[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
Happy holidays! The news coverage is a bit behind here, but a lot has been happening. Some fairly big news...the new Ross Island Earth Station (satellite antenna) has been installed at McMurdo--this will become the primary satellite station for McMurdo while the Black Island facility will remain as a backup. Currently the 21 meter radome is being erected around it (at right, a webcam photo as of 26 December...in a week or two the dish itself will be hidden from view. More coverage and information...
Airplanes? Well, it seems that the first LC-130 ski aircraft since February 2020 arrived at Pole during the week ending the 18th!!
On 4 December 2021 a total solar eclipse occurred in the far Southern Hemisphere. While it was total in some parts of Antarctica including Union Glacier, at Pole it reached 90% totality. The sky was clear and there were many observers. While things didn't get that much darker, the air temperature dropped about 9ºF/5ºC during the eclipse. The rest of the story including information about that great timelapse!
The Polar Star departed Lyttelton on Christmas day, heading for the Ross Sea and McMurdo. Earlier, the icebreaker had also called at Wellington between the 13th and the 18th. At right, a photo shared by the American Embassy in Wellington of the Polar Star moored in Wellington Harbor. Meanwhile, the cargo vessel Ocean Giant arrived at Port Hueneme on 23 December and is currently loading cargo. And the presumable tanker Maersk Peary is currently in the Gulf of Aden after transiting the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.
As mentioned below...some of the nongovernmental treks to Pole are underway! My coverage...including some updated coverage from earlier years. Recently (as of 27 December) there have been two medevacs, one cancellation, and one route shortening due to poor travel conditions.
Contractual stuff...PAE, one of the Antarctic Support Contract contractors, is in the process of being purchased by Amentum per Amentum's 25 October press release. Amentum, privately held, was formerly the government contracting portion of AECOM, spun off in February of 2020. Its heritage includes several previous entities involved with Antarctic support contracts, including Holmes & Narver and EG&G. The acquisition is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2022. No word yet on the potential effect on their Antarctic subcontract.
Lots of news...let's start with some from Bay Center, Washington...where that venerable former research vessel R/V Hero sank in 2018. The State of Washington has awarded a contract to remove it from the Palix River estuary...no detailed plans until after early January...but here is what I know now.
Other McMurdo stuff I need to get to...the successful installation of the "Ross Island Earth Station" dish this month...delays in the IT&C building construction...stay tuned.
Pole stuff...there were 85 souls on station at the beginning of this week. Earlier, in the second week of November, two techs arrived from Terra Cat (formerly Goughs, the NZ Caterpillar company) to conduct a 60,000 hour overhaul of generator #1 including a crankshaft replacement. As for flights...3 LC-130's have made it to Christchurch, but none have flown to the ice yet. Otherwise...preparations were underway for Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday the 27th and the first 2-day weekend of the summer.
There WILL be cargo and tanker vessels showing up in McMurdo this summer. To get ready for this, the Polar Star departed Seattle on 13 November local time and headed south. This will be the Polar Star's 25th voyage to the seventh continent, per this 14 November U.S. Coast Guard press release.
Nongovernmental stuff...if you've been here awhile you may have noticed that THIS website is the only one that has continually chronicled NGO ventures to Pole and elsewhere on the continent since 2000. None happened last year due to a certain pandemic, but there are many expeditions planned for 2021-22. I'm still updating (read dealing with all the dead websites and trying to discern what's left) the older stuff, but this page outlines all of the currently planned expeditions that I know of.
The last days of October would bring more transiting flights, including this USAP-chartered Basler MKB (right) arriving from Rothera on Sunday the 24th (USAP photo library photo by Jeff Keller; link to original). This flight took two of the winterovers to McMurdo. This Basler returned from McM on the 27th, bringing cargo and freshies as well as Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more of the next crew have arrived in McMurdo from Christchurch...and on Tuesday 2 November an Air Force C-17 showed up over Pole for a practice airdrop mission, although they didn't drop anything. More vaccine news...the Pfizer vaccine was also delivered to Palmer Station for the winterovers in October before the Laurence M. Gould docked, while BAS delivered doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the winterovers at Rothera (BBC News story)
October means many things...including...that ozone layer! The folks at CIRES in Boulder have been documenting things on their blog. Their most recent entry on 15 October by Irina Petropavlovskikh and 2009 NOAA winterover Patrick Cullis describes the current situation...about the same as last year, but it could have been worse. Here is their CIRES blog post with links to earlier posts about that pesky ozone layer. On 27 October NOAA announced that this year's ozone hole was the 13th largest on record and was likely to persist through November. It was at maximum on 7 October.
Aircraft news...the first flight to arrive at Pole did so on 16 October! And oops, my bad...this transiting Ken Borek Air Basler aircraft--despite its markings, was NOT headed to Union Glacier in support of Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE)--rather it was headed toward McMurdo in support of the Italian Antarctic program. They didn't bring freshies (alas due to COVID) and were delivered a no-contact meal. Thanks to Lisa Minelli-Endlich for the photo! The following week, two KBA Twin Otters also transited to McM, but as these aircraft travel slower, the flight crews stayed overnight at Pole in the isolated hypertats.
More aircraft news...Operation Deep Freeze (ODF), the name of the U.S. Antarctic program military support operations from the IGY days, is still a thing. This season's work began in early September as C-17s headed to Christchurch in September in preparation for those main body flights in early October...after COVID quarantine, of course. Here's a 14 October news article from the Army/Operation Deep Freeze. Meanwhile...another ODF component, the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, will also be heading south soon. Last year their ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft made only six trips to the ice, 3 of which were for medevacs. This year they will have a much more normal schedule with 3 aircraft, supporting field camps as well as Pole. Here is a 6 October Air Force News article about their upcoming season.
Like almost all employers, the Antarctic program is still hiring! At this point given the long time for the PQ process as well as for quarantine/isolation, most of the open positions are for winter...but they are seriously seeking, as evidenced by the image at left that NSF posted last week. Here is the link posted in that graphic. Good info...but I think I have much more on my just-updated Antarctic jobs page.
Meanwhile...at Pole the station opening tasks are well underway...skiway preparation and runway marker installation...and the annual station deep cleaning otherwise known as "Mighty Mouse."
We all know that Pole is a cool place to spend a winter...but this 2 October Washington Post article South Pole posts most severe cold season on record says it all! If you can't see that article...I'll explain more. Turns out that the average Pole temperature between April and September, -78ºF/-61ºC, was the coldest on record going back to Paul Siple's 1957 winter. At right is a graph by BAS researcher Richard Cullather depicting the Pole winter temperature averages over the years. The cold weather was credited to a strong polar vortex around the continent. And CU Boulder researcher Ted Scambos noted that Antarctic weather is very sensitive to high altitude winds and Pacific Ocean conditions...and prone to rapid change. He noted that the near-maximum Southern Ocean sea ice at the end of August had tanked to a near-minimum by the end of September. Oh, the article also included a great photo (left) by sous chef and friend Lisa Minelli Endlich depicting some of the Polies greeting the sunrise from the roof of the station (at 0400 21 September SP time, despite what the article says).
Other news...it's deployment time for many. For the next bunch of main body folks heading to McMurdo, they've been enduring what the NZ government calls Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) at government-run hotels including the Sudima (formerly the White Heron) near the airport, and the Crowne Plaza downtown. They may fly south in a few days...or they may not...depending on weather. Meanwhile, the summer Palmer support crew endured a couple weeks of isolation at a hotel in Puerto Natales, about 150 miles northwest of Punta Arenas, before moving aboard the Laurence M. Gould a few days ago. The vessel is scheduled to head south toward Palmer Station on 4 October. Remember that there will only be long-term ongoing science happening at Palmer this summer, as the major activity will be construction of the new pier.
And...on 15 August there was an historic "second"...a satellite phone call between the South Pole and the North Pole! And at both ends of the "line" were Polie winterovers. The photo at right depicts the South Pole winterovers on the call in comms...speaking with Sven Lidström who was aboard the Swedish science icebreaker Oden at the North Pole. Sven wintered twice, in 2007 and 2012, and spent many other summers at Pole working with AMANDA and IceCube. More info...including about the first such phone call in 1999.
After about a month of quarantines and weather waiting...the first WINFLY flight finally made it to McMurdo on 14 August. Not the first southbound flight for the first half of Cohort 1...on 9/10 August they flew 4 of the 5 hours to McM before boomeranging due to deteriorating weather. But...all was not well, as the 14 August flight headed back to ChCh with no passengers due to mechanical landing gear issues. Stay tuned...there is still a bunch of Cohort 1 folks in ChCh awaiting the next flight. Meanwhile...the summer Palmer crew has been in firefighting training in Denver this past week...they will head to San Francisco to begin their isolation/deployment on 6 September, while the next cohort of McMurdo people will head to SFO on 11 September.
Want to tour the Pole "virtually?" The Byrd Center at The Ohio State University hosted a special presentation on 23 June at 2000 Eastern time. Information and registration is here. An archive is not available, but there are participant bios and shared links.
Yes...the Midwinters Day dinner and festivities happened on 18 June...have a look at the celebration and the midwinter greeting card!
It's almost Midwinters Day...planning has been progressing at all 3 stations. At Pole, the wax-sealed invitations have been sent out for the 18 June event which will feature seafood crepe and seared duck main courses. Interestingly, McMurdo is celebrating on the 19th and Palmer's festivities are on the 21st. If you were wondering, the actual solstice occurs on 21 June at 0332 UTC or 1532 South Pole time.
Otherwise, things have been fairly quiet at Pole. Preparations have begun for the annual Pole Marker competition...on 26 May the Polies had an excellent view of the blood moon/lunar eclipse, and on 11 June, for the first time the temperature dropped below the magic -73.3ºC, which in some parts of the world is known as -100ºF.
Pole's Physician Assistant Josiah Horneman, whose videos have been mentioned here before, was interviewed by NPR's Scott Simon. Here's a transcript of the interview which was broadcast on Weekend Edition Saturday on 12 June US time. Oh, here is his YouTube channel, as well as an earlier Buzzfeed article about his TikTok activity.
There was a virtual job fair today (6 May Denver time) held by PAE looking for employees for the 2021-22 season. I didn't mention it previously...but I hear that over 100 people participated. Here's a good 5 May Colorado Sun news article describing the job fair as well as a bit of program contracting history...in the 80's I worked for the contractor in Paramus, NJ...and oh by the way, here is my more detailed version of the USARP/USAP contracting history.
Palmer update...the Gould did not arrive until about 13 May, after leaving Palmer Station on the 24th. It arrived at Punta Arenas with the summerovers on the 29th. That left 18 souls at Palmer Station for the winter.
More news from the other side of the continent from McMurdo...the Laurence M. Gould headed south from Punta Arenas on Saturday 1 May with the winterover crew--who had been quarantined aboard in PA for two weeks after a previous quarantine in San Francisco. They'll arrive at Palmer on 8 May...and the summer crew will head north around the 27th. Also regarding Palmer...the pier replacement project has been given a go-ahead for the 2021-22 summer season...which means that during that period there will be NO science projects on station...only the ongoing monitoring projects which will be tended by research assistants. Here's the 21 April USAP report about the pier project...and this FAQ provides additional information. Note that the preliminary 35% design was completed by ASC in 2017 and the preliminary "sources sought" request for procurement was issued in December 2018. The project was obviously delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic...the task for contractor Pacific Pile and Marine (Seattle) includes completing the design.
Okay...a bit late, but it's time for a look at the winterover statistics updated for 2021, along with all the details about the new Pole marker which was unveiled on New Years Day! Have a look....
Elsewhere...the Palmer Station winterovers have been in isolation in San Francisco for two weeks, and should soon be flying to Punta Arenas for 2 more weeks of isolation aboard the Laurence M. Gould. Also, the vessel MPV Everest, which had been resupplying Australia's Davis and Mawson research stations, suffered a significant fire in the port engine room on 5 April (6 April Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) news article). The photo at right is from this 7 April ABC News (Australia) article which includes a brief video of the fire. None of the 109 people on board was injured, and the ship made its way to Fremantle rather than its normal port of Hobart, arriving on the 13th (13 April AAD news article). More coverage is available on this AAD News page. Everest was chartered to support the Antarctic program this year, as the previous support vessel RSV Aurora Australis had been retired in March 2020 (AAD article), and the new vessel RSV Nuyina (August 2020 AAD article with video) will not be ready until next season.
Two images denoting the end of the summer season on the ice, both shared by the NSF Polar Programs Facebook page...on the left, during the last full week of March, Pole folks gathered to say goodbye to the sun and lower the American Flag while BICEP winterover Brandon Amat (not in the photo) was playing the National Anthem on electric guitar...photo by Josiah Horneman. It should be noted that although the official sunset day was cloudy, things later cleared up and the famous green flash was seen on 25 March. And on the right, folks at McMurdo present a toast (with ginger ale) to the closing flight of the season (photo by Nikki Klein). 137 people are wintering at McMurdo. The next flight will will be in August. Speaking of air operations, here's an older (1 March) Defense news service article noting the end of the New York Air National Guard's 2020-21 season. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only three LC-130 aircraft were deployed to Christchurch...they eventually made six flights to McMurdo--three were medevacs and three were flown during the midsummer season when things were too warm for the Phoenix airfield to support wheeled aircraft.
In the evening of Wednesday 17 February...the last outgoing passenger flight left Pole for McM...leaving behind 39 Pole souls, the smallest winterover crowd since 1998!
Something that only happens every 10-12 years...NSF is preparing for the next rebid of the Antarctic support contract. The current contract which is held by prime contractor Leidos (transferred from Lockheed-Martin) was originally announced in 2007...the first formal announcement came out on 30 April 2008...for a contract originally to be awarded in time to start fully on 1 April 2010 (after an austral summer transition period), with a 4-year original term with two 4-year renewal options. That didn't happen...things were delayed for 2 years before Lockheed-Martin took over fully on 1 April 2012...so the full 12-year term now is scheduled to end on 31 March 2025. So...time to start the process again. I have updated my detailed coverage of the previous rebid process which you will find here...it includes all of the gnarly details, fancy presentations, and arcane contractual verbiage.
In case you missed it...I've finally gotten around to adding some new South Pole links, including blogs from two of the 2020 winterovers. Here!
As of 16 February, what is known as the "air bridge" began with the first arrival to McMurdo of a C-17 on 11 February. It would take some of the summer folks home the next day. Earlier...2 weeks ago the last "cohort" including most of the remaining Pole and McM winterovers arrived...on a NYANG ski LC-130 aircraft...actually their trip involved THREE ski aircraft. The first one boomeranged, and the second one had mechanical issues before it took off. The original plan was for all of the "midsummer" flights to be RNZAF wheeled C-130 aircraft, but temps were too warm to allow for wheeled aircraft to land at the Phoenix airfield. There are currently four NYANG LC-130s in Christchurch. About 20 more C-17 flights to McMurdo are planned through the end of March to bring in some of the cargo which might otherwise have arrived by vessel.
As for other travelers to Pole, the third SPoT Traverse showed up on 3 February (right; photo by Gabe Nerf) and is now on the way back to McMurdo.
In Seattle, the icebreaker Healy arrived at its snowy home port on 13 February. Work on aligning the replacement motor is continuing...earlier, the vessel spent a couple of weeks at San Francisco's Pier 27 (updates).
The latest news...on Inauguration Day (20 January) @SPTelescope tweeted that the portrait of the 46th President had been erected at Pole!
Happy New Year! Yes, the newest latest Pole marker was unveiled on New Years Day! Have a look at the marker, the ceremony, and the design! Other holiday and midsummer events included a great Christmas dinner, the Round the World Race on the 26th, and the South Pole Marathon and half marathon on 10 January. The marathon winner was Brandon Amat (BICEP) with a time of 4.5 hours...not a very good time for Boston but quite impressive at Pole temperature and altitude.
The rest of the 2021 winterovers are currently in isolation in Christchurch, scheduled to head to Pole near the end of January. Meanwhile, the current Pole population is about 63...fewer people than the 86 that I wintered with in 2005.
28 December...a couple of sad updates. First...the previous Antarctic COVID-19 outbreak was at Chile's isolated Bernardo O'Higgins station on the Peninsula mainland...but on 23 December news came out that another outbreak had occurred at the village of Villa Las Estrellas at the west end of King George Island...which includes the Chilean base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalvia as well as Bellinghausen (Russia) and Great Wall (China) as well as the airfield. Given the logistics aspects of the airfield presence, this outbreak has a more significant potential for spread. More information from this 23 December Polar Journal article.
And then there is the sad story of what was to be the Russia's shipment of the modules for the new Vostok, which was covered here earlier. It seems that the Russian nuclear cargo vessel Sevmorput transporting the modules south...had one of the 4 blades of its single screw break off somewhere west of Angola. After futzing around in the southern Gulf of Guinea for several weeks, divers arrived and cut off the opposite screw blade...so that the vessel could...head back north to St. Petersburg. More details including exclusive coverage!
Some deployment and redeployment news...the Laurence M. Gould was scheduled to head north from Palmer Station on 25 December local time, taking the 2020 winterovers north. And the last major cohort of McM and Pole 2021 winterovers will be gathering in San Francisco in early January, before their charter flight south. They are scheduled to arrive in Christchurch on 11 January.
Oh, it is the holiday season, so THIS happened (left). Seasons Greetings from South Pole Station!! As of this past weekend there were 61 people at Pole...a smaller crowd than we had during my 2005 winter.
A major project was recently completed...the overhaul of generator #3, with lots of help from several New Zealand folks from Terra Cat (formerly Gough). The work included replacement of the crankshaft. Two more engines to go.
24 December...the complicated AAD medevac from Davis has been completed successfully as per the plans outlined below, and the patient was successfully flown from the Wilkins Aerodrome near Casey to Hobart by the A319 Airbus, arriving there on the afternoon of 24 December. Here's the final press release with a video statement by AAD director Kim Ellis. At right is a photo of the A319 at Wilkins, ©Glenn Jacobson AAD. The press releases include links to additional high resolution photos and video along with detailed copyright information. Additionally, here is a 26 December NPR news report about the medevac.
Alas, the coronavirus pandemic has reached Antarctica. Nowhere near any of the American stations, as the US and NZ have been bending over backward to keep the continent safe (such as folks in November who were quarantined/isolated for 45 days in San Francisco and Christchurch, with later delays due to...weather. No...this is at Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins station, which is located on the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula (63º19'S-57º54'W). All 60 people from the base were evacuated to Punta Arenas last weekend...36 of them had the virus. The station was then thoroughly cleaned before a new crew took over. Two news links...this 22 December New York Times article...and (with no paywall) this ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) article with a video.
There is a major medevac underway for an Australian expeditioner at Davis...I almost must say just "it's complicated." Briefly...the Chinese icebreaker MV Xue Long 2 will stop at Davis so that its helicopters can transfer the patient to the inland skiway. Meanwhile, a Kenn Borek Air Basler will fly from McMurdo to Australia's Wilkins Aerodrome to pick up a doctor and continue to Davis...to pick up the patient and fly them back to Wilkins. Where hopefully the Australian A-319 Airbus can fly the patient to Hobart. Here is the first Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) press release which includes videos and photos including the map at left (which depicts the intended schedule) as well as a press conference by the AAD director, who states that the Wilkins runway is currently able to receive the wheeled Airbus. If things change, the patient may have to travel to Australia by ship in January.
At right...photos from 10 December of the first two Air National Guard LC-130s...as seen by Ethan Rudnitsky from his quarantine room at the new Novotel at Christchurch Airport. The third one showed up on the 13th. After the flight crews complete their required 14-day NZ quarantine, the aircraft will...stay in New Zealand for the rest of the season unless they are required for medevac or search-and-rescue.
The first of three South Pole Operational Traverses (SPOT 1) arrived at Pole on 1 December. It had departed from McMurdo on 5 November for the 1,032-mile journey. It delivered more than 162,000 gallons of fuel as well as cargo pallets and shipping containers. At left is a photo of the arrival by Gabriel Nerf which was shared on the NSF Office of Polar Programs
Some old news from last summer, but it only recently came to light...there is now a Little Free Library at Pole! This actually happened last summer, but the news has only surfaced recently. The benefactor is NOAA Boulder senior scientist Russell Schnell, who actually has sponsored 37 Little Free Libraries. The library was staged for photos at the Ceremonial Pole before it was moved to NOAA's warmer ARO. One of those photos, by Yuya Makino, is at right.
The second flight to Pole this season didn't happen until Tuesday 24 November...delayed by weather this time at McMurdo. The flight weather margins for Basler aircraft are stricter than for the LC-130's as Baslers fly at a lower altitude and are slower. The next flight showed up on Thursday the 26th. Meanwhile, the northbound winterovers have been spending the weekend at McMurdo due to some urgent repairs needed to the Phoenix runway...and the boomerang of a RNZAF C-130.
What's happening at Pole this summer? Not nearly as much as usual. Many of the ongoing projects are not sending any representatives this year...work on them is being done as needed by the research associates. And some of the larger projects such as IceCube are having the 2020 winterovers hang around for part of the summer to work with the new winterovers, in lieu of sending a summer team. What's really going on with science this year at Pole and on the rest of the continent...can be found in the 2020-2021 USAP Science Planning Summary. . And there has been talk of sending in some Caterpillar reps to overhaul the power plant engines. COVID precautions...there is a system of "Green" and "Yellow" (and hopefully never Red") in effect at McM and Pole...Condition Yellow is in effect at both stations for 7 days after the arrival of a passenger flight from New Zealand to McMurdo. And one of the berthing wings has been converted to a COVID isolation area should that be necessary. Elsewhere, the Laurence M. Gould was to head to Palmer Station on 27 November after the southbound passengers had quarantined aboard the vessel in Punta Arenas for 2 weeks. And up north at the Mare Island Dry Dock in San Francisco Bay, the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy now has a big hole in its starboard side (right) so that its failed drive motor can be replaced. Follow along as the repairs continue...
Winter is over at Pole at last. The first Basler arrived on the afternoon of 18 November--the second latest opening flight in program history (the opening flight in 1958 was on 20 November). The first arrivals were in quarantine/ isolation/travel status for about 45 days from leaving home...and the actual summer Pole season is only about 100 days. In addition to the COVID stuff, the ~50 Polies were stuck at McMurdo since 29 October, partly due to weather. At Pole. During the second week of November there was lots of blowing snow and winds up to 40 mph! After which of course the skiway needed some rework. At left, a photo (by Wayne White) of some of that raunchy weather. And guess what? The second Basler flight scheduled for 19 November was canceled due to weather.
Looking at the other side of the continent, the summer Palmer team finished up 10 days of quarantine in San Francisco and flew to Punta Arenas on a charter flight on 9 November. They're currently in 14 days of quarantine aboard the Laurence M. Gould before that vessel heads south.
In other travel news, the first South Pole Operational Traverse (SPOT 1) left McMurdo on 5 November. It is the largest in the history of the program--14 tractors including one Sno-Cat--and is carrying 170,000 gallons of fuel as well as 100,000 pounds of food and other cargo--including a freezer container. Previous traverses have carried about 100,000 gallons of fuel and minimal cargo. At right is a photo of the traverse fleet (from Jake Carruthers/The Antarctic Report) shortly before departing McMurdo. In the past the fleet has included Case tractors, but I don't see any of them in this photo. As of 18 November they were still on the Ross Ice Shelf with 447 miles to go to reach Pole. The total distance is 1,032 miles, and they travel about 7 mph (slower when climbing to the Plateau) for 10-12 hours per day. They should reach Pole in the first week of December, and the second traverse will leave McMurdo at the end of November.
Flight updates...the USAP-chartered Kenn Borek Air aircraft--one Basler and two Twin Otters--arrived at McMurdo on Saturday 7 November McM/Pole time, after refueling at the otherwise-closed Union Glacier camp. In the next few days they'll head to Pole to end the 2020 Polies' winter isolation.
So...the Polar Star is doing an Arctic science cruise this boreal winter, as it is not heading to Antarctica as discussed below. Here is the government press release which doesn't reveal the details of the science cruise. At left is a photo of the Polar Star from this article...in the fast ice 20 miles north of McMurdo in January 2020.
Why is the Polar Star doing an Arctic cruise? The main reason is because the icebreaker Healy suffered a major fire in August just after leaving Seward, Alaska for its Arctic science cruise. No injuries or worse, and the vessel made it back to its Seattle home port safely...but one of its main drive motors was destroyed. Currently it is in drydock at Mare Island...amazingly 23 years ago when Healy was being built, a spare motor was constructed. It's now being shipped to Mare Island. More information...at right is a photo of the hull being pressure washed to remove barnacles before it can be cut open to replace the motor.
On 5 November a great article in Texas Monthly featured the current Pole winter site manager Wayne White (photo from the article at right). This has been his third winter in that role, and the second in that role. I've met him...he's a great guy who managed the place in yet another successful winter this year. I thought I'd achieved something by running more than 1000 miles at Pole, but he's walked several times that.
On 29 October about 50 of the Pole summerers and winterers headed south from Christchurch to McMurdo, along with other McM folks and 22 Italians heading to Mario Zucchelli Station...on a C-17 with everyone masked up. The first flight into Pole (a Basler of course, again, no Hercs this year) may not happen until at least 10 November. Which is a late opening date in recent years...although back in the day in 1958 the first flight arrived on 16 November, and in 1959 it arrived at Pole on 20 November. Those flights by the Navy's VX-6 were Douglas Aircraft Company's R4D's otherwise known then as DC-3's, and of course the first (and only) flights into Pole this year will be by Baslers (and perhaps Twin Otters) which are after all converted DC-3's. Typically these aircraft transit to McMurdo from Punta Arenas via Rothera and Pole, but this year the transiting aircraft have been stopping and refueling at Union Glacier instead...to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. AL&E has canceled their Antarctic tourist season this year, but special arrangements were made with the U.S. Antarctic Program and the Italian program so that the charter aircraft could refuel at Union Glacier. Earlier in October, two Kenn Borek Air aircraft chartered to the Italian program (a Basler and a Twin Otter) took this route to McMurdo, so that they could fly the the Italian crew to Mario Zucchelli. Here's a good news article from ENEA (the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) which operates Mario Zucchelli Station (in Italian, use your favorite translator).
As for the Kenn Borek Air crews flying the Baslers and Twin Otters...they were in COVID isolation aboard the Laurence M. Gould in Punta Arenas...that vessel has been there since the end of the last austral summer. Meanwhile, the Nathaniel B. Palmer had headed to Punta Arenas from San Francisco, on 2 November. It is carrying members of (update) five science teams, led by principal investigators (PIs) Kenneth Halanych of Auburn University (Auburn news article; Kevin Kocot from the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa (Alabama news post); Deric Learman and Andy Mahon from Central Michigan University; and Sarah Gerken from the University of Alaska Anchorage. The teams are posting on the blog Icy Inverts. On 9 November Peninsula time the vessel left Punta Arenas, heading for their first research destination, Neko Harbor, on the Peninsula east of Anvers Island. They were scheduled to arrive on the 14th.
Speaking of aircraft, there ARE helicopters operating in Antarctica this summer. At right is a photo of one (from Mike Cemanski) at Black Island at the end of October. The current USAP helicopter contractor is Air Center Helicopters based in Burleson, Texas. This is one of their AStar AS350B3e aircraft...these can carry 5 passengers, 2,500 lbs of cargo at a speed of 140 knots and a range of 400 statute miles. Air Center Helicopters will be operating two aircraft out of McM this summer, and they'll also be supporting the New Zealand program, as Antarctica NZ (ANZ) is not contracting any helos this season.
In late October, the news about the upcoming season is getting interesting. There will be NO cargo vessel or icebreaker...partly because of the reduced program due to the pandemic...but more significantly due to the fact that bad weather as prevented the completion of the ice pier. Work on the ice pier has been continuing so that it will be ready for ship offloads in the 2021-22 season. And it may yet see some use this season, as the Nathaniel B. Palmer's next science cruise (after the one described above) includes a return transit from Punta Arenas to McMurdo, with stops in New Zealand before and after the McMurdo port call. All cargo will be shipped south by air from Christchurch on USAF C-17 or on RNZAF wheeled C-130 aircraft. I did not mention the Air National Guard ski LC-130s...as they are not coming south either. All flights from McMurdo to Pole will be on Basler aircraft which means a severe limitation on cargo or mail (no large packages). As for fuel...the program had already planned for no tanker to McMurdo this season, as increased fuel storage and conservation has eliminated the need for an annual tanker visit (there was no tanker in 2018-19). And as for fuel to Pole, I've been assured that the South Pole Traverse (SPoT) will fill the needs. In previous years the traverse has been supporting other field projects/camps which will be minimized this year, so there is more capability for the traverse trains to bring fuel to Pole. Currently there are three SPoTs scheduled, and they will be larger than usual, hauling containers of supplies and food as well as fuel...including a freezer milvan.
As for people...the plan continues to be for McMurdo bound passengers to quarantine near SFO for about 5 days, fly to ChCh on a charter, and quarantine there for at least 2 weeks more before heading south on a C-17. The second "cohort" aka the first main body McMurdo flight arrived there on Wednesday 7 October McM time...following two previous WINFLY flights which arrived on 13 and 16 September. Many of the people heading for Pole were quarantined at SFO in early October, scheduled to head south to NZ on 10 October US time...for more quarantine.
As of 8 October, the Kenn Borek Air flight crews (those Baslers) are also currently isolating in San Francisco, they are scheduled to fly to Punta Arenas on the 10th and isolate aboard the Laurence M. Gould before transiting to McMurdo via Rothera and Pole...er, not Pole this year.
As for Palmer Station...no news yet, although two ocean cruise science teams plus ships' crew are currently quarantined aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer at Port Hueneme,
Spring has sprung! Officially the equinox was at 0130 23 September Pole time, but signs and signals of the sunrise have already happened, including glimpses of the sun as well as the sunrise dinner. The sunrise dinner was this past Friday the 18th...and by the 23rd the sun was well visible (photo at right from Zeke Mills). Meanwhile at McMurdo, the final (cargo only) WINFLY C-17 flight by the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron showed up on Thursday the 24th. The previous passenger flights had arrived on 14 and 16 September. Everyone at McMurdo must wear masks and take precautions for 2 weeks after the 16th...then they will be able to go back to "normal" for a bit until the first main body flights show up. The first main body cohort is currently quarantined in NZ government isolation until their flight dates on 5 and 7 October, while the next main body cohort will depart CONUS on 10 October and after their quarantine hopefully they will fly south on 26 October.
Meanwhile, the Nathaniel B. Palmer left Humboldt Bay and spent the past few days at Pier 17 in San Francisco next to the Exploratorium. Such a ship visit to SF is a rarity based on my 7 years living or hanging out in the Bay Area, and actually this year is the first time that this vessel has called at an American port in this century. It arrived on Sunday the 20th Pacific time and departed for Port Hueneme on the 24th...with the new crew and science team who will quarantine on board in Port Hueneme for 2 weeks before heading south. The science team of 31 will be studying the molecular diversity of the Southern Ocean. On 24 September, the San Francisco Chronicle posted this article, which may be more visible on this Laredo (TX) Morning Times site. One photo from the article, showing the vessel at Pier 17, is at left.
9 September update...the storms at McMurdo have cleared (although they did threaten to come back), and the folks in Christchurch waiting to fly south will have to wait in quarantine some more...until at least the 14th!
Labor Day weekend...lots of ice news! First, the folks scheduled to fly south on Winfly completed their initial 14-day quarantine upon entering New Zealand, and were then moved to another USAP-chartered hotel to continue quarantine (to keep the ice COVID-free) and they are STILL waiting for the flights south. Because McMurdo got hammered with a mammoth and long-lasting storm that pushed the flight dates back to at least the 10th. The flights had originally been scheduled for the last week of August. The storm's high winds were not as strong as the 2004 storm, but it brought MUCH more snow...which will need to be dug out to check for damages as well as to prepare the skiway. As of Friday McM time things were back to Condition 3 (calm/normal). The Air Force C-17 crew has also been in quarantine since early August (see photo below right) (Air Force Magazine article), which also notes that they brought additional maintenance personnel, and that the aircraft will be equipped with an air-transportable galley and lavatory so that crew and passengers can use separate facilities.
Another effect of the global pandemic...on 3 September, AL&E has completely canceled its 2020-21 Antarctic season...meaning no Mt. Vinson climbs and no nongovernmental tourists this season from Union Glacier. Their announcement.
There has been a lot of icebreaker news in the past few weeks...some good, some bad and some, er, questionable. First, the good news: the Polar Star left the Mare Island Dry Dock last week...at left it can be seen heading north past Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco bay on 28 August 2020. That photo comes from the official U.S. Coast Guard Facebook page, which reports that the vessel and crew spent 114 days in dry dock on a contract that covered 66 work items at a base cost of $5.45 million.
The bad icebreaker news...Healy suffered a fire and propulsion failure on 18 August, 60 nautical miles off Seward, AK while en route to a Bering Sea science project, just after embarking scientists in Seward. The science cruise was canceled, and Healy was transiting back to its home port in Seattle for major repairs. Two news articles--one a 24 August Coast Guard press release, and another article, 25 August, from the US Naval Institute: "Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy Suffers Fire on Arctic Mission; All Arctic Operations Cancelled."
Questionable icebreaker news...in June 2020 the White House ordered a review of the Coast Guard heavy icebreaker program. The results were supposed to be released in August, but I don't think they have been released yet. Here's a 10 June US Naval Institute article, and here is the official 9 June memorandum from the President. One option for the next phase of icebreakers included nuclear power, per this July "Breaking Defense" news article.
And then there is news about the new replacement Vostok Station that will be brought south this season by the Russian nuclear cargo icebreaker. Alas, my contact and info page for this has been taken down, but for now I'll leave this teaser image which was shared by Russia's Ministry of National Resources. The materials are to be shipped south this season on Russia's cargo icebreaker Sevmorput. My full coverage!
Updates 8 August 2020 US time...on the afternoon of 7 August (NZ time) the first American USAP flight arrived in Christchurch--a C-17, per this Radio NZ news article. At left, a photo of the aircraft on the tarmac from the RNZ article, by Nate McKinnon. Two days later (9 August NZ time) the Americans who will be heading down on WINFLY arrived on a 767 that the USAP had chartered...from SFO via Hawaii. The USAP folks (at least) will be quarantined for 2 weeks (at least) in that brand new Novotel at the CHC airport, visible behind the C-17, which was under construction when I was last in Christchurch in December 2018. Other updates...a 6 August official New Zealand Government press release "Reduced international Antarctic season commences," a 7 August National Geographic article "Antarctica is the last continent without COVID-19...", and from the UK: this 7 August BBC News article "Coronavirus severely restricts Antarctic science" as well as this 7 August BAS press release "Update on 2020/21 Antarctic field season: responding to COVID-19 pandemic". Of potential impact to the USAP, both the BBC and BAS articles mention the potential difficulty of getting Baslers and Twin Otters to the ice from Calgary.
4 August 2020 updates on the 2020-21 season: First, the program announced on 4 August US time that the McMurdo upgrade project otherwise known as AIMS would be suspended for the 2020-21 austral summer season due to the pandemic. Here is that announcement. Meanwhile, there ARE science and support folks who will be heading to Antarctica...the first of these will be heading to McMurdo on the WINFLY flights scheduled for the last full week of August. Some of these people have already been heading to San Francisco...upon arrival in New Zealand they will be quarantined for at least 14 days per this 6 August Christchurch Star article. The deployment list has been seriously curtailed, to exclude people who "don't turn a wrench" (quoting a friend), but the long term science will continue, and the program IS still hiring people to fill critical positions. I have recently updated my Antarctic jobs information page...***
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 (Guardian article and archived 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.
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...
Explorersweb and its newer offshoot Pythom have been covering exploration news ever since the early 2000's. The sites were originally created by Tom and Tina Sjogren, the "Wearable" expedition folks that trekked to Pole in 2001-02. During the past year the sites have been relaunched...at present (July 2018) it appears that the Pythom.com site is covering primarily space and science news, while Explorers Web continues to cover climbing, water, and polar expeditions, although one needs to use the search bar to locate specific coverage. The Sjogrens are still involved with the site.
Brendon Grunewald's old 70 South news site later evolved into the Polar Conservation Organisation , but that site also seems to have disappeared.
The Antarctic Sun is extremely prolific of late. The editor through July 2015 was friend Peter Rejcek, a 2004 Polie winterover.. He's currently a traveling freelancer; some of his work can be found on singularityhub. The current editor, also a friend, is Michael Lucibella. 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 that story.
NZ Antarctic Philately pages by Steven McLachlan . The news page features many current events through 2006, including many pictures from the various private expeditions at Pole. 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]
Weather information... has been moved to a separate page.[top] | [home]
The 2019 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM XLII) was held in Prague, Czech Republic, between 1-11 July. Once again I saw absolutely NO American media coverage...but that was not the case in Australia. This is because the Chinese delegation proposed a "code of conduct" for their Kunlun Station at Dome A...in the midst of Australia's claim. It was rejected, as was a 2014 effort to create an ASMA there. Here's the ABC News (Australia) article) about this, the discussion report about the Chinese request, China's proposed code of conduct text, and a map of the proposed area, which interestingly resembled the Pole ASMA in both size and nomenclature. Of course, Kunlun (unlike Pole) doesn't get any NGO visitors--skiers, trekkers, tourists, pilots, etc. I always look for a Russian report about the Lake Vostok drilling project, but there have been no reports in recent years, although Russia did propose the construction of new winterover station facilities. The 2020 meeting was to be held 25 May-4 June in Helsinki, Finland, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to be canceled. The 2021 meeting is still scheduled to be held in Paris on 14-24 June 2021, pandemic permitting. 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 submitting nations/delegations.
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. Note...I have not updated these links lately due to that darn pandemic.
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 Union Glacier and beyond are operated by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) (which has now fully assimilated Adventure Network International/ANI). ALE 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), which does not in itself offer tour services, but rather it works with other tour agencies such as White Desert, which 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--the only hard-roofed commercial base on the Antarctic continent, about 10 miles from Novo at Schirmacher Oasis. TAC does not do bookings directly...one option for a stay at the Oasis Guesthouse is offered by Icetrek...€30,000 ex Cape Town. 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 starting at around US$51,250 ex PA.
Here are my records of the nongovernmental expeditions (skiers/hikers/kiters/drivers/sledders etc...) for recent ventures. Things are still under construction, but for now my coverage of older expeditions: 2006-07, 2005-06, 2004-05, 2003-04, 2002-03, 2001-02, 2000-01 and 1999-2000. Keep in mind that the older expedition web sites tend to disappear, although I keep many of the links around for historical interest. Note that the 2000-01 Russian "Millennium Expedition" (skydiving/ballooning) is covered on a separate page.[top]