New Update 2 years later


Not a great shot, but looking out the front right window of the C-17 coming South from Christchurch. Flying over the centuries old ice formations about halfway to McMurdo Station. This was the next to last leg to get to our new one year home at Amundsen-Scott. The flight down was just over 5 hours with nearly 100 passangers and cargo. USAP and Kiwi staff were all mingled together.


Eating our bagged lunches we picked up at the airport prior to boarding. This the rear of the C-17, where all the cargo was stowed for transit. All four pictured were headed to Pole with me and all wintered over. Only Clint, left side, had been to Pole previously. The rest of the four of us were all newbies, not really sure what to expect. This was taken about a week after completing our firefighter training in Aurora Colorado.


Boom! Welcome the bottom of the Earth! After getting off the C-17 on Pegasus runway, we started our walk to the transports to McMurdo. The mountain to the left is Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on Earth. The largest station in Antarctica lies in the shadow of Erebus.


Turning back to have a look at the Air force transport before boarding our ‘bus’. The air was super crisp and not as cold as I had expected. That would come in just a few days when we got to Pole! Walking on the ice with a bit of drifted snow and the clear skies certainly turned out to be a great beginning. The C-17 can only land during the colder months, as during the ‘summer’, the ice is far too thin to support it.


Our winter over sous chef, Hunter Davis, and amazing photographer on the ride to McMurdo. We were among the 12 first arrivals to head down to Pole to start replenishing and replacing the previous winter overs. If you look back at previous posts on this blog, you can see some of his wonderful work! Great in the kitchen also!!

This is just a quick update, but look forward to posting not only old pics from previous years, but also some new stuff from the current crew on station!




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Night pics


The VMF arch and the LO arch, which the door is covered with blown snow. Our HEO Les Lemon will be getting that cleared out as soon as the temps get a bit higher. Today it is -85f, far too cold to operate the heavy equipment in.




While on rounds Sunday, I was able to capture this ‘jet stream’ aurora out by Cryo. It was the only one in the sky at the time, and was followed shortly by heavy gusts of wind on my way returning to the station from the rod well. Many thanks to Hunter Davis on showing me how to set up my action cam to be able to take these shots, and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long! All of the pictures I’m posting were set with a 20 second exposure, which next week on rounds will be 5 seconds. Maybe I can eliminate some of the glare.



These two shots of the beer can taken from opposite ends of the elevated station A pod roof give you a good idea of how much in the middle of nowhere we really are. The long exposure time on the camera makes the moon look like the sun! The wind wasn’t gusting all that bad when I took these, thankfully!


The new Cryo building facing from the backyard towards the elevated station. NOAA and Met both use the building to launch their respective balloons. You can see the large oversized doors on the right of the building. The stacks in the foreground are staged for Les to setup additional waste collection containers as they are needed. Les is not only our heavy equipment operator, but this season has also taken the roll of ‘wastey’ for the winter.

rod well

This building is the rod well. Placed about a mile or so out from the elevated station, this where we get our fresh water from. Drilled some 400 feet deep into the ice, the ‘bulb’ allows the submersible pump to keep a consistent flow of water to and from the power plants water treatment room and back to the well via the ice tunnels. This is one of many buildings we check daily on rounds, as well as every Saturday depth and pump adjustments. The drifts to the left are approaching 7 feet high.

elv sta 2

A view of the backside of the elevated station as seen from where Cargo, the booze barn, and haz waste are located. The exhaust from the power plant is blowing the direction it usually does about 90% of the time, away from the clean air sector and ARO. The winds has been fairly low this winter, and therefore the drifts have not been as bad. As the sun comes up and the weather gets more moderate, Les and a few others will spend upwards of 12 hours a day moving snow in preparation for station open, which is set for November 1.

Finn SP

A friend of Gavin’s (holding the sign with me to my right) son was recently in the hospital to have an ear attached, which he had been born without. The FMC group all got together with our Medical staff (Sarah and Catherine) to take this picture to help keep his spirits up! To a fast recovery Finn!

10 meter SPT roof

Moon SPT roof

From the roof of SPT, you get a good look at the 10 meter dish (and the boiler exhaust, which we clean off every week!), and a look at the moon to the ‘north’ of the station.

OB deck moon cross

The bright moon cross, looking out towards the ski way, where our planes land, from the observation deck on the ‘west’ side of the station. The red light far out to the right is the Ice Cube.


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Midwinter and drawing down

Matt S.

Courtesy Matt Smith

Last month we celebrated the annual Mid-winter with a nice sit-down dinner prepared by our wonderful galley crew. This annual celebration has been a tradition since the earliest Antarctic explores, and every station on continent has a party and we all exchange station photos of the crews serving the current winter. Our esteemed Josh Neff decided with much effort on his part to host a murder mystery, where many of us created our own characters, each with unique clues devised to help solve who was our killer. I played an oil tycoon from Texas with two body guards (Matt Smith and Dr. Dave Reibel). Sadly, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, witnessed a murder, and were subsequently killed ourselves. That was a real bummer!



Courtesy Grantland Hall

At the start of July, Peter Bammes, our electrician from Los Angeles, after almost two months of work, hosted the First Annual South Pole Winter Olympics. Nearly everyone on station participated or helped in one way or another over the 14 days of competition. The events were Individual Beer Can sprint, which meant running up all 92 steps from the bottom to top in full ECW (extreme cold weather gear, which adds nearly 20 lbs). Individual sled pull was held wear each person would pull a sled with 45lbs in the back from the geographic South Pole to the ceremonial South Pole, which is close to 200 yards. The weather was -70f, 20 knot winds, and the drifts of blown snow were brutal, as only 3 people were able to finish! The Team sled pull was the same track, but the load was a person in the sled, with 3 pullers. I was part of Team Michigan ( LT Gavin Chensue, NOAA, Josh Neff, and Peter Gougeon). Not only was I the heaviest person, but was also the passenger! It turns out I weighed nearly 100lbs more than the next closest rider! Amazingly, we , or more correctly, THEY decimated the other teams! It was crazy cold and windy, as always.

The games then moved inside, where the events included pool, ping pong, volleyball, and Rubik’s cube. Tow games were included, Settlers of Catan and Supreme Commander. There was something for everyone, and during the medal ceremony, a final photo competition was held. All in all, Peter did a fantastic job, and all hands enjoyed every event!

Courtesy LT Gavin Chensue, NOAA Corps

We have finally entered August, the final month that will have full darkness, but when the sunlight will also begin to radiate over the horizon. Astronomical Twilight was at the start of this week, and we also have a half moon and clear skies, allowing me to do my first rounds in 6 weeks without a red headlight! The previous six weeks have seen increased wind speeds and gusting, leading into the two windiest months of the Antarctic winter, August and September. The week after next I will have rounds again, where I am hoping to see the first of the returning sun and the end to the long night we have all worked through.



Above is one of the best shots I’ve seen this season, taken by Hunter, of the ceremonial Pole looking away from the ‘front’ of the elevated station. It captures the nearly never-ending wind, an aurora storm, and the Milky Way galaxy. Extended exposures are requires to be able to capture the colors in the sky, and all our great winter photographers make use of insulated boxes for the cameras to stay somewhat warm in, many times leaving the cameras out for up to 12 hours for pantographic shots to turn into time lapses.



Looking ‘southwest’ from the NOAA ARO lab in the clean air sector, this aurora storm was possibly one of the strongest we have seen this winter. Hunter has remarked that he hasn’t seen the sun in 4 months, and he simply does not miss it! He along with everyone else taking great pictures are all in agreement, that winters here are amazing to behold and even better to capture with the camera!

Another tradition was completed in the last two weeks, that of the annual winter over crew picture. If you scroll back to the top of this post, you will see the ‘test’ shot conducted by Matt Smith, Hunter Davis, and super polie veteran Robert Schwartz. 45 members of the 2017 South Pole winter over crew assembled in the -70f windy evening, and made sure to make the memory that will last forever. Rumor is that at this weekends all-hands meeting, we will get to see the final product!





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The long stretch of night



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.

ball 2-0001.jpg


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.

LIGHT 2-0001.jpg


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.




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


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.

15 Pano-0001


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!


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!


Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL

The observation deck, as an aurora storm rolls through.


Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL


Courtesy Dr. Martin Wolf, ICL


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!

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!

Purple Mapo.jpg


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!

61 sats.jpg

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

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….


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.

17.04.12 Smoke1.JPG

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.


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.


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….


Moonbeam 1

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!


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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