Archive for January, 2007

Summer camp, and the livin’ is easy…

January 19, 2007

My Jamesway bunk

There are two places to sleep at the South Pole: the main station and summer camp. I’m in summer camp and this is a panoramic photo of my ‘room’. The photo distorts the size of the space, which is about 7 ft square. It’s basically a place to sleep, though there is wireless connectivity there. I’m inside Jamesway J-9:

Jamesway J-9

Quonset hut, is what others might call this. That section sticking out to the right (mid-way down the Jamesway) is the furnace which runs continuously heating the place. The temperature inside varies +-8F averaging at about 70F which means it can actually get quite warm in there. Behind and to the left of this photo, about 50ft away are the bathrooms. Walking over there is always a contest with yourself: can I make it there and back without my jacket, gloves or goggles? Today was a milestone for me: jeans and a hooded sweatshirt – no problem. -16F can be withstood for 20sec at a time – especially without much wind and in this dry air. And this is from someone who has only been here for a week – I saw a woman someone carrying supplies between the buildings the other day in a sleeveless t-shirt.

Living in the main station on the other hand is much nicer, but apparently to stay there one needs more “ice time” or seniority on their project than I.  I do, though, work in the main station most of the day. You can always spot those people though – walking around with wet hair, flip-flops and a smug grin.

95 years ago today

January 18, 2007

Scott at Pole with Amundsen’s Tent

From an email sent today to all at pole right now:

It was 95 years ago today 1/17/12 that Scott arrived at 90 South. Upon seeing Amundsen’s tent (attached picture) his words: “The Pole….Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority….Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it”

They didn’t make it home.

From what I understand of the first expeditions to the South Pole: Shackleton didn’t make it but made it back with all his men alive. Scott made it here, not first, but he and his team all died on the way back. Amundsen made it here first and made it back. Scott didn’t have margins in his planing and used ponies and themselves for hauling gear.  Amundsen used sled dogs he learned to handle preparing for going to the North Pole. The dogs were a much better choice.

Check out that tent.  I’ll post later a photo and description of where I’m sleeping.  While it is pretty basic, it’s a damn 5-star hotel in comparison to what those guys slept in.

Yes, the pole…

January 17, 2007

South Pole Station

I’ve been here a few days now, staying inside most of the time adjusting to the altitude and drinking lots of water (it is extremely dry here). In order to stay in sync with the satellite availability I’ve shifted my sleeping schedule to be awake during those times -meaning I’m swapping am and pm. That is a bit easier to do when the sun never sets, it just circles around us counterclockwise. Getting sleepy? Go outside. If the cold doesn’t wake you up the bright sunshine will.

Yesterday, I walked out to the ICL (IceCube Counting Lab) and took this photo looking back towards the main station. The ICL is where all the computers are for the IceCube project (the reason I’m here). The visibility for the last few days was very poor (perhaps 20 ft) and I didn’t like the idea of walking outside and getting lost 100ft from a building. Anyway, the photo above shows (from right to left): the new main station, the dome, and on the far left the flags surrounding the ceremonial pole.

The main station is new and getting it’s final touches done to it. Once all that siding is in place it is going to look pretty damn cool, though I don’t think they will finish it this summer season. The dome has been there since the 70’s and is scheduled to be taken down, and I hear possibly re-constructed in California somewhere. I’m tempted to go over there and scratch a mark into it and then be able to point it out sometime when at home.

Destination Zulu

January 16, 2007

Weather for South Pole Station
The date is 01-14-2007 at 3:41 AM

-21.9 C -7.4 F

-36.8 C -34.2 F

22.2 kts Grid 325

686.5 mb (10384 ft)

A bit windy, but this is actually quite warm for the pole.

Initially the first thing that hits you when you get off the plane at the pole (assuming you turned right and not left into the running propellers of the C-130) is the cold. You’ve got on your ECW so the cold isn’t so bad. What really takes it’s toll on you is the thin air. The natural elevation of the pole is just over 9 thousand feet (almost all of it ice), but because the air is thinner at the poles (on a spinning planet) what you experience is more like 10+ thousand feet. The barometric pressure, tells the story – here the scroll shows it is physiologically 10,384 feet. After climbing the two flights of stairs up to the main station, where it is warm, you are sucking air and your head is spinning. The advice they give to all is to take it easy for a few days. This is good advice to follow because your brain is swelling due to the thin air and you are going to be stupid for a few days.

Even further south

January 16, 2007

One day in McMurdo then onto another flight, still further south, this time to the pole.

C-130 in McMurdo destined for South Pole

This time on a Hercules C-130. These are much-loved smaller, slower, louder, older versions of the C-17 (kind of) – but they can land at the South Pole with it’s smaller runway. This was a 3-hour flight which “double boomeranged” meaning we turned around twice in air. When the load master (the closest thing to a flight-attendant you’ll find on a military cargo flight (where you are the cargo)) came on the speaker (which had to be extremely loud to be heard over the engines) to say that we were turning around due to a small mechanical problem, I didn’t believe him. He was very friendly when we boarded, joking that we were going back to Christchurch – a 9 hour flight on a C-130. Then I felt the plan banking and thought, ok he’s serious, I guess I’ll get to see more of McMurdo. No more than 2 minutes later he came back on and said that “the plane had fixed itself” and we were still going to the pole.

C-130 over Antarctica

I got to go up into the cockpit again during this flight.  Amazing experience, it’s like you are floating stationary above the earth as it slowly rolls under you.

McMurdo Station, Antarctica

January 16, 2007

C-17 in McMurdo

Here is the C-17 which took me from Christchurch, NZ to McMurdo station in Antarctica. We landed at Pegasus field which is out on the frozen sea ice of the Ross Sea. The flight was amazing, got to go up into the cockpit and talk to the pilots. The plane is so loud that they gave me headphones with a mic to talk to them, it was like I was on the radio or some such. They asked me all about Neutrinos and the IceCube project. I did my best all the while taking photos and staring out the windows down at the sea ice of the Southern Ocean and then the mountains of Antarctica.

McMurdo station itself isn’t much to speak of, lots of buildings, dirt (nothing green except the buildings at New Zealand’s nearby Scott’s base). There are, I think, a little over one thousand people at McMurdo station which is the main entry point to Antarctica for the US programs.

Scott’s Point, Hut and the Ross Sea

McMurdo is surrounded by some amazing mountains and scenery, though. This is Scott’s Point as seen from McMurdo looking out to the Ross Sea. You can barely make it out in this photo, but you can also see Scott’s Hut – where many of the early Antarctic expeditions were staged.

Christchurch, south

January 15, 2007

Well, I’ve made it safe and sound all the way to the south pole, so I’ve got some catching up to do here…

On the 11th, I went to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) where we (all of us who are heading south to Antarctica) are issued two (three for those wintering over) tote bags full of ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing. Basically layers of fleece, windbreaker pants/jacket and “Big Red” – a large Canadian goose down jacket. Possibly the warmest jacket mankind has ever known. We grantees get the red ones, Raytheon employees get green or brown ones depending on their job. A grantee is a scientist ‘granted’ the right to go to Antarctica as opposed to employees of RPSC (Raytheon Polar Service Company). Raytheon has the contract with the NSF (National Science Foundation) and the USAP (United States Antarctic Program) to manage all of the logistics, personnel and US stations in Antarctica. Enough acronyms for you?

The next day started early, I was back at the CDC at 5:30am to ‘suit up’ in my ECW for the flight to McMurdo station on the coast of Antarctica. Fortunately, we flew in a C-17 which makes it a 5 hour flight rather than the 8 hour flight on a C-130.

More details and photos when I both get the chance and the satellites are up..

Flying forward in time

January 10, 2007
AA     #602:  1hr 15min
  SFO Jan  8 4:50pm -> LAX Jan  8  6:05pm
Qantas #26:  12hr 30min
  LAX Jan  8 8:30pm -> AKL Jan 10  6:00am
Qantas #4115: 1hr 20min
  AKL Jan 10 9:00am -> CHC Jan 10 10:20am

This has got to be the best alibi ever.

“Alright Beattie, we know it was you! Where were you on the night of Jan 9th 2007?”

“Sorry, that day didn’t exist for me.”

On the other hand, it is now Weds afternoon and the last time I went to bed was Sunday night. Two double-lattes and walking around the square in Christchurch is required for staying awake for dinner (at least). Just remember to look to the right when crossing the street (they drive on the wrong side of the street here).

Prep for going to the South Pole

January 7, 2007

Ok, to keep all you who are interested in my adventure to the bottom of the Earth – on the edge of your keyboards with my witty repartee, photos and maybe a video or two – here it is: the promised blog.

I’m been busy packing and preparing all weekend, so this post is pretty much a place-holder. I’ll post more details as I have time, but for now here’s some links with interesting info about Antarctica, the South Pole and the IceCube project I’m working on.

I leave tomorrow…