Tuesday, February 23, 2010


OK, by popular demand are a bunch of links to info about projects I support down here. In a nutshell, I operate and maintain these projects that aren't big enough or don't have enough funding to deploy dedicated personnel on-site year-round. When things go wrong, I am the projects' eyes, ears, and hands at Pole to take care of troubleshooting and get the instruments back online.

A-111-S Pole research & instruments:

Dartmouth space physics/science programs

Univ. New Hampshire ELF Magnetometer

Stanford VLF studies

University of Florida ELF/VLF lightning studies

The NSF Ultraviolet Monitoring Network
UV Monitoring

The CosRay neutron detectors

Augsburg search coil magnetometer

Univ. of Nagoya All-Sky Imagers at Pole

UNAVCO geophysical/seismic research

IRIS/PASSCAL geophysical programs

In addition to this gig as a Research Associate (a.k.a. science tech) I'm also the fire brigade leader, a dishwasher (doing my turn today, in addition to all my science checks), a housekeeper (cleaned the summer camp gym-a total sty-yesterday and do weekly "house mouse" cleaning duties), a fuel technician (helped roll up the fuel line from the flight deck to the fuel arch yesterday, too), and whatever it is that needs to happen around station. Our contracts have the provision "Other duties as assigned", which makes it kosher to do whatever is necessary around station, no matter how many hours it ends up putting on your time card. We're contracted to 54 hours of work per week, 6 days per week, but I work every day and average about 85 hours per week. Unfortunately, that's just salary and there's no overtime pay or comp time! Simply put, I have no lack of things to keep me occupied while at Pole.

The sun is getting lower and the shadows longer, though we haven't had direct sunshine in a few days due to some fairly thick overcast. The temperature got back up into the -20s F yesterday, but once these insulating clouds disperse the temperature will probably plummet.

"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge."
~Carl Sagan

"I said. 'I always tend to assume there's an infinite amount of money out there.' "Might as well be," Arsibalt said, "but most of it gets spent on pornography, sugar water, and bombs. There is only so much that can be scraped together for particle accelerators."
~Neal Stephenson, "Anathem"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

1 wk. down

Well, though it has only been one week since we've closed, those few days have been so jam-packed with work that it seems like a long time since the summer folks departed. I've had to deal with a number of pretty serious break-downs of my science projects, which has made for some rather hectic days in the lab.

The sun is, of course, lower, but it by no means getting dark yet. The sun won't set for another month or so, and even then we'll have several weeks of twilight as we progress towards full night. The temperature is lingering in the low -40s to -50s F, which feels colder than summer, but will feel pretty warm in a few months' time.

Last weekend, upon closing, we got a bunch of fresh food. There was a pretty big effort on the part of (most of) the station to get that all carried inside and stored. Included was a rather impressive amount of pre-oiled eggs. The oiling process helps preserve the eggs throughout the duration of the winter. In "08 we had to oil the eggs by hand, which made for a fun little social event, but this year we've been spared that tasking.

With only 47 people here now, it definitely is quiet. Mealtimes are surprisingly quiet, too. It is no surprise why it is so jarring an experience to have planeloads of new people show up and fill up the place after such an extended period of quietude. I like the quiet, especially after the frenetic conclusion to the season.

So, as the next week rolls on, we'll continue to transition the station to its winter mode. Some outbuildings will be sealed and go cold. Flag lines are going up along the main thoroughfares. The fuel line between the flight deck and the fuel arch will be wrapped up and put into storage. Most of the laundry from the departed summer folks appears to already have been done. It's definitely a busy time before the (hopefully) more sedate routine of winter kicks in. I just hope my projects behave themselves and work properly for a little while before the next major breakdown occurs.

All in all, things are fine here. It's good to be employed and back in this bizarre, alien place that feels so much like home.

“Humankind periodically goes through a speedup of its affairs, thereby experiencing the race between the renewable vitality of the living and the beckoning vitiation of decadence. In this periodic race, any pause becomes luxury. Only then can one reflect that all is permitted; all is possible.”
~Frank Herbert (The Apocrypha of Muad'Dib)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

So it begins

Yesterday was pretty quiet, as is this morning, the first of many work days for most people for the next 9 months. We followed the dogmatic rite of watching "The Thing" (John Carpenter's version) last night in the gymnasium. I've always loved that movie, and still think the grossest part is when the doc is giving the paddles to the chunky guy that's not breathing and then... Well, I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it.

I'm mostly moved out of my room in the A4 berthing wing and into my room in the A1 berthing wing. If the Dome still were there I'd have had a nice view of it from this new room.

We just got the schedule for "dish mouse", the rotation by which the community takes turns doing the dishes every day. It's always interesting trying to juggle working in the dish "pit" for 10 hours on top of getting all my science work done with nobody else to cover it for me. Not all jobs are created equally down here. At least you get a good dose of humidity when working dish mouse, and my dish washing skills are more than up to the task of handling the mess created by 47 people. Shoot, I hand-washed everything for almost twice that number at the Long Duration Balloon field camp outside McMurdo my first season.

I don't have time to post a picture, but today starts my "month-stache". We'll see how handle-barred, bristled, and generally cop-like I can get in one month's time.

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”
~Henry Ford

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter begins

With the departure of the last Hercules for the season, at some unreasonably early hour this Valentine's morning, South Pole Station is closed for the 2010 winter. Sometime in about 9 months we'll see other people show back up here, but until then it's just the 47 of us. I didn't stay up to see the plane off, but I'm sure plenty of other folks did. I haven't seen or heard anybody else awake thus far this morning, so I'm sure most folks are sleeping in (and rightly so). The push to the end of the summer is always taxing, and with these very late flights it put a bit of an extra toll on the staff here. Regardless, it is good to be here and have the transition away from summer complete. We have a lot of station-closing activities to do (winterizing summer camp, pulling skiway markers, setting up flag lines, doing all the summer folks' bedding laundry, etc.) in addition to our normal jobs' duties, which will take a bit of time to accomplish. Cheers to another winter at the bottom of the world!

"All is silent in the halls of the dead." Eddie heard himself in a falling, fainting voice. "All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead. Behold the stairways which stand in darkness; behold the rooms of ruin. These are the halls of the dead where spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one."
~Stephen King

Don't worry about the quote. This place just gets a whole lot quieter and emptier really quickly, once winter hits. With about 25% fewer crew members than winter "08, it just seems like that will be even more the case. Besides, we don't even have a fruit fly, let alone any spiders.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Inching Closer

If all goes well today, only six flights remain before South Pole Station is closed for winter. Three of the flights today will be carrying passengers, and the others will just be cargo/tanker flights. The final flight out is supposed to arrive here about 3:00 AM tomorrow morning. That early hour will put a bit of a damper on our celebrations, those of us still here, but it will still be good to have one chapter closed and be beginning another.

Temperatures are fluctuating, but right now it is in the -40s F. It didn't get down to regular temperatures for this season for a long while, but once it happened it went quickly.

“We were not pioneers ourselves, but we journeyed over old trails that were new to us, and with hearts open. Who shall distinguish?”
~J.M. Thorington, 1925

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting quieter - minus the noise

With several large departures of summer folks on "straight-throughs", where you fly to McMurdo and wait out at Pegasus Field for the C-17 to arrive and carry you on to Cheech in the same day, Pole's population is down to a still-respectable 126. It seems much quieter around here than that number, considering we will need to usher out another 81 (or so) people before we're down to the target winter crew number of 45 souls. I'm not really antsy for the station to close, and am just enjoying the company of friends/acquaintances that won't be staying overnight with us until November.

Some parts of the spectrum aren't so quiet, though. A number of projects on-station, including some of mine, are being interfered with by some strange radio transmission. We're doing spectrum analysis and trying to geographically pinpoint the locus of the transmissions, but have not had any luck thus far. Inevitably, mention of this causes jokes of aliens, etc. to be bandied about. I think it will end up being something pretty simple that we're overlooking right now. Until then, keep your CDC-issued IR camo suit, case-less ammo smart rifle, and trusty flamethrower handy, lest the aliens and predators come charging out of some entrance to their sub-ice temple structure...

"It was no ape, neither was it a man. It was some shambling horror spawned in the mysterious, nameless jungles of the south, where strange life teemed in the reeking rot without the dominance of man, and drums thundered in temples that had never known the tread of a human foot."
~Robert E. Howard

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Lofty Perspective

Well, weather providing, we'll be rid of ~38 more summer folks today. That will take station population below 200, and it is already getting discernibly quieter around the place. Temperatures were down into the still-not-cold-as-winter-goes -30s F over the weekend, and the sun is starting to get that low-angle look as it continues to sink towards the horizon.

Last week I got to go on a short flight buzzing the station overhead for what is nominally an end-of-season aerial photo documentation flight. Photographers from the station community, I was just a tag-along, take aerial photos of the station to record the state of the buildings, cargo lines, drifting, etc. from overhead. The flight was pretty late at night, but still a nice chance to do something different. I don't think it technically counts as having left the station, so I'm still set for the glory of spending a full 13 months here, unencumbered by the rest of the world. I was taking photos with my wee camera through a dirty window and the disk of the propeller, but some still turned out reasonably well:

The plane we were in was a Twin Otter:

You can see the station is all clad in its new stylish black siding. The part on the roof with the yellow decking is the science lab, with all the access ports for instruments that will mostly be turned on once the sun is good and gone for the winter:

This is a view of the station from the north, but what we'd locally refer to as grid southwest. Grid north is aligned with the Prime Meridian:

A little closer in to the station, we caught a C-130 Hercules landing and on the taxiway. It's amazing how shiny and polished the snow looks, but that's part of its 90% albedo (reflectivity) that helps reject solar energy input and keep this place cold:

Also very cool to see was my first and only glimpse of the original "Old Pole" station that is/was buried until a couple guys in a bulldozer and a tractor fell through the 14 feet of snow accumulated atop the old station (which was abandoned in-place). It was a pretty big deal getting the equipment out, and thankfully neither of the drivers were injured.

So, with the horizon clearing rapidly, it looks like things could be promising to get these summer folks out and on their way. I'm not especially anxious for people to leave, but it will probably be a relief when things settle down here after a very stressful denouement to the season. Having 5 science group site visits in the last 3 weeks of the summer was not something I'd prefer to go through again, but I survived.

“Habit is a second nature which prevents us from knowing the first, of which it has neither the cruelties nor the enchantments.”
~Marcel Proust