Antarctica Dispatch

Journal of my Antarctic experience working to support the United States Antarctic Program.

No planes Yet


Station Opening was set for last Saturday October 21. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some here who don't want new arrivals) the weather has been too cold for the LC-130s to land. It needs to be -50 C or warmer before the LC-130s will land, and it's been hanging just below -55 C. The meteorologists are probably the most sought after personnel on station - "Hey Don, how's the weather looking?". It's like watching little ducklings following their mother. I jokingly told the new IT Manager who was waiting in McMurdo to fly down on the first flight that I'd see him in Novemeber.

At our Monday morning Safety Briefing the EH&S (Environmental Health & Safety) officer said "If we're here next Monday, the topic of discussion will be suicide and mass murder prevention." I think that about says how some of the people feel. There's the long stare and the obligatory "I don't give a F#@%!" among other things.

On Tuesday night word got out that the Basler (DC-3) was coming in the next day with 18 people and take out 14 Winter Overs. It was still too cold for the LC-130s to make it in, but this venerable, old airframe could do it. The outbound passengers were joyous, liquor flowed freely, people began parting with possessions they didn't want or couldn't take back. Unfortunately, the next day the Basler was canceled. I think everyone resigned themselves to waiting until the planes officially get here.

In other news, I found out my job sequence # is 1334 and my Winter Over # is 1125 out of 1153 (total number of people who've wintered at the South Pole since the first station was opened). Another bit of trivia, our potable water comes from a well that we drill in the ice. I say 'drill' but there's not a drill bit involved. Instead hot water is used to create a large cavity in the ice. When that is used up, a new 'rodwell' is made, and waste water is used to fill the old one. A few years ago CRREL (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) did a study called the 'Stratigraphic and Physical Property Measurement of the 202-meter core drill at the South Pole' which dated the water in the rodwell. Here's a depth vs timeline which shows we're drinking 'ice' that was deposited back in 500 AD.

And then there were 62


Today a modified DC-3 called a Basler and a Twin Otter from Ken Borek Air flew in from the penninsula. They came all the way from Calgary, Canada. During the summer they operate out of McMurdo, and unlike the LC-130 must come over the Antarctic continent, hitting fuel depots due to their limited range.

Everyone rushed out to meet the Basler. It would be the first time seeing another human being in eight months. A crew member came over, and I was the first to shake his hand.

One of the guys I came down with, Craig needed to get out early because his daughter is getting married. The 109th NYANG who fly the LC-130s are due to fly in tomorrow, but there was room for two guys on the Basler, so Craig and one other guy got to go. It wasn't until later we learned that the other guy hadn't even cleaned his room before he left. It was a disaster area. One poor soul had accepted $20 to do the cleaning, but upon opening the door knew he had been 'taken'. We snapped photos of the biohazard area and displayed them on the TV screens in the Galley.

Craig & I in front of the Basler

Station Opening Work


One of the drawbacks (some people would consider it a benefit) of my job is that there's not a lot of manual labor. With all the snow drifts that occurred over the winter months, there are lots of opportunities to dig stuff out. I volunteered to go out and help shovel snow out of the outlying buildings. In addition the things we took down now have to go back up like the runway markers.

However, I didn't get to do this. Instead I walked out to RF to get some systems online. There was a UPS that needed to get plugged in. I attempted to move it and instead cut a gash in my leg that went through my trousers and thick long johns. 123 lbs was just a bit too heavy (I looked up the weight online). I didn't realize I'd cut myself until I felt something warm running down my leg a few minutes later.

I bandaged it up and headed back to the station, knowing I'd probably have to have stitches. It turned out that only 3 were needed. Still it was recorded as a 'Reportable Injury' which went against our safety record. There were people to notify and paperwork to fill out. In the end I couldn't 'go out to play'.

For a report on the boondoggle of putting out runway markers, see Heidi's blog.

Seconds Anyone?


They say an army marches on its stomach and the best way to appease people is to keep them well fed. I can't find any complaints for the culinary delights we've enjoyed down here. It's too good!

So, here's what the 64 of us have consumed so far:

5428 pounds of Beef
22720 Eggs
1527 pounds of Fries
3948 pounds of Pork

2811 pounds of Poultry

2457 pounds of Seafood

82 case of Cold Cereal

1590 pounds of Cheese

1170 pounds of Butter

2638 pounds of Canned and Frozen Fruit

24300 slices of Pre-Made Bread

418 lbs of Meatless Protein (Tofu, Tempeh, TVP…)

39 gallons of Ketchup

11520 blue cups worth of Orange Juice (blue cup is 16oz)

8450 blue cups worth of Milk (blue cup is 16oz)

432 gallons of Ice Cream (after air is added by the ice cream machine)

Assuming everybody ate the same amount, here's the breakdown per individual:

84.81 pounds of Beef
355 Eggs
23.86 pounds of Fries
61.69 pounds of Pork
43.92 pounds of Poultry
38.39 pounds of Seafood
1.28 cases of Cold Cereal, so about 18-20lbs
24.84 pounds of Cheese
18.28 pounds of Butter
41.22 pounds of Fruit (This doesn’t count Freshies from beginning of winter)
380 slices of Pre-Made Bread
6.53 pounds of Meatless-Protein (But of course this number is much higher for those that eat it, since most don’t)
0.6 gallons of Ketchup
180 blue cups of OJ
132 blue cups of milk
6.75 gallons of Ice Cream

Moving Day


Well some of us must vacate our Winter digs to make room for the incoming 'Ice Vetrans'. I'm going into the new A4 wing where the rooms are smaller (the same size as my 'Summer' room), and once again I got an inside room instead of a window which I wanted. It feels like living in a hole at times, but it's only for a few weeks.

I'll slowly start to move my belongings over, finishing up on the weekend. Since the room is smaller, the move is forcing me to pack up my things for my eventual departure. We only get 140
lbs to fly out with, and that includes our carryon, checked-luggage, and ECW gear. I plan to travel as light as possible, so I'm shipping anything I don't need for my New Zealand travels.

Balloon Launch


Weather is perhaps one of the biggest scientific research at the South Pole. The South Pole Meteorology Department (MET) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) make atmospheric observations using balloons. Because the balloons are so big and difficult to handle by one person, volunteers are sought to help launch the balloons.

Earlier in the season I helped one of the meteorologists launch a 3000 gram balloon. Today I would assist with launching a NOAA balloon to measure the ozone depletion. When NOAA launches their balloon, the MET Department piggybacks on it since Helium is a precious commodity.

I got an in-depth explanation on the instrumentation used by both the meteorologist and NOAA tech. During the winter the ozone level is pretty stable. It's only with the coming of the sun, which activates the chlorine in the upper atmosphere that breaks down the ozone between 13,000 and 21,000 km. I remember hearing all the news stories about the ozone hole over Antarctica, and here I am! For more information on the ozone hole and NOAA's work down here, click on this link.

South Pole Invitational Golf Tournament


I know of people playing 'Winter Golf' and of 'Winter Rules'. Some of the guys down here discovered some golf clubs and balls. They put together a 9-hole course. It was pretty elaborate, and it helped give us something to do on the last day of our last two-day weekend.

I volunteered to film the spectacle, and that it was. After about 4 holes, the batteries in my digital 'still' camera and the video camera had lost power due to the cold, which was about -80 F. After getting done, one of the guys said, "That's probably one of the dumbest things we've done!". Still I'd have to say it was still fun.



Well when you've got a Bavarian on station and this German holiday comes up, he's not going to let you miss it. Over the 'All Call' came this loud yell. We all popped out of our rooms wondering if the fire alarm went off. No, it was only Robert.

Robert's been coming down five times at the South Pole. He has a physics background and works as the science tech for the University of Chicago at MAPO where he flies his Bavarian flag. Some of the other things he does is photography, which he is quite accomplished at, and paragliding.

Robert Schwarz & Mrs. Janice Martin