[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
More shipping news...the Nathaniel B. Palmer was at McMurdo (and visible in the pier webcam) for 3 days through the 23rd...and the crew of the Polar Star have been putting up blog posts about their trip to McMurdo. Here is one of them...and another.
The annual McMurdo shipping season has begun. At left...the cargo vessel Ocean Giant arrived in Lyttelton on 16 January for a 2-day port call before continuing south (photo from 2002 McM w/o Paul Dietsche). And for the past few days the Polar Star has sometimes been visible south of the station, clearing the seaway (at right...this pier webcam photo is from about 1430 16 January). As of 19 January the icebreaker had docked at the ice pier. The tanker Maersk Peary is approaching Perth, Western Australia, where it was to call briefly on 20 January before continuing to McMurdo. As for the rest of the season...some of the summer folks are not leaving until April (!) as the flight schedule has been expanded...there will be aircraft landing at Pegasus in April...and June and July!
This 31 October Antarctic Sun article has the details.
Yes...it is a new year, so there is a new Pole marker (right). Check it out!
It's been a few years, but once again a private pilot ventured into Pole airspace on 1 January en route from Punta Arenas to Hamilton NZ...apparently without any of the requisite approvals. This was Bill Harrelson (seen at left in front of his aircraft), a retired airline pilot from Fredericksburg, VA...in a single-engine Lancair IV aircraft...in an attempt to set a record for circumnavigating the globe over both poles. Unfortunately (for his flight) he encountered severe headwinds, turned around, and headed back to PA. Unfortunately (for us), no one at Pole saw him. And unfortunately (for him) his venture will be cussed and discussed at the next Antarctic Treaty meeting. Here's the stuff.co.nz article with links to more information. The photo is from his public Facebook page.
27 December...cryo was moved about 50 feet east...to get it away from the sink that used to be the sewer (left, photo from IceCube w/o Erik Beiser). Still to be determined...how will this affect the BIF, and what will replace the BIF (more photos and info coming).
As the new year approaches, thoughts turn to...cargo and ships. The first one to show up will be, of course, our icebreaker Polar Star...on 3 January it was at 43ºS, south of Tasmania. Next...the tanker. Perhaps the Maersk Peary...that ice-strengthened tanker that came last year. Presently it is at 20ºN in the central Atlantic heading south. Maersk (its owner) recently received a contract extension for FY15 fuel deliveries to McMurdo and Thule (scroll down to the NAVY section). And as for the cargo vessel...the Ocean Giant (which was the January 2013 cargo vessel) departed Port Hueneme on 30 December at 2127 local time. Next stop--Lyttelton, on 16 January. Last year's cargo vessel Maersk Illinois is no more; in March Maersk terminated its joint venture which held that vessel, it has been sold to Denmark's Thorco Shipping, renamed Thorco Isadora, reflagged in the Marshall Islands, and is currently anchored in the Columbia River off Astoria, OR. Here's the 24 March tradewindsnews link, which may or may not work without an expensive subscription. The MV Ocean Giant, owned by Intermarine LLC and on charter to the MSC, is ice strengthened (class E3), 15,377 gross tonnage, with two 400t cranes to handle those containers. It was built in 2012.
There ARE some winterover jobs going begging. Mostly technical and trades type jobs, the sort that the station really needs. Check out my freshly updated jobs page (or just contact me).
Christmas was celebrated in the traditional ways, sort of, with the latest and greatest Race Around the World racecourse, followed by that dinner that couldn't be beat. Oh yes, a few of the NGO skiers/trekkers were around to observe. Elsewhere, on the science front, the SPICECORE folks have been on station since early November, testing and honing their drilling techniques. Follow their blog here.
Speaking of NGO visitors...sometime in the last few days this showed up--the FA Cup (right). Perhaps considered by some to be comparable to the Vince Lombardi Trophy...as the FA is the governing body of English soccer. It was brought down as part of a league publicity effort...by photographer Martin Hartley (seen here). The Basler that he came down on is clearly visible. Here's the Mail Online article. Martin is no stranger to the ice, he covered the Tetley South Pole Mission by Pen Hadow and Simon Murray in 2003-04.
Tourists have already visited this season by air, but the first NGO venture to arrive by land arrived at 1630 on 9 December--"Tractor Girl" Manon Ossevoort, seen at left with her team, the Arctic Trucks support crew, and her Massey Ferguson 5610 tractor. She and the team made it back to Novo on 21 December.
On Monday 1 December, controls technician Thomas Lawrence Atkins did not show up for work. After his absence was noticed, he was found dead in his room.
His death was apparently due to natural causes. His body has already been flown to McMurdo; it will continue north to his family. He was from Greenville, KY, and this was his first deployment. Here is an NBC News article as well as the NSF press release. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and fellow folks at Pole now.
1 December marked the loss of the TDRS 5 satellite. It was replaced by TDRS 6 which technically provides equivalent internet coverage...but as it overlaps with the GOES satellite pass, almost half of the 14 hours of satellite uptime has been lost. Here's the latest from the USAP satellite announcement page.
The ExtremeTech site recently interviewed winterover comms tech Marty Keefe...he describes the station, the science, the equipment he works with, the internet...have a look.
On 30 November, the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star departed Seattle for its 4-month deployment to Antarctica...the second consecutive Coast Guard mission to Antarctica (right, USCG photo by PO3 Katelyn Shearer). Here's the official press release with more photos as well as this video also by PO3 Shearer.
Thanksgiving week was a busy one. The first arrival of the SPoT 1 was on Wednesday the 26th, just in time for dinner. What's it like? Here's a timelapse of the trip taken by one of the traverse folks. Preparations were underway for the big dinner, held on Saturday as usual. Only two seatings needed nowadays.
23 November...while the USAP season is fully underway, there are a few brave souls heading to Pole on their own, on the ground. Here's my updated list.
The season is in full swing. By now, all of the 2014 w/o's should have headed north, and the station population is up to 130. Meanwhile, a bit north, the first traverse team had already reached the Leverett Glacier. heading for the station with a bunch of fuel. They will do THREE fuel traverses to Pole this season...while the other traverse team will be dealing with science cargo at Whillans and elsewhere. On a related note...there are only 78 LC-130 flights scheduled this year...contrast this to 250+ scheduled flights a few years ago when the station construction was still needing cargo and the traverse was still in the "proof of concept" phase.
Yes...a couple of the summer folks have blogs. Check them out!
Another bit of O&M scheduled--a tech rep for Alimak Hek (vendor for that cranky elevator in the beer can) will be spending some time on station...hopefully to get the lift back humming (for freight, not people).
On Tuesday 11 November, the icebreaker Polar Star was headed north to its home port in Seattle after some drydock time at the former Mare Island naval shipyard in San Francisco Bay. Here's a 11 November ABC news article with a photo of it getting ready to leave the drydock. While there, KQED interviewed commanding officer Captain Matt Walker...in which he, among other things, reveals his sure-fire preventive measure for seasickness.
Thursday 6 November--the first LC-130 of the season finally landed at Pole in late afternoon. Winter is officially over, and the rodwell is back on line. The first Herc flight WAS scheduled for Monday, but it was delayed for mechanical reasons, and finally cancelled after the pax were halfway to Williams Field. It tried again on Tuesday...it and the pax made it all the way to Pole but boomeranged due to low visibility.
Saturday 1 November...it seems that the C-17's did start flying again. One made it to McM on 29 October, and another was en route on 1 November. The first Herc flight to Pole was scheduled for Monday. And on 31 October, the rodwell pump was successfully pulled out of the well (left; more information/caption/credit)--it had been stuck about 160 feet down. Yes...things got fixed, and that second snow melter wasn't needed.
28 October...well, about the time the last paragraph was written, the McM weather improved, aircraft started to fly...and today the first flight (the Basler) showed up with freshies, some water drilling equipment, and PEOPLE (including Boyd Brown who shared the photo at right). Let the summer begin!
27 October...a few days before station opening. Or at least that was the plan. As of yesterday the 2 Baslers were still sitting at Pole waiting for McMurdo weather to improve. What will be happening? So far, local attempts to fix the rodwell have been unsuccessful. Well, the first flight (perhaps the Basler) may be bringing some hot water drilling equipment (hopefully with a couple of drillers) to get it back in action.
Other summer projects...moving Cryo...and starting work to raise the south bay to fit it with taller doors (next year) as the replacement BIF...assuming the current BIF doesn't collapse into the old sewer bulb before then. Oh...there IS the return of BICEP, namely BICEP3...its cryostat was being packed up at Harvard to be shipped south (left, photo from Steffen Richter who will be coming down to help install it)
Otherwise...there are plans to demo the VIPER telescope structure...perhaps in preparation for a future raising/moving of MAPO. Winter project plans include replacing the copper waste piping (which has suffered corrosion from those waterless urinals) and replacing some of the FCB hallway flooring.
17 October...the first LC-130 left Stratton Air National Guard Base to head south...(Air Force news article).
Pole isolation has ended. Wednesday 15 October...two Twin Otters arrived, transiting from Rothera toward McMurdo. And on Saturday the 18th, two Baslers showed up. With freshies...
Bad weather has continued to delay these aircraft from continuing to McM.
On Monday 29 September the first C-17 flight to McM was delayed on Monday for 24 hours due to McM weather. But it did head south the next day--one of two flights--the first to arrive was the Australian A319 Airbus (right), photo by Jack Green from the Antarctic Photo Library). The two aircraft brought more than 160 people to McMurdo to get the main body season started (Antarctic Sun article).
And at Pole...it seems that the rodwell pump has frozen up, and the emergency snow melter has been put into service. It has been moved from outside B1 to outside the power plant (left) so it could be connected directly into the main station water system. In the meantime it is paper plates, no showers, etc...perhaps until some summer folks can show up to help fix things :(
28 September...folks are gathering in ChCh for the first of the main body flights into McMurdo, perhaps as early as the 29th (Air Force News article) As for Pole, the equinox happened on 23 September, so the sunrise dinner was held last weekend. It was more informal than the sunset and midwinter dinners...still, it featured the unveiling of the 2015 Pole marker, crafted by machinist Matthew Krahn. It was unveiled only to his fellow w/o's...the rest of us won't get to see it until 1 January.
Winfly finally got underway 4 days late on 24 August, with a total of 5 flights. Due to bad McM weather, most of the 200+ southbound passengers had several extra days to spend in Christchurch. There were passenger flights by the C-17 and the Australian Airbus on the 24th and the 26th--the final flight was the cargo-only C-17 "night-vision goggles" mission (on the 27th, the weather closed in again.
More WINFLY info--this 29 August Antarctic Sun article, which also notes that the first of 91 LC-130 flights to Pole this summer is scheduled for 27 October. Weather permitting...
Update...TDRS F5 may stay around for Polies until sometime in November...a short-term reprieve (latest USAP IT service updates).
Ugh. At Pole...a satellite availability redux. As my 2008 winter ended, we heard that the MARISAT satellite would soon go away, reducing satellite access by about 30% (12 December 2008 Antarctic Sun article). Fortunately for us winterovers at the time, it didn't go away until we left in October/November. But now there's ANOTHER 30% connectivity reduction about to happen. On about 14 August, NASA announced that the TDRS F5 satellite--one of the major satellites used at Pole, would go away in 30-90 days. The major replacement, TDRS F6, will be able to continue to handle data transmission, but the issue is that the TDRS F6 orbit means that it will be visible at the same time as GOES...thus significantly reducing the hours of internet availability. Ugh. Yeah, I must add that we had a great winter in 1977 without any internet connectivity, not that it had even been invented...but things have changed a bit since then.
Anyway, these will be the U.S. Air Force C-17's as well as the AAD A319 Airbus--both of these will bring in pax on two flights each, 2 days apart, and the C-17 will do its night-vision landing (without pax) two days after the second pax flight...although it will take passengers north. As for the rest of the season...this year there will NOT be an annual ice runway. Instead, all flights will use Pegasus through main body deployment in November. After that, all flights for the rest of the season are currently scheduled to be LC-130's operating from a rehabilitated Williams Field, which hasn't been used much since 2009-10. The plan is to preserve Pegasus from the disastrous melt issues. It might or might not be used at the end of the summer season...plans keep changing. But it might be used for April flights...something new that is still being considered. Most but not all :) of these details are in this 15 August Antarctic Sun article, which also describes some of the other major projects...including WISSARD, the South Pole Ice Core Project (discussed just below), and the next-generation BICEP3 instrumentation at Pole...hoping to further confirm the "cosmic inflation" evidence reported by the BICEP team earlier this year. Here is a DVIDS (DOD video/imagery system) article about the beginning of the Operation Deep Freeze season.
It's still astronomical twilight at Pole...defined as when the center of the sun is at or above 18º below the horizon. But at 0307 on 22 August the sun will cross above -12º below the horizon, thus beginning nautical twilight. The glow out there along the horizon is increasing, but auroras are still happening.
Drilling down...two such projects are happening. First, the South Pole Ice Core Project (SPICE) is continuing plans to conduct two seasons of drilling at Pole beginning in 2014-15. The drill site is about 1-2/3 miles west of the elevated station, and a GPR survey of the area was conducted in the area last season. Here's too much more information about the project and the Intermediate Depth Drill, as well as an older March 2013 Antarctic Sun article about the project. And then there is the 28 July announcement that the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and professor John Goodge were awarded a $9m NSF grant to develop a new drilling system. Here is a 24 July UMD article with more information about the drill they'll be using, which is based on a diamond rock-coring system. Both of these projects will be using Estisol-140 as a drilling fluid--this is a synthetic ester manufactured in Denmark. Here's a link to more information about Estisol-140 from the IDPO. Thanks are due to IceCuber Michael DuVernois for some of this information.
There is a bit more out there about that Norwegian "Wild Viking" Jarle Andhøy, whose abortive Pole trip in February 2011 resulted in the loss of three men on his vessel Berserk. He's been out of the Antarctic news for awhile, but in July it was announced that he was refusing to pay his 45,000 NOK ($7,250) fine imposed by Norway for violating the Antarctic Treaty. And...his updated website now contains a cryptic announcement for "August 16,2015--The Hunt for Berserk." My coverage...
Some new news about one of the private expeditions to Pole planned for next summer (remember, I cover all such ventures here)...the British Antarctic Microlight Expedition. This group of injured/amputee British military folks plan to fly from McM to Pole this coming season along the traverse route, with some ground support presumably provided by Arctic Trucks (which hasn't yet mentioned this). Here's a 4 August gizmag article.
The first real cold snap of the winter arrived on 24 July (left), and yes, the three-digit temperatures stayed around long enough for that certain bit of outdoor activity known as the 300 club! According to Robert Schwarz, the temperature actually got down to -76.2ºC/-105.2ºF...not quite as cold as the -77.7ºC/-107.9ºF seen last winter and in 2006. But the -79ºC/-110.7ºF we saw in 2005 hasn't been matched since then.
Belated midwinter greetings...yes there is toast...as can be seen in the greeting card at right. The original plan was to take the photo outside, but the weather didn't cooperate, hence the above photo outside of comms. With lots of toast. The big dinner was on Saturday 21 June, followed by festivities including the flick "The Shining." Here are larger photos, the midwinter Antarctic Sun article, and of course a larger photo and the list of winterovers.
How to survive a winter at Pole? That is a complex question, but Business Week made an effort by publishing "A Guide to Wintering in the South Pole" on 11 June. An excellent article featuring some of the current denizens of the elevated station...but books could be written on the subject. And that's not the only story of Pole life to appear in the week preceding Midwinters Day. We also have a tale from plumber Ryan Boggs in the Janesville (Wisconsin) GazetteXtra. Yes, he's pictured with one of the larger pipe wrenches on station. And then there's an interview with IceCube winterovers Dag Larsen and Ian Rees on the IceCube web site.
28 May...things are quiet at Pole. That may be a good thing, meaning that the winter is going well. Or it may merely reflect on the May satellite/internet/email issues (so what else is new). Meanwhile, our 10x winterover astronomer Robert Schwarz is in the news for what may be his next venture. After the Keck Array telescope project ends after 2 more winters, Robert could be heading for an even more isolated place than Pole. On 20 May he was interviewed by NewScientist about his potential trip to Mars. One way.
Suppose they held an Antarctic Treaty meeting and no one noticed? It was held 28 April-7 May in Brasilia. Perhaps news coverage didn't happen because of a certain sports event that was held in Brazil a bit later. The only media article I saw was one about Southern Ocean marine species protection--not unimportant, but not the sort of story I was looking for. Several items I was interested in--one was the draft EIS for the new Chinese station to be constructed near Terra Nova Bay north of McM in Victoria Land (the full 20mb file can be downloaded here from the Chinese Arctic/Antarctic adminstration site. At right is an artist's conception aerial view of the station...here's another conceptual view of the main station, these are from that draft environmental impact statement. Unlike the nearby Italian and German stations which are summer-only, and the summer/winter Korean station, this one is planned for summer/winter occupancy, beginning in 2016....Brazil's replacement Ferraz station on KGI...and of course an update from Russia on their most recent Lake Vostok drilling activities.
On 13 May, New Zealand's Search and Rescue Council recognized the USAP for their support and cooperation in the response to the January 2013 loss of a Kenn Borek Twin Otter aircraft and crew. Here's the NSF press release about the announcement, as well as a Christchurch Press article. The tragic crash, which killed 3, occurred on 23 January 2013 (my coverage of the crash, including new photos from Canada's Transportation Safety Board (including the one at left).
More aircraft news recently surfaced about a scary McM aircraft landing on 7 October. A RNZAF 757 encountered low visibility (cloud and fog) after passing the PSR. After circling the Pegasus area for awhile to burn off fuel and wait for a break in the weather, they attempted to land more than once...finally doing so successfully. The passengers had been briefed on emergency landing procedures, but they did not find out until deplaning that McMurdo had fully deployed a mass casualty incident team.
If a landing had not been possible, they would have touched down in the "whiteout landing area" occasionally used by LC-130's in such situations. But...the Herc's have skis, the 757 did not, so while the passengers probably would have survived, the aircraft would not. Why did this story surface now? A report was released to The Press (Christchurch) at the beginning of May under NZ's Official Information Act. Why the interest? New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was on board. Reportedly he had a stiff drink that night at the Scott Base bar. Here's the Christchurch Press coverage. Oh yes, a good friend of mine was also on this flight.
Global warming must REALLY be affecting Pole weather...at least that is what one might think looking at this photo (right) of NOAA station chief and winterover Joe Phillips working outside in a short sleeved uniform this past summer. We know better. But the photo is part of an interesting article in the UNC Asheville (NC) Magazine--that's his alma mater. Joe is featured in the lead paragraphs, and there is also another of his photos showing him holding up the Earth with one hand...something that apparently all NOAA Corps officers must learn how to do.
Okay, not exactly new news, but I finally got around to sharing...in 2009 a previously unnoticed photo of Amundsen at Pole was discovered by a Norwegian researcher (at left). This is the only extant photo printed from the original negative...of Amundsen's crew looking at the tent they'd just erected at Pole in December 1911 (left). More information than you ever wanted to know...
Sunset...well, the official date and time for what we call the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere was at 0557 Pole time on 21 March, or 1657 UTC on the 20th. That's the time when the Sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere. But who knew when the Sun would disappear at Pole--actually the clouds took care of that. Anyway, it was an excuse for one of the three biggest celebrations, the sunset dinner on Saturday 22 March. In addition to an amazing dinner menu, manager Shelly put together a certificate for all of the folks (right). Oh yes, the statistics are here, and if you don't see what you're looking for, contact me for help to find the hidden stuff.
The scientific breakthrough of the year...well, it is only March, but this is a BIG THING. There's lots of talk out there about a Nobel Prize...for something that was discovered at Pole by the BICEP2 telescope. Gravity waves...the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation...a sign of the universe being torn apart a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after it was born. The headline-making press conference at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics in Boston was announced several days before the 17 March event. It received massive media coverage...and many Polies who'd participated in the experiment were there, including of course principal investigator John Kovac, as well as friend Steffen Richter, who wintered all three years that the telescope was in operation--2010 through 2012. He also wintered working on its predecessor BICEP 1...and yes, there is a BICEP 3 in the works. Several links...an Antarctic Sun article, the Harvard BICEP2 page which links to the press conference video, the papers, and images, the New York Times article, and Steffen Richter's photo gallery from the Boston event. Oh...construction and installation of the first BICEP telescope began during the 2005 winter when I was around...here is the documentation, which includes the above left hero shot which was taken after the telescope mount was installed in DSL on 30 November 2005 (this photo is from Cynthia Chiang who is at right in the bottom row; John Kovac is just behind her).
Delayed aftermath of the February storm...at the beginning of March the end of Hut Point calved off. Apparently all of it wasn't solid rock (right) (details).
Late season McMurdo stuff...on 9 March the last flight headed north, leaving behind 142 winterovers. And here's a 3 March Air Force Reserve Command story about the cancellation of all of the main season C-17 flights. Also...here's an Antarctic Sun article detailing that recent storm among other things...including confirmation of that rumor that there may be some wheeled aircraft flights in early March. And...at last, here's my page of info, video, and photos about that storm that drove the Maersk Illinois away before those ice cores could be loaded.
It is winter at Pole. The last LC-130 headed north on 14 February, leaving 41 Polies behind (along with a few Kenn Borek folks who were passing through in the next few days). Here's a brief Antarctic Sun article featuring manager Shelly Finley's photo (left) of the last of the summer folks boarding the closing flight. Which interestingly did NOT do the traditional photo pass over the station after takeoff.
Remember the US government shutdown? Here is a 13 February ScienceInsider article which describes some of its actual impacts, as well as those of the early cargo vessel departure--per its link to Jessica Lane's blog posts about the storm and its aftereffects. And while that was going on, the decision was made to cancel all of the wheeled aircraft flights because the Pegasus runway was actually more of a lake (109th Airlift Wing (NYANG) press release). There are rumors out there that if Pegasus hardens up by the first of March, one or two C-17 or 757 flights would take place. And they may have by now. But as I said...rumors.
Polar Star update...here's an excellent Antarctic Sun article about its adventures at McMurdo and en route. After all of the news stories about heavy ice, it found the most difficult ice conditions on the way to Marble Point.
The McMurdo cargo operations ended with a bang...not the good kind. A major storm came up on 6 February...because of all the open water, there was nothing to block the wind. The Maersk Illinois crashed against the pier, the pier started to break up, and the Polar Star tried unsuccessfully to pull it off. The cargo ship finally made its departure around 1800 on 7 February. Above left, the Maersk Illinois crunching against the pier (photos by Roxanne Gisler). I've got some archived photos from the webcam, which unfortunately has been turned off. But what did NOT get loaded...perhaps 150 milvans including some containing ice cores, which will probably not get flown north due to the melted Pegasus wheeled aircraft runway...which has caused the cancellation of all of the C-17 flights. Other milvans left behind contain trash, garbage, and hazardous waste...the reefer units containing garbage are on rent (!) A few days earlier, the two of last three stretch IGY-era LGP D8 Caterpillars were loaded (above right) (more photos).
The cargo vessel Maersk Illinois docked at the ice pier at about 1800 on 31 January. Check out the "mobile camera" on the McMurdo webcam site. By the way...the Russian vessel Akademik Shokalskiy that was in the news for being trapped a month ago was also at McMurdo today (photo by Jordan Alexander).
An update on the proposed Chinese station in Terra Nova Bay--the environmental impact statement is currently being reviewed by Australia, per 27 January 3News NZ report. The Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration first announced their plans for the station in October 2013.
Something else that sometimes happens around this time of year--the high temperatures and soft runway have delayed the return of wheeled aircraft such as the C-17s (a 24 January Antarctic Sun article). That's keeping the ski-equipped LC-130's busy with flights to New Zealand. As a result, fuel delivery to Pole is behind schedule. Fortunately, two traverses brought 220,000 gallons of fuel to Pole earlier in the season.
From what I hear, Pole is about fully staffed up for the winter, there should be about 42 folks left when the last plane leaves. A a couple bits of insight...Jessica Barder, one of the winter cooks, has spent the summer at McMurdo and she gave a Q&A interview published in the Guardian on 30 January. Also, here's an article from the Milford (Texas) Times about winterover physician David Curtis, who showed up earlier this month. David is a longtime UTMB employee, he's worked for them for the last 20 years at Texas prisons. The article isn't perfect...among other things--there was a summer doctor on station when he arrived, but he'll be the only physician during the winter, supported by nurse practitioner Lyndsay Brock.
Old news from Christchurch...in December the south gable of the USAP hangar in Christchurch was repainted with a new NSF logo (right). It seems that former NSF director Subra Suresh suggested several years ago that there be more NSF "branding" in Christchurch and at the stations. This was one result...another was that one of the fuel tanks at McMurdo had "NSF" painted on the roof so as to be visible from satellites. I've seen that photo, now I need to remember where. Yes, that photo is mine...I've been vacationing in New Zealand this month, seeing sights and Polie friends in various parts of the country including Chatham Island. I'm now (31 January) at Christchurch airport waiting on the first of three flights back to Colorado.
Speaking of that hangar...as a Seabee veteran I must point out that it was constructed by Seabees in 1959-60.
With the Polar Star in McMurdo, the vessels are not far behind. The tanker Maersk Peary arrived around 1900 on 26 January as documented by the photo at left, taken by the McMurdo webcam at about that time (you need to look at the McMurdo Mobile Camera). The other vessel is, of course, the Polar Star,, but some of the previous camera shots have shown the 287-foot private motor yacht Arctic P. It was built as an ice class ocean tug in 1969, was later purchased by Australian billionaire the late Kerry Packer, and is now owned by his son James (who reportedly is not aboard, per this 8 January Hobart Mercury article which mentions an Antarctic trip). The tanker left on 30 January and was replaced briefly at the pier by the Polar Star. At right is another webcam photo from about 25 January showing 3 vessels--the tanker, the icebreaker, and that motor yacht.
Here are some blog posts about the tanker's voyage by some cadets who are aboard. Interestingly, its last port was Diego Garcia, a place where I've spent more time than McMurdo. Meanwhile, the cargo ship Maersk Illinois arrived in Lyttelton on 22 January, it should reach McMurdo around 2 February. Maersk has put up some blog posts about its travels.
Update...on 7 January, both the Chinese Xue Long and the Russian Akademik Shokalskiy have broken free of the ice after a wind change. And the services of the Polar Star were no longer required (NPR blog post). Whew.... The interesting updates: the Akademik Shokalskiy returned to its departure point in Bluff Harbor (Invercargill, at the south end of the South Island of New Zealand) on 14 January--this was earlier than the evacuated scientists. And, the Polar Star appeared off McMurdo on the 16th (Antarctic Sun report and photo).
Yes...the Polar Star is headed for those trapped Chinese and Russian vessels, the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) and Akademik Shokalskiy. The Russian ship had been carrying scientists, tourists, and journalists who were retracing the route of Mawson's 1913 expedition (Australasian Antarctic Expedition website and blog) when they became trapped in the ice on Christmas Eve. This National Ice Center page has been displaying current images of the vessel locations--at right is the image from 4 January. On 1 January there was initial word that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA--the agency coordinating rescue efforts) might consider requesting US assistance--at that time the Polar Star would have cancelled its port call at Sydney and proceed to the location of the beset vessels. Shortly afterward, the successful transfer of passengers by helicopter to the Russian research icebreaker Aurora Australis was completed, and it was thought that American assistance would be unnecessary. However, after ice conditions around the two vessels worsened, the AMSA did formally request assistance on 3 January US time, and the Coast Guard formally released the Polar Star to the rescue effort the next morning. It was expected to depart Sydney on Sunday 5 January and would take about a week to reach the trapped vessels. There is much continuing news coverage, but some of the best articles include this 5 January New York Times article, this 4 January Coast Guard press release, and this 4 January Coast Guard blog post. This 7 January Sydney Morning Herald article provides updates and detailed statistics about the various vessels involved. Stay tuned....
Happy New Year! As has become the custom, a small crowd gathered at the Pole on the morning of 1 January to unveil the new Pole marker at the current Pole location. This year's marker is an actual sundial...it was designed by 2013 winterover Dana Hrubes and created by machinist Steele Diggles. More photos of the marker, the ceremony, and details of its construction can be found here.
Other signs of the holiday season at Pole--the greeting photo (right) taken a few days before Christmas, as well as the Race Around the World held on Christmas morning. This year's event was highlighted by a front-page Wall Street Journal article about the race--the writer interviewed many people including myself and a few others I'd suggested. She'd heard about the race from her son Jake Feintzeig, a runner, who was at Pole working with the IceCube project. You can read the article here.
Prince Harry and the rest of the Walking With the Wounded veterans arrived at Pole at 1325 GMT on Friday 13 December, or early Saturday morning SP time (BBC News article). Their photo shoot at the Pole was held a day earlier than the originally announced Sunday morning event. The event was originally a challenge race between 3 groups of wounded veterans from the UK, other Commonwealth nations, and the US, but the "competition" part of the venture has been cancelled because of difficult conditions. And they got a ride about 50 miles closer to Pole by their Arctic Trucks support crew. After their initial private photo shoot, the groups retired to their camp site 6 miles from the station. They did visit the station for a tour on Monday morning the 16th, along with a very restrictive photo session in B2. Here's the NSF press release about the visit; it included the only USAP-released photo (left) of some of the group. This photo by Andrea Dixon shows the prince in the center. (Here's another of Andrea's photos showing 2014 NOAA officer Joe Phillips addressing the group--the prince is at far right, and in the center is the back of Alexander Scarsgård's head. Alexander is a Swedish actor best known for his role in the HBO series True Blood., he accompanied the American team. Dominic West, star of The Wire, was also a participant accompanying the Commonwealth team.) Shortly after the station visit, Prince Harry and the first half of the group were flown back to Novo; the remaining members left the next day (more of my information and earlier links about the Walking with the Wounded event).
Science news...not one, but two Pole projects were highlighted by Physics World, a British publication. IceCube was named the "breakthrough of the year" (their article). In November, IceCube published the first evidence for very high-energy neutrinos; the first announcement was made in the 22 November 2013 cover story in Science IceCube press release with links to the article and data). The South Pole Telescope (SPT) was also cited for the first detection of B-mode polarization patterns in the cosmic microwave background, as described in this September 2013 Antarctic Sun article which includes links to the paper. And here is the NSF press release about these two projects.
What have we here? Yes, at right is America's most powerful icebreaker the Polar Star leaving port on 3 December Seattle time. And we all know where it is heading. This photo was taken from the crows nest of the Healy...by Sarah Kaye, so she's not on board...this season. Here is that day's Coast Guard News article.
Things are getting busy...Monday 2 December the SPoT (the traverse team that arrived the week before) gave 24-hour notice that they're going to be doing a bit of blasting at Old Pole. As part of their requirement to conquer crevasses they encounter en route, they carry explosives and a drill for setting them. This would perhaps be round 5 of the various attempts to make Old Pole only a non-hazardous memory...last year there was a bit of digging and filling. At left is Steffen Richter's view of the prep work from MAPO. The blast was postponed for 24 hours...and eventually happened late afternoon on 4 December. 1200 pounds of dynamite. Perhaps that will do it. I do have photos. Meanwhile, the first traverse team is heading home, as are the PSL drillers who worked on the rodwell and sewer access.
And closer to the station, the drilling team from the University of Wisconsin's PSL have been busy working on the sewer outfall and the rodwell--separate but related projects. Before the old rodwell (RW2) can become the new sewer outfall, the access hole has to be redrilled. And a bit more urgently, the access into the new rodwell (RW3) had to be reworked--pump problems developed on 27 November after a brief power outage, and the access hole had to be reamed out before a replacement pump could be installed. Which happened late on the 28th. At right is the drill getting ready to do its thing...yes, it is an IceCube firn drill which circulates hot water through copper piping. And yes, that is some ARA equipment in use...although ARA project work was cancelled for this season, the drillers were available (photo from Dave Glowacki). (more information and photos).
Expedition update...many of the delayed private skiers/bikers/kiters finally flew to Union Glacier, arriving in the evening of 29 November Pole time. And by now Prince Harry and all of the Walking with the Wounded teams were at 87ºS to start their challenge race to Pole. The race started at 0235 2 December (1335 UTC 1 December). Here is the updated expedition list/status. But...we do know that Harry isn't the first member of the British royal family to visit...Prince Edward, then 18 years old, showed up on 11 December 1982. He didn't arrive on foot...
Some future science...the South Pole Ice Core Project (SPICECORE) is moving ahead with plans to drill and recover 1500-meter 9.8-cm diameter ice cores in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Preliminary site selection happened last season...it will happen in the dark sector about 1-3/4 miles directly west of the elevated station. A more detailed survey is planned this summer. The lead principal investigator is Eric Saltzman of the University of California-Irvine. Here's the current project newsletter and the project website home page.
Other current science news from elsewhere on the continent: Mount Erebus has been more active than in the past 30 years--no, McMurdo is not about to become the next Pompeii, but the lava bombs have been flying (15 November Antarctic Sun article). And in other volcano news, a team has discovered a nascent volcano buried under the ice near Mt. Sidley in Marie Byrd Land (17 November Washington University in St. Louis news article and NSF press release). And...a 270-square mile of the Pine Island Glacier broke off in early November to become the latest big iceberg (B-31) to start floating north (another 15 November Antarctic Sun article and some NASA images).
An update on the BIF demolition...apparently its demise is not quite as imminent as it may have been a week ago. The problems with settlement are still there, but an alternative location to do some of the large-balloon science is not. So while we stay tuned for updates, at right is a photo of the BIF from the beginning of this month (thanks to Boyd Brown). At left, a photo of it under construction in 1996-97. Not only is it getting more and more drifted in, making the doors difficult to open--it is also leaning and sinking...presumably in the direction of the site of rodwell #1, which is only 100 feet away. Which also happens to be the old sewer bulb used since 2002. When the new rodwell #3 was put into service last summer, the sewer was supposed to be switched to the old rodwell #2, but that didn't happen...hopefully it will this season. If the BIF is demo'd, the balloon launches would be supported out of cryo...and there has been discussion about moving that building as well (more photos of the original BIF construction). But cryo isn't large enough to handle the larger balloons used by NOAA and other science projects...and its door openings do not presently face downwind. On a historical note, the one-year-old BIF at Old Pole exploded on 31 January 1966 and was replaced by Seabees from NMCB 6 in less than two weeks, before station close.
Late on Friday 1 November as scheduled, the first LC-130 flight of the season arrived, loaded with freshies, fuel, and about 30 more new faces (right, a photo by Dana Hrubes) (his coverage, including some amazing snowdrift photos). The second flight, with another 30 passengers, was scheduled for the next day but it was delayed until Monday due to questionable weather. So the passengers got to experience the Saturday evening Halloween party in McMurdo, always a big event. Update...there were more flights after the weekend. By now all of the winterovers have headed north.
The day before the first Herc flight, the winterover ceremony was conducted--the handing out of the Antarctic Service medals. Additionally, the 2013 winterover photo (left) was unveiled (larger photos and info).
Halloween week...meaning the 1 November scheduled first LC-130 flight to Pole is only a couple of days away. And Polies are gathering in McMurdo. What's happening this summer? In a word, less. The government shutdown had little impact on the Pole plans for the season, and the summer population had already been planned to peak at 150 people. No significant new science or construction is planned--which means no jobs for construction folks like me, but it will reduce crowding, wear and tear, and energy use...as described in this excellent Antarctic Sun article.
As for the shutdown aftermath, here's a 28 October NSF press release on that subject. Minimal impacts on Pole and Palmer, but the decisions on some McMurdo area projects are still being cussed and discussed.
21 October, more international/political news: China has announced plans for a large new Antarctic station at Terra Nova Bay, 185 miles north of McMurdo and Scott Base. It would adjoin the existing Zucchelli Station (Italy) and the under-construction Jang Bogo Station (South Korea). Here's a TVNZ ONENEWS story and a stuff.co.nz article. Oh, and about that South Korean base, it's expected to be completed by March of 2014 (July 2013 3NEWS.co.nz report with video). Jang Bogo was designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, the same firm that designed that futuristic Halley VI station for BAS and the proposed AWO for NSF's Summit Camp in Greenland.
Late on 16 October US time the US government shutdown was ended. NSF has hopes to recover most of the austral summer season, but some projects including WISSARD have been cancelled. The full impact on the program is still being determined....(updated coverage).
And on 19 October while all this news was still being digested at Pole, a transiting Basler aircraft showed up with a few more freshies from Punta Arenas.
9 October SP time...it was official. The USAP was shutting everything down for the season except for "caretaker status" per this archive of the official 8 October announcement and this NPR news story. No summer science...people are to be sent home (something that is being frantically planned at the moment). The last government shutdown in 1995-96 occurred during the middle of the season rather than at the very beginning, so there was much less impact. Some things remain essential, such as getting lots of fuel to Pole by air and/or traverse, and that will need to be planned as well. And once people go home there would be no recovery for the summer season--all of the planning and preparation will have been for nothing. A sad day for everyone with an interest in the program...and especially for the many people who just arrived in Antarctica or were about to head south (continuing coverage).
After delays due to dicey weather at McM and Pole, the first official Twin Otter passenger flight arrived from McMurdo Tuesday evening (8 October)--the earliest passenger flight in history. The passengers included some management folks and others to start getting ready for the summer season if there is one. At the time the news coverage included this 7 October NPR story on All Things Considered.
Aircraft? Huh, it was only 5 October, but TWO Twin Otters landed on their transit flight from Rothera en route to McMurdo (documentation at left; here's another shot of both of them parked in the fuel pits...contrary to some earlier word, they are staying overnight before continuing to McM. These photos are from Blaise Kuotiong). The weather was good...-47ºF/-44ºC with 8 mph winds and excellent visibility, but McM weather isn't looking so promising. This is quite historic...the earliest flights ever to land at Pole. I don't know what the schedule is for one of them returning from McM with passengers, but the earliest passenger flight to Pole to date was the 16 October 1999 LC-130 which medevaced Jerri Nielsen. The temperature when it landed was -58ºF/-50ºC.
Science shutdown? If the current U.S. government shutdown continues for more than a week or two, it is possible, according to this 4 October Nature news article. It would be much more dramatic and significant than the closure of Skylab (right, a photo posted by Liesl Schernthanner on 29 November 2005, showing a "closed" sign on the ladder--it went cold after all of the science had been moved to the new station). Yes, for the moment (5 October) everything is continuing including the opening flights to McMurdo, and a contingent of USAP NSF staff is still on duty, as they are considered "essential." NSF posted this notice on the usap.gov site (which, unlike most other government sites, is still up), and a similar notice has gone out regarding the Arctic program in Alaska and Greenland. The contractors were funded in September for the present month, but they'll start to run out of money in a week or two. Similar contingency planning was required during the 1995-96 summer when the government shut down twice (14-19 November and 16 December-6 January). Then the plan was to reduce the Pole 1996 winterover crew from 26 to 10--fortunately unnecessary.
Here is another notice which NSF sent to universities and other nonprofit organizations; a similar notice was probably sent to the for-profit contractors. Most purchasing except for life safety items has been shut down. So...once again, the USAP team (including some unpaid NSF folks) are huddling around discussing contingency situations as they've had to do in past years when there might not have been an icebreaker...or a tanker... or those pesky icebergs were blocking things. What might happen--all science personnel would be sent home, most science would be shut down, and of course most of the ASC employees would be sent home as well, as the stations would be put in "maintenance mode" (essentially winterover-sized support crews) to "protect and secure assets"--the only thing for which funding would be assured. And of course the contractors have to calculate the costs of sending everyone home, for which they probably wouldn't be reimbursed as long as the shutdown lasts. Serious science at risk could include the long-term monitoring projects such as the vital NOAA atmospheric sampling and climatic studies which have continued from the IGY to the present.
More flight news...the first flight to McM on 3 October was a RNZAF 757, as documented by this 3News NZ clip. And it seems that a 5 October flight will be an Air New Zealand commercial Boeing 767-300 airliner. Air New Zealand has never landed in Antarctica before; they briefly did tourist overflights of Ross Island until their tragic crash into Mount Erebus on 28 November 1979. Alas for those folks with a 5 October ice date...the first flight is a "test flight" with no passengers, although there may be two more revenue charter flights later in the season. Here's an article from the Guardian newspaper about the flights. Interestingly, this is NOT the first commercial airline flight in support of the U.S. Antarctic program...that occurred on 15 October 1957 when a Pan Am B-377 Stratocruiser brought Seabees and others to McMurdo as a Navy test to show the feasibility of commercial flights to Antarctica. Of course the most significant thing about this first such flight was not the aircraft or the passengers...but rather the two woman flight attendants on board...some 13 years before the program would otherwise allow women in Antarctica.
Yes, the sun did return to Pole around the 19th or so depending on refraction. And the occasion was marked by the sunrise dinner on Saturday 21 October. The w/o photo was taken earlier that week.
Science is happening big time at Pole...that South Pole Telescope is digging deep and far back into the origins of the universe..."lensed B-modes," as described in this latest paper by the SPT collaboration. Our hero here is friend Dana Hrubes, whom I lived next door to during my 2005 and 2008 winters. Here's the Antarctic Sun article he wrote about it, and here's another article about Dana, who's now finishing up his seventh winter. At left is my photo of Dana in October 2005 in the old CUSP lab on the first floor of Skylab.
Winfly happened...the start of the 3 Airbus flights was delayed a bit due to weather, but they all arrived during the first week of September. The "main body" flights begin with a scheduled RNZAF flight on 3 October. There's an excellent Antarctic Sun article with winfly info, photos, and details on some of the planned science, happenings, and events. Pole will have to wait another week or so...the first transiting KBA Twin Otter and Basler flights will transit through Pole (from South America and Rothera en route to McMurdo) around mid October. Weather permitting, of course. And once again, the Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft will be absent from late November through late January.
August was movie month...for the past few years it has marked the 48 Hour Film Festival, which this year occurred over the weekend of 3-4 August. Entries in the "48 hour" category had to include five elements selected by the previous year's winning station (Kerguelen)--these were: a sneeze, a ping pong ball, a bathtub, a gingerbread man, and the phrase "Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir" (need I mention that Kerguelen is a French station?) There were fewer entries from USAP stations this year, and none from Pole in that category, perhaps because there's no longer a bathtub on station. But McMurdo had two entries, and Robert Schwarz had two excellent time lapse films in the "open" category. Here's the lot...enjoy!
The first of the early flights to McMurdo for the 2013-14 season, what is known as winfly, happened on schedule on 15 August, bringing 50 people south from Christchurch on a USAF C-17. Here is the pre-takeoff video from 3 News NZ in which you may recognize a few of the passengers as I did. The second flight, an all-cargo (with freshies and mail) flight, srrived a day later than scheduled on Sunday the 18th--this flight was to utilize night-vision goggles. This season the winfly schedule is somewhat stretched out--three more flights are scheduled for early September using the Australian A-319 Airbus. These flights will bring about 100 more folks to McMurdo; the final flight is scheduled for 8 September. Here's the 16 August Antarctic Sun article.
Icebreaker update...the Polar Star just finished up its successful ice trials north of Alaska and was heading back to Seattle after stops in Barrow, Nome, and Juneau. At right is a 12 July view from the Aloft Conn of some of the ice it found (from the Polar Star web site); here's a 4 August article from the Juneau Empire. After the icebreaker returns to Seattle, it will undergo a bit more rehab and preparation for its first mission since 2006--hopefully Deep Freeze 2014 in January.
Before the end of McMurdo's winter isolation, they took their winterover photo (left) featuring the 141 souls who were left on station after the medevacs earlier in the winter. The folks at Pole have plenty of time yet to take their w/o picture, they can wait until after sunup. In a related bit of McMurdo news, the longest continuously running experiment--Cosray, which was first installed in 1959-60, will be moving in two years to the new South Korean station Jang Bogo (which is currently under construction at Terra Nova Bay next to Italy's Zucchelli Station). The packing and moving out has already begun, per the 2012-13 Science Planning Summary. The cosray lab will be decommissioned in 2014-15 and (presumably) demo'd soon afterward.
There is new news about the drilling activity at Lake Vostok (right)...but not enough yet. After all, the Russian cores recovered in 2012-13 included only 5.5 m/19.3 ft of what was thought to be ice from the lake water, although the team expects to recover more lake ice cores next season. And there have been related studies as well. Here's my updated report on the activity over the past year.
News from the IceCube team in Madison...we have 2014 winterovers! One of them is Ian Rees. He's no stranger to the ice; in 2005-06 he was a fuelie in McMurdo, and he was an IceCube alternate for the 2011 winter. More recently he's been living in New Zealand. And the other guy is Dag Larsen...from Norway! Dag recently acquired a PhD while working on the NA-61 project--a neutrino experiment at CERN, and he will be the first Norwegian to winter at Pole. That is somewhat surprising considering Norway's significant involvement with polar exploration and science over the years...so it is about time!
So what are the plans for the 2013-14 summer? Well, as usual, there are lots of rumors, but as usual, I'm not privy to most of them, particularly the ones floating around McMurdo. Dealing with the rumors I have heard...what won't happen is a cancellation of Winfly, a reduction of the stations to "caretaker status," or even a "sharing" of one or more stations with other national programs(!) What is known...the NSF/USAP budgets ARE significantly affected by that Federal budget sequester...perhaps as much as 20%. In fact, on 20 June, NSF posted this letter on the usap.gov home page about the problem...no specific answers, but they're seriously looking for suggestions. The Pole population will go down a bit from last season...to around 150 people, and the McMurdo population will be reduced as well. And so far the only major station projects appear to be...moving the sewer outfall to the old Rodwell #2 bulb (this couldn't happen last year because of problems with the hot point drill) and an "adjustment" of the stairs in the vertical tower (VT), otherwise known as the beer can. It seems that the station is settling at a different rate than the stair tower...this caused problems more than once in the past, as the doors from the station would bind up on the ramps to the stair tower. As we thought that problem had been solved...during the 2008 winter the station doors were moved out to where they were supposed to be. But no...the station is still settling faster than the stair tower, so the doors are once again binding up on the ramps.
The British winter crossing of Antarctica...organized by veteran explorer Ran Fiennes, was still mired in a heavy crevasse zone at about 73ºS. They'd hoped to reach Pole before midwinters day. What are their chances? Well, they admitted they had none, and will stay put for the rest of the winter before retracing their tracks. Here's my updated take.
Happy Midwinter's Day! On 20 June I was at a reunion of the Antarctic Deep Freeze Association in New Orleans--this is the group that originally built and occupied the U. S. Antarctic stations for the IGY, and these gatherings always include a telephone call with the Polies, which gave me an opportunity to say hello to the folks on station. The midwinter weekend included the traditional showing of "The Shining" and a big dinner on Saturday the 22nd. The midwinter greeting photo is at right, and here is an excellent Antarctic Sun article.
It's looking increasingly likely that the icebreaker for the 2013-14 sealift will be furnished by...the U. S. Coast Guard! Yes, the Polar Star is heading off for some extended ice trials in the Arctic. Plans are for it to remain around Point Barrow and northern Alaska until early August. Here is the 17 June Navy Times article.
Polies are out of this world! Well, I certainly know that, but now it is becoming a reality. Fellow 2005 winterover Christina Marie Hammock was selected as one of the next eight NASA astronaut candidates! Here is the official NASA announcement. I always knew she was a star, but this is amazing, as there were more than 6,000 contenders for the position. And other Polies have been vying for such a spot as well. Here's the NASA news link; I like the photo from the Huffington Post (left) much better than the one that NASA used. And Christina isn't the only USAP person to have been selected! Jessica Meir was on the ice doing penguin studies for Scripps in 2004-05 and 2008-09. Here is another great article about Christina from the Samoa News.
The 36th Antarctic Treaty meeting (or should I say ATCM XXXVI) was held in Brussels at the end of May. Surprisingly, there wasn't much in the US media about it, but stuff was cussed and discussed. I haven't had time to understand all of the details that the Russians presented about the Vostok drilling program, but in the meantime, my reference information is here.
On 12 June in the US, NSF officially released the new McMurdo Master Plan...here's the press release. At right is NSF's comparative image of the present-day McMurdo vs the proposed future station from the press release. So where's the report? Well, it is here...or otherwise available from the USAP.gov home page under "Special Reports." Yes, this is the "coffee table report" so perhaps I need to acquire a coffee table. And in case you didn't know, the prime mover for this report in the Denver office was Shaggy (aka Brandon Heahusan).
Also on 12 June (NZ/Pole time), an inquest was held in Auckland to review the tragic January Kenn Borek Air crash. The coroner ruled officially that the three crew members died from multiple injuries resulting from impact. Further efforts to recover their bodies was expected in the upcoming summer season. Here's my updated report with links to news media and their photos from the SAR team.
The British winter crossing of Antarctica...organized by veteran explorer Ran Fiennes, was still mired in a heavy crevasse zone at about 73ºS. They'd hoped to reach Pole before midwinters day. What are their chances? Well, they admitted they had none, and will stay put for the rest of the winter before retracing their tracks. Here's my updated take.
There just was another McMurdo medevac on Friday 10 May (Christchurch Press and US Air Force coverage). The US Air Force C-17 aircraft crew again relied on night-vision goggles. This time some replacement winterovers made it to McM, along with freshies. And here's hoping that the medevaced person will quickly recover...to go smell the fall flowers in Hagley Park, head home to family, or whatever. The down side to these medevacs is that they cause the small winter crew A LOT of unplanned extra work to prepare the runway, get equipment ready, and work the flight.
Upcoming later in May is the next Antarctic Treaty meeting, this one will be in Brussels, Belgium (my coverage). Here's hoping that we hear a bit more about the Russian efforts to analyze the Lake Vostok drilling results. Meanwhile we have this inconclusive 30 March report from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
With the winter darkness comes (at least in most years) the three-digit temperatures...and this year was no exception. The temperatures stayed below -100ºF for several days; this -104.3ºF (left) was the coldest it got. Yes, this occurrence did trigger the usual 300 Club activities...fortunately the heater in the sauna cooperated fully. Sorry, no photos of the outdoor activity.
IceCube winterover Blaise Kuo Tiong was just interviewed by the Filipino social media site Rappler.com--Blaise was born in the Philippines, and his family moved to the US when he was 9 years old. He's the second Filipino to winter...and I highly recommend his blog.
The 2011-12 season was the year of the centennial of Amundsen's and Scott's visits to Pole...now it looks like the 2013-14 summer will be the year of the bicycle! Yes, surprisingly, after last year's failed Pole venture by Eric Larsen, 2013-14 will see THREE separate ventures attempting to reach Pole by bicycle. I'm hoping they all make it! Here's the updated details about all of the upcoming private Pole travelers...including of course the British "Coldest Winter" group that may yet show up at Pole in time for Midwinters Day.
The winter has barely begun, but already there have been some amazing auroras...I wish I were there to see them in person. Lacking that...some of the winterovers have been posting photos, check out my page of links to see them. But the most dramatic thing I've seen is this YouTube video by Daniel Leussler...handheld, taken from the observation deck above DA. It's hard to photograph auroras, because the cameras typically brighten up the rest of the image excessively, but this video is probably the closest capture of what the auroras really look like.
Yes, there was a sudden medevac flight to McMurdo...a USAF C-17 from Washington state flew south from Christchurch on Sunday 21 April, returning to ChCh on the next day (Christchurch Press article). As is usual with such events, no information about the sick individual or other passengers, but there are now 139 winterovers at McMurdo. The flight was arranged too quickly for freshies to be included in the southbound cargo...and a couple of replacement winterovers were left behind as well. But the patient responded positively to hospital treatment in ChCh. Here's the Air Force news coverage.
On 21 March, NSF released its official summary response to last year's Blue Ribbon Panel report...one of the more interesting items it addresses is the work underway in Denver to develop a new long-range plan for McMurdo (USAP/NSF graphic at right). Here's more information and links to the documents.
It's that time of year...time for updated winterover statistics! I think I got things right this time...finally.
Also, it's the time of year for sunset and various associated events. The equinox marking the first day of autumn in the Antarctic occurred at 0002 Pole time on Thursday 21 March, just after Wednesday midnight. The sunset wasn't supposed to occur for a few more days, perhaps on Saturday the 23rd, which is when the sunset dinner was held. Despite a bit of overcast, the skies allowed for views of the sunset, blue flashes and all...and thanks to refraction, the sun was still visible a couple of days later.
Also triggered by the equinox was the start of the now-five-man Coldest Journey winter crossing of the continent...they hoped to show up at Pole for Midwinters Day, weather, crevasses, and D-6's permitting.
A bit of bad news just reported to me by 1981 w/o Mike Gilbert. Off the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral...1981 winterover radio operator Pat Cornelius disappeared...after contacting the Coast Guard on 9 January to say he was having chest pains and tingling in his left arm. When his boat was located, he was not aboard. Here's the Jacksonville TV news story and the Coast Guard news coverage.
Delayed from 5 March by 3 days of mechanical problems followed by one day of weather issues...the final McMurdo flight of the season was completed on the 9th. The RNZAF 757 headed north after leaving behind 143 winterovers--a group that included 34 women. Before disappearing, it wagged its wings in salute to the group gathered at the Chalet. Almost 2 weeks earlier, around midday on the 26th, the cargo vessel Ocean Giant headed off into the sun, with cargo operations complete.
On the other side of the continent about 45 miles from the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station (72ºS-23ºE), a surprising announcement came from Ran Fiennes' "The Coldest Journey" expedition, which has hardly even started. Ran will leave the venture. He developed severe frostbite in his left hand after removing his glove briefly to fix a broken ski binding. The air temperature was -22ºF, although the real problem was probably contact with the cold snow. I and many of us have removed our gloves to do things outside at Pole in much colder winter weather. Ran has suffered from bad frostbite in that hand before, during a failed solo North Pole attempt in 2000. His sled slipped through the ice, and he reached into the frigid sea to recover it...the air temperature was -30ºF. After he returned to London and waited awhile for his left hand fingers to recover, he cut them off himself with a fretsaw (similar to a coping saw), in part to save the £6,000 surgery cost. Oof. Frostbite injuries are cumulative, and the team doctor concurred that he be evacuated...which hadn't happened yet due to bad weather in the area. The other five members of the traverse party intend to continue. The expedition press releases are here.
Late in the evening of Thursday 14 February the last flight of the season departed Pole...after bringing in the last couple of winterovers. The closing date was moved up a day because of bad weather forecasts--a possible storm in McM and cold temps at Pole. And the last flights were not without some boomerang action as one flight had mechanical problems. After the dust settled and that last flyby was over, there were 44 Polies left! Here is Blaise Kuo Tiong's video of the flyby! Oh, the showings of The Thing (all three versions) happened on Friday evening. The final beginning of isolation came on Tuesday the 19th after the last two Twin Otters--one KBA and one BAS, had departed on their way north. An interesting statistic--there were 115 LC-130 flights this season, the fewest in the last 20 years. Hmmm, 20 years ago in 1993 there was no traverse; this year the traverse brought in 140,000 gallons which is probably about what the 1993 station required for the winter months. And there were were 28 winterovers in 1993--a new record at the time. There are some familiar names on the 1993 w/o list...BK Grant, Katy and Rod Jensen, Joe Crane, Steve Bruce, Jordan Dickens, Bill McAfee, Kathie Hill...was this really 20 YEARS ago?
Back at McM, the NB Palmer departed for its next science cruise on schedule...the tanker finished offloading and departed on Friday morning...it was quickly replaced at the pier by the cargo ship Ocean Giant (left, a Friday afternoon webcam view) about an hour later.
Oh by the way, if you've been watching that webcam view as I have, you may have noticed that the cargo vessel sat there for several days with very little activity...not much was being offloaded. It seems that the ship hit the pier a bit hard when it arrived...and the pier moved toward the peninsula and grounded in the shallow water. So it took a bit of time to inspect and adjust things before the cargo ops could begin. Since then things got back to normal, with 80+ milvans coming off in a 12-hour shift. There were 679 containers unloaded, so you can do the math. Now (Thursday) they are backloading about 577.
11 February...the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP), which had originally shown up on 9 February, left the pier in the morning...around noon the tanker had docked (an earlier tanker blog entry)...and then the NBP returned to the bay and tied up outboard for refueling (webcam view at right with the icebreaker in the distance). the photos are from last year. This DOD press release was only a bit premature as things turned out.
And on 9 February, an airlift update...after earlier cancellations, a C-17 was making its way to Christchurch from McChord Field in Washington. Would the soggy slushy Pegasus ice runway be in condition for them to head to McMurdo on Monday the 11th? YES, according to George Blaisdell, who was quoted in this 18 February Stars and Stripes article. Here is earlier Air Force news coverage.
Sealift update...yes, it is happening. The Vladimir Ignatyuk has made it to the ice pier more than once. It has more work to do, but at left is a view of it from the McMurdo webcam which I grabbed at about 1200 on 7 February. Remember to check all three of the cameras--the mobile camera has a good view of the ice pier. Meanwhile, Nathaniel B. Palmer has been cruising in the southern Ross Sea about 100 miles north of McMurdo, the tanker Maersk Peary is also in the Ross Sea, the cargo ship sailed from Lyttelton and was also heading south.
The South Pole summer season is almost over...perhaps only about one more week to go, and folks have been leaving. The first major group departure happened on 7 January, perhaps they'll make it to NZ on Friday. Northbound departures from McM are still being hampered by the slushy conditions at the Pegasus runway at McMurdo---this continues to prevent the larger/faster C-17's from making the trip to McMurdo...and people continue to be bumped from the LC-130 flights because of weight restrictions. But at the end of January the Polies took time out for a group photo (right) in front of DA. I've seen several versions of this from different folks, but this one is from Jeffrey Donenfeld. I think he's the guy in the red coat.
Yes, a sad event happened on 23 January 2013...a Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter with a crew of three left from Pole for Mario Zucchelli Station, the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay. At 2200, the aircraft missed its hourly checkin with Mac Center in McMurdo, and a few minutes later its emergency beacon was detected.
Briefly, the beacon was detected near Mt. Elizabeth in the Transantarctic Mountains...weather did not permit search activities initially. It wasn't until Saturday when an LC-130 spotted the tail of the aircraft on a steep mountain cliff. Further search missions confirmed that the flight was not survivable... eventually search-and-rescue teams visited the site and recovered the cockpit voice recorder and other equipment, but it was deemed too risky to attempt recovery of the bodies.
Above left is a January 2011 photo of KBC (the aircraft which was lost) at a field camp in the Transantarctic Mountains... and at right is a photo by Jeffrey Donenfeld of the memorial ceremony held at Pole on 27 January. The detailed timeline of events with links to other information and media coverage has been updated, reorganized, and moved to this page...a sad chronicle of events to be sure. Here's my coverage.
Some older items of interest (other old news is in the archive):
WIRED magazine has a feature article on Jerry Marty, Carlton Walker, and the station construction in the July 2002 issue. Read about the settlement problems...why the place wasn't considered fit for occupancy for the 2002 winter.
Pole land cargo traverses in the works...in October 2002 NSF flew a specially equipped D8 from Christchurch to McMurdo aboard a C17...this equipment was be used to prepare a road south towards the Leverett Glacier, eventually hopefully to Pole. This is to augment the LC-130 flights for station construction cargo as well as for ICE CUBE and forthcoming science projects. More information...
Another new science project...in 2002 a 10-meter submillimeter telescope (up from 8 meters!) that will search for new galaxy clusters and study dark energy. Plans were to attach it to the DSL (dark sector lab) University of Chicago press release. It was originally scheduled to have a ground shield that is larger than the Dome (built by Temcor, the same company that built the dome...). The telescope was completed in 2006-07, and the huge ground shield was eventually cancelled.
On 8/13/02 NSF had a meeting with potential contractors and suppliers for a possible fiber optic cable to Dome C. Yes, you read that right (news article). Since Pole is way below the horizon for the commercial geosynchronous satellites, one option is to run a cable about 1050 miles to the newly constructed French/Italian Concordia Station at Dome C. (This station is scheduled for full-time occupancy next winter.) The project calls for several years of studies and trials, with the actual stuff involving traverses to get the cable to Pole and Dome C as well as along the route.
Back in mid March 2002 two other iceberg events happened. First, there was another piece of the Thwaites Ice Tongue (75°S-108°W) about 2100 square miles (NOAA press release) which got designated B22. And then there was the collapse of another hunk of the Larsen ice shelf east of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen Ice Shelf B disintegrated within the past couple of months, as evidenced by photos and animations from the NSIDC in Boulder, which also has links to other coverage. The BBC has an excellent article about both events.
Check out the amazing panorama of the inside of the dome by Marc Hellwig--seen here on Dana Hrubes' April 2001 page--warning it may make you dizzy!
The venerable New South Polar Times mailing list moved to a home on Yahoo, thanks to 2001 w/o science tech Andrea Grant. Join the discussion...
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) had a major feature on the Pole construction in their December 2000 magazine, including articles by Frank Brier and Jerry Marty. That section is no longer online, although I did archive the original article by Dennis Berry and Forrest Braun (BBFM Engineers, Anchorage) which features the details of foundation design and the jacking systems.
Here is the link to my 1999 Doc Jerri medevac coverage. The spectacular April 2001 medevac flight to Pole is covered here. And my archive of other news, links to press releases, and older media coverage is here.
Other Antarctic news sites...
Explorers Web (thepoles.com), freshly enhanced, is operated by Thomas and Tina Sjogren, the "Wearable" expedition folks that trekked to Pole in 2001-02. They are up to date on all the Pole NGA ventures as well as Vinson, Everest, the North Pole, and other similar attractions, and they have an excellent guide for planning your own stroll to Pole.
Brendon Grunewald's old 70 South news site has evolved into the Polar Conservation Organisation, but it still features lots of Antarctic and related news from everywhere, updated daily by anyone, yes, you too.
The news and information pages of the Antarctic Connection are updated occasionally with current news and other information from and about Antarctica.
The Antarctic Sun is extremely prolific of late. The current editor is Peter Rejcek, a 2004 Polie winterover. Sun archives run back to 1996-97, the final year when the McMurdo newspaper was a Navy publication, the Antarctic Sun Times. Before then in the old days it went by other names....here is the story.
NZ Antarctic Philately pages by Steven McLachlan . The news page features many current events, including many pictures from the various private expeditions at Pole this past summer. He also has information on the 99-00 cruises of the Polar Duke south of NZ in support of German and Italian science projects, 98-99 construction of the new base at Dome C...
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) published biweekly newsletters on NGA (private) expeditions, cruises and tourist events. Unfortunately this was discontinued in May 2003, and the archives are no longer available. But they do feature a separate news page for the official Australian program.
The NSF Polar Programs (PLR) page contains links and a search engine. Most recent press releases are also here, scroll to the bottom.
The rest of the story... can now be read online or offline in the newsletter of the Antarctican Society. Highly recommended. Here is the latest contact info as well as the historical background about the group.[top] | [home]
(Tricks: some wind speeds are given in meters per second. One m/s is about 3.6 km/hr, 2-1/4 mph, or 2 knots. Also, they may use a Julian date, this is the sequential number from starting from 1 through 365 or so. For example, 07031 is January 31, 2007.)
Now about those satellites...
As for the satellites themselves, since they were old the orbits wobbled so the station could see them a few hours a day. MARISAT-F2 (Maritime Communications Satellite), GOES-3 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, as it was a NOAA weather satellite), and TDRS-1 combined [the links for individual satellites here are to Wikipedia articles] gave a window of almost 12 contiguous hours per day with an original theoretical 5 MBPS transfer speed, which has been upgrades several times over the years to more than 60 MBPS. Most of the increased bandwidth goes to data transfer. The oldest of these three, MARISAT-F2 was decommissioned in October 2008 after deterioration in its telecommand link (Antarctic Sun article). This cut the total window by two hours and the bandwidth by a bigger percentage. A year later in October 2009, the TDRS-1 satellite (or TDRSS-1, depending on the NASA contractor and acronym you prefer--TDRS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and TDRSS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) also disappeared from service. The last TWTA (traveling wave tube amplifier) failed, and NASA moved it to another temporary orbit for decommissioning. The last day of service was 21 October 2009 NSF announcement and (Spaceflight Now news article).
So at present, Pole uses GOES, which provides a 1.5 Mbps inbound and 1024 Kbps outbound data rate for about 6 hours a day; and a constellation of NASA TDRSS satellites: TDRS F3, TDRS F4 (until it was retired in 2011), TDRS F5 (scheduled for retirement in November 2014--August 2014 USAP service announcement), and TDRS F6 via a second antenna terminal, the SPTR-2 (South Pole TDRS Relay) link completed during the 2008-09 summer (right, a construction photo from Dave Smith; here are more), and here is an April 2009 USAP page with a link to an Antarctic Sun article--lots more info. These satellites often are available for much shorter periods on an ever-changing schedule, and at a greater expense to NSF. They provide a 5 Mbps IP data link, and a separate 150 Mbps one-way (northbound) link for bulk science data. Not all of the "above-the-horizon" time (what typically appeared on the old scroll satellite availability page) is actually available to USAP--the program aims for about 4 hours per day, and at the time this created a complex daily scheduling job for a friend in Denver.
During the 2009-10 summer some field tests were conducted using the Intelsat/Paradigm/Astrium-operated Skynet-4C British military satellite, which was slowly increasing in visibility at Pole. Here is the October 2009 contract award announcement, a 2010 announcement from Intelsat, and a more detailed 2010 Intelsat report on the initial testing (interestingly, these satellites use the Oakhanger ground station southeast of London in the UK--while working for Ford Aerospace I visited that station in 1980 as part of a US Air Force satellite contract I was then involved with...and Philco-Ford, a predecessor to Ford Aerospace, actually manufactured the first Skynet satellites in the 1960s). The Pole equipment was designed, some equipment was bought (January 2011 SPAWAR request for information), a dish and receiving system was installed in the large radome with the GOES dish during the 2011-12 austral summer (Skynet and GOES are in opposite directions), and USAP bought time on the satellite. But when the installation was completed, the satellite could not be located. Turns out that the Skynet orbit had been adjusted so that it was behind MAPO, so the earth station would need to be relocated. Instead, arrangements were used to use a different satellite from the same family, NATO-IVB, and tests were conducted successfully during the 2012 winter. It is currently accessed using the antenna in the GOES radome (left, photo from Bartley Davis). This satellite is currently providing a T1 (1.5 Mbps link) for at least 4 hours a day...and it now appears on the various satellite uptime schedules and scrolls (such as this one). NATO-IVB was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1993, here's a generic photo from Astrium. The SKYNET-4C is still available for use as well, but this would require a new antenna installation at Pole.
In addition to the larger geosynchronous satellites there is, of course, Iridium, which is always available for official/emergency phone calls. Additionally there is a data link consisting of 12 Iridium phones, each capable of a 2400 bps data link, which are multiplexed to produce a 28 kbps data link. This is used for 24/7 email (for small emails <50k or so). Other resources linked here:
-the recently upgraded and enhanced USAP satellite information pages with links to the weekly satellite schedule PDF file (which requires Adobe Acrobat or reader for access) and even more geeky information.
-a brief NSF 2006 Powerpoint presentation by Erick Chiang and Pat Smith, titled "Data Communications Supporting Astronomy/Astrophysics at South Pole Station" which addresses the conditions and future plans at that point in time.
-a May 1995 report by Bob Loewenstein, Bill Smythe, and Brent Jones, Science Requirements for South Pole Station Computing and Communications. Some interesting facts, figures, and historical background. 1 GB/day of data transmission--hmmm, where would that leave IceCube?[top] | [home]
The 2014 Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting (ATCM XXXVII) was held 28 April-7 May, in Brasilia, Brazil. Here's Brazil's host country page. I've discussed some of the meeting highlights elsewhere on this page. The 2013 meeting was held from 20-29 May in Brussels, Belgium. It must have been rather low-key as well, as I didn't see any American news coverage of the event. Significant items included approval of a "cleanup manual" (addressing remediation of environmental damage), discussions and plans for new stations, including China's Kunlun Station at Dome A, and the use of hydroponics at Australian, New Zealand, and American stations,. Here is the host country information website. The Russian delegation did provide a major update on their Lake Vostok activities, but I haven't had time to digest their reports and update my coverage. In the meantime you can go to this search page and select "ATCM XXXVI" in the "Meeting From" box to see all of the documents, including the maps and related documents referenced in the reports mentioned above. Also highly recommended is the the Antarctic Treaty Information Exchange for any nation. The US reports include information on the various stations, cruises and science projects--more current data than that on the NSF website...but no lists of personnel. The NGO information is also included. I try and highlight a few of the significant meeting documents elsewhere on this site.
Nowadays there are a number of commercial marathon/ultramarathon ventures in the Antarctic...most commonly sought out by people who want to complete a marathon on all seven continents:
Of course, the 2011-12 season was the biggest ever for Pole, as it had been the centennial year of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival at what has been called an "awful place." But folks continue to show up. There are two principal tourist operators--flights from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills (nowadays Union Glacier instead) and beyond are operated by Antarctic Network International (ANI)/Antarctic Logistics and Exploration (ALE). ANI continues to be actively booking tourists. The other operation is based out of the airstrip at Novo (Novolazarevskaya), a Russian base which is served by flights from Cape Town. It is operated by Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) and The Antarctic Company (TAC). These organizations do not appear to be seriously booking private tourist flights at present, but another British based company White Desert, has established a tourist destination "Whichaway Camp" near Novo (no, nowhere near the Whichaway Nunataks) with penguin colonies and mountains nearby. TAC also operates its "Oasis" guesthouse about 10 miles from Novo at Schirmacher Oasis. Novo is a 3000m blue ice runway originally built by ANI near the Russian Novolazarevskaya base, in the past it was known as Blue One, and on some maps you may see it designated as "White Desert." Perhaps the most serious travel agent booking Pole trips is the Chicago-based company Polar Explorers...they are booking trips to Pole via PA/Union Glacier for US$45,000 ex PA.
Here are my records of the 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08, 2006-07, 2005-06, 2004-05, 2003-04, 2002-03, 2001-02, 2000-01 and 1999-2000 NGA expeditions. Keep in mind that the older expedition web sites tend to disappear. The 2000-01 Russian "Millennium Expedition" (skydiving/ballooning) is covered on a separate page.