The long stretch of night

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Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

As midwinter quickly approaches, and the vast majority of the 46 of us wintering over are near or passed our halfway marks, this crew has done a great job sticking together with nearly no real stress. Even those at the home office in Denver have remarked on how well this season has been going. The above picture is a pantographic by Hunter taken from the road going to ARO, looking up at the ‘beer can’ and A1 pod to the left, where my room is , and the galley on the right. Some of these pictures with longer exposures allow you to see colors that otherwise you could not with the naked eye.

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Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

This view of the backside of the dome in the backyard best demonstrates how the camera shows what is hard for us to see. Most auroras we look at are primarily green, with the occasional pink to be seen. The red lights from the elevated station can be seen in the lower right corner.

Temperatures have been hovering in the -90f range for a few days now, and many of us are hoping for it to get colder, so we can hit the -100f point. There have been winters where this has not been hit, and we hope we don’t get included into that group! With the temps being so low, no equipment can be run except in an emergency situation, and this includes the elevator in the vertical tower. This means we will be daisy  chaining the food pull for the second time this winter. Everyone shows up in full ECW (Extreme cold weather gear), takes a spot on one of the 92 steps, and we hand all the food up from the LO (logistics arch) that will supply the kitchen for that week. -70f is the coldest we will run the elevator, and we have been lucky in those regards thus far to having only had to do this twice.

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Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

So, as we continue the Hunter show, the above aurora storm set on the back drop of the Milky Way is one of the better shots he has taken this season. On Saturday, all of us on ERT Team 2 (fire brigade) got together in the gym for team photos, and we got Hunter to do the honors, as he is also a member. Our plan is to make a 12 month 2018 calendar, possibly as a gag, but we shall see! It was a fun hour, and we look forward to the results! I will try to snag some of the pics to post on here.

This coming Sunday we will be holding the traditional mid-winter dinner. This has been happening on continent since the days of Shakelton, Scott, and Amundsen. The summer solstice, as it is referred to in our home the northern hemisphere, marks the darkest day of winter here in Antarctica, and signals that the darkness will be gone in about2 or so months. We all look forward to this day, with sunrise dinner being the last of our special meals this winter prior to station open in late October.

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Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

 

Another backyard shot, this of RF. You can tell our winds have been fairly light to this point, as the drifts and susturgi are very mild for being June. We are currently in full moon, and this really hampers our ability for aurora visuals and great views of the Milky Way, but does make walking outside very nice, as you actually create a shadow. I’m hoping to have mid-winter meal pics and fire team pics soon! Stay warm in the north!

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Month of the Julian

Flyover

Courtesy Dr. James Casey, ICL

The last flight of the summer season, on February 15th 2017, as it prepares to pass overhead, the pilot dips the wings in tradition. For those of us ‘rookies’ preparing to begin our first winter over here at South Pole, we though that the -50f temperatures were cold. Did we ever learn the hard way, that that is to be considered warm!

Next Year

Courtesy Dr. James Casey, ICL

Having completed the wave, the last LC-130 of the season heads to McMurdo Station with the outgoing summer staff. We did have a few Basler’s and Twin Otters come through the next two weeks, as all aircraft made their way off continent for the Antarctic winter. The fuel line, in the foreground would then be torn down and stored on the berms until late September or early October. Next LC-130 is scheduled to arrive October 30th, contingent on weather and plane availability.

 

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Downhill Trending

 

Pole overhead

This overhead shot was taken a few seasons ago from a twin otter, but it still gives you an idea of how large the entire campus is. ARO is not in the shot nor is the ‘end of the world’ where the winter emergency fuel stash is kept. At the very right top you can see the Dark Sector labs, which is a really fun walk in the darkness of the winter here everyday during rounds! Numerous of the pictured buildings are now gone and the Cryo building has been reconfigured. This coming summer season, a specially built snow blower is expected to start the massive task of clearing off the tops of the support aches, which can be reached from the elevated station via the vertical tower. The estimated drifting on top is around 24 feet. Also next summer, new escape rises will be dug out for the ice tunnels, as well as raising the stairs inside the vertical tower 12 inches to help accommodate the settling of the elevated station.

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Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

While the last month has seen some extremely bright skies due to a full moon and many overcast days, Hunter was still able to piece together 15 individual shots to create this amazing picture of our sky and the Milky Way. It is truly amazing what you can see on a daily basis here, but being able to capture it with a camera makes it even better!

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Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL

Even with a bright full moon, Martin was still able to capture an aurora above! It was so bright for nearly a week that when walking outside, you actually cast a shadow and could move about without our customary red head lights! As with everywhere else in the world, clear skies means colder temps, and there was no shortage of that, as we hovered around -90F the whole time!

Courtesy Bill Johnson

This is a series of pictures of a repair that we had to complete in the mechanical room above the VMF (Vehicle maintenance facility). The band close to the flange was a stopgap, installed until we could get the new section of 4″ copper in. The flange joint had begun to leak, likely from the glycol eating away at it. This took the better part of the day to finish, but it is now back up and running, giving our VMF crew heat again!

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Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL

The observation deck, as an aurora storm rolls through.

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Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL

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Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL

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Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL

Imagine if you will, the moon is not out. This is a picture looking from the skiway at the rear of B pod, where the emergency power plant is located. The lowest light is the emergency fueling pod, the next being the emergency exit stairs for the residents of the pod. The EPP is tested monthly, and also run with a load before winter to ensure it can sustain us if the need arises.

Not very long ago, SPT (South Pole Telescope) was part of a global effort to take a picture of the edge of a black hole, the EHT (Event Horizon Telescope) project. Follow the below links to learn more. This will do you more good then me trying to cover everything!

https://webmail.southpole.usap.gov/owa/redir.aspx?C=rLIGquozt5F3hlsm3lRf8O5Z5aWxJ9QjHiB8WZtS9DRYFeymDqTUCA..&URL=http%3a%2f%2fnews.nationalgeographic.com%2f2017%2f04%2fblack-hole-event-horizon-telescope-pictures-genius-science%2f

https://webmail.southpole.usap.gov/owa/redir.aspx?C=KlMmgPRUBpR7-2ksq2GgDHRHYvH9Up0BMdx0_VrrdhhYFeymDqTUCA..&URL=https%3a%2f%2fwww.theatlantic.com%2fscience%2farchive%2f2017%2f03%2falma-black-hole-shadow%2f520608%2f

https://webmail.southpole.usap.gov/owa/redir.aspx?C=Fi4NVOxaaTJk-65edEkit0ND4oRXRBte9AMLrqYh3TtYFeymDqTUCA..&URL=https%3a%2f%2fwww.newscientist.com%2farticle%2fmg23431204-200-earthsized-telescope-set-to-snap-first-picture-of-a-black-hole%2f

Many thanks to Dr. Daniel Michalik for sending me these outstanding links! It may take well over a year to compile and analyze all of the data collected, so keep an eye out for it!

As eluded to in the title, I have surpassed my half-way point here at the South Pole. As of this post, I have 162 days remaining, that is of course I leave by November 4th. I consider this a ‘soft’ date, because you just never know with the weather or the flights the exact date you get to start your vacation and trip back home.  As we approach Mid Winter, an Antarctica tradition, our 46 person crew here seems to be steaming along quite well. Everyone is getting along, being good community members, and our work has been fairly smooth so far, but you never know what tomorrow will bring!

 

 

 

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Half way there!

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Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

May 1st marked the 50% completion point for me here at Amundsen-Scott Station. My body has certainly adapted to the extreme change in temperature from Arizona to the South Pole, and even the altitude here doesn’t seem as rough anymore, even with us sitting around 11,000 feet for well over a month. The isolation of not being able to leave whenever you want and only having 45 other people that you see every day has been pretty much what I had expected all along, and thus has been very easy to live with. While there are a wide variety of view points and life experiences spread among us, everyone sure seems to get along quite well, and we have become a tight community.

10m milky way.jpg Courtesy Dr. Daniel Michalik

As I have written prior, the night sky certainly does not disappoint here! For the majority of the time, we have very clear skies, which allows us to see the Milky Way ring, the Auroras, and some of the planets, like Jupiter above. It has been a long journey, but seeing the night sky like we do makes that much better!

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Courtesy Dr. Daniel Michalik

This image shows two satellites crossing the sky above Building 61, which is the power relay station for the Dark Sector. Of course, the auroras are awesome to look at also! This building is directly across from MAPO on the left side of the road before you get to SPT and BICEP3, with Ice Cube Lab behind and further out to the left.

feet up.jpg Courtesy Hunterdavis.photography

Is there a better image to leave off with then this one? Again, we see Hunter laying around on the job, looking at the heavens, marveling at the insanely beautiful aurora lights! This was taken on the ‘road’ to the Dark Sector, as you can see SPT far in the background. Typically, the human eye is not able to pick up such a wide array of colors, so were are thrilled that cameras can! The red light just at the tip of his toe, is that of Ice Cube. There are many times when walking out that way, it is so dark, those lights are life savers! A quick update, the kitchen work has been completed, and is currently back up and running, which really makes everyone on station smile, including our staff like Hunter! Our internet is still not great right now, so the videos I wanted to post tonight are not able to be loaded, but should be possibly as early as this weekend!

 

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Electric Nights….

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Courtesy of  Hunter.Davis.Photography

Of the multitude of reason one might have for the opportunity to spend a full winter here at the South Pole, seeing what the night sky brings us every day might not be at the top of the list. Yes, it is blisteringly cold and pitch black dark at times. You must also be willing to lose a year from your loved ones, risk the ability to always be able to call, but there are times in life that you need to just step back and look around you.

Courtesy of LTJG Gavin Chensue, NOAA

To the ‘north’ of the elevated station lies the ARO NOAA Lab, run this winter by LTJG Gavin Chensue and Dr. Dave Reibel. The ARO station conducts sensitive atmospheric testing daily, measuring CO2 content, ozone layer, and Oxygen testing just to name a few. The lab is set in the ‘clean air sector’ where the winds the majority of time is blowing from, allowing them to sample from the cleanest air on Earth.

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Courtesy LTJG Gavin Chensue

The above shot was taken from our ‘back yard’ of sorts, down wind of the ARO lab. The smoke is the exhaust from our power plant arch, which can still barely be seen underneath the snow drift. Gavin did a great job getting the full moon behind the smoke.

One of the amazing things here are the extreme changes in temperature. On Monday we were sitting at -96f and by Thursday we had climbed to -47f, with today dropping back to -71. A simple change in direction where the wind is blowing and adding overcast conditions can certainly throw a curveball at you. Who knows when we will reach -100f, but it will really be exciting to hit that milestone of a South Pole winter season!

 

 

 

 

 
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Night Lights

Courtesy of Robert Schwarz

The early auroras here at the south pole have been amazing. As the sky continues to get darker with the moon moving more into our shadow from the sun, our sky is becoming more radiant every day.

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Courtesy of Adam West

The red light of the A4 wing emergency exit with the aurora over and behind DZ, is a great contrast and one of the better visualizations I have yet seen.

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Courtesy of Adam West

This aurora, which likely did not last long, was brilliant. Notice how the side of the A4 wing that gets more wind exposure, is frosting up. During the ‘summer’ when temperatures rarely got even close -40f, this would not happen, but now there is no sun light at all.

Courtesy of Adam West

Adam did a wonderful job showing the movement or progression of the aurora. The camera he uses is much better than the human eye at picking up the visual colors. While you are standing outside watching them, this early in the winter season they are not as bright as they will be in a few months, but are still breathtaking to see!

Flag Lights

Courtesy of Hunter Davis

This panoramic shot from Hunter was taken a few weeks ago, but certainly gives the viewer an idea of just how far the auroras stretch in our sky. Hunter and I will be going out tomorrow while I am on rounds, in hopes of getting some more of these amazing shots!

Kitchen (1 of 2)

The last two weeks, and going on into our third, have been a challenge, as the much needed galley duct system is getting some love. Bill Johnson, Mike Pintur, Rick Osburn and Pete Gougeon have the galley ceiling torn out and the grease completely gone at this point. The above and below pictures courtesy of Hunter Davis.

Kitchen (2 of 2)

Our temps continues to change, mostly staying in the -90f range, and we are not sure when the triple digits will grace us with the crazy lows! I will be sure to take a screen shot of the weather page when this does finally happen, so you can see how crazy we all are here!

Many thanks to those on station who have the correct photographic equipment, so that those of us who came ill-prepared can benefit from this!

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Hello darkness my old friend….

 

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Photo courtesy of Daniel Michalik

As you can see, darkness has fully arrived here at the south pole station, and will be for the next 5 or so months. A week or so ago, we were lucky to see the above amazing view! The moon was full and due to atmospheric conditions, almost looked like a spotlight! Just to the left and above the moon, you can see Jupiter. The foreground is the Dark Sector labs of SPT, MAPO and Bicep 3, as well as the flag line that was put up so when we are doing rounds, we don’t get lost!Moon.jpg

Photo courtesy of Hunter Davis

A few weeks prior to the bright moon shot, Hunter went and got this wonderful picture of the sustrugi and the moon in the background. The sustrugi, if I’m saying that right, are the snow/ice formations created by the wind, and can be quite impressive!

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Martin Wolf

Now that the sun has bid us farewell, we are getting the beginnings of the auroras! These are caused by sun spots and how the released particles interact with our magnetic field. Auroras are common to both the North and South poles, and are actually mirror images of one another. This shot was taken from the observation deck, looking towards the clean air sector where NOAA has an observatory.

As it gets darker, it is also getting colder, depending on whether it is overcast or not. The last few days it has been clearing up, better for auroras and solar watching, but also dropping us to extreme lows. This morning we hit -92f and -130f wind chill factor. This basically means, ensure the big red and all your other ECW gear is fully equipped! We still have more then half a moon for another week or so, then, it will be pitch black out, and the only lights we can use are red. Triple digits are just around the corner!

Last week, we completed the remainder of the forced main discharge replacement in the subfloor. It was not an easy task, as we were installing larger diameter pipe, and the subfloor is extremely cramped and access was not always what we would call ideal. There were struggles, but the job was completed and water was turned back on by Friday at 1700. This was by far my largest winter project, and we are all happy that it is now behind us. I do have numerous glycol issues to deal with, as well as getting the new Summer Plumbers Jamesway squared away!

 

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Green Flash, goodbye sun!

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Martin Wolf

Here at the South Pole, one of the more interesting things you will see, is the above ‘green flash’ of the sun as it drops below the horizon. This is caused by our atmosphere separating the suns rays of light, allowing us to see this wonderful sight! My camera was unable to capture it very well, so thank you kindly to Dr. Martin Wolf of Ice Cube for the great shot!

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Keller

Every week, one of us in our department has the duty of station rounds. We head to every out building that has power to ensure they are warm and without problems. Last week, Jeff had the honors as the sun was going down. He was able to get this awesome shot of the sun just behind the Ice Cube Lab. Looking around the station, being surrounded by hundreds of miles of ice, you would not believe how beautiful it can really get here, and this is a great example!

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Today on rounds, while I was out in the Dark Sector, I took a moment to capture this shot of the South Pole Telescope. The 10 meter dish had a major upgrade this ‘summer’, as is almost ready to continue its groundbreaking work. Even as ‘warm’ as it was today, -65 f with very low winds, you can see the ice and snow building up on the sides of the buildings. Soon you won’t even be able to tell what color it once was!

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This is just the 180 opposite view from the South Pole Telescope, looking back at our Antarctic home the elevated station. On the right is MAPO, and the left is the power transfer station for the Dark Sector. A flag line was installed for winter, as it can get so dark you can’t much of anything in front of you, and we really don’t want to lose anyone! More then three quarters of a mile out, depending on wind direction, this walk can be fairly rough. Due to the nature of the experiments, we can’t use our radios in the Dark Sector, and when it is finally night out for six months, can only use red lights.

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Looking back towards the station from the Cryo building, where all weather balloons from NOAA and our Met folks are launched, you can see our service arches. The far left is the power plant, which you can barely make out the exhaust stacks. The open door with a light inside is the LO (logistics arch) where a DNF(do not freeze) storage area and the materials offices are located. In that arch, behind the DNF, is our food storage warehouse, then the fuel arch behind that. The partially blocked and doors closed arch, is the VMF(vehicle maintenance facility) where all the heavy equipment gets worked on, and the winter carpenters, electricians, and plumbers shops.

As you can tell, the 46 of us are really ready to stay inside this winter! It should reach -100 f with out wind chill soon, which should be fairly interesting for this Arizona boy!

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You have mail…….

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The above picture was taken a few days ago, it shows the sun at its current elevation above the horizon here, which is 2 degrees. Monday, March 20th at 2330 local time, it is scheduled to go beneath the horizon. I am told it will take upwards of a month before we are in our 6 month night portion of winter here at South Pole.

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This is a ‘southern’ view from the second floor, just before the ‘beer can’. The exhaust stacks for the power plant can barely be seen, as the overcast low hanging clouds and wind are really messing with visibility! Temperatures this week were as follows: Monday, -80 F ambient with -115 F wind chill (which we don’t even bother looking at here) to today, Saturday being -45 F, with winds from 0 knots upwards of 15 knots! The cloud cover has really ‘warmed’ it up down here!

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Martin Wolf

The power plant exhaust earlier in the month.

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Photo courtesy of Hunter Davis

Rear of the elevated station, between B and A4 pods.

So, now that I have some new info, I can explain the lack of recent posts. We seem to be having numerous satellite connectivity issues, some here, others at tracking locations. These are currently being repaired with the hopes that our internet access will improve shortly.

XIAOYI

Part of my winter tasking, is to continue and complete if possible, the forced main sewer line from the EPP (emergency power plant) subfloor in B pod until it hits the ‘beer can’. The above picture is a prefabricated section of 4″ PVC I built for the final gravity feed to the sewage tank in the subfloor of the aforementioned EPP. This replacement section, along with the remainder of the B pod forced main, was started Monday, and completed with a full return to service on Thursday. Many people were involved in the task, and there is certainly no way I could have done it without them! The second area will be started in April, as it requires another shutdown of the utilities in B pod to accomplish. See? I actually do work down here!

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Above is our growth chamber, or hydroponic greenhouse, where we grow our ‘freshies’ for the winter. This is run 100% by volunteers, and all 46 of us reap the benefits of fresh salads, tomatoes, cucumbers and more!

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Winter!!!

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Above is the picture of Buzz Aldrin before he was medical evacuated a few months ago, sorry for the delay! From left to right is Adam West, Doug Howe and Matt Smith, all of which are wintering over with me.

So as of last week, the 15th, the station is now closed until late October. That simply means the 46 of us here have to find a way to stay sane and get along! This really shouldn’t be an issue, as most of us have been together since the second week of October in Denver.

The weather continues to get colder, as we have already hit -50F with wind chills in the low -80 range. The sun is expected to start going down mid next month, which I’m told will take numerous days, with darkness to follow a week after. We are all really looking forward to the Antarctic night and the amazing auroras that come with it! On the negative side of that, is the insane -100f temps we will have to survive! It should be interesting while I do rounds to all the outlying heated buildings every 4 weeks where you can’t wear goggles due to the fact that after -80f, they simply freeze up. Oh joy! Being from Arizona, this new winter thing should be very interesting!

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