Thursday, October 18, 2007

Brrr . .

The heat was turned off in our building last night. I don't know if it was planned or by accident, but it is more than a little cold in here this morning and I'm not happy about it. Definitely, no Keens today. I think this might be like one of those days where the house is colder than it is outside. Ugh. Send warmth fast, please.

Last night, the Kiwis (New Zealanders) at Scott Base held American night. Their base of 80 invites the 800 Americans to go over there. Personally, I think that it is just a secret ploy to fund their base. So many Americans run to their store to buy their Kiwi paraphanelia that the line takes well over twenty minutes to get through. I bought nothing, but the store was so small I pretty much had to stand in line to get a look at what they had to sell.

The view from Scott Base. The crunched ice in the middle is how ice pressure is relieved.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why are we here and what do most of us do?

Why are we here?
We are here to help support scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean as dictated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) via the United States Antarctica Program (USAP). The current list of science projects for this year can be found at . To spare you the technical jargon, I’ve compiled the following abbreviated list:

  • Global Warming
  • Climate Change
  • Atmospheric research
  • Penguin and Seal ecology
  • Astronomy, Astrophysics
  • Ocean currents
  • Seismic studies
  • Biodiversity studies in relation to climate change
  • Ice flow movement and fluctuations
  • Transantarctic Expedition
  • Ice Dynamics
  • Biology
  • Meteorological
  • Microbial ecology
  • Volcanic studies
  • Heliospheric and solar studies

What do we do?
McMurdo base can hold up 1,200 people. We currently number around 800. I believe we have two flights coming in next week that should dramatically increase our current population. When we get the entire main body of people for the summer season across the continent, our break down should be as follows:

  • 298 - NANA (Food, Recreation, Custodial, Housing)
  • 400 - Facilities, Engineering, Maintenance, & Construction
  • 8 – Environmental and Safety
  • 2 – Finance
  • 3 – Human Resources
  • 30 – Medical
  • 74 – Information Technology
  • 200 – Logistics (Cargo)
  • 470 – Operations (Fleet Maintenance, Mechanics)
  • 105 – Science Support (Field Guides, Marine Techs, Lab Techs, etc.)

All of these people support the 717 scientists who will work in McMurdo, South Pole, or Palmer stations from October through February. They won’t all be living here at once. Some will come for the entire season. Some will only be here for six weeks. Only certain individuals directly support the scientists. Because of that, there is a pretty big split between the two groups. To bridge those gaps, they have weekly science lectures to educate the support staff about what research is going on. Personally, I think I have only met one group of researchers from the Mayo Clinic who are studying altitude effects on sleep and injuries.

Last night, we were celebrating Meghan’s last night in town before she deploys to her field site, Black Island, for the summer. (John and Cecilia, Meghan is the one you fed your fabulous veggie burgers to my last night in town.) Black Island can hold up to fifteen people but normally only has a permanent body of two. Meghan is the cook. I believe the other person is a station manager. They’ll take a 24 minute ride on a Huey helicopter to get over there.

We started out at the bowling alley. Yes, there is bowling in Antarctica. I have no idea what the logistics or cost were to set up a bowling alley down here, but we have it and have it in Cosmic Bowling style.

Cosmic Bowling.

The bowling alley is only open during certain hours because it requires a manual reset of the pins. If it was good enough for Roy Munson, then I guess I’ll call it good enough for me. It is definitely weird to see someone’s legs pop down after you throw every ball. Mke sure to never confuse the legs for pins.

Hally’s striped socks getting ready to set up the pins.

There was one pin resetter for each lane and they moved amazingly quick to get everything ready. In addition to having their regular jobs, these people get paid extra and collect tips for setting up the pins on what should be their nights off. At the end of the night, they were even nice enough to stay an extra few minutes to let us finish up the tenth frame. I broke 100. Kevin destroyed everyone and almost got two turkeys. He was on fire.

Hally, said like Sally, setting the pins back into place and her co-worker in the background waiting for pins to be knocked down.

After bowling, we headed over to The Coffee House, which is a non-smoking wine bar. They only serve wine and hard alcohol, no beer. For beer, you have to head over to one of the other two bars. It is a very relaxed atmosphere and the only bar I’ll spend time in at the station.

The Coffee House

While at the Coffee House, I adamantly explained the benefits of Tim Tam Slams (thank you, Lindsey). It took a while to convince people to go get hot cocoa when they felt they should have been putting down alcoholic drinks. Finally, they relented and got to enjoy this taste Australian version of American smores. Basically, take a chocolate covered wafer cookie, bite the corners off, suck the hot chocolate through the wafer, and when you taste the hot chocolate, throw it all in your mouth to enjoy the chocolate mushy goodness.

Me, adamantly explaining the benefits of the Tim Tam Slam

Meghan sucking up the hot chocolate in her second Tim Tam Slam.

Meghan enjoying the chocolaty mushy goodness.

Finally, around 11:30 the Coffee House closed up and we said are goodbyes to Meghan.

On my way home, I took these two pictures. Keep in mind this is 11:30pm.

Outside of the Cardio Gym with the sun peaking out above it at 11:30pm.

Overlooking the power plant and Ice Runway at 11:30pm.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Weather.

Today's post is dedicated to Sheetal Jhaveri to whom this topic is very near and dear. As most of you know, I’ve never been concerned with the weather forecast. The most attuned I have ever been with the weather is when Sheetal would have me check the nightly weather for her so she knew what to wear in the morning. I was going to wear the same thing no matter what. Oh, to be a simpleton.

Today's weather

In the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), we have three weather conditions:
Condition 3 is defined as having winds less that 48 knots/hour (that is greater that mph), wind chills warmer than -75 F, and visibility greater than a quarter mile. This is a typical day in the summer. Wind chills that could probably give you frost nip, the first stage of frost bite, in under a minute are part of a standard day where we are expected to report to work.

Condition 2 is defined by one or more of the following conditions: wind speeds between 48-55 knots, wind chills of -75 F to -100 F, and visibility less that one mile. We still work on these days, but are required to take a radio, check in, and check out when leaving town.

Condition 1 is defined by one or more of the following conditions: wind speeds greater than 55 knots, wind chills cooler than -100 F, or visibility of less than 100 ft. If this condition ever occurs, then we are restricted to whatever building we are in. If you are at work, stay put. If you are at home, stay put. If you are running an errand in the worst building in town, stay put. I believe you even have to stay put if you are in a vehicle that is parked next to your favorite building in town.

Some more experienced folks have pointed out that I should pay attention to the weather board on bad days. They have noticed that the entire area around us will be Condition 3. However, town (McMurdo) will remain Condition 2 until 8am when most everyone is at work since we start work at 7:30am. I don’t know if there is any truth to it, but it would be convenient for those at the top who want to get their money’s worth from us.

Today's area conditions

For those of you who don’t know, we are down here to work and to support the scientists, not to play. That means working nine hours a day, six days a week so an extra day off due to weather would be huge. Who isn’t excited by snow days? We are getting lucky this summer season and getting three two-day weekends this year: Thanksgiving (which leads into my birthday), Christmas, and New Years. Though, we don't get two days off for Halloween, it is rumored to be an epic celebration down here. I'm looking forward to all of them.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Getting Ripped in the Antarctic!

Ask questions. I can't stress that enough. If you guys keep asking questions via comments on the blog or e-mail, I'll answer them the best that I can.

In honor of the most crowded yoga workout that I have ever done, I am showing pictures of the facilities around base to help you stay in shape. There are quite a few. Sam, you’ll be happy to know there is even a sauna just across the hall from my room. It might not be as beautiful as Deer Creek, but the walk sure beats the drive.

I didn’t take a picture of my yoga class, but I should have. It was in the Chapel of the Snow and it was so crowded I did most of the class in a closet. Every mat was within two feet of every other mat. I got there on time, which apparently means late, even though I arrived with the instructor. The only place I could find was against a back wall which was fine when we were standing with our feet together. However, when we did lunges of any sort, I had to back into a closet to make room. Ridiculous and kind of fun.

These first pictures are from a trip I made down to the helipad today to install some GPS software. Unfortunately, I wasn’t flying anywhere, but I did find out that my flight weight is probably 175 lbs. After that, I headed over to the gymnasium which is right next door. The gymnasium has what I believe to be a full size basketball court, plenty of balls, and a climbing wall. Yes, a climbing wall in Antarctica.

The gymnasium and ball racks.

The climbing wall.

On my way back from the helipad, I swung by the weight room building. I’ve been in there a couple times, but today was a little different. There were about twenty buckets on the ground to collect leaking water. As a loose rule, it doesn’t ever rain here. I guess it is from the melting ice. The three people working out didn’t seem to mind at all. Upstairs from the weight room are a couple recreational rooms and a full climbing room. So we not only have a climbing wall, but a full room as well. Antarctica is a very harsh continent.

The weight room

The climbing room

The final workout facility we have, and the one I know the best, is the Cardio Gym. It is about 50 yards from my dorm. Because it is so close, I always put on my gym clothes in my room, wind pants, my Big Red jacket and dash for it. My current running shoes are ventilated so my feet can breath. Normally, that is good. When I am running over, it lets in a ton of cold air. Not good.

The Cardio Gym

Not too much really went on today. I worked and got to run all over base again. I really appreciate being able to walk around. While I am out, I usually only see 1-2 other walkers and 2-3 vehicles driving around. I guess that most people are stuck in their offices and that just won’t do when I want to explore.

My last call of the day was down to the power plant. They have a computer clock that runs slow every day even when they fix it. This computer controls the DDC(?) which can digitally control all the power on base. I wasn’t assigned this task. I just grabbed it from the queue because it had been sitting there a few days. I now know why it had been left there. If I can locate a battery for this old machine still running Windows 98 then we’ll shut it down, change batteries, and boot it back up. If all goes well, they have a clock that keeps time. If not, maybe the power goes down and we all freeze to death. Keep an eye on CNN for that one. The workshop manager assures me that the computer can stay down for twenty minutes and it won’t matter. OK, maybe it isn’t that dramatic, but I’d watch CNN just to be sure.

Tonight, I’m off to a lecture on outdoor safety. You aren’t allowed to wander off the main part of town without a guide unless you have attended. I’d like to head out and explore some of the surrounding areas eventually so I’m off to do that tonight. Kind of boring, but it will lead to kind of exciting.

One last picture of a bust of Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd on the porch of the Chalet (where the important people on base work). He was a famous American polar explorer. I believe he was the first person to ever fly to the South Pole. He flew from a base near here called ‘Little America.’

View from the back of the Chalet

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Today has been a quiet day, but it has also been a day that reminded why I love this type of job even though a lot of people don't understand why I would take it. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a PC tech. I’m the guy who walks around replacing monitors, keyboards, and whatever else might come up. It is a stretch from what I was trained to do, but I make people’s days better when I show up and help them out. I also meet a lot of new people and get to explore the base. Sometimes, I get to hel out friends, who might only need their time zone changed, but it gives us a chance to catch up.

The bulk of my day was taken up by one Steve Miller (not the singer). He was having trouble with his Palm Pilot and our computers. I spent five to six hours with him. Everyone else in my shop made it clear that I shouldn’t be going over the top. I didn’t have anything pressing going on and it was important to him so I kept at it after a lunch break. I got it. I made his day. Instant gratification, lots of people, and lots of different tasks (even if they aren’t all challenging) are what makes this job work for me.

The pictures for today are of my work place which is why I have been talking about work in this post.

My building. We have no running water and consequently no bathrooms. I have to put on my ECW gear and walk about 75yds to the nearest bathroom. It is quite a process.

The ‘foyer’ of my building is actually storage for a fork lift. The smiley face at the base of the steps is where you start your journey up to my office.

With the exception of the forklift, the entire downstairs is food storage for the galley. Kurt, the guy who runs it, is the man. Without him getting food, we don’t eat. Apparently last year they had an issue that people were missing out on A-1 Steak Sauce. They had it, but it was buried in the back where they couldn’t reach it.

My office!!! Allan is my coworker. He reminds me of David's, my brother, computing tendencies. I sit at the desk in the back by the entrance to the office. My back is to the door. Hopefully, no one will sneak up on me and enact who knows what type of revenge. The picture was taken from another small room where our three supers sit.

I’m not sure if these apes refer to us or to the people we work with, but it is some running joke from before I was here.

I’m about to leave work so I don’t have too many parting thoughts. I’ve been running three times since I’ve been here and put in 22 miles. Running on a treadmill isn’t great, but it is growing on me. It might also be the fear of being the guy who ‘frostbit his wang’ on base too. I’ll get out eventually. I have to get ready for the marathon in January. I’m not definitely going to do it, but I am going to have it as a loose goal this summer. If nothing else, it will keep me in shape.

My First Penguin

Today, I finally got to see my first penguin, but it wasn't what I expected.

After waking up entirely too early on my only day off to go for a run, I found out about a trip headed out to Cape Evans where Emperor penguins sometimes hang out. Cape Evans is where Robert Falcon Scott erected his hut (Scott's Hut) in 1911 on his fatal expedition to reach the South Pole. He did reach the South Pole but perished miles from a supply point on the way home.

A plaque on the wall of the first ‘room’ in the hut.

These trips are pretty hard to get on. This one was actually reserved for Polies (people headed to the pole) and waste people. I don't fall into either category, but I begged the leader to let me in if people didn't show. Two people didn't show. I am guessing it was because the night before was the first live music of the season and people were out causing a ruckus. We loaded up in the Delphi (?) trucks. No heat, cramped with 18 people each, sleeping bags for everyone, food, water, and waste bags. I don't mean garbage waste. I mean human waste. I don't think anyone used it, but I was very curious as to how long it would take human urine to freeze in the conditions we encountered.

Our Delphi Truck.

We left at 12:30 for the 2 hour ride out there. We had hoped to visit another glacier on the way, but the visibility was terrible due to the increasing wind. When we finally reached Scott's Hut, the visibility improved and the wind kicked up.

The flags are what the drivers use to get around in low visibility conditions we encountered.

We waited a few minutes while they took shovels over to the hut to clear a way and make sure it was safe. While we waited, I got to experience my first Antarctic weather. It was rumored to about 0 F, but the wind was gusting at a level I'm not sure I have felt before. I was wearing my giant bunny boots, three layers on my bottom and top, and accessories to make sure no skin was showing on my extremities. I might need to add a second layer to my hands. My body was warm, but within a few minutes my fingers were going numb.

Bundled up Brody

Eventually, they determined the way was safe and we headed over to hut and its over looking vista. Only twelve people were allowed in the hut and a line was forming, so I headed towards the hill first. The wind continued to pick up. It was ridiculous. On a flat section before the hill started, I stood on the ice and the wind blew about five feet. The top of the hill provided a lot more wind, my first dead battery due to cold of the season, and some perspective on where we were. Amazing. I'm not sure the pictures really do it justice.

Some of Scott’s supply crates on the way up the hill.

View from the hill.

I spent a lot of time taking out the battery from my camera and replacing it with another one from a warm part of my body. Since the battery dies due to the cold, I just have to warm it up. I have spares, but to get them where they really need to be, I have to unzip a ton of my clothes. It wasn't good. This is where I really learned I need another layer on my hands. I couldn't do anything with the gloves I had on.

After I left the hill, I finally got to go in the hut and get my first experience with a penguin. It probably isn't what you are expecting, but here you go:

Perfectly preserved penguin after 100 years o n Scott's desk for your viewing pleasure.