chilling feet

chilling feet

Friday, April 7, 2017

The One Antarctic Sunset Per Year

The sun has been setting now for a few weeks. I suppose when you only get one sunset a year it has to be a show - and it has been! The colors, reflections off of the ice and snow, and the prolonged nature of the sunset has been quite a treat. This first picture was shared with our group and while it is not named I believe it was taken by Martin Wolf, though I cannot be sure. 

I will have some more pictures of the amazing sunset, do not worry, but over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to tour our ice tunnels beneath the base. These are used to bring in water and take out waste, among other reasons as well (like giving a secret path to aliens and underground bases the entire world apparently believes we are hiding down here somewhere).

I had been wanting to take a walk through these tunnels ever since Sarah told me about them. Not only does the concept and idea of them harken one's mind back to the planet Hoth, but they offer a unique experience not duplicated too many places in the world. Walking with thirty to sixty feet of glacial ice above your head is a strange experience, especially in a rather narrow corridor. It's pretty dang awesome. 

The day I was able to walk through the tunnels we had been working outside. So when we moved into the tunnels, which are a pretty constant -60 degrees below F and absent of all wind, it actually felt warm for a good portion of the tour. It truly is like walking into another world and offers some quite unusual stimulants. There is so much more to say about the tunnels but the pictures do a pretty good job of showing what it is like - sort of. 

Also in the past week or so, the dark sector held an open house. One of the great parts about being at the station here at the South Pole is everyone's desire to share and learn about the science research. My co-worker, Eileen, did a talk about some research she did on ice fish while at one of our other two research bases Palmer station. The dark sector is a portion of land about a half mile walk from base where, you guess it, they try to keep it dark. Their telescopes and instruments are quite sensitive to the light and now that the sun is almost completely gone it truly does become a dark sector. It was fun doing the tour and this picture, taken by Grant on Daniel's camera, was a special privilege to get so close to this fantastic telescope. I would explain more but an easier way to learn about it would be to click on this link and read some of the blogs by the guys doing the research. Both James Casey and Robert Schwartz both do research in the dark sector. 

Just admiring the unbelievable coloration in the sky down here. With the gradual sunset the change in colors has been pretty special. These few days of pink and blue were just amazing. 

Our power plant, the part of the station that keeps us all warm and alive, lets off a good deal of exhaust that makes for some wild pictures when looking out over the vastness of the Antarctic. Especially in the Winter when hardly any of our outlying buildings are putting off any kind of heat it is fascinating to watch the exhaust rising from the power plant climb and then descend back down to the ice as it blows away from us, creating almost a road of billowing smoke. 

We ran out onto the deck to take a few quick shots with the sun. Yes, we were freezing without our hats and protective jackets but the door is just within reach. Calm down Mom. I promise it was mostly safe just shy of getting locked out. 

I've been kind of on a sunset picture taking spree. I think it's apparent why from looking at some of these shots. 

But lets not forget about the moon! As the sun fades the moon, one or two stars, and even a few planets have begun to come into view. We have seen Jupiter and Saturn with the naked eye for crying out loud! I do like this shot of the moon and some relatively intense snow drifts.

Another shot of the power plant and the persistently fading sun. It was almost as though it did not quite want to let go of its hold over the South Pole. 

I really like this picture because it was taken at what we call the end of the world. After the outdoor storage berms and the few other odds and ends kept outside, one finds an immense plateau of ice that runs as far as the eye can see. With no frame of reference to size or distance it is quite mesmerizing to stand before such stark beauty and vastness. If it were not so intensely cold outside I do believe I would wander out to this spot and just sit for long portions of time. As it is though, I took about ten pictures and then stopped to stare for ten seconds before hopping back in the warm LMC waiting nearby.

At attempt to capture the fun ice mask face that develops on the outside of my face covering and hat. Matt Smith took this pic of me during our walk back from some ERT training at the dark sector this past week. When I went to take off my gear my buff was frozen to my mustache and my hat had frozen to my eye lashes - easy does it taking those both off! Thanks to Bevin, Jamie, Genevieve, and Giselle for the warm Arctic Extreme buff as it has done a superb job keeping me warm. 

As the light fades and the drift snow accumulates more on the summer vehicles an eerie sort of appearance begins to take over the outlying camp. Vehicles and buildings begin to look as though they have not been used in years, giving way to thoughts of abandonment and a spooky ambience. Such as looking at derelict home where people used to live, gazing over these areas that were teeming with people when we arrived in January just seems a little odd.   

And yet at the same time there is a beauty to this scene as well. A beauty proclaimed by the human spirit to persist in a climate where even some of the best machines built cannot run or operate most of the year round. These shots also speak of a claim that has been made. A claim of determination and resilience. A beautiful claim indeed. 

Just because it is getting close to negative 100 degrees F does not mean we will be staying inside. Here is a shot from last week of some of our hearty crew getting some materials from off one of the cold storage berms. Though we will try to limit these trips as it truly does get much colder, there will be times when we simply find we need something stored out in the cold. 

Just a few more examples of the varying colors we have been experiencing. Once it gets much colder we will be making these trips out to the berms on foot and using sleds to pull back in what we need as it will be too cold for the vehicles. Challenge accepted... I think. 

It kind of looks like we are walking no where but there is a destination in mind. The drifting snow has been making walking a little more fun recently. Soon it will be headlamps and sticking to the flag lines when we walk outside to keep from getting lost.


Ok so a little bit of an explanation on this one. In a previous post I am sure I've mentioned NASA is conducting a few voluntary experiments on the members of our wintering crew. Due to the extreme isolation it stands to reckon NASA might be able to learn a little bit about from how we react to our environment here in respect to people they will be sending into space for long periods of time. Some of us were watching a TV show about Mars and in this show they interview Astronaut Scott Kelly (pictured below with Mikhail Kornienko). Scott Kelly spent a year on the international space station and the rest of his life is part of a study to see what long term effects there might be from someone spending such a long time in space.

Imagine our surprise when we saw video footage of Scott Kelly in space wearing the same watch we have to wear for our NASA study! We were more than a little excited and it was not long before one of our group noticed the slight resemblance of two of our group to this photo which had been posted a few places on base in reference to the study. Naturally one of our guys, thanks Robert, has his own space suit for a space party we have each winter and he was kind enough to let us borrow it. A quick photo or two, a little bit of photo shopping (we only have the one suit!), and you have the result you see before you. Despite Scott Kelly being in no way related to our study at all, I've tweeted and facebooked Scott Kelly in the hopes of a laugh from him but no response yet. The photo is our attempt to honor these men and what they have done.

Just a little sun hiding behind part of the base. 

Not the best picture of either of us but what can you do? As the sun begins to disappear we have a Sunset Dinner. It's a fun reason to celebrate, the cooks all prepare a special feast, and we put together a slue of fun events around this one dinner. What a fun night. 

I told you it was good food! Bison steak, duck, pumkin, kale... oh my!!

And dessert. Seriously. Delicious.

Our station manager giving a toast as we sat down for dinner.

We really have enjoyed our stay at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station so far. Hopefully the pictures show just a little bit of the beauty that exists down here. It is a strange place to live. It is tempting to forget just how dangerous it can be minus the life saving resources we have protecting us from Antarctica. And yet knowing where we are leaves a significance that goes beyond any of those dangers and leaves one feeling as though you are a part of something truly special. I am sure some of us, including myself at moments, miss this and it can become quite difficult. If we can keep our focus, however, I believe we can see beyond and into the contribution this base is making towards humanity and science.

Soon - pictures of total darkness - Southern lights - other fun events to keep morale and sanity. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Antarctica: South Pole - It's Starting to Get Cold...

So it has finally started getting proper cold here at the South Pole. Today it was negative eighty-one degrees F with a windchill of negative 120! Woo that's cold. Fortunately the two of us were inside most of the day but the cold storage area I work in is open to the outside and it definitely felt colder than usual. 

This past Sunday, while my beautiful wife was sleeping, I headed out to try out our climbing room. It's pretty small, as you will see in two pics at the bottom, but some one has put a lot of effort into making sure people can keep their climbing skills up.  It is not attached to our main building and is an area called summer camp, which is now mostly comprised of non-heated buildings for the Winter. Fortunately our crew keeps this building heated for climbers and anyone who might want to use some of the weights in the building as well. 

While it was ridiculously frigid this past Sunday and not far from the temperatures I mentioned for today, I decided I've not spent enough time at the geographic and ceremonial poles. With camera in hand I slowly made my way over to the ceremonial pole and took these pictures. As it was such a windy day, I thought the flags looked especially amazing, but the real special aspect to these photos is how low the sun is getting. We only have a few more days of sunlight left and as we circle the sun from a South Pole perspective, it moves closer and closer to the horizon every day. Then we will be super blessed to watch the only sunset of the entire year here at the Pole! Really excited!! 

The first and third photo show all of the flags representing the countries that signed the original Antarctic treaty years ago. Now there are many more but only the original twelve get recognition of being flown at the ceremonial Pole. They look so amazing when one is walking down the hall, or sitting in the galley, and looks out to behold twelve symbolic flags flying in any weather Antarctic dishes out here. While they will come down for the dark Winter months, these flags really give a feeling of international cooperation and act as a constant reminder of how vast Antarctica is as a continent.

The walk was great but right as I decided I needed to head in for warmth my camera decided it too needed some time away from the cold and gave up on me. So in I went to finish my Sunday with some board games, tasty leftovers from the week, and more time with Sarah. 

I believe I promised to add more photos of unicycling from last weeks post, so I went into our unicycling time with a better setting on my camera and with the lights up. The results were fantastic. 
Peter has far surpassed any of the rest of us in our attempts at learning to ride these one wheeled vehicles. He loves to bike and has somehow channeled the balance learned from his two wheeled years over to the unicycle. 

All of our unicyclists have shown great improvements but Gavin is definitely among the top few, only really overshadowed by the ridiculous talent of Peter. Look at that form!

Eric is our fearless unicycling leader. He shows us videos beforehand of people doing things on unicylces that should not be possible. If you do not believe me start doing some youtubing. 

Catherine joined us a week late and of course is still way ahead of me in her learning. She has a way to go before but that does not stop her from pushing off the wall and going for it. I love this shot.

And then there is me. Sarah opted out of this session for a nap I believe. Needless to say this skill is hard to learn. I am lightyears ahead of where I was our first week but there is a long, long, arduous road ahead of me before this is an enjoyable pastime. 

And yes sometimes when you fall the unicycle hits sensitive areas, leaving the rider in need of some reprieve.

Choosing to fall off when things get rough is important, and unlike biking it is more of a step off, usually, then a fall. Things can still get dicey but overall our group has done well to keep from really big falls. They are coming I am sure!

So far unicycling is kind of like golf for me. I am terrible at it but within every session of attempting it there is that one lightning strike moment where everything goes right, if only for a second. I go back to golf again because of one hit when there were hundreds of lousy ones all stringed together. My mind has an interesting self-preservation technique of deleting the awful memories and focusing on the one good one. This shot is that moment from unicycling this past week for me. It is clearly seen I made it three feet from the wall and I have not abandoned my ride yet. One moment later this was not the case but it almost looks like I can do this - almost...not really. 

And then there was the climbing room. Pretty creative no? I took two pics just to show off the room. I am a novice and neither my body nor my mind know what to do. My time on the wall was short and left me way more tired than I thought it could have. Hopefully by the end of Winter I will have some handle on the whole thing. 

Soon we will do some posts on different parts of the station. It has been tough finding time to post and I know family especially would love to see what this place actually looks like. I promise we have a medical focused post coming up along with some great inner station shots. But for now the sun is up and I would like to end this post with one of my favorite shots from this past Sunday.

Standing down wind and freezing my butt off I was enamored with the view of the ceremonial pole. The sun, while fading away and leaving us for months to come (although really it is the Earth turning away from the sun) looked as some powerful being set to devour this land. It seemed as if the wind was blasting out from the sun and as particles of ice or snow blew across the ice there was an ominous feel to the whole scene. 

While it felt that way, of course the reality of our situation is quite different. We will be living in the one spot on Earth where the sun's life giving rays will not reach us for the next six months. Perhaps I should have seen this display as the sun's last warning to flee before the long Winter night grips our station. Being overly confident in our stations tools and equipment, I push all trepidation aside and look forward to the upcoming months with an abundance of excitement. Not many people are afforded the opportunity to see what Sarah and I will see in the next few months. From the setting of the sun over the South Pole to the best displays of the Southern lights in the world to the constellations we will be seeing to much more, we are naturally excited and overwhelmed. 

We will share as much of this journey as we can via photos with you and where the camera fails we will attempt in words.  In the meantime enjoy the wonderful scene from this past Sunday at the South Pole. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Antarctica: South Pole: Sundogs and Unicycling

One of the fantastic weather phenomenon that occurs here at the South Pole are commonly referred to as sun dogs. Sarah and I first saw our first sun dogs up in the Arctic this past year and they are quite unusual to behold. They look like a rainbow forming a circle around the sun. Here are some pics of one from the other day I took while delivering some good to our cold storage berms outside. 

I think this was the most complete sundog I have ever seen before. Usually I've only seen them when there are arcs of the circle showing on each or just one side of the sun. I was pretty excited to see what seemed to be a sun dog show for one. Now that the station is closed not many people get out towards the berms and as far as I knew I was the only person for at least a half to a full mile enjoying this beautiful sun dog. Who knows, I'm going with it.

So what is a sun dog? There is a link to our local intranet site connected to our meteorology department and they define it like this:

What is a "mock sun"? "Mock sun" (also "sun dogs") is a colloquial term for a phenomenon called "parhelion" which occurs fairly commonly in polar atmospheres. It is a false image of the sun, created by the bending of rays of sunlight within crystals of ice in the atmosphere. Parhelia are usually observed in pairs, one on each side of the sun and at the same elevation. They tend to be red-colored on the side nearest the sun. Parhelia are quite close to the sun when the sun is close to the horizon, but move further away as the angle above the horizon increases.

Totally makes sense now right? It's pretty darn cool for sure.

Well like I said in our last post, Sarah and I are trying to be as active as possible in the South Pole community while we are here. This past Tuesday night Eric started up our learn to ride unicycles. A little crazy - nah. We met and watched some safety videos to ensure we didn't immediately kill ourselves, and then we watched a few videos of people doing extreme unicycling I did not even know existed - like mountain unicycling.

Our pictures and videos did not come out too well from this event but I'll have more good ones is the future. And yes I'm growing a mustache because a beard is not allowed for SCBAs. This means it had to start from the ground up and no easy peasy shaving a beard into a mustache. You're not hard core unless you live hard core.

I could not get the video to load so you'll just have to wait for those.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Antarctica: The Last LC130 Has Departed...We Are Here to STAY!

(Learning to drive the forklift was fun)
We are finally settling in a little bit to our Antarctic home at the Amundsen-Scott base here at the South Pole. With the close of our station for Winter we have finally moved into our permanent room together, which has been a huge part of this place feeling more like a home we can live in for the next ten months. We have settled into our jobs and community here on base.

(These dang cylinders are heavy! Thanks Kim for the pic)
The most exciting part of base closing was watching all of the summer staff pack up and go. There is a big to do with the last plane and most of us gathered in various spots to watch it take off. I was fortunate to be on a three man team of our ERT Fire team who got to learn a few new bits so we could be a response team in case anything happened on the last take off. There are fire fighters here for all LC130 flights except for of course the one they leave on at the end of summer. So we learned how to use the gatling gun pods and what to do/not to do when trying to enter a LC130 in an emergency. Really cool stuff and way more to learn if we were the "real" guys.

(compliments of John Dinovo, the twin otter scoots by the ceremonial pole)
So we all celebrated as the last passengers, and our last chance for escape, jetted down the ice runway and off into the sky. They promised a flyby and did not disappoint us when the pilot brought the massive LC130 back around and tipped its wings to us. People shouted, hooted, and hollered various phrases as we all celebrated the point of no return for the Winter-over crew. The photo above is of a Twin Otter. Our last one flies in tonight and out tomorrow as I write this on Feb 24th. They are on various missions or routes that are not a part of our station and are granted access to the base for fuel and such. These are the planes that perform rescue missions and such when no other planes can still make there way here in the cold Winter months, but only if absolutely necessary. 

(we got to tour the inside of the twin otter!)
The tradition that follows the last departing plane is the marathon viewing of all The Thing movies. These are horror movies, the first in 1951, all about an alien in Arctic or Antarctic scenarios. I was most familiar with the 1984 Kurt Russell version that takes place at a make believe American Antarctic base. The movies are enjoyable and it gives one a notion at the sort of people who venture down to the South Pole. Now that you're stuck here and you cannot leave let's watch movies about other people in a similar situation who had to fight for their lives against an alien who can transform into any form whether animal or human. Who can you trust? Welcome to the Winter-over crew.
(posing for a shot, Sarah is in her ECW disguise)
So when one of the Twin Otter flights was in Sarah and I decided to go for a walk for some exercise and so she could show me around parts of the camp I had not seen yet. We bundled up in all of our gear and headed out to find with a surprise a tour of the plane happening at that exact moment. Sweet! We took advantage of the situation and took the pictures, as you can see, to prove it. Just amazing machines. I believe the pilot said this one was made in 1941 and this is a plane they are flying with confidence to the South Pole! Wow. Do some reading on these planes and you will not be disappointed.
(the middle of nowhere)
On our walk we took some pics. While much of the base and the outlying area around it, mostly storage and buildings used in the Summer months only, has a military feel to it, there is still something else about the looks to everything so foreign and unusual. There is a part of me that deliberated as we walked, trying to find the right words to describe the mixture of emotion and thought evoked from the make up of the buildings and their purposes. The Amundsen-Scott base is truly a unique place and we feel beyond grateful for the time we have been given to spend here.

(once upon a time maybe people stayed here, storage now)
Understanding how special it is for us to be here, Sarah and I both spend a good amount of time trying to make sure our work and personal time is spent as wisely as possible. This means doing the job right and working hard to make sure we do the best we can. It also means trying to engage in as many of the community events as possible. For instance, even though we were tired and had seen some of the Thing movies, we stayed for all three. We both joined the greenhouse team and are working in there to help raise some fresh food for our group while we are here. I'll discuss this in its own post later as a hydroponic greenhouse is pretty dang worthy of a whole post in itself. We've been playing volleyball, floor hockey, doing yoga, playing board games and the lot during our time so far. And our Winter schedule of events is just now getting started. There will be more on the fun activities we are going to get to do and learn while here. Pretty excited about it.

(who stole our wheels? I believe these have been winterized)
For now these pictures will show a good part of the story. We will try to make some regular posts about life down here but oddly enough I've been working hard to get this post in and have just been too busy living here. There is always something to join in on from work to fun to science talks and more. Mostly I'll be posting pictures of events and various goings on while we are here.
(two LC130s on the ice runway at the same time! This is unusual and I was excited to see it)

(last few flights in and out)

(ERT training and also on standby - so glad I got to do this)

(waiting in the warm van with the guys)

(compliments of John Dinovo, the gatling fire hydrant! Glad we didn't have to use these) 

(last flight moves to take off - see you in 9 months or so)

(I think we are happy to be stuck here for nine more months)

(photo of the flyby compliments of NSF/James Casey)

I had to add some movie posters from the Thing movies. I added two from the 1984 version.