Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

From the South Pole IT Team

My first time out without a parka (-44 degrees). You can see the telescope in between Larry and Bobko.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Plane Gives Birth…to a Fire Truck

The first Herc (short for Hercules or LC130) of the season flew in tonight. On it was the South Pole fire truck. The truck is flown in every year in the summer and back out in the winter since they have no place to store it away from the harsh environment. As the truck emerged from the back, it really did look like the plane was giving birth.

The plane didn’t stay long. As soon as the truck was unloaded, they loaded up some cargo and approximately 30 winterovers to go home, including Dave, the cool guy that I’m replacing here on the ice. It was a short turnover but I think I learned enough that I feel pretty good about my upcoming job.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Weather Balloons - Don't Mistake Them for UFO's

Every day at 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. New Zealand Time, the meteorology team releases a balloon into the atmosphere to measure pressure, temperature, wind, and humidity. Today, I got to go with the met team and release that balloon.

The balloon itself is filled with helium until it can lift a 500 gram weight. While the balloon is being filled, the met team prepares the module that is attached to the balloon to record and transmit data. This preparation consists of syncing it to a computer and activating the battery for 4 minutes with water. Apparently, they used to use 9 volt batteries but the battery would die way to early. Once the balloon is released, the antanae on the module connects to 12 satellites to report back data every 2 seconds.

I should mention that in winter they only release one balloon per day. However, with the extra flight activity in the summer, they release two per day to get more current and accurate readings.

Click here for some photos.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yay!!!! I’m at the South Pole!!

After being delayed 4+ days (even twice this morning), I have finally arrived and settled into my ultimate destination. I even have my own small room (I was sharing a room at McMurdo with 5 others). All I can say is that the South Pole is super cool, and I love the station. The community here is much smaller and more tight-knit. People even came out to greet us and help with our bags when we arrived…granted, most of them haven’t seen anyone new in approximately 8 months since they wintered-over, but it was all good

The flight here was very different than anything I’ve flown before, as you will see by the pictures. We flew in on a Basler that only went up to a cruising altitude of 17,000 feet. Since this flight has windows, we definitely had some very good mountainous views. However, since the windows would constantly freeze up, I had to use my drivers license to scrape it clean. The other interesting thing about the flight is that there was oxygen available for our use. Due to using the oxygen, I definitely felt good when I got off the plane. However, the altitude may be affecting me a little tonight as I run out of breath just climbing stairs, I have a minor headache and my head feels a little floaty. Even though, the elevation here is almost 10,000 feet, the atmospheric pressure causes it to feel like 12,000. I’m not taking Diomox so I’ve been sucking down the water so I don’t get dehydrated. I should also mention that if you read the previous blog, “Giving Myself Up to Science”, then it will make sense when I tell you that I’ll be wearing the sleep vest tonight since it’s my first night here.

The season here should be very busy as the station will be at capacity. I’ve heard upon arriving that the Today show is coming in November. Also, James Cameron, Buzz Aldrin, and Steve Wozniak will be showing up sometime after driving here in fuel-celled hummers (click here to see article). Not to mention, the station dedication in January that will have politicians flying in from DC (though they won’t say exactly who). In the meantime, I start my first day of real work tomorrow. I have 4 days to learn everything I need to know from the sys admin that wintered-over.

Click here for some photos

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cape Evans+Penguin Crossing=Love

Why did the penguin cross the road?
To get to the side that had the iceberg.
OK. That wasn't funny because it wasn't a joke. It was true. I got to see a true penguin crossing today.
Read below for more details...

So our Basler flight to the pole was delayed again today due to weather. Since it's Sunday, the official day off for most people, an outing was set up for the polies out to Cape Evans to visit Scott's Hut (built in 1910). During the 13 mile trek, we encountered seals and more amazingly, Emperor Penguins!! People have been down to Antarctica several, several times and have never seen an Emperor Penguin. This was a very lucky event for a first-timer such as myself.

The rule regarding wildlife is to not get too close. If you notice that the animal is reacting to your presence, then back off. However, with penguins, the rule still applies, but due to their inquisitive, unafraid nature it is okay if they approach or come close to you. Just don't interfere. In this case, we got down on our knees or our bellies on the road, and the penguins came pretty close as they crossed the road in between our vehicles. It was so awesome! I've always wanted to see a penguin in the wild and to see Emperors this close was a bonus.

After the penguins had meandered off, we continued on our trek to Cape Evans. I should mention that there were two groups of 17 riding in the back of 2 Deltas. Since the back of a Delta is unheated, it was pretty cold. I had accumulated ice in my water bottle by the time we returned. However, they don't give us our ECW gear for nothing so we wore it the whole way there and back. It was decently warm...enough so that I was able to take a nap on the way back (or was that really hypothermia setting in).

Once we got to the hut, the tour was really neat. Lots of stuff from almost a century ago that has been pretty well reserved. Look close at the pictures for all the cool stuff laying around. For some history, check out this link's_Hut

Click here for some photos

McMurdo Satellites

To communicate with the outside world, McMurdo station uses the satellites seen in this picture. However, due to Mt. Erebus' gigantic presence, the satellites cannot communicate directly with the satellites in space. Therefore, they communicate with satellites on Black Island that then send the signal to space.

Please note, this is a very low level explanation that was given on a tour of McMurdo. I just thought it was interesting. Since I am not staying here, there has been no official, more in-depth, IT training for me. In fact, I've been told that they weren't going to task me with anything and to enjoy my short stay here as much as possible.

Random McMurdo Pictures

So this may or may not be my last night in McMurdo. I was supposed to fly out to the pole this morning, but there was a 24 hour weather delay. If I do go out tomorrow, then these are probably my last pics from McMurdo. They are all random and didn't really warrant a separate blog. However, as some weather has moved in and it's snowing(!!), there may be another delay. If there is, then I'll stay in McMurdo tomorrow and go on a field trip to Cape Evans (meaning more pics). :)

Click here for some photos

Friday, October 19, 2007

Observation Hill Summit Hike

After a yoga class I went to last night, the wind died down so I rounded up a couple of people to do the Observation Hill Summit with me. I believe it's 1.5 miles round-trip with a 750' elevation gain. It was a lot of fun...especially sliding most of the way back down.

Click here for some photos

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bag Drag...It's Kind of a Drag

I'm scheduled to leave McMurdo station tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 8:00 a.m.! We're flying on a Basler...a plane that puts you in mind of an Indiana Jones transport option. Baslers can fly in a couple of degrees colder weather than the standard Hercules, but it's real advantage is that it can fly in less visibility. Instead of going over mountains, we're going through them. Also, it has windows! Flight time will be about 4 hours. It should be a really cool flight. However, as it's a smaller plane, there are more weight restrictions. As such, I had to give up all my luggage except for a carry-on today at the Bag Drag. To explain the bag drag (which is basically just toting your luggage all over the place), you bring all your luggage including carry-on to Building 140. With your ecw gear on, everything gets weighed and then you take your carry-on back to your room. The checked luggage will then be shipped down on a Hercules in a couple of weeks. Needless to say, a bunch of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, books, Eric's cool printouts, and some electronics got left behind. I guess that leaves me something to look forward to.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention there's no bathroom on the Basler. Well, there's a bucket and curtain if that counts, but my current and long-term plan will be to hold it.

So my new motto is "less is more" and I've traded a bathroom for windows!!

Giving Myself Up to Science

I have volunteered to participate in a scientific study here in Antarctica. The Mayo Clinic is trying to find a scientific basis for altitude sickness. Among other things like age and fitness level, they are trying to determine if some people are genetically predisposed to getting it. They ask people coming through McMurdo on their way to the pole to participate. You can do as much or as little as you want, but the basic test consists of a blood draw, some breathing tests, and some other stats taken here and then again at the pole pretty soon after arrival. You can also choose to wear an armband that records heartrate, calories burned, steps taken, etc. for two days here, on the plane, and then at pole. I decided to do the sleep vest that monitors you while you are sleeping. I did this last night here, and I'll do it again the night I arrive at the pole or the night after...not sure which but they'll tell me. The results won't probably won't be concluded for years, but if they do find a link or a cause, it will be cool to have participated in the research.

Fuel and Power

On a tour of McMurdo yesterday, I was informed by our guide that the program purchases around 8 to 9 million gallons of fuel every year for the Antarctic operations. The top user of fuel is aircraft, with the power plant at McMurdo being second, and the South Pole station coming in at third. This amount also goes to supply the kiwis and their station, Scott Base, with their needed fuel too. In McMurdo, the fuel is stored in the large, round containers seen in the picture.

For the South Pole, the fuel has to be flown in. However, they have been testing out driving fuel to the South Pole instead. If this was to become a normal part of operation, then they could get more fuel there over land than air. They are testing it again this year. Brad, an Antarctic veteran who seems to know everyone, is one of the drivers. They will be driving tractors with a loads up to 100,000 pounds each from McMurdo to the South Pole in 40+ days. One of the tractors will be hauling their housing with them. They'll be able to go around 7-9 mph for the duration of the trip. However, if the trail was groomed, as it may be in future years, they could go up to speeds of 15 mph. While driving across, they'll have a sensor hanging out of the front of the tractor scanning for thin ice/crevasses, and they'll have a person dedicated to watching the display while they are driving along. Apparently, this is a boring but necessary job.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Antarctic Hiking

Yesterday, after lunch, I took my first Antarctic hike. Mary (another polie) and I went for a short hike to Hut Point. The trail is 1.4 miles and ends at a hut that was built in 1902 by Robert Falcon Scott. The hut was used for storage and emergency shelter by Scott’s crew and also used by Shackleton. You can’t go into the hut to look at all the old stuff left behind unless it’s a guided tour. I hope to be able to do that, but it just depends on timing.

Click here for some photos

Then, since I can never get enough, a group of 4 of us went and did the loop around Observation Hill after dinner. Observation Hill is a place I was told where early adventurers would climb to look for or signal ships. Also, there is a cross monument close to the top that has the names of Robert Falcon Scott’s party that perished. The loop was around 2.7 miles, and the views were amazing.

Click here for some photos

A note on hiking at McMurdo…
There are several hikes to do at or around McMurdo station. Some of the closer hikes you can do solo without checking out radios from the firehouse. There are longer hikes that require a foot plan to be filed, radios to be checked out and at least two people to do. Some of these hikes also have emergency phones and shelters along the routes. If you file a foot plan for one of these longer hikes, and you don’t return by the time you say, then they will definitely page a bunch of people and send someone out after you if they can’t get you on radio. Also, whether you are hiking close or further away, you are NOT supposed to stray from the flags that mark the trail. Some of the trails have crevasses that are pretty close along with other unforeseen dangers.

Ice Runways

So I found out the C17 I flew in on two days ago lands a on sea ice runway! Later in the season, after some dethawing, they’ll have to move the airfield to the Pegasus runway which is located on a blue ice glacier Also later in the season, barges will be able to come right up to McMurdo, with the initial help of a Swedish ice breaker. They will tie up to a pier made of ice that has been reinforced with steel beams.

Click here for some photos

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Journey of a Lifetime

Somewhere around a week ago, I set out for Antarctica and have finally arrived! After two days in Denver for boring orientation and safety training, we (meaning myself and other Antarctica bound folks) left out for Christchurch, New Zealand, the staging point for all flights to Antarctica. The travel itself was good with only minor delays. Once at Christchurch, I did a little sightseeing, lots of eating, and was issued my extreme weather gear. We were all there for two nights in total. For sightseeing, I had the pleasure to meander through the botanical gardens located close to downtown. I took my time there, knowing it would be the last time I saw a tree or grass or flowers for 4+ months. In the evenings, I went and met others at the "standard" Antarctica hangout bar, Dux de Lux, where the brewmaster, Paulie (also from Portland, OR), meets almost everyone going down to the ice. From there, people would decide what to do and where to go for dinner. The first night, I went to Two Fat Indians and the second night, I went to Ann's Thai. Hmmm...yumm!

The day after arrival in New Zealand, it was time to go get our gear. We get some options (like gloves/mittens and wind bibs/carhart bibs) and multiples of stuff like socks and base layers. The gear that I will normally be wearing when outside weighs a total of 18 lbs! Once that was settled, all that was left to do was pack my boomerang bag (a small bag that you will get back if the plane gets close to Antarctica and has to turn around due to weather), enjoy some more company and food, and turn in early as it was an early morning. We reported to the clothing depot center this morning at 6:00 a.m., changed our clothes for the flight, turned in our checked baggage, had breakfast, and then had a briefing before departure. We are required to wear/have on our person six items for the flight...goggles, balaclava, parka, boots, gloves, wind/carhart pants. The flight itself was like nothing I've flown before. First, I should mention that I flew on a C17 military plane that just so happened to be carrying more cargo than people. There are no windows, no flight attendants, and it's always a good idea to wear the earplugs they give you. The flight itself, though, was very nice, and they were cool enough let you come upstairs to the cockpit for views and pictures.

Arrival in Antarctica was amazing. Descending the stairs on the plane and stepping onto the sea ice for the first time is something I'll never forget. Somehow I managed not to cry. Yay!

You can check out pictures from Christchurch here: Click here for some photos

You can check out photos from my amazing, tiring, overwhelming but in a good way day here:
Click here for some photos