year.  They arrive in Chile, fly to Rothera Base and then across the ice to the South Pole, refueling at each stop.  From here they fly to McMurdo and start shuttling supplies and people between McM and South Pole.  Well the Basler is still stuck in Chile because of bad weather and we don't know when it will arrive in Antarctica.  It was supposed to have been here two days ago, and was supposed to bring the first load of summer people in tomorrow, but that clearly isn't going to happen if it is on the ground in Chile.

If the Baslers don't fly then the aircraft fueling personnel don't get to SP, and if the fuelies aren't at the Pole then the LC-130s don't fly in and we don't get flown out.  Everything is getting pushed back.  But I hear this is pretty normal so I'm not too worried - I'm just getting anxious to get out of here after nine long months.

Anyway - here are some pictures of general station opening activities.

Sunset picture six months ago. South Pole Telescope and ceremonial pole marker.

Mel MacMahon, station manager, on top of a fuel tank being moved in to add to the station's fuel reserves.

Look at that flag - it is really windy and cold.  Paul Smith on top of a fuel tank being connected to the emergency fuel module.  I don't remember the temperature that day, but I sure remember the wind.

Same day - Boyd Brown, left, and Jason McDonald preparing to pull a fuel tank out of its winter storage location at the far end of the station's perimeter. This is probably the fuel tank that you see in the pictures above.  Genevieve Ellison in the loader.

Mel MacMahon

Fuel tank being brought to its resting place near the EFM (Emergency fuel Module).

Monday, October 11, 2010


Nothing like an unexpected fire alarm at the South Pole to get everyone's adrenaline pumping.  At about 9 am this morning we had an alarm of a fire in Summer Camp (the group of  structures that we are bringing on-line for summer occupancy).  This was no drill and all the ERT teams mustered.  Summer Camp is about 200 yards from the Main Station, so that meant ECW gear for everyone before we could head out there.

I learned a good lessen - always have your ECW in one place.  Some of mine was in my room and some in my office.  By the time I had run to get it all together I was exhausted and dizzy (altitude here is 11,100 feet today) and had to rest before I could even start to put it on.  There was no option on the ECW - the wind chill outside is currently -101F with a 15 mph wind.  No short-cuts in ECW could be taken.

After I got my ECW on and headed toward the DZ doors to go to the Jamesways it was announced over the emergency response radio that the fire alarm had probably been set off by the portable heaters that were being used to warm the Jamesways.  Their exhaust plume had gotten into Jamesway 13 and set off its alarms. This news put everyone into lower gear and took the pressure off all the emergency response teams (and me).  I hung around in my ECW at the station exit with the fire-fighters while the false alarm was verified.

After about ten minutes we knew it was a false alarm and all the ERT teams were told to stand down.  That all took place about 30 minutes ago and my adrenaline still hasn't dropped to normal.

More turnover stuff

Winter season officially lasts only four more days!  That is when the new summer manager arrives on the first aircraft to land here in over nine months!    That doesn’t mean we get to leave - the plane, a Basler, only carries a few people.  We have to wait until the first large aircraft arrives.  That ski-equipped LC-130 cargo plane that will take most of us back to McMurdo is scheduled to arrive and take us out of here on November 2. 

In the meantime I have started working on station opening tasks.  The station is supposed to be clean and fresh for the first flight so we are all cleaning.  I have shoveled snow and have started cleaning my work area and room.  I have also started packing things into boxes for mailing home.  We get up to $88 of postage paid to send things home by mail, so I am trying to send as much as possible so I don’t have to lug it as baggage on the plane.

I have also started preparing things for my replacement who arrives on the third Balser, probably around October 20.  There will be about ten days of turn-over when I show him around the station and acquaint him with the way things work around here.  The days after the first flight, and particularly after his arrival, are going to be busy for me.  There will be meetings, walk-arounds, paperwork, station and buidling tours, and still all the normal things that are done weekly.  It will all have to go very slowly though – he will be suffering from the altitude.  I imagine we will spend a lot of time in the galley drinking tea to keep him hydrated (caffeine is not recommended) and going over things.  The first two days of new arrivals are spent mostly resting, particularly if the altitude is high. This isn’t just being nice to the new arrivals; it reduces the likelihood of high altitude illness and medivacs.  

The problem with the altitude is that he, and everyone else that arrives, will go from sea level to high altitude in the four hours of the plane ride.  There is no acclimatization at all.  It can be dangerous, so everyone has to rest and are watched closely for the first few days for signs of high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema (HAPE and HACE).

At least the frostbite on my face has healed, so I won’t frighten him when I meet him at the plane.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It isn't over yet...

A hard day today for me.  Last week a small crevasse was discovered running the length of one of the out-buildings.  Although the crack in the ice was only about an inch wide, it was approximately 30 feet long.  Today the width had increased to about two inches and it was felt that it was best to restrict access to the area with black danger flags.  Although no one would fall into a crevasse that narrow, we don't know what is under it - it could be two inches at the surface and two feet wide a foot down. It could be thirty feet deep for all we know. Although unlikely, it could be large enough to swallow a piece of heavy equipment - again it just depends on what is under the surface.

There are ice tunnels in the area , and we do not know if this crack is over one of them or not.  Adding to the concern, another crack was found today about a hundred yards way in the waste area.  All will bear watching.

So this morning I rounded up an ice drill, some black flags, and marked off the larger crevasse to keep heavy equipment away from the area.  It was -71 with 15 mph wind, with ice fog and very poor visibility, and it was cold - -119 wind chill.  Everyone agrees that although today was not really different from many other days, it just seemed colder for some reason.  I did not put on enough ECW gear, thinking I would only be outside for half an hour, but I ended up taking about two hours to place those flags. I have to put more flags out either this afternoon or tomorrow morning.   Everything takes longer and is harder to do here than other places.  A surveyor is coming in on one of the Baslers in a few weeks and he will be looking at the cracks and trying to determine what is under them.

I'll try to take some pictures of me drilling holes and putting flags in the ice, but that is hard to do because it is so cold.

On a lighter note, we had the last raffle for the national flags that flew at the Pole this winter and I won one.  There were only three flags left: France, Russia and Argentina, so I picked France.  I would have liked to have had Norway because 2010 is the 100th anniversary of Norwegian Raoul Amundsen reaching the Pole, but it had already been chosen.

I'll try to post some pictures from when I place more black flags.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More Daylight Pictures...

Some more pictures of the station now that the Sun is up.
Flag cache uncovered with the rising Sun.  Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) is in the distance on the horizon.

Snow piles and supply berms.

At the construction Jamesways.  During the dark of winter being this far from the station on foot would have been a risky thing for me to do on any but the clearest of moonlit nights (I can't wear glasses in the extreme cold so I get the navigation lights mixed up) , but with the Sun above the horizon it is merely a cold (-82F) 10-minute walk.

Wind-blown patterns in the snow.  Seen from the top of A-Pod stairs.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Snow shoveling

Went out today to shovel out the J3 jamesway.  Temperature -79F, wind 14 mph, windchill -120F.  But I got it done.  We aren't talking a little sidewalk shoveling - this is what the snow is like...
You can see the rear door to one Jamesway at the two red flags.  There is also a door to the furnace room, and the front door.  My Jamesway had about that much snow at its back door and it took about an hour  for me to get rid of it.  Trust me, that's a lot of snow.  Particularly at -80F.  Luckily the snow isn't too heavy, but because it has been there all winter it gets compacted and heavier the further down you get.  That snow you see at the center of the frame is a good five feet deep.  The dozer will get that, but we have to manually shovel all that snow near the doors.
Only one more building and I am done shoveling unless we have a storm come in over the next few weeks.  It has been known for a good storm to re-deposit all the snow that has been shoveled so that it has to be done all over again.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pictures 2

Post-winter drifts, flag, cold, snow, ice.  At least it isn't dark.


Various pictures...
Photos by Genevieve Ellison, Ice White & Blue blog.

Spool Henge - spools for wire and cable left over from the construction of the Main Station.  These should be flown out one day.  They are stacked this way so they will not create drifts during the winter.

The BARRF being towed by the D6 to its now home near the ice runway flight line.  It was stored in a remote part of the station over winter, again to prevent drifts.  That's me in the background "observing".

Me, climbing from 10,760 feet to 10.770 feet to get to the LMC.

Made it!  Was cold though - 67 with a 30 mph wind.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cold, cold, cold...

Today we finished getting the fuel pit set up with its buildings.  Fuel tanks come later.  Once power and heat are suppled the buildings will be ready to receive planes and people.  This was the second day we worked on this, and although yesterday was colder in absolute temperature (-83F), today was a much more difficult work environment because of the high winds.  Wind speed today during operations was 26 kt (~30 mph) and temperature was -66F.

Jason McDonald (front) and Mel MacMahon, Station Manager, discussing placement of buildings for the aircraft fueling pit. Notice the flags in the background - it was a bit windy, with blowing snow.  Ah, Spring at the South Pole!

This job took about 2.5 hours Friday and another 2 hours today.   Two hours outside in these conditions are pretty much a full work day.  Not because we couldn't do more, but the machines can't take it.  I was dressed in my most aggressive ECW setup and was fairly comfortable the entire time.    My clothing included long underwear tops and bottoms, pants, wind-proof pants, insulated windproof pants, two pairs of wool socks and four chemical toe warmers, insulated boots, long sleeved shirt, down parka, insulated glove liners, mittens, chemical hand warmers, chemical thumb warmers (toe warmers wrapped around my thumbs), full-head balaclava, fleece neck gator, fleece headband, and parka hood with fur ruff.  If I had it to do again I would have added a fleece pull-over, but I stayed fairly warm for the two hours we were outside.

Fuel Pit Convoy.  BARFF, Fuel Shack, and PAX Terminal, all being towed to their summer locations in preparation for the arrival of summer LC-130s.  These buildings and the aircraft fueling module and heating module placed yesterday constitute the fuel pit.  All that is left are three 5,000 and one 10,000 gallon fuel tanks.  They will be brought up Monday and then everything can be connected, heated, and powered.  Boyd Brown is in the front D6 dozer pulling the BARRF, Genevieve Ellison is in the middle loader pulling the fuel shack, and Virgil Porterfield is in the rear D6 pulling the PAX terminal.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fuel Pit (Warning - acronym alert)

We are setting up what is called the Fuel Pit tomorrow.  This is the area on the station, next to the ice runway,  that is involved with fueling and defueling planes during the summer.  Because the fuel pit is not needed in winter all the buildings, fuel tanks and fuel lines are taken to a remote part of the station until right before the summer season starts.  If they had been left where they were huge drifts would form behind them and be difficult to clear right about now.  The assemblage of buildings and tanks includes the AFM (Aircraft Fueling Module) that contains the pumps, valves and controls that allow the fuel to be sent to where it is needed; the PAX terminal where people can wait in a heated area when departing; several 5k and 10k gallon fuel tanks, the BARFF (Building - Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting), and all the piping, fuel lines and electrical utilities needed to run everything.  Everything has to be dragged from remote parts of the station.  All this is quite an undertaking and should take most of the day.  But when it is finished we will almost be ready to receive airplanes at South Pole.

I'll try to take some pictures of all these activities but it is still in the -70's so it is hard to keep the camera warm (much less my fingers and poor frostbitten nose).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This week at Pole

We didn’t get any snow shoveled last week as we wanted to.  It was too cold and windy, and the dozer did not get to all the buildings to clear the massive parts of the drifts away.  Maybe this week.  We still have two weeks to get it done but it would be hard to do all of them in the last few days.

We had our next to last emergency response drill yesterday.  It took about five times longer to plan it than to execute.  It was a vehicle fire with an injured driver.  The teams have gotten much better over the winter because this time there was no fuss, no muss and the injured person was in medical within ten minutes, and the “fire” in the vehicle put out in about 15 minutes from the first call-in.  No one realized it until later, but this drill was essentially the same as the first drill of the season, which was very uncoordinated with a lot of mistakes.  I was afraid that this drill was way too simple based on the increasingly difficult and challenging drills of the winter, but it turned out to be a good indicator of how much progress the ERT teams have made since January. 

This week I finished an article for the Raytheon internal newspaper, PS News, about safety planning this winter at Pole.  We have not had a single accident this year, which is unusual.  We have a very good crew and I attribute the safe operations to it being a somewhat older average age than normal.  I think the average age is in the low 30’s when it is usually in the mid 20’s.  Supervisors are also very safety conscious this year and discuss the risks of jobs in advance with their employees.  This has really helped prevent accidents this winter.  I’ll post the article here next week. 

Snow clearing by the heavy equipment operator continues this week.  The housing units called Jamesways have to be cleared of snow before we can shovel and start up the heaters.  A snow-grooming device called the goose, which is pulled behind a dozer to level sastrugi (drifts) is being brought online this week.  It has been sitting outside all winter and has to have two portable diesel-powered heaters running to warm its articulating parts before it can be moved.  There was some sort of mistake made in warming vehicles which put everything back a day when the snow-clearing was behind anyway.  Tempers are a bit short because the heavy equipment operators and the VMF (vehicle maintenance shop) are working very hard and for long hours these days, and the weather has not been cooperating.

Science teams made a successful inspection and calibration trip to the ESPRESSO experiment, which is about 3.5 km from the station.  That doesn’t sound far, but at these temperatures it is a risky trip.  They took survival gear and extra food in case the vehicle broke down in the cold and they had to wait for rescue.

We are starting to do the things that will get us back to civilization in a few weeks.  We are making travel arrangements and taking steps to get all our ECW gear back to the clothing distribution center in Christchurch. Still it is a little early for that because it is still cold here and we need it!  The logistics people have developed a way we can turn it all in here at Pole and it gets shipped back to Christchurch without us having to carry it on the plane individually.  That will be great.

The Sun is well above the horizon now – about three fingers.  Real shadows and a lot of contrast, and very bright.

It is now only 16 days before the new station management arrives for the summer and the winter season officially ends.  My replacement is supposed to arrive on October 25th, twenty-six days from now.  I will stay almost two weeks after that since my departure date is November 7.  I will be one of the last winterovers to leave South Pole.

UPDATE:  Things are very fluid here.  My replacement is now scheduled to arrive on October 19 or 20, and my re-deployment date is probably going to be moved up to around November 1. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Changes: Temperature and Mood

What a difference 12 hours makes.  From -96F yesterday at 3 pm the temperature rose to -44F at 3 am this morning.  That was a temperature change of +52 degrees.  That’s pretty impressive anywhere.  At my house that would be like going from 32F at 6am to 84F at  6pm.  The reason for this sudden warmth was a storm that approached Pole from Grid 316, which is very rare (Grid 0 is toward Greenwich).  So we have what we call “west” winds. There are clouds and ice fog here that are acting like a blanket to keep temperatures high near the ice.  But our meteorologist says things will be back to normal in a couple of days with temps in the -80’s.

The sunrise has made a lot of difference in everyone’s outlook here, and not always for the better.  After a brief lift in mood the sun gave us, everyone seems to be in a downward mood swing, including myself.  The theory here is that when the sun comes up people start thinking it is time to go home when in fact we have six to seven weeks left.  Some people even started packing with the sunrise.  I have to admit to being easily annoyed by people over the past week or two.  I will sit next to someone in the galley and they will start talking about the same topic they have been talking about for the last six months and it is like the air is deflated from the table.  You realize you made a mistake by sitting there but you are trapped.  You can’t just get up and move to another table because that would be obvious and rude.  So I find myself taking the safe route and sitting by myself more and more during meals.  Yesterday I was talking to someone at 6 am in the galley and when I sat down to dinner at 5 pm the person was saying exactly the same thing.  You have no idea how irritating and annoying that can be after being here for 8 months.

Low temperatures over the last two weeks (near -100F) has kept us from doing a lot of station opening tasks we had scheduled – so we are behind.  With only 2 ½ weeks before the first Basler flight we need to get out there and start shoveling snow so we can re-heat the buildings.  The engineering and maintenance group had opened several buildings last week and started the furnaces in them, but the extreme cold of -98F over the weekend gelled all the fuel so the furnaces shut off.  All those buildings now have to be heated all over again, starting with portable heating units that warm the buildings enough to start the furnaces.

So this week I will start shoveling out the doorways and furnace units to the three buildings I have been assigned.  But if we have another storm over the next few weeks I will have to shovel them again.  I hope not.

Monday, September 20, 2010

You are Here!

Due to satellite problems this was posted  a day late, sunrise is today!
The week at Pole - you are there!

If you were here what do you think you would be doing this week? Well, probably a lot of snow shoveling. The Jamesways and other buildings outside have been cleared of snow by the D-6 bulldozer, so the snow that is left blocking doors is now removable by mere human beings with shovels. I'm going to wait until late in the week to do my shoveling because there is another storm system approaching and I do not want to shovel snow twice when new drifts form.

Winter snow buildup at the front of the station.  At the beginning of winter there was no snowbank and the walk was level to the plateau.  The area under the station is kept free of snow by the winds that are channeled under the station.  Wind speed under the station is typically twice what it is around the station.

If you had my job you would be doing water testing this week to make sure the water is safe to drink. Some locations we have to test monthly and some weekly. I am going to be doing both this week. You would also be constructing mock-ups of some safety devices to be used on a conveyor system in the Logistics Arch. These are to keep pallets from rotating on the conveyor and injuring the people who have to move them. We designed the safety changes over the winter and now it is up to the summer people to install them. We did not have enough materials on-hand to do it ourselves this winter.  And of course there is the end of season report of all the ups and downs, good and bad of the winter.

You would also be doing house-mouse duties on Monday. House mouse is when everyone at the station takes an hour and cleans a part of the station. Bathrooms, the library, gym, weight room, outside stairs, etc. These duties rotate, so this week my team and I cleaned the quiet reading room and the computer room. These are all easy jobs except for shoveling the snow off the outside stairs, which can be very difficult in total darkness, wind, cold and altitude. At least it is light now and that makes everything easier.

If you worked in the vehicle maintenance facility (VMF) you would be preparing for a major unexpected job. The D-7 dozer's transmission failed over the weekend and the dozer will not move. As the manager of the VMF says, "The engine runs but the scenery doesn't change."  It has to be pushed into the VMF arch by another dozer were it is warm so the transmission can be taken out, diagnosed and repaired. It will take two days sitting inside before it is warm enough even to touch.  It looks to be about a two-week job and was totally unexpected work. But the big dozer is needed and it has to get done. There are safety issues with this job, so if you were me you would be involved in the "pushing it into the VMF" part of the operation on Wednesday.

If you are one of the science guys you are probably completing the final steps of switching over equipment from dark experiments to daylight experiments. You are also going to be going out to SPRESSO, a science site 3 km away from the station to do one of it's twice-yearly inspections. This is a significant trip because 3 km is out of sight of the main station and a vehicle breakdown would be a serious event. In a normal environment 3 km (less than two miles) would be an easy walk, but you would be unlikely to make it back to the station if you tried to walk it here. So you would be taking survival bags, rations, extra radio batteries, and checking in with the station frequently just in case. If your vehicle broke you would set up a tent or a snow shelter and stay put until rescued.  It is still 92 below out there even if there is daylight.

If you were the station meteorologist you would start to launch extra weather balloons this week to provide weather data for C-17 flights into McMurdo for that station's official summer opening. If you were a power plant tech you would be switching over from generator 2 to generator 3 this week, as well as doing your normal rounds every two hours. The facility engineering department will be testing the emergency power plant this week  - starting it up, powering some of the station with emergency power and then shutting it down.  The maintenance people (facilities engineering), will also be doing normal maintenance and repair work this week. They are the busiest people on station so it would just be another busy week for you if you were a plumber, electrician, carpenter or general assistant. If you were in Logistics you would be, as usual, counting stuff.

If you were a heavy equipment operator you would be spending most of your week clearing snow drifts from buildings and repositioning things to get ready for the station opening next month. You would have been moving emergency fuel tanks from the end of the world, but the D-7 is broken so that will not be happening. In a couple of weeks you would be using the repaired D-7 to clear and smooth the ice runway (called the skiway) so planes can land.

But mostly, mostly, you would be spending a lot of time daydreaming about that LC-130 flight out of here when your replacement arrives, and the springtime weather of Christchurch, NZ that waits for you. Oh, and today you would be waiting for sunrise, tomorrow!

Pre-dawn light at the South Pole.  Sunrise was still about two weeks in the future when this photo was taken.  This was bright and beautiful after six months of darkness, but signaled  the end for the auroras.

Friday, September 17, 2010


The mood of the station has really changed a lot in the past three weeks.  The Sun is just below the horizon and the sky has turned blue.  Everyone is looking forward to what they will do when we get off the ice.  The first plane in eight months is due to arrive on October 15 and with them they will bring new people and new germs.  I'm not looking forward to the new people, even though there will only be eighteen of them on the Basler.

They are going to be all be excited, talkative and loud, all gung-ho and industrious... grrrr. Things at the Pole for the winter-overs have become a quiet, routine relaxed and efficient at getting the job done.  They are going to want to talk to us and we are not going to want to talk to them, eat with them or otherwise associate with their germs.  No one has been sick here for months and it never fails that the germs brought in by the new people may make many of us sick.  Coughing, sore throats and sniffles here we are, defenseless and weak - come and get us, bugs.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Live SP Web Cam

The live SP web cam is back up and running after being taken inside for the winter (thanks, Nick at ARO).  So if you want to see what it looks like out our windows right this minute, click on the SP Web Cam link to the left.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You call this SPRING?

Ah, Spring… flowers, bees, 98 below zero, -140F windchill.  We were all fooled by the South Pole for the last few weeks, thinking the temperatures were beginning to moderate as the Sun was returning, but this week Pole is giving us the coldest temperatures so far this winter.  It did drop to below -100F three or four times earlier in the year, but there was no wind when that happened.  We have wind now and the windchills are really low.  It is everyone's opinion that we would rather see -100 with no wind than -70 with a 15 knot wind.  Today we have both.

But Spring it is, and cold or not in only 21 days the Sun will be above the horizon again.  The first flight into Pole is scheduled for three weeks later on October 15th  (note I say scheduled, the weather plays a big part).  Not that any of us winter-overs will be able to leave on that flight – it is just to bring people in, and we hope some bananas and tomatoes…and oranges and grapes and lemons and kiwis and… oh my!  But before the first flight arrives we have to prepare the station for the influx of summer people.  Since no one got killed or pregnant over the winter, there are still only 47 of us to do that.
All winter the snow-drifts have been piling up around the buildings that were unused, and we have to clear, heat and prep all of those before the summer crews arrive.  At the beginning of winter we shut down and basically forgot about most of the out-buildings so there will be a lot of snow shoveling.  I have put my name down to dig out three of the twelve Jamesways (summer housing units), plus a few other tasks.  Plus everyone still has to do all the other things they have had to do over the winter.  The summer folks don’t know how lucky they are – they leave the place filthy and come back to a station ready and waiting for them, down to clean linens and fresh pillows on the beds.  South Pole winter-overs - the most expensive maid service on the planet.  Where else do the maids get dressed in 20 lbs of ECW gear to go make a bed and turn on the heat before the guests arrive?

The sky is getting lighter all the time and walking outside is very nice these days.  It isn’t so dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face (or any of the snow-drifts that trip you up and unexpectedly throw you to the ice), but still not so bright that there is no contrast on the snow.  Of course, a few clouds coming over the Pole changes everything and we can go back to pitch black in a few hours.  The window coverings come off the station windows next week and we will be able to look outside without actually going outside for the first time in six months!  For several weeks we will only be able to see a glow on the horizon as it spins around the Pole, but that will be pretty darned nice.  I’m also sure there will be people complaining about the constant light and having to wear sunglasses in the dining room a few weeks after that.

Although the first few planes that arrive will be Baslers (updated DC-3s) that can operate in very cold temperatures, the LC-130’s that bring in the full summer crews (and take us home!) can’t land until the temperature is above -50F.  They say that usually happens around the last week in October, so 95% of the winter-over crew is scheduled to leave on November 5th after about a week of turnover.  That’s my departure date.  I’ll go to McMurdo Station from Pole and then on to New Zealand the next day.  But it's really too early to start thinking about that – there are still more than two months to go before we leave Pole.  Since the winter season is nine months and the summer only three months, we winter-overs still have what counts as nearly a full season for the summer people. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Snow Contours Photo

Snow drifting near the South Pole station, illuminated by moonlight. July 2010.
Snow Drifts
Photo copyright 2010 Daniel Luongvan