[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
Another unique sign of springtime at Pole--frequent NOAA ozone balloon launches. At right is a time-lapse of one of the launches (from about 14 September) showing the balloon illuminated by the glow in the sky. This was created by IceCuber Christian Krueger and shared on the NSF polar programs Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Hopefully the final bit of news from Whidbey Island, WA on this sad subject--the final appeal process for Al Baker ended on 15 September (without his knowledge, presence, or consent). He's been resentenced to the same 52-year term that he originally had received. Details in this 21 September Whidbey News-Times article.
And if the summer aircraft season is approaching, it must be the peak PQ season. Hmmmm, this just in from usap.gov.
On a more significant medical note, on 13 September NSF and NASA announced a joint medical collaboration, which will sponsor medical research, development and training in extreme polar environments (the NSF press release and the NASA press release). On the NASA side this will be a part of their Human Research Program to reduce the physical and mental risks of space operations on the humans who go there; on the NSF side it will mean that NASA flight surgeons will rotate through NSF's Antarctic clinics (at left, from the NSF press release, Peter Rejcek's 2006 photo of the McMurdo clinic), providing additional assistance and expertise. There will also be physical and psychological studies on volunteers in the Antarctic community. The photo at right, from the NASA press release, I recognized immediately as I'd seen it before. That's Christina Hammock Koch whom I wintered with in 2005...now she's an astronaut! She assured me this was a selfie although that term wasn't in use back in 2005.
No more winfly? That's hinted at in this Antarctic Sun article. The 2015 winter saw flights to McMurdo about every six weeks; plans for next winter call for more frequent flights, perhaps once a month--this would negate the requirement for an early season cluster of flights. In other flight-related news, the new Phoenix runway at McMurdo is undergoing final shaping, leveling and compaction...with certification scheduled for November. Shortly after that occurs, Pegasus will be closed. As for Pole, preliminary work for opening the station has begun. The schedule now calls for two Baslers and one Twin Otter to show up from Rothera around 11 October en route to McMurdo.
Here comes the sun! As documented at left by UT Darren Lukkari on 21 September...actually above the horizon. Interestingly, it made a brief appearance on the 7th, while still 5.9 degrees below the horizon, thanks to ducted refraction produced by an unusual bit of strong thermal layering. It only lasted a few minutes...a strange teaser. Oh, around the same time, network engineer Adam Jones was caught heading to his A1 room (right) in shirt sleeves...well, the temperature WAS in three digits. What for...well, the construction crew is replacing the floor in the second floor hallway, and the inside hall was blocked off during working hours. As documented in this IceCube weekly news report with photos by Christian Krueger. There's also his shot of that refracted sun. In the previous news report, Christian had shared this time-lapse video of removing the window covers at the end of August. (All of the recent IceCube weekly news reports are available here.)
Sad news from Australia--Anton Brown, the 2015 winterover machinist, passed away on 6 September. He was 57. Here's the brief obituary from the Perth newspaper. He, of course, created the present/2016 Pole marker; I have a few photos of him on this page.
Early in August, an intrepid multinational construction crew got together and erected...a massive igloo. Large enough to sleep five and keep them warm and toasty (well, about 0ºF/-18ºC). And then it was demo'd. Story and photos here.
23 August...the first of five WINFLY flights landed at Pegasus at 1216 on 23 August (left), ending the long winter--or perhaps not exactly, as McMurdo had regular flights every six weeks or so through the winter. This flight was the Skytraders A319 Airbus (left, photo from Antarctica New Zealand). There will be a total of five flights, two more using the Airbus and two using a C-17.
Construction update...the winterovers began construction of the new berthing structure the last week in July...uh, yeah, it was an igloo. It was completed on 7 August, and occupied overnight by FIVE intrepid winterovers. At right, a photo of it showing it glowing from the intense interior illumination. More information about its construction, occupation, and rapid demise--with more photos/credits--here thanks in large part to one of its architects Darby Butts.
On 29 June, the GOES-3 satellite, which had been used by USAP for 21 out of its 38-year life, was decommissioned...only to be officially replaced by that much-faster DSCS-3 bird (more details).
Ulp...my move to Boulder has been, er, moved up, hence not much time to update things. For now, a bit more info on the medevac is here as well as in the summary updates below.
Update at 0100 Thursday SP time/0900 Wednesday US Eastern time...NSF announced that the aircraft had departed Pole. Based on the time of the announcement, I'm guessing that it took off some time after 2300 Wednesday. The NSF DPP Facebook post included the photo at left of the flight operation...taken by Robert Schwarz. No word on the number of northbound passengers.
Update at 1300 Wednesday SP time/2100 Tuesday US Eastern time...the Twin Otter arrived at Pole about 4 hours ago after a 9-hour flight from Rothera. It will stay there at least 10 hours for crew rest...after which the weather conditions will be evaluated for the trip north. The NSF Division of Polar Programs Facebook page is providing the most recent updates, and it should be available even if you are not a Facebook user. Current Pole temperature is a balmy -72ºF/-58ºC (NOAA South Pole weather page).
Medevac updates...the two Twin Otters, each carrying two pilots, a mechanic and a medic, stopped briefly at Centennial airport (near the Denver ASC office, on Tuesday (14 June) Denver time. They then made stops in Texas and Ecuador as they proceeded south to Punta Arenas, which they had reached by Saturday 19 June. On 20 June US time, NSF released a news update, announcing that the aircraft had reached Rothera. They had departed Punta Arenas early that morning local time. Currently they are waiting for good weather for one of the aircraft to make the 10-hour flight to Pole. Two other news updates--one is this updated Washington Post article (originally published on 16 June) featuring an interview with Kelly Falkner (NSF polar programs director)...she indicated that perhaps two ASC workers might be flown out. Also...here is a 21 June mashable.com article with additional info.
Yes, there is a medevac underway. NSF made the public announcement on 15 June SP time, after the two Twin Otters from Kenn Borek Air headed south from Calgary. I really don't know much else other than what is in that press release. This will be the first such medevac since September 2003 when Barry McCue was flown out (link to my coverage). Two years earlier there was the late April 2001 medevac of physician Ron Shemenski...during which the on deck temperature was around -92ºF/-69ºC. Here is my coverage of that event. Details of the medevac are of course dependent on the weather as well as on the patient's condition. As of the press release, the earliest planned arrival of the Twin Otter at Pole could be 19 June. The flight will require extensive work by the winterovers to prepare the skiway, fueling equipment, etc. At right is an old NSF map of the medevac route from South America to Pole via the British station Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula. Here is an article from the phys.org news site which gives a bit more background on the evolution.
Another Polie in the news back home...equipment operator Bruce Tischbein, who has been on the ice since last August, has a feature page on the Zionsville IN Current in Zionsville site. Zionsville is a northwest suburb of Indianapolis.
Lots of satellite news in June! The good news is that the DSCS-3 satellite is now in daily use...although this is presumably still in "testing" mode, as this satellite is not yet listed in the online satellite pass schedules. It is considerably faster--with bandwidth approaching 30 Mbps, significantly better than the 1.5-5 Mbps typically available previously. And its visibility fills in part of the gap between the other satellites, thus extending the daily satellite window from 10-11 hours/day to 14-15. On the flip side (perhaps) of the coin, it was just announced that the GOES-3 satellite is being decommissioned, beginning on 8 June per this blog post from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The loss of GOES may not be such a big deal, as it has been the slowest of the satellites currently in use...and its visibility window mostly coincides with that of the various faster TDRSS/SPTR satellites. On 15 June it was being moved to a "trash orbit."
Elusive icebreaker sighting...on 23 May the Polar Sea was observed heading down the Columbia River at Astoria. What you don't see in this photo (left) are the tugboats providing the motive power. The inactive icebreaker was being towed back to the Coast Guard base in Seattle after a five-month yard period at the Vigor shipyard in Portland. This included survey, additional mothballing activity, and presumably an effort to update the cost estimate to put it back in service. Here's the Daily Astorian article (the source of the photo seen here) with link to video ; despite the tone of the article, the vessel is NOT headed for the scrapyard...no such decision has been made. Also, this article from the Puget Sound Business Journal depicts the Polar Sea in drydock, discusses the prospect of future icebreaker construction...and mistakenly identifies the vessel as the Polar Star. Oops.
The 39th Antarctic Treaty meeting, running from 23 May through 1 June, is underway in Santiago, Chile. As with the last couple of meetings, the event is mostly below the news radar...perhaps not a bad sign. Anyway, at right is a 23 May photo from the opening day of the meeting. This photo of the first day of the meeting is from Lisa Kelley who is there as part of the IAATO delegation...and yes, she also was the Palmer winter manager in 2010.
The end of May...things are quiet at Pole...well, mostly. Lots of noise about the auroras. Robert Schwarz continues to show them off as he does so well, and he's even added a Facebook page South Pole Skies that anyone can see, you don't even have to give Mark Zuckerberg your vital information. On 15 May, the thermometer dipped below the -100ºF mark...and actually was there for about 3 days. I actually won a guessing contest for this date...well, all I did was pick the middle of the most common month for the first 3-digit temperature. It got close to -105ºF...not sure of the exact measure, but the documentation at left (from Lindsey Clark) must be close.
On 7 April 2016, NSF announced that the new "alpha runway" (right), under construction near McMurdo last season, would officially be named "Phoenix Airfield." Plans are for it to be completed, certified, and in use in 2016-17. The full story and background.... Meanwhile, at Pole, as the remaining twilight faded, the station windows were covered the first week in April. By now (late April) it is really dark, but in late March it was still light enough for Robert Schwarz to create an awesome TWO WEEK timelapse of an entire lunar cycle--the moon rising, circling the station, changing phase, and then slowly setting. You MUST watch it!
The sun finally set on 24 March, after its usual dilly-dallying around...and after presenting a rather spectacular display. At left...an excellent shot by Darby Butts which shows the green flash. He blew it up, here's a larger version of the green flash.
Satellite update...starting this past austral summer, tests were conducted on another aging military satellite--one of the DSCS-III satellites that is slowly slipping away from an exact equatorial orbit. Not the first time these were considered...their use was mentioned back in 1999 (NSF meeting proceedings)...one conclusion of that discussion was to consider running a fiber optic cable north, perhaps as far as Concordia station at Dome C. Nothing came of that (fortunately perhaps). But now in with the satellites in use continuing to fail, and communications requirements increasing, the DSCS-III is again being considered (Wikipedia article and diagram). Currently it only reaches about 1 degree above the horizon, but when it is a bit below the horizon it sometimes can still be seen due to something similar to the refraction that makes the sunsets last longer. So far no timetable on its use...but here is a September 2015 Federal Times article about the current satellite situation and the proposal to use the Air Force DSCS satellites.
Updates on the pending prime contract changeover that I first mentioned here last July: On 26 January 2016 Lockheed-Martin and Leidos Holdings announced that Leidos would take over the Information Systems & Global Solutions (IS&GS) unit from L-M in some sort of tax-free deal worth about $5 billion. IS&GS is principally L-M's IT operation, but it of course includes the USAP contract. Here's a 26 January Denver Post article highlighting the deal, a 28 January FCW article which provides more detail on what Leidos is taking over, and a 26 January Leidos press release. I understand that there still are some details to work out regarding such things as the building and the data center, but the takeover is supposed to be complete by October. No changes are expected in the subcontractor structure.
Meanwhile back in Chicago, the South Pole Telescope folks were working on a new and enhanced microwave-sensitive camera, the SPT-3G (third generation)...which will have 16,000 detectors--10 times more than the presently installed instrument, and weigh 4 times as much. It will be used in the continuing investigation of gravity waves and measurement of neutrinos. The instrument will be installed in 2016-17...see this University of Chicago news release, a February WTTW Chicago Tonight article, and Brad Benson's 2014 paper about the instrument. At the same time, the SPT is moving forward to become a part of the Event Horizon Telescope array.
On 30 March, the US Air Force issued this press release announcing the successful completion of the 2015-16 Operation Deep Freeze--the 60th anniversary! Yes, shortly before Christmas Day in 1955, the first few Navy folks were setting up their tents next to Scott's Hut on Hut Point, in preparation for construction of what would become McMurdo Station. The press release includes some high resolution photos of some of the aircraft and vessels involved in this past season.
The closing flight did happen on Tuesday 16 February. Leaving behind 48 souls. A bit larger crew than in the past couple of years, in part because of the fairly major winter project to level and clean the fuel tanks in the arch. The closing was actually planned for Monday the 15th...it showed up...but visibility was too poor for it to see the skiway...or for folks on the ground to see the aircraft. So...one day of delay.
7 February, and now it is tanker Maersk Peary's turn to be almost finished with its mission as seen in this webcam image (left), riding high in the water. The Polar Star lurks in the background. At Pole, the remaining winterovers have been arriving as summer people pack up and the temperatures start to dip below -40º. The stuck Herc finally was repaired, it departed on 27 January, while the broken Twin Otter left on 3 February.
1 February...the Ocean Giant was finishing up loading the retrograde cargo and trash (left)...I've been watching the webcam photos and most of them have been cloudy or hazy. This is one of the better ones...but better yet is this 4-minute YouTube timelapse video of the Ocean Giant evolution, filmed by Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) cadet Tanner Evans (with no less than 6 GOPROS). At Pole, the ALE tourist camp was being dismantled on 17 January, but the visiting season is not quite over yet. Emma Tamsin Kelty, with Chilean guide Pachi Iberra, are still en route, they should arrive in a day or two. And the next visitor hasn't left Australia yet. Charles Werb is about to embark on a "snow sail" to Pole...after first being driven several hundred miles south of Novo by Arctic Trucks folks. Hmmmm. (Update...he made it to Novo but not to Pole...details here.)
29 January...an interesting period for Pole flight operations...or the lack thereof. There have been few flights for various reasons--one of which is the fact that at this time of year the primary effort is to recover folks who have been at field camps...another of which is that some of the LC-130's aren't working. One of these was stuck overnight at Pole--on 18 January it boomeranged and returned due to bad weather at McMurdo. The next day...the crew had timed out on flight hours, and then folks couldn't get the aircraft started. Then on 20 January, a Twin Otter taking off for Rothera en route to Calgary at the end of its charter, lost a ski while taking off, prompting a "this is not a drill" station emergency response (right). No one was injured, but all flights were shut down for a couple of days for the accident investigation and repairs (more info/photos). As a result, there were people sleeping everywhere. Finally on 26 January a Herc arrived, and the population dropped back to 156 (remember the max is supposed to be 150). As of 26 January the broken LC-130 was still there.
Meanwhile in McMurdo...the tanker Maersk Peary arrived on the 21st, while the Polar Star is also still hanging around, with some of its activities hampered by engine problems. Here's a series of articles about the mission, posted by freelance writer Brandon Reynolds for KQED--the 22 January article describes some of the propulsion issues.
Antarctic death...Henry Worsley, who visited Pole a few weeks ago on his crossing from Shackleton Bay to Shackleton glacier...was evacuated a mere 30 miles from his destination on 22 January...and died in a Punta Arenas hospital on the 25th. More details below.
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.
Some older items of interest (other old news is in the archive):
WIRED magazine has a feature article on Jerry Marty, Carlton Walker, and the station construction in the July 2002 issue. Read about the settlement problems...why the place wasn't considered fit for occupancy for the 2002 winter.
Pole land cargo traverses in the works...in October 2002 NSF flew a specially equipped D8 from Christchurch to McMurdo aboard a C17...this equipment was be used to prepare a road south towards the Leverett Glacier, eventually hopefully to Pole. This is to augment the LC-130 flights for station construction cargo as well as for ICE CUBE and forthcoming science projects. More information...
Another new science project...in 2002 a 10-meter submillimeter telescope (up from 8 meters!) that will search for new galaxy clusters and study dark energy. Plans were to attach it to the DSL (dark sector lab) University of Chicago press release. It was originally scheduled to have a ground shield that is larger than the Dome (built by Temcor, the same company that built the dome...). The telescope was completed in 2006-07, and the huge ground shield was eventually cancelled.
On 8/13/02 NSF had a meeting with potential contractors and suppliers for a possible fiber optic cable to Dome C. Yes, you read that right (news article). Since Pole is way below the horizon for the commercial geosynchronous satellites, one option is to run a cable about 1050 miles to the newly constructed French/Italian Concordia Station at Dome C. (This station is scheduled for full-time occupancy next winter.) The project calls for several years of studies and trials, with the actual stuff involving traverses to get the cable to Pole and Dome C as well as along the route.
Back in mid March 2002 two other iceberg events happened. First, there was another piece of the Thwaites Ice Tongue (75°S-108°W) about 2100 square miles (NOAA press release) which got designated B22. And then there was the collapse of another hunk of the Larsen ice shelf east of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen Ice Shelf B disintegrated within the past couple of months, as evidenced by photos and animations from the NSIDC in Boulder, which also has links to other coverage. The BBC has an excellent article about both events.
Check out the amazing panorama of the inside of the dome by Marc Hellwig--seen here on Dana Hrubes' April 2001 page--warning it may make you dizzy!
The venerable New South Polar Times mailing list moved to a home on Yahoo, thanks to 2001 w/o science tech Andrea Grant. Join the discussion...
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) had a major feature on the Pole construction in their December 2000 magazine, including articles by Frank Brier and Jerry Marty. That section is no longer online, although I did archive the original article by Dennis Berry and Forrest Braun (BBFM Engineers, Anchorage) which features the details of foundation design and the jacking systems.
Here is the link to my 1999 Doc Jerri medevac coverage. The spectacular April 2001 medevac flight to Pole is covered here. And my archive of other news, links to press releases, and older media coverage is here.
Other Antarctic news sites...
Explorers Web (thepoles.com), freshly enhanced, is operated by Thomas and Tina Sjogren, the "Wearable" expedition folks that trekked to Pole in 2001-02. They are up to date on all the Pole NGA ventures as well as Vinson, Everest, the North Pole, and other similar attractions, and they have an excellent guide for planning your own stroll to Pole.
Brendon Grunewald's old 70 South news site has evolved into the Polar Conservation Organisation, but it still features lots of Antarctic and related news from everywhere, updated daily by anyone, yes, you too.
The news and information pages of the Antarctic Connection are updated occasionally with current news and other information from and about Antarctica.
The Antarctic Sun is extremely prolific of late. The current editor is Peter Rejcek, a 2004 Polie winterover. Sun archives run back to 1996-97, the final year when the McMurdo newspaper was a Navy publication, the Antarctic Sun Times. Before then in the old days it went by other names....here is the story.
NZ Antarctic Philately pages by Steven McLachlan . The news page features many current events, including many pictures from the various private expeditions at Pole this past summer. He also has information on the 99-00 cruises of the Polar Duke south of NZ in support of German and Italian science projects, 98-99 construction of the new base at Dome C...
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) published biweekly newsletters on NGA (private) expeditions, cruises and tourist events. Unfortunately this was discontinued in May 2003, and the archives are no longer available. But they do feature a separate news page for the official Australian program.
The NSF Polar Programs (PLR) page contains links and a search engine. Most recent press releases are also here, scroll to the bottom.
The rest of the story... can now be read online or offline in the newsletter of the Antarctican Society. Highly recommended. Here is the latest contact info as well as the historical background about the group.[top] | [home]
(Tricks: some wind speeds are given in meters per second. One m/s is about 3.6 km/hr, 2-1/4 mph, or 2 knots. Also, they may use a Julian date, this is the sequential number from starting from 1 through 365 or so. For example, 07031 is January 31, 2007.)
Now about those satellites...
As for the satellites themselves, since they were old the orbits wobbled so the station could see them a few hours a day. MARISAT-F2 (Maritime Communications Satellite), GOES-3 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, as it was a NOAA weather satellite), and TDRS-1 combined [the links for individual satellites here are to Wikipedia articles] gave a window of almost 12 contiguous hours per day with an original theoretical 5 MBPS transfer speed, which has been upgrades several times over the years to more than 60 MBPS. Most of the increased bandwidth goes to data transfer. The oldest of these three, MARISAT-F2 was decommissioned in October 2008 after deterioration in its telecommand link (Antarctic Sun article). This cut the total window by two hours and the bandwidth by a bigger percentage. A year later in October 2009, the TDRS-1 satellite (or TDRSS-1, depending on the NASA contractor and acronym you prefer--TDRS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and TDRSS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) also disappeared from service. The last TWTA (traveling wave tube amplifier) failed, and NASA moved it to another temporary orbit for decommissioning. The last day of service was 21 October 2009 NSF announcement and (Spaceflight Now news article).
So at present, Pole uses GOES, which provides a 1.5 Mbps inbound and 1024 Kbps outbound data rate for about 6 hours a day; and a constellation of NASA TDRSS satellites: TDRS F3, TDRS F4 (until it was retired in 2011), TDRS F5 (scheduled for retirement in November 2014--August 2014 USAP service announcement), and TDRS F6 via a second antenna terminal, the SPTR-2 (South Pole TDRS Relay) link completed during the 2008-09 summer (right, a construction photo from Dave Smith; here are more), and here is an April 2009 USAP page with a link to an Antarctic Sun article--lots more info. These satellites often are available for much shorter periods on an ever-changing schedule, and at a greater expense to NSF. They provide a 5 Mbps IP data link, and a separate 150 Mbps one-way (northbound) link for bulk science data. Not all of the "above-the-horizon" time (what typically appeared on the old scroll satellite availability page) is actually available to USAP--the program aims for about 4 hours per day, and at the time this created a complex daily scheduling job for a friend in Denver.
During the 2009-10 summer some field tests were conducted using the Intelsat/Paradigm/Astrium-operated Skynet-4C British military satellite, which was slowly increasing in visibility at Pole. Here is the October 2009 contract award announcement, a 2010 announcement from Intelsat, and a more detailed 2010 Intelsat report on the initial testing (interestingly, these satellites use the Oakhanger ground station southeast of London in the UK--while working for Ford Aerospace I visited that station in 1980 as part of a US Air Force satellite contract I was then involved with...and Philco-Ford, a predecessor to Ford Aerospace, actually manufactured the first Skynet satellites in the 1960s). The Pole equipment was designed, some equipment was bought (January 2011 SPAWAR request for information), a dish and receiving system was installed in the large radome with the GOES dish during the 2011-12 austral summer (Skynet and GOES are in opposite directions), and USAP bought time on the satellite. But when the installation was completed, the satellite could not be located. Turns out that the Skynet orbit had been adjusted so that it was behind MAPO, so the earth station would need to be relocated. Instead, arrangements were used to use a different satellite from the same family, NATO-IVB, and tests were conducted successfully during the 2012 winter. It is currently accessed using the antenna in the GOES radome (left, photo from Bartley Davis). This satellite is currently providing a T1 (1.5 Mbps link) for at least 4 hours a day...and it now appears on the various satellite uptime schedules and scrolls (such as this one). NATO-IVB was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1993, here's a generic photo from Astrium. The SKYNET-4C is still available for use as well, but this would require a new antenna installation at Pole.
In addition to the larger geosynchronous satellites there is, of course, Iridium, which is always available for official/emergency phone calls. Additionally there is a data link consisting of 12 Iridium phones, each capable of a 2400 bps data link, which are multiplexed to produce a 28 kbps data link. This is used for 24/7 email (for small emails <50k or so). Other resources linked here:
-the recently upgraded and enhanced USAP satellite information pages with links to the weekly satellite schedule PDF file (which requires Adobe Acrobat or reader for access) and even more geeky information.
-a brief NSF 2006 Powerpoint presentation by Erick Chiang and Pat Smith, titled "Data Communications Supporting Astronomy/Astrophysics at South Pole Station" which addresses the conditions and future plans at that point in time.
-a May 1995 report by Bob Loewenstein, Bill Smythe, and Brent Jones, Science Requirements for South Pole Station Computing and Communications. Some interesting facts, figures, and historical background. 1 GB/day of data transmission--hmmm, where would that leave IceCube?[top] | [home]
The 2015 Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting (ATCM XXXVIII) is coming up...1-10 June in Sofia, Bulgaria. Here is the host country web site and the official Treaty home page. The 2014 meeting was held 28 April-7 May, in Brasilia, Brazil. As with the previous meetings, there was very little public news interest/coverage of the event, but I try and highlight a few significant Treaty meeting documents elsewhere on this site.
Nowadays there are a number of commercial marathon/ultramarathon ventures in the Antarctic...most commonly sought out by people who want to complete a marathon on all seven continents:
As for nongovernmental visitors to Pole, the 2011-12 season was the biggest ever for Pole, as it had been the centennial year of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival at what has been called an "awful place." But folks continue to show up. There are two principal tourist operators--flights from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills (nowadays Union Glacier instead) and beyond are operated by Antarctic Network International (ANI)/Antarctic Logistics and Exploration (ALE). ANI continues to be actively booking tourists. The other operation is based out of the airstrip at Novo (Novolazarevskaya), a Russian base which is served by flights from Cape Town. It is operated by Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) and The Antarctic Company (TAC). These organizations do not appear to be seriously booking private tourist flights at present, but another British based company White Desert, has established a tourist destination "Whichaway Camp" near Novo (no, nowhere near the Whichaway Nunataks) with penguin colonies and mountains nearby. TAC also operates its "Oasis" guesthouse about 10 miles from Novo at Schirmacher Oasis. Novo is a 3000m blue ice runway originally built by ANI near the Russian Novolazarevskaya base, in the past it was known as Blue One, and on some maps you may see it designated as "White Desert." Perhaps the most serious travel agent booking Pole trips is the Chicago-based company Polar Explorers...they are booking trips to Pole via PA/Union Glacier for US$45,000 ex PA.
Here are my records of the 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08, 2006-07, 2005-06, 2004-05, 2003-04, 2002-03, 2001-02, 2000-01 and 1999-2000 NGA expeditions. Keep in mind that the older expedition web sites tend to disappear, although I keep many of them around for historical interest. And until I adjust things, the archive page may open a bit slowly. Note that the 2000-01 Russian "Millennium Expedition" (skydiving/ballooning) is covered on a separate page.