Saturday, November 30, 2013

My social calendar is full

It's Sunday, and for most people it's a day off. I tend to work Sunday as well because my time down here is so limited, but I'm definitely having a lazy day today.

Last night the documentary "Antarctica: A Year on Ice" was shown in the gym. Popcorn was available for free, but everyone had to bring their own seat. It's a fun movie centered around life at McMurdo, with some really beautiful shots of snowscapes, Aurora Australis, and other subjects, and a lot of nice detail about living and working in Antarctica.

I got almost 7 hours of sleep which counts as a luxurious night's rest at the South Pole, then puttered around (procrastinated, really) to avoid working out until I noticed that it was 11:30 and brunch ended at 12:30. So I rushed in and logged 35 minutes on the elliptical then hit the galley for a fresh-made omelet and a couple of cinnamon rolls.

After lunch, it was shower time again, my second since I arrived on the 21st. By the time I was done, it was almost 2:15 so I hustled out to the traverse camp where they were giving tours until 3PM. I'll post pictures of that tour soon when I have more satellite time.

One exciting bit of news. The traverse guys have a drill they use to figure out deep crevasses are and also to plant explosives. On Monday and Tuesday they'll be planting explosives around the old station to try and cave in some of the more treacherous areas. On Tuesday at noon they'll set off all the explosives. Woo-hoo, South Pole fireworks!

For today's pictures we have one of the flights landing on the ice runway. Note that these planes have skis instead of wheels:

Here are some passengers waiting to leave the South Pole. Note the luxurious departure lounge where passengers relax in comfort while the incoming cargo is pulled off the plane and the outgoing cargo is loaded onto the plane.

Actually the black building to the left of that group of people really is a departure lounge, but it's not much more than a box where you can hide from the wind.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Busy day

We had a busy day today out at the IceCube lab trying to run the Sweden camera (more later).

In lieu of a real post, here are a couple of pictures of the IceCube guys waiting outside the ICL before heading back to the station
Since the satellite

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving! Here's a South Pole selfie to remind you that you're thankful you're home with family instead of here with me :-)

Also, the usual shot of that famous South Pole landmark, Spoolhenge!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Water, water nowhere

The power outage that temporarily knocked the IceCube detector offline also took out the station's water pump. This is unfortunate, because it's the main source of water for the entire station. As a result, we've been on water rationing since yesterday morning, meaning no showers or laundry and paper plates/cups and plasticware in the galley. Rumors seem to indicate that it'll be fixed today.

The water is provided via a Rodriguez well (or "Rod well"), where a hole is drilled into the ice and then enough heated water is circulated in the hole to keep the station supplied with water and to keep the hole from freezing.

Coincidentally, a group from Wisconsin is drilling a new access hole into the Rod well. They'd normally be out drilling holes for the new Askaryan Radio Array, but due to the government shutdown several projects were cancelled for this season, including ARA.

That big hanging thing on the right side of the picture is the firn drill, which was built back in the IceCube drilling days to melt through the firn layer, the initial layer of snow on top of the 2 km of ice.

The firn drill is essentially a big, pointy radiator. Hot water is circulated through the copper tubing and the drill melts its way down.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Traverse pics

Busy day today. When I arrived in B2 this morning, the IceCube detector had just failed and the winter-overs were working on bringing the detector back up. I was able to help them with a couple of minor things, so avoiding those few minutes of downtime might have paid for my trip down here!

To fix the problem we went out to the ICL and on my return I took a side trip to visit the traverse vehicles. This group of vehicles starts in McMurdo and takes about a month to drive to the Pole to deliver huge bladders of fuel. I think I heard that this is the first of 3 trips this season.

Slow satellite

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. The satellite was extremely slow and it was just too painful to use.

There were a couple of significant events yesterday. The first was that the traverse made it here and are parked out by the berms. No pictures because I forgot they were arriving and was reminded after they'd already dropped off their big bladders of fuel and parked their vehicles.

The second big event was that I did laundry. This means that I have clean clothes, but it also means sweet, sweet humidity. For those who don't know, the South Pole is literally the driest place on earth because all moisture freezes out of the air. When I do laundry, I hang most of the heavier things in my room and the evaporating moisture from the clothes makes the night's sleep much more pleasant.

I'm running off now to watch them drill a hole! Pictures later, I promise!

Sunday, November 24, 2013


A couple of firsts today. I'm about to work out for the first time since leaving home. Since there's about a third less air here than at sea level, it usually takes a few days to adjust to the altitude. I haven't had any problems but I'd rather play it safe.

I'll also take my first shower since leaving McMurdo! We have plenty of solid water but it takes a lot of energy to melt and purify it, so we're allotted two 2-minute showers a week. It's Monday here, so my next shower will be on Friday. Fortunately the air is so dry that smells don't really carry very well.

In case you're curious, here are the usual shots of my room:

And here's a picture of the ceremonial Pole, taken from a station window:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving pics plus

As I wrote before, we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday night.

Before the meal, there are hors d'oeuvres is the hall outside the galley.
The meal, like almost all meals at Pole, is served cafeteria-style. There were again three different types of turkey (roasted, deep-fried, and smoked) along with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and other dishes. After dinner, there was a choice of apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream. There was plenty to eat, and tonight's meal is, of course, "Leftovers".

In that picture above, you can see almost all of the IceCube/WIPAC people currently at Pole. This is quite a contrast from when we were drilling holes and there were 30 drillers plus all the support people.

Today there was a group picture for a kid who will celebrate his 5th birthday soon. About a dozen people shuffled out to the geographic Pole marker to pose along with the banner seen below. I took a quick snapshot of the general area on the non-working side of the station. The station is to the left and you can see people making their way to the geographic Pole. On the right you can see some of the flags surrounding the ceremonial Pole and behind them in the distance is the South Pole Telescope. That dot in the middle above James Roth's head is the IceCube Lab, where all the computers are busily taking data!

Friday, November 22, 2013


The station is especially quiet today since most people are sleeping in and maybe working a half day, because the station is celebrating Thanksgiving tonight. Normally the galley serves cafeteria-style dinner from 5PM to 7:30PM but tonight's dinner will be a more formal affair with two separate seatings. I'll be at the second seating along with the rest of the IceCube/UW crew, and I'll be serving pie for the first seating.

Yesterday I knocked off a bunch of tasks that had built up while I was traveling, but I don't want to launch into anything major today so I'll likely just play with some software I've been working on in my spare time.

After from tonight's dinner, the next exciting event will be the arrival of the first traverse of the season, where a group of people drive from McMurdo to the South Pole (and various other camps along the way) to deliver fuel. They'll be arriving something in the next week.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Antarctic Travel Pics

Traveling from Christchurch to McMurdo

Traveling from McMurdo to the South Pole

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pole again

Dag and I made it to Pole on our first attempt!

The weather at Pole has been bad this week and all four scheduled flights were cancelled so some people have been twiddling their thumbs in McMurdo for quite a while. We were VERY lucky!

Once we landed, we were met at the edge of the runway by Ian, the other new winterover, and Ralf, a former winterover and current IceCube IT expert. They walked us back to the station where we got ANOTHER briefing video (much shorter than the previous videos and more focussed on dealing with the altitude) then we got our room assignments and I unpacked my carry-on bag and headed up to my main workplace, B2 Science.

It does take a few days to adjust to the altitude as I was reminded when I got winded while carrying my suitcase up the single flight of stairs. I'll sleep in tomorrow and take it easy, then on Saturday I'll kick into high gear briefly before coming to a screeching halt for the South Pole Thanksgiving meal. It's a 6 day work week at the Pole so holidays are celebrated on Saturday night and Sunday.

That's another reason I'm glad I made it to Pole. The food is usually much better here, probably because the McMurdo cooks serve 10 times as many people.

Tomorrow I'll post pictures!

One more thing...

I forgot one important detail about the first night in Christchurch. I usually try to stay up as late as possible that first night so I didn't fall asleep until 10PM. At 11:30PM I woke up to an earthquake! I learned later that it was a 4.6 quake, but at the time I just laid in bed trying to decide if I should get up or wait it out. Fortunately my brain was sluggish enough that when the quake ended after 15 seconds or so, I was able to roll over and go back to sleep.

Back in Mac

I'm back on Antarctica, on the coast at McMurdo Base.

The day after I arrived in Christchurch I went back to the CDC (clothing distribution center) for the usual 35 minute briefing on Antarctica (don't litter, don't mess with the animals, don't slip, trip, or fall, etc.) then tried on my assigned ECW (extreme cold weather) gear to make sure it all fit, then ran around town on last minute errands. I got to bed early so I'd be up and ready for the 6AM shuttle.

I made it out of my room with time to spare, but the shuttle company forgot to send a shuttle so my traveling companions and I arrived at the CDC late and the rest of the morning was much more abbreviated than normal. There's usually time for a somewhat leisurely breakfast at a nearby cafe (while wearing Carhartts and big South Pole boots) but today we went right into another briefing (don't litter, don't mess with the animals, don't slip, trip, or fall) then after a brief bathroom break we were herded onto a bus and whisked out to the plane.

There were only 10 of us flying on the plane, so we were seated in a corridor on the left side of the plane. A bunch of military were seated in a corridor on the right side of the plane. The rest of the plane was full of cargo (barrels of some substance, pallets of food, etc.) After a shortish 4.5 hour flight, we landed in Antarctica!

We took a short 10 minute van ride from the ice runway into town, sat through another briefing (don't litter, don't mess with the animals, don't slip, trip, or fall) then got our dorm assignments. I'm traveling with Dag, the new IceCube winter-over, and we were sharing a room with night shift person, so we quietly dropped our bags and ECW gear off at the room and then I showed Dag the McMurdo tourist spots until suppertime.

After supper we grabbed our computers and logged some Internet time then headed up to the Cargo building for our 7PM "bag drag", where they weighed our checked baggage, then weighed us and our carry-on bags, then stuck our checked bags on a pallet so they'll be ready to load onto the plane tomorrow.

The plane to the South Pole has been cancelled every day for the last 4 days due to bad weather, so I'm a LITTLE worried that I'll be spending more "quality" time in McMurdo. I prefer to think that after four bad days, surely they're overdue for a good day!

Sorry for the lack of pictures, my camera USB cable is packed in the suitcase which is sitting on a pallet somewhere out on the ice.

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Christchurch

I'm in Christchurch after a not-too-bad trip. The most unpleasant part was having to go through TSA security twice at LAX because I forgot that I'd filled my water bottle, so instead of having time to stretch my shoulder, I got to the gate a few minutes before boarding. Once I got on the plane I found I was seated in an exit row so I had space to stretch out and even managed to get in 6 hours of sleep during the 15 hour flight!

My flight from Sydney to Christchurch was delayed a couple of hours, but I was mainly thankful that it was the last flight being delayed since a two hour delay on an earlier flight would have caused major complications.

I took a shuttle from the airport to my hotel and was the last passenger to be dropped off so I ended up talking to the driver about the situation in Christchurch. There was a major earthquake here in February 2011 which devastated the town and even knocked down
Fallen Spire
the spire on the titular 150 year old church. Many buildings were condemned and had to be torn down, and the infrastructure (sewers, power, etc.) also must be rebuilt. Insurance companies went bankrupt after the quake, vastly complicating the town's recovery, and new buildings will need to be more earthquake-proof and will be more expensive to insure. The driver said around 12,000 people have left the town, but the worst seems to be over and new blood is slowly moving back.

One of the pleasures of going to the Pole was always visiting the vibrant Christchurch area and the current situation is a little sad, so I really hope for them that things return to normal.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I'm about a third of the way through my trip, getting ready to board the flight to Sydney. I just went through the TSA security gate behind a Buddhist monk carrying two big bags of See's Candy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

On my way!

Tomorrow I'll start another journey back to the South Pole!

The preparation for this trip has been the more stressful of any of my trips due to various delays and bureaucratic mistakes.

There's an intensive physical qualification process for traveling to Antarctica, because medical facilities are somewhat limited. I started that process late because I fractured my left wrist and right shoulder on the sixth day of RAGBRAI and wanted to make sure there weren't any problems.

I completed and submitted the initial set of tests then found out that I needed to complete a few more tests because I'm over 50. By the time those test results were submitted, the government shutdown was in effect and the 2013-2014 Antarctic season was temporarily cancelled.

After the government reopened, I figured it would take a few days for them to get everything moving. I didn't hear anything for a full week so I finally contacted them a couple of weeks before I was supposed to leave and discovered they hadn't received any of the second set of tests! The process of getting all the paperwork submitted and evaluated took long enough that I missed my initial flight date.

After a few days of indecision and a day or so of email wrangling, I was rescheduled to leave on Nov. 16 (tomorrow) and return to Madison on Dec. 20. It's not all bad news, however. My original flight would have included an 11 hour layover in Los Angeles and a 96 hour layover in Sydney, but my new flight only has a 4 hour LA layover and a 2 hour Sydney layover.

I leave tomorrow at 1:30PM and land in Christchurch, New Zealand 31 hours later. I'll let you know how the trip goes!