Thursday, February 25, 2010

More work

Station closing continues this week and we are all very busy getting things ready to go cold.  The buildings and systems that were needed for the large summer population of 275 are no longer needed and have to be cleaned and "de-heated".  Since our fuel has to to last all winter conservation is very important here - if we don't need to heat the buildings we don't.  Fuel is very closely monitored and we have enough for the winter as long as nothing unexpected happens.

The aircraft fueling system also had to be taken up and stored and I spent much of the week helping with that.  Being the new guy I'm sure I helped some and hindered some, but I think the extra hands were helpful.   The picture is of the crew rolling up about half a mile of fuel line that ran from the ice runway to our fuel storage tanks.  Every LC-130 that lands during the summer pumps fuel from its tanks into our fuel storage tanks and it all goes through these lines.  If they were left in place all winter they would be buried in huge drifts by spring and impossible to dig out - so up they come.  I'll talk more about drifts in later posts.

That frosty guy at the top of the post is me.  Yes it looks cold but I am really pretty warm under all that fur and down.  The outside temperature was a comfortable -25F with no wind so staying warm was not hard.  The coats here are so warm I was just wearing a t-shirt under mine, but when it gets colder I am sure that will change.

Inside the station things are also progressing.  The Polies are becoming a community and I have learned almost everyone's name.  Things are very quiet in the station which is actually pretty big for only 47 inhabitants.  It is easy to find a place to be alone, or just as easy to head to the galley to find people to talk to.  My work is turning out to be very rewarding.  I can't talk about it on the blog, but we are in the process of making some operations safer to perform.

On the fun side I get LMC and snowmobile training later today!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Second Sunday

It is now my second Sunday at the Station which means I've been here 10 days. It seems like a lot longer, but the character of the Station changed dramatically yesterday when we closed for the winter. There are now 47 dedicated souls here that will be here all winter no matter what. The dynamic of the station is now much lower key, people are more friendly with each other, and often the hallways are completely empty of other folks.

I was able to move into my permanent room yesterday which feels like a mansion compared to my first room since it is about 15 square feet larger. That may not seem like much, but it means I don't have to move things to open the door. Pictures coming when I get things put away.

Weather-wise it has been really beautiful with blue skies and low winds of about 8 to 10 knots. Of course the temperature is another matter. It was a balmy (for the Pole) -20F when I arrived and in the past ten days it has dropped to being constantly around -43F. Temperature is not really the hardest part of Pole life for me yet - it's the altitude. The altitude varies with the barometric pressure and right now it is over 10,000 feet. Everything is hard at that altitude, particularly the first week here. I have passed the critical first week danger zone for development of HAPE or HACE, so I am good to go for the entire season. I am acclimating well and can now walk the length of the station or up a flight of stairs without having to stop and rest while gasping for air. I still can't do both yet, but maybe by next Sunday I will be able.

Tonight I participated in a South Pole tradition by watching "The Thing" on the first night of the winter. Unfortunately it was the new version and not the original, but there are some things in life you just have to do if you have the chance, and watching any version of The Thing at the South Pole on the first night of winter is one of them. The other South Pole tradition was yesterday when the last plane left. Several of us went out to bid farewell to it as it buzzed the station on its way to the coast. [link]  This was at 2 am folks, so you know I am a traditionalist.

So far I have been struck by how calm, quiet and relaxed all the Polies are, but winter is just getting started so we will see in a few months. An interesting thing I have noticed is that greetings seem a bit strange to me. Since you may see some people ten or more times in the hallway every day, do you say Hi every time or do you walk past and ignore them? The first time each day is easy, but what about the thirteenth time? I think a lot of people here are having trouble with it. I'm sure it will get worked out over the winter.

Over the next two weeks all us poor 47 Polies will have to close down the station. That means putting out flag lines to the outlying research buildings so no one will get lost when it is dark, blizzardy and 80 below in a few months. We also have to shut down several heated out-buildings that are used only in summer, take down the ice runway flag markers so they don't get buried by snow over the winter, and lots of other things to maintain the station over the winter. I'll keep you informed of how that goes.

I was asked what it is I do here.  I am the Safety person for the station over winter.  Although we have a physician and a small clinic, the nearest real hospital 1,200 miles and six months away, so not getting seriously injured here is very important.  I also do drinking water testing and some environmental work.  In other words, I am the Occupational Safety and Health component of the station staff.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I get to the Pole at last

I arrived in Antarctica last Wednesday (Tuesday for you) on an Air Force C-17 cargo plane from New Zealand. When I got off the plane and stepped onto the ice runway for the first time my first impression was that it sure was quiet in Antarctica – very quiet! Then I realized I still had my earplugs in from the C-17 flight! A large group of us were driven for an hour to McMurdo Station where I would stay two nights because of some training I needed. We were transported in a Terrabus which was a miserable trip at a max speed of 20 mph. Google “Ivan the Terrabus” for a picture. When I got to McMurdo station I learned that my summer counterpart at the South Pole, who was to show me the ropes for two weeks at the Pole had left before I got there! In fact he left on the same plane I flew in on.

On Friday I was told my flight to Pole had been canceled for the day but an hour later the phone rang and they wanted to know why I wasn’t in the terminal ten minutes ago for the bus to the plane. I finally ended up riding with the New York Air National Guard crew to the airport. That was great since it was just me and the crew they let me stop and get some pictures of some penguins along the way. The plane wasn’t going anywhere without them after all. During the flight to the Pole I got to go to the flight deck and get some pictures.

When we got to the Pole the weather was too bad to land but the pilots decided to circle for an hour before heading back to McMurdo. This was bad news because the flight would end up being 3 hours + 1 hour of circling + 3 hours back – a long flight since I did not have time to grab a sandwich before leaving McMurdo. Luckily the weather cleared enough for us to land after only 40 minutes of circling.

So there I was at the South Pole standing atop 2.5 miles of polar ice sheet beside an LC-130 cargo plane, its engines running and propellers spinning because it was -30 and too cold to shut them off, looking at my new home for the next 10 months. How cool, I thought - how many places are there where airplanes drop you off at your house? Luckily the station manager had taken pity on the new guy and had sent someone to meet me. After that it was easy.

To be continued…