Thursday, December 29, 2011

Race Around the World

Every year, as part of a Christmas tradition, the South Pole hosts the Race Around the World, an appropriately named race that takes you in a wide loop around the geographic South Pole.

This year, the course was 2.3 miles long and it took runners, bikers, walkers, skiers and jugglers out to the dark sector (ie, the telescope section) and then over to the tourist camp and back. Though the temperature started out a little warmer at -1F, it was an epic day of low visibility, 20 knot winds and snow drifts. No blue sky and sunshine this year. This would maybe scare some people away but not Polies. We still got out there, a lot of us in costume, and gave it our best shot. I personally didn't do that great with a time of 34 minutes as I had a hard time breathing when running into the wind and snow drifts made my steps difficult. But no matter, I had such a great time just being out there.

Station was barely visible from the Dark Sector

Not only are there runners in this race, but there are also skiers...

and bikers...
(photo courtesy of Kris)

and vehicles pulling vehicles
(photo courtesy of Kris)

(photo courtesy of Kris)

Sidney and I celebrating our completion of the race
(photo courtesy of Kris)

Post-race hero shot with everything askew and snow covered legs

Mr. Banana (aka Kris), the photographer

And finally, later that night, eating a well deserved Christmas dinner. Lobster = Yumm

Monday, December 19, 2011


Every year during the austral summer, the South Pole inevitably receives an influx of tourists. Many fly or ski in, some kite ski and some even drive.

Because of the Centennial, more tourists were expected this year than normal, so in cooperation with the major tour company, a tourist camp, a visitor center and a store were set up away from station. Snow roads were made and signs were set in place.

One night last week, my friends and I walked out to explore this tourist camp turned tent city. As the tourists are on Chilean time (crazy such a huge time difference exists with a camp less than a mile away), they were all asleep and we could even hear snoring from one of the tents. We kept quiet, took some pictures and eventually made our way back to station.

A new "Welcome" sign

The camping area seen off in the distance

It was a really nice, sunny day for a walk

My favorite picture of Jon, looking like a South Pole Sasquatch as he went off-road to make his own tracks

The camping area up close

I'd love to go for a ride in this! So pretty and shiny!

Tent city

Heading back home with Rhiannon chillin' and a view of the Visitor Center and Store

Saturday, December 17, 2011

South Pole Centennial

One hundred years ago, with "courage, determination and endurance, and readiness to meet new challenges", Roald Amundsen and his brave team were the first humans to ever step foot on the South Pole. And this past week Polies, a head of state and tourists alike all celebrated the centennial of this historic moment. A ceremony was held outside at the Pole where all were invited, followed by a special dinner and reception for the Prime Minister and his guests. I was fortunate enough to get to work at the reception and mingle with many Norwegians who skied part or all of the journey from the coast, some with kites and some without. I of course have a lot of admiration for someone who can set off on a journey that will take them across this continent of snow and ice.

The day before the Centennial, we took this awesome group shot with the Prime Minister. A copy will hang in the station for years to come

The prime minister and I

The day of the ceremony, Dave and I tested the audio and video feed back to the TV control station in Norway for an hour and had an impromptu South Pole talk show, interviewing any willing passerby

Dave manning the camera for the ceremony

Zondra modified her flute so she could play the Norwegian national anthem in -25 F. She killed it!

The Prime Minister or Norway giving a momentous speech (a transcript is below and is worth reading!)

And then he unveiled a bust of Amundsen made of ice

My friend, Sidney, with the Prime Minister and the amazing painting she did in honor of the event

Wine glasses just waiting for the reception to begin

Transcript of the Prime Minister of Norway's Centennial Speech at the South Pole, December 14, 2011

Dear friends,
Exactly one hundred years ago, on the 14th of December 1911,
Five brave Norwegians led by Roald Amundsen were the first people to reach the South Pole.
We are here today to honour these five men.
We are here to celebrate one of the most outstanding achievements of mankind.
And we are here to highlight the importance of this cold continent for the warming of the globe.
14th of December 1911 was a proud day for Norway.
A young nation that had gained its full independence only six years earlier.
The polar expeditions of Roald Amundsen helped to form our new national identity.
And the qualities that enabled Amundsen, Hassel, Bjaaland, Hansen and Wisting to reach the South Pole, were precisely those that the young nation wanted to be recognised by:
Courage, determination and endurance, and readiness to meet new challenges.

Today is also the time to pay tribute to the bravery of Robert Scott and his men.
Scott and his team paid the ultimate price. But their names will forever be inscribed in Polar history.
They will always be remembered for their courage and determination in reaching one of the most unhospitable places on earth.
When Amundsen reached the Pole the team put up its tent, and they named the camp “Polheim” – Home at the Pole.
Today the South Pole is “home” for many of you who are celebrating with us today.
More than 200 people have their daily work here at the Amundsen-Scott Base during the summer season.
I would like to thank you and the US National Science Foundation for receiving us here with such warm hospitality in a frozen environment.

Some of you have experienced the hardship of skiing to the Pole.
You have seen the beauty and the fascination of the Antarctic wilderness.
And you have learned how challenging and unpredictable this frozen continent can be.
Today, Antarctica is a continent of international cooperation, regulated by a well-functioning Antarctic Treaty, where peace and stability, environmental protection and international scientific research, are at the heart of our joint efforts.
Researchers from all over the world are trying to discover the secrets of this vast continent.
The Norwegian Troll Station is at the forefront of Norwegian research in Antarctica.
Norway and the United States have a long history of scientific cooperation.
The US – Norwegian Antarctic Scientific Traverse in 2007 made important findings. The Antarctic continent has been changing more rapidly in recent years than at any time in the past 800 years.
Some of the most rapid and large-scale impacts of climate change are first being seen in the polar regions.
The loss of ice in Antarctica can have dramatic global effects.
It is our common responsibility to save this planet for future generations.
Roald Amundsen, Robert Scott and their men were prepared to make an extraordinary effort in order to reach their ambitious goals.
We need to be prepared to do the same.
That is the best way to honour a century of science and exploration at the South Pole.
Thank you.

To mark the historic achievements a hundred years ago, it is now my privilege to unveil this bust of Roald Amundsen here at the South Pole, made by the Norwegian artist Håkon Anton Fagerås.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Centennial Preparations

The 100 year anniversary of human exploration at the South Pole is tomorrow and the station is abuzz with activity trying to get everything ready for the big day!

The Prime Minister of Norway arrived yesterday and tomorrow he will be giving a speech at the Pole, as well as hosting a reception for the Norwegians that skied in from the coast. Everyone on station will be having a special dinner and I'm sure toasts will abound. There will also be an attempt to have a live broadcast back to Norway the day after tomorrow in the early AM.

In IT, we've been doing some preparations over the past couple of weeks, including running cables, setting up computers and audio equipment in remote buildings and conducting lots of testing. This is happily not your ordinary job!

Running ethernet and power from in under the station... the "Centennial Shack" which will house equipment for the Prime Minister of Norway's live broadcast

Using the South Pole shuttle van to move equipment to the new (albeit temporary) Centennial Shack and the Visitor Center

This Visitor Center was constructed for the hundreds of tourists that are expected to arrive

Setting up computers so tourists can watch a documentary about the South Pole

A sweet little stove to help warm the tourists

In the Centennial Shack, Daniel getting the indoor equipment set up for our outdoor audio tests

Loving the ice crystals on the window of the Centennial Shack

Placing speakers into their enclosures. Once on, these speakers actually stayed warm in -26F temps!

A post-South Pole singing debut picture after I serenaded Rhiannon with Moon River as part of our audio tests

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

South Pole Traverse

Every austral summer for the past few years, a caravan of tractors pulling fuel and living modules has made it's way over land from McMurdo to the South Pole. The traverse takes a little over a thousand miles and requires crossing the shear zone (a crevasse-laden area where two ice sheets collide), climbing the Leverett glacier to get up on the polar plateau and making its way over sastrugis in what the traversers maybe not so affectionately call Sastrugi National Park. The purpose of this seemingly epic traverse is to bring fuel to the South Pole and carry what trash they can back. While an LC-130 Hercules flight can also bring fuel, the planes burn 2 gallons for every gallon they bring whereas the traverse only burns 1 gallon for every gallon they haul across the land. It's a much more efficient means.

This year, 10 hardy souls made the trip from McMurdo to Pole in 31 days, imploding one crevasse in the shear zone along the way. They didn't bring as much fuel as in years past as their mission this year is to travel on to AGAP, an abondoned field camp, and bring back any items left behind.

These pretty red tractors do all of the hauling

One of the living modules on skis

And the fuel bladders that get carried behind


That's tight quarters for 4 people

The silver container is where snow is shoveled so it can be melted for water

Julian, our traverse guide, and Keith, a Pole electrician, looking at generators in the generator module, which also houses the bathroom

Waste has got to go somewhere and that's an incinerator toilet. All waste gets carried back for processing and the person who deals with it does not have to cook. Fair trade?

The traverse as seen from afar, including more equipment and modules previously unmentioned, such as a module for food and a module for tools and spare parts

And in my mind as well. I would love to do this one day!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Centennial Approaches

Almost 100 years ago, humans first stepped foot on the South Pole and in 2 weeks, those of us here at 90° South will celebrate the 100 year anniversary of this heroic feat. As such, preparations are well under way for the celebrations. A visitors center is being set up for the hundreds of tourists that are expected to arrive and the station staff is getting things in order for the Prime Minister of Norway's visit.

For a bit of Antarctic history, below are notes from Amundsen's and Scott's journals from December 1st, 1911 as these true Antarctic explorers raced to the Pole. Amundsen and his team arrived first on December 14th, 1911 and returned safely. Scott arrived on January 17th, 1912 and he and his whole team perished on the return journey.

Notes from Amundsen:
“On December 1 we left the glacier in high spirits. It was cut up by innumerable crevasses and holes. We were now at a height of 9,370 feet. In the mist and driving snow it looked as if we had a frozen lake before us; but it proved to be a sloping plateau of ice, full of small blocks of ice. Our walk across this frozen lake was not pleasant. The ground under our feet was evidently hollow, and it sounded as if we were walking on empty barrels. First a man fell through, then a couple of dogs; but they got up again all right. We could not, of course, use our ski on this smooth-polished ice, but we got on fairly well with the sledges. We called this place the Devil's Ballroom. This part of our march was the most unpleasant of the whole trip.”

Notes from Scott:
"Friday, December 1.—Camp 27. Lat. 82° 47'.
The ponies are tiring pretty rapidly. It is a question of days with all except Nobby. Yet they are outlasting the forage, and to-night against some opinion I decided Christopher must go. He has been shot; less regret goes with him than the others, in remembrance of all the trouble he gave at the outset, and the unsatisfactory way he has gone of late. Here we leave a depôt [31] so that no extra weight is brought on the other ponies; in fact there is a slight diminution. Three more marches ought to bring us through. With the seven crocks and the dog teams we must get through I think. The men alone ought not to have heavy loads on the surface, which is extremely trying.
Nobby was tried in snowshoes this morning, and came along splendidly on them for about four miles, then the wretched affairs racked and had to be taken off. There is no doubt that these snowshoes are the thing for ponies, and had ours been able to use them from the beginning they would have been very different in appearance at this moment. I think the sight of land has helped the animals, but not much. We started in bright warm sunshine and with the mountains wonderfully clear on our right hand, but towards the end of the march clouds worked up from the east and a thin broken cumulo-stratus now overspreads the sky, leaving the land still visible but dull."