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 blessed 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.

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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 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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Whew! What a month!

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So, a few weeks ago, Anthony Bourdain and his film crew spent most of the day here at our station. They are in Antarctica for around 8 days filming for an episode of his TV show that they said will air in the fall this year. You could certainly tell that the elevation was taking its toll on the whole group! They got shots at the ceremonial and geographical south poles, went into the Ice Tunnels, and of course some time with our head chef Bryan. I’m sure their time went very fast!

The above shot is when the Air Force did a practice run of an emergency air drop. If during the winter, we were having an issue and in desperate need of something, they would have to do the air drop. The C-17 can’t land here, as the ski way is simply packed snow and you need to have skis attached, which the 17 wasn’t designed for. The third picture is of our ‘dark sector’ labs. These telescopes are very sensitive in the dark winter to light, so their placement nearly a mile distant allows the projects a perfect setting.

The large 10 meter dish had a major overhaul this summer, and is ready to get back to work! It has been a long 100 day ‘summer’ season for that group, often working very long shifts attempting to get the new system up and running for winter.

As of today, Sunday February 12th, the station only has 3 more days of being open before we shift to a lower population and final preparations for 9 months alone. At this point, only 5 or 6 more winter overs are due to arrive, and we should be right around the 50 person mark. The sun should start setting some time in March, and should take almost 2 weeks to go below the horizon, the 6 months of darkness and amazing sights to be seen in the sky!

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Technical Update

So, I seem to have neglected some of the technical things that we live with on a daily basis here at South Pole. Some of the high points:

– We get 2 two minutes showers every 7 days, and 1 load of laundry. The reasons for this are simple, we only have fresh water that we melt from the ice (called the rod well, which currently is providing us with 2,000 year old water!), and then have to add minerals to make it useable by us Old Antarctic Explorers! OAE is a term for anyone who winters over, so all the ‘part time’ summer people don’t get to join this club!

– If we don’t get flights, and we haven’t gotten one for a week now (gotta love the USAF Air National Guard from NY), 100% of our food is frozen. Our galley crew does an AMAZING job with the variety and quality here! When we do get flights, they usually have freshies (fresh fruits and veg, rarely other things like dairy). In winter, as we are ‘closed’ due to the extreme cold, no freshies EVER.

-As the station is elevated and built on a 2 mile thick dome of ice, all buildings settle at their own rates due to weight differential. So this basically means issues, that as the plumber, keep me fairly busy. But, I’m not the only one. The Power Plant arch is ‘sinking’ faster then the Vertical Tower ( referred to as the beer can, but not if NSF is asking!), and thus, our stellar electrician’s Dave and Peter, are having to reroute all the feeders to the main station.

– On a weather note, on Sunday, we actually got to +.4F!!! This, sadly, did not last long! This temp was reached WITHOUT wind chill being factored in. Many have said it will get warmer before mid January. We shall see!

We have now gotten 2 of the 3 Traverse groups in. These ‘trains’ go over land from McMurdo to Pole with all of our fuel for the remainder of Summer threw the Winter. I’m trying to get the video they made, and will post it soon. It takes the group nearly 17 days to make the trek, and we are happy they are here and should join us for Christmas! The first group was delayed, and missed Thanksgiving, but should be base to Mac Town in time to celebrate!

If you have any questions or requests, feel free to comment with them!!

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Warming up!

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So, two reasons for the picture of the C-17 landing at McMurdo. First off, it’s a really awesome shot! Second, it ties in to the header! So McMurdo, that rests on Ross Island, is nearly 50 degrees warmer F then it is here at Pole. This is relevant since as of 2 days ago, it is now too warm to land C-17 aircraft on the ice there now. So this now makes the venerable LC-130 the primary workhorse here on continent. Sadly, the few that we have now are required to make the 7-8 hour flight to Christchurch to get supplies (mail, people, food, materials for projects, and other smaller items) that the C-17 could do in 5 hours. This makes flights to South Pole ( and we are under 50% of required or scheduled LC-130 landings short) even more difficult and spread out.

Tomorrow marks 62 days until ‘station close’, meaning the only people left here are those of us wintering over. We have been hovering around 150 for a few weeks, and in just 8 weeks, that number drops to below 50! I’ve been told that when the sun sets early March, it will take nearly 5 days to drop below the horizon and then the long 6 month night sets in. Winter is coming. Had to throw that in!

A video and pics are coming soon!

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Yup, Buzz was here

So, now that all the news is reporting it, it’s ok for us to talk about it. Former NASA Astronaut and second man on the Moon, Buzz Aldren was here at the South Pole yesterday. Sadly, even though he was only here as a ‘tourist’, he had to be medically evacuated to McMurdo due to health issues. I was able to assist in getting him off station, and am glad to report he did arrive in McMurdo and was later on his way to Christchurch New Zealand. I can’t say if just the altitude here was the main cause of his issues, but as I’ve stated before, you just never know how your body will react to this environment. I will pictures up from yesterday sometime tomorrow!

It has been an interesting summer thus far, and we are now at 68 days from station ‘closing’, where the only people left will be those of us crazy enough to do a full winter at Pole! Oh, by the way, three times more people have summited Mount Everest than have wintered at South Pole! Just and FYI!

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December!!!

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So the above picture is over a month old almost. Due to issues with the LC-130’s at McMurdo, we flew to South Pole in this Bassler, DC-3. There were only 12 of us allowed to go, and seeing as how I’m on Fire Team, I was one of the lucky first few to go in this way. No heat, no cabin pressurization, max altitude of 13,000 feet. We flew THROUGH the Antarctic mountains, not over them! Very cool indeed! Sadly, we were also weight restricted, so no luggage save 2 very small bags. I seem to remember it took at least a week before another flight came in with our full complement of bags. This photo is courtesy of Sous Chef Hunter Davis.

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So, Thanksgiving was held on a Saturday, allowing everyone on Station two days off, save our awesome Kitchen staff. This was my plate. Wine, and hard hot cider were served! Volunteers will run the kitchen for an upcoming weekend to give our staff a well deserved break!

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The above picture is destination Alpha. Once you arrive, this is the entry way for you to get into the station. The ‘ski way’ where all of the flights land is to the right. Every plane that lands here requires skis, as the ‘runway’ is nothing more than compacted snow and ice. Most days visibility is anywhere form 2-4 miles, with 2 days of no wind and a few more where nothing could fly in.

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