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.


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