South Pole News Archive
[I recheck the links now and then, but still they tend to disappear...sorry]
Shipping update...the cargo vessel Ocean Giant did call at Lyttelton 16-18 January...here (left) it is seen on the morning of the 18th (from the Lyttelton port webcams). It was scheduled to depart for McMurdo at 1700.
Another Polie interview, this one is with winterover water plant tech William Lindman. He'll be heading south shortly; meanwhile he was interviewed on 12 January by his local southeastern Missouri NPR station. This will be William's first Antarctic deployment, but he's been around...including some time with the Peace Corps in Uganda. He gives quite a detailed description of the PQ and psych process.
Science news: the South Pole Ice Core team reached their original drilling target of 1500m on 9 January! They now may reach 1750 meters by the end of the season.
It's almost resupply season at McMurdo. The Coast Guard's icebreaker Polar Star has been working the ice into McMurdo over the past few days, but it has not docked yet. If you're lucky you can catch a glimpse of the icebreaker on the McMurdo pier webcam. Another sign...the Navy's cargo handling battalion was heading south from Hampton Roads, VA to help with the offload (11 January Stars and Stripes article). Coming later this month--the same two ships as last year. The tanker Maersk Peary left Fremantle, Western Australia, on 12 January--next stop McMurdo, and the cargo vessel Ocean Giant was nearing Lyttelton, scheduled to call there 16-18 January.
January at Pole...the sun is going down. Well, it won't disappear until late March, but the peak mid summer temperatures are now history, as are the traditional midsummer events. These included the Christmas festivities and the Round the World race as well as New Years weekend celebrations, the unveiling of the brand-new 2016 Pole marker on New Years Day, and the marathon and half-marathon held the following day. There were seven finishers of the 26.2-mile event.
Work has been continuing on various small and large projects including the cryo/BIF conversion. A significant effort is being made to reorganize/consolidate/retrograde/shred some of the "stuff" on the berms, some of which has been there since before I first arrived in 1976. The cleanup effort included a December work/food/music festival dubbed "Berming Man." Recently the shredder Fargo successfully got rid of...skylab.
21 December--midsummer at Pole...as station folks are planning for Christmas celebrations next weekend, the sun is now starting to head for the horizon. Construction is in full swing...one of the major projects (at left) is the conversion of the downwind module of the cryo building into the new balloon inflation facility (BIF). Elsewhere around station, the South Pole Ice Core science project is back, hoping to drill down to 1500 meters this summer. This season's team got to Pole on 25 November, drilling began on 5 December, they moved to 3-shift operations on 7 December. As of 13 December they'd reached 885 meters. Below right...the first ice core recovered this year.
The strange news from Washington State continues. Al Baker's resentencing hearing won't be for a month or two, but in the meantime he's been released from prison and returned to the county jail. More info below...
Back up north, NSF announced at an early December Polar Research Board meeting that the first phase of the program to upgrade McMurdo, known as AIMS, was underway. The year-long preliminary design phase began in October. Brian Stone, head of NSF's infrastructure/logistics section, said that construction could start in 2019 and take about 8 years. As with the previous SPSM project, there would (hopefully) be a separate capital construction budget for the effort (AAAS news article with first phase map).
Munch munch! Here's a great 30 November story in Vice featuring a lengthy interview with Darby Butts, the 2016 Pole w/o food services supervisor. He describes the lengthy process to get the job...and get to Pole, as well as his current duties. And here is ANOTHER feature, an 8 December article about Darby from the Annapolis Capital Gazette. Enjoy...thanks, Darby!
2 December...and the summer is in full swing. Documentation...well, the first of three South Pole Traverses (SPoT) for the season arrived on 25 November. It consisted of nine vehicles, and brought 100,000 gallons of fuel. Its journey was documented by an awesome YouTube video created by Forrest McCarthy. I'm no heavy equipment operator or mechanic, but they make it look cool and I'd so like to join them and do that! The main summer season had begun with a Halloween party held the day after the first LC-130 flight arrived on 30 October to double the station population. It featured, of course, a carved jack-o-lantern (right)...well actually one of the ten or more watermelons that were grown in the greenhouse this past winter. Here's a "before" photo of this watermelon, which weighed in at a massive four pounds! These watermelon photos are courtesy of science tech Marissa Goerke, who also tended the greenhouse.
A strange bit of news from Whidbey Island, Washington (!) on 17 November has suddenly loomed on the South Pole radar. Remember the longtime science manager Al Baker...who on 31 May 2012 was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his wife Kathie Hill Baker...because another woman he'd met at Pole was scheduled to visit the next day. Al (who'd actually spent 5 years in prison for child sex abuse in the mid 1990's (6 February 2013 South Whidbey Record article) before he wintered at Pole in 2001) was convicted for Kathie's murder in October 2013 and sentenced to 52 years in prison. But he appealed. Recently the conviction was upheld, but there was still a resentencing hearing in the works (11 November South Whidbey Record article). And there could be further appeals to the state Supreme Court. I haven't heard the final result of that, but I do have a detailed transcript from the appeals court opinion. It is way way way too gruesome to post online. Please ask me about it if interested.
27 October--the Basler returned! Bringing...some management folks, heavy equipment operator/friend Boyd Brown, and 800 pounds of freshies! Amongst the freshies were bananas, mandarin oranges, and...100kg of...popcorn! Let the summer times begin! As they did...as the Basler was soon followed by the first LC-130 of the season, which showed up on 30 October. The station is open.
14 October...new faces! The first Kenn Borek Air aircraft arrived! The Basler refueled and continued on to McMurdo, while the Twin Otter stayed overnight. They brought fresh oranges, apples, grapefruit...and carrots, beets and red onions! Not everything went well...the pump in the fueling module wouldn't start, so the fuel team had to make do with a smaller pump and hoses (photos by Marissa Goerke).
12 October...and the new season for the 2016 winterovers has begun! No...they haven't arrived at Pole just yet, but many of them have gathered in Denver for two weeks of training. First, some orientation in Denver, followed by a week of team-building in Estes Park, fire training at the Denver Metro Fire Academy 18-23 October, and the flight south on the 24th. Meanwhile at Pole the skiway has been prepped, flags reset/reinstalled, and the sun has been shining of late...good signs for the upcoming KBA Baslers/Twin Otters. They had been expected at Pole by now, but as of yesterday they were still in Punta Arenas due to bad weather at Rothera.
The eagle (well, the C-17) has landed! The first C-17 flight of main body landed essentially on schedule at 1425 on 28 September, with 107 Antarctic souls on board. More to come! Meanwhile at Pole the sun has finally been sighted (sort of). And the first flights are only 2 weeks ago (well, the Twin Otters/Baslers transiting from Rothera to McMurdo, that is. From my experience it is a strange sight to see different people in the galley after so many months.
So what comes next? Sunrise...or at least the first refracted glimpse, was scheduled for the weekend of 19-20 September (the latest Pole news update from Marissa Goerke), but mother Antarctica intervened with clouds. Still, there was a Hawaiian-themed sunrise dinner.
Springtime in McMurdo...or at least the first spring flights. With delays, of course. The first flights made it south on Sunday 23 August...a C-17 and the Airbus (USAF news article about the C-17 flight). But the flight scheduled for the following day was delayed for, well, a week Antarctic Sun article). Now that the bad McM weather has cleared up, the third and fourth flights were in the air again on 30 August. in all there were six flights, four by Australia's A-319 Airbus and two USAF C-17 flights. The last of the six flights happened on 3 September.
Some news from the business pages...the word is out there that Lockheed-Martin may be selling or divesting the division that now holds the NSF USAP support contract. This story came up in July of 2015 when, after announcing the purchase of Sikorsky Aircraft, L-M also announced that they were starting to divest much of its IT business. That story didn't hit the program radar until news articles started to mention that the divestment would involve components of its Information Systems & Global Solutions (IS&GS) operations (here's one news article out there). Well, IS&GS is the Lockheed-Martin division that operates the USAP contract. This could be an interesting process...bringing to mind the fact that a few years ago when the current contract was being bid, PAE was owned by L-M...but by the time the contract awarded, it had been divested. But as it was a part of the proposal, PAE is still the subcontractor organization providing many program employees. And thin back to the PREVIOUS contract bid process, when Raytheon had amassed a huge construction organization known as Raytheon Engineers and Constructors (this was touted in their proposal). But by the time the contract took effect in 2000, this division was sold off after being a major money loser (and the purchaser, M-K, didn't survive after the purchase). Stay tuned.
Things are lightening up a bit at Pole, as it were. Since the beginning of August the station has been in astronomical twilight, which means that the sun is between 18 and 12 degrees below the horizon. The next stage, nautical twilight (when the sun is between 12 and 6 degrees below the horizon) begins on 22 August. Hence there is now a glow on the horizon. But there are still auroras, perhaps right now...for another couple of weeks they may be visible on the new NOAA webcam, which has been up all through the winter.
From up north, there's a bit of information about some of the upcoming projects. In the next year more of the station subfloor will be replaced--the original material is a product generally known as FCB (fiber cement board) which hasn't held up that well over the years. A new project will be a leveling of all of the fuel tanks in the arch...differential settlement is starting to overstress some of the piping.
In the past few years, the Icelandic company Arctic Trucks has supported a number of nongovernmental tourist ventures as well as a scientific expedition or two, most of which have been based out of Novo (here is a December 2008 video of some of their vehicles being flown there from Cape Town). But this season they are teaming up with the British luxury travel firm The Explorations Company to offer...a drive to Pole. Yes, for only £110,000, you too can travel in (relative) luxury aboard one of their modified Toyota trucks, on a portion of "the same route that Amundsen used," or, as we know it, a portion of the South Pole Traverse route (left). The 10-day trips will traverse from Union Glacier to the base of the Leverett Glacier (or return), via Pole. This is the company page which offers this journey, and here is a Telegraph article about the venture.
At Pole, the sky has cleared up again, bringing auroras, but the moon rises on 22 July...and when it sets, the station will be in astronomical twilight, meaning that a bit of light from the sun might be visible to the naked eye (or the camera) on the horizon.
The third of three scheduled winter flights to McMurdo took off from Christchurch around noon on Saturday 18 July...but immediately boomeranged and landed after a collision with...a bird, just above the pilot's window. After a quick checkup and windshield cleaning, the C-17 took off again and made it to McM as seen here. The second of the three flights (another C-17) had taken place on 3 June. Next up...the beginning of winfly...currently scheduled to consist of a C-17 and the Australian Airbus A-319 flights on 20 August. Two C-17 and 4 Airbus flights are scheduled between 20 and 26 August.
The period following midwinters day brought some of the coldest weather Pole has seen in awhile, with some new records--including 20 consecutive whole days spent below -76ºF/-60ºC (21 June-10 July) and 13 consecutive whole days (28 June-10 July) spent below -85ºF/-65ºC. One tied record was 8 consecutive days with at least some time spent below -100ºF/-73.3ºC. The coldest it got was -109.1ºF/-78.4ºC, although the coolest photographed scroll (at left) doesn't show it quite that cold. This extreme cold snap is well documented in Marissa Goerke's August Antarctic Sun article--these were the coldest temperatures since I saw this one in August 2005.
Midwinters day was 21 June (well, the exact time at Pole was at 0438 Monday 22 June) . So...it was time for the annual exchange of midwinters greeting cards such as the one at right! And that said, it's also time for a news update on the winterover statistics from the Antarctic Sun.
The annual Antarctic Treaty meeting was held in Sofia, Bulgaria (1-10 June), and apparently nothing newsworthy happened, at least according to the news media, which gave it almost no coverage. There were some items of interest discussed, including the annual update of Russia's Lake Vostok activity (Antarctic Treaty home page with links to meeting documents).
27 May--the temperature got into triple digits (-101ºF), perhaps earlier in the winter than about 80% of when it usually happens. It stayed below -100 for perhaps 5 hours. No details or documentation of unusual outdoor activity, other than the continuing amazing auroras.
10 May...astronomical twilight is over. Which means the sky is very dark. Except when the moon is up. As it is now. Amazingly...you CAN see it. Boulder NOAA guy James Salzman sent a new webcam down to Pole that has much greater light gathering capabilities than previous ones...which means it not only is still up...but also it is displaying the almost-full moon behind the station! At left...a 9 May photo from the NOAA South Pole webcam.
Before the moon came up, there were some amazing auroras. Of course I'm not there, but I know that no video or photo will do justice to what you actually can see for yourself. But Robert Schwarz comes close with this early winter aurora video.
Meanwhile and otherwise...Pole has been quiet. No drama, no amazing construction projects...just the continuing cleanup/shaving/widening of the ice tunnels and the replacement of corroded copper waste piping with better stuff...not exactly a photogenic topic.NGO Pole ventures that happened in 2015-16:
13 April 2015...it's been dark enough for the first auroras to be seen. And almost cold enough for the 300 club, as on 11 April it got down to -99.2ºF/-72.9ºC. Back in the last week in March, most of the winterovers gathered for group photos, including this one (right) (Robert Schwarz).
Polar Flight redux...I mentioned in January that pilot Bill Herrelson flew a single-engine Lancair IV aircraft over Pole...and turned around and headed back to Punta Arenas. That much is true...but I just heard from Bill, who pointed out that he did actually break the round-the-world record over both poles by a factor of 5, despite turning back...as he continued his route from PA to New Zealand and thence over the North Pole. And I was also incorrect in stating that his flight was "apparently without any of the requisite approvals," as he forwarded a letter from the EPA stating that his environmental application for the flight met the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty and US law. He was on IFR and communicating directly with Mac Center as he overflew Pole. But no one at Pole knew he was coming, and no one saw him. But...he saw Pole...he just sent me this aerial photo (left). And he told me he was over the station at 2038 (0738 UTC) on Thursday 1 January...wonder what everyone was doing? I don't often do this, knowing that Polies can't download such things, but here is the original 4800x3600 image (6.2mb)...and another one from a different angle (5.7mb).
News about old news...on 28 January 1989 an Argentine military/hospital ship/tourist vessel called at Palmer Station so the tourists could see the place. They departed via a shallow channel with rocks that were clearly marked on the British charts...but they weren't using those charts. Crunch. Rocks hit. 100-foot hole in the hull. Vessel starts to sink. And not long afterward the 212 passengers and crew found themselves ashore at Palmer Station...as leaking oil started to contaminate the water. This little-known disaster has not been well documented until now. The Last Voyage of the Bahia Paraiso (right), by friend Dave Gallas...has just been published...it is available here.
Sunset has happened at Pole...although that celestial body may be making a few more refractive appearances before it finally sinks below the horizon. Of course that brought not only lots of sun-gazing, but also the sunset dinner on Saturday 21 January. At left...a photo of the before-dinner setting--I'm impressed by the smallness of the table setup compared to my most recent winters...as well as by the tablecloths, window art, and new china. The meal was impressive as well, as reported by Marissa Goerke...that's her photo of the table setup as well as of this menu.
On 5 March, after a 5-day delay for major mechanical issues...the last C-17 flight of the summer season flew to McMurdo to take lots of anxious folks out. This was the last "main body" flight--no more flights for...uh, about 6 weeks, in mid-April.
The program AIMS higher...or more simply, NSF has requested $3 million in the FY 2016 budget request for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science project, to continue such efforts as the McMurdo master plan conceptual design, and replacing the Palmer pier (hmmm...I worked on that project a bit way back in 1986, and the pier hasn't changed since then except for its deterioration). Details in this 23 February Antarctic Sun article.
And speaking of Palmer Station...two other bits of news...first, the last week in February brought the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the original "Old Palmer" station at Norsel Point. Here's the NSF Polar Programs Facebook page about it, which anyone should be able to see. And then, sadder news. At about 0100 Florida time on 1 March, Captain Pieter Jan Lenie passed away from complications of pneumonia. More information soon...meanwhile, at right is an undated photo of Captain Lenie doing what he loved best, this shared by his grandson Pieter Glenn Williams.
Trash talk...last year's auction of USAP surplus was cancelled because the Maersk Illinos had to leave early due to bad weather, before all of the merchandise/trash could be loaded. In 2015, the Ocean Giant was able to get everything loaded, and the auction was being run directly by Best Recycling, the ASC waste subcontractor...and it was online, due to increasing security restrictions at the previous auction site on the Port Hueneme naval base. The auction site was antarcticauction.com, where you could have signed up to visit/inspect the goods...which did include some of those old stretch D-8s including MaryAnn. The inspection dates were 24 and 25 March, the last auctions closed on the 26th.
Pole had more than one closing...the main one was on Friday 13 February when almost everyone left, but that Herc left behind an "A Team" of folks from McM, led by Anthony Andrade, who were finishing up an overhaul of #3 generator. That was done on Saturday, but the Sunday flight was cancelled. So, the last flight happened on Monday 16 February, as documented (left) by Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin. Left behind for the winter...45 souls, including 8 women.
And with the oncoming Pole winter comes another one of those "weird" articles about it, from The Atlantic magazine. Well, they got the date and the number of folks wrong, can you really believe much else here? I don't think writer Philip Sopher has been to the ice.
More than a thousand miles north of Pole, the icebreaker Polar Star didn't have an uneventful trip north. After breaking ice, it arrived at the beset Australian fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain and took it under a stern tow. Two Coast Guard news stories--this 17 February "final update" news story, and this 14 February story with photos. After reaching open(er) water, the fishing vessel proceeded under its own power while being escorted for the moment by the Polar Star. The Antarctic Chieftain would later be escorted back to Nelson by the NZ fishing vessel Janus (16 February MercoPress article).
12 February. A day before scheduled station closing "weather permitting" of course. And it is cooling off...I just saw that the temperature was -40º. F or C...same thing. Up north in McMurdo, the tanker completed its offload last week, much of it during a "tanker storm" (Antarctic Sun article). The storm also blew much of the ice out. At right is an 11 February MODIS satellite photo over Ross Island (NASA MODIS page with the full sized image and others). Meanwhile, the icebreaker Polar Star has been diverted on its trip north to assist a beset 207-foot Australian-flagged fishing vessel (Coast Guard news story)
Here's my compilation of the private/nongovernmental trips to Pole during the 2014-15 summer--what happened, what was postponed, and what got cancelled or whatever...
5 February...the Pole population is winding down as the summer folks leave and the rest of the winterovers show up. Only about a week left. Meanwhile at McMurdo (hmmm...isn't that a book?) the Ocean Giant headed north on the afternoon of 2 February...only to be replaced by the tanker Maersk Peary around midnight on 4/5 February. Check out the pier webcam here for the current view. It seems that in most years the tanker showed up before the cargo vessel, but apparently not always.
The Pole season is winding down...folks are leaving. But a few hundred miles uphill, the Russians have finally penetrated Lake Vostok (details). For some reason this story hasn't received much media coverage.
More shipping news...the Nathaniel B. Palmer was at McMurdo (and visible in the pier webcam) for 3 days through the 23rd...and the crew of the Polar Star have been putting up blog posts about their trip to McMurdo. Here is one of them...and another.
The annual McMurdo shipping season has begun. At left...the cargo vessel Ocean Giant arrived in Lyttelton on 16 January for a 2-day port call before continuing south (photo from 2002 McM w/o Paul Dietsche). And for the past few days the Polar Star has sometimes been visible south of the station, clearing the seaway (at right...this pier webcam photo is from about 1430 16 January). As of 19 January the icebreaker had docked at the ice pier. The tanker Maersk Peary is approaching Perth, Western Australia, where it was to call briefly on 20 January before continuing to McMurdo. As for the rest of the season...some of the summer folks are not leaving until April (!) as the flight schedule has been expanded...there will be aircraft landing at Pegasus in April...and June and July!
This 31 October Antarctic Sun article has the details.
Yes...it is a new year, so there is a new Pole marker (right). Check it out!
It's been a few years, but once again a private pilot ventured into Pole airspace on 1 January en route from Punta Arenas to Hamilton NZ...apparently without any of the requisite approvals. This was Bill Harrelson (seen at left in front of his aircraft), a retired airline pilot from Fredericksburg, VA...in a single-engine Lancair IV aircraft...in an attempt to set a record for circumnavigating the globe over both poles. Unfortunately (for his flight) he encountered severe headwinds, turned around, and headed back to PA. Unfortunately (for us), no one at Pole saw him. And unfortunately (for him) his venture will be cussed and discussed at the next Antarctic Treaty meeting. Here's the stuff.co.nz article with links to more information. The photo is from his public Facebook page.
27 December...cryo was moved about 50 feet west...to get it away from the sink that used to be the sewer (left, photo from IceCube w/o Erik Beiser). Still to be determined...how will this affect the BIF, and what will replace the BIF (more photos and info here).
As the new year approaches, thoughts turn to...cargo and ships. The first one to show up will be, of course, our icebreaker Polar Star...on 3 January it was at 43ºS, south of Tasmania. Next...the tanker. Perhaps the Maersk Peary...that ice-strengthened tanker that came last year. Presently it is at 20ºN in the central Atlantic heading south. Maersk (its owner) recently received a contract extension for FY15 fuel deliveries to McMurdo and Thule (scroll down to the NAVY section). And as for the cargo vessel...the Ocean Giant (which was the January 2013 cargo vessel) departed Port Hueneme on 30 December at 2127 local time. Next stop--Lyttelton, on 16 January. Last year's cargo vessel Maersk Illinois is no more; in March Maersk terminated its joint venture which held that vessel, it has been sold to Denmark's Thorco Shipping, renamed Thorco Isadora, reflagged in the Marshall Islands, and is currently anchored in the Columbia River off Astoria, OR. Here's the 24 March tradewindsnews link, which may or may not work without an expensive subscription. The MV Ocean Giant, owned by Intermarine LLC and on charter to the MSC, is ice strengthened (class E3), 15,377 gross tonnage, with two 400t cranes to handle those containers. It was built in 2012.
Christmas was celebrated in the traditional ways, sort of, with the latest and greatest Race Around the World racecourse, followed by that dinner that couldn't be beat. Oh yes, a few of the NGO skiers/trekkers were around to observe. Elsewhere, on the science front, the SPICECORE folks have been on station since early November, testing and honing their drilling techniques. Follow their blog here.
Speaking of NGO visitors...sometime in the last few days this showed up--the FA Cup (right). Perhaps considered by some to be comparable to the Vince Lombardi Trophy...as the FA is the governing body of English soccer. It was brought down as part of a league publicity effort...by photographer Martin Hartley (seen here). The Basler that he came down on is clearly visible. Here's the Mail Online article. Martin is no stranger to the ice, he covered the Tetley South Pole Mission by Pen Hadow and Simon Murray in 2003-04.
Tourists have already visited this season by air, but the first NGO venture to arrive by land arrived at 1630 on 9 December--"Tractor Girl" Manon Ossevoort, seen at left with her team, the Arctic Trucks support crew, and her Massey Ferguson 5610 tractor. She and the team made it back to Novo on 21 December.
On Monday 1 December, controls technician Thomas Lawrence Atkins did not show up for work. After his absence was noticed, he was found dead in his room.
His death was apparently due to natural causes. His body has already been flown to McMurdo; it will continue north to his family. He was from Greenville, KY, and this was his first deployment. Here is an NBC News article as well as the NSF press release. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and fellow folks at Pole now.
1 December marked the loss of the TDRS 5 satellite. It was replaced by TDRS 6 which technically provides equivalent internet coverage...but as it overlaps with the GOES satellite pass, almost half of the 14 hours of satellite uptime has been lost. Here's the latest from the USAP satellite announcement page.
The ExtremeTech site recently interviewed winterover comms tech Marty Keefe...he describes the station, the science, the equipment he works with, the internet...have a look.
On 30 November, the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star departed Seattle for its 4-month deployment to Antarctica...the second consecutive Coast Guard mission to Antarctica (right, USCG photo by PO3 Katelyn Shearer). Here's the official press release with more photos as well as this video also by PO3 Shearer.
Thanksgiving week was a busy one. The first arrival of the SPoT 1 was on Wednesday the 26th, just in time for dinner. What's it like? Here's a timelapse of the trip taken by one of the traverse folks. Preparations were underway for the big dinner, held on Saturday as usual. Only two seatings needed nowadays.
23 November...while the USAP season was fully underway, there were a few brave souls heading to Pole on their own, on the ground. Already.
The season is in full swing. By now, all of the 2014 w/o's should have headed north, and the station population is up to 130. Meanwhile, a bit north, the first traverse team had already reached the Leverett Glacier. heading for the station with a bunch of fuel. They will do THREE fuel traverses to Pole this season...while the other traverse team will be dealing with science cargo at Whillans and elsewhere. On a related note...there are only 78 LC-130 flights scheduled this year...contrast this to 250+ scheduled flights a few years ago when the station construction was still needing cargo and the traverse was still in the "proof of concept" phase.
Yes...a couple of the summer folks have blogs. Check them out!
Another bit of O&M scheduled--a tech rep for Alimak Hek (vendor for that cranky elevator in the beer can) will be spending some time on station...hopefully to get the lift back humming (for freight, not people).
On Tuesday 11 November, the icebreaker Polar Star was headed north to its home port in Seattle after some drydock time at the former Mare Island naval shipyard in San Francisco Bay. Here's a 11 November ABC news article with a photo of it getting ready to leave the drydock. While there, KQED interviewed commanding officer Captain Matt Walker...in which he, among other things, reveals his sure-fire preventive measure for seasickness.
Thursday 6 November--the first LC-130 of the season finally landed at Pole in late afternoon. Winter is officially over, and the rodwell is back on line. The first Herc flight WAS scheduled for Monday, but it was delayed for mechanical reasons, and finally cancelled after the pax were halfway to Williams Field. It tried again on Tuesday...it and the pax made it all the way to Pole but boomeranged due to low visibility.
Saturday 1 November...it seems that the C-17's did start flying again. One made it to McM on 29 October, and another was en route on 1 November. The first Herc flight to Pole was scheduled for Monday. And on 31 October, the rodwell pump was successfully pulled out of the well (left; more information/caption/credit)--it had been stuck about 160 feet down. Yes...things got fixed, and that second snow melter wasn't needed.
28 October...well, about the time the last paragraph was written, the McM weather improved, aircraft started to fly...and today the first flight (the Basler) showed up with freshies, some water drilling equipment, and PEOPLE (including Boyd Brown who shared the photo at right). Let the summer begin!
27 October...a few days before station opening. Or at least that was the plan. As of yesterday the 2 Baslers were still sitting at Pole waiting for McMurdo weather to improve. What will be happening? So far, local attempts to fix the rodwell have been unsuccessful. Well, the first flight (perhaps the Basler) may be bringing some hot water drilling equipment (hopefully with a couple of drillers) to get it back in action.
Other summer projects...moving Cryo...and starting work to raise the south bay to fit it with taller doors (next year) as the replacement BIF...assuming the current BIF doesn't collapse into the old sewer bulb before then. Oh...there IS the return of BICEP, namely BICEP3...its cryostat was being packed up at Harvard to be shipped south (left, photo from Steffen Richter who will be coming down to help install it)
Otherwise...there are plans to demo the VIPER telescope structure...perhaps in preparation for a future raising/moving of MAPO. Winter project plans include replacing the copper waste piping (which has suffered corrosion from those waterless urinals) and replacing some of the FCB hallway flooring.
17 October 2014...the first LC-130 left Stratton Air National Guard Base to head south...(Air Force news article).
Pole isolation has ended. Wednesday 15 October...two Twin Otters arrived, transiting from Rothera toward McMurdo. And on Saturday the 18th, two Baslers showed up. With freshies...
Bad weather has continued to delay these aircraft from continuing to McM.
On Monday 29 September the first C-17 flight to McM was delayed on Monday for 24 hours due to McM weather. But it did head south the next day--one of two flights--the first to arrive was the Australian A319 Airbus (right), photo by Jack Green from the Antarctic Photo Library). The two aircraft brought more than 160 people to McMurdo to get the main body season started (Antarctic Sun article).
And at Pole...it seems that the rodwell pump has frozen up, and the emergency snow melter has been put into service. It has been moved from outside B1 to outside the power plant (left) so it could be connected directly into the main station water system. In the meantime it is paper plates, no showers, etc...perhaps until some summer folks can show up to help fix things :(
28 September...folks are gathering in ChCh for the first of the main body flights into McMurdo, perhaps as early as the 29th. As for Pole, the equinox happened on 23 September, so the sunrise dinner was held last weekend. It was more informal than the sunset and midwinter dinners...still, it featured the unveiling of the 2015 Pole marker, crafted by machinist Matthew Krahn. It was unveiled only to his fellow w/o's...the rest of us won't get to see it until 1 January.
Winfly finally got underway 4 days late on 24 August, with a total of 5 flights. Due to bad McM weather, most of the 200+ southbound passengers had several extra days to spend in Christchurch. There were passenger flights by the C-17 and the Australian Airbus on the 24th and the 26th--the final flight was the cargo-only C-17 "night-vision goggles" mission (on the 27th, the weather closed in again.
More WINFLY info--this 29 August Antarctic Sun article, which also notes that the first of 91 LC-130 flights to Pole this summer is scheduled for 27 October. Weather permitting...
Update...TDRS F5 may stay around for Polies until sometime in November...a short-term reprieve (latest USAP IT service updates).
Ugh. At Pole...a satellite availability redux. As my 2008 winter ended, we heard that the MARISAT satellite would soon go away, reducing satellite access by about 30% (12 December 2008 Antarctic Sun article). Fortunately for us winterovers at the time, it didn't go away until we left in October/November. But now there's ANOTHER 30% connectivity reduction about to happen. On about 14 August, NASA announced that the TDRS F5 satellite--one of the major satellites used at Pole, would go away in 30-90 days. The major replacement, TDRS F6, will be able to continue to handle data transmission, but the issue is that the TDRS F6 orbit means that it will be visible at the same time as GOES...thus significantly reducing the hours of internet availability. Ugh. Yeah, I must add that we had a great winter in 1977 without any internet connectivity, not that it had even been invented...but things have changed a bit since then.
Anyway, these will be the U.S. Air Force C-17's as well as the AAD A319 Airbus--both of these will bring in pax on two flights each, 2 days apart, and the C-17 will do its night-vision landing (without pax) two days after the second pax flight...although it will take passengers north. As for the rest of the season...this year there will NOT be an annual ice runway. Instead, all flights will use Pegasus through main body deployment in November. After that, all flights for the rest of the season are currently scheduled to be LC-130's operating from a rehabilitated Williams Field, which hasn't been used much since 2009-10. The plan is to preserve Pegasus from the disastrous melt issues. It might or might not be used at the end of the summer season...plans keep changing. But it might be used for April flights...something new that is still being considered. Most but not all :) of these details are in this 15 August Antarctic Sun article, which also describes some of the other major projects...including WISSARD, the South Pole Ice Core Project (discussed just below), and the next-generation BICEP3 instrumentation at Pole...hoping to further confirm the "cosmic inflation" evidence reported by the BICEP team earlier this year. Here is a DVIDS (DOD video/imagery system) article about the beginning of the Operation Deep Freeze season.
It's still astronomical twilight at Pole...defined as when the center of the sun is at or above 18º below the horizon. But at 0307 on 22 August the sun will cross above -12º below the horizon, thus beginning nautical twilight. The glow out there along the horizon is increasing, but auroras are still happening.
Drilling down...two such projects are happening. First, the South Pole Ice Core Project (SPICE) is continuing plans to conduct two seasons of drilling at Pole beginning in 2014-15. The drill site is about 1-2/3 miles west of the elevated station, and a GPR survey of the area was conducted in the area last season. Here's too much more information about the project and the Intermediate Depth Drill, as well as an older March 2013 Antarctic Sun article about the project. And then there is the 28 July 2014 announcement that the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and professor John Goodge were awarded a $9m NSF grant to develop a new drilling system. Here is a 24 July UMD article with more information about the drill they'll be using, which is based on a diamond rock-coring system. Both of these projects will be using Estisol-140 as a drilling fluid--this is a synthetic ester manufactured in Denmark. Here's a link to more information about Estisol-140 from the IDPO. Thanks are due to IceCuber Michael DuVernois for some of this information.
There is a bit more out there about that Norwegian "Wild Viking" Jarle Andhøy, whose abortive Pole trip in February 2011 resulted in the loss of three men on his vessel Berserk. He's been out of the Antarctic news for awhile, but in July it was announced that he was refusing to pay his 45,000 NOK ($7,250) fine imposed by Norway for violating the Antarctic Treaty. And...his updated website now contains a cryptic announcement for "August 16,2015--The Hunt for Berserk." My coverage...
Some new news about one of the private expeditions to Pole planned for next summer...the British Antarctic Microlight Expedition. This group of injured/amputee British military folks plan to fly from McM to Pole this coming season along the traverse route, with some ground support presumably provided by Arctic Trucks (which hasn't yet mentioned this). Here's a 4 August gizmag article.
The first real cold snap of the winter arrived on 24 July (left), and yes, the three-digit temperatures stayed around long enough for that certain bit of outdoor activity known as the 300 club! According to Robert Schwarz, the temperature actually got down to -76.2ºC/-105.2ºF...not quite as cold as the -77.7ºC/-107.9ºF seen last winter and in 2006. But the -79ºC/-110.7ºF we saw in 2005 hasn't been matched since then.
Belated midwinter greetings...yes there is toast...as can be seen in the greeting card at right. The original plan was to take the photo outside, but the weather didn't cooperate, hence the above photo outside of comms. With lots of toast. The big dinner was on Saturday 21 June, followed by festivities including the flick "The Shining." Here are larger photos, the midwinter Antarctic Sun article, and of course a larger photo and the list of winterovers.
How to survive a winter at Pole? That is a complex question, but Business Week made an effort by publishing "A Guide to Wintering in the South Pole" on 11 June. An excellent article featuring some of the current denizens of the elevated station...but books could be written on the subject. And that's not the only story of Pole life to appear in the week preceding Midwinters Day. We also have a tale from plumber Ryan Boggs in the Janesville (Wisconsin) GazetteXtra. Yes, he's pictured with one of the larger pipe wrenches on station. And then there's an interview with IceCube winterovers Dag Larsen and Ian Rees on the IceCube web site.
28 May...things are quiet at Pole. That may be a good thing, meaning that the winter is going well. Or it may merely reflect on the May satellite/internet/email issues (so what else is new). Meanwhile, our 10x winterover astronomer Robert Schwarz is in the news for what may be his next venture. After the Keck Array telescope project ends after 2 more winters, Robert could be heading for an even more isolated place than Pole. On 20 May he was interviewed by NewScientist about his potential trip to Mars. One way.
Suppose they held an Antarctic Treaty meeting and no one noticed? It was held 28 April-7 May in Brasilia. Perhaps news coverage didn't happen because of a certain sports event that was held in Brazil a bit later. The only media article I saw was one about Southern Ocean marine species protection--not unimportant, but not the sort of story I was looking for. Several items I was interested in--one was the draft EIS for the new Chinese station to be constructed near Terra Nova Bay north of McM in Victoria Land (the full 20mb file can be downloaded here from the Chinese Arctic/Antarctic adminstration site. At right is an artist's conception aerial view of the station...here's another conceptual view of the main station, these are from that draft environmental impact statement. Unlike the nearby Italian and German stations which are summer-only, and the summer/winter Korean station, this one is planned for summer/winter occupancy, beginning in 2016....Brazil's replacement Ferraz station on KGI...and of course an update from Russia on their most recent Lake Vostok drilling activities.
On 13 May, New Zealand's Search and Rescue Council recognized the USAP for their support and cooperation in the response to the January 2013 loss of a Kenn Borek Twin Otter aircraft and crew. Here's the NSF press release about the announcement, as well as a Christchurch Press article. The tragic crash, which killed 3, occurred on 23 January 2013 (my coverage of the crash, including new photos from Canada's Transportation Safety Board (including the one at left).
More aircraft news recently surfaced about a scary McM aircraft landing on 7 October. A RNZAF 757 encountered low visibility (cloud and fog) after passing the PSR. After circling the Pegasus area for awhile to burn off fuel and wait for a break in the weather, they attempted to land more than once...finally doing so successfully. The passengers had been briefed on emergency landing procedures, but they did not find out until deplaning that McMurdo had fully deployed a mass casualty incident team.
If a landing had not been possible, they would have touched down in the "whiteout landing area" occasionally used by LC-130's in such situations. But...the Herc's have skis, the 757 did not, so while the passengers probably would have survived, the aircraft would not. Why did this story surface now? A report was released to The Press (Christchurch) at the beginning of May under NZ's Official Information Act. Why the interest? New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was on board. Reportedly he had a stiff drink that night at the Scott Base bar. Here's the Christchurch Press coverage. Oh yes, a good friend of mine was also on this flight.
Global warming must REALLY be affecting Pole weather...at least that is what one might think looking at this photo (right) of 2014 NOAA station chief and winterover Joe Phillips working outside in a short sleeved uniform this past summer. We know better. But the photo is part of an interesting article in the UNC Asheville (NC) Magazine--that's his alma mater. Joe is featured in the lead paragraphs, and there is also another of his photos showing him holding up the Earth with one hand...something that apparently all NOAA Corps officers must learn how to do.
Okay, not exactly new news, but I finally got around to sharing...in 2009 a previously unnoticed photo of Amundsen at Pole was discovered by a Norwegian researcher (at left). This is the only extant photo printed from the original negative...of Amundsen's crew looking at the tent they'd just erected at Pole in December 1911 (left). More information than you ever wanted to know...
Sunset...well, the official date and time for what we call the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere was at 0557 Pole time on 21 March, or 1657 UTC on the 20th. That's the time when the Sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere. But who knew when the Sun would disappear at Pole--actually the clouds took care of that. Anyway, it was an excuse for one of the three biggest celebrations, the sunset dinner on Saturday 22 March. In addition to an amazing dinner menu, manager Shelly put together a certificate for all of the folks (right). Oh yes, the statistics are here, and if you don't see what you're looking for, contact me for help to find the hidden stuff.
The scientific breakthrough of the year...well, it is only March, but this is a BIG THING. There's lots of talk out there about a Nobel Prize...for something that was discovered at Pole by the BICEP2 telescope. Gravity waves...the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation...a sign of the universe being torn apart a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after it was born. The headline-making press conference at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics in Boston was announced several days before the 17 March event. It received massive media coverage...and many Polies who'd participated in the experiment were there, including of course principal investigator John Kovac, as well as friend Steffen Richter, who wintered all three years that the telescope was in operation--2010 through 2012. He also wintered working on its predecessor BICEP 1...and yes, there is a BICEP 3 in the works. Several links...an Antarctic Sun article, the Harvard BICEP2 page which links to the press conference video, the papers, and images, the New York Times article, and Steffen Richter's photo gallery from the Boston event. Oh...construction and installation of the first BICEP telescope began during the 2005 winter when I was around...here is the documentation, which includes the above left hero shot which was taken after the telescope mount was installed in DSL on 30 November 2005 (this photo is from Cynthia Chiang who is at right in the bottom row; John Kovac is just behind her).
Delayed aftermath of the February storm...at the beginning of March the end of Hut Point calved off. Apparently all of it wasn't solid rock (right) (details).
Late season McMurdo stuff...on 9 March the last flight headed north, leaving behind 142 winterovers. And here's a 3 March Air Force Reserve Command story about the cancellation of all of the main season C-17 flights. Also...here's an Antarctic Sun article detailing that recent storm among other things...including confirmation of that rumor that there may be some wheeled aircraft flights in early March. And...at last, here's my page of info, video, and photos about that storm that drove the Maersk Illinois away before those ice cores could be loaded.
It is winter at Pole. The last LC-130 headed north on 14 February, leaving 41 Polies behind (along with a few Kenn Borek folks who were passing through in the next few days). Here's a brief Antarctic Sun article featuring manager Shelly Finley's photo (left) of the last of the summer folks boarding the closing flight. Which interestingly did NOT do the traditional photo pass over the station after takeoff.
Remember the US government shutdown? Here is a 13 February ScienceInsider article which describes some of its actual impacts, as well as those of the early cargo vessel departure--per its link to Jessica Lane's blog posts about the storm and its aftereffects. And while that was going on, the decision was made to cancel all of the wheeled aircraft flights because the Pegasus runway was actually more of a lake (109th Airlift Wing (NYANG) press release). There are rumors out there that if Pegasus hardens up by the first of March, one or two C-17 or 757 flights would take place. And they may have by now. But as I said...rumors.
The 2013-14 nongovernmental ventures, starting with...
Polar Star update...here's an excellent Antarctic Sun article about its adventures at McMurdo and en route. After all of the news stories about heavy ice, it found the most difficult ice conditions on the way to Marble Point.
The McMurdo cargo operations ended with a bang...not the good kind. A major storm came up on 6 February...because of all the open water, there was nothing to block the wind. The Maersk Illinois crashed against the pier, the pier started to break up, and the Polar Star tried unsuccessfully to pull it off. The cargo ship finally made its departure around 1800 on 7 February. Above left, the Maersk Illinois crunching against the pier (photos by Roxanne Gisler). I've got some archived photos from the webcam, which unfortunately has been turned off. But what did NOT get loaded...perhaps 150 milvans including some containing ice cores, which will probably not get flown north due to the melted Pegasus wheeled aircraft runway...which has caused the cancellation of all of the C-17 flights. Other milvans left behind contain trash, garbage, and hazardous waste...the reefer units containing garbage are on rent (!) A few days earlier, the two of last three stretch IGY-era LGP D8 Caterpillars were loaded (above right) (more photos).
The cargo vessel Maersk Illinois docked at the ice pier at about 1800 on 31 January. Check out the "mobile camera" on the McMurdo webcam site. By the way...the Russian vessel Akademik Shokalskiy that was in the news for being trapped a month ago was also at McMurdo today (photo by Jordan Alexander).
An update on the proposed Chinese station in Terra Nova Bay--the environmental impact statement is currently being reviewed by Australia, per 27 January 3News NZ report. The Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration first announced their plans for the station in October 2013.
Something else that sometimes happens around this time of year--the high temperatures and soft runway have delayed the return of wheeled aircraft such as the C-17s (a 24 January Antarctic Sun article). That's keeping the ski-equipped LC-130's busy with flights to New Zealand. As a result, fuel delivery to Pole is behind schedule. Fortunately, two traverses brought 220,000 gallons of fuel to Pole earlier in the season.
From what I hear, Pole is about fully staffed up for the winter, there should be about 42 folks left when the last plane leaves. A a couple bits of insight...Jessica Barder, one of the winter cooks, has spent the summer at McMurdo and she gave a Q&A interview published in the Guardian on 30 January. Also, here's an article from the Milford (Texas) Times about winterover physician David Curtis, who showed up earlier this month. David is a longtime UTMB employee, he's worked for them for the last 20 years at Texas prisons. The article isn't perfect...among other things--there was a summer doctor on station when he arrived, but he'll be the only physician during the winter, supported by nurse practitioner Lyndsay Brock.
Old news from Christchurch...in December the south gable of the USAP hangar in Christchurch was repainted with a new NSF logo (right). It seems that former NSF director Subra Suresh suggested several years ago that there be more NSF "branding" in Christchurch and at the stations. This was one result...another was that one of the fuel tanks at McMurdo had "NSF" painted on the roof so as to be visible from satellites. I've seen that photo, now I need to remember where. Yes, that photo is mine...I've been vacationing in New Zealand this month, seeing sights and Polie friends in various parts of the country including Chatham Island. I'm now (31 January) at Christchurch airport waiting on the first of three flights back to Colorado.
Speaking of that hangar...as a Seabee veteran I must point out that it was constructed by Seabees in 1959-60.
With the Polar Star in McMurdo, the vessels are not far behind. The tanker Maersk Peary arrived around 1900 on 26 January as documented by the photo at left, taken by the McMurdo webcam at about that time (you need to look at the McMurdo Mobile Camera). The other vessel is, of course, the Polar Star,, but some of the previous camera shots have shown the 287-foot private motor yacht Arctic P. It was built as an ice class ocean tug in 1969, was later purchased by Australian billionaire the late Kerry Packer, and is now owned by his son James (who reportedly is not aboard, per this 8 January Hobart Mercury article which mentions an Antarctic trip). The tanker left on 30 January and was replaced briefly at the pier by the Polar Star. At right is another webcam photo from about 25 January showing 3 vessels--the tanker, the icebreaker, and that motor yacht.
Here are some blog posts about the tanker's voyage by some cadets who are aboard. Interestingly, its last port was Diego Garcia, a place where I've spent more time than McMurdo. Meanwhile, the cargo ship Maersk Illinois arrived in Lyttelton on 22 January, it should reach McMurdo around 2 February. Maersk has put up some blog posts about its travels.
Update...on 7 January, both the Chinese Xue Long and the Russian Akademik Shokalskiy have broken free of the ice after a wind change. And the services of the Polar Star were no longer required (NPR blog post). Whew.... The interesting updates: the Akademik Shokalskiy returned to its departure point in Bluff Harbor (Invercargill, at the south end of the South Island of New Zealand) on 14 January--this was earlier than the evacuated scientists. And, the Polar Star appeared off McMurdo on the 16th (Antarctic Sun report and photo).
Yes...the Polar Star is headed for those trapped Chinese and Russian vessels, the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) and Akademik Shokalskiy. The Russian ship had been carrying scientists, tourists, and journalists who were retracing the route of Mawson's 1913 expedition (Australasian Antarctic Expedition website and blog) when they became trapped in the ice on Christmas Eve. This National Ice Center page has been displaying current images of the vessel locations--at right is the image from 4 January. On 1 January there was initial word that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA--the agency coordinating rescue efforts) might consider requesting US assistance--at that time the Polar Star would have cancelled its port call at Sydney and proceed to the location of the beset vessels. Shortly afterward, the successful transfer of passengers by helicopter to the Russian research icebreaker Aurora Australis was completed, and it was thought that American assistance would be unnecessary. However, after ice conditions around the two vessels worsened, the AMSA did formally request assistance on 3 January US time, and the Coast Guard formally released the Polar Star to the rescue effort the next morning. It was expected to depart Sydney on Sunday 5 January and would take about a week to reach the trapped vessels. There is much continuing news coverage, but some of the best articles include this 5 January New York Times article, this 4 January Coast Guard press release, and this 4 January Coast Guard blog post. This 7 January Sydney Morning Herald article provides updates and detailed statistics about the various vessels involved. Stay tuned....
Happy New Year! As has become the custom, a small crowd gathered at the Pole on the morning of 1 January to unveil the new Pole marker at the current Pole location. This year's marker is an actual sundial...it was designed by 2013 winterover Dana Hrubes and created by machinist Steele Diggles. More photos of the marker, the ceremony, and details of its construction can be found here.
Other signs of the holiday season at Pole--the greeting photo (right) taken a few days before Christmas, as well as the Race Around the World held on Christmas morning. This year's event was highlighted by a front-page Wall Street Journal article about the race--the writer interviewed many people including myself and a few others I'd suggested. She'd heard about the race from her son Jake Feintzeig, a runner, who was at Pole working with the IceCube project. You can read the article here.
Prince Harry and the rest of the Walking With the Wounded veterans arrived at Pole at 1325 GMT on Friday 13 December, or early Saturday morning SP time (BBC News article). Their photo shoot at the Pole was held a day earlier than the originally announced Sunday morning event. The event was originally a challenge race between 3 groups of wounded veterans from the UK, other Commonwealth nations, and the US, but the "competition" part of the venture has been cancelled because of difficult conditions. And they got a ride about 50 miles closer to Pole by their Arctic Trucks support crew. After their initial private photo shoot, the groups retired to their camp site 6 miles from the station. They did visit the station for a tour on Monday morning the 16th, along with a very restrictive photo session in B2. Here's the NSF press release about the visit; it included the only USAP-released photo (left) of some of the group. This photo by Andrea Dixon shows the prince in the center. (Here's another of Andrea's photos showing 2014 NOAA officer Joe Phillips addressing the group--the prince is at far right, and in the center is the back of Alexander Scarsgård's head. Alexander is a Swedish actor best known for his role in the HBO series True Blood., he accompanied the American team. Dominic West, star of The Wire, was also a participant accompanying the Commonwealth team.) Shortly after the station visit, Prince Harry and the first half of the group were flown back to Novo; the remaining members left the next day (more of my information and earlier links about the Walking with the Wounded event).
Science news...not one, but two Pole projects were highlighted by Physics World, a British publication. IceCube was named the "breakthrough of the year" (their article). In November, IceCube published the first evidence for very high-energy neutrinos; the first announcement was made in the 22 November 2013 cover story in Science IceCube press release with links to the article and data). The South Pole Telescope (SPT) was also cited for the first detection of B-mode polarization patterns in the cosmic microwave background, as described in this September 2013 Antarctic Sun article which includes links to the paper. And here is the NSF press release about these two projects.
What have we here? Yes, at right is America's most powerful icebreaker the Polar Star leaving port on 3 December Seattle time. And we all know where it is heading. This photo was taken from the crows nest of the Healy...by Sarah Kaye, so she's not on board...this season. Here is that day's Coast Guard News article.
Things are getting busy...Monday 2 December the SPoT (the traverse team that arrived the week before) gave 24-hour notice that they're going to be doing a bit of blasting at Old Pole. As part of their requirement to conquer crevasses they encounter en route, they carry explosives and a drill for setting them. This would perhaps be round 5 of the various attempts to make Old Pole only a non-hazardous memory...last year there was a bit of digging and filling. At left is Steffen Richter's view of the prep work from MAPO. The blast was postponed for 24 hours...and eventually happened late afternoon on 4 December. 1200 pounds of dynamite. Perhaps that will do it. I do have photos. Meanwhile, the first traverse team is heading home, as are the PSL drillers who worked on the rodwell and sewer access.
And closer to the station, the drilling team from the University of Wisconsin's PSL have been busy working on the sewer outfall and the rodwell--separate but related projects. Before the old rodwell (RW2) can become the new sewer outfall, the access hole has to be redrilled. And a bit more urgently, the access into the new rodwell (RW3) had to be reworked--pump problems developed on 27 November after a brief power outage, and the access hole had to be reamed out before a replacement pump could be installed. Which happened late on the 28th. At right is the drill getting ready to do its thing...yes, it is an IceCube firn drill which circulates hot water through copper piping. And yes, that is some ARA equipment in use...although ARA project work was cancelled for this season, the drillers were available (photo from Dave Glowacki). (more information and photos).
Expedition update...many of the delayed private skiers/bikers/kiters finally flew to Union Glacier, arriving in the evening of 29 November 2013 Pole time. And by now Prince Harry and all of the Walking with the Wounded teams were at 87ºS to start their challenge race to Pole. The race started at 0235 2 December (1335 UTC 1 December). But...we do know that Harry isn't the first member of the British royal family to visit...Prince Edward, then 18 years old, showed up on 11 December 1982. He didn't arrive on foot...
Some future science...the South Pole Ice Core Project (SPICECORE) is moving ahead with plans to drill and recover 1500-meter 9.8-cm diameter ice cores in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Preliminary site selection happened last season...it will happen in the dark sector about 1-3/4 miles directly west of the elevated station. A more detailed survey is planned this summer. The lead principal investigator is Eric Saltzman of the University of California-Irvine. Here's the current project newsletter and the project website home page.
Other current science news from elsewhere on the continent: Mount Erebus has been more active than in the past 30 years--no, McMurdo is not about to become the next Pompeii, but the lava bombs have been flying (15 November Antarctic Sun article). And in other volcano news, a team has discovered a nascent volcano buried under the ice near Mt. Sidley in Marie Byrd Land (17 November Washington University in St. Louis news article and NSF press release). And...a 270-square mile of the Pine Island Glacier broke off in early November to become the latest big iceberg (B-31) to start floating north (another 15 November Antarctic Sun article and some NASA images).
An update on the BIF demolition...apparently its demise is not quite as imminent as it may have been a week ago. The problems with settlement are still there, but an alternative location to do some of the large-balloon science is not. So while we stay tuned for updates, at right is a photo of the BIF from the beginning of this month (thanks to Boyd Brown). At left, a photo of it under construction in 1996-97. Not only is it getting more and more drifted in, making the doors difficult to open--it is also leaning and sinking...presumably in the direction of the site of rodwell #1, which is only 100 feet away. Which also happens to be the old sewer bulb used since 2002. When the new rodwell #3 was put into service last summer, the sewer was supposed to be switched to the old rodwell #2, but that didn't happen...hopefully it will this season. If the BIF is demo'd, the balloon launches would be supported out of cryo...and there has been discussion about moving that building as well (more photos of the original BIF construction). But cryo isn't large enough to handle the larger balloons used by NOAA and other science projects...and its door openings do not presently face downwind. On a historical note, the one-year-old BIF at Old Pole exploded on 31 January 1966 and was replaced by Seabees from NMCB 6 in less than two weeks, before station close.
Late on Friday 1 November as scheduled, the first LC-130 flight of the season arrived, loaded with freshies, fuel, and about 30 more new faces (right, a photo by Dana Hrubes) (his coverage, including some amazing snowdrift photos). The second flight, with another 30 passengers, was scheduled for the next day but it was delayed until Monday due to questionable weather. So the passengers got to experience the Saturday evening Halloween party in McMurdo, always a big event. Update...there were more flights after the weekend. By now all of the winterovers have headed north.
The day before the first Herc flight, the winterover ceremony was conducted--the handing out of the Antarctic Service medals. Additionally, the 2013 winterover photo (left) was unveiled (larger photos and info).
Halloween week...meaning the 1 November scheduled first LC-130 flight to Pole is only a couple of days away. And Polies are gathering in McMurdo. What's happening this summer? In a word, less. The government shutdown had little impact on the Pole plans for the season, and the summer population had already been planned to peak at 150 people. No significant new science or construction is planned--which means no jobs for construction folks like me, but it will reduce crowding, wear and tear, and energy use...as described in this excellent Antarctic Sun article.
As for the shutdown aftermath, here's a 28 October NSF press release on that subject. Minimal impacts on Pole and Palmer, but the decisions on some McMurdo area projects are still being cussed and discussed.
21 October, more international/political news: China has announced plans for a large new Antarctic station at Terra Nova Bay, 185 miles north of McMurdo and Scott Base. It would adjoin the existing Zucchelli Station (Italy) and the under-construction Jang Bogo Station (South Korea). Here's a TVNZ ONENEWS story and a stuff.co.nz article. Oh, and about that South Korean base, it's expected to be completed by March of 2014 (July 2013 3NEWS.co.nz report with video). Jang Bogo was designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, the same firm that designed that futuristic Halley VI station for BAS and the proposed AWO for NSF's Summit Camp in Greenland.
Late on 16 October US time the US government shutdown was ended. NSF has hopes to recover most of the austral summer season, but some projects including WISSARD have been cancelled. The full impact on the program is still being determined....(updated coverage).
And on 19 October while all this news was still being digested at Pole, a transiting Basler aircraft showed up with a few more freshies from Punta Arenas.
9 October SP time...it was official. The USAP was shutting everything down for the season except for "caretaker status" per this archive of the official 8 October announcement and this NPR news story. No summer science...people are to be sent home (something that is being frantically planned at the moment). The last government shutdown in 1995-96 occurred during the middle of the season rather than at the very beginning, so there was much less impact. Some things remain essential, such as getting lots of fuel to Pole by air and/or traverse, and that will need to be planned as well. And once people go home there would be no recovery for the summer season--all of the planning and preparation will have been for nothing. A sad day for everyone with an interest in the program...and especially for the many people who just arrived in Antarctica or were about to head south (continuing coverage).
After delays due to dicey weather at McM and Pole, the first official Twin Otter passenger flight arrived from McMurdo Tuesday evening (8 October)--the earliest passenger flight in history. The passengers included some management folks and others to start getting ready for the summer season if there is one. At the time the news coverage included this 7 October NPR story on All Things Considered.
Aircraft? Huh, it was only 5 October, but TWO Twin Otters landed on their transit flight from Rothera en route to McMurdo (documentation at left; here's another shot of both of them parked in the fuel pits...contrary to some earlier word, they are staying overnight before continuing to McM. These photos are from Blaise Kuotiong). The weather was good...-47ºF/-44ºC with 8 mph winds and excellent visibility, but McM weather isn't looking so promising. This is quite historic...the earliest flights ever to land at Pole. I don't know what the schedule is for one of them returning from McM with passengers, but the earliest passenger flight to Pole to date was the 16 October 1999 LC-130 which medevaced Jerri Nielsen. The temperature when it landed was -58ºF/-50ºC.
Science shutdown? If the current U.S. government shutdown continues for more than a week or two, it is possible, according to this 4 October Nature news article. It would be much more dramatic and significant than the closure of Skylab (right, a photo posted by Liesl Schernthanner on 29 November 2005, showing a "closed" sign on the ladder--it went cold after all of the science had been moved to the new station). Yes, for the moment (5 October) everything is continuing including the opening flights to McMurdo, and a contingent of USAP NSF staff is still on duty, as they are considered "essential." NSF posted this notice on the usap.gov site (which, unlike most other government sites, is still up), and a similar notice has gone out regarding the Arctic program in Alaska and Greenland. The contractors were funded in September for the present month, but they'll start to run out of money in a week or two. Similar contingency planning was required during the 1995-96 summer when the government shut down twice (14-19 November and 16 December-6 January). Then the plan was to reduce the Pole 1996 winterover crew from 26 to 10--fortunately unnecessary.
Here is another notice which NSF sent to universities and other nonprofit organizations; a similar notice was probably sent to the for-profit contractors. Most purchasing except for life safety items has been shut down. So...once again, the USAP team (including some unpaid NSF folks) are huddling around discussing contingency situations as they've had to do in past years when there might not have been an icebreaker...or a tanker... or those pesky icebergs were blocking things. What might happen--all science personnel would be sent home, most science would be shut down, and of course most of the ASC employees would be sent home as well, as the stations would be put in "maintenance mode" (essentially winterover-sized support crews) to "protect and secure assets"--the only thing for which funding would be assured. And of course the contractors have to calculate the costs of sending everyone home, for which they probably wouldn't be reimbursed as long as the shutdown lasts. Serious science at risk could include the long-term monitoring projects such as the vital NOAA atmospheric sampling and climatic studies which have continued from the IGY to the present.
More flight news...the first flight to McM on 3 October was a RNZAF 757, as documented by this 3News NZ clip. And it seems that a 5 October flight will be an Air New Zealand commercial Boeing 767-300 airliner. Air New Zealand has never landed in Antarctica before; they briefly did tourist overflights of Ross Island until their tragic crash into Mount Erebus on 28 November 1979. Alas for those folks with a 5 October ice date...the first flight is a "test flight" with no passengers, although there may be two more revenue charter flights later in the season. Here's an article from the Guardian newspaper about the flights. Interestingly, this is NOT the first commercial airline flight in support of the U.S. Antarctic program...that occurred on 15 October 1957 when a Pan Am B-377 Stratocruiser brought Seabees and others to McMurdo as a Navy test to show the feasibility of commercial flights to Antarctica. Of course the most significant thing about this first such flight was not the aircraft or the passengers...but rather the two woman flight attendants on board...some 13 years before the program would otherwise allow women in Antarctica.
Yes, the sun did return to Pole around the 19th or so depending on refraction. And the occasion was marked by the sunrise dinner on Saturday 21 October. The w/o photo was taken earlier that week.
Science is happening big time at Pole...that South Pole Telescope is digging deep and far back into the origins of the universe..."lensed B-modes," as described in this latest paper by the SPT collaboration. Our hero here is friend Dana Hrubes, whom I lived next door to during my 2005 and 2008 winters. Here's the Antarctic Sun article he wrote about it, and here's another article about Dana, who's now finishing up his seventh winter. At left is my photo of Dana in October 2005 in the old CUSP lab on the first floor of Skylab.
Winfly happened...the start of the 3 Airbus flights was delayed a bit due to weather, but they all arrived during the first week of September. The "main body" flights begin with a scheduled RNZAF flight on 3 October. There's an excellent Antarctic Sun article with winfly info, photos, and details on some of the planned science, happenings, and events. Pole will have to wait another week or so...the first transiting KBA Twin Otter and Basler flights will transit through Pole (from South America and Rothera en route to McMurdo) around mid October. Weather permitting, of course. And once again, the Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft will be absent from late November through late January.
August was movie month...for the past few years it has marked the 48 Hour Film Festival, which this year occurred over the weekend of 3-4 August. Entries in the "48 hour" category had to include five elements selected by the previous year's winning station (Kerguelen)--these were: a sneeze, a ping pong ball, a bathtub, a gingerbread man, and the phrase "Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir" (need I mention that Kerguelen is a French station?) There were fewer entries from USAP stations this year, and none from Pole in that category, perhaps because there's no longer a bathtub on station. But McMurdo had two entries, and Robert Schwarz had two excellent time lapse films in the "open" category. Here's the lot...enjoy!
The first of the early flights to McMurdo for the 2013-14 season, what is known as winfly, happened on schedule on 15 August, bringing 50 people south from Christchurch on a USAF C-17. Here is the pre-takeoff video from 3 News NZ in which you may recognize a few of the passengers as I did. The second flight, an all-cargo (with freshies and mail) flight, srrived a day later than scheduled on Sunday the 18th--this flight was to utilize night-vision goggles. This season the winfly schedule is somewhat stretched out--three more flights are scheduled for early September using the Australian A-319 Airbus. These flights will bring about 100 more folks to McMurdo; the final flight is scheduled for 8 September. Here's the 16 August Antarctic Sun article.
Icebreaker update...the Polar Star just finished up its successful ice trials north of Alaska and was heading back to Seattle after stops in Barrow, Nome, and Juneau. At right is a 12 July view from the Aloft Conn of some of the ice it found (from the Polar Star web site); here's a 4 August article from the Juneau Empire. After the icebreaker returns to Seattle, it will undergo a bit more rehab and preparation for its first mission since 2006--hopefully Deep Freeze 2014 in January.
Before the end of McMurdo's winter isolation, they took their winterover photo (left) featuring the 141 souls who were left on station after the medevacs earlier in the winter. The folks at Pole have plenty of time yet to take their w/o picture, they can wait until after sunup. In a related bit of McMurdo news, the longest continuously running experiment--Cosray, which was first installed in 1959-60, will be moving in two years to the new South Korean station Jang Bogo (which is currently under construction at Terra Nova Bay next to Italy's Zucchelli Station). The packing and moving out has already begun, per the 2012-13 Science Planning Summary. The cosray lab will be decommissioned in 2014-15 and (presumably) demo'd soon afterward.
There is new news about the drilling activity at Lake Vostok (right)...but not enough yet. After all, the Russian cores recovered in 2012-13 included only 5.5 m/19.3 ft of what was thought to be ice from the lake water, although the team expects to recover more lake ice cores next season. And there have been related studies as well. Here's my updated report on the activity over the past year.
News from the IceCube team in Madison...we have 2014 winterovers! One of them is Ian Rees. He's no stranger to the ice; in 2005-06 he was a fuelie in McMurdo, and he was an IceCube alternate for the 2011 winter. More recently he's been living in New Zealand. And the other guy is Dag Larsen...from Norway! Dag recently acquired a PhD while working on the NA-61 project--a neutrino experiment at CERN, and he will be the first Norwegian to winter at Pole. That is somewhat surprising considering Norway's significant involvement with polar exploration and science over the years...so it is about time!
So what are the plans for the 2013-14 summer? Well, as usual, there are lots of rumors, but as usual, I'm not privy to most of them, particularly the ones floating around McMurdo. Dealing with the rumors I have heard...what won't happen is a cancellation of Winfly, a reduction of the stations to "caretaker status," or even a "sharing" of one or more stations with other national programs(!) What is known...the NSF/USAP budgets ARE significantly affected by that Federal budget sequester...perhaps as much as 20%. In fact, on 20 June, NSF posted this letter on the usap.gov home page about the problem...no specific answers, but they're seriously looking for suggestions. The Pole population will go down a bit from last season...to around 150 people, and the McMurdo population will be reduced as well. And so far the only major station projects appear to be...moving the sewer outfall to the old Rodwell #2 bulb (this couldn't happen last year because of problems with the hot point drill) and an "adjustment" of the stairs in the vertical tower (VT), otherwise known as the beer can. It seems that the station is settling at a different rate than the stair tower...this caused problems more than once in the past, as the doors from the station would bind up on the ramps to the stair tower. As we thought that problem had been solved...during the 2008 winter the station doors were moved out to where they were supposed to be. But no...the station is still settling faster than the stair tower, so the doors are once again binding up on the ramps.
The British winter crossing of Antarctica...organized by veteran explorer Ran Fiennes, was still mired in a heavy crevasse zone at about 73ºS. They'd hoped to reach Pole before midwinters day. What are their chances? Well, they admitted they had none, and will stay put for the rest of the winter before retracing their tracks. Here's my updated take.
Happy Midwinter's Day! On 20 June I was at a reunion of the Antarctic Deep Freeze Association in New Orleans--this is the group that originally built and occupied the U. S. Antarctic stations for the IGY, and these gatherings always include a telephone call with the Polies, which gave me an opportunity to say hello to the folks on station. The midwinter weekend included the traditional showing of "The Shining" and a big dinner on Saturday the 22nd. The midwinter greeting photo is at right, and here is an excellent Antarctic Sun article.
It's looking increasingly likely that the icebreaker for the 2013-14 sealift will be furnished by...the U. S. Coast Guard! Yes, the Polar Star is heading off for some extended ice trials in the Arctic. Plans are for it to remain around Point Barrow and northern Alaska until early August. Here is a 6 July Anchorage Daily News article.
Polies are out of this world! Well, I certainly know that, but now it is becoming a reality. Fellow 2005 winterover Christina Marie Hammock was selected as one of the next eight NASA astronaut candidates! Here is the official NASA announcement. I always knew she was a star, but this is amazing, as there were more than 6,000 contenders for the position. And other Polies have been vying for such a spot as well. Here's the NASA news link; I like the photo from the Huffington Post (left) much better than the one that NASA used. And Christina isn't the only USAP person to have been selected! Jessica Meir was on the ice doing penguin studies for Scripps in 2004-05 and 2008-09. Here is another great article about Christina from the Samoa News.
The 36th Antarctic Treaty meeting (or should I say ATCM XXXVI) was held in Brussels at the end of May. Surprisingly, there wasn't much in the US media about it, but stuff was cussed and discussed. I haven't had time to understand all of the details that the Russians presented about the Vostok drilling program.
On 12 June in the US, NSF officially released the new McMurdo Master Plan...here's the press release. At right is NSF's comparative image of the present-day McMurdo vs the proposed future station from the press release. So where's the report? Well, it is here...or otherwise available from the USAP.gov home page under "Special Reports." Yes, this is the "coffee table report" so perhaps I need to acquire a coffee table. And in case you didn't know, the prime mover for this report in the Denver office was Shaggy (aka Brandon Heahusan).
Also on 12 June (NZ/Pole time), an inquest was held in Auckland to review the tragic January Kenn Borek Air crash. The coroner ruled officially that the three crew members died from multiple injuries resulting from impact. Further efforts to recover their bodies was expected in the upcoming summer season. Here's my updated report with links to news media and their photos from the SAR team.
The British winter crossing of Antarctica...organized by veteran explorer Ran Fiennes, was still mired in a heavy crevasse zone at about 73ºS. They'd hoped to reach Pole before midwinters day. What are their chances? Well, they admitted they had none, and will stay put for the rest of the winter before retracing their tracks. Here's my updated take.
There just was another McMurdo medevac on Friday 10 May 2013 (Christchurch Press and US Air Force coverage). The US Air Force C-17 aircraft crew again relied on night-vision goggles. This time some replacement winterovers made it to McM, along with freshies. And here's hoping that the medevaced person will quickly recover...to go smell the fall flowers in Hagley Park, head home to family, or whatever. The down side to these medevacs is that they cause the small winter crew A LOT of unplanned extra work to prepare the runway, get equipment ready, and work the flight.
Upcoming later in May is the next Antarctic Treaty meeting, this one will be in Brussels, Belgium. Here's hoping that we hear a bit more about the Russian efforts to analyze the Lake Vostok drilling results. Meanwhile we have this inconclusive 30 March report from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
With the winter darkness comes (at least in most years) the three-digit temperatures...and this year was no exception. The temperatures stayed below -100ºF for several days; this -104.3ºF (left) was the coldest it got. Yes, this occurrence did trigger the usual 300 Club activities...fortunately the heater in the sauna cooperated fully. Sorry, no photos of the outdoor activity.
IceCube winterover Blaise Kuo Tiong was just interviewed by the Filipino social media site Rappler.com--Blaise was born in the Philippines, and his family moved to the US when he was 9 years old. He's the second Filipino to winter...and I highly recommend his blog.
The 2011-12 season was the year of the centennial of Amundsen's and Scott's visits to Pole...now it looks like the 2013-14 summer will be the year of the bicycle! Yes, surprisingly, after last year's failed Pole venture by Eric Larsen, 2013-14 will see THREE separate ventures attempting to reach Pole by bicycle. I'm hoping they all make it!
The winter has barely begun, but already there have been some amazing auroras...I wish I were there to see them in person. Lacking that...some of the winterovers have been posting photos, check out my page of links to see them. But the most dramatic thing I've seen is this YouTube video by Daniel Leussler...handheld, taken from the observation deck above DA. It's hard to photograph auroras, because the cameras typically brighten up the rest of the image excessively, but this video is probably the closest capture of what the auroras really look like.
Yes, there was a sudden medevac flight to McMurdo...a USAF C-17 from Washington state flew south from Christchurch on Sunday 21 April, returning to ChCh on the next day (Christchurch Press article). As is usual with such events, no information about the sick individual or other passengers, but there are now 139 winterovers at McMurdo. The flight was arranged too quickly for freshies to be included in the southbound cargo...and a couple of replacement winterovers were left behind as well. But the patient responded positively to hospital treatment in ChCh. Here's the Air Force news coverage.
On 21 March, NSF released its official summary response to last year's Blue Ribbon Panel report...one of the more interesting items it addresses is the work underway in Denver to develop a new long-range plan for McMurdo (USAP/NSF graphic at right). Here's more information and links to the documents.
It's that time of year...time for updated winterover statistics! I think I got things right this time...finally.
Also, it's the time of year for sunset and various associated events. The equinox marking the first day of autumn in the Antarctic occurred at 0002 Pole time on Thursday 21 March, just after Wednesday midnight. The sunset wasn't supposed to occur for a few more days, perhaps on Saturday the 23rd, which is when the sunset dinner was held. Despite a bit of overcast, the skies allowed for views of the sunset, blue flashes and all...and thanks to refraction, the sun was still visible a couple of days later.
Also triggered by the equinox was the start of the now-five-man Coldest Journey winter crossing of the continent...they hoped to show up at Pole for Midwinters Day, weather, crevasses, and D-6's permitting.
A bit of bad news just reported to me by 1981 w/o Mike Gilbert. Off the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral...1981 winterover radio operator Pat Cornelius disappeared...after contacting the Coast Guard on 9 January to say he was having chest pains and tingling in his left arm. When his boat was located, he was not aboard. Here's the Coast Guard news coverage.
Delayed from 5 March 2013 by 3 days of mechanical problems followed by one day of weather issues...the final McMurdo flight of the season was completed on the 9th. The RNZAF 757 headed north after leaving behind 143 winterovers--a group that included 34 women. Before disappearing, it wagged its wings in salute to the group gathered at the Chalet. Almost 2 weeks earlier, around midday on the 26th, the cargo vessel Ocean Giant headed off into the sun, with cargo operations complete.
On the other side of the continent about 45 miles from the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station (72ºS-23ºE), a surprising announcement came from Ran Fiennes' "The Coldest Journey" expedition, which has hardly even started. Ran will leave the venture. He developed severe frostbite in his left hand after removing his glove briefly to fix a broken ski binding. The air temperature was -22ºF, although the real problem was probably contact with the cold snow. I and many of us have removed our gloves to do things outside at Pole in much colder winter weather. Ran has suffered from bad frostbite in that hand before, during a failed solo North Pole attempt in 2000. His sled slipped through the ice, and he reached into the frigid sea to recover it...the air temperature was -30ºF. After he returned to London and waited awhile for his left hand fingers to recover, he cut them off himself with a fretsaw (similar to a coping saw), in part to save the £6,000 surgery cost. Oof. Frostbite injuries are cumulative, and the team doctor concurred that he be evacuated...which hadn't happened yet due to bad weather in the area. The other five members of the traverse party intend to continue. The expedition press releases are here.
Late in the evening of Thursday 14 February 2013 the last flight of the season departed Pole...after bringing in the last couple of winterovers. The closing date was moved up a day because of bad weather forecasts--a possible storm in McM and cold temps at Pole. And the last flights were not without some boomerang action as one flight had mechanical problems. After the dust settled and that last flyby was over, there were 44 Polies left! Here is Blaise Kuo Tiong's video of the flyby! Oh, the showings of The Thing (all three versions) happened on Friday evening. The final beginning of isolation came on Tuesday the 19th after the last two Twin Otters--one KBA and one BAS, had departed on their way north. An interesting statistic--there were 115 LC-130 flights this season, the fewest in the last 20 years. Hmmm, 20 years ago in 1993 there was no traverse; this year the traverse brought in 140,000 gallons which is probably about what the 1993 station required for the winter months. And there were were 28 winterovers in 1993--a new record at the time. There are some familiar names on the 1993 w/o list...BK Grant, Katy and Rod Jensen, Joe Crane, Steve Bruce, Jordan Dickens, Bill McAfee, Kathie Hill...was this really 20 YEARS ago?
Back at McM, the NB Palmer departed for its next science cruise on schedule...the tanker finished offloading and departed on Friday morning...it was quickly replaced at the pier by the cargo ship Ocean Giant (left, a Friday afternoon webcam view) about an hour later.
Oh by the way, if you've been watching that webcam view as I have, you may have noticed that the cargo vessel sat there for several days with very little activity...not much was being offloaded. It seems that the ship hit the pier a bit hard when it arrived...and the pier moved toward the peninsula and grounded in the shallow water. So it took a bit of time to inspect and adjust things before the cargo ops could begin. Since then things got back to normal, with 80+ milvans coming off in a 12-hour shift. There were 679 containers unloaded, so you can do the math. Now (Thursday) they are backloading about 577.
11 February...the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP), which had originally shown up on 9 February, left the pier in the morning...around noon the tanker had docked (an earlier tanker blog entry)...and then the NBP returned to the bay and tied up outboard for refueling (webcam view at right with the icebreaker in the distance). This DOD press release was only a bit premature as things turned out.
And on 9 February, an airlift update...after earlier cancellations, a C-17 was making its way to Christchurch from McChord Field in Washington. Would the soggy slushy Pegasus ice runway be in condition for them to head to McMurdo on Monday the 11th? YES, according to George Blaisdell, who was quoted in this 18 February Stars and Stripes article. Here is 7 February 2013 Air Force news coverage.
Sealift update...yes, it is happening. The Vladimir Ignatyuk has made it to the ice pier more than once. It has more work to do, but at left is a view of it from the McMurdo webcam which I grabbed at about 1200 on 7 February. Remember to check all three of the cameras--the mobile camera has a good view of the ice pier. Meanwhile, Nathaniel B. Palmer has been cruising in the southern Ross Sea about 100 miles north of McMurdo, the tanker Maersk Peary is also in the Ross Sea, the cargo ship sailed from Lyttelton and was also heading south.
The South Pole summer season is almost over...perhaps only about one more week to go, and folks have been leaving. The first major group departure happened on 7 January, perhaps they'll make it to NZ on Friday. Northbound departures from McM are still being hampered by the slushy conditions at the Pegasus runway at McMurdo---this continues to prevent the larger/faster C-17's from making the trip to McMurdo...and people continue to be bumped from the LC-130 flights because of weight restrictions. But at the end of January the Polies took time out for a group photo (right) in front of DA. I've seen several versions of this from different folks, but this one is from Jeffrey Donenfeld. I think he's the guy in the red coat.
Yes, a sad event happened on 23 January 2013...a Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter with a crew of three left from Pole for Mario Zucchelli Station, the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay. At 2200, the aircraft missed its hourly checkin with Mac Center in McMurdo, and a few minutes later its emergency beacon was detected.
Briefly, the beacon was detected near Mt. Elizabeth in the Transantarctic Mountains...weather did not permit search activities initially. It wasn't until Saturday when an LC-130 spotted the tail of the aircraft on a steep mountain cliff. Further search missions confirmed that the flight was not survivable... eventually search-and-rescue teams visited the site and recovered the cockpit voice recorder and other equipment, but it was deemed too risky to attempt recovery of the bodies.
Above left is a January 2011 photo of KBC (the aircraft which was lost) at a field camp in the Transantarctic Mountains... and at right is a photo by Jeffrey Donenfeld of the memorial ceremony held at Pole on 27 January. The detailed timeline of events with links to other information and media coverage has been updated, reorganized, and moved to this page...a sad chronicle of events to be sure. Here's my coverage.
Here's the record of 2012-13 private Pole treks...
Yes, it really is sealift time...and the icebreaker will be first. The Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk left the Cape Town area on 9 January 2013, heading southeast. The reported ETA at McMurdo is 2 February. As for the cargo ships, on 18 January US time, the Military Sealift Command (MSC) announced what we all hoped and suspected...they are en route. The MSC- chartered container ship Ocean Giant departed Port Hueneme on 17 January, loaded with nearly 3500 tons of stuff (right, a 17 January US Navy photo). And no modular pier components(!) It's expected to reach McMurdo in mid-February after a stop in Lyttelton. Meanwhile, the tanker Maersk Peary is in the southern Indian Ocean (about 25ºS on 19 January), it will show up first. Oh yes, the Nathaniel B. Palmer will show up around 7 February after a long science cruise from PA.
Speaking of icebreakers...perhaps next year at this time the USAP icebreaker will be flying the Stars and Stripes. Yes, in December, the 34-year-old Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star was reactivated in Seattle after a four-year, $57 million overhaul (Seattle Times article). And on 11 January it completed its initial sea trials (left, the Polar Star returning to port) (USCG photo from their Facebook page). It is one of the world's most powerful icebreakers...and at present it is one of only two American polar icebreakers in service.
And speaking of ships which recently sailed from Cape Town...Ran Fiennes' "Coldest Journey" team sailed on 7 January. The expedition ship S. A. Agulhas (a South African ice-strengthened training ship and former polar research vessel, built in 1977 and used for 30 years to resupply the South African research bases in the Antarctic), headed more directly south from Cape Town toward Crown Bay (70ºS-23ºE). They reached that unloading point on 20 January...and after about 2 weeks of unloading and assembly work, the ship headed north on 3 February...leaving Ran Fiennes and the rest of the team on the ice to begin their travels south.
Other means of travel in the news...former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski spent three days at Pole in mid-January...oh yes, he's now the USAP medical director with UTMB--that may a more difficult job at times than his five space shuttle missions. Scott also visited Palmer Station in December.
As the annual shipping season approaches...attention once again focuses on the McMurdo ice pier. Despite the warm temperatures, it appears to be holding up so far...insulated under all that dirt. But all has not been well... what a difference a month makes. At left...a photo from around 12 December 2012 from ARA team member Mike DuVernois on his way to Pole. However...that snow bridge didn't seem to be surviving the heat wave. So...on 14 December the snow bridge was blasted away along with some of the surrounding ice (YouTube video posted by LDB engineer Richard Bose), and the pier was pulled closer to the wharf...so as to allow a New Zealand Army team to erect a Bailey bridge. The result...that 11 January photo (right) which has been making the rounds lately. If the ship would show up next week, everything would be fine. But we must wait a bit. And I've also heard that the sea ice in McMurdo Sound may be heavy enough to create a bit more work for the icebreaker than last year...stay tuned. I'm not any good at guessing the sea ice thickness from looking at photos....but at right below is a 10 January MODIS image (source link, from which you can navigate to other images/dates/areas). Note that the top of the photo is south; Ross Island is in the center. I looked back at the past week's images and things were pretty cloudy on most days...I couldn't see what was happening in the northern Ross Sea.
Antarctic drilling projects have been hot news topics this season...back in early November 2012, Peter Rejcek discussed the three biggest ones in this Antarctic Sun article. The most newsworthy of these projects from last season is of course the Russian penetration of Lake Vostok...but there hasn't been much recent news about it...until 11 January 2013, when the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the first ice sample of the season had been recovered from the borehole. The sample was recovered from a depth of 3406m/11,175' (a fair distance above the lake surface at 3769m/12,365'). So is it contaminated with drilling fluid? Too little information...presumably we'll hear of more drilling progress later this austral summer, as well as future plans to probe into the lake itself. Their immediate plans are to continue drilling to 3430m/11,253'. Before this news came out, I collected (and summarized) Russia's project technical reports, which were submitted to the Antarctic Treaty meetings each year. Including the fact that they had difficulty evaluating the drilling fluid density because of (inadvertent) hydraulic fracturing. The much-publicized BAS Lake Ellsworth project is located at 79ºS-99.5ºW...175 miles northeast of the ANI/ALE base camp at Union Glacier. (The heavy cargo was flown to UG on the IL-76 aircraft and traversed to the drill site by ALE.) Unfortunately, the effort to drill 10,500' to the lake surface had to be called off after their unique drilling concept failed--they'd planned to balance the lake water pressure (and prevent the drill water from entering the lake or geysering out of the hole) by connecting the drill hole with an underice water reservoir (what we'd call a rodwell bulb full of water) but they were unable to make the two connect. Back to the drawing board.... Here's the project blog (with links to the project web sites), 27 December BBC coverage of the project termination, and an April 2012 BAS presentation by David Blake which describes/depicts the drill scheme and its development (from the 2012 Polar Technology Conference which I attended). And then there is that USAP project, WISSARD, hoping to tap into subglacial Lake Whillans sometime later this month. One of the SPoT teams started hauling their equipment to the site (600+ miles SE of McM near the south edge of the Ross Ice Shelf) on 30 December (due to show up by 12 January). Here's their project home page and blog. Unlike Vostok and Ellsworth, Lake Whillans is not an isolated lake, but rather it is part of an extensive network of lakes and channels running under the ice. It is only about 10m deep, and about 800m/half a mile below the ice surface. They're also using a hot water drill system, which some media (such as this October 2011 New Scientist article) describe as the same method used by the BAS Lake Ellsworth team. But actually the system is more like something from IceCube...and since the team is packed with IceCube veterans as well, it ought to work. Here's their page with photos, information, and a schematic diagram (P&ID) of the drill system.
Not to leave Pole out of the drilling discussion...there is a new approved deep ice coring project in the planning stages--the South Pole Ice Core Project has been funded for a 1500m/4900' ice coring project, planned for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Antarctic field seasons. The project consortium includes UCI, UW, and UNH...and they had a planning workshop in Boulder across the street from my apartment (!) And in more recent news, the ARA project completed drilling their 12 210m antenna holes at Pole on 31 December, and they're now doing the wiring and testing.
Happy New Year! The holiday season was celebrated with traditions old and new...gift exchange, Round the World Race, Marathon, New Years Eve concert, the unveiling of the Pole marker (right)...and other things I won't mention. And the new Rodwell 3 was finally placed in service the weekend before New Years. Further north at McMurdo, warm weather had softened the runway, meaning that the LC-130's couldn't carry their full cargo load (perhaps a good thing that the C-17s had gone away for the middle of the summer--they'd probably have trouble landing at all). The melting was exacerbated by a dust storm which blew a lot of black dust over the snow surface. From last report there is lots of mail, cargo, freshies, etc., that is not moving south from Christchurch. And the road to Pegasus has softened as well, resulting in long slow travel times. In fact, sometimes wheeled vehicles have been forced to use a "magic carpet"--a plastic sled similar to those used for fuel bladders by the traverse, and towed by a Challenger or similar tracked vehicle. These have been used for anything from passenger vans up to Ivan the Terra Bus.
The solstice has passed meaning the summer is about half over already! But things have been happening...not exactly construction of a new elevated station, but folks have been busy nonetheless. Although the tourist crowd is expected to be much smaller than last year, the first skiers and other visitors have already shown up, so the visitor center has been erected again(!) and the welcome sign has been moved in front of DA (left). Oh yes, Boyd Brown assures me that the sign says the same thing on both sides...like some other small towns I've spent time in. As for some of the construction and science projects...here's what has been happening so far.
After the solstice of course comes the major holiday season of Christmas and New Years...traditionally a time for great dinners, athletic events, and big parties. I'll leave it to Jeffrey Donenfeld to describe a couple of the events...one of the newer traditions is the all-station holiday photo--he includes a video of its creation. As for the athletic events, the Race around the World comes off on Christmas Eve, and it has a rather dramatic course. This event was first created by Casey Jones and Martha Kane Savage in December 1979...before that there used to be a football game, we played the Pole Bowl on Christmas Day in 1976.
101 years ago, on 14 December 1911, Amundsen showed up here. Last year at this time a big multinational crowd assembled to commemorate that event, and this year we have this new tradition...flying the Norwegian flag at the Pole on 14 December (photo from Andrea Dixon).
Some interesting aviation news from the other side of the continent...on 28 November local time, the first Boeing 737 aircraft landed in Antarctica, on the 10,000-foot blue ice runway at the Norwegian Troll Station. Troll is located 150 miles from the coast in Queen Maud Land. The six-hour flight from Cape Town was commissioned by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) and operated by PrivatAir, a business/private aviation operator (left; press release photo © NPI). Passengers included NPI researchers and support personnel, some invited guests, and a team of experienced aircraft operations folks to assess the event. The flight returned to Cape Town the next day. Here's the NPI news article (Norwegian page translated by Google) with more photos, the PrivatAir press release page, and the PDF version. What does this mean for the future of Antarctic air transport? Too soon to tell, although this success needs to be viewed in context with two other significant 2012 news items: the USAP Blue Ribbon Panel report which recommended construction of an ice runway for large wheeled aircraft at Pole; and the incipient failure of Australia's constructed ice runway, the Wilkins Aerodrome (40 miles from Casey) due to melting in midsummer (October 2012 Crikey.com.au article). A new rock-surfaced runway in the ice-free Vestfold Hills (near Davis) may be considered as a long-term alternative.
5 December...it is summer at Pole, and construction is well underway. The jacks were installed under the heavy shop, and by now the leveling process should be underway if not complete. As for science stuff...the SuperDARN control building is being created out of the old SPASE-2 module...it and the antennas will be installed on the east side of the fuel arch. The ARA team has been setting up their hot water drilling equipment for antenna installation...and the SPT folks have begun installing yet another version of a ground shield (right, photo from Amy Bender). This is shield attempt number four, not counting the original plan for a huge inverted dome, bigger than the one that covered the old station. It would have been fabricated by TEMCOR, the same company that brought us the old dome.
A strange bit of news came out on 28 November 2012...Nicholas Johnson, the author of Big Dead Place (left, Amazon.com link) committed suicide. The news announcement from his publisher is rather crass...in fact, when I first saw this I assumed it was something Nick had dreamed up, but I have confirmed that it is true. I much prefer to read this tasteful blog post by Jason Anthony. Nick wintered in McMurdo more than once, in 2001 and 2008 at least, and at Pole in 2004, and we'd been in touch for the past 10 years. He had a way with words, sarcasm, humor, and a sense of the Antarctic Program, and he will be missed.
On 29 November the first South Pole Traverse (SPoT) arrived at Pole, only 25 days after leaving McMurdo. I don't know if it is a record, but it is definitely faster than some of the previous ones...although it still had to deal with soft snow on the Plateau. At right, their status map from the day of arrival...after a few days at Pole unloading and resting, they continued on to AGAP to recover fuel and camp materials. Meanwhile, the second traverse, which left McM a few days later on 12 November, reached the top of the Leverett Glacier on 27 November, where they left a depot of 24 bladders/72,000 gallons of fuel at 86º02.221'S, 142º13.334'W and turned around, heading to McMurdo (27 November status map and sitrep. The depoted fuel will be taken to Pole later; meanwhile the next mission for the Traverse#2 team will be to haul cargo for the WISSARD project.
Thanksgiving weekend, 24-25 November 2012...by now the early season flight delays have mostly been resolved...the major science groups (IceCube/ARA and SPT) have summer teams on site to do what needs to be done, and the summer construction projects are underway. Well, perhaps not this weekend, as Saturday is the day for the big dinner and the first day of a two-day weekend. There are about 155 folks on station, a few are living in the summer camp Hypertats, the only part of summer camp that is being used.
During late winter, some more satellite tests were conducted with another of the SKYNET-4 series, as the original candidate, SKYNET-4C, got moved so that it was hidden behind the dark sector structures, and RF interference was a concern. Anyway, the tests were successful, so now the NATO-IVB satellite is providing ~4 hours of T1 access per day, currently in the early morning hours (left, a glimpse at the scroll during Thanksgiving weekend). Yeah, what's a T1 line amongst 155 people? Well, it is 4 more hours of internet access than was previously available. Here's a bit of older information about the project.
By Friday 8 November, all but a very few of the 2012 winterovers had headed north...some have made it back to North America already. And the summer people and some of the winterovers have continued to arrive from McMurdo, despite some aggravating flight delays, boomerangs, and cancellations. Both of the 2013 IceCube winterovers have arrived and are busy learning everything. These guys are Felipe Pedreros...who will be the first Chilean to winter, and Blaise Kuotiong...the first winterover originally from the Philippines. And in amongst such things as fire team training, job training, altitude sickness, they've also been blogging and posting photos! Check out the links!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, the tourist season is getting started. The Union Glacier camp is up and running, and the first Pole venturer on the ice is American Aaron Linsdau, aiming to be only the fourth person and the first American to travel to Pole and back without assistance or resupply (ulp, that means not one cookie or drink of water from the Polies). He started his trek from Hercules Inlet on 2 November. And last week another American, Eric Larsen of Boulder, CO, announced that he'll make a solo bicycle trip to Pole starting in December 2012.
Surprisingly on short notice, the second flight arrived on Tuesday 30 October...it was a cargo flight bringing no new people, but it took the first winterovers north. All Pole flights were cancelled on Wednesday for mechanical reasons...Thursday, plans changed several times, but an evening Herc flight brought in 40 more folks. The summer is truly underway! And on Monday the next passenger flight happened...scheduled to take about 25 of the winterovers north. A few of them who left earlier are already back in the US.
The folks on the Friday (26 October 2012) flight to Pole waited on the ice runway because of a mechanical delay...until 1300. Then the flight was cancelled. On Saturday the Pole flight was an alternate to WAIS...but the first flight to Pole did take off, and landed at Pole around noon on Saturday. At right...some of the new arrivals getting off of the aircraft (photo from Carlos Pobes). Winter is over!
Yes, the big airplanes are coming. The first of the NYANG LC-130's left Schenectady NY for the ice on the 16th and 17th...(Air National Guard article). And the first one, Skier 81, reached McMurdo at 1800 on Tuesday 23 October. For a time it was announced that the first Pole flight would be on Thursday the 25th...a day ahead of schedule...and the weather looked good for the first 30 or so Polies to head south. But no...it was cancelled. Then it was to go on Friday the 26th...or.......whenever. Watch the Pole weather and the McMurdo weather...
The Pole isolation ended after noon on Friday 19 October, when the first KBA aircraft, Basler MKB, showed up from Rothera for a one-hour refueling stop en route to McMurdo (left, photo by Sven Lidstrom). Its arrival had been delayed a couple of days. The aircraft and its crew of four did not enter the station...yes, they did bring freshies--including onions as well as fruit (all were enjoyed). A Twin Otter (KBG) was scheduled to arrive that day as well, but that flight was postponed until Monday the 22nd...it showed up at 1235. It was followed at 1300 by another Basler. These aircraft brought more freshies, as well as wine (!) The second Basler (JKB, below left) was chartered to the Australian program and was on the way to Davis. The Twin Otter stayed overnight before continuing on to McMurdo; the Australian Basler and crew stayed for several days because of bad weather at Davis...most recently they were scheduled to depart Pole at 1300 on the 25th (the three photos displayed on this page are by Sven Lidstrom from the Antarctic Photo Library). Here's an Antarctic Sun article with additional photos. More KBA USAP aircraft--another Basler and another Twin Otter, were still en route. Some of these aircraft as well as a BAS Twin Otter were spotted in Punta Arenas on 15 October Chilean time, and another BAS Twin Otter was already headed for Rothera. The original plans called for the first Pole passenger flights to start on the 26th using NYANG LC-130s.
I spent several days in Colorado Springs between 17 and 21 October...among other things attending some of the Antarctic events being held as part of the Colorado Springs Cool Science Festival. Thursday evening I attended a presentation about the "Cleanest Air on Earth" by Brian Vasel, a 2002 and 2003 NOAA winterover who is currently the NOAA observatory director based in Boulder. Wednesday's presentations included a talk by Katy Jensen and a discussion by Paul Sullivan about the South Pole telescopes...this event included a video conference with Pole featuring IceCubers Sven Lidstrom and Carlos Pobes, South Pole Telescope folks Cynthia Chiang and Nicholas Huang, as well as greenhouse technician Joselyn Fenstermacher. One amazing comment I heard afterward was about a 15-year-old high school student who was extremely impressed by seeing Cynthia (right) talk about physics. Moderators and organizers included Dave Bresnahan and Carol Crossland--Carol was the first woman to winter at all three USAP Antarctic stations...and amazingly I had lunch on Thursday with Rachel Javorsek who just finished a winter at Palmer and is now only the second woman to winter at all 3 stations (so far as I know...have I missed anyone?)
1 October brought the first of the main body flights to McMurdo...the prelude was the Christchurch arrival of the Air Force C-17 on Sunday 30 September (Press article). The Australian Airbus-319 arrived first (left), followed later in the day by the C-17. A total of 130 passengers arrived, so the McMurdo population is starting to swell to summer proportions. And the Kress trailer (right) is something new in ground transportation. These two 1 October photos are both by Bobby Werner from the Antarctic Photo Library; here's a closer view of that passenger trailer. The next phase of the Air Force operations were to begin later in October when the LC-130's start heading south (Military.com article). A total of about 50 Air Force flights from Christchurch to McMurdo are planned.
The McMurdo summer population, like that at Pole, will be a bit smaller this year. Many of the departments have been cut at least 20%, and other cutbacks first mentioned at the annual planning conference held in Arlington in June are being implemented. For example, there will be no C-17 flights from ChCh to McM from the end of November to mid-January...and this of course will result in a cutback in freshies and mail, as well as transportation for people before and after the Christmas holidays. Another McM innovation is "the smell of fresh paint" which involves the first phase of dorm renovations, described in the 21 September "around the continent" Antarctic Sun report as well as this article which details the dorm renovations as well as changes in the housing policy. Other McM changes involve the shuffling of facilities...no more yoga in the chapel...the gerbil gym moves to the library, and the library gets shrunk and moved to a dorm lounge. On the construction front, work has already started on another new fuel tank, and the new ice pier, which was started in early July, had reached its minimum acceptable thickness of 18 feet by 19 September (right, photo by Mike Rice). From this angle, it looks a bit smaller than the last one, but it means that the backlog of trash and garbage may get sent north this season. As for Pole...the lack of freshies during the midsummer period will affect things here as well, as the greenhouse will be shut down again this summer...for cleaning, repairs, budget cuts, and/or the operational change, as the University of Arizona is no longer involved. And speaking of Pole, many of the 2013 winterovers are in Denver last week and this week, doing psych tests, trauma and fire training. And yes, I got together with a few of them last weekend....
The last big Antarctic adventure...or another disaster in the making, perhaps comparable to Scott's demise 100 years ago? The ceaselessly intrepid British adventurer Ranulph Fiennes is planning another trans-Antarctic crossing...for next winter (see map at left from the expedition web site)--appropriately titled The Coldest Journey. Their preliminary plans have them arriving at Queen Maud Land by ship in mid-January, at the Lazarev Sea coast near Novo. Starting on 21 March 2013, their motorized venture will head south using the traverse route more recently used by Extreme World Races/Arctic Trucks. They plan to arrive at Pole in mid-June. They then will continue to McMurdo along the USAP South Pole Traverse route, arriving on about 21 September. Hmmmm. Here's the 17 September BBC News article as well as a link to his web site and blog. And more information is out from Alexander Kumar, the British physician who wintered at (and blogged from) Conncordia in 2012. He reports in his 21 September blog post that the expedition has been secretly planned for 4 years; he also provides more detail about the venture and promises to provide more details about it (and discuss his own involvement) in his next blog post.
Ran last showed up on Pole with his snowmobile-equipped Transglobe Expedition in December 1980...in sunlight and summer temperatures--at right is Ran (left) with station manager Tom Plyler discussing a certain article of clothing (perhaps from a sponsor) of a type commonly worn at Pole (more info and photos). The following northern summer I met him and the team when their ship, en route to the Arctic, stopped in Los Angeles for a trade show.
After a fairly significant storm, with wind chill approaching -100ºC, things finally cleared up enough for the sun to peek through the haze on 22 September. The sunrise dinner was Saturday the 15th. But it is still cool...there was yet another 300 Club event in early September...about #8 for the season. Sorry, you'll have to go elsewhere for photos :)
Josiah (Siah) Heiser, the heavy equipment operator during my 2008 winter, has just published a book about his life...from growing up, to his work on the ice which included much time at McMurdo as well as Pole...to the present time (he and wife are currently living in the Philippines). The book is now available on Kindle (readable on most anything) at Amazon.com, for not very much money (here's his blog with information and purchase link). I highly recommend it!
Winfly is over at last. The first of the six flights departed on the scheduled Monday 20 August date, but it turned into an eleven-hour boomerang, as the forecast bad weather at McM materialized at the wrong time. What may have been worse than being on the flight...the McM passengers WERE waiting at Pegasus when Condition 1 was declared...a truck carrying baggage lost the flag line and went off the road...after a long wait, all of the vehicles made it slowly back to town. Oh well. The latest storm was to get even worse, and last for a couple of days, so the Tuesday flight was canceled. And on Wednesday morning it was still Condition 1 at Pegasus, so that day's flight was canceled as well. Thursday morning...McMurdo weather was better, things were back to Condition 3, and that evening the flight arrived, boosting the population by 120 people. But the second flight did not arrive until Monday 27 August...the date when the last of the flights had originally been scheduled, before Mother Antarctica had her way. The last of the six flights reached McMurdo on 31 August NZ time (31 August Antarctic Sun update) and Military.com article). The McM population is now over 400.
Discussing Winfly...here's a 17 August US Air Force press release about this year's Operation Deep Freeze (ODF); it featured the logo at right...I don't know if this is new, but I don't recall seeing it before. More coverage of Winfly the and summer season is this 17 August Antarctic Sun article...which also describes some of the upcoming events for the 2012-13 summer season. Some things we already knew...such as the 168-person Pole population, and attention to the Blue Ribbon Panel report which was released in July. Other items of note...the first main body flight to McM is scheduled for 1 October, and the Pole opening flight is scheduled for 26 October...with a USAF LC-130 rather than a Basler. One of the major construction projects at McM this season will be another 2-million-gallon fuel tank--it would give the station a better capability to operate for 2 years without a fuel resupply. And the status of the ice pier is still questionable due to a warmer-than-usual winter.
As for other summer projects at Pole...it is time to do some jacking and leveling of the station, as well as the VMF (garage) building. Hopefully the permanent fuel line from the fuel arch through LO to the VMF arch and under the station toward the flight line will finally be finished, so that the fuel hose can be rolled up for good sometime during the summer. The Old Pole site needs a bit more remediation...using either heavy equipment or explosives. And there will be another attempt to establish communications with another new old satellite, either Skynet-4c or a similar one. The 2012 winter is the last currently scheduled for the BICEP-2 telescope, which is the only all-year science project requiring significant amounts of liquid helium (June Antarctic Sun article). The cryo building will be used for another science project, and there will no longer be cryo tech position after the 2012-13 summer.
Google Street View update...it seems that the team also collected photos INSIDE the elevated station!. You can start here inside the galley and navigate through the hallway to Destination Alpha, and then descend the stairs outside the gym to the first floor! It's a bit discontinuous, but here are a lot of things to see along the way, including even a few Polies.
Thursday 9 August...a medevac flight to McMurdo was underway. As is usual, there were not many details, but there is an interesting twist or two, as well as the usual media kerfuffle. The aircraft of choice is the Airbus A-319 that the AAD now uses for transport to Wilkins Aerodrome, the artificial ice runway near Casey. The aircraft and a 5-person medical team arrived in Chch on 8 August from Melbourne, via Hobart, and they departed for McM on the 9th, expecting to arrive there at 1300 McM/SP time, per this updated CNN article. Here is the 8 August (US time) an 8 August (US time) NSF press release. As a backup, a US Air Force C-17 is on standby in the US. Winfly was originally scheduled for later this month, with six C-17 flights to McM between 20 and 27 August. The media has been confusing things by showing old photos of the South Pole dome and referring to other Pole medevacs. This ABC Australia Radio article stated that McMurdo's Pegasus runway was "open all year round," which some of the equipment operators at McMurdo might take issue with. And the CNN report states that there are "60 or 70" folks wintering at McMurdo...actually there were 153, with another 14 souls at Scott Base. The update...the flight was successful, it was on deck at the Pegasus airfield at McM for about an hour on 9 August during the midday twilight, and returned to ChCh, arriving about 1700 that evening. The weather at McM was good, the temperature was -31ºF/-35ºC when the aircraft landed. This was probably the earliest landing of a large wheeled aircraft during the austral winter. Here's the second NSF press release of 9 August which announces the successful completion; it also reports that an additional passenger left McMurdo on the flight because of compelling personal circumstances. The press release includes a file photo (left) of one of the first test landings of the Australian A-319 (on the annual sea ice runway) in November 2007 (photo by Ralph Maestas from the Antarctic Photo Library). Also, here is the 9 August Christchurch Press article with a photo of the aircraft in Christchurch. Afterward, the AAD Airbus returned to Hobart, arriving on Friday morning (ABC Australia article). Oh, and in a postscript, the AAD director stated that Australia would pay the the costs of the medevac (10 August Sydney Morning Herald story). Remember that the USAP has assisted in several medevacs from Australian stations over the years, including this one in November 2008.
On a related note, Renée-Nicole Douceur, the 2011 Pole winter site manager who suffered a stroke in August 2011, is reported to be recovering from that mishap, "...about 80 percent back by now," in her words. She's been recovering since April, living in her luxury coach "The Gypsy Queen" in Hampton Falls, NH, and she hopes to head for Wyoming. She hasn't ruled out a lawsuit, and there may also be a book. The complete story is in this 8 August Newburyport (MA) Daily News article.
Another medical update on a more positive note...UTMB, the ASC medical subcontractor, recently hired Dr. Scott E. Parazynski as the director of their Center for Polar Medical Operations. Scott, as an astronaut, flew on five space shuttle missions, and is also a serious mountain climber--he's the first astronaut to summit Everest in 2009. Here's the UTMB press release.
That long-awaited NSF Blue Ribbon Panel report addressing the future of the US Antarctic Program WAS announced and released on 23 July. My brief summary...Pole is in good shape because there's a new station, but the rest of the USAP needs some improvement in infrastructure and logistics, such as that pier at Palmer that was obsolete 25 years ago when I was involved with the engineering study for its replacement that never happened. (Ulp...25 years ago??? I'm getting old...my first visit to the ice was 40 years ago). The only Pole-specific recommendation is for a hard-surface runway so that wheeled C-17s and other large aircraft can land. That is a hard problem. Although many studies have been done over the years, and some have stated that the solution was imminent, the real story is that every other Antarctic ice runway that has been certified for large wheeled aircraft is based on blue ice, and there isn't any of that at Pole.
Several links to note. First and most important, the actual page to download the full report or the executive summary is here. My summary? I defer to others; actually the executive summary is good, or a shorter excellent one was written by Peter Rejcek in this Antarctic Sun article. For more background information, this NSF page includes links to the 23 July webcast which announced the panel's results, as well as shorter video statements by panel chairman Norm Augustine and members Don Hartill, Bart Gordon, and Duncan McNabb, and acknowledgement of the report cover art (right) by NSF illustrator Zina Deretsky. Three of the panel members, Hugh Ducklow, Lou Lanzerotti, and Diana Wall, have spent lots of time doing research in Antarctica, and Hugh spent much of the 2008 winter at Palmer studying microplankton.
A couple of other interesting news stories have been making the rounds this week. First, this 17 July feature from the Washington Post's weather blog, "South Pole weather: 200 degrees of separation from Washington D.C.'s scorching heat." It features commentary from several winterovers, including meteorologist Dale Hershlag, IceCuber Sven Lidstrom, South Pole Telescope observer Cynthia Chiang, and physician Dale Mole...and if that isn't enough, given the current Washington D.C summer heat, there is a link to Antarctic jobs (!) And earlier this month the discovery of the Higgs boson stirred new interest in IceCube; one of several good articles appeared in the Huffington Post...this features one of Sven's many amazing outdoor winter photos.
Google Street View hits Pole! Yes...it doesn't matter that there aren't any "streets," but Google has been continuing to expand their Antarctic coverage (left). All of this interest started when Google employee David "Pablo" Cohn (his blog) took a sabbatical from the Mountain View company to work the Pole help desk for the 2010-11 summer. Over the past year they've improved their mapping coverage, and on 17 July at the international SCAR meetings in Portland, OR (meeting web site), they announced some enhanced Street View coverage not only outside, but also inside some of the historic huts on Ross Island, as well as the Crary Lab and the BFC at McMurdo. The Pole coverage features the roof of DSL including the BICEP2 and South Pole Telescopes, as well as the Ceremonial Pole. The Google team visited the ice in November 2011 with the Street View camera system to capture the images. The link--the Google Lat Long Blog which briefly describes the project and links to some of the video. And as well, here is a December 2011 Antarctic Sun article about the Google/USAP collaboration...but since Sun editor Peter Rejcek had lunch in Portland on 16 July with Alex Starns, the Google technical program manager for Street View, Paul Morin, director of the University of Minnesota's Polar Geospatial Center, Pablo, and other perpetrators, I expect a revised article soon.
Got helicopters? It seems that the contract for McM helo's, currently held by PHI, (company web site), is up for renewal, effective for the 2013-14 season. PHI got the original contract in 1996, taking over from the Navy flight squadron (VXE-6). Here's an Examiner news article, as well as the fedbizopps.gov announcement page which has additional links and info.
In a surprise announcement released by NSF on 3 July, arrangements with Russia's Murmansk Shipping Company have been concluded successfully, so the diesel icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk will again handle the McMurdo Sound icebreaking and escort operations for the upcoming 2012-13 season. According to the NSF announcement, the agreement follows a series of technical discussions with the shipping company. Here is the NSF press release, as well as a 6 July AAAS/Science Insider news report. The one-year contract with renewal options was originally announced 25 August 2011; more details about the Canadian-built vessel and the original contract can be found here. At right is the vessel in front of Hut Point on 26 January 2012; this photo was taken by Steve Royce and can be found in the Antarctic Photo Library.
A celebration of life for Kathie Hill was held in the Denver area on 4 August (details).
Time to highlight some excellent artistic work. First, Anthony Powell, from Hawera, NZ, has spent 9 winters on the ice (and a few more summers), some with his wife, working at Scott Base, McMurdo, and under NSF Artists and Writers grants. His work has appeared in various places around the world, most recently in the BBC "Frozen Planet" series. Now he's in the final stage of putting together his feature film, "Antarctica: A Year on the Ice," a ten-year project. He's been soliciting funds on Kickstarter, offering copies of the completed DVD and other goodies...it now has been successfully funded, and the Kickstarter preorder period has now closed. But there may be other options to preorder, stay tuned. A glimpse of Anthony (Antz) is at left along with the first trailer; his website is here, it also includes the time-lapse video of the 2012 McMurdo ship offload. His frozensouth.com blog includes both the first and second trailers.
Another worthwhile project, although a bit smaller, is already funded, This is "Mikey Going Down the Book" put together my Mikey Kampmann from Portland, OR (and Portlandia) while working at Pole last summer. The kickstarter preorder period has now closed, but stay tuned to mikey going down for other options.
The NSF/USAP annual planning conference, 26-28 June 2012 in Virginia, is over. And a bit more news about the upcoming seasons is coming out. The lingering contingencies that were discussed include the possibility of no icebreaker in the upcoming summer, the thin condition of the sea ice around McMurdo (which could affect the science projects traditionally based on the annual ice, not to mention the annual ice runway), and planning for the ice pier (well, if there IS an icebreaker). Closer to Pole...the peak summer population this season may be only 168...or to put it into my perspective, only 200% of the planned peak population for my first season in 1976-77. Instead of opening summer camp (which still has that frozen sewer outfall, remember?) a couple of Hypertats would be moved over close to the station to house the peak population; the occupants would use the bathroom facilities inside the station. I wonder if they'll try and move the freshly upgraded solar-powered Hypertats...perhaps if it can be done this way as was done with the Jamesways in 1997-98.
Midwinters weekend is over...and the sun is slowly moving back up toward the Pole horizon. The celebration and the food seems to get bigger and better every year. At right is the official midwinter greeting photo (more information)...and be sure to check out the great photos by Robert and Cynthia!
More sad news...TWO Polies lost their lives in a one-week period at the end of May. Kathie Hill Baker, for many years the met coordinator for RPSC (and a 1993 and 1995 winterover) was tragically murdered in Whidbey Island, Washington, on about 2 June. Her husband Al Baker, who wintered in 2001 and since then has been the Pole science support coordinator, has been arrested and charged with first degree murder. I didn't know Kathie personally, but we'd been in contact. This whole story left me seriously shaken. Here's a tribute page, with that amazing photo of Kathie (right) as well as some even more impressive commentary by the photographer. Lockheed-Martin ASC has offered counseling to Polies past and present.
A week earlier, 2011-12 summer carpenter Jesse Peterson died in a Colorado canoeing accident (story below).
The middle of June...things were quiet on the ice. Well, after all, it is the month of midwinter (and the McMurdo folks celebrated on the weekend of 16-17 June). And it has also been cold. At Pole the temperatures dipped back into 3 digits (scroll image and weekly climate summary), with, of course, some of the traditional events associated with that phenomenon.
So...much of the major ice news is happening north of 60ºS. First, it must be said that folks are being hired for next season...PQ's are underway...and planning for the summer is happening. On the jobs front, next year's Pole winter site manager has been hired and starts work on 2 July, but there are still lots of openings out there. Is it too late to apply? Well, maybe not, but it is not getting any earlier. Remember, the ASC job postings are on this page, along with links to a few of the other subcontractor positions. ASC announced that they planned to get job offers for next winter for current winterovers made and confirmed by September...but there are lots of other jobs to fill.
Otherwise, what happens in the rest of the world during the middle of the austral winter is...meetings. The biggest one is of course the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting which was held in Hobart between 11-20 June. So far there have not been any earth-shaking announcements, but some of the news of interest includes formal approval of a new Korean station next to the Italians in Terra Nova Bay. This will be a futuristic US$ 91 million 50,000 square foot facility depicted and described in this news article, it will be completed and occupied in March 2014. The Koreans as well as the Chinese were being courted to set up major science/support bases in Hobart. And on the science front, an Australian geographic study identified 15 distinct Antarctic regions--a far cry from the generic East and West Antarctica we are familiar with (AAD press release).
Concurrently with the Treaty meetings, an Australian Green Party spokesperson hosted a forum on 17 June to discuss a proposal to seek World Heritage status for Antarctica...but some consider this to be an opening to reopen the minerals debate (The Conversation blog post).
Other meetings in America...the Blue Ribbon Panel, which visited Antarctica this past season, has held several formal meetings which are documented on the NSF web site. Minutes for the first 3 of the meetings have been published; the first meeting covers the initial charter of the panel, the second is a followup after their visit to Pole and McMurdo, and the third is a later followup after they visited Palmer. The fourth meeting (for which minutes have not been published) addressed the final details of report preparation. Some interesting thoughts...some may get implemented, some we may consider a bit surprising, and some are probably out of the question considering the current state of the economy and the NSF budget. But...remember, the 1997 report by the previous panel resulted in many significant changes...including the final impetus for the current elevated station. The final report is expected to be released before Winfly. Here's the NSF link to the Blue Ribbon Panel documentation; these pages also include other older reports including the seminal 1997 document.
And then there was the NSF USAP Annual Planning Conference, which was held on 26-28 June at a Lockheed Martin facility in Crystal City, Arlington, VA. The conference web site includes the agenda and a list of point papers and discussion items...interestingly, some of these are items of interest which were mentioned in the Blue Ribbon Panel meetings...such as icebreaker support, McMurdo and field camp housing, and a runway at Pole for heavy wheeled aircraft (something that people have been talking about since the early 1960s).
A sad bit of Pole news from...Colorado. Jesse Peterson, a 2011-12 summer carpenter, was lost on 25 May in a canoe accident in Willow Lake...a remote lake at 11,660 feet, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness about 100 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. The canoe overturned, and he disappeared. His companion, Natalie Brechtel from California, made it to the lake shore and was assisted by an Outward Bound team which was training nearby. Jesse, age 27, was from Alma, Colorado. Natalie also worked at Pole last season. At left is the announcement of his remembrance on 9 June; here's a Denver Post article.
The first weekend in June saw the voting for the next version of the South Pole marker, which will be created by machinist Derek Aboltins and unveiled next New Years. There were SEVENTEEN entries in the competition this year!
Remember the dome? The top ring with the five holes was installed at the new Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme last year, but it was incomplete. The American flag was put in place atop the dome ring by Steve Bruce, Lee Mattis, and Jerry Marty, on 29 March 2012 California time (Antarctic Sun article).
Lockheed Martin appears to be progressing with their assumption of the USAP contract. Folks are being hired by them and the subcontractors, the PQ process has been set up by the UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch) in Galveston, the same organization that studied my swollen knee during my 2008 winter. And plans are being made for next summer (well, assuming there is an icebreaker, see below). At present it looks like the station opening will be one or more LC-130 flights on 27 October, rather than Baslers.
The auroras have been amazing this year, or at least so it seems compared to my 3 winters (well, I thought they were amazing then). In addition to miscellaneous photos posted by the winterovers on the links page (and I've added a couple more links), check out this Japanese site for the very latest photos and videos from equipment maintained by science tech friend Ethan Good.
On 9 May 2012, NSF announced that the Murmansk Shipping Company, which had contracted to provide the icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk for the 2011-12 and future seasons, had advised that the icebreaker would not be available in the future. Here's the "Dear Colleague" letter from Scott Borg, NSF Antarctic division director...and here is a fresh 9 May solicitation by NSF on the FedBizOpps site. They did this last year about this time after the Swedish government withdrew the availability of the Oden. The US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star is still in refit and will not be available until 2013. Of historical interest...the solicitation (as did the one in 2011) includes a detailed spreadsheet of US Antarctic icebreaker operations since the IGY.
The denial of the CH2M Hill protest of the contract award to Lockheed Martin was announced tersely by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on 18 March. Finally on 9 May we have the detailed report, or at least a redacted version. Here's the Washington Technology article with a link to the pdf of the decision (which has now also been included in the GAO decision page.
7 April was a cool day at Pole...literally (right)! This year was the earliest ever that the temperature dipped into 3 digits (ºF). The previous earliest running of the 300 Club was also on 7 April in 1982, but this year the temperature dropped below -100ºF about an hour earlier than it did in 1982. Nice to know that Polies are still crazy enough to risk extremities and lungs in this athletic endeavor. The past 12 months have brought several weather records including the highest temperature and the highest recorded wind speed. Here's a fresh Antarctic Sun article.
3-5 April 2012...I attended the annual Polar Technology Conference in Fairlee, VT...close to sponsor CRREL (the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) in Hanover NH, not to mention Dartmouth. This is a somewhat ad-hoc production...the conference is a volunteer effort, this one drew about 70 people including new and old friends. NSF was represented by Vladimir Papitashvili, the astrophysics/geospace program director. It was a great experience. The formal discussions included power and communications for small remote data collection stations in the Arctic and Antarctic that need to be powered with wind and solar and high-tech batteries, and equipped with hardware that will send data out via Iridium and other satellite systems. There was also discussion about bigger stuff...the traverses to Summit in Greenland as well as from McMurdo to Pole...the new BAS station at Halley that is currently in its first winter season...and the future plans for Summit and/or nearby stations in the middle of Greenland. One interesting data point...it seems that a consortium from Taiwan, the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA), and the Smithsonian, were recently given a "free" 12 meter telescope...a prototype constructed at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in New Mexico, for development of the ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) in Chile (Academia Sinica news release and February 2011 Nature article), (left, NRAO photo by Kelly Gatlin) (more information and links to larger images and usage info). The consortium is planning to move it to a site at or near Summit...which has hitherto been a small "clean" research site. Two meters bigger than the one at Pole...although it won't be doing any CMBR stuff so it won't need a ground shield, just a foundation...and a bunch of electrical power. Should be interesting.
A bit more "polar technology" news...in mid March a feature story was broadcast on Catalyst, a news program on ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) highlighting yet another possible communications satellite system to offer broadband communications to Pole and other Antarctic stations, using small satellites (cubes only about 8" on a side) somewhat comparable to mobile phones...or mini cell towers. The concept has been developed at the University of Toronto, and the Australian company, Antarctic Broadband, is currently looking for funding; their current schedule calls for a test launch in 2012 and full deployment by 2014. The satellites would have elliptical polar orbits. The Catalyst video includes a bit of a Pole teleconference with researchers John Kovac and Brad Benson, as well as a "G'day" greeting from Daniel Leussler at the ceremonial Pole. Well, we know that NSF has been looking for more bandwidth between Pole and the rest of the world...in April 2011 a Request for Information was issued looking for industry recommendations for satellite-based broadband communications with Pole. This RFI included an extensive and detailed report on the requirements for such a project.
2 April...Jarle Andhøy was in the news again...his boat Nilaya and crew were arrested by Chilean authorities in Chilean waters while en route to Argentina. They were taken to Puerto Willams...across the Straits of Magellan from Ushuaia, Argentina. The search was conducted in a civil manner...it was reported that the Nilaya would stay at the Argentine base until Busby Noble, the Kiwi who was aboard when the vessel left Auckland, was issued a temporary passport. The vessel and crew were released a week later and headed to Ushuaia. They later sailed to Buenos Aires...Andhøy flew back to Norway on 8 May (update).
31 March...the RPSC contract was at an end, as indicated on their web site. Lockheed-Martin has been updating their contract web site. A bittersweet time especially for the Raytheon full-timers who weren't picked up by the new contractor...reminds me of what happened to Bill Spindler in 1990 when ITT lost the contract. It worked out well for me...I ended up in Alaska, and 15 years later I got back into the program.
In March 2012 I moved to Boulder, Colorado, and one of the first things I did when I got here the last weekend in March was attend the "1970s/1990s H&N/ASA Gathering" at Jim Chambers' place in Parker, just south of Denver. 130+ people there, beautiful weather, and great fun.
Before the official sunset at Pole, the weather was raunchy...but at the time of the dinner on the 18th visibility started to improve. At left is a 27 March photo of the sun...well below the horizon but refracted above it...next to ARO. With thanks to SPT winterover Cynthia Chiang.
Anthony Powell has put together a fantastic video of the 2012 ship offload...this is the HD version from his web site. He said he used 4 Canon SLRs, and a GoPro HD, condensing over 150,000 photos were condensed down to make this video. The details of the operation are described in this Antarctic Sun article. My collection of time lapse photos and other images is is here.
14 March, there was news that Jarle Andhøy was heading back to the Antarctic...this time to one of the Argentine bases on the Antarctic Peninsula for repairs to a broken boom on his boat Nilaya. There hasn't been much news since then (updates).
13 March, the shadows were getting longer. There was less than a week until the equinox (1814 SP time on Tuesday the 20th), with the sunset happening a few days later. The big dinner was on Sunday evening. New Zealand (and Pole) are still on Daylight Saving Time until the first Sunday in April.
The last flight of the season, a RNZAF B757, left McMurdo shortly after 1800 on 6 March 2012, leaving behind 153 McMurdo winterers as well as 14 at Scott Base (Antarctic Sun article)
On the other side of the continent, there has been a major fire in the power plant at the Brazilian research station Comandante Ferraz on King George Island. It broke out around midnight local time Friday night (1600 SP time Saturday 25 February 2012) and reportedly destroyed the main station facilities. Two men were killed, and two others were injured. The BBC has excellent coverage here. Comandante Ferraz is located in Admiralty Bay (Wikimedia map) on the south side of King George Island; it is only a few miles from the Polish station Arctowski (where the injured were treated) and Copacabana (the Pieter J. Lenie Field Station), the longtime USAP penguin study site. There were 65 researchers and support personnel on station at the time of the fire. The photo at left is by Pedro Guerreiro, posted on this the Science Today (Portuguese) blog page.Below...the busy season of trips to Pole in the centennial season of 2011-12...100 years since Amundsen and Scott showed up without an audience.
Yet another vessel in McMurdo Sound...Jarle Andhøy's yacht Nilaya was spotted offshore near Scott Base on the 21st. On Saturday 24 February, Andhøy told a Norwegian paper that their Antarctic venture was at an end, and that they were heading for South America (updates). There was no further news until mid-March.
The Green Wave arrived at McMurdo around noon on Valentines Day. It originally tied up at the relocated ice pier, and the pontoon causeway was constructed on the outboard side (left, webcam slide). The assembled causeway was then moved to the offload site...and then the ship moved as well. You could watch the progress on the McMurdo webcams. The backload started on the 23rd...two days later the causeway was disassembled and picked up, and the Green Wave had headed north. Check out the slides; (full coverage of the 2011-12 shipping season)...including seven pages of time lapse photos!
At Pole...15 February...and the last 2 flights. Winter has begun for the 50 souls left behind. Here's the documentation from the Antarctic Sun with photos from Sven Lidstrom.
And at McMurdo...over this past weekend the ice pier was blasted loose from the shore (right) and moved closer to Hut Point to make way for the pontoon causeway setup. On the 11th the Nathaniel B. Palmer had been docked at the ice pier.
Jarle Andhøy's venture crossed 60ºS into the Antarctic. He's been off the coast of Victoria Land, and planned to head to Franklin Island before trying to get through the ice to McMurdo Sound. The Kiwi workman on board, a Maori activist, actually stowed away...and there are other strange stories about Jarle from Norway.
9 February...boring news from Vostok...the lake drilling has been completed (6 February SP time)! At left is the drillers' hero shot. There is lots of news out there, but this is my translation of the official press release. Other recommended news links...this report from RiaNovosti which includes an excellent animated graphic of the drilling process; two articles from the Russian commercial news service RT..."We raised 40 liters of water" which includes some of the technical details, and this one which features 2 videos with file footage of the drilling operation. Here is the New York Times coverage...and they also have this blog which addresses the Nazi conspiracy theory. Where is Art Bell when we need him? When the researchers get home, maybe they'll publish some papers and we'll find out the rest of the story. Meanwhile, this NOAA site depicts a 2001 aerial photo of Vostok, I don't think the place has changed that much since then.
Lockheed (remember the contract?)...I've updated that page about the contract rebid/transition, including the latest in the fast-changing set of links to the hiring information. Briefly, Lockheed and their subcontractors are focusing on employment arrangements for the current winterovers and incumbent full-timers in Denver... along with all of the other administrivia that goes with the transition. The CH2M Hill protest did not seem to have any impact on the contract turnover process.
Shipping update...the tanker (photo below left) finished offloading about 6.3 million gallons of fuel, and undocked from the ice pier on 2 February...the too-thin ice pier will now be moved out of the way to Hut Point to make way for the Green Wave. It reached Lyttelton on 5 February. Because of the weight of the pontoon causeway on board, some of the other containers were offloaded there and are being flown down. The vessel headed south on the 7th. The offload, plus setting up/taking down the causeway, will take about 11 days...the extra time for the ship offload plus the added flights will stretch the McM closing into early March. Pole reportedly received all of its needed supplies.
Back in the IGY before there were Pole markers, there already was a certain distinctive abbreviation for the station (right). So what does NPX stand for?
2 February 2012, the Pole tourist season was over. The last two teams in the Extreme World Races Race to the South Pole arrived on the 28th. After a brief tour of the station, the remaining racers were quickly flown back to Novo, and the Arctic Trucks team packed up their camp a few miles away, and headed for Novo--they should be back by the fifth. The visitors center complex was dismantled the last week in January, and the deserted tourist camp site has also been left to the winterover Polies (left). The only other NGO travelers still moving on the continent are Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour, who have now kited over 3000 miles on a looping track from Novo via Pole and Dome C...setting a new long-distance Antarctic travel record. They were still perhaps 1800 miles from Novo...will they make it back before the end of the season or will they need to get picked up?
The Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk arrived at McM the last week in January, here's video of it at work, from the I drive. And after that bit of work, the tanker Maersk Peary showed up on the 27th...(left, a 28 January photo by Steven Royce/Antarctic Photo Library). As for the cargo vessel Green Wave, it left Port Hueneme on 10 January, but it had a few mechanical problems. It was in Lyttelton in the beginning of February. Meanwhile, a crew of as many as 40 members of a US Army causeway battalion arrived to deal with the pontoons that will be used in lieu of the ice pier.
News from NZ...Jarle Andhøy and Samuel Massie, the surviving members of last season's tragic Berserk Pole attempt, have come up with a yacht and crew in Auckland and are heading for the Ross Sea...with a Maori worker who was working below when they cast off. and the NZ authorities were looking for them. They announced plans to head for Pole using the quad bikes they left behind at McM last year, or perhaps they're just going to pick up their gear at Scott Base (the latest news).
25 January...the last few weeks of summer...the tourist season is almost over. Although the ALE camp at Union Glacier is closing this week, several teams from the Extreme World Races (EWR) event (supported out of Novo by the Arctic Trucks team) were still en route hoping to reach the station by the last week in January. Other recent visitors official and otherwise included Michel Rocard, the 1988-91 prime minister of France, as well as British TV star Helen Skelton (right; EWR/Arctic Trucks photo). Helen's polar venture has created an international media frenzy and at least one dubious "world record" claim (ExplorersWeb commentary). Elsewhere around the station, various science projects were finishing their summer work, efforts were continuing to get rodwell#3 operating, with assistance from John Rand, and the team from Lockheed-Martin arrived to begin the contract transition process. And there has been some testing of the new Skynet-4c satellite link.
100 years ago...5 Englishmen showed up at Pole on foot. No warm visitor center, no elevated station, no aircraft to take them back to London...nothing... but a tent left by Amundsen's party which had preceded them by a month. So...the leader Robert Falcon Scott's comment on reaching his goal was, "Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority." Gee, what would you say under such circumstances? Perhaps words that I'd rather not put on this web site. Well, on 17 January 2012 things were a bit different, there were perhaps about 70 NGO visitors, and there was a ceremony to mark the occasion. One of the speakers was area manager Bill Coughran (left), another was Henry Worsley, a member of the Royal British Legion and a relative of Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance on Shackleton's 1914-16 trans-Antarctic attempt. Worsley had arrived at Pole via Amundsen's route as part of the British Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race. The team following Scott's route did make it to Pole before midnight on the 17th. Henry also took Scott's route to Pole a few years ago (more photos and information about the ceremony). Meanwhile, there also was a commemorative dinner at Scott Base, one of the attendees was Falcon Scott, Robert's grandson, who has been working with the Antarctic Heritage Trust on the restoration of the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans.
Yes...1 January did bring the unveiling of the latest and great Pole marker (right)...an amazing construction by Steele Diggles, the 2011 machinist.
Just when you thought it might not happen...it did. There is a contract protest. CH2M Hill was officially debriefed by NSF on 5 January and filed a protest the next day. This Engineering News-Record story is no longer available to nonsubscribers, but this article should be around longer. "CH2M HILL Antarctic Support, Inc. is disappointed with result of the NSF's selection process for the Antarctic Support Contract," the company said in a statement. Lockheed-Martin declined to comment on the protest. And NSF contracting officer Bart Bridwell noted, "I'm afraid Federal acquisition isn't for the faint of heart." According to the official court docket, a decision was due by 18 April.
At sea 375 miles north of McMurdo, the Korean 167-foot fishing vessel Jeong Woo, with 40 aboard, caught fire on 13 January (right), 3 crew members were killed in the fire...and various vessels including other fishing boats and the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP) rushed to the rescue. Seven of the most seriously injured crew members were taken aboard the NBP, which headed swiftly toward McM, reaching the ice edge around 0700 on the 13th. The injured personnel were taken to McM and put on a LC-130 which arrived in Christchurch that evening. The NBP had been on a science cruise from Punta Arenas, studying phytoplankton production in the Ross Sea, and had originally been scheduled to dock at McM on 6 February. Here is a 17 January Christchurch Press article. Earlier articles are from the New Zealand Herald and from Sail World...the photo at right was taken by NBP crew member Johnny Pierce. The final marine update from NZ appears to be from Maritime NZ dated 13 January; here is a 23 January Antarctic Sun article which describes the excellent response by the NBP and the rest of the USAP community.
The folks from Arctic Trucks have been doing some amazing long-distance off-road and on-road exploits...in late December they made a quick dash from Pole to the McMurdo area (blog), they'd previously said that they'd head to McM via the Beardmore Glacier, but they actually made both legs of the journey on the Leverett Glacier USAP traverse route. They met up with Felicity Aston along the way, reached the coast near McMurdo on 14 December, and dashed back to Pole on the 17th. Then, after making further preparation for the South Pole Race, they had some extra time and did a side trip to the Pole of Inaccessibility, which they documented with the photo at left at the bust of Lenin that the USSR erected in the 1958-59 season. It's on top of a building which has a guest book inside, but none of the recent visitors have dug their way in to sign it. After that, the Arctic Trucks folks have been supporting the 2011 Race to the South Pole, an event that started on 4 January. It's 500 miles consisting of 2 250-mile legs...originally there were 7 3-person teams...as of 12 January the racers were halfway to Pole...the Norwegian team was the first to finish, on 20 January. Oh, in addition to supporting/following the race, the Arctic Trucks team was also supporting that ski/kite/bike trip by UK TV celebrity Helen Skelton, her trip also happens to be 500 miles...she reached Pole on 22 January.
Finally, on 28 December US time, almost a week after the announcement on the ice, we have some official press releases about the contract award. Here's NSF's news release, and here is the Lockheed Martin announcement. Interested in jobs with LMCO or their subcontractors? Go here to the Antarctic Memories message board for hints and tips.
It turns out that 2011 brought not one but TWO major weather records! On Christmas Day the official high temperature was +9.9°F/-12.3°C...which significantly exceeded the old record of +7.5°F/-13.6°C set on 27 December 1978. Yes, you'll notice the scroll image at left is a bit off...some things don't change from 1977, when our thermometer was a bit off when we did the 300 club. Here is a blog post from the folks at the University of Wisconsin.
Merry Christmas...Happy Holidays...and the best for the New Year! At right, the 2011 greeting card...created from the group photo with the Norwegian prime minister.
Friday the 23rd around noon SP time...the announcement was made that Lockheed Martin would be awarded the Antarctic support contract. Nothing on the news wires at the time, but the official announcement was made by Sam Feola to everyone in the program. Here's a copy of his email announcement to the community. And Lockheed Martin put up a special preliminary job announcement page for some positions in the program. That is gone, but the current The Lockheed Martin project web site is here.
Tuesday the 13th at Pole was "science day" for Prime Minister Stoltenberg...he toured ARO and the dark sector; at left, Bradford Benson explains to the PM what is going on with the SP telescope (info/credit). As for the 14th...the plans did change...he and his party went out a few miles from the station and skied back with some of the Norwegian skiers (the "South Pole 1911-2011" was still 50 miles away...Jan-Gunnar Winther and Stein Aasheim from that expedition were picked up and flown to Pole on the 13th, and the rest of the team breathlessly arrived the next day. The big ceremony and video presentation did happen...the major event and ice sculpture unveiling happened at 1600 on the 14th...and filmed to be broadcast later in Norway. It featured a solo performance of the Norwegian national anthem by Zondra Skertich, on flute. Here's the official video! My coverage starts here, and Peter Rejcek was on site for the occasion, check out his excellent Antarctic Sun article! Later, there was a private dinner for some of the senior DV's, and a reception in the gym which turned into a party with live music. There was another bit of a ceremony early in the morning of the 15th...the folks figured that Amundsen had arrived around 0430 on the 15th SP time. And then, despite low visibility...the LC-130 landed on the third attempt...and the PM and his entourage departed. The tourist camp was still full, but since then many folks have departed...while others are en route.
Monday 12 December US time...the Norwegian press is not the only media covering the events. The New York Times published this feature article which describes not only the Scott-Amundsen "race" but also the past and future science objectives on the continent. And on the editorial page, there is also a great opinion piece about Amundsen's venture.
Monday 12 December...Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, with entourage, arrived at Pole in time for lunch (!) (right, more info/credits) They stayed for about 3 days...and Jens briefly donned a pair of skis and tweeted "Skiing at the South Pole..." (!) The visit is a record...while heads of state have visited before, none have ever stayed overnight. The group included a state secretary, Hans Kristian Amundsen (!). On Wednesday the Prime Minister gave a speech, which was televised on both of Norway's TV networks. There also was live music from the Ceremonial Pole and participation by the Crown Prince Haakon, from Tromsø, Norway. Here are two news articles from Norway: an article in Norwegian from dagbadet.no with video in English and an article in English from theforeigner.no. Stay tuned...
Tourist time has begun...the Norwegian press entourage has shown up to prepare for the visit of the prime minister. He of course would arrive on an American LC-130, but meanwhile the official Norwegian centenary traverse was also on track to arrive on 14 December, as of the 10th they were at 88°33'S, only 100 statute miles/161 km away. Meanwhile, the first skier teams arrived...and the tourist tent city was growing fast as folks flew in from UG and Novo. Three of the Arctic Trucks vehicles also showed up, led by Extreme World Races (EWR) CEO Tony Martin, reached Pole (or more exactly, the ALCI camp/fuel depot a few miles away) on 6 December...they were doing preparation for the EWR and leading some high school student skiers. They all arrived at Pole the next day...the skiers were flown out, and the EWR vehicles are soon to be off for McMurdo via the Beardmore glacier. Other tourists are starting to arrive by air (right, more info). The building complex in the background is the visitor center, and the square booth was used for electronics for the ceremonies on Amundsen's centenary day.
Elsewhere on the continent...the Antarctic Ice Marathon was held at Union Glacier on 7 December. And some rumor control...the Blue Ribbon panel (right) led by Norm Augustine (more information and photo caption) is now in McMurdo...on Sunday 4 December 2011 they held an open discussion. Before the main presentation, Dr. Karl Erb said that that an announcement about the contract rebid would be made within the next two weeks. Yes, the team visited Pole as well.
Still more shipping news...it seems that after all that work on the new McM ice pier, it won't work. Too much warm weather and bad weather has prevented its proper completion; it is too thin to support the cargo ship offload. So...the engineers spent some time figuring out what to do...it will be towed out of the way, and pontoons will be used for cargo offload. Where will the pontoons come from and how will they get there? One plan is for the U.S. Army to deploy a modular causeway system (pontoons) with a team of about 40 aboard the cargo ship Green Wave (note, this is NOT the same Green Wave that has visited McM in the past, but a newly reflagged vessel (the rest of the story about the cargo ship contract). Another plan...the responsible agency (the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command) is looking for a separate breakbulk or LO/LO ("lift on/lift off") ice class vessel--one with cranes that can carry and offload 27 of the 40' causeway sections into the harbor. On 1 December they issued a request for information looking for what's out there. Like yesterday. Hmmm. Remember how easy it was to charter the icebreaker? Here's the 2 December Antarctic Sun article about the pier.
Preparations are continuing for all of the official and unofficial summer visitors expected around mid-December, including the prime minister of Norway (Antarctic Sun coverage). At left, carpenters are busy erecting the visitor center complex, which reportedly will use some of the plentiful midsummer solar energy (photo from Ethan Good). Many of the folks are underway, some are getting close...I keep updating my expedition status list here accordingly. Otherwise...some science construction...preparation for retrograde/storage of the IceCube drilling equipment...rather a strange summer without all of those drillers and other IceCubers filling up the B1 lounge. Some of the hot water drilling equipment is being sent back to McM for future use by the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) project...and the
One of many events held in December 2011 to mark the centenary of folks getting to Pole was...a presentation jointly sponsored by the Explorers Club Washington (DC) Group, the Antarctican Society, and the Society of Woman Geographers, on Saturday 3 December at the Cosmos Club. I had great fun going, wearing black tie and a borrowed miniature Antarctic Service Medal (hero shot), hearing a fine talk by Jerry Marty, and meeting some of the other Antarcticans. And I also got to overnight with Antarctic friends. Okay...if you're unfamiliar with the Antarctican Society (more info) you should know that this isn't the only event in which they're involved with the Explorers Club...there was a much bigger event scheduled for 2-4 May 2012 in New York City, the 75th anniversary meeting of the American Polar Society, but it was postponed until 2013. You have even more advance notice for this one.
1 December was the day set aside to mark the signing of an important document. No, NOT the contract, but the Antarctic Treaty...which was signed on 1 December 1959. So today is Antarctica Day. Polie Marie Mclane has more information and a collection of good links here.
As for the contract award, "mid November" has passed...as of 3 December the facts about the contract were...it had still not been awarded. The most recent rumor at the moment was that it might be announced on 1 December 2011. Well, that was a good rumor, it's time for another one (my updated coverage).
The new IceCube winterover team is on station...it includes Carlos Pobes, who, it turns out was the second Spanish person to winter (I was reminded that Francisco Navarro, the 1984 UCLA grantee, also was from Spain). Here's an October interview with Carlos from El Periódico de Aragón (in Spanish). Otherwise, Saturday dinner on 12 November was interrupted by a glycol leak in the power plant...fumes and lots of glycol to mop up, but no power outage...still a significant and successful test for the brand new 2011-12 emergency response teams.
In November 2011, Arctic Trucks received official recognition from the Guiness Book of World Records for last season's trip from Novo to Pole...1434 miles in 108 hours (photo at left). Remember, 25 years ago ANI first set up an air operation in the Antarctic...now Arctic Trucks is rapidly becoming a significant player in ground operations. In 2011-12 they had at least a dozen of their vehicles on the ice and supported several major national and NGO ventures (their 2011-12 Antarctic venture page antarcticachallenge.com has disappeared). Meanwhile, the first teams traveling out of Novo are also heading south, although the Belgian long-distance kiting expedition (Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltourran) ran into unnavigable conditions and were being flown back to Novo to pick another route (a Reuters article and their expedition web site). Meanwhile the Norwegian Polar Institute team that has been following Amundsen's route from the Bay of Whales area is about 2 weeks behind Amundsen's pace, they may not make it to Pole in time for the centenary of his arrival (14 November Norway International Network article), or to meet up with the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who presumably will arrive at Pole by LC-130.
A postscript on February's tragic Berserk expedition...Norwegian captain Jarle Andhøy, who was well on his way to Pole when the boat was lost, was fined NOK 25,000 ($4500) in early November. The official offense was: not notifying the Norwegian Polar Institute, not filing an environmental assessment, and lacking search-and-rescue insurance. Andhøy accepted the fine without comment, although it was announced on 9 November that he would participate with NRK television and produce a documentary about the venture (Vestbold Blad/Norwegian language page) (my coverage of the Berserk incident).
More shipping news...on 30 September Maersk Line, Limited (MLL) officially renamed the ice-class double-hull tanker Maersk Peary. The 591-foot, 38,200 DWT (deadweight tonnes) vessel, formerly the Jutul, was built in South Korea in 2004 and flagged in the Marshall Islands. She was officially reflagged into US registry on 19 September (press release from MLL and a (Tanker Operator article). She left Norfolk on 1 October, her next voyage will be to resupply McMurdo in January (earlier coverage on the Military Sealift Command (MSC) tanker contract).
Another aircraft update...after a 12-day weather delay, the first ANI/ALE Ilyushin-76 passenger flight from PA to Union Glacier finally arrived at 0745 Saturday morning (29 October) SP time, and some of the first NGO venturers are already out there in tents on the first leg of their trip to Pole. More flights were due to follow. Only about 6 weeks before the Amundsen centenary...hope the store will be well stocked!
After icebreaker issues and the normal early season weather flight delays to the ice and Pole, there was another brief travel snafu...on Saturday Qantas decided to immediately cancel all flights and lock out its employees (stuff.co.nz article and Sydney Morning Herald live updates). It was a complicated labor issue...and on Monday the Australian government sent everyone back to work during a cooling off period, so flights resumed Monday afternoon SP/NZ time. Remember that RPSC booked most travel from LAX to ChCh on Qantas, and there were lots of ice folks yet to head south.
The first Basler opening flight from McM was delayed again this past weekend...but it finally headed for Pole on Monday the 24th, and landed to drop off 16 fresh faces (right, photo from Jens Dreyer). At last, the summer season has begun! The first Basler was originally scheduled for the 17th but of course they didn't get to McM until the 17th. Here's a 22 October Antarctic Sun article about the first pass of the Baslers through Pole. Oh, the Tuesday and Wednesday Basler flights were cancelled due to weather...at McMurdo...then it looked like the pax for both of these might head to Pole on Thursday on an LC-130. Or a Basler. Not. Another weather delay. Friday...there was an afternoon Herc flight scheduled...after a wait of several hours it was cancelled due to mechanical problems. Saturday...YES. The Herc took off with 40 passengers...and they made it in time for lunch. Whew...now the winter is really over.
In October, NSF was still dithering with the support contract...there were not one but TWO more amendments on 18 and 19 October...we were up to amendment 18, folks. This time...just some error clarifications on the costs for chartering the research vessels...but to give the accountants some time to recrunch, the final submittal date has been pushed back to 25 October. Would the NSF bean counters still be able to announce the award per schedule by mid-November?
On 27 August, the winter site manager, Renée-Nicole Douceur (right), suffered an apparent stroke. After she received medical attention, a medevac was discussed but not implemented. A month later, her niece raised that issue to the world media, so it was South Pole news out there. She WAS flown out on the first Basler transiting from Rothera to McMurdo... continued on to New Zealand the same day, and had an MRI and other exams in Christchurch before heading for Baltimore and further medical tests at Johns Hopkins. Here's the rest of the story.
Something I missed when it was announced...on 29 September 2011 the NSF support contract for ARCTIC operations was awarded to CH2M HILL, the incumbent contractor (Polar Field Services in Littleton, CO). It is worth $324 million for a 4-year base period beginning on 1 February 2012, with options for two additional 2-year extensions. The contracting process proceeded without hitches or delays...there was a presolicitation notice in October 2010, the original RFP was issued on 16 February 2011, and bids were due on 15 April. There were two bidders, the unsuccessful one was URS. The contract provides research support in a number of locations--45% in Alaska (mostly at the Toolik Field Station, which is on the Dalton Highway north of the Brooks Range), 32% in Greenland (mostly at Summit), with the remainder in Canada and Russia. The GSA contract details and award notice are here. It is worth noting that this award breaks a precedent for not awarding a new contract to the incumbent. There is also a precedent still out there that the Arctic and Antarctic support contracts have always been held by different contractors...yes, CH2M HILL was one of the three finalists for the Antarctic contract awarded in December 2011. Hmmm.
The icebreaker...on 5 October the NSF sole-source justification for the Murmansk Shipping contract was published on the GSA contracting site. A history of the procurement activity is provided...the result is that contract for use of the Vladimir Ignatyuk for an estimated $5.66 million this season, with two one-year option periods. Here's the 31 August press release from Murmansk Shipping (Google translation).
Another satellite! A system to access a retired British military satellite was to be implemented during the 2011-12 summer season. Links to the Skynet 4c, now in an orbit with a slight (and slowly increasing) inclination, were tested at Pole during the 2009-10 season by a visiting team from Intelsat and SPAWAR, with assistance from 2010 comms tech Shaun Meehan. This satellite, originally launched in 1990, will provide 1.5 Mbps IP link for (initially) 2 hours and 43 minutes a day, on a consistent daily schedule similar to GOES. The project requires some electronics and a small dish, which was installed inside the large radome with the GOES dish (Skynet and GOES are in opposite directions). That part of the system was completed this season...but it seemed that the satellite orbit had been adjusted, so that it was hidden behind MAPO. So...the dish will need to be relocated, perhaps next season. Here's earlier information: the original 2009 GSA Intelsat contract award announcement and a 2010 announcement from Intelsat.
The 2011 winter season was over...at least for McMurdo. The first two flights of the season arrived on 4 October, delayed for one day by weather. One was a C-17, the first of 63 C-17 flights scheduled for this season, with 113 passengers. Additionally, the Australian Airbus A319 also arrived from Christchurch with 59 passengers. As for Pole, it will be a few more days yet. The first of the Basler and Twin Otter transit flights from Rothera to McMurdo were expected to stop at Pole around the 13th, with the first Basler passenger flight from McM scheduled for the 17th. The LC-130's operated by the New York National Guard were to make their first appearance on 1 November. For travel to Pole at a more leisurely pace (!) there were to be TWO land traverses this year...sorry no passengers. There was excellent coverage on the end of winter in this 4 October Antarctic Sun article.
In case you missed it (well, I did), there were FOUR contract amendments posted in September 2011 on the GSA contract web site. Mostly they provided an opportunity for the number crunchers with KBR, CH2MHill, and Lockheed Martin to break out their #2 pencils and spreadsheets one more time, for another final submission due 30 September...for costs year by year all the way to March 2025. One of the data items in the amendments (they are now up to amendment #16!) was an updated list of USAP subcontracts and leases that are part of the contract. Everything from the Xerox machines and ATM...to the N B Palmer...to...the lease on the RPSC building in Centennial. Which is up on 30 April 2012. No one has negotiated an extension, although when I was last in the office in March 2010 I noted that there was a lot of vacant office space in the area, which I understand is still the case. Also...the schedule on the NSF contract site was adjusted on 2 September to indicate that the evaluations/negotiations would run to 30 September and the contract award would be in November. And the RPSC "Transition" page and FAQ was updated on 4 October to reflect a mid-November award schedule.
It got a bit windy again. Not just a light breeze...it seems that the all-time wind speed record has been broken! According to Tim Markle in the met department, on 27 September "...the peak wind speed of 50kts/58mph broke the record for the all-time strongest wind speed at South Pole. The previous record of 48kts/55mph was set on August 24th, 1989." Ulp. There's an excellent Antarctic Sun report with more information from Tim on the weather records. Oh, at left is Robert Schwarz's photo of what MAPO looked like. Seems that a bit of digging may be in order.
The McMurdo main body opening was to happen soon...(Wednesday 28 September 2011 US time) the C-17 was at Hickam, scheduled to fly to Christchurch the next day...on schedule for the first flight to McM on the third.
Sunrise has happened...the official time of the equinox was 2105 on Friday 23 September 2011, but the weather was not doing much cooperating then. The official sunrise dinner was on Saturday the 24th, it featured an excellent gathering and big feast with meals to order. That day the weather cleared a bit and the sun was actually visible. But on Sunday the winds came up...around 0300 the wind velocity hit 45kts (52mph or 84 km/h)–a new record for the month of September which came close to the all-time wind speed record (48 kts/55 mph/88km/h) set on 24 August 1989. Earlier, on 16 September...5 days early...the sun had first been sighted....then it was calmer and cooler the temps were in the -90s (°F).
The first of six Winfly flights reached McM on schedule on 20 August...the day after the first sunrise of the spring (Antarctic Sun) article and a 25 August USAF press release. Weather backed up the later flights...they were supposed to run through 29 August, but they ran into the first week of September.
Media watch...it seems that HBO has teamed up with Sopranos actor James Gandolfini for a comedy drama series based on Big Dead Place...that iconic Antarctic book written by McMurdo denizen (and 2004 Pole winterover) Nicholas Johnson. Hmmmm. Here's the 1 September deadline.com news article. Oh, and on the bigger screen...14 October will see the release of The Thing, which is actually described as a prequel to that 1982 John Carpenter movie. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Here's the official site (warning, very high bandwidth required). Yes, there are flamethrowers. And dogs (?)
Yes, there was a small airdrop at Pole on Monday 29 August 2011 (left, the loads are ready to go). Here's more information, photos and the video link. Not as big a deal as some in the past, since the C-17s are in Christchurch for the ongoing winfly flights...but still the station had a fair amount of preparation and practice...burn barrels etc. The successful result--some medical supplies that were running short, spare parts, a bit of mail, and freshies, well, only a few oranges.
Thursday, 25 August 2011 (US time)...NSF officially announced that they had engaged a Russian icebreaker for the upcoming season! Yes...here's the press release; also a letter to participants was posted on the NSF Polar Programs web site. There is a one-year letter contract (with renewal options) with the Murmansk Shipping Company (source of the copyrighted photo at right), for the use of the Russian diesel-powered Vladimir Ignatyuk. This vessel was originally constructed as the Arctic Kalvik in Victoria, BC in 1983, and was sold by Gulf Canada to Murmansk Shipping in 2003. Briefly, it's 289 feet long, with a beam of 58 feet, draft of 27 feet, displacement of 4,234 tons, and a maximum speed of 16 knots (more stats and a schematic layout). Other coverage...a 26 August Antarctic Sun article...this 29 August AAAS/Science Insider article, and a 26 August Russian press release from Ria Novosti. A similar sister vessel, the Terry Fox,, also used by Gulf Canada, is now a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker.
Well, 15 August WAS supposed to be the deadline for icebreaker announcements, but not all deadlines get met. Fortunately the talking and negotiating continued...a few days after the deadline, NSF OPP director Karl Erb was quoted that negotiations were underway with the owners of two foreign icebreakers. The 19 August issue of Science, published this news article "U.S. Icebreaking Woes Threaten McMurdo Resupply, Research Plans" (actually the title said it all, but to view more than the summary you needed to have a subscription or pay for access, sorry). He "hoped to tell the community in a couple of weeks that we have a resupply ship lined up..." according to the article. Meanwhile, here is what he said at the 28-29 July National Science Board meeting about this issue. (Below, more earlier icebreaker info and links).
Also at the meeting, Dr. Erb announced the current schedule for the Antarctic support contract award, "not later than mid November." Not much more room for schedule slippage. He also announced that tour companies had indicated that more than 300 people would be at Pole on 14 December, the centenary of Amundsen's arrival.
More shipping news...on 3 August the Military Sealift Command (MSC) awarded the contract for charter of the cargo vessel for the next few years...to Waterman Steamship Corporation...the Alabama-based division of multinational shipping firm International Shipholding Corporation (ISC). $10 million per year (fixed price !?) for a maximum of five years of resupply trips to McMurdo and Thule. Here's the updated link to the news item, this comes from MM&P. (The contract award announcement (is listed on this page, scroll down a bit). After the award, Waterman reflagged the Cyprus-flagged ice-rated cargo vessel Federal Patroller giving it a historical name...the Green Wave(!) Here are photos of the vessel from Google Images. On a historical note, ISC got its start in the shipping business in 1947 when the then-New Orleans-based company purchased its first vessel, a surplused WW2 Liberty Ship that they renamed Green Wave...honoring Tulane University. Note that this vessel never ventured to Antarctica and is NOT the same one that we are more familiar with. In 1984, the MS Woermann Mira was purchased by the Navy for the Military Sealift Command (MSC) and renamed...Green Wave, and it made its first appearance at McMurdo at the end of January 1985. So the 2012 vessel is at least the third one by this name, and the second one to visit the ice.
Science in the dark...here's a fresh Antarctic Sun article by research associate Marco Tortonese about some of the station winter science projects. Oh, Marco continues his outdoor skiing and running during the winter, he now has more than 2000 miles under his belt. Check out his blog!
On the lighter side...the Antarctic 48 Hour Film Festival took place around the last weekend of July. Entries in the "48 hour" division had to be completely filmed and produced in that period...and they also had to include specific items–a saw, a T-shirt with a chocolate bar stuck to it, the sound of a dripping faucet, the character Popeye, and the dialogue: "….which I imbibed rapaciously." The Pole entry in the 48-hour division is "Popeye the Surgeon Man"...and the Open division entry was the two-part thriller "Attack of the Killer DOMs." And of course many other Antarctic stations have some excellent entries as well. Check out the lot!
Update on the dome (you DO remember the dome, right?)...in Port Hueneme, the top ring has been successfully reassembled and hung in a designated spot in the brand new Seabee Museum (photo at right)! The task was completed by Lee Mattis (second from left), Jerry Marty (fourth) and John Perry (fifth) along with some active-duty and retired Seabee assistance. During the dome erection, Lee was the tech rep from TEMCOR, the dome fabricator, and John was the Navy engineer. Yes, of course I have more photos and links here.
Shipping news update...for several months there have been ongoing negotiations and discussions underway about the icebreaker for the 2011-12 resupply. Or, more exactly, the lack of an icebreaker. On 28 July 2011 NSF formally announced the situation to the science community: "...unless we can find and engage a suitable replacement by mid-August, we will have to implement contingency plans that would curtail activities in the near term...." What would be curtailed? Well, field camps and other activities requiring significant air support, among other things...and Pole could close as early as 5 February. The full announcement is in this "Dear Colleagues" letter from Karl Erb, director of the NSF Office of Polar Programs (the letter was posted on the usap.gov home page). It seems that the Oden isn't available this year. Why? Well, it seems that there had been domestic complaints in Sweden because ships had been caught in the Baltic Sea ice during the northern winter, while the Oden was at the other end of the world. This story was picked up in July 2011 by Popular Mechanics. As for the US Coast Guard's two 1960-era icebreakers traditionally used in the Antarctic...the Polar Star is midway through a major 2-1/2 year refit, and the Polar Sea is about to be decommissioned. The lighter 11-year-old Healy began a major 7-month Arctic science cruise at the end of May. So there were are. Several items of interest...a 7 July op-ed by retired Coast Guard RADM Jeffrey M. Garrett which outlines the current American icebreaker status vs the rest of the world...focusing primarily on the Arctic...this 27 May Coast Guard press release which outlines what the Healy is doing...and a January 2011 Coast Guard audit of the "Polar Icebreaker Maintenance, Upgrade, and Acquisition Program" (or lack thereof). Remember that in 2004-05 when the big icebergs were causing problems, contingency plans were being made to curtail the season...and the Russian icebreaker Krasin was charter to assist the Polar Star. Oh by the way, in May NSF put out a contract proposal looking for an icebreaker...there are two items of interest here. First, obviously there wasn't a relevant response...and secondly, the RFP contains a map and a detailed history of the US Antarctic program icebreaker support from the IGY to date (MS Word document). By the way, the photo at left shows the Oden (foreground) with the NBP (Nathaniel B. Palmer) in McMurdo Sound in January 2011 (photo by Peter Rejcek in the USAP photo library).
More shipping news...on 1 July 2011 a MSC contract was awarded to Maersk Line, Limited (MLL) for charter of a modern US-flag ice-strengthened tanker to deliver fuel to McMurdo (and Thule) over the next few years (Maersk press release and some information about the company). This will replace the old MSC tankers that have been used up until the 2010-11 season; the T-5 tankers have been retired, partly due to old age (earlier MSC press release) and partly due to the new international regulations banning heavy fuel oil from Antarctic waters.
North of Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting, otherwise known as ATCM XXXIV, was held in Buenos Aires in June 2011. So what happened? Apparently, not much that interested the news media...here's about the only recent article I found, from the Sydney Morning Herald. But I've been through the documents, and there are a few items which may be of interest to folks reading this. One...a report from the Norwegian Polar Institute that they'd considered (and rejected) several NGO expedition requests to use dogs as part of centenary ventures (!). There are two interesting reports about that berserk Berserk expedition, which I've covered here. Among other things, they're considering another venture to Pole and a winterover somewhere (!!). As for the centennial stuff, the US published their revised NGO guidelines and maps for the upcoming 2011-12 Pole tourist season. I've updated my map section to include all of the current guidelines and maps. And a note of historical interest, there was a submittal of a 2008 Texas A&M paper, "The historical development of McMurdo station, Antarctica, an environmental perspective." The meeting documents can be found from this ATS page; click on the link to ATCM XXXIV and then select "documents." My other treaty links are here.
Auroras? Huh? Here's a time lapse that Weeks Heist posted in late June...
A seriously ill contractor employee was successfuly medevaced from McMurdo to Christchurch. With only 18 hours notice, the Air Force C-17 arrived in ChCh from Lewis-McChord base in Washington State. Then with medical personnel aboard, the flight headed south to the Pegasus runway...and were on the ground for only about 40 minutes before heading north with the patient...who was turned over to medical care in ChCh at 2030 on 30 June. The flight had to deal with the usual winter darkness by using night vision goggles, but they also had to contend with volcanic ash from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano in southern Chile, the ash has been blowing across the Pacific Ocean since early June; the volcano is about 130km NNE of Puerto Montt. The Pegasus runway had been completely prepared for the flight in only 5 days! At right...the patient is being cared for aboard the aircraft. Here's the USAF press release with that and more photos. Folks at Pole did flight following for this mission.
Update...there are major science strategy reports forthcoming! Remember...in 1997 NSF commissioned the "Augustine Report" otherwise known as the "Report of the U. S. Antarctic Program External Panel"...a principal recommendation of which was to build a new South Pole station ASAP! The new study by the National Academies of Science, sponsored by NSF, is appropriately titled "The US Antarctic Program: Future Science Opportunities in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean." The report, scheduled for release during the northern 2011 summer, is intended to assess the future science directions of the U. S. Antarctic Program for the next 20 years. And, another major policy review will build upon it. The U.S. Antarctic Blue Ribbon Panel which is also being led by Norm Augustine, will evaluate American long-term strategy for conductiong science and diplomacy in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean region. Sponsored jointly by NSF and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the panel will report its findings by early 2012 (White House press release and Antarctic Sun article).
In late June Bill Spindler attended the 2011 Antarctic Deep Freeze Association meeting/reunion in Gettysburg. It ran from 21-24 June...Wednesday the 22nd, many of us took an excellent tour of the battlefield and museum; most of the key meeting events including my lecture happened on Thursday. This organization consists primarily of the folks who were on the ice before and during the IGY, 1956-58, although there are some younger members such as I. One of the more interesting features of the event is a phone call between reunion participants and people at Pole--at left is a photo of the event...on the left is Cliff Dickey and on the right is Ken Waldron, two of the 1957 Pole winterover crew...between them is a more recent Polie, Andy Martinez. Bill Spindler happens to be the only person who has participated in these phone calls from both ends. Here are some pictures of the Pole end of the phone call in 2005.
I hope you had a happy midwinters day whenever you chose to celebrate it! The official moment of the solstice was 0516 (SP/McM time) Wednesday 22 June...McMurdo and Pole chose to celebrate the event on Saturday the 18th...noted by the greeting cards you see at left and at right...while Scott Base will hold their special dinner on the 23rd, to commemorate the fact that Scott and Amundsen had midwinter festivities on that date 100 years ago. The Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge has posted a blog based on Scott's diaries from 100 years ago; here's the page devoted to the midwinter activities. The full story...the book Scott's Last Expedition (Vol. 1, which describes the main body expedition activities) is available for free from the Gutenberg Project in a variety of electronic formats. Amundsen has a similar brief blog produced by the Fram Museum in Oslo. Amundsen's book The South Pole contains an entire chapter (60 pages) describing the events of 23 June 1911...it is also available, here, from the Gutenberg Project. As for the 2011 event, Robert Schwarz has lots of pictures!.
So is the upcoming summer the "chaos season?" Well, on 15 January 2011 this New York Times article (subscription access may be required) suggested that hundreds of people want to visit Pole in 2011-12, which is the centennial of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival. There will be skiiers from the coast, the last degree or the last 20 miles...tourists on champagne flights...competitive racers...drivers arriving overland by truck...and of course a bunch of official government distinguished visitors. Perhaps as many as 1000 people...compared to last season when there were about 300 NGO visitors. Of special interest is the fact that a number of the expeditions will be retracing some or all of Scott's and Amundsen's routes from the Ross Ice Shelf, rather than the usual routes from near Union Glacier. NSF has a special committee at work to determine what the official commemorative events will be...and Raytheon will have a special coordinator on hand to deal with the hordes, sell them stuff in the store, and keep them safe and away from the science. So who all is coming? Well, if you've been here before, you know that this web site has maintained the most comprehensive list of such ventures since 1999...and despite the sputtering economy, this year's list was rather long and kept growing.
4 June at Pole saw the seventh annual renewal of another strange Pole event...the BF5K...or a 5 km race through the halls of the station...18 laps in all. The spectacular part about it, as always, was the amazing costumes worn by the participants! Check out Robert Schwarz's page of photos!
Global warming? Tell that to the 14 latest members of the 300 Club! Yes...on Friday 27 May (left) the temps dipped into triple digits...let's welcome Susan MacGregor, who at age 62 is the oldest person to be initiated into that great organization! I don't think I ought to post photos of her athletic performance...but I WILL post a link to her May Antarctic Sun article in which she describes the amazing successes of the growth chamber. Yes, there are photos.
Contract news...well, although the rumors are circulating yet again...to the best I've been able to determine they are just that. The facts...Amendment 11 to the RFP came out on 20 May...followed by, yes, Amendment 12 on 3 June! What does this mean? Nothing...except for the number crunchers and bean counters with the 3 finalists who now must recrunch and recount stuff and submit a few more trees by 14 June. We are still supposed to hear something in September...no, maybe in November.
The ice folks in Denver came up with an amazing fundraising event for the Christchurch earthquake rebuilding effort...Saturday 16 April (poster at right) at the Bug Theater. It included a silent auction as well as musical stuff...sorry I was a bit too far away to attend...but I can report that they ran the place out of beer! This and related events have generated $22,700 to be sent to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. Amazing ice people!
IceCube hasn't found anything yet...according to this April 2011 paper by the IceCube Collaboration (WIRED blog post with links to abstract of paper). Well...not exactly. It has detected neutrinos, but so far, the attempts to correlate them with gamma ray bursts have been unsuccessful. To quote paper coauthor Nathan Whitehorn, "In two years we'll have an answer, or a lot of scratching our heads. We'll either see neutrinos, or something will be strange with the universe." Which is, after all, why we do science...to find out about strange things.
April Fools? Well, not really...despite the continuing budget wrangling in Congress...the contract folks finally got around to awarding the 1-year support contract to RPSC...just under the wire on 31 March. This was publicly announced at 1832 Eastern time on...1 April 2011. Well, you saw that news here first. Here's the announcement.
Sunset! The big dinner was 19 March...the official sunset was not until 23 March...and the weather was clear enough for it to be watched and documented. One example is at left...actually showing a bit of that rarely seen green flash (general info page). This particular photo was taken by winterover IceCube astrophysicist Freija Descamps...who was interviewed by PRI (Public Radio International) The World on 24 March. She discussed her life and work at Pole, and presented some photos including the one you see at left. Well worth your time! Oh, and if you are looking for an excellent video of the sunset scene, check out this one by Weeks Heist!
The month after closing was the typical hectic round of station closing activities...cleaning and winterizing summer camp...washing all of the dirty linen...rolling up the fuel hose...putting out flag lines to outlying buildings. The outside world was not forgotten...over $10,000 with matching funds was collected to support the ChCh relief efforts...and the folks in Denver are sponsoring a major event to generate additional relief funds--Ice Aid (poster at right) on 16 April at the Bug Theater in downtown Denver. News updates...I'm still working on some of the new big science projects...for example, ARA, the next big neutron telescope.
Closing time at McM...a strange end to the rest of the USAP summer. First...the 22 February massive Christchurch earthquake, which devastated the central city and disrupted the final McM redeployment...along with storms and warm weather that broke up the ice around Ross Island...waves were breaking on the McMurdo beach, and open water threatened the road to the Pegasus runway (right, a composite view and more info). Around the same time, news of a sudden February 2-man Norwegian Pole expedition...which started from the Bay of Whales and ended after the supporting yacht Berserk sank north of Ross Island, with the death of 3 crew members. According to one report, the Pole trip made it to within 200 miles of Pole before they turned around...since evacuated to Chch. (story).
Closing time at Pole...February 15th...leaves 49 winterovers for the 2011 season, although a couple of Twin Otter flights were still transiting. The absolute last plane, a Basler, departed for Rothera on the 23rd. The small crowd...35 men and 14 women. Time to rearrange the galley! Things are pretty busy on station these days with all of the closing activities, so the full statistics are still being calculated...
The beginning of February was cargo time at McM (14 February 2011 MSC press release). On the 30th the tanker Richard G. Matthiesen showed up, using the channel previously cleared by the Swedish science/icebreaker Oden, which arrived about 16 January. The Matthiesen has been to McMurdo before...most recently in January 2003...when actually it didn't get to the pier, but hoses had to be laid out from about 4 miles away. This is the last year for the Military Sealift Command (MSC) tanker Matthiesen, which is about to be laid up, following the other T-5 tankers. Why? Other than old age, a new Antarctic treaty protocol prohibits vessels (such as old MSC ships) using heavy fuel oil in Antarctic waters, effective 1 August 2011. Thus, this year's cargo ship was NOT the American Tern of previous seasons, but the chartered BBC EMS, flagged by Antigua Barbuda. It finished up and departed McM on 13 February.
What NGA expeditions went down in 2010-11...here's what actually happened...
Running stuff...not only was the Christmas Day Race Around the World a historic trekking event vs a the tame "3x round the Pole" event of yore...but it developed later into the first real South Pole marathon.
Around Christmas 2010, there were lots of NGA visitors...all of the various Last Degree participants, plus the "South Pole Race folks. This created a great crowd of people in the NGA camp, and since many of them had arrived in vehicles, they had lots of "stuff" with them. A great party scene...here's one description by David "Pablo" Cohn. the Race folks departed on New Years.
Elsewhere on the plateau, the Russians have finally come up with an environmentally acceptable way to sample the waters of Lake Vostok without contaminating it, and drilling is expected to be completed in January. The top of the lake is about 12,300 feet below the ice surface. When the mechanical drill gets to within 100 feet, it will be replaced with a thermal lance...when that reaches the water, some will be forced up into the drill hole where it will freeze. Next season the team will sample some of that frozen water...(Wired Science article).
Perhaps the biggest news of the month of December...IceCube...after many years of planning and 6 seasons of drilling...starting in 2004-2005 when they successfully had ONE hole running that winter...finished up drilling their final 86th hole and setting the string...appropriately numbered #80 based on the original plans for 80 strings. The string deployment was completed and tied off just before 1800 on 18 December. Here's the Decembeer 2010 report (PDF with video link) from the folks in Madison, and an Antarctic Sun article! Well done! Now let's catch and roast some neutrinos...
Now we know what all those explosives were for...on 1 December Old Pole was blown up! Or so the planners hoped. Several tons of explosives are being used. What for? Well, since last season's Old Pole remediation efforts were less than successful, more dramatic means were called for. More surveys were made, charges were placed, and after they went off there were several deep holes where buildings (or at least their top hats--attic structures originally built to reduce the snow load on the building roofs) used to be. Another blast was conducted on 4 December, and a third series a few days later. Hopefully now the landscape will be safe and no longer off-limits. Common drive photo at right...the rest of the story/pictures/video!.
.The next batch of unusual visitors showed up on 3 December...the 10-member Moon Regan expedition with their two Ford vans and the fancy Bio-Inspired Vehicle (left, more pics/info). After a day or two at Pole they headed off down the road to McMurdo...although they decided to turn around when they reached the Ross Ice Shelf at the base of the Leverett Glacier. They returned to Pole and completed the return trip from Union Glacier on 17 December.
Thanksgiving weekend the first real tourists arrived, on Saturday four Slovakian "last degree" skiers as well as a Basler with 9 tourists--eight from Russia, one from Switzerland. After a tour, the Basler took the tourists and skiers back to Novo. A less publicized but much more significant event accompanied the arrival of the Indian science team (see below)...a massive fuel airdrop by a Russian IL-76 (21 November), about 32 miles away from the station, for use by future science and NGO ventures to Pole. My exclusive coverage.
At least four non-USAP ventures to Pole this season featured wheeled vehicles! Three of these involve Toyota Hilux trucks modified by Iceland customizer Arctic Trucks. Actually the first of these ventures has come and gone already...the Indian scientific expedition by the Indian National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) (the news page). This group got to the ice (Novo) on 8 November, and left for Pole on in four Hilux vehicles on the 13th, with 12 people (6 scientists and 2 mechanics from Maitri, and 4 ALCI staff (2 drivers and 2 Icelanders). Three of the vehicles reached Pole on the 21st, after having to replace an axle and a radiator en route (right, a photo from 2011 w/o Marco Tortonese (more photos and information). After a rest and some maintenance work in the heavy shop, they headed north on the 24th, after stopping at new ALCI fuel depot 14 miles north of Pole. Another scientific (I think) venture by the Kazakhstan National Geographic Society utilized the same vehicles during December. The other two wheeled trips to Pole were the Moon-Regan TransAntarctic Expedition and the 2010-11 South Pole Race...NGA events mentioned above.
The latest twists and turns in the contract...on 26 October a new amendment was posted, outlining a significant amount of new information that the three final bidders would have to submit prior to a new 6 December deadline. But...in November there was a new set of data requirements, questions, answers, and on 19 November another extension of the deadline to 20 December (the latest complete file from the FedBizOpps site and my page of information on the contracting process)
IceCube was up and running, they started drilling around the Thanksgiving weekend holiday and finished the last 7 holes perhaps before the end of the year. Their weekly reports were posted on the IceCube home page, and there's a blog as well.
More science news...the amazing South Pole Telescope is researching the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR)...dark energy...2010 winterover friend Dana Hrubes (left) was one of the two folks lookng after the SPT this past winter, here is his interview filmed by James Travis III as part of the 10/10/10 One Day on Earth project.
Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (AL&E, owner of ANI/Adventure Networks) announced in early November that they'd set up a new blue ice runway and primary camp at Union Glacier, about 45 miles northwest of Patriot Hills. The runway has been fully certified. Here's their press release. Camp setup started in early November, but the first Ilyushin-76 passenger flight from PA was delayed for 2 weeks, it did not arrive until 25 November SP time...and the passengers found sunny above-zero°F weather. Another flight was scheduled for the following day.
Airplanes...and no airplanes! A storm later named the "death claw" blew in starting on 6 November, record-breaking high temperatures and high winds made a mess of things for the next few days and delayed the departure of some of the winterovers. A flag line was set up from summer camp to the station due to the low visibility. Here's the Antarctic Sun article, and at right is a photo of science coordinator Al Baker weathering the storm at the ceremonial Pole (Antarctic Photo Library photo by Julie Bonneau). And here is the list of broken weather records from the Wisconsin meterological center.
Airplanes at last...the first Herc landed at Pole on Tuesday evening 2 November. There have been more since, and by now most of the 2010 winterovers are in Christchurch or at least on the way. Summer has truly begun. The first of the LC-130s had shown up in McMurdo on 24 October, and original plans were for the first batch of Polies to leave on Friday the 29th, perhaps on a straight through connection to ChCh via C-17. Hah. Weather, mechanical problems, and scheduling delays due to...the tragic French helicopter crash north of Dumont d'Urville (story and photos). So on Halloween weekend the new Polies were cooling their heels in McM and the winterovers were enjoying another weekend of the "soft opening." By now (12 November) most all of the w/o's should be gone, after a 5 day delay of the Herc flight originally scheduled to show up on the 8th.
The Baslers first appeared on Saturday 16 October on the transit from Rothera to McMurdo--left, a photo from Cody Meyer...and here is the Antarctic Sun article. It was a brief stop, and (due to delays) without freshies. The first pax flight was scheduled for Monday but was cancelled because of cold weather. But Tuesday morning 19 October it did take off, and landed around noon with 16 fresh passengers. Temperature was about -65°F. Winter was over. The second Basler flight showed up on the 23rd, and the third on Sunday 24 October, but that one got to stay overnight due to bad weather in MacTown. Only one of the 2010 w/o's left on the Basler flights.
In between the frenetic station opening activities, another unique event occurred on 9 October...the American Radio Relay League conducted an exam at Pole...the result was EIGHT new technician licensees, who are now on the air! At right, a photo of the exam participants in the large conference room, by volunteer examiner (VE) Ernie Gray (W1MRQ). Here is the ARRL news article.
Summer plans and science news--a rather low-key season is planned, compared to previous seasons which saw pieces of the massive new station erected...and the dome removed. The biggest news involves the two largest science projects. IceCube will complete the last 7 drill holes of its 86-string neutrino telescope (and begin to retrograde some if the construction equipment). Here's an October NSF special report/video, a November 2010 Smithsonian Magazine article, and of course the IceCube blog. And the nearby South Pole Telescope will continue its sky surveys...in October the team announced discovery of the largest galaxy cluster yet seen--7 billion light years away (Harvard-Smithsonian CFA press release). Other more mundane planned projects include completion of the fuel piping system between the fuel arch, station and skiway fuel pits...commissioning of "rodwell 3"...and perhaps a bit more "remediation" of the site formerly known as Old Pole.
September 2010, the sun is up, but the contract was, well, still out there. On 20 September US time a new one-year extension to the RPSC contract was announced...to give NSF more time to select from the best and final bidders. RPSC now will be running the program through 31 March 2012. Here is the announcement, and my updated contract rebid page.
A McMurdo medevac kept the Pole flight following team busy for several days. The first Royal NZ Air Force P-3 Orion flight had to turn around due to bad weather at McMurdo, but another try made it in successfully on the 14th (NZ Herald article). On the 15th the guy, with pneumonia, was discharged from Christchurch Hospital.
Yes, as of 20 August we finally have some news on the contract rebid. The three finalists are CH2MHILL, Lockheed Martin, and KBR. Which leaves out the other four bidders: TransPolar (the Raytheon/AECOM joint venture), Antarctic Research Support, the joint venture between EG&G and CSC, Fluor, and ITT Antarctic Services. Hmmm. Hmmm is all I can say at this point. Well, except that there is another Antarctic contract out there. NSF had a preliminary inquiry out for the nest Title II inspection contract. Remember, Title II at Pole was what I did in 2005.
Winfly was supposed to start on 13 August 2010...but first there was a mechanical delay, and then some Condition 1 weather in McMurdo. But the first of the 7 flights finally made it in on the evening of the 15th. Here is the Antarctic Sun story about these flights.
Important historical stuff from the other side of the continent...the former research vessel HERO has been definitely located in Bay Center, Washington, where the new owner has had it since September 2008. And I do have pictures that friend Jon Lingel took.
Bill enjoyed the Antarctic "gathering" 15-17 July 2010, at Paul Dalyrimple's place in Port Clyde, ME. I was not the youngest Polie there...remember that Paul wintered a few years ago in 1958, so his winterover number is 21. The weekend featured lobster and other great food, and many presentations including one from Bob Benson who wintered in 1957...thanks to alphabetical order his winterover number is ONE. There were lots of Antarctic folks there...remember that Paul is the resident editor of the Antarctican Society newsletter, which now has an enhanced web presence documented here.
The Fourth of July weekend was celebrated with a pork dinner...with the whole pig getting grilled on the outdoor barbecue. And it was followed up with a prolonged period of triple digit temperatures...plenty of time for more 300 club members! The temps dipped below -100°F several times during the first few days of July...and the Fourth of July was the coldest on record.
Midwinters Day 2010...the halfway point in the dark season, and perhaps the 2/3 point for folks who showed up at Pole at the beginning of last summer season. The big dinner was on Friday the 18th, with more celebration activities throughout the weekend. Not to mention the annual midwinter greeting (left). Another traditional winter activity, the annual Pole marker design competition, had an amazing TWELVE entries this year, and the winner is...well, it has been selected, and machinist Derek is probably already planning out how to create the hard copy, but the rest of the world will see it revealed on 1 January 2011. This marker is especially significant since it will be the official South Pole marker in December 2011, which of course marks the centennial anniversary of Roald Amundsen's visit. Unlike all of the other folks who arrived at Pole overland, Roald had to bring along his own Pole marker. And I guess I must also point out that Amundsen was the first of only two expeditions that traveled to Pole from the coast using dogs. No, I wasn't around when Amundsen showed up, but I WAS present when Will Steger's expedition showed up with dog teams in December 1989. Oh, in keeping with the season sentiments (and inhibiting attempts to take outdoor group photos) the temperatures have been dipping to the -90s this week.
IceCube was in the news again! Yes, on 1 June, the Wall Street Journal found time to cover this amazing project in between more depressing news about the BP Gulf oil spill and Euro finances. Catch the article while it is available. With photos and video of course!
It was dark. "Astronomical Twilight" (when the sun is less than 18 degrees below the horizon) ended on 12 May 2010. The auroras are out there and they've been awesome! Here's the site for the all-sky camera that displays thousands of images per day.
Contract rebid stuff...no news was no news. The "competitive range determination" and revised milestones for the new multiyear contract, originally promised by the end of March and later by 9 April, were not issued until August. Earlier, NSF and RPSC finalized the one-year contract extension on 25 March (the 5 April Raytheon press release). Here's my updated page on the contracting process.
It got cold! Surprisingly the temperature dipped into the triple digits on 13 April, as documented by the scroll image at right (thanks Dana Hrubes). The temperature actually stayed below -100°F for 22 minutes...long enough for the first officially sanctioned 300 club running since 2006 (on 2 September 2007 the temperature dipped below -100°F too briefly for anything to happen, and it did NOT get that cold in either 2008 or 2009). The only other year in station history without 3 digit temperatures was 1964. Oh, this is well documented as the second earliest 300 club in station history. (The earliest was in April 1982 as documented by Robert Williscroft.) April 2010 was the coldest recorded April on record, with an average temperature of -80.7°F. On the other hand, 2009 was the warmest year on record (Antarctic Sun article).
The sun set, well, perhaps officially around 0900 on 23 March 2010, well hidden behind murky skies. But of course it was marked by an amazing sunset dinner, extremely well documented by cook Cody Meyer.
Two polar gatherings of note in Boulder in the spring of 2010...in mid May was the American Polar Society meeting, (detailed information). Earlier, the "Polar Technology Conference" was hosted by UNAVCO on 25-26 March. Here's the web site...the online list of attendees grew rather impressively in the weeks before the meeting, and the presentations are now online. I was around for both meetings, I spent about 7 weeks in Boulder this spring.
At the Polar Technology Conference I learned that a new wind turbine was erected at Pole this past summer...a 2.5 KW unit constructed by Abundant Renewable Energy (ARE) (below left). Here are more details...
More dome details...on 10 March NSF released this extensive press release with photo gallery!
The McMurdo summer season officially ended Friday 5 March, as the last flight, the Australian A319 Airbus, departed with the last few summer folks that had been closing thing up for winter. 197 souls remained for the winter. Flight statistics for this season--in addition to several Airbus missions, there were 59 C-17 flights, 7 RNZAF C-130 flights, and two trial flights by the RNZAF 757 aircraft. It turns out that the U. S. Air Force flight season to the ice had been completed the previous week, on 24 February (USAF press release).
Some late summer satellite news, there was an enginering test in January investigating the possible use of the Intelsat SkyNet-4c commercial satellite as a replacement for the TDRS-F1 satellite which was decommissioned last October. Who at Pole assisted with these tests...well, Shaun Meehan, the 2008 and 2010 winter comms tech of course. The Skynet satellite is slowly drifting into an orbit with increasing Pole coverage. It could be in service in 2011, here is the contract award announcement, and here is an unofficial IceCube blog presentation about the current and future satellite situation. Use of the current TDRSS satellites costs the program over $100 per minute. Speaking of satellites, NSF has recently updated their Pole satellite stuff including lots of information about the current systems as well as a new availability page which can be found here.
Global warming? Or is it more appropriate to say global warning? One unarguable fact is that the debate itself is certainly continuing to heat up. Other facts...while the Antarctic Peninsula and coastal areas are warming, as evidenced by the continuing and recent iceberg activity (AAD press release, photos and data and Antarctic Sun article), the South Pole temperatures have actually been getting colder since measurements began in 1957. Winterover meteorologist Tim Markle explains this in this recent video interview posted by Earthgauge. Tim also notes that 2009 by itself was the warmest year on record. More commentary is here in this 1 March blog posting by Britsh meteorologist Andy Russell. What does this mean for this winter's potential 300 club members? Too early to tell.
Yes, winter 2010 started on 14 February. This date marked the end of a dramatic summer construction seasson--officially the last for the South Pole Station Modernization (SPSM project). The most obvious change of course was the removal of the dome (left, the 15 January final group photo by Forest Banks, taken just before the last few pieces were removed). But elsewhere things are looking a lot more finished thanks to the completion of the "pretty stuff" as C-note used to describe the siding panels. At right is a February 2010 aerial view of the elevated station (thanks to Ethan Good) showing the finished roof, complete with its yellow grating in the science area above B2. Other buildings around the station also received the finished siding, including cryo, RF, and the SPT wing of DSL.
Elsewhere, a bit less dramatic perhaps, the Cheese Palace was made to disappear, and the long-abandoned Hypertats were dug up and relocated, two by summer camp and two at the end of the world. The remediation of the Old Pole site, begun last March, was continued--one possible use for this area that had been considered is a relocated and expanded NGA aircraft parking/camping area. Efforts this summer included a GPR survey followed by some grooming and dragging, but...as happened last March, soft spots opened up, this time sinking a Challenger and the D-8. The equipment was recovered safely, and plans were being reviewed for additional remediation work, which was completed in the 2010-11 summer.
What NGA expeditions were up for 2009-10...actually thanks to the economy it was a rather short list, with some cancellations.
More on the dome deconstruction...after a the last big food pull the week before Thanksgiving 2009, and some other clearing and preliminary stuff, the structural work began. Skylab went first (photos), and the first top section of the dome was lifted off on 18 December. The rest of my dome photos are here. Other coverage elsewhere--on 10 November the New York Times published this excellent article on 10 November for which I was interviewed. And there is significant Antarctic Sun coverage, this feature in ExplorersWeb, and the OAEA publication Explorer's Gazette (index page). And as for more photos I must also recommend this fresh collection by Forest Banks, available here. Forest provided me other pictures including the progress photo at left.
Science stuff...IceCube had yet another successful summer, it is hard for me to believe this was the penultimate drilling season, especially since when I showed up for my 2005 winter they had successfully completed exactly one hole. This season they started drilling on 4 December 2009, and completed 20 holes on 20 January, 10 days ahead of schedule, for a total of 79. Current plans are for a total of 86 holes, which means only 7 to be drilled next summer. All of the holes through the firn have been completed. Here is the end of season press release...the weekly reports from this past summer are available in the archive section here. Hmmm...what will B1 lounge be like next summer? Faciliies related stuff...the IceCube lab (ICL) got a real stairway to the roof this past summer, and the computer room fire suppression system was mostly installed. Moving to DSL, the South Pole Telescope (SPT) is producing an incredible amount of data about the beginning of the universe...which of course means there have been an incredible number of papers published just in the past year. For more SPT info the best source I can think of at the moment is fellow 2005/2008 winterover Dana Hrubes. At the other end of DSL the new incarnation of BICEP, otherwise known as BICEP2, has cranked up to study other angles of the beginning of the universe. The SPASE-2 hut has been retired from the dark sector, and the cosray detectors have been relocated between the station and ARO. Back behind where the dome used to be, the antenna crew took down some of the old towers, although if you look closely at some of the dome demo pictures, there are still a couple left out there.
McMurdo update...some fairly major landscape changes happened or are in progress. Probably the most sentimentally significant was the demo of Building 63, the 1950s vintage Quonset hut otherwise known as the bowling alley...which met its demise due to structural failure (yes, the manual pinsetting equipment was saved). Along with that, the T-site building was removed, along with one of the two remaining nuke plant buildings halfway up Ob Hill. And building 155 was given a distinctive coat of blue paint! I do have pictures.
The Antarctic contract...let me say first that major updates are posted on my definitive commentary page about the rebid. On 23 December 2009 the Federal Business Opportunities site posted another update, but it is already stale, since it describes a request for the bidders to reformat some of their financial information back in October. There also are some additional Q&A's indicating that there will be some "best and final" negotiations at some point. Since then, on 5 January NSF FINALLY posted a revised schedule on their contract rebid website, although there is not a lot of new detail here either. The Denver Westword news blog put out this story on 30 December with additional information on the lack of information; writer Jonathan Shikes quotes RPSC spokesperson Valerie Carroll..."they received a lot of info from all kinds of competitors and bidders, and it wasn't as easy to compare apples to apples." She explains that RPSC is negotiating for a year extension, and that the award is expected around September 2010.
New Years Day always brings the unveiling of the new Pole marker at a new location, and 2010 was no exception. Here's my page of photos and info about the marker and the event.
The last weekend in November 2009 marked the sad 30th anniversary of the tragic DC-10 crash on Mt. Erebus. The NZ program sent family representatives to the ice for memorial services, a couple of NZ articles are here and here.
12 November was the 40th anniversary of the first time women showed up at Pole...six of them all at once. The stories from 2009 and 1969 are here, the date was marked by many of the women on station posing in the photo at left.
1977 Pole Soul sad news...and not new. We learned that Dave Pluth, one of our 1976-77 GFA's, died in May 2009 in Rwanda while on assignment with the national tourism agency (more information).
The history of early season flight delays repeated itself at the end of the 2009 winter. After too many Basler delays, the Hercs showed up, and the first one headed for Pole on Wednesday 28 October...and landed. Visibility was back down to 1 mile (NYANG press release on their deployment). They kept flying to ramp things up and put the station in summer mode quickly. By mid November all of the 2009 winterovers were gone.
The second and third Baslers were scheduled for Friday the 23rd, but the weather observations continued to be bad. Finally one took off...and landed at Pole late Friday afternoon. History repeated itself again, and the stage was set as it were for the First Flight Festival on Saturday evening...a major musical event in the gym.
The first Basler arrived on Monday 19 October 2009, bringing 16 new people and taking 3 winterovers north. The Basler along with a Twin Otter had arrived from Rothera on Tuesday 13 October for a refueling stop on the way to McMurdo. The Basler continued on...the Twin Otter crew ended up staying overnight due to mechanical difficulties--it did not continue to McM until Thursday. Since the Twin Otter was the backup rescue aircraft, the Basler couldn't head south on NSF charter until the Twin Otter was in place. So the opening flight originally headed south on Friday the 16th but boomeranged presumably due to lousy weather and visibility at Pole.
Last year the Canadians on the transit flight brought a few gifts and freshies from Chile (Pisco and oranges!) but this year they did not.
The TDRS-1 satellite was taken out of service on 21 October. From here on, in addition to GOES, the comms will use TDRS 3, 4, 5, and 6 via the SPTR-2 link completed last summer (my complete coverage of the satellite systems and issues past and present is below). TDRS-1 was launched (with difficulty) on the maiden flight of space shuttle Challenger on STS-6 in April 1983.
Bill Spindler was among a number of Polies interviewed in early October for this extensive article "Life in Antarctica is cold but bloggers there can still get burned" in the Denver alternative weekly newspaper Westword.
For some reason or other, a number of past, present and future Polies gathered in Denver at the end of September 2009...including the indubitable Jake Speed along with wife Kathy! At right, some of the documentation... along with an update on Jake, Kathy, and the Jake Speed Fund!
The sun came up! And even visible, thanks to a YouTube video from friend Weeks Heist. The sunrise dinner was 18 September, followed by an open mike night. Meanwhile, a New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130 has made a medevac flight to McMurdo.
An environmental agreement by Antarctic Treaty nations and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) threatens to force changes to the NSF resupply shipping to McMurdo. The IMO tentatively adopted a measure banning the use of heavy bunker fuel oil by vessels in the Southern Ocean. The measure is a result of recent cruise ship disasters, and it is aimed primarily at that segment of the shipping industry, but it seems that the older US Military Sealift Command vessels used to resupply McMurdo also require heavy bunker fuel. Here's a Science Magazine blog posting.
A fresh look at the LO arch (left)...it is now brightly lit and filling up with shelving, thanks to lots of cold weather work by carpenters Todd Adams and Bill Stiner, electricians Robert Dragonfly and Monty Myrtle, project engineer Nathan Greenland, and others to help pull wire and put the erector sets together. Last winter we could not comprehend wire pulling during the winter, but they'd developed a workable system (which requires 7-8 people) to make it happen in cold temps. Soon the contents of the dome will be moved out, some of it to the new shelving units. Many more details are found in a 28 August Antarctic Sun article by correspondent/sous chef Michele Gentille which includes that LO arch photo by Nathan Greenland.
After two days of cancellations, the first winfly flight into McMurdo finally happened on Saturday 22 August 2009, bringing 120 smiling tanned new faces to the ice. Ten folks departed, but by one friend's estimate this represented a 12% increase in the Antarctic population. This was the first of five scheduled flights, including another of those "night vision" landings that they started last year (Antarctic Sun article).
Late winter fun...the Antarctic Film Festival has happened. Stations all over the continent created short films which had to include required content such as a roll of toilet paper, the sound of a can being opened, and the dialog phrase "Want to buy a dog?" A Rothera winterover shamelessly credits his station's winning video on this blog page, but he also credits one of the amazing Pole creations, a spoof on the making of a trailer for the forthcoming movie "Whiteout," which may actually get released in September. First you need to watch the real studio trailer of the movie here, then have a look at David Barud's vimeo site for the director's cut of the trailer spoof that he and Francis Shiel created, featuring many of the 2009 wo's. And there is also the film "A new FNG." Yeah, I know, this is a historical web site, but these cinema efforts are awesome :) More film links are available on this blog page from Anthony Powell at McMurdo.
The Jake Speed fundraising effort received great support on the ice and elsewhere. The polar community raised more than $36,000 (and the fund is now closed). An impressive sum...thanks to all who have contributed! In late spring 2009 Jake was discharged from the hospital and was getting outpatient care and therapy near his California home...learning how to use his new bionic features. He still has a long way ahead of him. Please have a look at the photo pages which include lots of photos of the Jake we know.
Yes, the 1999 Pole doctor Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald, who was medevaced from Pole at the end of that winter due to her serious breast cancer...succumbed to the disease on 23 June 2009. Here's the CNN story that broke the coverage, an obituary from the Boston Globe, a press statement from NSF director Arden Bement,, and coverage from the Antarctic Sun. Apparently the memorial service was still pending as of 6 July. Her photo at left was released by NSF in 1999. Here is my original 1999 coverage of her story, which I've updated with the missing press releases.
From 3-5 June 2009 I was at the Antarctic Deep Freeze Association reunion in Madison...a great time to get together with Antarcticans and Polies from 1956 to, well, today, yes we had a phone call with Pole, one of the featured events.
Hometown boy makes the papers...well, in this case it is Boulder native and 2009 winter site manager Logan Grover, who happened to get covered by the Boulder Daily Camera on 6 June. The reporter actually asked me for info. Anyway, here's the writeup.
News from McMurdo...for the second winter in a row, a significant outbuilding was lost to fire. This time it was the Kiwi A-Frame...a structure I remember from my happy camper course back in 1976. Here's a news story from the NZ Herald with a spectacular photo.
Sadly, Dr. Matt Houseal, who wintered at Pole in 1991 fresh out of residency, was murdered in Baghdad on 11 May...leaving behind a beloved wife and 7 children. we Polies and Palmerites were represented at the funeral...Al Oxton provided commentary and photos, and Dave Gallas sent flowers remembering Matt's time at Palmer Station. Here's the coverage and photos... updated 25 May.
The demise of AMANDA was mistakenly reported here prematurely, but now we have the word...it was turned off at 1511 Monday 11 May, but not before she complained a bit during her final activity. At right, IceCube winterover Erik Verhagen offers a tribute. Now we'll see if we can keep MAPO and the machine shop warm and toasty for the rest of the winter. Up in the heavens, the auroras have been spectacular. I'm a few thousand miles away, but I strongly recommend you check out the amazing sky shots the winterovers are coming up with!
From Summit Camp on top of the Greenland icecap...where some Polie folks and friends go to work during the off season, comes an incredible story of how a 38-year-old equipment operator I know survived being lost outside in a storm and whiteout for 58 hours. Well...by now you may have figured it out...yes, it was the indubitable Jake Speed. Temperatures were reported as low as -44°F, with 45 knot winds. When things subsided a bit and a search party showed up in a Tucker Sno-Cat looking for signs of his body, to the great surprise of the searchers, Jake actually walked up to the vehicle and climbed in, asking if they were going back to the station anytime soon. A bit later his arrival at the Big House triggered a similar reaction. Here's the NSF press release...his discovery and rescue happened on 18 April. While his body temperature and smile (left) were normal, he was suffering from seriously frostbitten hands and feet...he was initially medevaced to a hospital in Nuun, the capital of Greenland, and more recently went on to a hospital in California, with his wife. By now he's had lots of surgery, and he did lose his right hand plus both feet, but he is, after all, Jake. Here's hoping that all ends well for this guy!
Also in Madison on 16-17 April--the fifth annual Polar Technology Conference, hosted by IceCube. The meeting purpose was to discuss requirements and planning for polar research. It turned out to be a group of about 40, including yours truly. Bill Spindler was there to discuss such things as the research planning that went into the development of the three permanent stations at Pole, and other such stuff...as well as meeting some other Antarcticans that I haven't seen in awhile. Much of the focus was on power and communications--we're talking something like a few watts of power and a few seconds of connectivity to Iridium, to enable remote data collection sites to operate and stay in touch...along with appropriate computer equipment and software. Since these use alternative energy, my talk included the slightly larger (3KW) wind turbine project at Pole (right) back in 1997. Here is the conference web site. It includes a link to the lists of the participants for this year and the previous years, and the presentations are posted as well.
Yet another of those diplomatic games that sometimes resembles a sporting event, the Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting, otherwise known as ATCM XXXII, took place in Baltimore between 6 and 17 April 2009, complete with a presentation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The major result of this year's meeting was an agreement to regulate cruise ship tourism. These days these meetings happen annually; last year's meeting was in the Ukraine. America hasn't been the venue since 1984, when the meeting was held in Washington, DC. I've been through some of the reports and resolutions on the official Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) site and haven't found anything earth-shattering, but I may have missed something. The meeting was subtitled "50 years of Peace and Science." In addition to the smoke-free meeting rooms, a number of public events started the weekend before the official meeting--here's the NSF press release announcing the meeting and the events.
Remembering the old days...something not to be missed is the collection I call The 1974 Negatives...a unique glimpse of life at Pole 35 years ago this winter. The photo at left shows the last version of the main entrance to the original station...still decorated with some commemorative photographs and other items that can be found in the elevated station today (the black item between the two photos of Amundsen and Scott is that marble plaque that was presented to the station on the 50th anniversary of the arrival of these two gentlemen). Anyway, this gallery contains almost 100 pictures from the last winter of the original station now known as Old Pole. Somewhat approprate to mention here perhaps, since the entrance you see here that used to be on the surface has gradually gotten buried. At some point in the 1990's an extension was put on the top of this vestibule--one of those corrugated steel pipe sections with a ladder inside (which had originally been furnished to extend the Dome emergency escape hatch). The top of this ladder used to be on the surface about 10 years ago...but it has gotten pretty deeply buried...so during the week before sunset NSF decided it was time to dig up the entrance and remove that access ladder...it was yanked out with the D7 (right, common drive photo).
Five years later was 1979, the fifth winter in what we called the new station otherwise known as the dome. This year was fairly well documented by one of the NOAA winterovers, John Bortniak. John supplied a number of photographs to the NOAA photo library, a few of which I have used elswhere on this web site, and he also helped me with other information about his winter. In March John presented an IPY/NOAA lecture/webcast as part of IPY entitled "Recollections on Wintering Over at the South Pole 1979" reflecting on the event of 30 years ago. Here is the link to the presentation, which includes a PDF file as well as audio/video podcasts. And here is a photo that John used in his talk--he is at the bottom of the Holy Stairs...some 30+ feet below the floor level of the vestibule in the left hand photo...down at the original snow surface level where the IGY station was constructed.
The bids for the next Antarctic support contract were due on 23 February 2009...so the real backroom bidding, arm twisting, negotiating, and "best and final" offering began...and is still underway in 2010. Not a small process, since the winning effort isn't scheduled to be announced for another 6 months or so. In the meantime, our current contractor Raytheon is cranking up to hire next year's crew...all of the jobs were uploaded to Rayjobs at the beginning of March, and some of these have already been oversubscribed. The link to the jobs page is available on this RPSC site. For whatever reason, the Denver people have decided not to have a main job fair this year, as the hiring climate continues to change. If you're new to the process or even if not, I recommend you poke around on the Antarctic Memories message board to see what others have to say. Down on the ice, the last flight out of McMurdo did so on 22 February...unlike last season there is no "late flight" this year. And at Pole, in addition to all of the station closing and winterizing tasks, work continued through mid March to put the gunmetal grey cladding on the roof. At left you can see William Stiner (left) and Todd Adams working away on top of A1. This photo is only a small part of the panorama Ella Derbyshire took on 27 February (check out the big version!), she reports that it was -52°F with 9 knots, giving a wind chill in the -80s. Brr. But a nice view!
It seems that due to some sort of mixup, there was a shortage of fresh eggs during the 2009 winter...by the beginning of May the last one was gone. Gulp. But elsewhere, the design team passed judgment on the Logistics Facility...conditional occupancy should allow the cargoids to start thinking about moving in eventually...they would do so during the 2010 winter. The back deck didn't count in that review, but it is about done as well. What a couple of months ago was the empty arch was being turned into a real back deck as seen in the mid-January view at left from Dave Smith...and there is siding on the LO facility....Snowcrete was put in for the front deck and it was completed along with rework of the bulkhead and doors. Turns out the back deck required snowcrete as well. Elsewhwere out back, the structure for the SPTR-2 satellite antenna was completed in time for antenna installation and testing, that's what that thing is in the right photo by IT manager Gary Ferentchak from 5 January (USAP photo library); I have more construction photos here. This dome and antenna look suspiciously similar to the ones at Palmer Station--hopefully they'll deal with the demise of the ancient satellites currently in use. Across the runway, IceCube completed all 19 planned strings early, with the last hole drilled on 21 January and the string deployed shortly afterward. The team cleaned up, tested and winterized before leaving things to the winterovers. Oh by the way, on the way out they yanked out a bunch of AMANDA equipment on 3 February, but contrary to what had been reported, the project would continue to run for 3 more months. Read the status updates here; the last summer report for 2009-10 was put up on 10 February.
Jerry Marty, the longtime NSF construction manager for the new elevated station, headed north for the last time shortly before Christmas 2008, and when he departed the station he was saluted not with crossed swords but with crossed measuring tapes (right). On 11 February 2009 he presented the lecture "Building for Science at the South Pole" at the University of Delaware. The presentation was visible not only live and as a webcast, but also in the virtual world Second Life (!). Oh, and it was also saved as a podcast so you can listen at any time...(full story, photos and podcast link).
Up north, the Antarctic contract bidders were going through the final number crunching before the bids were due on 23 February...they already had to submit bunches and bunches of backup data last month (contract links and historical information).
The "Race to the Pole" happened, well actually all of them. In the event of that name, the Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race, seven 3-person teams competed over a 500-mile course, setting off on 5 January...six teams made it to Pole although only 5 finished officially. As happened 97 years ago, a Norwegian team, Team Missing Link finished first and a British team, QinetiQ, came in second. It seems that he Norwegian-American Scientific Traverse crossed paths with them in the Discovery Lakes area on 6 January (photo at left by Ole Tveiten; blog entry here). These vehicles were carrying film crews and medical support staff. Note that the tire pressure was only 2.5 psi!
NGA American solo skiier Todd Carmichael tried to set a speed record from Hercules Inlet...after 39 days of travel he made it on 22 December. The previous record was 40 days, but his record didn't last long. The 3-man team Richard Weber, Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely got a later start and beat his record, arriving on 8 January with a record time of 33 days, 23-1/2 hours. More info on these and other ventures is elsewhere on this page. By now everyone who was going to show up had showed up, including the three Shackleton descendents that arrived from Ross Island via the Beardmore at 2200 on Sunday 18 January. The other portion of the team that was doing the "last 97 miles" was a few days behind. Another visitor was Monaco's Prince Albert and party, who joined Mike Horn's team at 88°51' S--they all left that trek campsite and flew close to Pole, where they all spent 2 days walking 22km to Pole, getting the Prince there at 0847 on the 14th. Mike, BÃ¸rge Ousland and two others then flew back to the campsite to finish the longer walk to the Pole. Patriot Hills closed on the 28th. As for the real reason for the station, the Antarctic Sun recently published an excellent article "Field of Dreams" referring to the science projects that are being attracted there.
Back during high summer, the photo at left was a sign that one of the more visible construction projects proceeded--the scaffold that hung off the back of A4 all winter was moved to the next position as the siding installation resumed (photo by Andy Martinez/USAP photo library). The siding installation was pretty much completed on the walls; some work is scheduled for the winter to start on the roof panels. Over at DSL, the 3-year BICEP project was officially decommissioned in December...a bit of a sad time for some good people I know. SPT guy Brad Benson documented the 9 December farewell party in this blog entry. Meanwhile some 800+ miles north, another interesting and highly visible project was underway uphill from Scott Base, the "wind farm" (right, conceptual photo). There were to be be 3 330 KW machines set up near Crater Hill, and a grid intertie between them, Scott Base and McM. This estimated to reduce fuel consumption by 11%. The foundations and site work were happening in the 2008-09 summer; work continued through the winter and the turbines themselves were erected and commissioned in 2009-10. This project was being spearheaded by the NZ program, although the USAP did some of the site work and equipment movement. Here's an Antarctic Sun article...and more information from the NZ/Australian contractor Meridian Energy, to which the above right photo is credited. Also of interest to construction folks like me was this newspaper ad from the 15 December Dominion Post newspaper (Wellington NZ) looking for people to work on the project during the 2009 winter.
Traverse updates...there have been 2 science traverses involved with the the station--one of these is of course ths "South Pole Traverse" which left McMurdo on 23 October on what was to be the first of 2 round trips. But...the "shear zone" on the Ross Ice Shelf was a bit worse than expected and during one period while blasting and filling cracks and crevasses they only made 20 miles in 9 days. They had been scheduled to reach Pole around 6 December... they actually pulled in on the 16th. They left the coast with seven tractors here's one of them in a photo by Ted Scambos of the Norwegian-American traverse. The tractors pulling, among other things, about 60 3,000 gallon fuel bladders on plastic sleds (photo near Ross Island by Robyn Waserman from the USAP photo library). Some of this fuel is for the traverse use and some to supply Pole. The traverse was scheduled to continue on to AGAP, but that leg was cancelled. The AGAP project finally got underway in full swing in late December, but the project teams figure they are about 2 weeks behind schedule (AGAP project page with news updates). AGAP is an international project to study the snow-covered Gamburtsev Mountains from the ground and from the air--this mountain range is COMPLETELY snow covered. The AGAP South camp was initially established by USAP last summer, the AGAP North camp was being operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). A third "camp" was operated at Pole to serve as a site for high altitude acclimatization. The AGAP South camp received C-17 fuel airdrops. As of 20 December the North camp north of Dome A was set up, the first survey flights had been made by the specially equipped BAS Twin Otter. The team figured they were 15 days behind schedule, but they still completed about 50 survey flights, with the final ones on 10 January. They spent the following week demobilizing the camp before a scheduled departure date on the 17th. The AGAP North blogs are here from the BAS and the AAD. And speaking of airdrops, the C-17 also did one at Pole on the evening of 6 December (left, photo by Hermann Kolanoski of IceCube. The Chinese team that has been building the new Kunlun Station at Dome A (CCTV news article) hauled out the trash and crushed empty fuel drums when they returned to the coast in February. By the way, the new Chinese station is rather impressive considering it was set up from scratch in such a remote station, by only one traverse team and no air support. Check out what it looks like (Peoples Daily news article with a construction photo). Winter use is planned within a few years.
And then there is the second half of the Norwegian-American Scientific Traverse which staged out of Pole to go rebuild and repair their tractors that had been left at "Camp Winter" after 2 of the 4 tractors broke down. Some of the crew made it to the camp site, studied the snow and fixed/serviced the equipment, but their start was also delayed due to weather and poor landing conditions for the Basler at the camp. They packed up the camp and headed for Pole, arriving on 11 December. I met some of these folks at Pole before I left. Now the final traverse team of 12 assembled at Pole, prepared the equipment and supplies for the drive north to Troll, and headed out on the 22nd. As of mid February they were at their last research stop.
Yes, the bidders DID make it to the ice for their job walk, although their travel got delayed a day. They flew to the ice on Tuesday, 18 November and had a few hours at Pole the next day. I spoke with a couple of them in Christchurch. Here's my page of historical information and links relating to the contract bidding process...
What went on this summer at Pole? In addition to landscaping and other usual stuff, the logistics facility (LO) should be completed this summer, including the rest of the work on the building, exterior ductwork, permanent power and heating supply, and the "front deck" between the downwind end of the building and the door/bulkhead. The bulkhead is being removed to allow for equipment access and to rework the door so it will swing inward over the rollers and ball conveyor system. Outside, the SPTR-2 project (photo below left) will continue to expand and complete the platform as well as to install the antenna, radome, and electronics shelter. The fuel storage pumphouse will get expanded by moving out two walls, and the aircraft fueling module (AFM) will be assembled. Siding work will continue on the back side of the station, IceCube will get a new CO2 fire system in the server room, and on the science side, IceCube originally planned to do 16 holes/strings, with a "stretch goal" of 19.
Elsewhere in science, the 3-year BICEP telescope project in DSL wound down in November; the instrumentation was removed and shipped north. Coming next, perhaps in a year, is "BICEP 2" in the same location, along with "SPUD" on the former QUAD/DASI mount at MAPO. Here's an recent abstract which briefly describes these 2 projects. SPUD, also known as the Keck Array, recently was awarded a large grant from the Keck Foundation (press release). And on the other side of MAPO, a the old VIPER control room was to be fitted out to control the reactivated VLF antenna located west of the dark sector buildings.
Air transport news...a Bombardier Global Express business jet operated by TAG Aviation left Farnborough Airport in England at 2305 Pole time on Friday 21 November 2008 in a quest for a new 50-hour round-the-world over-the-poles record. After crossing the North Pole, it refueled at Whitehorse (Yukon, Canada), Majuro in the Marshall Islands, and Christchurch (0036 Sunday, Channel 3 news story), and passed over Pole later that day in the 11-hour flight to the next refueling stop in PA. The last stop was at Sal, Cape Verde. They ultimately completed the the effort by returning to Farnborough in 52 hours and 32 minutes. There were 8 on board, including 5 pilots, flight engineer, in-flight coordinator, and an observer from Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) which ratified the world record on 23 March 2009. The previous over-the-poles record of 54:07 had been set by a Pan Am 747SP aircraft back on 28-31 October 1977. Oh, also, the specially modified 109th ANG completed the installation of new 8-bladed propellers on the first LC-130--Skier 92 to be exact. The first operational flight was on 16 September 2008...the new props reduce noise and vibration and may reduce fuel consumption by at least 5 percent. The aircraft was spotted in ChCh on 16 November and was expected at Pole the following week. Here's a copy of a Hamilton Sundstrand press release; the photo at right is courtesy of TSgt Derrick Irish; also here is an earlier Antarctic Sun article.
And back in October a few days before the first flight landed, we had an overflight by an FAA Challenger 601 inspection aircraft--basically a business jet--to certify the navigational aids of the skiway, which at the time was in the process was being relocated. The result is the photo at left...here's more information and links to a couple of other news stories.
The accident at Australia's Davis Station (on the coast directly south of Perth) was in the news, as a NYANG LC-130 medevac mission headed there from McM the evening of 4 November, arriving about 0200 SP time on the 5th after a 4-1/2 hour flight. The aircraft, with a medical team on board stayed on deck overnight and then successfully flew the patient the 1500 miles to Hobart, arriving early on the 6th SP time (NSF press release and AAD press release). The story--the Davis w/o cook, 31-year-old Dwayne Rooke of Tasmania, fell off a quad bike on a field trip 15 miles from the base, breaking his pelvis and both ankles. He was in serious but stable condition as he waited for...the icebreaker Aurora Australis, which was diverted from its course to Casey and headed for Davis. A second doctor and other assistants were flown to Davis by helo from the ship on 1 November when the ship got in range and the weather improved Here's an earlier 1 November AAD news release. At that time the plans were to fly him back to the icebreaker when weather improved again. (my coverage with photos).
Well, by 6 November 2008 we were supposed to have had about 7 Basler flights bring in folks to raise the population to about 170 people...but no...bad weather has kept them all away until that day, when a Basler along with two LC-130s finally arrived, to bring new people and take a third of the winterovers away. What bad weather, we said as we walked outside and look at the crisp new skiway under light winds and surprisingly warm temperatures? Well, all I can say is that the pilots needed better visibility for the first landings than they do later in the season. Oh, and at least a couple of the cancellations were based on bad weather at McM, or at least fear of it (!). So the SP population has finally moved into 3 digits after being stuck at 91 for over a week.
At least some of the postulating and posturing over who comes in and who goes out on what flight is based on on the plan for one final winter band concert, the "red headed stepchild of Polestock" to be scheduled some time after some new people get here and before any of the band members leave. Hmmm. Yours truly wasn't scheduled to leave until the 13th.
Aircraft may not have been showing up at Pole the fourth week of October, but they were landing elsewhere on the continent. The first NGA ground travelers to Pole landed at the Russian NOVO blue ice runway south of Cape Town, and the first passenger flights to PH were scheduled the first week in November.
The 2008 winter ended slowly. The first "soft opening" Basler flight landed on Sunday 26 October (left) bringing 17 new people, more freshies, flu vaccine for us winterovers, absentee ballots, and similar high priority stuff. This aircraft can't carry all that much cargo, so all of the early arrivals have to live out of their handcarry until the 130's can bring in the rest of their baggage. We did have the station suitably cleaned up and decked out for the new arrivals (!). Another flight showed up a day later with another 17 people, and several more were to arrive later in the week...but did not. There were 3 outgoing passengers on the first flight, but no, this was not a "flight of shame" as some of you might be wondering--one grantee got approval for an early departure, one RPSC employee has an urgent dental appointment in McM and will finish his contract there...and a third guy has to hurry home and see family and do all the other stuff before returning to the ice for a winter contract at the beginning of January. Yes...a good winter.
More airplanes...the C-17 flights to McM that were backed up for a week at the end of September have gotten pretty much back to normal. As for our "real" first flights, the Basler, along with a Twin Otter, were scheduled to cross the Drake from PA to Rothera on Monday the 20th...pass through Pole on the 21st, and then start bringing summer folks in on the 23rd. They finally made it Friday SP time (right, my hero shot by Kevin Torphy)...the Basler quickly headed for McM after trading some fuel for a box of freshies (YUM!) while the Twin Otter crew stayed overnight. Saturday the first Basler passenger flight from McM was cancelled due to bad weather at McM. Here at Pole the skiway was ready, or at least half of it...in preparations for moving it south, the marker flags at the north end have been removed, rearranged, and moved yet again...the first flights brought in some surveyors who know where they really are supposed to go, and lay out the rest of the skiway.
Further up in the air (where the communications satellites live) we got word that one of the three communications satellites used here, MARISAT-F2, which until the last week of our 2008 winter was the oldest commercial communications satellite still in service, got a bit shaky in its orbit, and the owner (INTELSAT) needed to decommission and de-orbit after 29 November--something we didn't think would affect us winterovers (Antarctic Sun news story). That cut our ~11 hour satellite window by 2 hours...and is only a preview to what may come next when the other 2 aging satellites suffer a similar fate. At left is the first phase of the next big thing--part one of the "SPTR-2" antenna platform which was put up in February out near RF. It is to be completed this summer--complete with a dish, antenna shelter and an 8-meter radome. In theory this will allow access to a number of different TDRSS satellites for short windows as they briefly pop over the horizon...assuming a healthy set of jackscrews to keep the dish moving in our cool temperatures.
A couple of other serious disasters hampered national programs in other parts of the continent in October 2008... There was the serious fire on 5 October that burned down the main 2-story berthing building at Russia's Progress Station, leaving 2 seriously injured and one dead. The station is on the coast, about 70 miles west of Australia's Davis Station on the east side of the continent, and only a mile from a Chinese base where medical help was obtained. Other station buildings including the power plant and galley were not affected. Here's an iol.co.za news story, and an excellent Antarctic Sun article. And elsewhere, The medevac of 49-year-old mechanic Sigurd Sande from Norway's Troll Station was successful--15 days after he broke his leg on 3 October while near the top of a 2000m peak. The other folks at the base--72°S-2.5°E and 150 miles from the coast, prepared things for a medevac flight to Cape Town, but the first attempt on the 10th was aborted due to bad weather. The flight in a Gulfstream GIIB business jet took about six hours, 2700 miles each way. His original rescue from the mountain to the station is a fairly dramatic story as well. Here's good coverage from fellow 2008 winterover Steffen Richter, and a good blog entry.
Sunrise was celebrated the weekend of 20-21 September...although the actual sun itself played rather scarce. There was been a fair amount of blowing and drifting that obscured the horizon and the low sun. Still, folks spent some time in the galley watching it through the windows Sunday evening the 21st, when I caught the first glimpse of it out of my room window (left). The weekend featured a family style turkey (and lots of other stuff) dinner around one big table in the galley...as well as a blowout "Mother of Polestock" concert Saturday evening (right). Meanwhile, the optimistic early season flight schedule for folks arriving on the first flights (starting with seven Basler flights beginning 23 October) was posted, although of course that never happened. As for the skiway, the markers on the upwind half were removed in preparation for the shift of the skiway about 5000 feet south, towards the tailless remains of the buried 917 aircraft.
A bit of McMurdo news floated around the wires...the beginning of September saw the conclusion to "Operation Spring Fly" or what goes for winfly this season. It consisted of 4 C-17 flights into the Pegasus runway--three southbound flights with passengers and one with cargo only, and while the last scheduled flight on the 10th was designated a "medevac" (Air Force news article), it really involved an ambulatory patient who just needed a bit more evaluation than was available on the ice. A related news story...after the end of the scheduled missions they did a fifth "training" flight that landed in the dark just before midnight on the 11th. This was credited with being the first Antarctic landing by a pilot using night vision goggles (Stuff.co.nz article) but we all know it wasn't the first night landing...for example there was the Byrd Station medevac in 1961 and the Pole medevac in 2001...coincidentally we watched videos of that event Friday night.
About the time it gets light enough outside to uncover the windows, it also becomes time for the NOAA team to uncover what might happen to the ozone hole. The World Meteorological Organization has predicted a "normal ozone hole" this year, whatever that is. The results of the ozonesonde measurements are posted on the wall of the galley, but if you're not at Pole you can follow them here .
At the beginning of September 2008 we celebrated Labor Day weekend--two whole days off, and events which included an art show, open mike night, farmer's market (ie pick your own dinner out of the growth chamber), miniature golf, and, well, lots of sleep. Another day we noted was 28 September...that is the latest day in history that the weather reached -300° here. We didn't make it...only the second year in recorded history, the other year was 1964.
One other bit of news...it seems that our power plant supervisor wasn't the only person with crutches...yours truly had his knee start complaining from 30 years of running--it basically swelled up and let me know it didn't want to be walked upon. Anyway, after some treatment and several weeks of crutches and canes it seems to be improving and I've been walking without assistance...still a bit slowly, but hopefully a move in the right direction.
Back in July 2008 we had a recurring winter problem with the GOES/MARISAT antenna...some of the drive system quit working. After some intrepid disassembly, diagnosis and rework by the garage folks, UT's, and satcom enginner, the elevation worm drive was put back together and should function to give us our full 11+ hours of daily internet connectivity for the rest of the winter. The Antarctic Sun has an excellent feature article here. Recent efforts have gone into upgrading the insulation and heating to keep the drives warm and toasty, as it were. I'll spare you the gory gearbox pictures!
Much of the other July/August USAP news came from Denver and other points north--it seems that the price of fuel among other things has prompted some fairly serious budget cuts. What is their impact on the program? Well, science cruises on the Peninsula side have been cut back or cancelled; the "annual ice runway" will not exist this year; "Winfly" has been shortened and moved back into early September 2008, and as of now there will not be ANY winfly next season. NSF recently posted this 18 August open letter to researchers on the OPP web site--it further addresses and lists the budget impacts, which include delays in construction and dome demolition among other things. There have been changes in travel arrangements, cutbacks in projects, and shrinking of populations. One rumor (still not confirmed, since one never knows the real answer until after the last flight) is that the Pole population will be in the low 40s next winter. Stay tuned...meanwhile some of the flight details have been officially announced, subject to change, of course as Mother Antarctica and the weather gods always have the final say. Anyway, it seems that Pole is scheduled for another of those "soft openings" with 7 Basler flights bringing folks in (but not out) starting on 23 October. The first LC-130 flight is scheduled for 5 November. And in another interesting flight schedule twist, the late-season flight schedule to/from ChCh will include 4 Airbus 319 passenger flights. Certainly not the first civilian airliner flights into MacTown, but the first in awhile. These are a subcharter from the Australian program, and the charter airline Skytraders, which did a couple of test landings in McM last season.
Other news around this quiet part of the continent--one of the power plant folks--James, my neighbor just down the hall, broke his foot in August 2008 in what must have been a fairly serious indoor soccer game in the gym--I was warned in advance and stayed away. And work went on in and around the "LO" that new cargo building that is taking shape in the old garage arch (above right, more current photos).
The 31st Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting was held in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, between 2 and 13 June 2008. All of the stuff discussed is now online here on the official site, although the lists of meetings and agenda items are difficult to navigate. The 2007 meeting passed a measure "protecting" Pole as a Specially Managed Area. Here is a link to that adopted measure and maps if you drill down to XXXI ATCM and "meeting documents."
One of the more interesting Antarctic events happens every 10 years, and it started in late 2007, far from Pole in the environs of Washington DC. No, not another census or Polar Year, but...the 2-year process of rebidding the Antarctic support contract. The potential bidders started to posture and postulate over a year ago, but only in the (northern) spring of 2008 did the formal requests and announcements start to come out. Here is my look at this great decennial sporting event from a historical perspective (well, did you expect anything else from me?) Oh, just out...it looks like the next contract period may be 13 years rather than 10. And I do have links to the official contract information site, includings the list of registered potential bidders and detailed schedule. Oh, the bids are due on 23 February 2009.
Our Midwinters day weekend happened...demarking the time when the sun starts to move back towards our horizon...the time for a big dinner and the "Son of Polestock" musical blowout (above left, the main promo poster). Yes, a great weekend was had by all... the last 2-day weekend was in recognition of the Memorial Day holiday...although many folks here have job responsibilities over these weekend breaks. One such guy here is power plant tech Will Brubaker...but he did have time to post the details of our celebration. I didn't throw horseshoes or anything else, but I did enjoy the food and the nitrogen martinis. Thanks Will!
As for Pole...things were actually going rether quietly...the logistics facility construction went well, in May 2008 we had our "Mass Casualty Drill" for the winter, where the scenario involved a fire and injuries in the garage, and thus with no vehicles available, yours truly got to help drag one of the "injured" parties up the hill to the station on a sled. Woof woof, as a friend might say. And we had an "egg oiling"--what's that you might say? Our fresh eggs come from New Zealand in boxes of 15 dozen...and they come coated in vegetable oil to preserve their freshness. But once or twice during the winter we need to dip them again to keep them fresh, and this activity is a great social event in the galley (left). My headgear was great fun and attracted several photographers...well, we have a sanitation rule that one must wear a hat when working in the kitchen...and since I came late, this was about the only one left. The photo and caption as it were are thanks to Steffen Richter!
That great musical event of April, Polestock (right) was an incredible success. A couple of my pictures are here along with the promo posters. But there's also a fresh Antarctic Sun article by our local correspondent Jeff King, as well as coverage from Heidi, Tim, and Dana.
17 April brought an unusual ice event north of here--the end of the "extended season" at MacTown. A C-17 visited them bringing freshies, several thousand pounds of mail and a few late winterovers, and headed north with about 100 passengers, leaving 125 folks behind. Some of the northbound folks were late science projects, some had showed up in February to work on a new fuel tank up where TESL, er, F-Stop used to be. The McM winterovers will be isolated until Winfly...whenever that is or whatever that is called. Instead of some flights in the third week of August, that event will be smaller and occur during the first week of September. For those of you curious about the ongoing winter life at McMurdo, admin guy Tom Hamann's blog is definitely recommended. And also this year the Antarctic Sun is maintaining a winter presence. Meanwhile, our opening flights at Pole will likely be the Basler variety staring in mid-October.
Friday 21 March was our big dinner celebration, although we still saw the sun for a few more days on and off and on. Maybe. For the sunset party weekend we have had overcast skies and poor surface definition. Thursday morning 20 March I made the call that we had a "Stonehenge moment"--well, not really, but it seems that at 6 AM the sun shone directly in the window at the sun deck (directly above Destination Alpha (DA), the main station entrance) and a couple hundred feet straight down the main hall, so you could see your shadow in the doors at the other end. Hmmm, at right below is a photo I took of the sun from the same spot in the hallway, looking back towards DA. And here is a hero shot in the B3 hallway...remember I was playing hooky from my morning treadmill run...
Not long after station close, there was a women-only sleepover at ARO. Well, I wasn't there, but thanks to Heidi Lim and Leah Webster's camera I do have documentation (below left) that we have a well-rounded population. At left below can be seen 11 out of 12 of the female population--From left: Katie, Deb, Calee, Heidi, Jane, Robin, Mandi, Amy, Leah, Terry, and Katie. Sue was absent--she had to go launch a weather balloon. Do check out Heidi's blog, she has been out and about on the station environs, with camera. Yes, we do have plenty of toilet paper for the winter, a highly qualified facilities engineer, and a well-trained trauma team...:)
The station was scheduled to close Friday 15 February 2008, but it happened a day earlier on the 14th, leaving 60 of us here, down from nearly 200 only a few days before that. Things are going well--Bill Spindler passed his "winter dental review" and finally moved back into the same room he'd lived in for the 2005 winter. With some familiar friendly next-door neighbors! In the first week after closing we had some warm (-20s F) temperatures, but now in the first week of March it is flirting with the -60s...
I must add a sad note here...former coworker and friend Mike Pavlak passed away at home on 23 January. Mike worked in the program for several years in the late 70s with H&N, and continued with it and its successor companies. He showed up at Pole to take over from me as the 1978 station manager. This page (at bottom left) includes a classic picture which includes both of us, taken while I was on R&R at McMurdo in January 1977, and here is a brief obituary (MS Word document) from the DMJMHN intranet site.
Well, the icebergs that plagued McMurdo Sound a couple years ago have gone bye bye (watch the icebergs)...but this year we had a new problem--heavy pack ice 500 miles north of McM, much worse than in recent years. The only icebreaker to show up this summer was the Swedish vessel Oden, which got to work after a science cruise from PA. Here's more info on the 2007-08 program, and a link to a PolarTrec blog on the venture. The science cruise departed from PA in late November, the beakers were sent to McM via helo on 7 January before the icebreaking duties began in earnest. Oden first made it to McM on 11 January, after finding much better ice conditions than in the past few years. Meanwhile, the cargo ship American Tern arrived at Lyttleton from PH on the on Friday the 25th as scheduled, and left a couple days later for the ice. But...the tanker was hung up at the pack ice edge, the Oden went up to help, putting the tanker Gianella arrival off until around Tuesday the 29th Offloading finished up and she left late on the 31st. The Tern showed at McM on 6 February and left around the 13th.
More on the heavy traverse season. ...the Norwegian-American scientific traverse--from Troll via Plateau Station (where they found the 1960-era USARP station intact--news article. and the Pole of Inaccessibility (where they found that bust of Lenin)--was supposed to roll into Pole around 19 January, marking the end of the first phase of their 2-year project--a return trip from Troll. But...they ended up stranded after first one and then two of their four vehicles broke down, putting them 220 miles from Pole. First they requested USAP assistance, and accordingly the SP heavy traverse (which was heading back to McM) turned around and arrived back on station on 14 January. As things evolved, the project decided to winterize their equipment at their site, and a Basler was chartered from AL&E to fly the team and some of their equipment to Pole. The first 6 made it on the 20th, and the rest of them along with ice cores and other stuff made it on Monday the 21st. The group flew north to McM on Wednesday the 23rd.
The new station dedication happened on Saturday 12 January...the guest list was rather exclusive, and the on-station ceremonies were extensive. I do have lots of pictures, but since I'm rather busy doing other things at the moment :) for the moment I must recommend the NSF press release and the excellent Antarctic Sun coverage. An earlier story on this event came from the Aussie media. Meanwhile, the station has also been visited by the annual Congressional delegation.
The South Pole Traverse--yeah, that one, the one from McM--doing "trail maintenance"... rolled into the station on 8 January, after advance scout Bill McCormick wandered into the B3 lounge the night before and announced their presence. He was welcomed to Pole, and since he wasn't driving, he was handed a cold beer. The ITASE traverse--this year's venture from Byrd Glacier to Pole--showed up on the morning of Christmas Eve. Teacher Elke Bergholz has an excellent blog entry here. And a bit later there was a Chilean scientific traverse, which appeared to include some paying tourist members. Not unlike recent ISS (International Space Station) ventures. Hmmm.
This season has been an interesting one as far as aviation is concerned--starting with the "soft opening" using the Basler--something that was to be repeated at station close. Then on the morning of 7 December, TWO Twin Otters with 17 pax showed up from PH (left, photo from Thorsten Stezelberger). What did they do? Well, take pictures and visit the store, of course. And then there was that "mystery aircraft" that was flew over on 8 December without saying hello. But not without this picture (right) by Jill Fox, who was part of a campout and happened to have a camera at the right time. Well, it turned out to be that new Airbus A380...the full story is here thanks to help from the ExplorersWeb team. Oh, here's the complete Airbus press release and an ExplorersWeb followup.
And then the USAP-chartered Basler crashed on 20 December 2007 near Mt. Patterson, a West Antarctic field site 550 miles west of McMurdo, during a takeoff attempt after picking up the field party from the POLENET (Polar Earth Observing Network) project, that had just installed GPS units and seismic instruments at the site. Ten aboard-six team members and four crew, and no injuries (NSF press release), and Mitchell's blog with the full story and pics. This has put a crimp in the AGAP project as well as that oft-threatened "soft close". A team was sent in to repair the crashed plane; it was flown out via Rothera before the end of the season.
And then there was the C17 airdrop on 19 December. Unlike last year's event, this one, also one of those "proof of concept" things, made 4 passes, dropping about 20 pieces of cargo, in smaller pieces. Actually a great spectator event on a warm (-15°F with no wind) day (more pictures and info).
Oh, as for those NGA folks...the first group of "last degree" skiiers arrived on 15 December and got a tour of the place, including IceCube.
IceCube started its first hole of the season (#63) on Wednesday 5 December and completed it a couple days later. By mid-January they'd completed 16 holes, and they finished string deployment on the "stretch goal" 18th hole on 25 January, on schedule. They then moved and winterized the drill camp...the last of the summer folks went home on 13 February. Their goal for next season is 20 holes... And they completed all 28 of the planned IceTop tanks and associated cabling (it will still take a while for the water in the tanks to freeze). You can read their summer weekly reports here.
Okay, while the domed station has been emptied of buildings over the past few years, a major exterior modification has begun...the station sign has been removed (right, photo from Lawrence-Berkeley IceCube driller Thorsten Stezelberger). This is the first phase of the removal of the Dome entrance, jacking of the former power plant (right) arch to match the elevation of the rest of the previously jacked arches, connecting them all together, and starting structural erection of the logistics facility in the old garage arch. Stay tuned...and follow along with my construction photos.
By now of course the station is fully open for business, but a bit earlier this month things were a bit dicey. The Today Show team from NBC made it to the ice, and while Ann Curry originally planned to go to Pole for a long visit, Mother Antarctica's weather didn't cooperate, so the team barely made it in for a brief triple-shuttle visit early on Friday 9 November. Those flights made it in late Thursday/early Friday giving most w/o's an opportunity to go north after a week's delay. Anyway, for the Ann Curry fans, here is a show website.
Hey, in October 2007, the all-new Antarctic Sun had coverage of what Andy Martinez has been doing with all of the old winterover pictures. Not to be missed!
The scheduled "official station opening" (first LC-130 flight) on Monday 29 October was cancelled--not for temps (it was a warm -45°F/-43°C) but for visibility. This plane was to bring a big summer crowd (plus more mail and baggage left behind by the Basler pax...) But, a second flight later in the day did show up. Along with more later in the week. At the end of that week things turned bad, on Saturday 3 November all 3 flights aborted...the one that actually made it to Pole (only to boomerang for low viz) ended up returning to Terra Nova!
Speaking of the weather, w/o Steffen Richter has created a great automagic weather page...bookmark this for up-to-date met info!
Okay, the October 2007 "soft opening" went down, with 5 of the 6 planned Basler flights. The first of these with new folks occurred on Thursday 18 October. In addition to 15 new faces and freshies, the aircraft also brought...flu shots (Heidi Lim). The Basler twin turbo had first landed at Pole Sunday 14 October (left, photo from Heidi) along with a Twin Otter. The Basler continued to McM and was to return to Pole Monday with the first 18 summer folks. And fly north with some w/o's. And repeat a few times. But bad weather in McM delayed the personnel changeout. It finally started on the 18th when 15 new people showed up and 2 left. The second Basler flight came the next day. The third didn't happen until 24 November. [Until now the earliest first flight was the 16 October 1999 LC-130 that came in to pick up Jerri Nielsen. But they didn't call that the "opening flight" either.]
What is a Basler? Basically a completely modified/rebuilt DC-3 (read, jack up the nameplate of a WWII DC-3 (or C-47, or R4-D or whatever) and rebuild and modify it). They've been to Pole before, here is more info on the previous visit and the aircraft. In any case, the plan is to get the population jacked up to 260 people by 5 November.
What will happen?? Well, the siding and "chamfer" project will continue, in an effort to save a few more BTUs and KWs as well as make the place look decent for THE DEDICATION OF THE NEW ELEVATED STATION scheduled for 12 January. With of course bunches of DVs scheduled in for a couple of double shuttles...not unlike the first station dedication was held at Pole in January 1975. Oh, yes, that means I must mention this bit of trivia: the actual first station dedication was held in early 1957 in MCMURDO, and the Polies didn't even find out about it until much later. Meanwhile, other construction activity will see erection of the base structure of the SPT ground shield, jacking of the last section of the arch (the old power plant section), removing the old Dome entrance and filling it in with arch connecting the old power plant and biomed arches, and beginning on the foundation work for the logistics facilities to be built inside this arch.
Update....the Norwegian-US Scientific Traverse is one of the more noteworthy International Polar Year (IPY) events. This is a 2-season international multidisciplinary return traverse, exploring the East Antarctic ice sheet, from the Norwegian Troll Station (where the team is now) to Pole. The first half happened in 2007-08, and it included a stop at the site of Plateau Station. Plateau was occupied for the 1966-1968 winters and featured a 30-meter met tower, similar to the one at Pole, although a late 80s event failed to find it. One of the participants is Colorado State researcher Glen Liston...who happens to be a 1983 winterover. Back then he was the maintenance mechanic. Their plans were to be at Plateau for 5-6 days drilling a 90m ice core. Well, it turns out they broke down a few miles away, but they still discovered the station only buried up to the roof...and the met tower. By the way, these folks have a great historic page about Plateau, with photos including one of that met tower. This traverse will also investigate some of those subglacial lakes which have become a big thing of late.
Would there there be a 300 Club in the 2007 winter? Well, no. Earlier this spring temps dropped briefly below -100°F a couple of times, but not long enough for anyone to gear up. Global warming?? Here's Heidi Lim's view of the scroll the first time the magic number popped up. So far in the 50+ years that folks have been at Pole, the only other winter that it didn't make it into 3 digits was 1964. And here were the dwindling odds that it might have happened (graph courtesy of the NOAA guys).
Before the sun came up, in early September the cardboard came off the windows (left, photo from Laura Rip), and the visible astronomical displays are gone. But not before the 28 August lunar eclipse got watched by me in Nevada and documented by Robert Schwarz (right) at Pole (scroll down to August). Otherwise things have been rather quiet of late, in part because satellite antenna problems have cut back on internet visibility. You may have noticed (if you noticed the site of the midwinter picture) that the old garage/gym/bar whatever along with the power plant are no more. Winfly has happened, and MacTown is swarming with early summer folks, including one Nicholas Johnson, so surely McM is not a big dead place. As reported there, the Tax Court has ruled yet again that American USAP folks have to pay taxes. Lots more folks got caught, you can read their unsuccessful strategies here (search this page with your browser for "Antarctica"). The moral is, don't try it.
Yes, happy Midwinters Day, whenever and wherever you are and may celebrate it. Nowadays this celebration is a huge event (well, based on the size of the winterover crew vs the old days) and you now can check out the extensive documentation of things on some of the winterover web sites. 30 years ago things were more modest, here is how we celebrated in 1977.
The third annual BF5K was held at the end of April, here's a link to Jason Stauch's blog entry on this ingenious event. Yes, I participated in the first version, and based on my lousy finishing time I should have worn a costume. Other serious runners and exercisers are somewhere on the way to MacTown (virtually) as the Race to McMurdo was underway again, hot and heavy, this documentation by Heidi Lim. I must confess that I made it to Mactown and almost back to Pole (Papa) 3 in the 2005 version. On the temporary facilities side, note that the smokers have found a temporary warm place to indulge, "the 2.0 Lounge" which has been parked outside of Destination Alpha for the winter. Those of you who were around back then (2000-01) will recognize this structure as the former "SPARCLE Palace" which is described and depicted here, then and now. Butt...all is not good news for smokers. It has recently been announced that as of 2010 there will no longer be any indoor smoking facilities at any USAP stations....
Tony Meunier, one of the 1974 USGS winterovers, recently revealed to me that his publication U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Activities in the Exploration of Antarctica: 1946-2006... is now available online here. This 15mb PDF document (which actually has a much longer title) documents all USGS events, visitors, winterers, cachets, etc., between Highjump and the present.
Northern hemisphere events of note...this boreal spring and summer...first was the American Polar Society symposium at the OSU Byrd Center in Columbus, OH, 25-27...the eclectic program features speakers from the IGY era (including Dick Bowers, builder of the IGY Pole Station) and folks addressing IPY and current concerns. I was there and it was great to get together with old Polie and other friends. Two weeks later in Corpus Christi, TX, the Antarctic Deep Freeze Association (ADFA) met on 8-11 May. This group is composed primarily of the folks who WERE THERE during IGY, unfortunately I didn't make that one, which featured a videoconference with Pole. And last but perhaps not least, we of the 1977 Pole Souls had our second reunion in Boulder, CO, 16-17 June. Unlike the first one in 2000, a few folks didn't make this time...one guy who won't is Alex Zaitsev, whose presence is a victim of the current poor USA-Russia relations, meaning he didn't get a visa in time, although he did visit some of us in August.
So what's with all this stuff about folks driving to Pole? No recent or hard detail on the team website, although this International Herald Tribune article is pretty good. The team has applied for the appropriate permits...the only thing is that they have to get their vehicles and alternative fuels to McMurdo in December, which is before the shipping season begins. Hmmm. This may incorporate the previously announced trip by Steve Wozniak, and they may be using Hummers...well, we will see. USAP did three round trips to Pole in the 2006-07 summer, according to some of the news articles.
The thirtieth Antarctic Treaty meeting in New Delhi happened 30 April through 11 May. Not a lot of newsmaking issues this time, but new management plans for both Pole and Palmer were addressed.
Sadly, yet another unfortunate news event--the tragic shooting of 32 people at Virginia Tech--prompted the lowering of the Dome flag to half mast on 19 March 2007. At right is a picture of this event...here are a couple more photos with additional information and credits.
Yes, the dome demo crew has been back at work. After spending a bit of time gutting the old garage, they attacked the science building in earnest. At left, upper berthing is history, stacked up to ship back up north (Brien Barnett photo). By now (late April) they've finished with the old UB/science building structure, gone back out to the garage arch to wipe out the old garage/carp shop/gym except for the floor, and gone back into the dome to remove the old UB/science floor. Cold temps have hampered equipment operations...but the plan is next to remove the old garage floor next, followed by the old comms floor. After the food gets moved. Again.
Happy sunset...20 March is the official equinox date in most of the world, but as usual the sun was visible for a few more days. The station bid the daylight farewell with the sunset dinner on 24 March. Another one of those great events...here's a picture of the 11 women on station this winter. Preceding this was the official 1 March inauguration of the International Polar Year...a 24-month modern version of the IGY that spawned the reason for the original Pole Station and the first of what is now 51 winterover crews (NSF press release on IPY, which includes a link to the IPY launch webcast).
Yup...after a day's delay, the station closed with the final 3 flights on Sunday 18 February 2007, leaving 54 souls....All about the last day of flights was not uneventful. The last week of summer included lots of last-minute work by the "soft close" SPT team. While they didn't get to stay quite as long as they'd planned, their efforts resulted in a successful first light on Jupiter on 16 February (Eurekalert and SPT group press releases, as well as the NSF press release with videos). The photo at right by Jeff McMahon shows ironworker Brian Hardin celebrating the successful installation. Meanwhile, the IceCube data acquisition team also frantically worked to get those new detectors up and running. The final tally on flight operations: there were 359 flights vs the planned 372...but since the aircraft cargo loads were higher than expected, more cargo and fuel was moved than had been planned. The last C-17 out of Mactown happened on Saturday 24 February, leaving behind only 119 w/o's there, the smallest crowd in years. And there is discussion that the program downsizing may continue next season...along with the continued stretching out of the completion of the MacTown power plant upgrade....as those ancient 399's that were supposed to go away by now are still chugging away.
On the waterfront...the shipping season is over. At left, the cargo ship American Tern is seen departing on 10 February; this unique view is from the wharf control tower. Here is what the Tern looked like full of cargo instead of garbage, when it showed up on 4 February (the Tern photos are all by McM w/o Tom Hamman). At right, the tanker Paul Buck, arrived on 31 January with help from the Polar Sea (Antarctic Sun photo by Peter Rejcek). In the background is the NSF research icebreaker N. B. Palmer which had docked earlier to swap out scientists and cargo...and then headed east to PA on a long science cruise. The Buck wasn't around long...after discharging nearly 7 million gallons of fuel, it departed to make way for the cargo ship.
And at Pole, IceCube finished the season with 13 strings completed on 29 January, and firn hole #14 completed with the new firn drill. This year the drill camp (Seasonal Equipment Site/SES) was staged for the winter at the next drilling location rather than being towed back to the berms. And the permanent IceCube lab had its official dedication. And the SP Telescope is now assembled (at least the big pieces) in all its glory (left, USAP photo library shot by Scot Jackson). Some of the SPT crew were to hang around past the official 17 February closing date for a "soft close" as late as the 23rd, but that didn't happen, they left on the 18th like everyone else. Late summer official Pole visitors included the design team, on site to sign off on new cryo and look at the SPT building...and on Friday 19 January, Helen Clark, PM of NZ showed up for a tour of the place.
Here are the 2006-2007 expedition, last-degree and other similar events I've watched:
It was helicopter week! FOUR arrived on Sunday 7 January (photo at right by Cynthia Chiang). The two military-looking ones are Russian MI-8 helicopters on an official expedition led by Artur Chilingarov--yes, the guy who was involved in the Antonov-3T adventures earlier in this decade. Here's an Adventure Network International article as well as a Volga-Dnepr news release. One of the pax gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a phone call from comms. Meanwhile, that Polar First helicopter team had been at Fowler (71°S-71°W) but since they had good weather then they headed on 1200 miles south via PH and showed up as well in two red Bell helos--the team has been accompanied by a backup 407 piloted by two Bell Helicopter employees. It is not that often that four aircraft park at Pole...the only other time I know of was on 16 November 1976...but those were fixed-wing aircraft.
In the past couple of years, the big icebergs threatened to disrupt the annual sea resupply. Not so this year. The Coast Guard's aging but still powerful Polar Sea is almost to McMurdo as of 4 January. And NSF arranged for more help. At left, the Swedish breaker Oden (photo by summer Polie NOAA researcher Andrew Seaman) is seen breaking ice. This vessel first did a science cruise (a Swedish/Chilean/NSF joint venture) departing PA on 12 December for the Ross Sea. Then somewhere west of Cape Evans, the science team was flown to Mactown by helo, and Oden began its icebreaking effort. Here is more info on this unique science cruise from PolarTREC, a new teachers-in-Antarctica program.
Christmas holidays brought the usual events--the Race Around the World...fancy dinner...HF radio caroling, and other stuff that can be only done during a 2 day weekend. Here's a good page of holiday photos and video from veteran IceCube guy Darryn Schneider. But the day after Christmas saw a strange power failure caused by some DDC problems which precipitated a glycol leak in the power plant...all is well now. Outside...the British RAF team called off their trip on Christmas Eve due to medical problems 101 miles from Pole, they were evacuated to PA by ALE. Meanwhile, 2 members of the 6-person "last-97-miles" trek (starting from Shackleton's furthest south) led by veterans Mike and Fiona Thornwill--including Mike--had food poisoning before leaving PA...Mike continued but the other group member had to cancel out. Meanwile, the 4-man Royal Navy team arrived on the 27th, and Hannah McKeand completed the fastest trek ever, 40 days, on the 29th.
Once upon a time before the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules, all of the construction material for the original IGY station was airdropped by a large Air Force transport aircraft known as a C-124 Globemaster. Well, in a twist of history, NSF had the Air Force try it again on 20 December 2006--a proof-of-concept airdrop using a C-17 Globemaster III (right)...it was a complete success...delivering around 70,000 lbs of, er, flour and similar dry food. Here's the full story with pictures (and video).
The second week in December was a good one for IceCube...first, the visiting design team inspected the new permanent lab several times and finally granted conditional occupancy on 8 December. At left is a view of the place just before the last major construction task--installing the cable tray bridge from the east tower to the second floor of the lab (these photos from IceCube which published weekly reports with photos throuth the summer). The team immediately frantically started moving in equipment and pulling cables. Meanhile, the drillers completed the first hole of the season on 14 December, eventually there would be 13.
Meanwhile nearby at DSL, the South Pole Telescope (SPT) was put together by teams of scientists, ironworkers, electricians, and, well, lots of people. The RPSC folks erected the structure and did the heavy lifts (right), while the science team from Chicago assembled the telescope components. The mirror supports were put together inside a large but unheated tent. The summer team were rather prolific bloggers as well, here is the main team blog with links to others. With photos of course. The two SPT pics here were taken by Jerry Marty and Bill Johnson on 8 December (USAP photo library)
A bit of history renewed...since the days of the original IGY station (which we may know as Old Pole) ham radio has played an important part in communications with folks and family back home. Perhaps a bit less important now that Polies have IP phones in their rooms, but it is still around. And to mark the transition from the dome to the new elevated station we have a transition from the old dome QSL card to this fresh new one.
After over a week of delays, the first Hercs landed at Pole on 31 October 2006...the first flight was designated as the commemorative flight for the first landing at Pole 50 years earlier to the day, in 1956, by Navy VX-6 pilot Gus Shinn. The anniversary was marked in Gus's home town of Pensacola with a special meeting of the Gulf Coast members of the Old Antarctic Explorers Association...an event which was favorably covered by the Pensacola News-Journal. NSF rep Dave Bresnahan attended and presented Gus with a commemorative plaque (left, News-Journal photo).
As is a tradition in recent years, Kenn Borek Air transits the continent from Rothera to McMurdo via Pole a few days before official station opening...using Twin Otters and similar light aircraft chartered to support NSF and Italian field operations. This year one of these aircraft was a Basler Turbo 67...a massively converted and upgraded DC-3, the same aircraft model as the Navy R4D "Que Sera Sera" that first landed at Pole 50 years ago (almost), on 31 October 1957. The flight landed at 1050 on 20 October and spent an hour refueling (right, photo by Ethan Dicks) before heading on to MacTown...taking two winterovers along for the ride..
The dome demo moved forward, at left is a view of the second floor of comms turning into history (thanks Neal Sheibe). By now the first floor is gone as well, except for the deck which will remain for now to support shelving.
Palmer Team 77 had a successful reunion at the end of September 2006, in Newport, Oregon...with 100% attendance from the surviving winterovers, as well as a few hangers-on like me! Hmmm, must be something about 1977, a very good year on the ice. Stay tuned for photos.
The current and future power demands have been the subject of continuing discussion and study over the last few months...years...most recently the science community, NSF, RPSC, and RSA Engineering put heads together during the 2006 Pole winter to see if there is enough power available to put the SPT online and still keep the lights on in the gym (studies and findings). Hmmm. Well, do YOU have any suggestions? There will be both astronomy and basketball this winter, but there were also two fuel bladders (remember those?) installed in and atop the biomed arch to ensure enough fuel is on hand for everything. Postponed to 2007-08 along with the dedication--the new logistics facility, perhaps the end of the dome building demolition, the rest of the siding, and perhaps (if it doesn't slip yet another year) the demo of the dome itself. This structure is still planned to be shipped back to Port Hueneme where it may yet grace the Oxnard skyline.
Winfly ended successfully; the last of the four C-17 flights to McMurdo was completed over the weekend of 26 August, despite some dicey weather. This time of year also means that the sky over Pole is brightening fast...late August was time for the last nighttime Hash House Harriers "run" of the season. The construction crew is headed back into the dome to continue demo work on what used to be comms. And as the news media once again tries to figure out what is happening to the ozone hole, so is the Polie NOAA team (the NOAA Pole ozone page with current data, animations, and background info).
Reunion updates...the Old Antarctic Explorers Association had a gathering in Warwick, RI (the site of Davisville and Quonset Point, the departure point for my first trip to the ice in 1972) on 17-19 August 2006. I was there, it was great time seeing folks from the old and not so old days. Meanwhile, we 1977 Pole Souls were making preliminary plans for our second reunion which happened in Boulder in June 2007, and Palmer Team 77 was planning to get together in September 2006 aboard the Hero in Newport, Oregon.
The Antarctic treaty meeting happened in June 2006, here is the report on the Hallett Station cleanup).
Dome demo update...the crew has returned from work in the dark sector and cryo, the next targets are the gutting of comms and upper berthing. Meanwhile up north in NZ, folks are concerned that the US Coast Guard icebreakers may not be up to the task of getting the cargo ships into Winter Quarters Bay (TV NZ article), especially since the Polar Star has now been placed in caretaker status (Seattle P-I article).
Okay...midwinters week is now history, and the hijinks were in full swing. One of the main features was the WHIFF (winterover halfway film festival). The videos cropped up on Google video, or there are links in other places including Patrick McClure's pages. Meanwhile, some folks worked hard on that infamous Polie calendar (thanks to Jeff De Rosa) while others were preparing for some more serious hamming on the 24-25 June...KC4AAA was on the air for the event, but propagation was no help (update with photo).
As the first major bit of winter dome demo...the annex is history (left). The rest of the dome buildings are now cold...(well, as usual with dark construction photos, I've cranked up the lighting a bit on this one so things can be seen. Here is the original version, with thanks to John Neame. The rest of the demo pics will soon be up in the construction photo section).
NSF has been studying the alternatives for icebreaking and cargo handling for awhile...most recently on 4 May they posted an information request for a "package deal," looking for an organization that could both break ice and deliver cargo (6.5 million gallons of JP-5 and AN-8, 250,000 gallons of mogas, 600 TEU of container cargo (a TEU is equivalent to a 20-foot milvan) and 1.5 million pounds of breakbulk). Not to mention retro. Got any spare ice-strengthened vessels in your back yard?
About 1150 statute miles north of Pole, veteran marine tech Joshua Spillane was presumed dead on Wednesday 19 April, 2 days after he had last been seen on the Laurence M Gould (LMG) as the ship made its way north from Palmsr Station to PA. Joshua had been employed for more than 10 years and 40 cruises. He was last seen on deck around 0500 Monday morning, and was noticed missing 6 hours later. After an onboard search, the LMG turned around and conducted a grid search. Argentina and Chile also assisted in the search effort. Conditions were harsh--20-40 knot winds, 20-foot seas with rain and snow, and 43°F water temperature. Here's a link to a couple of usap.gov news articles.NSF Polar Programs director Karl Erb released a press statement of condolences on 21 April; an earlier press release was issued on 18 April before the death was confirmed. Several other folks have died aboard Antarctic research vessels, but it seems that Joshua's tragedy is the first that did not occur while the vessel was securely berthed in a South American port.
When it was nearly dark outside (6 April) it went dark inside for awhile, in one of the more serious power outage situations in station history. It lasted for several hours (no, not one continuous outage) and was exacerbated by the failure of the power feed to the fuel arch, which, of course, fills up the fuel daytanks in the power plant and boiler mechanical rooms to keep everything running. It took a couple days to get things back to normal...in the meantime serious power conservation was conducted and stuff was moved to the B1 emergency pod just in case.
Fall featured continued dark sector construction on the SPT building, IceCube and elsewhere. In the new station, the gym was finished out except for the final floor and some of the stuff at the south end. And the dome demo began again...the annex was one of the first structures to bite the dust.
Antarctica has been a big deal in the news media in the last few weeks...with two major research reports in Science on that old familiar subject of global warming. The first, published 24 March, addressed the fact that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets appear to be melting much faster than expected. See this NSF press release for more information. The second article appeared in the 31 March issue and discussed an observed 0.5°C warming per decade of the troposphere (pressure altitude of 500 hPa, 500 mb or 14.7" of mercury) based on recently compiled radiosonde data from nine stations including Pole. More information is available in this BAS press release and this BBC report.
In late March, C-16 headed north away from Ross Island towards the Drygalski Ice Tongue, which it hit on 29 March, breaking off a small bit of the tongue which was later named C-25. At right is a 14 April image from UW showing both bergs well north of the ice tongue.Watch the icebergs....Earlier, cargo and fueling operations did finish successfully, despite the iceberg action. There was enough open water west of the iceberg for the cargo ship and tanker to head north safely. The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star showed up on 14 February (press release), took on fuel, and did some channel grooming (in hopes of improving conditions for next season) before heading back north on the 16th. Here's a 10 February NSF press release with additional information and photos. The 9 February satellite photo (right, annotated by MODIS to show the movement) shows it squeezed between Ross and Beaufort Island The original shipping channel was just west of the Cape Bird coast, cut through ice which has now moved out. For reference, here's a 7 February bathymetric plot of the area from IGNS; here's January's chart of the shipping channel; and here's a NOAA sat photo of the area from 9 January 2006.
Pole closed on 21 February 2006 as the day's flights suddenly became the last ones. It was an incredibly successful season for airplanes, as there were a total of 377 flights, and unofficially just short of 10 million pounds of cargo, 16% more than planned, and a record, as stuff for next year's construction of the cargo building was shipped in, among other things. So...there are 64 folks left, I'm homesick, if anyone else is you must watch the summer video slide show that Patrick McClure has put up. Other recent stuff...while daylight lasted, construction in the dark sector continued on the SPT addition to DSL, as well as the counting house. And under the dome, the last upper berthing room party went off , while the erstwhile arch gym/exercise room has gained its last lease on life as the smoking bar. Dodgy Bastard...
The tanker Lawrence H. Gianella replaced the American Tern at the pier, and fuel offload happened between 9 and 11 February. The tanker left with assistance from both Krasin and Polar Star. The cargo ship (left) had reached the pier on 2 February with the help of Krasin. Seems that the Tern bumped the ice pier a bit harder than expected but no harm no foul. Meanwhile, the other Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov which was supposed to stay around and help, bailed and headed north on 1 February. Earlier, Krasin helped the NB Palmer make it to the pier for a brief port call on 28 January...Polies here note that Henry Malmgren disembarked and promptly flew south to consult on a Pole server he'd built.
This was to be the first year since Deep Freeze started that no US Coast Guard (or Navy) icebreaker would tend to the McMurdo sea lane. NSF arranged for the Russian icebreaker Krasin to do primary duty without help from a US vessel. But...now it seems that Krasin lost one of the blades from the starboard screw. She worked with her other two shafts at 110% power, but more work needed doing and the tanker Gianella was hanging back. And on 19 January NSF decided to get more help. Polar Star headed south from Seattle on 20 January...she is expected to reach the area about 20 February (USCG departure press release and return press release with photo link). McM divers had a look at Krasin but the prop was beyond repair with available material. Hopefully by mid February everybody will be out of McMurdo. Meanwhile, the third annual South Pole International Film Festival (SPIFF) was held on the weekend of 21 February...a great success.
Across the skiway...the two new telescopes have been taking shape. At left (28 December, Carlton Walker) is the foundation for the massive 10-meter telescope, otherwise known as the South Pole Telescope (SPT; more information)...this massive structure will have a shield larger than the dome if it were inverted. It will be connected to DSL (seen behind it) with a walkway and lab space. At right atop DSL is the shield for BICEP (16 December photo by Yuki Takahashi)...on the ground to the right is the insulating boot that will support the telescope inside the shield. If you've been here awhile you'll notice that the DSL penthouse has been removed to make way for this new project, scheduled to go on line this season (more BICEP info here and here). The crane mount (yellow post) has been relocated from the roof to the second level, and the stairways and platforms are also scheduled for an upgrade. Meanwhile, the massive IceCube operation continued successfully...as of 29 January it finished the drilling season with EIGHT new holes, for a total of 9. This year the IceCube folks have been publishing excellent weekly reports on their progress, although the older reports are no longer available.
At left (Peter Rejcek, 22 December) is the north end of the new B4 gym (first floor) and exercise room/weight room (balcony)...almost done here. The design team wa on site in late Janurary 2006 to inspect and grant conditional occupancy to the last 3 wings of the new elevated station. And at 0100 26 December the transition to the new comms room, well, called the Station Operations Center (SOC) for now at least was completed (right, Peter Rejcek, 23 December). The room on the northwest corner of B3 overlooks the dark sector and the skiway...there is supposedly room for a couch but this place is a bit more business oriented, unlike the old room in the Dome which Neil Conant shut down and saw go quiet and empty. The dart board is just outside the door.
Outside...the first "South Pole Traverse" to make it all the way pulled into Pole on 23 December after 45 days on the trail. The train of equipment included a new dozer and snow haul dump trailer, visible at left in this photo (Peter Rejcek; this and the previous 4 photos are from the USAP Antarctic Photo Library). The team stayed around for 5 days before heading back to McMurdo, arriving on 14 January. The cargo included a "snow trailer" (tracked belly dump trailer) visible in the photo at left, as well as the D-8 "Mary Lou" (right; here's a shot of Mary Lou in action a couple days later). This 1 January 2006 Antarctic Sun article and this this 7 February 2006 NSF press release have more information.
Construction has continued at a fast pace on the elevated station and elswhere...as the first half of the summer saw the cargo office moved closer to the skiway...all the remaining science projects (and musical instruments) were moved out of Skylab so the place could be shut down...the old Biomed arch and front entrance were excavated in preparation for raising the arch for the new storage facility...BICEP telescope installation is proceeding on the second floor of DSL...the 10-meter telescope foundation is being assembled in a hole behind it, the beginning of the siding installation on the elevated station (see photo at left)...and in mid December the place suffered from a heat wave. The temperature soared to +7°F/-13.9°C, less than a degree shy of the all-time record. And the British "Numis Polar Challenge" showed up on 14 January after a 200-mile trek in authentic Scott-era polar garb and equipment (photo from ThePoles.com).
The first of the summer NGA visitors included that tricked 6x6 Ford Van, which showed up from PH on 13 December (photo at right, here's more info and photos), as well as veteran polar trekkers Borge Ousland and Rune Gjeldnes.
Yes folks, I finally left Pole on 21 November, four weeks after station opening, one of the last 2 winterovers to leave...Before I left, the VIPER telescope, (this year running the ACBAR project) was shut down for the last time. A bit earlier, the 10-year AST/RO project also came to an end...
It was over...the first LC-130 touched down at 1743 Friday 21 October 2005... bringing fresh folks as well as big money to Clayton Cornia who won the "skis down" pool (left, the aircraft approaches the waiting winterovers whose shadows can be seen here). Soon the second flight landed, and after a few folks left, the population was already up to 157. The third flight didn't land, as the temperatures had drifted below the theoretical -58°F limit. The day before we'd been visited by three Twin Otters transiting from Rothera to McMurdo (right, the first aircraft turns off the skiway, while the second is in the distance about to land).
The folks in Denver unleashed the new www.usap.gov Antarctic portal web site...some new looks for old stuff, and new features as well. Have a look.... Most of the Raytheon-related content including employment information is on a separate RPSC site, while the Antarctic Sun is here. The change to usap.gov also affected all of our computers on the ice...more fun for the IT folks.
The September 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics has an excellent article on the new station by the Jeff Rubin, the Antarctic editor of the Polar Times. Oh, Jeff is also the author of the new edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Antarctica. I've seen it, and you can too.
The icebergs that pestered McMurdo during the 2004-05 summer season seem to have moved out of the way, but not before B15A brushed a 3x3 square mile chunk off the Drygalski Ice Tongue (watch them!) Still, NSF made provisions for the Russian icebreaker Krasin to show up again in January 2006, this time in a primary role, with the Coast Guard as backup. Related news--in August 2005 a NSF committee released a significant report on Antarctic logistics--in addition to a discussion on icebreaker support, other recommendations include continuing development of the "road to Pole" traverse (which reached Pole this summer), development of a runway for heavy wheeled aircraft at Pole (something that's been studied and tried since the 1950s), and consideration of lighter-than-air craft for cargo delivery. Have a read for yourself (revised version).
As of mid September the construction continued to move along at a great pace--the gym and adjacent rooms were being framed out and sheetrocked, while elsewhere the final wall covering was being put up in the berthing rooms and corridors (left, more of those colored wall tiles in the main B3 hallway just outside the new communications and office area). Outside the approaching sunrise drowned out the stars and brightened up our rooms--as of 7 September we could remove the covering from our windows since the light-sensitive astronomy experiments had been shut down.
We were blessed (?) with a chilly morning on 2 August--it happened to make it down to -110.7°F when I arose and decided to grab this picture (right). Opportunity for a few more folks to join the 300 club. Meanwhile, a Scott tent has been pitched near the Pole for those who desire the ultimate winter camping experience. No thanks...I stuck to looking at photos and guidebooks of New Zealand and Australia like many others are doing.
The first week in May 2005 brought the Antarctic Deep Freeze Association (ADFA) reunion in Biloxi, MS. This group consists of folks who came down during IGY, and this reunion marks the 50th anniversary of the original Operation Deep Freeze in 1955. One highlight of these gatherings is a telephone call to South Pole...this was the third such phone call I've been involved with, but this time I was at the Pole end of the line. Above left is a photo of winter manager Bill Henriksen talking to the group on the Iridium phone...and here's more info and pictures.
Oh, the weekend also brought the belated Cinco de Mayo celebration, complete with the first annual "BF5K"--an indoor running event complete with sponsors and appropriate libations for all...and Saturday evening marked the debut of "Al Dente" (concert poster) in the B-1 Lounge.
Okay...was Bill Spindler having too much fun at Pole to keep this page updated? Well...not exactly, but since my job involved taking pictures and writing about them every day, sometimes I, well.... There were other things going on, like slushies, Robert Schwarz's astronomy lectures, the Hash House Harriers (the southernmost drinking club with a running problem), and lots of special dinners for any occasion or none...meanwhile the construction crew made short work of the galley demolition (left), and biomed is gone as well (right).
"Astronomy on Ice" is the reason many researchers visit Pole nowadays, but Martin Pomerantz's new book with that title is the chronicle of his efforts, beginning in McMurdo in 1959 and at Pole in 1964, to establish the place as one of the world's finest astronomy sites. And a cosmic ray observatory. And a CMBR observing post. And a locus for long-term balloon flights.... Here's a 1 March press release about the book, which you can obtain from your favorite bookstore unless you happen to be wintering :( And here are a few more pages of information about Marty...
Okay, speaking of Pole history books, one with a more recent outlook has just been published by 2004 w/o Nick Johnson--with excellent reviews from the likes of the New York Times. Is Antarctica really a big dead place? Make up your own mind...
After some poor weather caused a number of cancelled and boomeranged flights, the final LC-130's showed up on 15 February (left, passengers board the closing passenger flight). Some added fuel flights came later in the day. But the flying season didn't end until Friday 18 February when 4 Twin Otter finally were able to set out for Rothera and the next leg of their trip back to Canada (right, the second of the four aircraft is airborne, while the third is in the fuel pits). Left behind are 86 winterovers in the largest station ever (or at least for now, until the winter demolition of some of the domed station buildings begins). The winter crew includes 24 women and a large construction crew working to finish out the interior of B3 (the admin/comms/control portion of the station, the end closest to the skiway), and berthing wing A4 (behind the computer room).
The 2006 annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting ended on 23 June in Edinburgh, Scotland...and the detailed discussion stuff as now been made public in the "Final Report" section on the meeting home page. Unlike last year there is no dramatic Pole content. Some folks were unhappy that stronger action wasn't taken to limit tourism. But there was discussion about global warming (!) and complaints about the "road to Pole" traverse (Cape Argus news article). Another item discussed was the Hallett Station cleanup...the bulk fuel tank was demo'd, cleaned up and mostly removed in January 2006 (my copy of the report, which includes a map and some Hallett history).
After Adventure Networks' (ANI) sudden departure from the NGA travel business in 2003-04, operations returned to normal in 2004-05. For 2006-07 ANI again offered their full program including those $33,500 flights to Pole, trips to Mt. Vinson, and a variety of other stuff. Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) is the arm of the organization operating in PA and on the ice. Meanwhile, Cerpolex/PolarCircle hasn't announced anything new; in fact their old web site that discussed Snow Buggy trips among other things, seems to have faded away.
Meanwhile, the second Ice Marathon and 100k were held on 13-16 December 2006 at PH with sixteen competitors. Weather conditions for the marathon were clear at first with later low cloud cover, light winds and 14°F/-10°C. The marathon winning time was 5:08:17; the 100k--12:55:06. The latter race was won by Richard Donovan. The first of these events was held in January 2006...a successor to the original South Pole Marathon that actually ended up at Pole in January 2002, with controversy. Entry fee for this year's event was $25,000 including transportation to the starting line. There will be another next year.
The Ice Marathon was held at Patriot Hills on 7 January 2006...there were nine marathon participants, with times ranging from 5:09 to 7:10, and race director Richard Donovan did a 100k in 15:43, the first such documented ultra event. Sounds like this turned out much better than the controversial South Pole Marathon of January 2002 (Sports Illustrated coverage and Brent Weigner's diary of the earlier event, which covered the last 26.2 miles to Pole). The 2006-07 event trip is scheduled for 10-18 December (ANI site) so it is not too early to start training.
Another interesting 2005-06 tour option--Travelquest again successfully completed their tour in conjunction with Sky and Telescope magazine. It featured a visit to the Patuxent Range meteorite collection area as well as an overnight stay at Pole.The list of adventures for 2005-06 included some rather unusual ones. Now we know what actually happened: [check out the poles.com for more detail than I can keep up with]
The 2005 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (28 ATCM, 6-17 June 2005) in Stockholm included further extensive discussions on tourism activity in Antarctica, including possible restrictions on the construction of permanent infrastructure to support land-based tourism, and preparation of site guidelines for visitors to popular spots. Here's the treaty secretariat home page, the final report page, and document page from which you can select various meetings or search for documents. Specific documents from this meeting that may be of interest to folks here include recognition of Amundsen's buried tent at Pole as a protected Antarctic historic site; the draft environmental evaluation for the new BAS station at Halley, Halley VI; a graphical report on tourism activities prepared by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Commission (ASOC); liability for environmental emergencies; the management plan for Scott's Discovery Hut at McMurdo (the plan, Map A, and Map B); the 2004-05 Chinese Dome A expedition (and medevac to Pole); the Russian recovery of the Antonov-3T aircraft from Pole, and the proposal for Pole to be a "Specially Managed Area" (maps 1, 2, 3 and 4).
The big summer construction milestone on 30 January 2005 was the granting of conditional occupancy of wings B1 and B2 just in time for the winterovers to move into B1, and the met office to become the first occupant of the new science lab B2.
The first IceCube drill hole was successfully completed on 25 January, after the first attempt had to be abandoned after reaching 949m. Additional delays resulted from an unfortunate injury to veteran Swedish driller Sven LidstrÃ¶m, requiring his urgent medevac. The successful hole was moved 8m away from the first attempt. Later in the week, further drilling was suspended for the season, so as to insure enough time for drill camp winterization.
At left, a milestone. On 19 January the last steel was erected on the new elevated station (caption/credits and more photos). And a couple weeks later the design team granted conditional occupancy to B1 and B2 wings...the mattresses and pillows are now in the new berthing rooms, and now that winter has begun, the w/o's are living in them too.
Meanwhile, the iceberg demolition derby continued. Ice around B-15A was breaking up rapidly. As for the ships...on Friday 21 January 2005, Krasin met up with the Polar Star at the ice edge . On the 23rd she was escorting the tanker Paul Buck. On the 23rd there were 4 ships visible from Arrival Heights--these two plus the Polar Star and the Nathaniel B Palmer. The icebreakers enlarged the channel, the NBP was at the pier on the 25th, and the tanker tied up the next day and offloaded, departing Saturday 29 January...only to have engine problems on the way north. The American Tern reached McMurdo on 2 February and began offload the next morning.
Krasin (left, seen parked off McM early on 29 January 2005, I took this photo while waiting for transportation for my flight to Pole) is 442 feet long with a full load displacement of 20,190 (long) tons, slightly larger than the Coast Guard's Healy. It is electrically powered using 9 diesel engines, total rated at 36,000 shp, with 3 screws, a maximum open-water speed of 19.5 knots, and an icebreaking capability of 6 feet. (By comparison, the Polar Star stats: 399 feet long, 13,190 tons, 3 screws, 75,000 shp with gas turbines (18,000 shp with diesel electric power), 18 knots, 21' ice; and the Healy: 420 feet long, 16,000 tons, 30,000 shp, twin screws, 17 knots, 8' ice.) More information and stats on the Krasin are available on the FESCO shipping company web site (Polar Star stats) (Healy stats).
Meanwhile, the Polar Star blasted through about 82 nautical miles of ice to reach Hut Point on 30 December 2004. That work so far was in the old channel--7-8 foot first and second year ice. Mother Nature recently helped with warm temps and a lot of volcanic dust to help absorb solar radiation; more recently the fast ice west of B15A seems to be breaking up, helped by the B-15A's bumping and grinding. A lot of 20+ foot multi-year stuff had to be cleared to provide the full channel for the cargo ships. At left is the track into McMurdo, north of Cape Bird, threading between C-16 and B-15K. And at right is a clip from the 19 January NASA MODIS image (more)--the most extensive site I've found--that clearly shows the ice conditions. The Polar Star was sidelined at the ice wharf in early January with hydraulic oil leaks on the port and starboard shaft hubs. Divers worked to retorque the bolts on all 3 hubs, they finished on the 20th, and the breaker went back at work (at reduced power due to turbine problems). She may yet see some yard time for some more repairs on the screw hubs. By the way, the tourist icebreaker Khlebnikov was sighted hanging around near Cape Royds the first week in January. That's no slouch of an icebreaker either (Khlebnikov stats), but unfortunately the tourists on that trip couldn't make it in to visit McMurdo or Scott Base. She came down again the last week in January and landing conditions were more successful. NSF is taking a look at utilizing her in future years.
Coincidentally with the Krasin arrangement, a second Russian team went to Pole to recover the Antonov-3T aircraft that was stranded in 2001-02. This is considered by NSF to be an official Russian Antarctic Program activity. An Ilyushin-76 aircraft arrived in Christchurch 21 December 2004 from Darwin with 35 on board, including mechanics, engineers, a film crew, and a replacement engine. The aircraft left for McMurdo at 1000 Monday 27 December, arriving at the Pegasus runway about 1530 (above left). The engineering team continued to Pole on an LC-130. Their ambitious schedule called for a test flight on 4 January, return to McM for disassembly on 5 January, and departure to ChCh with the AN-3T inside the Ilyushin on 6 January. They were ahead of schedule--the replacement engine was been installed, run-up, and given multiple successful test flights beginning on 3 January. But the flight to McMurdo was delayed until 11 January, held up by bad weather there. Finally the AN-3T left Pole around noon on the 11th, arriving at McMurdo at 1910 (left). Meanwhile, the Ilyushin had arrived from Christchurch earlier in the day. The AN-3T was disassembled and put aboard the Ilyushin, which arrived back in Christchurch at 2030 on Wednesday the 12th. Here is complete coverage with photos. Above right is one of Seth White's photos of the AN-3 taken in January 2004 (more photos). The Russians were fortunate...not too long after these photos were taken, the fog rolled in...
And the icebergs,...watch them for yourself...if you can figure out what they're going to do, you have your Wisconsin PhD all sewed up. Here are the links: NASA MODIS; UW SSEC; RPSC; and NOAA National Ice Center. NASA thought B-15A would crunch the Drygalski Ice Tongue by 15 January, but the big crunch didn't happen until April, and that was more of a nuzzle. In late December B-15A suddenly moved much closer to the Drygalski Ice Tongue, 10 miles away. After almost stopping, it moved again to less than 4 miles away, where it stopped again. Here is a 19 January NASA news feature with crystal-clear images and an animated time lapse sequence of the midsummer lurches. Crunch time. Was there any danger to folks? No, according to this 16 December 2004 NSF press release. But it was worried that the ice conditions might wipe out much of the penguin breeding activity on Ross Island.
The berg (left) is 80 miles long by 20 wide--much smaller than it started out when it broke off the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000, but still quite big enough to keep things interesting. Since this web site tries to keep things in a historical perspective, have a look at what happened in December 1965 when iceberg met icebreaker...
At the end of November 2004 the north end of B-15A (or B-15, or, well, the big one) was firmly grounded. Still there was concern expressed by researcher Doug MacAyeal in a detailed interview in the 28 November Antarctic Sun. At that time Doug felt the real problem would not arise until 2005. But that was then. In January B-15A started to move north quickly toward the ice tongue and rotate a bit counterclockwise. Doug's iceberg page includes daily visible and infrared photos with commentary...also Denver posts satellite images daily.
As the weather warmed up, outside work started up in earnest--one of the first projects was a large new radome to cover the SP MARISAT-GOES antenna (right, more photos). Meanwhile, 12 December saw the new Counting House successfully towed from its El Dorm location to the new site amidst the IceCube array. And later in the month the steel for A4 went up.
The last weekend in November 2004 brought two tragically linked anniversaries...the first being the 75th year after Byrd's historic flight over Pole on 28-29 November 1929; the second being the tragic crash of the New Zealand DC-10 into Mt. Erebus on 28 November 1979 (timeline link to photos/information). The latter event was commemorated with a 28 November visit to the crash site by NZ dignitaries, and a 29 November 2004 ceremony at Scott base which included Sir Edmund Hillary. Ed also spoke to a crowd of over 250 folks in Building 155. Earlier that week, Hillary had spoken out against the "road to Pole" traverse calling it "terrible" (BBC news article). The Air Force made the official Byrd commemorative flight to Pole a couple weeks early on the 17th (photo at left from Darryn Schneider); this event was featured in a major NSF news release and special report.
Speaking of the traverse, after negotiating some soft snow and crevasse fields at the south end of the Ross Ice Shelf, they quickly made it to the top of the Leverett Glacier the first week in January. At last report they'd gotten about 200 miles from Pole before turning around and heading back to McMurdo....(map and archived story).
The first two LC-130 flights came in as planned on Friday, 22 October 2004 (at right, the opening flight, photo from Dana Hrubes). This was a day ahead of the original schedule, in -68°F weather. A third flight on Saturday brought the population up to 176! By 3 November 32 flights had been completed--probably a record. Unfortunately the cold weather had restricted cargo to single-pallet loads, which left out all of those IceCube drill camp modules. A total of 326 flights had been planned for the 2004-05 season, and things remained on schedule until early January when bad weather put things way behind. By the way, many of the early summer folks--old w/o's and new arrivals--suffered with severe flu-like illnesses for a bit...
Winter construction finished up ahead of schedule, with B1 (science) and B2 (berthing/emergency facilities) were virtually complete except for some flooring, furniture, and punch list items. The additional berthing (38 rooms in B1) is important as el dorm was gutted and moved for IceCube, and other Dome berthing in the annex and biomed is unavailable this winter. Summer activity also included the first phase of a new cryogenic facility to improve the winter storage of helium, as well as the massive crew and camp for the first phase of IceCube.
Remember all those Florida hurricanes? Pensacola was hard hit, and one of the casualties was Que Sera Sera, that VX-6 aircraft that was the first to land at Pole on 31 October 1956. The R4D, which was parked in back of the Naval Aviation Museum, lost a wing in the storm...Joe Hawkins has the damage documented with NOAA photos. As of July 2006 no repairs had been made. Here's some photos of Que Sera Sera in better days...
In addition to the webcam, the NOAA CMDL group has made significant upgrades to the main web site, including improved science links and some excellent photo galleries from the last few years, including those Jon Berry postcards. And elsewhere, the Canadian online comic strip "userfriendly" ventured to Pole featuring 2004 w/o's Sara Kaye, Henry Malmgren and Ethan Dicks...here's Sara's collection with links to all the strips.
In other national program news, Chile's 12-member Army/Navy/Air Force scientific traverse from PH to Pole (and back) arrived at Pole 1 December. They had been scheduled to depart for the return trip on the weekend. The project has support from 2 Chilean Air Force C-130's as well as ANI; the military set up a temporary support base at PH. Projects include deep ice coring and other climate/global warming studies. Support equipment includes a crane-equipped Swedish Berco TL-6 "snow cat" as well as a Twin Otter (MercoPress news article).
The Chinese national program successfully completed a traverse from their Zhongshan Station on the coast (69°S-76°E, about 60 miles southwest of Davis) to Argus Dome (81°S-77°E, also known as Dome A), which at an altitude of 13,250 feet (4,039m) (altitude according to the Chinese who made the first ascent) is the highest point on the icecap. The team arrived on 18 January (Explorersweb news article and a report by the Chinese delegation at the June 2005 Antarctic Treaty meeting (ATCM); but the trip was not without difficulty. Engineer Gai Junxian suffered chest pains from the extreme altitude (11 January Peoples Daily article), and was medevaced to Pole on 8 January by Twin Otter. Pole physician Christian Otto made the trip to Argus Dome along with South Dakota researcher Jihong Cole-Dai who acted as translator (NSF press release with photos and Chinese report from the ATCM); the patient had to stay a few days at Pole due to bad weather before he could be flown north to McM and Christchurch. The Chinese are considering a permanent station on the site by 2010 (China Daily news article); accordingly a delegation from the Chinese national program visited Pole on 2 February to have a look at the new elevated station. Meanwhile, the traverse returned to Zhongshan Station, arriving on 7 February (Peoples Daily article).
The 2004-05 expedition list...another fairly successful year, but with some surprising postponements and cancellations...
The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM, 23 May-4 June 2004) in Cape Town resulted in plans for stricter rules on private travel, to include insurance and emergency contingency plans; some of the regulations were imposed for the 2004-05. Here's the treaty secretariat home page, and the meeting/final report page from which you can select the final reports for various meetings. This page includes links to the various meeting papers for all years. Also note this news story from South Africa.
After Adventure Networks' (ANI) sudden departure from the NGA travel business in 2003, things settled back in under the new ownership structure, and for 2004-05 ANI was again offering their full program including those $33,000 flights to Pole, trips to Mt. Vinson, and a variety of other stuff. Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) is the arm of the organization operating in PA and on the ice. Meanwhile, Cerpolex/PolarCircle didn't announce anything new about the previously proposed recovery of the Antonov-3 aircraft (which they were not involved with), but they did announce a slate of offered ventures that didn't happen, including a 3-day drive to Pole in some updated 8x8 Snow Buggies.
One interesting specialty tour for 2004-05 was being offered by Travelquest featuring a visit to the Patuxent Range meteorite collection area as well as Pole. Didn't see them either...
The Norwegians are upgrading Troll Station for year-round operations, with a winter crew of 7, beginning in 2005 after a February dedication visit by Queen Sonja. There are future plans for a 10,000-foot blue ice runway.
2004-05 was the last season that C-141 aircraft were used for ChC-McM flights (USAF press release). Meanwhile, winfly (C-17 flights) happened successfully beginning on 20 August 2004--here are some pictures. Meanwhile, the late August 2004 weekends at Pole brought the art show, another band performance, twilight, lousy weather (but no records), some clowning around, and running out of helium...
Tim Coffey, age 45, died on 28 July 2004 after a 70' fall from a radar tower he was working on near Nain, Labrador (on the north coast). Tim was the 1996 site manager; more recently he returned for work on the SPRESSO project. He's also been to Summit. Here's his obituary from the Concord, NH Monitor newspaper.
The cyberterrorism redux continues. A bit more commentary published on the Register on 19 August 2004...seems that the DASI servers got broken into two months before the much publicized May 2003 Romanian exploit. And the folks at Slashdot had fun with it. This all started with politics...the U. S. Justice Department issued a report revealing new details, outlined in a 14 July Newsweek online article. Hmmm. This web site will stay out of the political debate, but I wonder how much money those Romanians could have gotten for all that AMANDA data. Oh yes, the original FBI report and the news article by thepoles.com are still around.
July 2004 was the coldest one on record--the average was -88.4°F/-66.9°C, beating the old record by more than half a degree F. This was the second coldest month ever, dipping below -100°F nine times (and the barometric pressure almost set a new record low as well). The coldest was -107.9°F/-77.7°C on the 21st (right). This provided ample opportunity for the 300 club, which had about 35 partakers (thanks to Kris and Dana for the data).
Jerry Marty was interviewed by Jeff Rubin for an article appearing in the June 2004 Polar Times. Jerry reaffirmed that the construction project remained on schedule and successful, including a head start on the last 2 wings. And additional funding and design tweaking means that the completed station will have not 110, not 150, but 154 beds! 2004-05 will see erection completion and enclosure of A4 and B4, and 2005 will probably be the last winter that people live in the dome. What of the dome? Representatives of the dome vendor and the Seabees will visit next season to evaluate the return of at least part of the dome for the Seabee museum. By the way, in addition to being the Antarctic editor of the Polar Times, Jeff Rubin is also the author of that Lonely Planet guidebook to Antarctica...
Midwinters Day 2004 brought the traditional greeting and a group photo in the old station. Old station? Well, plans are still being discussed to bring a piece of the dome back, with perhaps even an ATCO building or two that we can use for reunion photos. Hmmm. Glen K has collected this page of invitations and greetings from around the continent. And the Antarctic Sun published its first midwinter edition which just so happens to feature our holiday message from 1977...
NSF has significantly enhanced and updated its home page and web site...for example, they've made a good collection of multimedia available on one page (but some of the items that were here earlier can no longer be found). The list includes content from all divisions of NSF; one item still here is this video on Antarctic logistics which includes mid-90s seismo vault footage and a balloon launch from the old BIT...
Things remained quiet and smooth before midwinters day...construction was smoothly on schedule, the temperature dipped below that magic -73.3°C for the first time...and Ronald Reagan's death in California brings a commemoration. Meanwhile, the food growth chamber (greenhouse) is starting to be green. Here's hoping, since it is one of the more visible bits of station construction, close to the store.
On 16 May 2004, McMurdo was hit with the worst storm in perhaps 30 years. One example of the damage at the Chalet is seen at right. Since folks keep sending pictures and information I haven't seen elsewhere, I've added 2 pages of pictures and coverage.
Scientists from a Hamilton College-led team announced the discovery of a new undersea volcano just east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here's more information and links.
In early April 2004 there was a fast McMurdo medevac with multiple medical cases. This time the aircraft of choice was a USAF C-141 out of March Air Reserve Base. It arrived in Christchurch Friday 10 April in the morning (local time) and made the round trip to the Pegasus ice runway on Saturday. Weather conditions there were clear with a temperature of -13°F. The aircraft returned to ChCh at 1930 with 3 medical cases on board. The RNZAF had a C-130 on standby for backup. The three patients were given oxygen and IV's during the flight, and are now being treated in Christchurch hospitals, while the aircraft has returned to California. The most serious ailment involves stomach problems. Not many more details which is the norm of late, but it is interesting to note that two replacement w/o's went south on the aircraft. Here is the 8 April NSF press release. A 10 April 2004 article from the Age (Melbourne) has additional detail.
Why the medevac subject was brought up here...the Navy (which contracts for aviation technical services) has been soliciting proposals for new runway lights for such an eventuality at Pole. They must be quickly deployable and provide standard VFR conditions for a Twin Otter at -100°F. Hmmm, whatever happened to all those Coleman lanterns? And back in Greeley, Colorado, the British balloonist David Hempleman-Adams (who has previously walked to Pole) bagged the open balloon high altitude record at 42,000 feet on 23 March. Afterwards, after dealing with the FAA--seems he may not have had a proper US pilot license or flight plan, he said he was considering a flight over Antarctica (David then went out for beer, and the FAA later declined to press charges or penalties).
Pole is turning into a cultural center! The 2003 winter brought a major art show and Oktoberfest (check out Robert Schwarz's photo gallery!) and the 2003-04 summer saw the first annual film festival, with some serious works. Turns out that Tyler Regan's short "Surf's Up" got shown at the Arts Centre in ChCh. What's next, the opera? Tyler and Brad Halter, thanks for the poster!
The station closed on 15 February 2004 as planned. There had been 332 flights scheduled...and after the last flight departed there had been a record 329--essentially a successful flight season for a change, and a record (3 more flights than the previous record). Unlike 2003, the ship offload was timely, so fresh supplies (and beer) got delivered. The summer population averaged around 240. Now there are 75 w/o's...yet another record.
Ruth Siple, wife of the late Paul Siple (veteran of two Byrd expeditions and the first Pole SSL) died on 23 January in Virginia. Ruth was the long-time writer and editor of the Antarctican Society newsletters (more information and photo).
And Virginia Fiennes, wife of Ranulph who led the 1981 Transglobe Expedition visit to Pole, died in England. Virginia wintered with the team close to the coast near Sanae; she ran comms for the 3-man team that crossed the continent. In November 2003 Ranulph ran 7 marathons in 7 days on, er, 6+ continents (the scheduled Antarctic run was relocated to the Falklands due to bad weather). She was diagnosed with cancer the day after Ran returned from the marathon venture.
The strange aviation events didn't end for a few days after closing. Gus McLeod flew south again, landing at Marambio Sunday 15 February SP time. He then took off for Pole but turned around and landed after weight and icing problems. After waiting a few more days, he returned north on 19 February. Gus's web site now has the details and info on his flights north. On his first trip south he left Ushuaia on 7 February SP time for a round trip overflight of Pole. After some strong winds and icing problems he landed at Rothera...and then went back north. After trying unsuccessfully to go back to his original plan--a crossing of the continent with refueling stops at Marambio and McMurdo, he tried to do the round trip overflight of Pole, with a possible refueling stop at Marambio and return to Ushuaia. He had deleted formerly planned stops at Diego Garcia and Thule, which, like McMurdo, I can attest are hard to get landing permission for. Here's a CNN article about his start. Polly Vacher stated she wouldn't sell him fuel unless he had official landing rights at McMurdo. Gus first headed south from College Park, MD in December 2003. After engine repairs in Florida and more problems in Latin America, he continued south to Ushuaia. He, like Jon Johanson, has a kit-built aircraft, a modified Velocity with a canard wing design and a single push-prop.
Pole construction continued hot and heavy and on schedule to the end of the season. Wing B1, one of the back wings on the second pod, was topped out on 20 January (photo at left). This will house more berthing and the emergency power plant. And wing B3, the last wing in the main east-west "leading edge" was topped out in December. This will house admin, comms, and some science, as well as the main entrance since it is close to the taxiway. B1, B2, and B3 are scheduled for completion next summer. A design team was on site at the end of January to inspect A3, the new medical and computer facility, (which was officially open for occupancy on 29 January) as well as A1 and A2 which were occupied last March. Also this summer the freshie shack and weight room in the dome were demo'd...next summer the old biomed building in the arch will go away. Here's the schedule map and lots of construction photos. Science-related work included the relocation of the AASTO module and telescope mount from the dark sector to the clean air sector near ARO for a new project to search for extrasolar planet. Oh yes, the webcam got moved too and is back online. Planning and cargo shipments for ICECUBE, the "super-AMANDA" happened. And another neat science project was Tumbleweed, that set loose a 2m "beach ball" with prototype instrumentation inside; it was propelled by the wind for 40 miles (project web site and NSF press release). And someone stole the 2003 Pole marker...
The "Polar First" helicopter that visited Pole on Wednesday 12/17/03 (Pole photos and more info here) crashed 120 miles north of PH at 1400 Pole time (0100Z) Saturday 20 December. Both crew members were injured, they were flown back to PH by ALE and were flown on to Punta Arenas later the same day, where they are now recuperating. Here's their current web site. June 2004 update...Jennifer and Colin flew to the RAF base in Kinloss, Scotland to meet the rescue coordinators Antarctic Connection story).
Other Antarctic transportation news from December: One Korean was killed when Zodiacs capsized in bad weather on Sunday 7 December 2003. The first boat with three men capsized while returning to base (King Sejong station near the south east end of King George Island) after seeing colleagues off at the Marsh runway. The three made it to a nearby island in their own vessel and were rescued by a Chilean helicopter. But a second boatload of 5 rescuers also overturned, and one of them died. The other four swam to shore and made it to a temporary shelter hut, where they were rescued by a Russian patrol. Here's a Korean English language news article. At Rothera, Polly Vacher, departed for Marambio on the 19th and flew on to Ushuaia the next day. She had to turn her Piper Dakota around earlier this month due to excessive headwinds on the way to McMurdo. She cancelled her transpolar flight and continued to NZ via the US. She arrived in Auckland around 30 January 2004. She let Jon Johanson use some of her fuel cached at Scott Base.
The LC-130 that collapsed a nose ski on 5 December 2003 while taking off from a Ford Range (77°14'S. 142°24'W) field site was repaired and flown back to town on 12/14. They had just left a fuel cache for a climatology field party. The aircraft in Christchurch from which repair parts have been borrowed has also been repaired. And a helo suffered a "hard landing" near the Beardmore. NSF press release.
The 2003 USAP traverses: the science traverse that left Pole Thanksgiving weekend made it to AGO4 and Taylor Valley as planned. This was a continuation of the multiyear ITASE traverse which started at Byrd in November 1999.
Meanwhile, the Pole "proof of concept" venture ran into heavy soft snow and very slow going. They turned around on 16 January, 430 miles from the starting point, short of the planned destination at the Leverett Glacier. They made it back to McMurdo on 24 January.
The trekkers...first Ilyushin flight to PH took some of them in on 11/30...the first tourist flight showed up at Pole dropping off some trekkers heading north. Adventure Networks (ANI)'s Antarctic operations have been sold to the new PH operator. What did this mean for the tourists, trekkers, and charity events that showed up at Pole? Actually, things worked well.
October 2003 opening flights were almost on schedule...the first two LC-130's showed up on the afternoon of Saturday 10/25, after a day's weather delay. Meanwhile, 4 Twin Otters had arrived the previous day on their way to McMurdo for summer support of field camps. This year a total of seven Twin Otters transited Pole on their way to support USAP field projects as well as Italian/French operations at Concordia (Dome C). And there were 332 LC-130 flights scheduled for Pole--329 actually made it!
Expeditions for 2003-04...it actually turned out to be a fairly successful year for NGA's and tourists, although some treks were announced with fanfare but didn't happen. ANI (Adventure Networks International) announced on July 24 that they were canceling all Antarctic operations for the 2003-04 season. This was from the departing former owner and operator Anne Kershaw, who has since dropped out of sight. This disrupted plans of this year's tourists and adventurers.
After the demise of ANI's operations, two organizations stepped into the breach, struggling to line up aircraft, environmental permits, employees, and customers. Antarctica Logistics and Expeditions LTD comprised of many ANI veterans (August 15 press release, a MS Word document), and Cerpolex (Polar Circle). Cerpolex has previously supported nongovernmental and program activity including activities at Borneo (the floating camp near the North Pole) and the original abortive 2002 Antonov-3 flight to Pole (the 2002 Antonov-3 story from Scott Smith). In September 2003, Cerpolex announced that they had been tasked by the Russians to recover that aircraft in 2003-04, along with support of skiing and climbing expeditions. They were to use an updated model of the Snow Buggies. In mid-October Cerpolex announced they were pulling out of the business for this season, so the aircraft will spend another season on the berm where it has been since January 2002. Here are details of their 2004-05 plans including tourist support, the aircraft recovery, and more info on the Snow Buggies.
AL&E, meanwhile had a busy schedule of climbers and skiers. On 13 November 2003 they announced the purchase of the Antarctic support assets, equipment, and logistics operations of ANI from Grand Expeditions (press release). AL&E opened Patriot Hills with two Twin Otters in mid November, but their first Ilyushin-76 flight to PH wasn't scheduled until November 25, (and didn't make it until the 30th). This was later than some of the trekkers had originally planned start their journeys. AL&E has retained the ANI name and web site, which has been freshly updated with the 2004-05 program as well as a roster of all customers they've ever taken to Pole or the Vinson Massif.
The big iceberg B-15 north of Ross Island has broken in two...but as of midwinter the pieces just seem to be sitting there. Have a look for yourself from the best source--the Raytheon directory of iceberg satellite images which is updated at least once a week. Other news and details are available from the NOAA ice center press release. Also see this 2003-2004 Powerpoint presentation by Shelley Knuth, Douglas MacAyeal et al from the AMRC site at U. Wisconsin.
The medevac was successful...after leaving Pole Sunday 9/21, 51-year-old Barry McCue, came forward to tell his story after successful gall bladder surgery 9/25. The full story is here, with pictures.
The first 2003 McMurdo winfly flight for 2003-04 was delayed for one day by bad weather at McMurdo but finally took place on Thursday 8/21 when the C17 Globemaster piloted by Lieutenant Paul Groven of the 62nd Airlift Wing transported 137 passengers and 33,000 lbs of cargo to McMurdo and safely returned. Two C-17's and four C-141's participated. Main body flights followed on 9/30.
The winter was a quiet one--perhaps too quiet, as a series of hack attacks silenced internet communications for a bit. As a result the official Pole web site may remain unavailable. Meanwhile, the residents of the elevated station continued to deal with new-home quirks and glitches such as freezer problems (the wine in the freshie shack froze and the food in the new galley freezer won't).
Midwinters Day 2003 was a success as it must be. Fortunately this one fell over a weekend, allowing for the max in festivities. These included mini-soccer, a luau, radio darts with other stations, and a Hash House Harriers run in, around, and under the station. Of course there were midwinters greetings shared around the continent, here is the one from Pole, with thanks to Joy Culbertson and Karina Leppik!
Ulp...2002 was another year of significant medical news. At least this time it wasn't life threatening...but on 7/5/02 Dr. Tim Pollard performed surgery to repair meteorologist Dar Gibson's knee tendon. The event featured the latest version of "telemedicine" or assistance from up north via radio, phone and satellite. Here is NSF's press release with Jon Berry's photos, and here is the geek version from IT guy Henry Malmgren as seen on Slashdot!
The station closed on schedule on 15 February 2003...at 1427 local time the last flight left, leaving behind 58 folks to face the winter in an utterly new environment. There were 293 flights out of an originally scheduled 350 (later revised to a planned 323). The construction efforts focused on the punchlist for the first phase of the elevated station. The summer plan was to achieve conditional occupancy of A1 and A2, but fire system problems uncovered just before station closing caused a "slight" delay (including lots of hard work, plus the callback of the fire system reps who were awaiting a McM-ChC flight). Fortunately, the problem was resolved, and the next event occurred on 4 March as official occupancy was declared. The first night in the new station rooms, scheduled to be occupied by about 40 of the wo's, was 5 March. About the same time, the galley equipment and supplies were moved/unpacked/cleaned and readied for the first meal upstairs. Cookie Jon presided over the "Last Supper" in the galley in the dome on 6 March... After breakfast and lunch the in the old galley the next day, the first meal (sandwiches) happened in the new galley (right). Work continued, the "official" first meal in the new galley, beef Wellington, was served up on 15 March. What of the old galley? For the short term, the dome bar is still open...and some of the gym equipment from summer camp has been moved into the old galley. Sooner or later the structure will be demo'd, that is part of the tight construction and shipping schedule. Meanwhile the structural for the first level of B3, the next pod, has been erected. The plans were to complete erection and enclosure, but some of the steel was damaged and has to be replaced. So it will be enclosed until next season, meanwhile foundation work on B1 was done instead (left, these 2 photos from Jerry Marty). The last issue of the Antarctic Sun for the season contained a major feature article on the new station.
From McMurdo...despite the presence of 2 icebreakers, the tanker MV Richard G Matthiesen wasn't able to reach the wharf; instead offloaded via hoses strung across the ice (NSF press release)...something that has been required more than once in the past. This evolution delayed the closing flights from McMurdo (originally scheduled for 2/22) until 10 March, when the last 50 folks left McMurdo via a RNZAF C-130 aircraft. Meanwhile, the American Tern cargo ship arrived with difficulty about midnight 2/9, and departed with much more difficulty with help from the crippled Polar Sea on 2/17. NSF called in a second icebreaker (the Healy, which arrived 2/7) (NSF press release) after the Polar Sea broke one of its three screws in late January. And near Lake Fryxell in the Dry Valleys, one of the PHI Bell 212 helos crashed (NSF press release) with the two occupants injured. They were medevaced to ChCh in stable condition.
The Russians are coming!! Somewhere, but not Pole. Despite this December 2002 Pravda article, the expeditioners from Russia (the International Mountaineering Club) planned multiple climbs in Dronning Maud Land. They brought two "snow bugs" (those 6-wheel vehicles that came to Pole a couple years ago) but apparently no balloons or parachutes. While the climbers did do their thing, both of the snow bugs broke down requiring an air evacuation by the Russians at Novolazarevskaya. Meanwhile, that Russian Antonov-3 that showed up last year will not be recovered for now....
The ITASE traverse arrived and completed all of their objectives, despite having to return to Byrd for wider tracks on one of their tractors and a better fuel sled borrowed from the Kiwis. They even did a mini-traverse towards the Pole of Inaccessability before parking their equipment on the berm for a future continuation in 2 years.
Earlier in the summer the jacking operations were completed. The new station got a lift, as it were. Last year it became quite obvious that there was major and unplanned differential settlement between the elevated structure and the beer can (and other buried parts of the station). The station design includes provisions for jacking up the columns to level the structure as well as to raise it above drifts--it just hadn't been planned for this early in the life of the place. . At left you see the columns exposed to facilitate the jacking operations (caption/credit). About half of the columns were jacked, and future plans and budgets have been adjusted to provide for some leveling every year. More details are in this 8 December 2002 Antarctic Sun article. Meanwhile, borings were taken and extensive measurements made...in the future additional spread footings will be installed under the columns starting with new pod B3. At right is a view of the A3 foundation installed last season (credit and larger view).
Science construction included more work on the SPRESSO seismo vault which was started last season; this is 5 miles south of the dome near the old Pomerantz Land site. It is now taking data. And a new 5-mile antenna for the Stanford VLF project has been erected.
The MARISAT antenna platform got a major upgrade to support comms through the GOES satellite. It may get get a radome next season to reduce ice buildup (left) (January 2002 NSF photo by Nicolas Powell), seems that icing has degraded its performance. Other science projects included a new VLF antenna for Stanford to transmit towards Palmer, and the start of a new solar observatory.
Flying kites!!! Teacher Eric Muhs spent early December at Pole working with the AMANDA and SPASE projects. This is part of the Rice "Teachers Experiencing Antarctica" project. He updated a diary daily on their site, as well as posting lots of panoramas and multimedia stuff around the station. He flew kites with w/o's Robert Swartz and Steffen Richter around the station, and sent live presentations back to his classrooms. Check it all out starting with his TEA (Rice University/Armada) page.
1977 and frequent Polie Brad Halter spent the first part of the summer at Pole, and finished the season at Dome C (Concordia, the joint French and Italian station in Antarctica) making validation measurements for the NASA Atmospheric Infrared Sounder on the Aqua satellite. Dome C is a happening place, this past year major construction continued on the future year-round station, and the Australians got their AASTINO research module up and running (this is the diary archive of the AASTINO setup).
Originally the first 3 flights of the 2002-03 season were scheduled for 10/23, but after several false starts due to weather, and an emergency landing, the first two flights didn't arrive until Saturday 10/26. There were three medevacs on the opening flights. One of them was RPSC science tech Deborah (DJ) Williams, who twisted her knee on some loose ice back in March. The injury has gotten worse, recently she's been having traction treatments as well as consultations (via all the state-of-the-art medical/teleconferencing equipment now on station) with doctors at Duke University.What the NGA expeditions were for 2002-03:
Climate change on the Peninsula...the first week in April 2002 saw a major NSF-sponsored conference on this topic at Hamilton College in upstate New York. The meeting was planned many months before the recent iceberg incidents including the recent collapse of the Larsen B on the east side of the Peninsula. Here is the NSF press release. The workshop web site features abstracts from the presentations as well as streaming audio archives of the keynote speeches. The expedition web site used to include journal entries from their 2001-02 expedition, but they have been removed.
The last flights of the 2001-02 season happened on 15 and 16 February...taking the remaining summer folks out and bringing in...steel beams for next summer (while leaving the mail and beer behind). The station summer season wound down after successful "topping out" and exterior closure of the next two sections of the new elevated station, A3 and B2, which will house science and medical facilities. Flight and cargo delays, as well as differential settlement problems, prevented the planned completion and winter occupancy of the new berthing and galley facilities which were first enclosed a year ago, so the winter population is 51, with some folks living in the suburbs of summer camp. What's happening right now?? The NOAA CMDL webcam gives excellent views of the new station, but [in 2002] you couldn't see much after dark. Here is the AASTO webcam [which was decommissioned in December 2005]. And for someplace a bit more brightly lit, NASA set up the first McMurdo webcam on a truelook.com site...long since replaced by the USAP McMurdo webcam.
The South Pole Marathon (archived page), sponsored by ANI, finally happened on 21 January after weather and scheduling delays, with 5 runners completing half, full, or ultramarathon courses. It was won by Richard Donovan from Ireland, but second place finisher Dean Karnazes of San Francisco is complaining. He gave up his snowshoes and did the race in running shoes. Now the FBI and the State Department are involved. Richard hasn't gotten the promised prize money, and Dean is threatening a lawsuit. The details are here from Sports Illustrated. The 70South News has Richard's personal account of the race and the aftermath. This was only the beginning...on 5 April Richard ran a marathon at the North Pole...all alone, in two segments, in atrocious conditions...-76°F wind chill and 40 mph winds. A new one for the record books, 2 first Polar marathons in 3 months. More details on Richard's efforts to do ultramarathons on all continents this year are on his (archived) web site. But Richard was NOT the first person to finish a marathon at Pole. Station doctor Chuck Huss did the 26.2 miles on Boston Marathon day, 20 April 1981...more info and training photo here.
On 8 January a small Russian AN-3 single-engined biplane arrived crammed with 14 folks including the vice-president of the Russian Duma (state parliament). Because he and other DV's were aboard, NSF granted them official status...and fuel...and later, bed space in the library and gym after their aircraft refused to start. Eventually after 2 days the DVs were flown out to McM/NZ on an LC-130, while the tourists with lesser status were picked up and taken to Patriot Hills by ANI. The aircraft was towed away to be parked for the winter, perhaps to be repaired next season. Scott Smith has photos and the story on Steven McLachlan's site.
Meanwhile the construction work paused briefly during the week of 6 January to allow the installation of the official Time Capsule in one of the foundation beams. I have the exclusive story and photos from Katy Jensen. The event was witnessed by a DV group of congressional staffers, who also got to stay overnight because of bad weather (fortunately some new and comfy library couches had just been received). However, it seems that some of the time capsule contents were delayed in the mail...the capsule was quietly opened a week later to add some stuff sent from Washington, then the grade beam was welded up on 11 January. Meanwhile there was a fire, hoped by all to be the only "real" one of the season. A welder's sparks ignited some wood in the carpenter shop, resulting in 8' flames, fortunately put out with a dry chemical extinguisher. A good test of the fire teams. Oh yes, the temperature actually got up to +5°F, only 1 degree short of the 1978 record.
Antarctic guide Doug Stoup returned to Pole in December, where he discussed last season's discovery of a 1937 Hershey "Ration Bar" with Katy Jensen. Did he really find it at Pole as was so widely reported by the media? Exclusive story here!
I was interviewed by Kristan Hutchison of the Antarctic Sun for a special feature which appeared in the 25 November 2001 issue, on the past and future of the Dome. Therefore I've further updated the pages on building the dome. It's been known for awhile that the Dome will not be part of the new station. It must be removed from the continent in accordance with the Madrid Protocol. The exact method of removal was announced in December 2000--Chain Saws! Past efforts to save it and rebuild it in the US did not elicit the funding required for a more delicate demolition. Anyway, here is that excellent savethedome.com web site by 2001 w/o Jeff Kietzmann...a whimsical look at the past and future of this landmark structure. More recently, here is a commentary from the Antarctican news site.
The station opened on 24 October 2001 with 348 scheduled flights, but the schedule slipped as it does every year. Lots of flights need to be used to bring in fuel, as the place can go through 6000 gallons per week nowadays. Movement of cargo to Pole improved because the Pegasus runway was readied for all-season use by wheeled C-130's, and an additional Air Force squadron from Little Rock, Arkansas was brought in to move cargo from ChCh to McM. During the early summer the new and old power plants were the subject of a massive gremlin hunt after a number of outages. The new plant was down for a fair percentage of the time early in the summer before a successful repair/redesign effort.
"Frozen Under:" National Geographic has major coverage on the Antarctic in the December 2001 issue. In addition to this feature on life in Antarctica (this site includes a few more of those 360° panoramas from Pole and elswhere) there is a second article covering the visit to the Ross Sea icebergs in 2000-01. For the full story and pictures you'll need to consult the hard copy, if it never made it to your mailbox, check it out in at the library, well worth it!
NSF's construction plans for the 2001-02 season included construction of the new seismic facility (SPRESSO) 5 miles from the dome...the next stage in quiet seismo vaults....close to the old Pomerantz Land site. Here's the NSF press release on the 2001-02 science, and the USA Today version.All of the groups who did private expeditions to Pole in 2001-02:
From Washington...a Congressional conference report suggests that $15 million will be appropriated for preliminary costs of the Ice Cube project, the 1 cubic km next version of the AMANDA neutron detector. This is a $250 million, 8-year project. And NSF's overall budget for 202 was increased by Congress by 8.4% to $4,789 million. This includes $300 million for "polar research and operations support," of which the "U.S. Antarctic Logistical Support" budget was increased 9.3% to $68.1 million.
Science special...the 2001 w/o's completed a research project to reconfirm that the Earth does indeed rotate on its axis. A Foucault pendulum was installed in the future elevator shaft of the beer can. Yes, it did indeed change its plane of swing as the Earth rotated. The 33m stair tower offered a much better place to do this than the 16m dome where we tried the same thing in 1977. Here are details from physicist R. Allan Baker...
On 28 September 2001 a major fire destroyed the biolab at Rothera, the large British Antarctic station at the southern end of Adelaide Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. The Bonner Laboratory was a new building completed in 1996-97...fortunately the alarms sounded early and there were no injuries to the 21 w/o's. However, weather conditions prevented fighting the fire. Details and photos from this BBC News article. The lab has since been rebuilt.
On 12 September 2001 the w/o's learned of the tragedy unfolding in New York and Washington...and Jeff Kietzmann and Dave McDonald went up on the dome to put the flag at half staff. Here is the picture and story from manager Jerry Macala, and here is how USA Today covered it. (The flag was returned to full staff on Sunday, 26 September.)
Palmer w/o painter Thomas Leipart died on 5 September from head injuries after a 1 September fall down the stairs aboard the R/V Lawrence Gould. He hod just arrived in PA after a crossing from Palmer. Thomas' wife Cindy from Arizona flew down to be with him before his death. He had planned to w/o next year at McMurdo.
The NOAA folks at Pole have updated their CMDL home page with live links to ozone data, as well as tours of ARO and the station, historical information, and photos. Well worth a look.
Pole MEDEVAC...Dr. Ron Shemenski, after suffering from a bout of pancreatitis, was successfully medevaced in a twin otter aircraft which arrived from Rothera at noon 25 April 2001 (Pole time) with OAE replacement doctor Betty Carlisle on board. Ron headed north the next day. The full story with photos and links is featured HERE. Oh yes, the aircraft was also carrying about 100 lbs of table salt...it seems that this vital commodity had already run short.
The McMurdo medevac (NSF press release) also happened successfully in April 2001, carrying out a total of 11 Raytheon employees. Two folks had serious medical problems which prompted the medevac--a heart condition and a possible concussion; two other less-serious medical cases also were given the advantage of the flight; seven other folks also left McM for other reasons, perhaps relating to family problems at home. Or perhaps, er, other reasons, as discussed in this 28 April NZ Herald news story. The C-130 from the RNZAF headed south Tuesday at 0525 Tuesday 24 April +12/NZ and McM time (1325 Monday EDT) after a 24-hour weather delay. It landed at Pegasus, spent about an hour on deck, and returned to ChCh at 2030. Here is a press statement from Karl Erb, NSF Polar Programs director.
Enough cargo made it to Pole during the 2000-01 summer season to support the interior buildout of the first phase of the new elevated station, which was successfully enclosed and heated. And the lights stayed on all winter. Read about the other milestones--the startup of the new power plant and the successful testing of the new earth station...(plus links to more background stuff) in the 24 January NSF press release. 2000-01 summer construction pictures of the elevated station are here thanks to Steven McLachlan and the folks at Pole.
The new MARISAT/GOES 9-meter antenna, which promised to double the broadband access time, was successfully tested on 18 January 2001, but there were major "feed" and cold weather problems which required troubleshooting through much of the 2001 winter.
Antarctica continues to break up! The iceberg C-19 is splitting up, per this May 2003 UW SSEC article and photo. The icebergs continued to cause shipping problems into McMurdo Sound in January 2003, although a sudden shift (along with the presence of 2 Coast Guard icebreakers) allowed some of the late summer cruise ships to approach Ross Island. The best continually updated file of Ross Ice Shelf photos, well annotated, is in this directory on the Raytheon server in Denver, where you can see the bergs nuzzling against the east side of Ross Island. They ultimately required a second icebreaker to help with the 2002-03 shipping season (Antarctican news article). In 2002 a hunk of the Lazarev Ice Shelf (69.4°S 15.9°E) broke off into the southeastern Weddell Sea and became D-17 (6 x 20 miles). Also in May 2002, 2 more chunks of the Ross Ice Shelf broke off...as noted in these NOAA/NATICE press releases on C-18 (41 x 4 nautical miles) photographed on 6 May, and C-19 (108 x 17 nautical miles, a bit bigger than Delaware) photographed on 11 May. In the C-18 photo you can see the beginning of the C-19 crack. Here is an NSF press release on the Ross Sea icebergs...Charles Stearns, the AWS guy from the University of Wisconsin (UWis), notes that the recent bergs take the Ross Ice Shelf back to the approximate size it was in 1911. Other photos and animations are found at the AMRC site from UWis, the automated weather station folks...YES, there are AWS's on the icebergs! During late 2001 at McMurdo, NSF thought that the two large Ross Sea icebergs may soon break each other up due to repeated collisions. Here's the press release. NSF used a second icebreaker to get the channel to McMurdo clear for the cargo and fuel shipments, but the clearing operation was successful. The icebergs B15A and C16 are north of Ross Island; this plus the weather conditions have produced much heavier sea ice than usual and they are blocking the flow of winds and currents that would normally help the ice go away. Here is additional late November 2001 news coverage from USA Today and the Antarctic Sun.
Ventures to the new icebergs...In late January 2001, scientists from the U. of Chicago and U. of Wisconsin traveled via the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea to visit iceberg B-15A, a 90 x 20 mile piece of the icebergs. Here is the remnant of a slide show by Antarctic Sun senior editor Josh Landis, who got to go. The Ice Island expedition went to study B-15 and its neighbors "above, below, and within." The venture was partially sponsored by National Geographic; it had two missions--research and filmmaking. Steven Mclachlan has a page of photos of the expedition vessel "Braveheart" before they left Lyttleton on 17 January. Unfortunately heavy pack ice kept them from getting close to any of the large bergs. Here are some early November 2000 NSF photos by Josh Landis, who got to fly over them on one of the LC-130 exploratory missions. The icebergs might actually endanger the shipping lanes to McMurdo, Charles Stearns advised at the American Polar Society meeting in Boulder. The natural movement for the Ross Sea icebergs is towards the west; if present trends continue they could block the shipping channel along the west side of Ross Island.
Stearns' Antarctic met data center (AMRC) at the University of Wisconsin continues to track and monitor the various bergs in the Ross Sea and elswhere. The newest, B-20 (renamed C-16), 30 x 11 miles, broke loose from the Ross Ice Shelf in late September 2000 and is north of Ross Island. The largest in the Ross Sea, named B-15 (170 x 25 miles) broke in half, 200 miles east of McMurdo in mid-March 2000. There are others, including one 80 x 12 miles just east of B-15, which has broken into several pieces, one of which has already made it to Cape Adare. Meanwhile there are icebergs which calved off the Ronne Ice Shelf (east of the Antarctic Peninsula) in early May 2000. The AMRC iceberg page is frequently updated with new pictures, video and information. The NOAA National Ice Center also covers these bergs. Events such as these have been the plot basis for more than one fiction thriller over the years. These were first noticed on 17 March 2000 in McM where Andy Archer, Matt Thompson and the other met folks studied these photos as well as the Terascan images, many of which appeared on the AMRC web site.
00-01 station construction pictures are here thanks to Steven McLachlan and the folks at Pole. The weather was rough on the flight schedule to deliver construction materials, but the full complement of winter construction folks were on hand to work on the interior of the first phase of the elevated structure.
More stories about 2000-01 construction plans...a Christian Science Monitor article, and several NSF press releases...the summer construction (with photos), as well as the overall plans for the 2000-01 season and the science around the rest of the continent. And here are my details about the construction project.
Radio days...National Public Radio reporter Richard Harris spent a day at Pole in 2000-01, and his report on T-shirt weather there aired on 11 December 2000. Check out the audio archive and listen along here, new stories continued to air through April.
NGA (non-governmental activity) visits to the crowded dome in the 2000-01 summer season...
Rodney Marks left Pole on one of the first flights, his body was returned to Australia for autopsy and burial. Here is a page of information, memorial links and tributes...
Rodney was the astronomer operating the AST/RO telescope, and he died from unknown natural causes on 12 May, after experiencing breathing difficulties while walking back to the dome from the dark sector. This was the third USAP death at South Pole Station, and the first during the winter. During the winter the w/o's decided to have their own funeral ceremony for him. They constructed an elaborate oak casket, and on 3 July the group gathered to load it onto a Nansen sled and transport it to a grave site. Rodney was laid to rest for the remainder of the winter, under the stars in the Australian sector about 15 feet from the Pole.
The first main body flight arrived at McMurdo on 3 October 2000. This picture from Chuck Kimball documents what it looked like from a window in Building 159.
Ozone...Pole NOAA data is online here. The surface Dobson ozone measurements have been collected since 1961; since these observations can't be taken in darkness, ozonesonde balloons have been launched weekly since 1986. Here is another "view" of the ozone hole from NASA with links to satellite data. The ozone hole was originally discovered in 1985 by Joe Farman of BAS; here is the BAS ozone page with links to additional data.
Polar Symposium in Boulder: The American Polar Society held this biennial event on 4-6 October 2000...themes included data collection, communications, and the environment. Speakers included the weather guru Charles Stearns, senior NOAA scientist Susan Solomon, IGY veteran John Behrendt, and former East Base resident Jackie Ronne. Of course, the meeting was also a BIG Antarctican reunion party. Here is the web site for the society. This organization was founded during the time of Byrd's second expedition, and has been disseminating news and information about the Antarctic and Arctic ever since.
Pole Souls Boulder 2000 reunion... Yes, we're proud to say that ALL of our 1977 winterover team gathered in Boulder, CO, the weekend before Midwinters Day. We shared stories, jokes, music, photos, videos, beer, good food, fun, and...some quiet time together. Yes, here is the photo documentation!
Raytheon Polar Services Company... (RPSC) assumed the US Antarctic Program support contract as of 1 April. Their websites (now long gone of course) were http://www.polar.org and http://rpsc.raytheon.com. Here is my archive list of news about the contract award and the ongoing legal challenge to the Raytheon award. On 29 February ASA filed an appeal...
After a highly successful science and construction season, Pole "closed" on 14 February 2000 with an all-time high winter population of 50 (about the average summer population back in 76-77). Cargo flights continued until the last flight at about 2300 on the 16th.
Bicycling at Pole... this CARA-sponsored project spent the last week in January 2000 testing out fat-tire bicycles...
McMurdo fatality...John Biesiada, a Canadian contractor employee for SPAWAR (the Navy satcom/air traffic control folks) died early Saturday 8 January. Cause unknown pending an autopsy. After a Sunday memorial service in the chapel, the body was flown to ChCh the next day, and the autopsy results are here (Antarctic Sun article).
Fox News covered a private geology expedition "Antarctica 2000" which included former astronauts Jim Lovell and Owen Garriott. During January they traveled via Patriot Hills to the Thiel Mountains, Pole and back. They found meteorites, and they got to sleep...on the floor of the gym. Their archive stuff and photos are gone, but Steven McLachlan has a page with lots of photos of the team, their aircraft, and the station.
Sir Vivian Fuchs, leader of the 1956-58 Commonwealth Transantarctic Expedition (yes, he showed up at Pole to meet Sir Edmund Hillary in January 1958) died in Cambridge, UK on 11 November 1999 at the age of 91. Here's an obituary from SPRI.Coverage of the various 99-00 NGA visits to Pole...
The first of the three "real" opening flights arrived at Pole at about 1215 South Pole time (+13) Monday 25 October 1999 (1815 CDT Sunday). The weather was -48°C/-55°F, winds about 10 knots.Dr. Jerri Nielsen
For better or worse, the October 1999 events focused more media attention on Pole than the place has seen for many years--perhaps since 1929 when Admiral Byrd was wearing his sweater 1500' above where it is today.
Later updates...in July 2001 ABC News reported that Jerri Nielsen would return to Antarctica with her family during the 01-02 summer as a physician on a cruise ship. Here's the story, with more details of her experience as a Polie. More recently there was news of a lawsuit by her former husband. Her book "Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole" came out in hardcover, CD and tape versions on 18 January 2001 and hit the best-seller list. She was featured with fellow w/o's on an ABC Primetime, which first aired on 25 January 2001.
Now that Dan Rather and Jerry Bowen have turned the CBS eye away from the dome, I've moved the stuff here. I'm not sure how long the current stories and videos will still be available.
For some reason CBS considered this story "National News," ABC considered it "World News," CNN called it "Asia/Pacific," and the USA Today stuff is "Weather." Go figure.
In February 2000 came the annnouncement about her book deal
Selected NSF individual official press releases and statements[sorry, as of September 2005 NSF started rearranging them, as of June 2009 many still are unavailable]
15 October Mission successful, Jerri's in McMurdo (Rita Colwell)
13 October Planes arrive in McMurdo
9 October Planes in ChCh
7 October official photo of Dr. Jerri at the ceremonial pole earlier in the winter
5 October Time to send in the Hercs (Karl Erb)
13 July Statement on Behalf of Patient
13 July Briefing on South Pole Emergency by NSF director Rita Colwell
11 July airdrop is successful.
17 June Press Statement by Dr. Karl Erb on the medical status of South Pole personnel
Background news with photos, links to other news releases and and information on the 11 July airdropCBS News...
Other Pole media coverage from previous seasons...