[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
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. For example, the "Ice Palace" (one of the long-disused summer camp head modules) was hauled out to the ARA site 5 in preparation for work there, and 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--select the "ITC-Prime Construction" tab.
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.
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 generator as well as diesel generator backup, 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 1999-2000 photo of the system from Bob Zook, I don't know if this is still what is there. In addition to the diesel generator, the facility also housed a large battery bank. Here is the 13 December New York Times article and the 12 December NSF press release.
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.
What will be going on at Pole this summer? A contractor will be on site assisting ASC folks with the electronic/IT portion of the DSCS upgrade that was begun last season. On the science side, the IceCube drill camp components are already being dug out for inspection...this is in preparation for a future project (next summer?) to drill for and install seven new strings (October 2018 IceCube press release). Some of the drilling equipment will be retrograded for refurbishment as needed (at left, the two drill towers and some of the camp modules--photo from Sheryl Seagraves). The new project is called the "IceCube Phase I Upgrade." Meanwhile, in support of the recently launched ICESat-2 satellite, the second of four traverses will be conducted to calibrate and validate GPS altitude data. This year, glaciologist Kelly Brunt will be accompanied by Adam Greeley as well as two ASC support personnel; they will traverse about another 300 km along the west quadrant of the 88ºS latitude line, connecting with the segment that was traversed last year. The total distance traveled will be about 750 km or 450 miles. And the "cosmic dust sucker" (aka CRREL's "Sampling comet dust from Antarctic air" project) will be decommissioned and moved to the building berm. And speaking of CRREL, they will show up with the new GPR SPoTbot robot to do another subsurface survey of what might be left of Old Pole. Another project which seems minor unless you've tried to sleep in one of the berthing rooms with (seemingly) paper-thin demountable partitions--some of these partitions will be replaced with more permanent/soundproof walls.
Elsewhere on the continent, the first South Pole overland Traverse (SPoT) of three planned for this season left McMurdo for Pole on 12 November, with 8 tractors and one Pisten Bully. And the nongovernmental tourist/traverse season is well underway--here's my documentation of the various solo and group traverses planned for the summer.
The first LC-130 finally arrived at Pole on 12 November. And there was another the next day, getting (I'm thinking) the last 4 winterovers, including Robert Schwarz, to McMurdo at 0230 on the 15th. Whew! And not only did IceBridge take an amazing aerial photo of the station on the 3rd (right), but Robert left on a DV flight which did a couple of photo passes, giving Robert a chance to take some great aerial photos. Which are here.
An update on Pole flights (or lack thereof)...the first LC-130 Pole flight of the season was scheduled--and actually happened, on Monday 12 November--I'm thinking that this may be the latest first Herc flight ever. Why...various reasons, the major one being the relocation of Williams Field which didn't get completed until the 4th (the airfield move and other information is discussed in this 23 October Antarctic Sun article). In any case, the first aircraft didn't get to McMurdo until Friday 9 November. From NSF: "This was the first LC-130 flight of the Antarctic research season and officially opened the newly relocated airfield" (photo at left by Mike Lucibella). By the way, all but one of the NYANG's LC-130 aircraft now have those 8-bladed propellers, a modification which began in 2008.
Palmer Station update...Paul Kyllonen, age 57, a contractor employee died at Palmer Station due to natural causes at about 1130 local time (UTC-3) on Tuesday 23 October. Here is the preliminary death announcement from the 1 November 2018 Ely (MN) Echo and the 24 October NSF press release. At right, a photo of the Palmer Station community carrying the remains to the Laurence M. Gould (photo by Zenobia Evans). The research vessel had been scheduled to arrive at Palmer Station on Thursday the 25th and return to Punta Arenas on 3 November. There have been previous several USAP deaths on this this side of the continent, but they all occurred aboard ship, either at sea or in Chilean ports.
And the Pole opening flight DID happen, on Thursday 25 October SP time. With a Basler (!) Why? Although the Hercs have started arriving in Christchurch, Williams Field is being relocated a couple of miles, and it won't be ready for a couple of weeks. This 23 October Antarctic Sun article discusses the program's attempt to recover from the earlier weather delays, and it mentions the Williams Field project. Anyway, the first flight brought in 15 people and took out six (that is about the maximum number of pax that can be carried northbound.
21 October...the past week finally saw some completed Antarctic flights. At left, the first Kenn Borek flight--a transiting Basler from Rothera heading to McMurdo, arrives on Monday 15 October...bringing freshies from Chile (photo from David Wolf, also seen in this 20 October Detroit Free Press hero shot). And at right, a C-17 unloads passengers at McMurdo's Phoenix Airfield (photo from the NSF Polar Programs Facebook page)--one of two flights to arrive from Christchurch on Tuesday the 16th after that record weather delay. By the end of the week, McMurdo saw a total of 5 C-17 and 3 Airbus flights between Tuesday and Saturday, so the main body operations are finally starting to get underway. And some of the winterover Polies could be heading north as early as Tuesday the 23rd. Presumably on a Basler, as the NYANG Hercs didn't start heading south from Schenectady until 17 October McM/Pole time, scheduled to get to Christchurch on Monday the 22nd (18 October National Guard news article).
Updates on the Polar Star...on Wednesday 17 October it returned to its Seattle home port after six months of maintenance at Mare Island, per this Thursday Coast Guard press release. What went on at Mare Island--here is my earlier page of information and photos. Also of interest, for the first time since 1995, this season the Polar Star's 2018-19 mission will not only include clearing the channel into Winter Quarters Bay, but also conducting official inspection visits of foreign Antarctic stations in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty. The inspection visits will involve a joint team of Coast Guard, State Department, and NSF/Antarctic Program personnel, and they will also require specialized training for the helicopter crews and support teams, as the Coast Guard expertise for polar helicopter operations has atrophied since the 2005 closure of the Polar Operations Division at the Coast Guard's Aviation Training Center in Mobile, AL. Source of this info--page 13 of the first issue (Autumn 2018) of the Coast Guard Roundtable newsletter.
14 October update...all Christchurch-McMurdo flights have been cancelled until at least Monday the 14th after what Antarctica New Zealand is calling the "longest delay in decades" for the start of the season (14 October Christchurch Press article), and there are at more than 500 people in (and somewhere near) ChCh waiting to fly south. Reportedly this has broken the record for the longest delay of the first main body flight. Here's an earlier NSF Polar Programs announcement on Facebook. Meanwhile, at least the first of the NSF chartered Twin Otters arrived at Rothera on the 9th (presumably Rothera time).
Other interesting stuff from NSF--this 11 October "discovery" news article about that awesome astrophysicist (and German citizen) Robert Schwarz, who is just finishing up his 14th winter. One of those winters was shared with me. There IS a video as well! At left, a random screen grab.
9 October...while the weather at Pole isn't THAT bad (well, it is breezy, 16-20 mph winds, overcast, with blowing snow, temperature -47ºF/-44ºC, wind chill -79ºF/-62ºC), it has been very bad at McMurdo for over a week. The first main body flight was supposed to arrive on 1 October. By now at least seven flights have been cancelled, leaving perhaps 300 people stranded in Christchurch. Some of them have been moved out of town to ski resorts and other places away from ChCh to make room for the new arrivals, while someone unsung isn't getting much sleep while reworking passenger manifests and reprioritizing people, only to rinse and repeat. Looking at the McMurdo webcams, things look like they are improving at the moment, but here's what things looked like at about 0500 McM/Pole time on the 9th (right). Of course, when things finally calm down there will be lots of snow clearing and runway work before flights can land. Current predictions...flights perhaps as early as Friday (the 12th) but more likely not until Monday. Oh by the way, here are the NOAA weather sites for McMurdo town and the Phoenix Airfield. Oh, bad weather on the other side of the continent has delayed the transit of the Kenn Borek aircraft from PA/Rothera to Pole. The first of these was originally scheduled to show up at Pole around the 5th.
30 September: the Defense appropriations bill saw final passage and presidential signature this past week. But although it includes funds for Navy shipbuilding, and the Navy is involved with the Coast Guard icebreaker procurement, the icebreaker funding is included in the Homeland Security funding bill, which won't get discussed in Congress until after the midterm elections. So...in the meantime the Coast Guard has renamed the icebreaker program the "Polar Security Cutter" per this U.S. Naval Institute article. Hmmm...
27 September--lots of news! First, that sunrise dinner happened last Saturday the 22nd...and yes, the sun has been sighted. Dinner documentation at left in a photo from David Wolf--showing the amazing station cake along with Robert Schwarz at front left, IceCuber Raffaela Busse at front right, and SPT guy Adam Jones a few seats behind Raffaela in the white T-shirt (photo thanks to David Wolf). Elsewhere (in Minneapolis) pieces of the next newest BICEP Array telescope are being received and assembled at the University of Minnesota. It will replace the current SPUD/KECK telescope in MAPO, but not until 2019-20...so Robert Schwarz will have one more winter on that project. For more info on the BICEP Array assembly, grad student Mike Crumrine has started this blog with more photos and details! And for even more, here's Mike's August paper "BICEP Array cryostat and mount design" with background, history, and photos.
Elsewhere...a glacier update. It seems that the Board of Geographic Names has changed the name of what was the Marchant Glacier. Why? Sexual harassment accusations against Boston University geology professor David Marchant, made by Jane Willenbring who worked with him in a 1999-2000 field camp. Most recent coverage: this 24 September New York Times article and this 20 September E&E News article which depicts the glacier location in the Royal Society Range not that far from McMurdo. Earlier coverage with details: this AAAS/Science news article has more information and links to the earlier story and investigation, which included this December 2017 letter from the House science committee to NSF director France A. Córdova. Interestingly, also in September NSF announced new measures to protect researchers from harassment, sexual and otherwise--here's their 19 September press release, and here is the related fact sheet.
Older medevac news I just learned about...on 25 August just after the final WINFLY flight had returned to Christchurch, the C-17 crew learned of a medical emergency at McMurdo. So instead of heading for Guam, they prepared to go south again (at left, a St. John ambulance provides medical supplies to the C-17 prior to the flight south). When the aircraft reached McM, the weather was a bit severe...temperature -65ºF/-54ºC and wind chill -94ºF/-70ºC. But the mission was successful--a critically ill patient (who had just been flown to McMurdo on the final WINFLY flight) as well as another patient requiring medical attention reached Christchurch within 24 hours after the medevac request. The full story is in this US Air Force press release which included the photo at left as well as another photo of the C-17 on deck at McMurdo.
12 September...first, I'll briefly mention that the Pole sunrise dinner is scheduled for Saturday 22 September. More recently...an amazing new map of Antarctica has just been made public. What is called the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA) has just been released by a collaboration of Ohio State University and the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota. Here's their basic 4 September announcement page, and if you follow the link you will encounter the documentation page with download links. Be careful what you click on--the full image with all layers is more than 43 tb and your hard disk probably will cough at that. But you can get an annotated (with lat/lon lines and info) or an unannotated PDF here. Both are about 48mb. The best article by far that I've seen about this map project is this 7 September New York Times article, which includes sample image grabs from the huge map as well as links to the Minnesota project site.
3 September...spring is coming, and with it the end of the aurora viewing season. Actually, Pole has been in some form of "twilight" since 1 August, when "astronomical twilight" began. with the sun less than 18º below the horizon. Currently the place is in the midst of "nautical twilight" with the sun between -12º and -6º below the horizon. Back in 1977 we of course didn't have the internet to look this up, but our high-powered (!?) computer had a program that would calculate the sun angles.Anyway, that twilight photo by Johannes Werthebach appeared on the NSF Polar Programs Facebook page among other places. Of course, the aurora shows were "eclipsed" literally on 28 July by the total lunar eclipse. The weather was windy with blowing snow, but folks still enjoyed the show. The photo at right is one of several photos and videos from Robert Schwarz--(more of his stuff here). Mars is above the moon.
Other events that happen this time of year--WINFLY! Perhaps not quite as big a thing these days as there were some winter flights, but between 23 and 26 August there were several flights (delayed by weather of course) by the Airbus 319 and the C-5. Interestingly, it doesn't look like the "frequent flyers" (ie folks with a lot of ice time) get the airliner flights with windows vs the Air Force aircraft. And at Pole...August saw an actual "Iron Chef" competition in the galley--something a bit more real than the "Iron Chef" videos we used to watch at Pole on Sunday afternoons during my 2008 winter. Also in August, the winter project of replacing the station corridor cement board subfloor and vinyl flooring was completed. This winter the target was the second floor of A3 between Medical and the bridge to B2. The photo at left by Marco Tortonese shows Peter Gougeon and Ted Violette finishing up one section. And a bit earlier, the official midwinter photo was taken on the last weekend in July (more on that later).
Icebreaker update...on 13 August the president signed a $717 billion defense authorization bill, which authorizes SIX new Coast Guard icebreakers, with the first to be delivered in 2023! Of course, there's still the funding bill out there somewhere (?!)...here's the CNBC news article (thanks Chris Rock) and the actual text of the authorization act. Other insight, this 21 August U.S. Naval Institute article, outlining the 3 August Congressional Research Report (thanks to Bruce DeWald).
Major science news! It seems that a high-energy neutrino detected by IceCube on 22 September 2017 was quickly traced by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope back to a "blazar" otherwise known as TXS 0506+056, a quasar just off the left shoulder of the constellation Orion, powered by a supermassive black hole. Or so it is thought. IceCube, one definition of which is a "neutrino telescope," has a resolution approximately equivalent to the size of the Moon as viewed from Earth, and the TXS galaxy/black hole is about 0.1º away from the track suggested by IceCube. IceCube has detected a few other high-energy neutrinos since it was first in operation in 2005 (with one string operated in conjunction with AMANDA). I won't go further into the scientific details--rather I'll refer you to this page which provides more information and links, including the IceCube press release which featured the rather amazing graphic at left.
Historic flights...there have been many many round-the-world flights, but to date there have been only three that have passed over both the North and South Poles. Another one had been announced in October, titled the Polar Explorer, but it isn't happening...that website is dead, and my contact hasn't responded. It sounded like a good idea and I was sorta considering going...its Airbus A340-400 was to leave from JFK on 26 October (CNN news article). The Antarctic overflight segment was to begin from Rio Gallegos and fly over the Antarctic Peninsula, Pole, Vostok, and Casey stations before landing in Perth. Prices were to start at $11,900, with an on-board staff including Antarctic and aviation experts as well as a hairstylist, yoga instructor, wine and liquor specialists, and...aviation author Brian Baum, who at age 18 was aboard the last such flight in October 1977. Oh...the photo at right is Jerry Gastil's photo of aircraft as it flew over us 1977 Pole Souls (I actually did NOT see it). Here's more information about that 1977 Pan Am Flight 50, as well as the earlier flights--Polar Byrd I in November 1968 (still the only tourist charter airliner to land and refuel at McMurdo), and Pole Cat in November 1966.
Icebreaker news: the procurement process for the next generation of icebreakers IS continuing...the latest announcements include this gcaptain report from one of the bidders, Bollinger Shipyards, who would build the icebreakers at their Tampa, Florida yard. There are reportedly 5 bidders, perhaps also including Fincantieri Marine Group (Washington DC), General Dynamics (San Diego), Huntington Ingalls (Pascagoula, MS), and VT Halter Marine (also in Pascagoula). All of these companies were contracted for the initial design studies, per this February 2017 Coast Guard news update. As for the current icebreaker procurement contract status...the latest amendment (13 July) states that the technical proposal is still due on 24 August, but the price proposal deadline has been extended from 24 September to 16 October. Thanks to 2000 Pole winterover Chris Rock for this news!
More icebreaker news...in April, the Polar Star (which we all know is America's only heavy icebreaker, recently entered the Mare Island Naval Shipyard (on the bay 25 miles northeast of San Francisco) for what may be 5 or more months of major drydock and yard work. The major stressors...two of three propeller shaft seals failed, requiring some urgent temporary repairs to stem the leakage...and one of the three 25,000 HP gas turbines also failed. Here's my page of coverage, with more photos and links to videos. H/t Russell Rapp for this info!
McMurdo news...the program has just officially announced approval of construction of the IT&C building...the project can also be described as a major addition to the SSC, as seen in the conceptual photo at right (the addition is to be to the right of the existing/white SSC). Despite the title of this announcement, its text indicates that construction will start in February 2019, as confirmed by a friend in McMurdo. And in related news, in April 2018, Parsons was brought on board as a Leidos/ASC subcontractor (similar to PAE, GSC and the other program subcontractors), to work on McMurdo Station upgrade projects. Here's the 12 April Parsons press release; my full coverage of this is on this page of my my McMurdo site.
1 July...happy (belated) midwinter! The big celebration and dinner at Pole happened on Saturday the 23rd. A few days before that, the midwinter photo/greeting card (left) was created...have a look at more about the event!
As described below, there haven't been many opportunities to see stars and auroras in the past several weeks. BUT...there were some last year. Denver resident, photographer, and 2017 winterover Hunter Davis was interviewed in mid-June by Denver's channel 31...and of course the interview includes clips of his photos and videos such as the one at right. Have a look and listen!
15 June...the mostly windy and stormy weather has continued, and that means that there haven't been many chances to see auroras. The full moon at the end of May didn't help either. Among other things, the storm left this interesting drift (left)last week inside the doors of the LO arch (photo by Raffaela Busse from the most recent IceCube weekly news update). During the first full week of June, several daily wind speed records were broken, the highest being 45 knots/51.8 mph/83.4 km/h on 2 June. Meanwhile, the folks at Pole are getting ready and psyched for the midwinter dinner coming up in a week.
In other news, a recent paper in Nature determined that more than 3 trillion metric tons of ice have melted away from Antarctica between 1992 and 2017. Two good reports, this one from Live Science, and this one from The Conversation. And from the northern hemisphere, here's the 23 May report to Congress on U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker procurement, from the U.S. Naval Institute.
29 May update...things at Pole continue to be quiet...but it has been warm of late. Which means it also has been windy. During mid May the winds got up to 30 knots/56 km/h, which meant visibility went down and the amount of required snow shoveling went up. Otherwise and elsewhere, the ninth Old Antarctic Explorers Association reunion was held in San Antonio 9-11 May (logo at right), here's a link to my photo album.
Other interesting Antarctic stuff...icebreakers may be cheaper if bought in quantity. Here's a May U.S Naval Institute article outlining a report to Congress about the heavy polar icebreaker procurement program--buy one for $1 billion, buy 3 for only $2.1 billion. So far, about $360 million has been funded for the preliminary procurement process. And speaking of icebreakers, here from MarineLink is a historical jump back to November 1944 when the first of the four (actually there would be more than four) Wind-class icebreakers was commissioned.
And then there's a hot project called SALSA (!) scheduled for the next austral summer. Actually that is the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access project, which will bore into subglacial Lake Mercer, which lies below the confluence of the Mercer and Whillans ice streams. The project will use a hot water drill similar to what was used for IceCube, and drill a 4000-foot hole to reach the lake. Here's the project website...note that Bob Zook will be involved, as the project will include the deployment of the Deep SCINI underwater ROV--this will be the first ROV deployment into an Antarctic subglacial lake. In 2017-18 a traverse team hauled 500 tons of equipment and supplies to the drill site...here's a great video!
A bit of iconic history, otherwise elsewhere described as the "WikiLeaks of Antarctica..." is the iconic book Big Dead Place. Author Nicholas Johnson, unfortunately, is no longer with us after he blew his brains out in 2012, but his work survives. And his work has now been given a new lease on life. On 30 April, ABC's program Earshot aired a 30-minute podcast/download which describes and details Nicholas's work, life, and the rest of his story. The interview and accompanying web pages include the voices and photos of several friends. Two ABC links of interest: this page gives basic information about the episode along with links for listening to or downloading the story...and this page gives additional background information as well as more photos. But that is not all. Nicholas' sister worked to get THE BIG DEAD PLACE WEBSITE back up to coincide with the release of this documentary. Have a look! Not everything is there, but there is a lot of the good stuff. The photo of Nicolas at left shows him at work in the McMurdo waste barn in about 2001...it's from Kathy Blumm and used by permission.
There were not one, but TWO significant Antarctic celebrations at USAP small stations in late March...of course, the expected one was the sunset dinner at South Pole on 24 March (left above, photo by Raffaela Busse). But there was more...on 20 March a major celebration was held at Palmer Station commemorating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the permanent station! More details of that, as well as links to documentation of the 1968 dedication event...are here.
Other important stuff...the Pole winterover statistics page has been updated for 2018 Check it out!
As I also keep track of NSF's Arctic program, I'll mention that the Arctic support contract is being rebid. It was previously awarded to CH2M Hill for a 4-year base period beginning on 1 February 2012, with options for two 2-year extensions. More recently, CH2M has been acquired by Jacobs in 2017, but the Arctic support contract organization site Polar Field Services has not been updated to mention Jacobs (perhaps this is because the person in the Littleton office who used to update these things, Kip Rithner, is no longer with us. Anyway, the draft RFP was to be issued in April, with proposals due in September and award due in August 2019, presumably to begin on 1 February 2020. Already at least one company (Parsons) is seeking to hire people to work on the proposal. The presolicitation info is here.
A bit of news from the Antarctic Peninsula area...a research team from UCSB was studying raised beaches (a sign of historic sea level changes) on Joinville Island just north of the Peninsula. But when it came time for the Laurence M. Gould to pick them up, the sea ice conditions were too think. So instead they were picked up by an Argentine Navy helicopter (right) on 11 March for eventual transfer to the Gould. Info/photos/video....
"Breaking" news from...the Washington DC Navy Yard (my first duty station in my early 1970's Navy days). On 2 March, the official request for procurement (RFP) was issued for from one to three new heavy icebreakers...in what is called the Heavy Polar Icebreaker (HPIB) program. The RFP release was announced in Coast Guard commandant ADM Paul Zunkunft's 1 March State of the Coast Guard address, and described in these Navy Times and US Naval Institute news articles. The official RFP posting is here, although most of the the technical specs aren't/won't be available to the general public. The first vessel is supposed to be available in 2023, and there are provisions for possible armament. While the icebreakers are destined for the Coast Guard, the procurement is being handled by the Naval Sea Systems Command, which has much more experience with the procurement of large military vessels. Five bidders are expected to submit proposals.
18 February...last week of the summer season. As with the first weeks of the season, several flights were cancelled. But there WAS a final flight on Friday the 16th. But first...earlier that day there was a partial solar eclipse (right, photo by Robert Schwarz). More than 40 percent of the Sun was covered! It was a bit hazy as you can see, and the weather continued to deteriorate, so the last flight opted not to do a fly-by. After it disappeared, there were 40 winterovers left behind--this is the smallest winterover crew since 1998--before the elevated station construction got underway.
10 February...the summer season is winding down...people are leaving, winterovers are arriving, and it is cool (-35ºF/-31ºC). The summer construction and science season is over...more details are here.
Yes, there was yet another government shutdown, although it didn't last long enough to have any effect on USAP (although I didn't get up in the middle of the night to see if the NSF and Coast Guard websites had been shut down).
Speaking of the Coast Guard, on 6 February they put out this news article about the Polar Star's adventures and misadventures on their 2017-18 trip to McMurdo. The ice conditions were not as bad as last season, but there was that "flooding" and "engine failure." At left, one of many Coast Guard photos (by CPO Nick Ameen) from the Flickr album accompanying the article--this shows it breaking ice in McMurdo Sound on 13 January. Other photos depict some of the repair efforts. Meanwhile back in the USA, the U.S. Naval Institute has announced that the RFP for a new Coast Guard heavy icebreaker is expected this month. I will be watching for that. Hmmm...FIVE prospective bidders?
A wrapup on the McMurdo shipping season...after the Ocean Giant arrived on 19 January (photo below left) and was securely tied up, the "offload" portion of the evolution took only 2-1/2 days. The backload would take a bit longer, but it departed on the morning of 2 February...to be replaced at the pier by the tanker Maersk Peary. At right is a rather unique photo (from Michael Christensen) of the Ocean Giant departing, the Polar Star standing by, and the Maersk Peary lurking until the coast is clear. The tanker would tie up later that day...and stay until 6 February. Here's a webcam view of it heading off in the distance.
22 January...yes, there was a government shutdown. But this time, since the one in 2013, USAP has changed its funding structure so that there is no immediate impact. For a time the Armed Forces Network was shut down, cancelling TV broadcasts to McMurdo, but later it was declared "essential" meaning that folks could watch the NFL playoffs on Monday instead of, say, flying LC-130's to Pole. But it is early yet. In 2013, things went along normally for about a week before things started getting shut down and people started to lose their jobs.
And it IS the shipping season! The Polar Star first appeared off McMurdo around 14 January. By the 19th it was at the pier, checking in before heading back out to continue breaking out the channel. In the photo at left, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is waiting for the Coast Guard to go away so it can dock. The cargo vessel Ocean Giant left Lyttelton on the 18th and is supposed to reach McMurdo around the 25th. And the tanker Maersk Peary is now south of Australia after a stop in Fremantle.
17 January: after the successful lowering of the beer can stairs and adjusting all of the attached piping, some of the attention has turned to doing a bit of jacking and leveling of the elevated station itself. It's early so no photos yet.
But...the calendar and the news bring to mind the discussion of another US government shutdown this week. What might this mean for the US Antarctic program? Too early to tell, of course. And hopefully we won't have to find out. The last time a shutdown actually happened was in October 2013...resulting in major program disruptions and lost jobs--many people already deployed to McM or en route were sent home. Some never were rehired. And the end of the shutdown happened less than 24 hours before the Palmer Station summer science season would have been cancelled. Details!
13 January: here is a glimpse of one of the more visible summer construction projects--a new equipment module to better manage reception of the DSCS satellite. Here's the foundation support structure (from Sayer Houseal)...yes, more photos coming soon. Otherwise at Pole...the berms continue to be attacked...including the third annual Berming Man (no bonfires were created for this event)...and Kelly Brunt's NASA ICESat-2 traverse has completed and the team is back at Pole (latest blog post).
The NGO trekkers continue to arrive and approach as their season starts to wind down. Veteran Ben Saunders reached Pole on 29 December but opted not to continue his planned unsupported trip to the Ross Ice Shelf due to a shortage of food (Telegraph article). And Robert Swan opted to leave his South Pole Energy Challenge trek temporarily as he felt he was slowing the progress. He rejoined his group, along with some "last degree" folks, at 89ºS. They are one of the last 2 NGO teams/individuals still trying to reach Pole. Looks like the deadline for them to reach Pole before ALE pulls out is 17 January. My full coverage of all NGO ventures is here.
2 January...Happy New Year! Of course New Years Day brings with it the unveiling of the brand new South Pole marker...co-designed by BICEP3 winterover Grant Hall and IceCuber Martin Wolf. Here are the details. The quote "By endurance we conquer" is a translation from the Latin of "Fortitudine vincimus" which was the Shackleton family motto. More info with photos...this 6 January Saxony FreiePresse article (in German)--which includes the photo of the makers at right. From left--the fabricator, machinist Matt Krahn, and the designers Grantland Hall and Martin Wolf (Martin's photo).
The past weeks have brought significant progress to the summer construction projects--one of these--a significant effort to lower the stair tower in the beer can was recently completed. This was required because the station is settling faster than the vertical tower structure. The project involved setting up screw jacks on each of the ten columns and slowly lowering the steel structure 12 inches in two six-inch lifts. Modifications to the plumbing, piping, and elevator systems were also required. The result--perhaps one or two less stair steps in that torturous stair climb! Meanwhile, the other projects including the ice tunnel wall cutting and escape raise work, as well as the new DSCS platform are also well underway.
The McMurdo shipping season is fast approaching. The first part of that will be the icebreaking by the Coast Guard's Polar Star. It departed Honolulu on Friday 15 December local time (gCaptain article) and arrived in Lyttelton on the 29th. They stayed there for the New Years weekend, during which time some of the crew were to participate in a tree-planting project in the area of last year's Port Hills fire (stuff.co.nz article). They were to head south on 2 January, taking with them a New Zealand naval officer who will be observing things. Meanwhile, the cargo vessel Ocean Giant left Port Hueneme on 2 January SP time and is now heading southwest toward Lyttelton...and the tanker Maersk Peary is heading southeast in the Indian Ocean after transiting the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.
Merry Christmas! At right...the Christmas dinner, which happened on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning brought the latest rendition of the Race Around the World. That dinner photo is from Kelly Brunt...she and her NASA traverse team were a bit delayed in their departure, so they were around for the festivities, before eventually setting off around 2 January. As for their traverse project...read on:
16 December...an interesting NASA science traverse is about to get underway from Pole. Glaciologist Kelly Brunt, along with cryospheric scientist Tom Neumann (and a lucky mountaineer and mechanic to be named later) will set out on 21 December in two Pisten Bullys, each towing a magic carpet (plastic sled) carrying their supplies and equipment. This will be a 470-mile 2-3 week traverse. The goal is to provide accuracy assessment and ground truth for the IceSat-2 satellite (which will be launched in 2018 to measure and track ice sheet elevation changes). They will head north initially along the SPoT traverse route, and then turn east to follow the 88ºS parallel to 131ºE, where they will turn south and head back to Pole (map at left). Most of this terrain is unexplored. They will collect GPS elevation data and set up reflector cubes that the ICESat laser beams may be able to find. Both Kelly and Tom are no strangers to the ice--Kelly has worked on various other projects on continent and remotely with IceBridge as well as in Greenland, and Tom wintered at Troll in 2007 before the first year of the Norwegian-American traverse. More project info... as well as their blog!
11 December. By this point the major summer projects are finally ramping up after the early season flight delays. On station, the big ones are the rework of the ice tunnel escape raises (emergency access ladders--something that has been cussed and discussed for several seasons), the upgrade of what originally was the GOES-MARISAT antenna (both of those satellites are no longer around) to handle the current DSCS satellite, and the relocation of the sheet metal shop--the last of the old construction Jamesways originally put up to support the elevated station construction. Meanwhile, on the science side, perhaps the largest project is the expansion of the Askaryan Radio Array (ARA) project from three to six sites--the first major expansion of this University of Wisconsin project since it was originally set up west of the IceCube laboratory in 2011-12.
Otherwise, the first group of NGO tourists visited Pole recently after having been flown in from Union Glacier...and most of the long polar and other NGO treks are well underway (details).
The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star headed south from Seattle a week ago...as of 11 December they were approaching Hawaii. The cargo ship, presumably once again the Ocean Giant, will be heading south from Port Hueneme at the end of the month.
4 December...the first South Pole Traverse (SPot) reached Pole last Thursday the 30th. Two photos: the one at left is from Sheryl Seagraves, some of the equipment in front of the station shortly after arrival. The photo at right is earlier and also of interest. It was taken by members of the Spectre Expedition team, who met up with the traverse team on about 25 November at about 87ºS. The expedition was headed north to the Gothic Mountains where they intend to do some significant rock climbing...they briefly followed the traverse route, which allowed them to get some serious kiting on the freshly broken tractor trail. The second traverse left McMurdo around the same time, and should get to Pole around the 21st.
Tuesday 28 November: the dearth of flights continued...until yesterday. On Tuesday the 21st was the last ChC-McM flight to bring Polies south--the New Zealand Air Force 757. But they ended up being stuck in McMurdo over the Saturday Thanksgiving holiday, as did the last seven 2016 winterover Polies who'd flown north to McM on the 22nd. But as I write this, an aircraft just left Christchurch, which should get those last winterovers in ChC early Tuesday morning. And the waiting Polies in McMurdo, including a large SPT crew, reached Pole around 2300 on Monday the 27th.
21 November: a bit more of an update on the Pole flights (or lack thereof). As of the 20th there had been exactly THREE Herc flights to Pole...the most recent of which was that DV flight mentioned below. Which had an extremely rough landing...touching down on the last 1000 feet of the skiway. Well, there WAS another Pole flight on 18 November...but it was a C-17 doing the annual airdrop practice, and it obviously didn't land. But it DID stop at McM on its way north to pick up waiting Pole wo's and others and transport them to Christchurch, although they did carry enough fuel to not land on the way north if the McM weather had turned bad. Did the airdrop drop anything useful? No. Just sand or shredded paper (?). Another good bit of insight on the recent McMurdo weather--this blog post from the University of Wisconsin automated weather station team stating that the McM weather at this time of year is the worst that blogger Carol Costanza and others have ever seen. Slight update...this morning, folks were being checked in at the CDC for a southbound C-17 flight...they haven't posted that they were sent back to their hotels, so hopefully they are in the air as I post this.
18 November...and it has been more than a week since there have been any McM-Pole flights...or ChCh-McM flights, for that matter. Bad weather can be blamed for some of this...a couple of days ago McM was in Condition 1. But at other times the weather seemed perfect. So...this has left the remaining winterovers are stuck at Pole, while others have been stuck at McMurdo...not to mention many southbound pax also stranded. The most recent ChC-McM B-757 was just cancelled, and the next McM-Pole flight is currently scheduled for Sunday 19 November...the NYANG normally does not fly on Sundays.
Perhaps the last flight in and out of Pole may have been this one on 9 November. After leaving Pole, McM was socked in so the aircraft and passengers spent the night at the Italian station on Terra Nova Bay. There were no Polies on board, it was a DV flight, so presumably there were USAF public affairs folks aboard...so presumably that's why that article was written.
But that's not to say that there haven't been flights into Pole. On the 13th, the first AL&E Twin Otter showed up from Union Glacier, bringing staff to start opening up the NGO/tourist camp. And the NGO trekkers have already started heading south. Meanwhile, the first AL&E Ilyushin IL-76TD aircraft arrived at UG from Punta Arenas on 4 November--two weeks earlier than last year due to good weather. And the flight brought Ben Saunders, the Ice Maiden team, as well as Astrid Furholt and Jan Sverre Sivertsen".
8 November...as usual, more LC-130 flights had been scheduled in the past week, and cancelled for various reasons, some for weather, some for ??. But the second one finally did show up late evening on Tuesday the 7th, taking about 30 winterovers north. The summer season is well and truly underway.
More strange sad news from Washington state about an old subject...Al Baker's 52-year prison sentence for murdering his reported fourth wife Kathie Hill Baker in June 2012. On 6 October 2017 it was reported that he'd filed another appeal, this time claiming that his trial attorney had been ineffective. ??...read the story yourself in this 6 November Whidbey News-Times article.
Trivia with a bit of an update: to date the NOAA winterover teams have included a total of 13 women over the years. As of now, the 2018 w/o team will consist of two women--both the NOAA Corps officer and the civilian tech. Only once before did the NOAA team include two women--that was in 1993 when there were three NOAA folks wintering. The two women were Katy McNitt Jensen and Kathie Hill, who was not part of the ongoing NOAA global monitoring team, but rather monitoring a separate wind profiling project. Yes, THAT Kathie Hill who was murdered in Whidbey Island, Washington, in 2012...per the above paragraph.
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 has evolved into the Polar Conservation Organisation, but it still features some Antarctic and related news from everywhere, although the site is hard to navigate.
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 2018 Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting (ATCM XLI) was held in Buenos Aires between 13-18 May. Once again I saw absolutely NO media coverage...and a review of the papers presented confirmed the reason for the lack of media interest. I always look for a Russian report about the Lake Vostok drilling project, but for the second year in a row there was no coverage. The 2019 meeting will be 1-11 July in Prague, Czech Republic. Here is the official Treaty home page. From there you can navigate to the final reports, or you can search the various meeting papers by selecting the "Meeting From/To" and/or the submitters.
Nowadays there are a number of commercial marathon/ultramarathon ventures in the Antarctic...most commonly sought out by people who want to complete a marathon on all seven continents:
As for nongovernmental visitors to Pole, the 2011-12 season was the biggest ever for Pole, as it had been the centennial year of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival at what has been called an "awful place." But folks continue to show up. There are two principal tourist operators--flights from Punta Arenas to 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, has established a tourist destination "Whichaway Camp" near Novo (no, nowhere near the Whichaway Nunataks) with penguin colonies and mountains nearby. TAC also operates its "Oasis" guesthouse about 10 miles from Novo at Schirmacher Oasis. Novo is a 3000m blue ice runway originally built by ANI near the Russian Novolazarevskaya base, in the past it was known as Blue One, and on some maps you may see it designated as "White Desert." Perhaps the most serious travel agent booking Pole trips is the Chicago-based company Polar Explorers...they are booking trips to Pole via PA/Union Glacier starting at around US$50,000 ex PA.
Here are my records of the nongovernmental expeditions (skiers/hikers/kiters/drivers/sledders etc...) for: 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]