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!