Antarctica

Week 2 Arrival at the South Pole - Bloody Hell it's Cold!!

25th October - 31st October 1999

Because I could see through a window, getting off the plane at South Pole was not quite as breath taking a change as my last flight. The LC-130s when on the ground at Pole are very impressive. They have a big plume of snow and condensation blown out behind them. It's like having a contrail on the ground - well I suppose it is. I started following the others towards a group of people milling around. A bloke came up to me and pointed to the name tag on his parker. It was Bai, one of the winterers I'm replacing. We shook hands and he indicated I should follow him into the dome. This was a very good omen.

Inside the dome the buildings were a bit more shabby than I expected. But compared to the brand new Casey everything looks a bit old. Bai took me to the science room where AMANDA has some computers. Here I met the other AMANDA winterer Nick. We chatted awhile to get to know each other, and then I headed to the mess where the new people were to have a meeting. However when I got there I learned it was postponed untill 7pm. A bloke called Don was going to go check his work area out. He had been here before so knew his way around. I asked if I could tag along to see a bit of the place myself.

Don works at the Clean Air Facility. It's located in the Clean Air Sector, upwind from the station. The wind blows from a very regular direction here. Thus this building is almost guaranteed to get very clean air unpolluted from any local human sources. Their most famous data set shows a sudden rise in Carbon Dioxide levels in the Earths atmosphere. The upshot of all this is that from the dome you will nearly always walk into the wind to Clean Air.

Well I went and put on all my ECW just to be sure and headed off with Don. We had only gone 20 or so yards when I realized I'd made a mistake. It was cold!! But I decided I could make it as it didn't look that far. It's funny how distances are very deceiving in Antarctica when there are no references like trees - or anything. By the time we got there my face, hands, and legs were numb. It wasn't serious as I was fully covered. But bloody hell it's cold!

So I've done some rethinking about what I wear outside. It's now 3 layers - thermal, fleece, and a heavy wind proof layer. On the feet it's socks and Bunny Boots (rubber thermoses for the feet). On my hands I usually have my nice Black Diamond heavy duty gloves, with thermal liners underneath if I'm going to take photos. The face gets extra care with a balaclava, cold weather hat, neck gaiter pulled up over the nose, and snow goggles. This is okay for down to -50C if you are going to be outside for less than an hour and are moving about.

This year will be the biggest summer and winter crew ever at South Pole. The flight I came in on was called Winfly. Winfly can mean either a flight over during winter. Such as the one that dropped medical supplies this year (1999). Or it is the first flight at the end of winter. Our flight was technically not the first flight since the Doc had been pulled out the week before. But it was still called Winfly. One of the conditions that cause flights to be canceled is temperatures below -50C. The day we arrived it was just above this.

Most of the people down here are employed by a company called ASA (Antarctic Support Associates). This is a contract from NSF (National Science Foundation). The scientist like myself are usually employed by universities or national labs. We are either referred to as NSF or grantee. ASA's contract with NSF was up for renewal this year and NSF have been dithering about awarding the contract. There were some other contenders. It was finally announces and ASA did not get the contract. Surprisingly the new company is not obligated to honor the contracts of the people already here. Management considers it unlikely that there will be any major changes. That doesn't stop people worrying. But this doesn't directly effect me.

So the official opening of the station will be some time next week. The crew that have come in work like crazy to get stuff up and running before the hoards arrive (though the winter crew have already made a very good start). There are crews working around the clock to get accommodation ready. A result of all these people is strained station resources.

On Wednesday routine maintenance was to be carried out on the Rodwell. This is the station water source, a big melt bell in the ice. I have no idea where the name came from. But there were problems and the station went on water rationing. In the real world this might mean short showers. But showers were out of the question. Flushing the toilet became a judgment call. We all started to eat off paper plates so there was less washing up. The washing up in the kitchen piled up anyway. On Friday we ran out of water and snow was being melted to give the bare essential water. Finally water was restored on Saturday morning and the station took a shower. Well I had one Sunday.

While South Pole is not a huge station, it's too much to describe all at once. I will start by just describing the dome. The dome is as it's name suggests a big aluminium geodesic dome (165ft diameter at the base and 55ft high) which covers a number of buildings inside. It's not heated at all but is shelter from the wind. It was completed in 1975 and is being buried quite quickly. A new station is being started this year, and once it's completed the dome will be dismantled.

Inside the dome is 3 two-level buildings along with some minor buildings. They are orange with a sprinkling of frost. The inside of the dome is covered with a heavy layer of frost. At the apex is a number of holes to let air circulate, and from these hang a curtain of frosty icicles. All around the buildings boxes of food are stacked. It seems we'll be eating frozen peas for every other meal. Inside the buildings are accommodation for 27 people, the kitchen and mess, science area, communications, video and pool rooms, bar, some offices, shop, and the freshies shack (non frozen food such as fresh vegetables and beer).

You may have noticed there is a lot more people here than can fit in the dome. The people that don't get rooms in the dome get to live in El Dorm (Elevated Dorm), Hypertats, and Jamesways. Rooms in the dome are allocated based on previous ice time. My room in the dome is quite small at 1.7m x 3m and 2.3m high. It has a single bed with a couple of draws under it, a desk with some shelves over it, and some other jury rigged shelves and draws. All the rooms have been modified over the years, and none are alike. I quite like my room even if it is full of junk already.

p.s. Rodwell comes from the name of the designer, Rodriguez. Well this is what I'm told.

To be continued .......

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