Antarctica

Week 6 January 8 2007 The Home Stretch

Accompanying Photos

The feeling on station has been distinctly different since New Years. This happens to some extent each year, as we go into the last part of the summer season and people become focused on the tasks that need to be completed. But it is more than just a focus on completing work, attitudes change dramatically. The excitement of arriving at Pole has worn off, people are getting tired, travel arrangements for leaving have to be made, and in general people start thinking about their lives off the ice. Without the special feeling of being at Pole, tensions and emotions which have until now been masked, rise to the surface. One well known old timer calls it "the season of lashing out".

Early in the week I was walking back with some people from the dark sector and we noticed something unusual. There was a row of largish flags running from the South Pole area out towards the dark sector, most of the way across the runway! In the galley we learnt that there was a day visitor with the Artist and Writers Program and they had installed a few "conceptual art pieces commemorating 50 years of scientific presence at the South Pole, as well as to highlight global climate change". The row of 50 flags represented 50 years of the station at Pole, starting at the present Pole marker. For the first 10 years the flags were placed at the old Pole locations. But I guess he didn't have a tape measure as the row didn't extend out far enough for the other flags to have followed this trend.

I can't say I was very impressed by this piece of "conceptual art" since the actual Pole markers do the same thing in a more meaningful way for me. So I've never seen the entire row, as it would be inconvenient to have Pole markers across the runway. The fact that his flags were not at the old Pole positions, and the row was considerably short, really took away from it (for me). On getting to the galley I'd asked the Area Director (boss of South Pole) what the flags were all about. She'd explained the 3 things he was doing. I figured I should go get a photo for the weekly email, and asked her how long they would be up. She looked a bit worried and said "not very long - there is an inbound flight, and he's supposed to be on it".

I had a quick dinner and rushed out to see if I could get a few snaps before all the flags were gone. Up close the flags were less impressive. The big snow blocks which were placed in the area of the Pole for the annual snow carving competition also take away from the entire Pole area in general (can't we do this somewhere else?). But then I saw the other 2 "pieces" which were aimed at drawing attention to global climate change. There was a circle of white flags around the South Pole (the barber pole, not the geographic pole) inside the ceremonial flags. Each of the white flags had the name of an endangered species from the longitude the flag was on. Inside this there was a circle of black shoes representing people who's lives had been impacted by climate change. With a breeze the circle of white flags had a strong aesthetic appeal with lots of movement and a pleasant fluttering sound. I didn't think to check if the animals were on the correct longitudes. The shoes just looked strange and out of place.

The artist, Xavier Cortada, also presented the Pole with a painting of "Shackleton in the South Pole" which used some unusual materials such as rock and dirt from Antarctica. The likeness is okay, and the surface texture is very interesting, but the darkness of the image conflicted with the idea of the plateau for me.

Xavier Cortada

When we were walking back from the dark sector and initially saw the flags, which were all red at the end we were, we thought it may have been a special welcoming gesture for the Russians who were due to arrive by helicopter. As it was the Russians didn't make it until Sunday. Not a lot of helicopters make it to the South Pole because of the altitude. I have seen one in my time here. A year or two back and there was another that arrived just after I left. The couple who I miss had decided to expand and come back. Sunday had turned into yet another South Pole air show with 4 helicopters scheduled to arrive.

Mid afternoon two sleek Bell Jet Rangers arrived. Being Sunday quite a few people went out to have a look. After the official greetings were done we went up and shook hands and said hello. The people were very nice and chatted about their flight. Eventually they went off to get their official tour and hero shots.

Polar First - Flying to Extremes

The arrival of the Russians kept moving back. But it looked like they would arrive later after dinner. This trip was being led by Arthur Chilingarov, who had flown an biplane to Pole a number of years back. Unfortunately on this trip the plane had problems and could not leave. It sat on the berms for a couple of years before a deal was struck and a maintenance crew came down and repaired the aircraft and it was flown out. There was a lot of jokes about a helicopter or two sitting on the berms.

Once it seemed the Russian arrival was imminent, I went out to watch. There was almost a crowd of onlookers. Eventually we heard the choppers and saw them under the station coming in low. The first impression was of their huge size and appearance. The first was faded military green, and the second was a shiny military camouflage, more suited to the jungle than South Pole.

Chilingarov, a hero of the Soviet Union, seems to always travel with a large entourage. After the official welcomes the huge Mi-8 helicopters were surrounded by the crowd of people who had come out. It is strange what will get the Pole community excited. We have many aircraft come and go each day. We regularly get unusual visitors. But everyone was excited about these helicopters. Everyone wanted to get a hero shot in front of them.

As I was approaching Chilingarov and the other important people started heading towards the South Pole, surrounded by supernumeraries. There was a bloke with a video camera running around catching the historic moment. I somehow got in front of the camera man and he started coming towards me. I didn't want to ruin his shot so tried to move around him. But the camera kept pointing in my direction and was getting closer. He eventually ended up just a few feet away from my face with this big expensive looking camera training right at me. It felt like eternity. I wonder if I ended up on Russian TV, and I wonder what people would think of this poor example of a typical Polie.

Arthur Chilingarov

The contrast between the Mi-8s and the Bells was amazing. The comparison of a brand new Ferrari and well used Humvee came to mind. The Bells had low profile antennas for GPS and Iridium, and one of the Mi-8s had a beautiful sun compass on the dash. Someone taking a close look noticed a piece of avionics in the Mi-8 with a "Made in USA" label on it, which was a joke around town for days.

While I started off saying the atmosphere had changed, we are still in good spirits. Considering the unprecedented hectic schedule, things are going smooth, and no one has yet lost an eye. Power is still an issue, and the thorny subject of power load shedding is being danced around. IceCube has deployed the seventh string of the season, and is on track for a good season. My time is starting to feel short, and I'm pushing hard to get everything organized, retro cargo out, and the IceCube Lab organized and looking good, so I can leave with a good feeling and a clear conscience.

To be continued....

p.s. As I mentioned my time is drawing to an end here. Maybe 2 or 3 more weekly emails. There are many subjects I thought I would write about, but will run out of time. If there is something you would specifically like to know about drop me an email.

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