[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
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 south past Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco bay on 28 August. 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 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 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. 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...
And...the Pole weather has been "cool" in the past week. Several times the temps dipped into 3 digits (ºF), beginning last Thursday 31 July at about noon local time. At right is an archive photo of the NOAA 72-hour weather display page (which uses UTC, 12 hours behind Pole time during the winter). Oh, the temperature dipped below 99.9ºF again more than once in the next few days...You can follow along in real time on the NOAA live weather page which provides a record of the past 72 hours in both metric and English units.
At the end of June, construction of the new ice pier at McMurdo was well underway (left), although successful completion will require appropriate weather and sea conditions. So far so good...more information and construction details are here.
I've covered the latest information about how various national Antarctic programs are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic here before...here is the general news from June 2020. S
26 June, we have some news from the Arctic (well, actually from Washington DC). Battelle just issued a press release announcing that they'd been officially awarded the NSF Arctic support contract, which operates Summit Camp in central Greenland and Toolik Field Station in Alaska, and also supports NSF research throughout the Arctic including in Asia and Europe. The contract award was actually announced on 20 December 2019, but the losing bidder, Jacobs Polar Services-CH2M Facility Support Services, protested more than once. The contracting process had started in 2017. More information, including credits for that aerial photo of Summit Camp (or Summit Station if you prefer) is here.
And there is unhappy Antarctic news. At 1340 UTC on 21 June, a fire broke out in the met office at Russia's Mirny station. It destroyed the building known as Radio House which housed various science labs and berthing for 11 of the 23 people on station. It spread to the main accommodation building but that building survived. No one was injured, and communications with the rest of the world have been restored. Three articles: this 22 June Washington Post article based on wire services, a longer 23 June article from list23.com, and a pdf report with map (in Russian) from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. Here's Google Translate's English version of the text.
And an older bit of news that didn't get much publicity...on 8 May 2020 at Ukraine's Vernadsky station, cook Vasily Omelyanovich apparently committed suicide due to personal reasons. This was his fifth deployment to Vernadsky, which is about 30 miles south of Palmer Station. During my deployments to Palmer in the late 1980s, the base was the British Antarctic Survey's Faraday Station...I saw it from a distance once as we sailed past, but did not get to visit. It was transferred to Ukraine and renamed in 1996. Here is a 9 May 2020 news article from the Ukraine describing Vasily's death. That article states that "the issue of delivering the body to Ukraine is being solved." Accordingly, the Laurence M. Gould called at Vernadsky to transport the body north, this was overnight on 16-17 June after departing Palmer Station on the 16th.
Happy Midwinters Day! The official solstice day was Saturday 20 June, when the Midwinters dinner celebration was held! At left is the official Midwinters Day greeting card. Photoshop was involved, so no Polies froze to death.
In other Antarctic program news...the latest information from the Western Hemisphere is that the Laurence M. Gould, which left Palmer Station with the rest of the summer folks on 16 June local time, arrived at Punta Arenas on 21 June after taking yet another "scenic route." Instead of the usual route through the Beagle Channel, they passed through the east end of the Straits of Magellan so as to avoid the need for the channel pilot. Sixteen souls are wintering at Palmer Station...for more details see this corner of my Palmer website.
Other and earlier COVID-19 related stuff...on 11 June, NSF announced their plans for the upcoming 2020-21 season...keeping the stations operational, maintaining long-term and statutorily required projects--most of which can be operated by ASC employees. Here's a similar 9 June announcement about the New Zealand program from Antarctica New Zealand. I've heard that the PQ requirements for the upcoming summer and winter seasons have been adjusted to restrict people who may have a significant tendency to contract COVID-19...and also that people deploying to McMurdo and Pole next season may have to quarantine in New Zealand for 3 weeks before deploying.
Updates 27 May US time...first of all, let's give a shoutout to the auroras that have been happening at Pole! Here at right is a rather spectacular shot from mid-May that IceCuber Yuya Makino shared recently, from the 27 May Week 19 at the Pole IceCube report. Otherwise, as the Polies have been collectively social distancing from the rest of the world, they have already started prepping for the Midwinters Day dinner scheduled for 20 June. Elsewhere...NSF is still planning to announce their plans for the 2020-21 season by the end of May, but we already know that there will be no media visits, film crews, or Artists/Writers people deploying. And as I've mentioned in the next paragraph, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is in Humboldt Bay (Northern CA) where it will be hanging for awhile.
Updates 16 May US time: Normally at this time of year, NSF would be soliciting news media visits to Antarctica, but these have been canceled for the 2020-21 season (the 11 May NSF announcement).. Elsewhere...here is an interesting 12 May report by Dr. Pradeep Tomar, the winterover medical officer at India's Bharati Station (on the coast at 69.4ºE, roughly 120 miles east of Mawson). He describes what life is like on the only continent still untouched by COVID-19. He mentions that India has called off its Arctic science expedition which was scheduled for April, and that Australia will undertake no major Antarctic science projects in 2020-21. AAD's most recent announcement on the subject (6 April) confirms that. Meanwhile, the New Zealand program announced on 13 May that they would announce a plan for their upcoming season by 1 June. The last McMurdo flight happened during the week of 3 May; the next flights currently scheduled are for WINFLY in August. And back in the US of A, the Nathaniel B. Palmer stopped briefly in San Francisco Bay and has been at Fairhaven, CA (on the Samoa Peninsula in Humboldt Bay, west of Eureka) since mid-May per the most recent (18 May) USAP schedule.
Updates 11 May US time...here's the latest BAS news release from 1 May, it outlines that all of the BAS stations are in winter status. The James Clark Ross was heading north from Rothera, and it was to meet up with the cruise ship Hebridean Sky which was docked at Port Stanley and already housing summer station crew and wharf construction workers who had previously been brought north by the JCR. The cruise ship will be taking the summer folks back to the UK. As of a few days ago, the Falklands were COVID-19 free, as was the Antarctic continent. As for the Palmer Station winterovers, the official USAP schedule for the Laurence M. Gould was revised on 5 May--it includes the "Palmer Station Turnover" cruise departing Punta Arenas on 31 May. The vessel has been in PA since 21 March. Meanwhile, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, after calling at Port Hueneme for a few days, is now heading to Oakland. Earlier on 11 May it was west of Santa Cruz. Meanwhile at McMurdo, the last flight until August arrived and departed on 6 May. This was the Australian Antarctic Division's A-319 Airbus operated by Skytraders Aviation. It arrived from Melbourne with cargo only--no USAP passengers--and departed for Sydney the next day with 21 northbound passengers. They continued to the US after an overnight stay. The on-deck photo at right by James Penkusky was shared on Facebook by NSF.
Updates 30 April...on 27 April NSF issued a new status update on the US Antarctic program...flights to get the non-winter crew out of McMurdo were completed successfully, one additional flight is currently planned for May--probably a return trip from Melbourne, and options are being considered to the the winter crew to Palmer Station. Meanwhile, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is heading north toward the West Coast (presumably to Port Hueneme)--as of 30 April it was at 15ºN-110ºW... directly south of the tip of Baja California. The Laurence M. Gould is still at Punta Arenas. The status update also outlines planning priorities for the upcoming season.
Meanwhile, the other "big red boat," Polar Star, entered drydock at Mare Island on 13 April...it will spend the next four months there. By 16 April it was high and dry (left...photo and info from the Polar Star Facebook page).
Southern hemisphere updates Wednesday 15 April (US time)...despite the 7 April BAS press release stating that the James Clark Ross would depart Rothera on 27 April...it actually departed on the 9th from the now-completed new wharf, as described in this 16 April BAS news story. CORRECTION...that wasn't the last JCR departure from Rothera...it made another trip departing for the last time around 27 April. If you have access to Facebook, here's a short timelapse of the James Clark Ross being the first vessel to dock at the new wharf. That BAS news article also mentions that the cargo vessel MV Billesborg was the second vessel to dock at the new wharf. Some personnel deployments to Rothera and King Edward Point (KEP) (South Georgia) were canceled...and oh, the MV Billesborg later headed to KEP where another new wharf is under construction (17 April 2020 BAS blog post with links to project info). More earlier info is in this 7 April BBC article. On the other side of the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian Antarctic Division announced on 30 March that they had chartered the construction vessel MPV Everest to resupply its stations in 2020-21 (press release), as completion of the new AAD research icebreaker RSV Nuyina was delayed because of the current pandemic. It looks ready to sail, but it still needs important harbor and sea trials. At right is a photo of the Nuniya at the Galați shipyard in Romania...photo shared 15 April on the AAD Facebook page.
At Pole it has been getting darker...and on Monday 13 April the first auroras of the season made their appearance. Here at left is a sample view shared by Zach Tejral. And it's been getting colder as well--here's a link to the NOAA weather page. Also, here's the 6 April Antarctic Sun report by Kelly Thomas, describing the first two months of winter. And on 10 April, NSF Polar Programs director Kelly Falkner issued this news statement regarding plans to protect the continent from COVID-19; it includes the statement "There are currently no known or suspected cases of COVID-19 in Antarctica." Meanwhile, 3 scheduled flights to McMurdo were underway in mid-April by the Australian A-319 Airbus, but they were not bringing any passengers south. And some of the northbound passengers had originally been scheduled to stay at McM longer.
It could be said that Pole winterovers become experts in isolation...now there is some concrete advice out there from a couple of them. First...from Christine (Christy) Schultz who was the 2011 wo NOAA Corps officer--this 3 April AccuWeather news article describes some of her social distancing experiences--not only at Pole, but also on NOAA research vessels and at the Mount Washington Observatory. Alas, the article video seems to have been taken down. At right, Christy's selfie from the article. And then there's that ultimate Polie social distancer Christina Hammock Koch...as if our 2005 Pole winter wasn't enough for her, she spent nearly a year 250 miles away from the rest of us on the International Space Station, returning to Earth in February 2020. This 25 March Washington Post article describes experiences and advice not only from her, but also from that famous Canadian ISS astronaut and guitar player Chris Hadfield. At left...my 2005 winter photo of Christina in the old cryo barn...the large white vessel left of her is full of liquid helium. Careful observers will notice that we are more than 2m apart.
Southern Hemisphere updates Thursday 9 April (US time)...the Nathaniel B. Palmer docked in Punta Arenas on 29 March...the one New Zealand citizen caught flights to Auckland via Santiago (he's quarantined for 14 days), while the Americans took later flights to Miami also via Santiago. The 10 British researchers who were dropped off at Rothera, along with 20 others, had been flown to the Falklands where they were quarantined for awhile at the Malvina Hotel in Stanley; they were flown to the UK overnight on Sunday 5 April on a MoD flight that refueled in Senegal as the usual refueling stops on Ascension Island and Cape Verde were closed. But there's a lot going on involving Rothera. The James Clark Ross is currently there unloading supplies for the winter, while summer personnel from the other BAS stations (Signy, King Edward Point, and Bird Island) already are on board. But there are about 90 other summer people at Rothera that need to be gotten home...most of these are construction workers working on the successfully completed new wharf at Rothera. They will be ferried to Port Stanley by the James Clark Ross (JCR), while the remainder of the Rothera winterover crew will be ferried south from Port Stanley. Meanwhile, BAS has chartered the cruise ship Hebridean Sky operated by Noble Caledonia, currently moored off Port Stanley, to house some of the folks from Rothera and eventually take them back to the UK. The Rothera winter will begin on 27 April when the JCR and the last Twin Otter head north. News sources...this 7 April BBC article "Coronavirus complicates journeys home from Antarctica" and this 7 April BAS news release.
As for USAP, at the end of March NSF issued a report addressing operational changes in the polar programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For McMurdo, the April flights will not be taking any folks south...and as New Zealand has recently adjusted their travel restrictions, the northbound pax from McMurdo will be able to fly to Auckland and back to the US. For Palmer Station, the summer staff will remain on station until such time as the winter crew can safely deploy, and winter science events have been canceled.
Southern Hemisphere updates Thursday 26 March (US time): the Nathaniel B. Palmer arrived at Palmer Station before dawn on Tuesday morning 24 March. At left, a photo of the approaching vessel from Maggie Amsler; at right, a photo of a Zodiac approaching the station by Zee Evans from the USAP photo library (link to original). Folks who had been scheduled to stay until mid-April had been given only a few days warning to close out their projects/labs and pack up to head north...which they did the same day after transferring science cargo, baggage, and passengers to the vessel by Zodiac. Currently after 11 people left there are still 20 people at Palmer Station...with about a 2-3 month supply of fuel and food. There are no plans at present for the Laurence M. Gould to show up with resupplies and winterovers anytime soon. And while the Palmer has, at present, permission to dock in Punta Arenas, there's no path as of yet for people to even leave the vessel, much less head north to the US given quarantine restrictions, border closures, and flight cancellations. In fact, the group of people who went north on the Gould earlier this month had a police escort from the pier to the PUQ airport, and once there, they learned their SCL-IAH United Airlines flight had been canceled. It took some high-level negotiations to get it reinstated. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here's PolarTREC educator Sarah Slack's 26 March blog post from the Palmer (I mentioned her earlier). You can follow the links to her earlier posts and the project science.
The Polar Star arrived in Seattle on Wednesday after a successful Antarctic trip, which not only included breaking ice for the McM resupply, but also involved Antarctic Treaty inspection visits to Mario Zucchelli (Italy), Jang Bogo (South Korea), and Inexpressible Island (China)...this was the first American inspection trip since 2012. Details from this 25 March Coast Guard press release.
Updates from the Southern Hemisphere...most recently from US national media: this 24 March Washington Post article "One continent remains untouched by the coronavirus: Antarctica" which includes commentary from a number of stations and folks, including 1990 Pole winterover and friend Michelle Rogan-Fennimore who is currently the executive secretary for COMNAP. Meanwhile, the Laurence M. Gould arrived from Palmer Station and docked at Punta Arenas this weekend, flying the quarantine flag. Americans aboard flew to Santiago on Sunday Chilean time and were on a flight to Houston on Monday. The scheduled 2020 Palmer winterover crew are...hanging out in the USA and may yet deploy in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the Nathaniel B. Palmer called at Rothera on Sunday 22 March, and the 10 British researchers aboard were dropped off there so that they could be flown to Stanley (Falklands)...originally thought to not happen until June. Its next port call is Palmer Station to pick up some of the summer people and at present (24 March) they think they'll be able to dock at Punta Arenas as they've been quarantined at sea since 26 January. As for getting home from there, things are questionable for people of all nationalities including Kiwis, as restrictions and flight cancelations change daily. The Nathaniel B. Palmer has been participating in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, otherwise known as the THOR project. You can follow along with what's happening aboard the Palmer with Sarah Slack, a Brooklyn, NY middle school science teacher who is a PolarTREC participant with one of the international projects--specifically this one. Above left: a photo from the bridge of the Palmer at sunrise on Sunday 15 March, as the vessel entered the Bellingshausen Sea from the Amundsen Sea--this photo is by Cindy Dean and from the USAP Photo Library (link to original). Another wrinkle...there is a cruise ship with ~90 Australian doctors and dentists that was turned away from Argentine ports at gunpoint last week. Stay tuned as things are subject to rapid change, I have friends aboard the NBP. As for the winterover Polies...they've been in social isolation from the rest of the world for six weeks...and they had the traditional sunset dinner on Saturday 21 March (right, photo from Zeke Mills).
And what about that other research and support vessel, the Polar Star? Fortunately, unlike last season when there reports of fires and other casualties, this year we've heard nothing. Or perhaps there's another reason...the vessel has had a severe communications failure during the northbound voyage, so no news may mean just...no news. As of 23 March it was west of southern California and heading north.
Things are getting weird in the world. Presumably not for the 42 Pole winterovers, as they've already been social-distanced from the rest of the world for more than a month. But for McMurdo...the RNZAF flight scheduled for this week (as early as 18 March) will not be bringing any people south...only taking people north. And those northbound passengers may find themselves required to self-isolate in NZ for 14 days per NZ Customs restrictions at the time.. And things are also getting interesting on the other side of the continent as Chile has closed its borders to all foreigners effective 18 March. Apparently they will allow the Laurence M. Gould (LMG) to dock in Punta Arenas (scheduled date 21 March) as well as the Nathaniel B. Palmer (scheduled date 25 March)...but the arrangements for the 2020 Palmer Station winterovers to arrive in Chile and head for Palmer are still uncertain.
Another medical update...this one totally unrelated to COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2...on 14 March the AAD conducted an emergency medevac from McMurdo...their chartered A-319 flew south from Hobart to McMurdo and flew an ill patient to Christchurch. Conditions were challenging as the temperature at McM was -22ºF/-30ºC with wind chill. Here is the AAD news article; the photo above left of the aircraft on deck at McMurdo is from that article.
The Pole summer is ...over! The last flight out headed north on the 15th leaving 42 people behind to watch several traditional movies and otherwise get along with each other for the winter!
Fellow 2005 Pole winterover and friend Christina Hammock Koch...now much better known to the rest of the world as Astronaut Christina...returned to earth on 6 February after 328 days on the International Space Station...a NASA record for women! Two NASA news articles...this 6 February article with a great photo of her (at right) details the return of her and her teammates in Kazakhstan, and this earlier (3 February) article outlines the many projects she was involved with while in space. Throughout her mission she's had a great cheering section of Polies and other ice folks...after all she also spent time at Palmer Station.
5 February shipping season update...the Ocean Giant has completed offload, loaded cargo for the trip north and pulled out at about 1500 McM time on 4 February...to be replaced at the pier almost immediately by the tanker Maersk Peary; meanwhile, the second cargo vessel SLNC Magothy completed loading cargo at Port Hueneme and departed on 22 January (Navy News Service article with photo). And this 23 January USNI News article about the Polar Star describes the icebreaker's uneventful breakout of the shipping channel...while the Winter Quarters Bay area was free of ice, 23 miles of ice had to be broken out further north, west of Ross Island. Here's another earlier (29 January) Seabee Magazine article about the cargo offload evolution.
Icebreaker procurement update...on 31 January the U.S. Coast Guard announced they were procuring a contract to extend the life of the Polar Star until the second of the new Polar Security Cutters was available. Details on my icebreaker procurement page which I update as needed.
The IceCube project did a significant amount of work at Pole during the 2019-20 summer...not only the usual wiring fixes, server upgrades, digouts and measurements, but they also spent significant effort to dig out and inspect the various drill camp modules in preparation for the 2022-23 "IceCube Upgrade" which was funded in July 2019. Two of the camp generator modules, which had been sent to McMurdo for use at other field camp sites on the continent, were returned to Pole by the third South Pole Traverse. Also, another new optical Cherenkov telescope was installed on the roof of the ICL (IceCube news article). Also...this 28 January IceCube news article presents an off-the-ice interview with the 2019 winterovers Kathrin Mallot and Benjamin Eberhardt...and Benjamin has prepared a great 5-minute timelapse video (right) of the winter horizon and skies!
By 18 January the third of four seasons of the 88S Traverse had returned to Pole...this effort led by principal investigator Kelly Brunt is performing GPS elevation measurements of the ice sheet to help validate measurements by NASA's ICESat-2 satellite, which was launched in 2018. For each of the past 3 seasons, Kelly and her team have traversed a 90º quadrant of the 88ºS latitude line. The four-person team used two Pisten Bullys which pulled HDPE plastic "magic carpet" sleds with their equipment and pre-erected tents (left, photo from Kelly Brunt). You can read more about this and previous years' traverses in this blog.
A death in Antarctica is never good news...and it happened on 11 January. Staff Sgt. George Girtler IV, a member of the 109th Airlift Wing, passed away from natural causes. The cause of death was pulmonary embolism, a blockage of blood vessels in the lungs. Here's a 24 January Stars and Stripes article, an Air Force Times article, and an obituary from the DeVito-Salvadore Funeral Home in Mechanicville, NY.
The end of the Pole NGO tourist season came early on 19 January SP time when an ALE group guided by Christian Styve and including Lucy Reynolds arrived from Hercules Inlet...the team spent 2 nights at the Pole tourist camp before heading north, as the camp was being dismantled. My record of the season is here. Meanwhile, there is news from last year's happenings...in 2018-19 the Brit Lou Rudd and Oregonian Colin O'Brady completed what both claimed to be "solo unassisted Antarctic crossings." The "Antarctic crossing" part was somewhat controversial as neither actually traveled from coast to coast, and "unassisted" is also questionable, as both used the prepared and well-marked route. Now that O'Brady's book The Impossible First came out recently, National Geographic has taken a more detailed look at Colin's claims in a 3 February article "The problem with Colin O'Brady" by Aaron Teasdale. Give it a read! Oh...on 13 February Colin responded to the National Geographic article with a 16 page letter reasserting his claims and requesting National Geographic to retract its article (seen here in Willamette Week, a Portland, Oregon weekly. Meanwhile, after a significant discussion on Facebook, in late February Australian polar guide Eric Philips posited a letter to NatGeo in support of Aaron's article and asking for signature support. I of course agreed, and the resultant letter was set to NatGeo with a list of more than fifty "leading polar explorers, guides, and adventure specialists" including...me. Read the letter here! On 4 March Willamette Week reported that National Geographic stands by Aaron Teasdale's article, although three clarifications were made. The "Impossible Row" has continued to draw media interest...such as this this 28 May 2020 article by ExplorersWeb freelancer Martin Walsh. He depicts the route map of the Ohana ("family" in Hawaiian), notes that the boat's track had to be diverted to avoid the search area for the missing/lost Chilean military C-130 aircraft (Wikipedia article), and mentions that Colin O'Brady was NOT the originator or leader of the rowing event...rather that was Icelandic ocean rower Fiann Paul...who'd recruited a team of experienced oarsmen but was unable to secure funding...so O'Brady, the only non-rower on the team, was brought in. Walsh's article also notes that the chase boat operated by the Discovery Channel was one of the conditions that Chile imposed on the venture.
The end of January marks the 60th anniversary of the first ski-equipped C-130s to arrive on the seventh continent! NOT flown by the Navy...but rather the Air Force, which had pioneered the concept and done deep research and tests in order to support the DEW Line and the DYE sites in northern North America and Greenland. The first Herc arrived at McM on 23 January 1960, and the first one of these landed at Pole on the 28th. A complicated story...as the resupply of Byrd and Pole had fallen behind, there was concern that the Russians might occupy these stations if they had to be abandoned. At right, the first Herc at McMurdo is met by more traditional means of transportation. The rest of the story!
New Years Day marked the annual ceremony of unveiling and placing the new Pole marker...this one was designed by 2019 winterover Luis Gonzalez...who actually was on station on 1 January so he got to unveil his design, seen at right (more info and photos).
Other stuff that has been going on at Pole...a large IceCube team showed up to evaluate the long-stored drill camp modules in preparation for the future IceCube Upgrade...by the 21st they'd pretty much finished...meanwhile SPoT 3 was nearing Pole bringing a couple of the drill camp generator modules that had been used for other field projects.
The first cargo vessel Ocean Giant arrived at McM on 22 January and immediately started offloading the Modular Causeway System (MCS) aka the pontoons. By the 25th the pier was almost ready to start the cargo offload, as seen at left from a McM webcam photo. You can follow along here by selecting the Ice Pier camera, and there are photo archives from the past 24 hours.
Shipping updates...the Polar Star HAS been sighted from McMurdo, as documented on the McM Ice Pier webcam which does not at present (~noon 9 January McM time) show the vessel, although a photo from the previous day (right) when the weather was better shows the icebreaker hard at work. The first cargo vessel Ocean Giant is well southwest of Los Angeles and is scheduled to reach Lyttelton around 13 January, the second cargo vessel Magothy is scheduled to reach Port Hueneme from Honolulu on 10 January, and the tanker Maersk Peary is now approaching the NW Australian coast...it will call at Fremantle between 12-15 January.
The new year also traditionally brings the first arrivals of NGA skiers/kiters/trekkers...well, actually the first of these arrived in late December. No speed records to Pole this year, but there are other records including an unquestionable Antarctic distance record by Aussie Geoff Wilson (despite his skipping a stop at Pole due to leaky fuel bottles) and a questionable rowing record from South America to Antarctica. Details...
At Pole, Christmas was celebrated in traditional fashion with a great holiday feast as well as the "Round the World" race...these events allowed for a bit of a break from the summer projects...such as getting glaciologist Kelly Brunt's traverse ready--the third of 4 90º quadrants along 88ºS--a GPS survey in support of the ICESAT-2 satellite. A major project this season is the replacement at MAPO of the Keck Array telescope system with the BICEP Array...as seen in the mid-December photo by Steve Bruce at left.
In Port Hueneme, the cargo vessel MV Ocean Giant departed for McMurdo via Christchurch on Christmas Eve...carrying not only cargo but also the floating modular causeway system (MCS) that was first used at McM in January 2012. A second cargo vessel, the MV Magothy is scheduled to arrive in Port Hueneme for onload in a few days. This DVIDS news service article has more information. And what about the tanker, you may ask? After skipping a year, the Maersk Peary is expected to show up near the end of January. Currently (31 December) it is approaching Sri Lanka, and it will also call at Fremantle before heading to McMurdo. And to kick off the shipping season, the icebreaker Polar Star is already south of Cape Adare. Earlier it called briefly at Sydney and also spent a few days in Hobart...as seen in this 22 December photo from the Australian Antarctic Division (antarctica.gov.au) Facebook Page along with the Aurora Australis which was departing for Casey.
And some Antarctic news from 250 miles up in space...as of 28 December, friend and fellow 2005 Pole winterover Christina Hammock Koch set a record for the longest single space flight by a woman--289 days. She is scheduled to remain on the International Space Station until February 6, which would be a record of 328 days. The all-time space flight record is held by Valeri Polyakov, a Russian who spent 437 days aboard MIR in 1994-95. Here's a UPI news article.
Robert DeLaurentis completed his overflight of Pole on 17 December...an 18-hour out-and-back flight from Ushuaia (without a previously mentioned refueling stop on King George Island), and the longest ever flight by a Gulfstream Turbine Commander. Since then he flew on to the Falkland Islands before continuing north on his "Pole-to-Pole" venture. Meanwhile, the various nongovernmental Antarctic treks to Pole are continuing...while in the Southern Ocean, Colin O'Brady's six-man team completed their "impossible row" from Cape Horn (off Hornos Island) to the Antarctic Peninsula on 13 December at 1200 (UTC) and reached the Peninsula on 25 December at 1355 UTC, after covering 755 statute miles. They faced 30-40 knot winds and 40-50 foot swells. At right is a hero shot of the team from Colin O'Brady's Instagram page. By comparison, the 14-day 1988 Sea Tomato row by 4 men led by Ned Gillette, traveled from Cape Brecksock (60 miles northwest of Cape Horn) to Harmony Cove on Nelson Island, perhaps 120 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula mainland. Here's a good New York Times article about the Sea Tomato's voyage...although you have to be a subscriber to view it.
On 26 November, the Polar Star left its Seattle homeport to begin its long journey to McMurdo (photo at left from the Polar Star Facebook page). This article from the Navy League's Seapower includes another photo. It should reach the ice edge during the first week of January, to be followed by the first cargo vessel, the tanker, and the second cargo vessel. Interestingly, the second cargo vessel will not call at Lyttelton, but at Tauranga, a port in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island.
At Pole, preparations are underway for the Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday the 30th...not without a bit of difficulty as the automatic dishwasher is out of action awaiting repairs. Interestingly, instead of paper plates they are relying on extra help from volunteers and from McMurdo. Other things that are going on--a practice C-17 airdrop happened this week...this time it was just an overflight without anything dropped, but on 23 October, test supplies were actually dropped.(details from IceCube). Elsewhere, a large summer IceCube crew is at Pole (and McM) to check out and inspect the drill site modules in early preparation for the 2022-23 IceCube Upgrade Two of the generator modules are at McMurdo, having been used by the WISSARD and SALSA field projects in recent years...and some of the modules at Pole have been moved close to Cryo where electric power is available. And as some of these modules have CO2 fire suppression systems similar to the one which caused two deaths at the Mt. Newall site last year...special safety precautions are being taken to make sure the systems are disabled. And over in the dark sector, the crane pad next to MAPO has been completed (right, photo by Bill Johnson), so that the SPUD/KECK instrument can be replaced with the new BICEP instrument.
By 22 November I believe that all of the 2019 winterovers have left Pole...but not all of them have made it to Christchurch yet. So between the summer people and next season's winterovers there are now over 100 people on station. A couple of the new wo's are John Hardin (from St. Louis) and Yuya Makino (from Takayama, Japan)...the 2021 IceCube winterovers who arrived on 8 November. Here's an IceCube News story about them with more information. And by the way, IceCube was now taking applications for the 2021 winterovers.
A strange addition to the Antarctic nongovernmental ventures...on the 15 November "Tonight" show, Colin O'Brady announced he's planning a rowboat trip across the Drake Passage for this December. Jump to more information below! Also check that link for an update on the ski and kite treks...more have been announced, more are underway, and as of the 20th a number of the people were stuck in Punta Arenas.
The first LC-130 finally arrived at Pole on 9 November as seen here...in this photo from Robert Schwarz...who left Pole for the last time on it just after taking this photo. From reliable sources I've learned that the price charged to NSF for Herc flights (as well as the C-17 flights between NZ and McM) have gone up significantly this year...hence the late deployment of the New York Air National Guard from Schenectady, NY. But...the first Herc flight to Pole last season happened 3 days later, on the 12th. The details...this spreadsheet documents the first flight dates to Pole from 1956 although I'm missing 3 years of info. Also of interest...the photo at right (also from Robert) does not depict the beginning of the South Pole Sculpture Garden...rather, some of the old arch sections are being used to build a wall around the MAPO building and telescope mount. The Keck Array instrument that Robert monitored, as well as the DASI mount which supported it, will be removed and replaced with a new mount supporting the first receiver of the BICEP Array as well as relocated Keck receivers.
The season for nongovernmental skiers/trekkers/other visitors to Pole is now well underway. The first to start out, Australian Geoff Wilson, is now heading south from near Novo, and other travelers have been flown to ALE's Union Glacier camp beginning with their first visitor flight from Punta Arenas on 10 November. This 11 November ExplorersWeb article gives a good overview of the expedition plans, and of course I've updated my more detailed references to all of the ventures here, as I've been doing for the previous 21 seasons.
Flight updates...on Wednesday 23 October, the Basler returned from McMurdo for the opening flight of the season (right, photo by Mark Kirkeby). It would return the next day with more summer folks. Summer is underway and some of the winterovers are already in NZ. Later in the week two more transiting Baslers passed through, these were chartered by the Australian and Chinese programs. What about the NYANG LC-130's? The first of these were scheduled to leave Schnectady on Monday 28 October (25 October National Air Guard news article) and get to Pole on 11 November.
Polar Star updates...in mid-October it finally was out of a six-month drydock period and anchored in San Francisco Bay after some sea trials...and by the 25th it was back in its Seattle homeport. The icebreaker can be followed by anyone on its public Facebook page.
I've already mentioned that there will be two cargo vessels this season in order to deliver all of the required construction material and equipment for the McMurdo AIMS project. But (according to sources in McMurdo and elsewhere)...it seems that due to an unusually warm winter (there was open water at McMurdo until late July), there isn't an ice pier. So...once again the ship offload will require a Modular Causeway System (MCS) aka a pontoon pier, as was used in January 2012. At left is a photo of the pontoon pier being moved into position in January 2012 (my full coverage of that evolution is here). And this 30 September U.S. Naval Institute article describes the major role that the Polar Star will play in the McMurdo expansion projects.
On Tuesday 15 October (US time) I flew to Columbus, Ohio to attend the "Women in Antarctica" symposium at the Byrd Polar Research Center. I got there a day early so that I could dig through some of the old Operation Deep Freeze cruisebooks. The event timing focused on the 1969-70 science project in the Dry Valleys led by Dr. Lois Jones, and two of the members of that team were present and gave talks. The research team (and two other women on the ice at the time) also had become the first women to visit the South Pole in November 1969. Nearly 100 people attended. The event was featured in this 23 October Antarctic Sun article which also highlights some of the many women involved with the U.S. Antarctic Program. Some of these women were present at the Columbus symposium. perhaps 75% women and a number of friends, and I had lunch one day with Kelly Falkner, the NSF Polar Programs director. And on Friday, while this symposium was underway, about 200 miles above us the first all-woman spacewalk was underway on the International Space Station...including Christina Hammock Koch (whom I wintered with at Pole in 2005--she also spent time at Palmer and Summit Camp) and Jessica Meir was a researcher at McMurdo on a project studying emperor penguins. Here are several NASA blogs about the spacewalk as well as an 18 October Washington Post article with video. At right is a NASA photo of Christina (left) and Jessica preparing for the spacewalk (from one of those NASA blogs).
Also on Tuesday 15 October (South Pole time) the isolation of winter ended briefly, as this Basler showed up en route to McMurdo from Rothera. It was only on deck long enough to refuel, but it did bring freshies. It was a nice day, not much wind and a balmy -71ºF/-58ºC. This photo is from (and of) Gavin Reynolds. This aircraft (or perhaps another) would later return from McMurdo for the first official/opening flight of the season. A second transiting aircraft--this time a Twin Otter--arrived from Rothera on Saturday. Because it flies slower than the Basler, the three crew members stayed overnight before continuing to McMurdo the next day. Meanwhile, the end-of-winter major station cleaning was finishing up, as was another winter project--repainting the power plant floor.
September means that it's ozone season at (and above) Pole...meaning that the NOAA folks have been launching two ozone balloons per week to examine the "ozone hole." That gives Robert Schwarz opportunities to take those unusual balloon launch timelapse photos, such as the one at right from 9 September. Interestingly, this year the ozone levels are a bit unusual, as the ozone hole is looking smaller, and the "lowest ozone" over Pole may be the highest in awhile due to a crazy tiny and offset polar stratospheric vortex. This is producing "sudden stratospheric warming," the most significant since September 2002. The weakening of the vortex may result in the strongest Antarctic warming on record, and as the upper atmospheric temperature rises, the ozone-destroying super-cold polar stratospheric clouds are inhibited from forming, and the disrupted winds will carry more ozone-rich air from the tropics to the polar region. More on this process in this excellent 6 September article from The Conversation (Australia). As for the details, the graphed data from these ozone balloon launches can be seen on this NOAA page, while a simplified explanation of what happens to ozone in the atmosphere is depicted in the poster at left, which was prepared by NOAA researcher (and 2009 Pole winterover) Patrick Cullis and CU Boulder PhD student Kelsey Tayne. Much more of NOAA's ozone information and data, including huge graphic and pdf versions of that poster, can be found on this Global Monitoring Division page.
The Polar Star has been at Mare Island (CA) Dry Dock for repairs and refurbishment since the end of April...and is scheduled to head back to Seattle at the end of September. Here is a good 12 September KPIX San Francisco news report about the vessel, including an excellent video. And, as for the new "polar security cutters" aka icebreakers, this 16 September USNI article "Polar Security Cutter Fuses Performance Requirements With Maintenance Needs" describes some of the engineering innovations for the new vessels, a June Seapower describes that the first three new cutters will be based in Seattle along with the Polar Star, Healy, and the parted-out Polar Sea. (thank you Chris Rock). These and other articles and information are on my page covering the icebreaker procurement progress, which I am continuing to update as needed.
On 7 September, Pole had a video teleconference with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who include NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano. Unfortunately, for privacy reasons the Polies were not permitted to share photos of the astronauts, so here at right is a photo of...the Polies, from Sheryl Seagraves. Here's another photo (which Sheryl DID have permission to post) showing the video screen with a view of earth from space. Christina wintered in 2005 with me as well as with two of the 2019 winterovers (Robert Schwarz and Bill Johnson). Oh, the people at Palmer Station had a similar videoconference a week later on 14 September.
And astute viewers of that photo of Polies in the large conference room will observe that the cardboard window covers had just been removed!
On 1 September, WINFLY FINALLY happened. The first flight arrived at McMurdo on 1 September, THIRTEEN days late. Sustained bad weather was, as usual, at fault, and the storm also caused power outages in town.
The end of August means for Pole: nautical twilight, when the Sun is between 12 and 6 degrees below the horizon. so the remaining auroras are increasingly washed out. Otherwise, things are quiet...August events have included the 8-ball pool tournament (for which the table was refurbished for the 4th time) and the Winter Film Festival (an interesting video about this from Viktor Barricklow). And for McMurdo: departing winterovers' travel plans are trashed, freshies scheduled for McM are...hopefully donated to ChCh charities, and Christchurch hotels etc. are overfilled with folks waiting to head south because of bad weather. The first WINFLY flight was supposed to happen on 19 August, but Mother Antarctica has been having other ideas, ie Phase 1 conditions.
I do like to hear about Antarctic winterover reunions, as I've attended several for the Pole and Palmer winterovers. Turns out that half a dozen of the 2001 Polie winterovers gathered recently at friend Paul Daniel's place in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Here's the Grosse Pointe Times article, with an amazing photo!
Between 1-11 July, the 2019 Antarctic Treaty meeting (ATCM XLII) was held in Prague, Czech Republic. Once again there was nothing interesting enough to see coverage in the American media, but this was NOT the case in Australia. China's proposed "code of conduct" for their Kunlun base at Dome A was apparently defeated, according to this ABC (Australia) article "Australia declares China's plan for Antarctic conduct has 'no formal standing.'", as well as this related article "Defence wants to roll out military tech in Antarctica despite Treaty ban on military activity." Dome A is, of course, in the midst of Australia's Antarctic territory. As early as 2014 China had proposed an ASMA for the Kunlun area, but this had also been rejected. Of interest here is the fact that the proposed area is quite similar in both size and nomenclature to the ASMA surrounding Pole...but as a friend pointed out, unlike Pole, Kunlun does not get the hordes of visitors arriving by foot, ski, vehicle, and aircraft. At right is a map of China's proposed "code of conduct" area; here are links to the intersession discussion about the Code of Conduct as well as to the proposed code (MS Word documents).
Less media-worthy but of interest to Antarcticans...the Russians made a preliminary announcement of plans to replace the winterover facilities at Vostok with space for 35 summer people or 15 wo's (to be completed in 2023-24); and the Poles proposed a major replacement of their Arctowski Station facilities on King George Island, scheduled for completion in 2022-23.
Too early for mention at this Antarctic Treaty meeting--New Zealand is proposing a major replacement of most Scott Base facilities (left)...early info is here!
This has been out for awhile, but it is a sad 2 August Los Angeles Times article about the Polar Star's voyage to McMurdo last year. There will be at least one new US icebreaker eventually, but our American neighbors to the north are planning to build SIX new icebreakers!
Another amazing bit of July 2019 journalism appeared in Scientific American about Pole life at least during the summer: "The Last Good Gig: A Summer at the South Pole," by Michael Nayak. Subtitle quote: "Nobody has lukewarm feelings about Antarctica, and some people don’t fit in anywhere else."
A bit more information about the McMurdo upgrade...NSF released the draft environmental impact evaluation in February, although I just recently found it here. Lots of detail about schedule, planning, and the specific projects--as well as discussion of future projects not officially part of the approved AIMS project. Here's the link to the final version released in August; these are both PDF files. The graphic at right is from the report...note that it differs a bit from some of the earlier information I've seen. For example, the VEOC is depicted with a rectangular footprint, whereas earlier preliminary design drawings showed it as a T-shaped structure. I'll add more details as I wade through the environmental statement (which the US presented at the recent 1-11 July Antarctic Treaty meeting mentioned above).
Late winter often brings the coldest temperatures of the year...at left is documentation of what will probably be the coldest temperature for the 2019 season: -107.1ºF/-77.3ºC. Earlier in the winter, South Pole saw its first triple-digit temperature of the year (-100.5ºF/-73.6ºC) on 18 July. This was the coldest it got, and the -100 lasted less than a day.
A side note...last year there was NO tanker delivery to McMurdo...only the one cargo vessel. In 2019-20 there will be a tanker, as well as TWO cargo vessels. One will be the traditional vessel doing a return trip from Port Hueneme...the other will be a one-way southbound charter to deliver supplies, materials, and construction equipment for the AIMS project.
IceCube is getting an update! In June, NSF formally approved funding for a $37 million upgrade...to install seven new and deeper strings near the center of the existing array. This will enable the detection of lower-energy neutrinos...to overlap with the detection ranges of other neutrino detectors around the world. The project won't actually happen until 2022-23, but preliminary planning last summer involved the digging out and inspection of the IceCube drill camp modules which have been stored on the berm. Several new detector types will be used, including some being tested for a still-out-there IceCube-Gen2 project. Coverage from IceCube includes 2 16 July press releases--"NSF mid-scale award sets off the first extension of IceCube" and "The IceCube Upgrade: An international effort", as well as this article from the Wisconsin State Journal.
Surprise visitors...the international team "One More Orbit" overflew Pole on 9 July as a part of their record-setting globe circumnavigation over the poles. The 8-person crew aboard a Gulfstream G650ER jet started and finished from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and completed their trip in 46 hours 40 minutes 22 seconds, including 3 "pit-stop" refuelings in Punta Arenas, Mauritius, and Kazakhstan. They beat the previous record by almost 6 hours...and the crew was the first to include 2 women--another record. Here's an MSN news article as well as the project website, which includes a map of their flight route. While over Pole, some of the winterovers had an opportunity to speak with the pilot over radio.
Interestingly, there will be another overflight in November...postponed from last summer, by pilot Robert DeLaurentis in his much modified Gulfstream Turbo 900 aircraft. The project, titled "Flying through Life," will not be a record-setting attempt...rather a 3-month project involving stope in many countries as well as overflights of both poles.
Midwinters Day is happened! Technically it occurred at 0354 22 June South Pole time...some of the traditional midwinter events (such as showing "The Shining" happened last weekend. The big midwinter dinner happened on the 22nd. At right is the midwinter greeting card that the station sent out to other polar stations...here's a larger image along with more info/photos about the card, midwinter, and the dinner. The tradition of sharing midwinter greetings is an old one...somehow the greetings have become much more elaborate since we sent out this one in June 1977.
Otherwise, there is a fair amount of construction news for the upcoming summer...mostly at McMurdo, although the Palmer pier replacement project is scheduled to get underway. Pole, the first phase of the "blue building" lift (ARO?) is scheduled as well as upgrades to the kitchen exhaust system. At McM, Dorm 203 (formerly dorms 203-205 are scheduled to be demo'd at the end of the summer along with several warehouses, and new lodging begins in January near building 175. During the 2020 winter, NSF will move from the Chalet to Building 165, as the Chalet will become a "social space" to replace the eventual demo of the Coffee House and Southern bar. There also will be a fair amount of excavation and blasting for site preparation and aggregate production. More on this later.
A new USAP helicopter support contract awarded to Air Center Helicopters on 29 April, after a 1-year solicitation process. The new company, located in Burleson, TX (a south suburb of Fort Worth) is replacing Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (PHI), the Louisiana company which has provided program helicopter support ever since replacing the Navy's VXE-6 after the 1995-96 season. Interestingly, PHI filed for bankruptcy in March of 2019. The November 2018 photo at left depicts a PHI helicopter supporting groundwater research in the Dry Valleys (more information and links).
Old news perhaps (well, millions of light years), but on 10 April a consortium of observatories and organizations released an actual image of a black hole (right) created from observations taken in April 2017. One of these observatories in the Event Horizon Telescope consortium was...the SPT at Pole. The story is here. While the actual black hole itself was below the Pole horizon, valuable observations were taken of a nearby variable quasar which was used as a calibrator source for the black hole observations.
On 23 April, it was officially announced that a contract for a new heavy icebreaker (aka "Polar Security Cutter") had been awarded to VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi. The price is $746 million, with options for two additional heavy icebreakers (if approved by Congress) that would bring the total price to $1.94 billion. Construction on the first vessel is planned for 2021 with delivery in 2024, although the contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery. There are too many news reports and press releases with financial and technical details, so I've addressed and linked to them here. The conceptual image at left was provided by VT Halter Marine in their 7 April press release.
And in other icebreaker news, in late April the Polar Star was headed to the Bay Area for another yard period at Mare Island Dry Dock, LLC. And on 30 April she was maneuvered from Berth 12 into Dry Dock #3, as seen in the photo at left. That photo was one of several posted on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Facebook page...and anyone should be able to see those photos here.
I've mentioned before that the first part of the major McMurdo modernization known as AIMS was funded in February...one of the first projects to be constructed will be the new heavy shop, otherwise known as the Vehicle & Equipment Operations Center (VEOC) (right). I've dug into the details about AIMS as well as about the "pre-AIMS" projects that are already underway. Here's what is and will be happening.
And there's also that "polar security cutter" project, otherwise known as new heavy icebreakers for the Coast Guard. This 1 April military.com article (thanks to Russell Rapp for sharing) indicates that the contract for the new icebreaker could be awarded as soon as April 2019, and it also clarifies what the 2019 budget means--that budget appropriated $665 million for the first heavy icebreaker (per this U.S. Naval Institute article), but it turns out that heavy icebreakers are more expensive than that. The 1 April article includes an interview with Coast Guard Commandant ADM Karl Schultz, who pointed out that the first of the three planned icebreakers could cost between $925 and $940 million, that additional money for the first icebreaker was also available from previous appropriations, and that the second and third heavy icebreakers would be cheaper. So what contract might soon be awarded? Here's the RFP which was originally issued on 14 February 2018. Needless to say most of the technical details are classified, but the main takeaway is that (per Amendment 10) the technical proposal was due on 24 August 2018 and the price proposal was due on 16 October. There are reportedly 5 bidders, and if you are curious about how to build an icebreaker, many of the amendments include interesting technical Q&A.
Lots o stuff has been going on since I last updated things here. New stuff at Pole...the sun "officially" set at the equinox, which happened when the Sun crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere at 1558 on 21 March. But as usual, it hung around a bit longer, until 1330 on the 23rd. Which conveniently happened to be the same day as the sunset dinner. Other new northern hemisphere stuff--there's an auction of Antarctic surplus stuff this month--online, with the goods actually at Port Hueneme. The auction website has been taken down.
Speaking of icebreakers...old news perhaps except that this was just announced...on 10 February the Polar Star experienced a FIRE on board as they headed north, 650 miles from McMurdo. One of many engineering casualties on this still-not-over deployment. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished after about two hours, and no injuries were reported. Here is the 28 February Coast Guard press release as well as this 1 March gCaptain article.
More news about the budget bill that was signed into law on 15 February, as it relates to science and the polar reasons. NSF's total budget was increased 3.7% to $8.075 billion (AAAS Science news article), which includes $103 million to begin work on "renovations to its facilities in the Antarctic" (otherwise known as AIMS project) initially at McMurdo. Here's the NSF press release, the AIMS project site, as well as my coverage of one of the first projects, the IT&C Primary Operations Facility, now underway and with its own webcam. Also, this 22 February Anchorage Daily News article has additional information about the Coast Guard icebreaker project.
More marine news...first, on its way north from McMurdo, the Polar Star made a first-ever port call in Wellington...arriving on Monday the 18th. It was scheduled to leave on the 22nd after giving the ship's crew some liberty in New Zealand's capital city. Two news articles with photos--from stuff.co.nz and radionz.co.nz (thanks Russell Rapp and Chris Rock). But there's more...at right is a great photo of the Polar Star with Wellington in the background....this photo is from USAP veteran/2008 Palmer winterover Carla Appel...here she is sitting in the Captain's chair on the bridge. Carla's photos were taken by Ola Thorsen.
Elsewhere at sea on the other side of the continent, the Nathaniel B. Palmer has been involved in the multinational Thwaites Glacier Collaboration project...but it was diverted to Rothera to allow one of the people on board to be landed and medevaced by air to Punta Arenas. Here is the NSF press release. Also, Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell was aboard and was blogging about the cruise here. And further east, on the other side of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea, the South African icebreaker SA Agulhas II was headed for another project researching the Larsen C Ice Shelf when it first searched for Shackleton's sunken ship Endurance. Alas, the AUV (mini submarine) sent down to explore the sea bottom...got lost. So no data. Here is the BBC News coverage. At right, a photo of one of the AUV's from the expedition website.
From Washington DC...a couple of news tidbits below the headlines...the passage of the spending bill means there will be no further shutdowns of the National Science Foundation this fiscal year, and also, the Coast Guard received $655 million for continuing funding of the first "Polar Security Cutters" (aka icebreaker)! There is also $20 million for long-lead material procurement for a second new heavy icebreaker. Here's the U.S. Naval Institute article (thanks Russell Rapp!).
And the winter has begun at Pole! The last flight of the season headed north on Thursday (Valentines Day!) leaving 42 souls at the bottom of the world for 8 months (photo from Sheryl Seagraves). A few Pole statistics...there were about 78 LC-130 flights; meanwhile the three South Pole Traverses (SPoT) delivered 313,891 gallons of fuel and 40,000 lbs. of cargo, while 40,000 lbs. of steel was shipped north.
And ship offload is over...at about 0200 on 10 February the cargo vessel Ocean Giant left the ice pier (without icebreaker assistance!) and headed north (remember, no fuel tanker this year). A few statistics: 10.5 million pounds of cargo were delivered and 9.1 million pounds of cargo (retrograde, science equipment and samples, and trash) were shipped north.
Some sad news. Richard (Dick) Bowers passed away on 29 January 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana at the age of 90. He was the Navy Seabee construction engineer in charge of constructing the original South Pole Station in 1956-57. In the photo (right) he is at left with scientific leader Paul Siple at the first Pole Christmas party, which was held in the science building on 23 December, as the first group of construction personnel were to leave on the 24th. The two men had celebrated the previous Christmas in a drafty tent on Hut Point, where LTJG Bowers had also directed some of the 1955-56 construction of McMurdo. He had wintered at McM in 1956. Here is his obituary as well as an April 2019 Antarctic Sun tribute article. I was fortunate to have met Dick several times at Antarctic reunion gatherings, he was a great person. The photo at right is by Dick Prescott from the USAP photo library (link to original).
On about 30 January the cargo vessel Ocean Giant showed up at McMurdo, and ship offload is now in full swing. At left, a webcam photo from the 31st, after McMurdo got a dusting of snow. Previously, on 25 January: the Polar Star docked at the ice pier (below right) (check the webcams to see what is going on now). The cargo vessel Ocean Giant should be appearing in a couple of days. As for the tanker...well, there will not be one this year. Thanks to tankage capacity, the wind turbines, and energy conservation, this will be the first season since before IGY when no tanker will show up. Back in the day (50s/60s) before there was enough tankage, the program would require several tankers to keep McMurdo and the inland stations well supplied.
21 January...the seasons are changing. The NGO "tourist" season is over, as the last of the ski trekkers (Masatatsu Abe) had arrived on the 17th. By the 21st the ALE camp was closed up, and the last staff and clients flew back to Union Glacier on a Basler per this Mattieu Tordeur blog post (in French). Earlier, Mattieu had high praise for the ALE camp's cook Zach...here reporting that Zach had previously wintered at Pole. Hmmm...I'm thinking this must be sous chef Zach Kinberg who wintered in 2017. And at McMurdo, the shipping season is underway. The Polar Star has been sighted off McMurdo...yes, "despite breakdowns and missed pay, Polar Star reaches Antarctica" per the 18 January Maritime Executive article of that title (thanks Chris Rock and Russell Rapp). As for the breakdowns, yes...electrical problems including a couple of electrical outages, failure of one of the two evaporator (fresh water making) systems, and (as happened last year) another propeller shaft seal leak which required divers to make repairs. Here's a 22 January workboat.com article, and a 29 January KVAL TV (Eugene, OR) report about the icebreaker's latest difficulties.
There have been a number of news articles in the past couple of weeks about the rapid melting of Antarctic ice, including this brief 14 January Washington Post article that says "Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s." The source of this news...an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences first released on 8 January. It is open access, so have a look at the basic findings!
At Pole, one of the biggest efforts is the upgrade of the DSCS satcom systems (more photos/info). A new radome was erected next to the RF building, it is being fitted out, and the module installed next to the 9-meter GOES terminal is being fitted out so that that dish can be used for DSCS. This past weekend saw the fourth annual "berming man" work project/party...otherwise known as part of the continuing effort to make unwanted stuff on the berm go away. Other stuff being made to go away (perhaps)--a few more pieces of the summer camp area. Discussion and planning was underway to safely demo some buried structures, including "Chades" (the head module that once was surrounded by Hypertats), and the Building 68 substation, which may still be providing power to some summer camp facilities. At left, one of my July 2008 photos inside the Building 68 substation from when I was asbuilting things...access was from a roof hatch and down the ladder. Not many folks have been in here since.
Meanwhile, the construction activities underway at McMurdo include a significant project to install new buried fiber optic cable...site clearance for the new Ross Island Earth Station uphill from T-site and west of the wind turbines. This project will ultimately replace Black Island as the primary satellite terminal. The photo at left (from David Huntsman) shows a rock drill at work on the site--Crater Hill is in the background. The effort this season is involving 648 holes in support of six blasts. More than 55,000 cubic yards of material (soil, permafrost, and rock) must be removed from the hilltop for the foundations and to provide clear visibility. Here's a general site plan...the project details are available here. The earth station will access satellites to be launched by a NOAA partnership which "includes the NOAA collaboration with the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). EUMETSAT will launch a series of enhanced satellites beginning in Fall 2021 that will outstrip the current capacity of the present BITF satellite communications infrastructure supporting the collaboration between NSF and NOAA." Another major project just getting started is the new Network Operations Center. I've described this project here before; the first phase involves an addition to the south side of the SSC. Site clearance is currently underway, while construction is scheduled to begin in February. Because of the anticipated interest in the project, an additional McMurdo webcam is keeping an eye on it...at right is a sample (13 January) image; the link is here.
It's January...and that means that the McMurdo shipping season is already getting underway. First, at the end of December the cargo vessel Ocean Giant was in Port Hueneme loading nearly 7 million tons of cargo, including 498 containers, as described in this navaltoday.com article. The vessel departed on 3 January; by the 13th it was more than halfway to Lyttelton, where it will call on the 19th. As for the ice conditions, on 3 January the NSIDC reported that the Antarctic sea ice extent on New Years Day was 2.11 million square miles, the lowest extent observed in the 40-year satellite record. The extent map is at left, here is the full report. What this means...I've heard a report from the Polar Star that they have only 16 miles of ice to cut through, compared to 40+ miles last year. As of the evening of 12 January, Polar Star was working at 77º-42'S, well south of Cape Royds and several miles west of Tent Island. As for the tanker, it doesn't look like the Maersk Peary will be the one this year...as of the 13th it was in the Med en route to Rotterdam. Meanwhile, the McMurdo ice pier webcam has also been put in operation--go here and select that tab.
Science stuff..On New Years Eve, the second year of the NASA ICESat-2 traverse got underway. This year, glaciologist Kelly Brunt is accompanied by fellow NASA glaciologist Adam Greeley, with support from equipment operator Matt Means and mountaineer Chris Simmons. They'll do another quadrant along the 88th parallel adjacent to the sector done last year, doing a high-precision GPS survey in support of the recently-launched ICESAT-2 satellite. They'll be out for about 2 weeks. At right, a panorama of the traverse equipment that Kelly shared (photo by Matt Means). And here's a closeup of some of the equipment, including those pre-pitched tents (photo by Adam Greeley).
That pesky government shutdown...it isn't any fun for the furloughed employees, but "the U.S. Antarctic program remains operational 'for the foreseeable future.'" per NSF OPP director Kelly Falkner...from this 28 December Washington Post article. Meanwhile, the "great race" across the continent between Colin O'Brady and Lou Rudd is over. Colin finished first, and Lou met up with him at the finish two days later. The New York Times covered both their finishes in articles about Colin's finish and about Lou. And of course it must be noted again that neither man admitted that they used a "road" aka the South Pole Traverse (SPoT) route for 1/3 of their travels...as cussed and discussed by ExplorersWeb. The article includes Colin O'Brady's finish line hero shot (left)...behind him is the SPoT route marker denoting the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. I have more coverage and discussion here.
Traverse news...the first of 3 traverses arrived on 4 December...and the second one (SPoT 2) showed up on the 16th. Interestingly, Thor, one of the people on SPoT 2, posted this highly interesting blog about the trip. I like his sense of humor!
As for other nongovernmental venturers...they've all been struggling with bad weather and lots of snow (!) Some folks have quit, and a noob has just started. Oh, the New York Times published an update on the Rudd/O'Brady competition on 18 December. But My updates are now more current, although I had remiss in updating things...just spent a couple of weeks rambling and tramping in New Zealand.
MORE sad news...two more USAP deaths on the ice. In this case it was two fire techs who were working on systems at the remote repeater site on Mt. Newall in the Dry Valleys. They were discovered on 12 December by a helicopter pilot who was waiting for them to return to his aircraft for the flight back to McMurdo--the pilot found them unconscious on the floor. One of the workers was pronounced dead at the scene; the other was pronounced dead a few hours later at the McMurdo medical clinic. The site was originally set up in the 1980s to support field operations in the Dry Valleys, and it later would transmit seismic and other data from several CTBT monitoring stations. The site includes a wind turbine and solar panels as well as diesel generator backup and a large battery bank, and it is equipped with a CO2 fire suppression system. The CO2, or perhaps carbon monoxide, may have caused the deaths. At right is a photo of the site, the main repeater site building is behind the green New Zealand repeater building. Here is the 13 December New York Times article, the 12 December NSF press release, and my coverage, updated in late January.
There's another McMurdo webcam out there! In addition to the various USAP webcams available here, a University of Oregon project has set up an underwater webcam known as the McMurdo Oceanographic Observatory (MOO). It is 70 feet deep, offshore of McMurdo Station, and it has several different cameras which can be seen here.
An interesting media update on the race between Colin O'Brady and Lou Rudd to cross Antarctica alone and unassisted, is in this 29 November New York Times article. They are on essentially the same route but are some miles apart and haven't seen each other since they started. As of 3 December SP time, Colin had traveled 408 miles and was 102 miles from Pole, while Lou Rudd was about 35 miles behind him. My links and more information for these and other expeditions are below. As of 23 December the race was almost over, as both men were speeding down the Leverett Glacier traverse route with less than 200 miles to go.***
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 will be 25 May-4 June in Helsinki, Finland. 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:
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's the current listing of NGO treks, ventures, a flight(!), and a rowboat trip(!!) which mostly happened in 2019-20. Expedition links from previous seasons are on the news archive page; see these links at the bottom of this page.
Here are my records of the nongovernmental expeditions (skiers/hikers/kiters/drivers/sledders etc...) for: 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-17, 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. 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]