[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
12 April...and it's getting dark. The first auroras have been seen...and documented! At right, a link to Hunter Davis's photo, which he shared with earthsky.org. The auroras had to compete with a rather spectacular full moon. Meanwhile, the newly upgraded South Pole Telescope is in the midst of a 10-day Event Horizon Telescope event...hoping to grab exclusive images of the "event horizon" of black holes--the area where the black hole's gravitational pull is strong enough to prevent anything from escaping. Here's more coverage. Meanwhile, closer to "home," the menu selection at Pole will be a bit limited for several weeks, as the kitchen has been shut down to allow for cleaning and sealing the ductwork as well as replacement of the copper force main piping. Microwave munchies, anyone? And back in the northern hemisphere, a new tourist venture has been announced for next season...two week road trips to Pole and the Ross Ice Shelf by Arctic Trucks. Only $165,000 per person, but folks like British fund managers and Swiss bankers have already booked. Here's the 23 March Bloomberg article, as well as a link to the vendor, The Explorations Company.
26 March...in other news, some of you may remember that I also have a Palmer Station site. I finally decided it needed a bit of updating, perhaps partly because the 2017 winterovers are now approaching the Drake Passage on their way south. So have a look!
The sun is setting at Pole. The official equinox happened on 20 March at 2329 South Pole time, or 1029 UTC (daylight time for Pole and NZ doesn't end until 0300 on 2 April). So, as for the actual Pole sunset--the green flash showed up on 24 March. This is the first 2-day weekend of the winter, with the sunset dinner on Sunday the 26th. The classic photo at left was taken by IceCube guy Martin Wolf on 23 March. And check out this timelapse video from Robert Schwarz of the Sun circling the station between 8 and 13 March (right).
Oops...the photo at right below, taken on 5 March, shows the R/V Hero sitting on the bottom, where it ended up the day before. This is the Palix River estuary at Bay Center, Washington, 40 miles north of Astoria, Oregon...near extremely productive oyster beds. Perhaps it was a lot of rain...not uncommon for this time of year...or perhaps the pumps failed. No word yet on what actually happened, but on 6 March the Coast Guard hired a contractor to deal with the lube oil and diesel fuel that was starting to leak. 21 March updates...the contractor is hard at work. The latest news and details, updated frequently.
Future McMurdo news...the original master plan is now FOUR years old. Yes, it has seen some major revisions, but now it appears that something is actually to get built. In February of this year the program held meetings with prospective bidders for a new design-build project--an addition and upgrade to the existing SSC (left) to house additional data center and operations space. The contract will not be awarded until after a site visit in 2017-18, with project completion scheduled for 2019-20. This could be the first significant USAP building construction project that engages a contractor separate from ASC. The details....
Another reason for that dome photo at right...there was an opportunity to get some pieces of it ;) . After skipping last year, it seems that there WAS an Antarctic auction this year...5-6 April, accessible only from a mobile app, although the items were available for inspection/pickup at Port Hueneme. Here's the basic website which includes one version of the auction flyer. Another link to the auction brochure with photos is available here. The auction itself was online only, through their mobile app, which no longer contains listings or photos of the items, as the Ocean Giant just got back to Port Hueneme on 1 March. The website also announces that they are selling off some of the old dome pieces which have been sitting in Port Hueneme for awhile. More info and item photos are on their Facebook page,. Yes, they DID auction off 15 of the dome panels (photo from the auction site)...some of these went for upwards of $800.
So what's that photo of the dome at right all about? As of 1 March, things are nice and quiet at Pole which is as it should be...so I'll share the first of several reviews of the first of THREE recently acquired new books about the winterover experience. Two of them were written BY winterovers...and the one featuring that dome photo is nonfiction, so you can rest assured that no one dies. Seriously...the book is One Day, One Night, Portraits of the South Pole, by Jennifer McCallum and her then-husband and atmospheric scientist John Bird, describing their 2001 winter...which included among other things some amazing kite photography, as well as that Foucault pendulum experiment in the then-under-construction beer can. I said no one dies...but they did witness and describe the midwinter medevac of Dr. Ron Shemenski at temperatures of -95ºF/-71ºC. The couple are Canadians...and after John was offered a winter research assignment with the University of Illinois LIDAR experiment, a frantic scramble ensued so that his wife Jen could certify dual Canadian/US citizenship, which would allow her to be hired as a DA. Here's John's website about the book...from which one learns that John was a speaker, as was US Secretary of State John Kerry at the November 2016 COP-22 climate change conference in Marrakech. I will say that while the book contains photos, it is not a picture book...so if you are interested in a hard copy to read, purchase the paperback; if you want to see the color photos, buy the Kindle edition. If you want to do both, buy both...rather than investing in the $85 color version of the paperback.
Another medevac from McMurdo...remember that a month ago a passenger on the cruise ship M/V Ortelius was flown to McMurdo by that vessel's helicopter and then flown to Christchurch on a regularly scheduled C-17 flight. That occurred during the Ortelius' westbound cruise from Ushuaia to Bluff (Invercargill). Well, on 28 February, during the Ortelius' return cruise to Ushuaia, there was a similar medevac event, with the patient flown to McMurdo by the ship's helicopter on 27 February (NSF press release). This time...there were no more scheduled C-17 flights, so the program had to call upon the AAD for help. Accordingly, the A-319 Airbus flew from Hobart to the Phoenix runway on the 28th, picked up the patient, and flew to Christchurch...not long before a Condition 1 storm hit the McMurdo area.
Lots of icebreaker news...first of all, something that has been obvious for awhile was recently announced...the inactive Polar Sea (left) will not be reactivated...rather it will serve as a "parts donor" for the Polar Star, according to this 17 February US Naval Institute article. This Seapower posting states that the three main shafts from the Polar Sea will be transferred to the Polar Star during its next maintenance period. As for the next generation of icebreakers...on 22 February, Fox News reported that $20 million in new contracts had been awarded to study heavy polar icebreaker design and analysis...the goal being to award the first construction contract in 2019, in order to obtain a new class of ships between 2023 and 2026. Not all of such contracts are publicly announced, but two items of interest I was able to find--this $4 million study contract awarded to Halter Marine on 22 February 2017, as well as details of this 18 March 2016 "Industry Day" held in MacLean, VA. Both of these links include further links to extensive technical details and schedules.
It's that time...15 February, the last LC-130 for 8-1/2 months departed Pole, taking away the last few summer folks and leaving behind 46 souls, many of whom will spend some time watching The Thing movies this weekend. Also, the NOAA team was briefly interviewed by their PR team and asked about their thoughts at station closing. At right, Dave Riebel's photo from that interview. There's also a video(!)
The NGO drama is not over yet. Although ALE has closed operations, solo kiter Mike Horn was still on the ice after leaving Pole on 11 January heading to Dumont d'Urville. He was not relying on ALE or ALCI to pick him up...rather his yacht Pangaea was supposed to get him. BUT...it had to turn back to Hobart due to electrical issues, and it could be a week or more before Pangaea could make it to the French base. On 8 February Mike reached the coast at Dumont d'Urville after some impressive kiting distances--he was not afraid of taking chances with the wind. He was supposed to be picked up on 15 February, but that didn't work. He left DdU on the weekend of 18 February...aboard the French supply vessel M/V L'Astrolabe...and was reunited with Pangaea back in Hobart on the 24th. Thus ending the extended South Pole tourist season for 2016-17.
Back in McMurdo...the Ocean Giant left the ice pier at around 0100 1 February and headed for Christchurch. And it turns out that the predictions of heavy ice conditions were correct. The ice pilot on the Ocean Giant reported:
It was a heavy ice year. Seventy miles of sea ice in McMurdo sound. From Beaufort Island to the ice pier. Did a bit of unescorted crunching barely making four knots at full power. Hooked up with the Polar Star off Cape Bird for a sixty plus mile transit in first year fast ice. First off...Polar Star did a fabulous job with channel preparation and transit execution. Can't say enough how enjoyable it was working with that Captain. He worked his way up the ranks, had a lot of boat driving experience and time on the icebreaker Mackinaw in the Great Lakes.
On the third, the tanker Maersk Peary took its place. If you watched the McMurdo pier webcam you could see how the offload was progressing--as the fuel was pumped ashore, the ship rose in the water. In the early morning of 7 February the tanker was departing--the photo at left is from 0255, and you can see that it is fully ballasted down with sea water. Shortly afterward the Polar Star moved briefly to the ice pier before heading north toward Lyttleton--to be the first Coast Guard icebreaker to call in New Zealand in decades because of the old nuclear weapons thing...here's the stuff.co.nz article updated 8 February, as well as this 10 February NSF press release and this 9 February press release from the U.S. Embassy in Wellington. This port call in New Zealand will save fuel and transit time, as otherwise the Polar Star would have to stop at Hobart, Tasmania.
Oh...also in 1 February there was a medevac--the second non-USAP medevac of this summer season. It seems that a 66-year-old Dutch woman had a stroke while traveling on the cruise ship MV Ortelius in the Ross Sea north of McMurdo. NSF announced that they would assist in the medevac (NSF press release). The cruise ship headed south, and on 31 January the patient was flown by the MV Ortelius's helicopter 60 miles south to McMurdo, from where she would be flown north on the 1 February C-17 flight to Christchurch. Here is the initial 31 January Christchurch Press article, as well as a 2 February update after she'd arrived in Christchurch.
Things are winding down at Pole as it is about 2 weeks before closing. Folks are finishing up with landscaping after the old rodwell building was dug up and hauled off (right) and all but one of the old construction shop Jamesways were demo'd.
If the cargo operations are underway at McMurdo, that means there are less than 3 weeks left before Pole station closing. The last of the NGO skiers/kiters have completed their Pole trips...all except for Mike Horn, who is still heading north, now about 560 miles away from his destination at Dumont d'Urville. He's not dependent upon ALE or ALCI to pick him up...rather, his yacht Pangaea headed south from Perth on 29 January so he can continue the next leg of his travels.
Shipping updates...the icebreaker Polar Star was sighted on 16 January by some of the Polie winterovers at McMurdo for R&R. On the afternoon of 17 January it showed up on the webcam (left) approaching the ice pier...although it would do a bit more channel clearing work before docking. You can watch the activity in and around the pier by selecting the McMurdo Pier Camera from this webcam link...and if you don't see it, check out the 24 hour archive (slide icon). Also, this Coast Guard press release describes their voyage with more photos; it also notes that this year there was more than 60 miles of ice to break, significantly more than the 12-13 miles they found in the past few years. And the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, after passing the Bay of Whales as it cruised west along the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf (aka The Barrier as named by the early explorers, because that is what it looks like), arrived off McMurdo on the 19th but couldn't dock because the Polar Star was still taking on fuel at the ice pier. Here is Kris Perry's offshore view of McMurdo from the Nathaniel B. Palmer. By Sunday 22 January the research vessel had replaced the Coast Guard icebreaker at the pier. Not long afterward it departed for Lyttelton. The cargo ship Ocean Giant showed up on the 25th...and cargo offload is now well underway, as you can see from the webcam (28 January sample at right). The deck cargo has been offloaded, and they're digging into the holds.
Happy New Year! Yes, the holiday season was celebrated in a traditional manner, with the festive Christmas Eve dinner on the 24th...followed by the 2 mile Race Around the World on Christmas morning...and a holiday brunch. New Years Eve brought a major party in the gym...and the next morning the 2017 Pole Marker (right) was unveiled...UPDATE! The marker designer, 2016 winterover Warren Shipley, provided detailed information about the marker design...and more photos! Check this out!.
It's January...and that means that the shipping season is approaching. The cargo vessel Ocean Giant headed south from Port Hueneme on schedule on about 31 December, it will call at Lyttelton on the 17th; the tanker Maersk Peary was heading southeast after leaving the Gulf of Aden. It will call at Fremantle WA on 14 January before continuing to McMurdo; and the icebreaker Polar Star left its homeport in Seattle some time ago. It stopped in Sydney for a few days, sailed from there on New Years Day, and as of the fourth it was 30 miles west of Macquarie Island. It is supposed to reach the ice edge sometime the week of 8 January. AND...the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer is on a science cruise making its way west along the Antarctic coast from Marguerite Bay...scheduled to reach McMurdo around 20 January. Want to know what it's doing? Check out IT guy/friend David Pablo Cohn's blog as well as University of Rhode Island professor Tatiana Rynearson's science blog.
There are lots of projects happening at Pole this summer? Will they all get finished? One reason they might not is because as of New Years Day, Pole had received only 29 LC-130 flights...which is about half of what had been scheduled to date. Partly because of frequent mechanical issues, partly because the plan in recent years is not to have C-17 support during the middle of the season...meaning that the NYANG has to cover all of the flights between ChCh and McMurdo. And partly because of ??? Needless to say, the lack of Pole flights is seriously impacting fuel deliveries, science cargo...and mail. One project which does not require any construction material to be flown in is a major effort to demo or move old unneeded and drifted-in facilities in the vicinity of the summer camp. Including the former structurally unsound balloon inflation facility (BIF) which was undermined several years ago when the sewer bulb overfilled into the firn. One end of the cryo building was turned into the new BIF last summer, although there is some remaining work to do on that facility. Anyway, at left is what the old BIF looked like when it was safely pulled down with the D-7 (?) and some well-designed rigging. More photos are here...and I'll have more soon of the ongoing demo of the old construction trades shop Jamesways.
The first South Pole Traverse of three scheduled for this season showed up on 5 December...yes, Forrest McCarthy was along, and yes, he created this video! (Hmmm...as I wrote this on 14 December Forrest was already chilling out in Christchurch....) The second traverse showed up in time for the Christmas festivities and headed north on the 30th...hauling a bunch of those waste triwalls out.
Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the Moon and currently 86, was medevaced from Pole on 1 December South Pole time after suffering from apparent altitude sickness while visiting with a private tour group organized by White Desert. He was flown to McMurdo that evening and arrived in Christchurch the morning of 2 December. Here is my coverage with more photos.
A new solar observatory...or perhaps an updated reprise of an older one. Georgia State professor Stuart Jefferies is leading a multinational team that will reestablish the "South Pole Solar Observatory" starting in December 2016 (Georgia State University press release). Stuart is no stranger to this stuff at Pole...this is his seventh visit, and the hero shot at left is from his previous Pole project in January 2008 (more photos from that visit). His first such venture was in 1987-88 with Marty Pomerantz, when they installed an upgraded optical system at the Pomerantz Land solar telescope site 5 miles east of the station (see this October 1988 Antarctic Journal article ). In 2002-03 and 2007-08, Jefferies was the principal investigator for what was known as the Jefferies Solar Observatory...more recently at a site in the dark sector about 2-1/2 miles west of DSL. The photo at left (from the Georgia State press release linked above) depicts Dr. Jefferies at that site. This first season of a 2-year project will send a total of six people to Pole over the summer to set up at the same location.
Another strange aircraft story just in...it seems that 61-year-old pilot Michel Gordillo flew south from Hobart on 1 November to begin a successful crossing of Antarctica in a single-engine Vans RV-8 kit-built aircraft (right, Michel's photo of the aircraft at Mario Zucchelli station. Note that he left his skis behind to reduce fuel consumption). In theory this was a scientific venture sponsored by the Andalusian Center for Environmental Research (CEAMA, based at the University of Grenada, Spain). He was carrying an aethalometer for them in an effort to collect carbon particles from the atmosphere. Supposedly the project and flight was approved by the Spanish Polar Committee, but it was NOT recognized by the American or British programs, nor by ALE, none of whom would have provided him with fuel had he landed at one of their airfields. In a way I can't blame them...a solo pilot in a small single-engine aircraft, with admittedly little fuel reserves...collecting upper air samples which are much more easily and safely gathered by NOAA and others.
Michel was born in what was then French Cameroon, and gained his flight training and experience in the Spanish air force. On this trip, he arrived at the Italian Mario Zucchelli Station after a 16-hour flight from Hobart. He had ordered avgas to be delivered to him there from Christchurch, but after that flight was delayed he ended up using mogas. His weather window was 9 November, when he left for the 20-hour flight to Marambio. While he was offered emergency landing rights at several sites, none of them would grant him additional fuel. And he reported he was unable to contact Pole by radio...perhaps because of difficulties with his own HF radio. Given favorable tailwinds, he eventually landed at the Argentinian Marambio base (located on Seymour Island on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula). With two hours of fuel reserve remaining. In any case, at left is his photo documentation of his Pole overflight, looks to be in the afternoon of 9 November. Here's his detailed blog entry where he describes his flight across Antarctica, as well as this news article from the Hobart, Tasmania Mercury.
15 November...after 15 months of work by half a dozen folks, the first C-17 flight landed at the new Phoenix runway (right)...twice, in fact. All part of the certification process, which is now successfully completed. Info and photos...
News from the north...includes the severe earthquake that struck New Zealand at 0002 Monday morning 14 November. At 7.8 on the moment magnitude scale, it was rated more severe than the ones that devastated Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, but as it was centered in a more rural area between Hamner Springs and Kaikoura on the northern South Island, there was less severe damage. Still, several people were killed, and damages were significant, particularly in Kaikoura, an East Coast town I'd visited in January 2014, as the main coastal state highway and rail link was severely damaged. Two links...this national article from the Christchurch Press, and another from the New Zealand Herald.
A few days before the earthquake (and as US election results were becoming known, secretary of state John Kerry made a brief visit to McMurdo station. He arrived in ChCh at 1730 Wednesday evening NZ time. The next morning (Thursday 9 November) he met with the NZ foreign minister in the morning and spent time at the Antarctic Centre and CDC clothing issue that afternoon. He flew to McMurdo on a C-17 on Friday morning. Here's the NSF press release and the Press article about his Wednesday Christchurch arrival . Immediately after his C-17 landed at McM early Friday afternoon, he and his entourage of about 13 press and staff (50 more members of his entourage had been left behind in Christchurch) were to board an LC-130 for a flight to Pole, but that was scrubbed due to weather. So he was given a helicopter tour of the Dry Valleys, visited other McM and Scott Base facilities and historic Ross Island huts, spoke for about 40 minutes to a crowd of about 450 folks in the galley on Friday evening, and later attended a smaller gala reception in the Chalet.
He flew back to Christchurch on Saturday 12 November (12 November Christchurch Press article), continuing almost immediately to Wellington where he met with Prime Minister John Key as well as Embassy staff. A few hours before the earthquake he flew to Oman en route to the United Nations COP-22 in Marrakech, where he was expected to speak. Here's the State Department page with full details of Kerry's trip, a link to all of the State Department photos including the ones I've used above, and a 14 November commentary article from the Washington Post with a few more photos.
A couple of days before Kerry's visit, author Kim Stanley Robinson spent a bit of time in McMurdo and also addressed an assembled crowd. He'd previously visited McMurdo and Pole with the Artists' and Writers' program in 1995-96 when he was digging up stuff for his somewhat prophetic work Antarctica. This time his visit was more of a media event, as he was researching the 1911 winter journey by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Edward Wilson, and Henry "Birdie" Bowers to Cape Crozier to collect an unhatched penguin egg, for a Smithsonian article. He went with Elaine Hood to the site of the "stone igloo" which is well described in Cherry-Garrard's book The Worst Journey in the World. At right, he's seen with Chalet administrative secretary Liz Sutter (photo courtesy Liz Sutter from the "Great Race" website)
After the transiting aircraft, the first "real" summer flight from McMurdo was a Basler which showed up on 27 October with 8 summer folks; it took 6 winterovers north. The opening flights this season seemed to be a bit different...a few years ago there were serious efforts to schedule early arrivals on a Basler before the first Herc, but after their flights kept getting cancelled, an LC-130 actually made the opening flight. This year...there was a second Basler on 29 October, and the first LC-130 didn't show up until 2 November, followed by another Basler. At present (15 November) the LC-130 flights continue to be severely delayed.
22 October was a sad day for the US Antarctic Program...Gordon Hamilton, a 50-year-old glaciologist from the University of Maine, died after the snowmobile he was driving hit a crevasse and fell 100 feet down. This occurred at the Shear Zone, 25 miles south of McMurdo, where the Ross Ice Shelf meets the McMurdo Ice Shelf. As both of these shelves move in different directions, the area needs to be remediated by exploration, blasting, and other means before the South Pole Operational Traverse can journey through the zone with fuel and other supplies for Pole. At the time of the accident, Dr. Hamilton's science team was camped about 200 yards from the traverse remediation team, so it was a sad day for all concerned. Here is NSF's 23 October press release, a 24 October Washington Post article with an excellent photo of Gordon, and a more reflective article about Gordon from the New York Times.
At Pole...the isolation is over. The first Basler landed on 11 October as documented by Darren Lukkari (left)... followed by a Twin Otter soon afterward. These aircraft were transiting from Rothera to McMurdo; the Basler headed north after refueling while the Twin Otter stayed overnight.
News from Colorado...starting on 11 October, many of the winterovers gathered at the YMCA in Estes Park for a few days of team-building stuff, to be followed by fire and/or medical training...after which many of them will be flying south. I met a few of them in Denver the day before.
Summer is coming...and surprisingly the first two McM main body flights, scheduled for 3 and 4 October, were NOT delayed by weather! And the Kenn Borek Air flights (two Baslers and one Twin Otter) are still scheduled for the 11th. In slightly different flight news, the long-time private company operating the Union Glacier camp/runway mainly in support of private expeditions, has completely rebranded itself as Adventure Networks and Explorations (ALE), getting rid of the former Adventure Network International nameplate of the company created by Giles and Anne Kershaw. Here's their company announcement.
And who might some of this summer's private expeditioners be? As far as I know, there is now only one website that is continuing to track them...this one.
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.
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 here.
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. There have been no posts in the past few years, but the archived posts are here.
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...
Pythom.com has pretty much supplanted the Explorers Web site. Both continue to be operated by Thomas and Tina Sjogren, the "Wearable" expedition folks that trekked to Pole in 2001-02, as well as Correne Coetzer, who also made a ski trip to Pole in 2006-07. 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 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).
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.
Until midwinter 2016, in addition to NATO-IVB and various TDRSS satellites, Pole was using GOES, which provided a 1.5 Mbps inbound and 1024 Kbps outbound data rate for about 6 hours a day. But during 2015 tests were conducted on a DSCS-3 satellite which was slowly drifting into view. Then, on 29 June 2016 NSF announced that the GOES-3 satellite was being decommissioned...and being replaced by the much-better-bandwidth DSCS-3 satellite. More information on that is here. As for the shrinking constellation of NASA TDRSS satellites--they have been 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.
A significant upgrade to what we once knew as the MARISAT-GOES terminal is planned for 2016-17 to improve its capability to handle DSCS-3 traffic.
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 2016 Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting (ATCM XXXIX) was held in Santiago, Chile between 23 May and 1 June. Interestingly (or not) I saw absolutely NO media coverage...and a review of the papers presented confirmed the reason for the lack of media interest. Something I always look for are the Russian reports on the Lake Vostok drilling, but due to budget cuts, there wasn't any field activity, and their only report was this technical paper about drilling fluids. The 2017 meeting will be 22 May-1 June in Beijing, China. Here is the official Treaty home page. From there you can navigate to the final reports, or you can search the various meeting papers by selecting the "Meeting From/To" and/or the submitters.
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.