[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
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 BICEP 2 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.
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...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.
Yes, it really is sealift time...and the icebreaker will be first. The Russian icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk left the Cape Town area on 9 January, heading southeast. The reported ETA at McMurdo is 2 February. As for the cargo ships, on 18 January US time, the Military Sealift Command (MSC) announced what we all hoped and suspected...they are en route. The MSC- chartered container ship Ocean Giant departed Port Hueneme on 17 January, loaded with nearly 3500 tons of stuff (right, a 17 January US Navy photo). And no modular pier components(!) It's expected to reach McMurdo in mid-February after a stop in Lyttelton. Meanwhile, the tanker Maersk Peary is in the southern Indian Ocean (about 25ºS on 19 January), it will show up first. Oh yes, the Nathaniel B. Palmer will show up around 7 February after a long science cruise from PA.
Speaking of icebreakers...perhaps next year at this time the USAP icebreaker will be flying the Stars and Stripes. Yes, in December, the 34-year-old Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star was reactivated in Seattle after a four-year, $57 million overhaul (Seattle Times article). And on 11 January it completed its initial sea trials (left, the Polar Star returning to port) (USCG photo from their Facebook page). It is one of the world's most powerful icebreakers...and at present it is one of only two American polar icebreakers in service.
And speaking of ships which recently sailed from Cape Town...Ran Fiennes' "Coldest Journey" team sailed on 7 January. The expedition ship S. A. Agulhas (a South African ice-strengthened training ship and former polar research vessel, built in 1977 and used for 30 years to resupply the South African research bases in the Antarctic), headed more directly south from Cape Town toward Crown Bay (70ºS-23ºE). They reached that unloading point on 20 January...and after about 2 weeks of unloading and assembly work, the ship headed north on 3 February...leaving Ran Fiennes and the rest of the team on the ice to begin their travels south.
Other means of travel in the news...former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski spent three days at Pole in mid-January...oh yes, he's now the USAP medical director with UTMB--that may a more difficult job at times than his five space shuttle missions. Scott also visited Palmer Station in December.
As the annual shipping season approaches...attention once again focuses on the McMurdo ice pier. Despite the warm temperatures, it appears to be holding up so far...insulated under all that dirt. But all has not been well... what a difference a month makes. At left...a photo from around 12 December from ARA team member Mike DuVernois on his way to Pole. However...that snow bridge didn't seem to be surviving the heat wave. So...on 14 December the snow bridge was blasted away along with some of the surrounding ice (YouTube video posted by LDB engineer Richard Bose), and the pier was pulled closer to the wharf...so as to allow a New Zealand Army team to erect a Bailey bridge. The result...that 11 January photo (right) which has been making the rounds lately. If the ship would show up next week, everything would be fine. But we must wait a bit. And I've also heard that the sea ice in McMurdo Sound may be heavy enough to create a bit more work for the icebreaker than last year...stay tuned. I'm not any good at guessing the sea ice thickness from looking at photos....but at right below is a 10 January MODIS image (source link, from which you can navigate to other images/dates/areas). Note that the top of the photo is south; Ross Island is in the center. I looked back at the past week's images and things were pretty cloudy on most days...I couldn't see what was happening in the northern Ross Sea.
Antarctic drilling projects have been hot news topics this season...back in early November, Peter Rejcek discussed the three biggest ones in this Antarctic Sun article. The most newsworthy of these projects from last season is of course the Russian penetration of Lake Vostok...but there hasn't been much recent news about it...until 11 January, when the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the first ice sample of the season had been recovered from the borehole. The sample was recovered from a depth of 3406m/11,175' (a fair distance above the lake surface at 3769m/12,365'). So is it contaminated with drilling fluid? Too little information...presumably we'll hear of more drilling progress later this austral summer, as well as future plans to probe into the lake itself. Their immediate plans are to continue drilling to 3430m/11,253'. Before this news came out, I collected (and summarized) Russia's project technical reports, which were submitted to the Antarctic Treaty meetings each year. Including the fact that they had difficulty evaluating the drilling fluid density because of (inadvertent) hydraulic fracturing. The much-publicized BAS Lake Ellsworth project is located at 79ºS-99.5ºW...175 miles northeast of the ANI/ALE base camp at Union Glacier. (The heavy cargo was flown to UG on the IL-76 aircraft and traversed to the drill site by ALE.) Unfortunately, the effort to drill 10,500' to the lake surface had to be called off after their unique drilling concept failed--they'd planned to balance the lake water pressure (and prevent the drill water from entering the lake or geysering out of the hole) by connecting the drill hole with an underice water reservoir (what we'd call a rodwell bulb full of water) but they were unable to make the two connect. Back to the drawing board.... Here's the project blog (with links to the project web sites), 27 December BBC coverage of the project termination, and an April 2012 BAS presentation by David Blake which describes/depicts the drill scheme and its development (from the 2012 Polar Technology Conference which I attended). And then there is that USAP project, WISSARD, hoping to tap into subglacial Lake Whillans sometime later this month. One of the SPoT teams started hauling their equipment to the site (600+ miles SE of McM near the south edge of the Ross Ice Shelf) on 30 December (due to show up by 12 January). Here's their project home page and blog. Unlike Vostok and Ellsworth, Lake Whillans is not an isolated lake, but rather it is part of an extensive network of lakes and channels running under the ice. It is only about 10m deep, and about 800m/half a mile below the ice surface. They're also using a hot water drill system, which some media (such as this October 2011 New Scientist article) describe as the same method used by the BAS Lake Ellsworth team. But actually the system is more like something from IceCube...and since the team is packed with IceCube veterans as well, it ought to work. Here's their page with photos, information, and a schematic diagram (P&ID) of the drill system.
Not to leave Pole out of the drilling discussion...there is a new approved deep ice coring project in the planning stages--the South Pole Ice Core Project has been funded for a 1500m/4900' ice coring project, planned for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Antarctic field seasons. The project consortium includes UCI, UW, and UNH...and they're having a planning workshop in Boulder next month, across the street from my apartment (!) And in current news, the ARA project completed drilling their 12 210m antenna holes at Pole on 31 December, and they're now doing the wiring and testing.
Happy New Year! The holiday season was celebrated with traditions old and new...gift exchange, Round the World Race, Marathon, New Years Eve concert, the unveiling of the Pole marker (right)...and other things I won't mention. And the new Rodwell 3 was finally placed in service the weekend before New Years. Further north at McMurdo, warm weather had softened the runway, meaning that the LC-130's couldn't carry their full cargo load (perhaps a good thing that the C-17s had gone away for the middle of the summer--they'd probably have trouble landing at all). The melting was exacerbated by a dust storm which blew a lot of black dust over the snow surface. From last report there is lots of mail, cargo, freshies, etc., that is not moving south from Christchurch. And the road to Pegasus has softened as well, resulting in long slow travel times. In fact, sometimes wheeled vehicles have been forced to use a "magic carpet"--a plastic sled similar to those used for fuel bladders by the traverse, and towed by a Challenger or similar tracked vehicle. These have been used for anything from passenger vans up to Ivan the Terra Bus.
The solstice has passed meaning the summer is about half over already! But things have been happening...not exactly construction of a new elevated station, but folks have been busy nonetheless. Although the tourist crowd is expected to be much smaller than last year, the first skiers and other visitors have already shown up, so the visitor center has been erected again(!) and the welcome sign has been moved in front of DA (left). Oh yes, Boyd Brown assures me that the sign says the same thing on both sides...like some other small towns I've spent time in. As for some of the construction and science projects...here's what has been happening so far.
After the solstice of course comes the major holiday season of Christmas and New Years...traditionally a time for great dinners, athletic events, and big parties. I'll leave it to Jeffrey Donenfeld to describe a couple of the events...one of the newer traditions is the all-station holiday photo--he includes a video of its creation. As for the athletic events, the Race around the World comes off on Christmas Eve, and it has a rather dramatic course. This event was first created by Casey Jones and Martha Kane Savage in December 1979...before that there used to be a football game, we played the Pole Bowl on Christmas Day in 1976.
101 years ago, on 14 December 1911, Amundsen showed up here. Last year at this time a big multinational crowd assembled to commemorate that event, and this year we have this new tradition...flying the Norwegian flag at the Pole on 14 December (photo from Andrea Dixon).
Some interesting aviation news from the other side of the continent...on 28 November local time, the first Boeing 737 aircraft landed in Antarctica, on the 10,000-foot blue ice runway at the Norwegian Troll Station. Troll is located 150 miles from the coast in Queen Maud Land. The six-hour flight from Cape Town was commissioned by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) and operated by PrivatAir, a business/private aviation operator (left; press release photo © NPI). Passengers included NPI researchers and support personnel, some invited guests, and a team of experienced aircraft operations folks to assess the event. The flight returned to Cape Town the next day. Here's the NPI news article (Norwegian page translated by Google) with more photos, the PrivatAir press release page, and the PDF version. What does this mean for the future of Antarctic air transport? Too soon to tell, although this success needs to be viewed in context with two other significant 2012 news items: the USAP Blue Ribbon Panel report which recommended construction of an ice runway for large wheeled aircraft at Pole; and the incipient failure of Australia's constructed ice runway, the Wilkins Aerodrome (40 miles from Casey) due to melting in midsummer (October 2012 Crikey.com.au article). A new rock-surfaced runway in the ice-free Vestfold Hills (near Davis) may be considered as a long-term alternative.
5 December...it is summer at Pole, and construction is well underway. The jacks were installed under the heavy shop, and by now the leveling process should be underway if not complete. As for science stuff...the SuperDARN control building is being created out of the old SPASE-2 module...it and the antennas will be installed on the east side of the fuel arch. The ARA team has been setting up their hot water drilling equipment for antenna installation...and the SPT folks have begun installing yet another version of a ground shield (right, photo from Amy Bender). This is shield attempt number four, not counting the original plan for a huge inverted dome, bigger than the one that covered the old station. It would have been fabricated by TEMCOR, the same company that brought us the old dome.
A strange bit of news came out on 28 November...Nicholas Johnson, the author of Big Dead Place (left, Amazon.com link) committed suicide. The news announcement from his publisher is rather crass...in fact, when I first saw this I assumed it was something Nick had dreamed up, but I have confirmed that it is true. I much prefer to read this tasteful blog post by Jason Anthony. Nick wintered in McMurdo more than once, in 2001 and 2008 at least, and at Pole in 2004, and we'd been in touch for the past 10 years. He had a way with words, sarcasm, humor, and a sense of the Antarctic Program, and he will be missed.
On 29 November the first South Pole Traverse (SPoT) arrived at Pole, only 25 days after leaving McMurdo. I don't know if it is a record, but it is definitely faster than some of the previous ones...although it still had to deal with soft snow on the Plateau. At right, their status map from the day of arrival...after a few days at Pole unloading and resting, they continued on to AGAP to recover fuel and camp materials. Meanwhile, the second traverse, which left McM a few days later on 12 November, reached the top of the Leverett Glacier on 27 November, where they left a depot of 24 bladders/72,000 gallons of fuel at 86º02.221'S, 142º13.334'W and turned around, heading to McMurdo (27 November status map and sitrep. The depoted fuel will be taken to Pole later; meanwhile the next mission for the Traverse#2 team will be to haul cargo for the WISSARD project.
Thanksgiving weekend, 24-25 November...by now the early season flight delays have mostly been resolved...the major science groups (IceCube/ARA and SPT) have summer teams on site to do what needs to be done, and the summer construction projects are underway. Well, perhaps not this weekend, as Saturday is the day for the big dinner and the first day of a two-day weekend. There are about 155 folks on station, a few are living in the summer camp Hypertats, the only part of summer camp that is being used.
During late winter, some more satellite tests were conducted with another of the SKYNET-4 series, as the original candidate, SKYNET-4C, got moved so that it was hidden behind the dark sector structures, and RF interference was a concern. Anyway, the tests were successful, so now the NATO-IVB satellite is providing ~4 hours of T1 access per day, currently in the early morning hours (left, a glimpse at the scroll during Thanksgiving weekend). Yeah, what's a T1 line amongst 155 people? Well, it is 4 more hours of internet access than was previously available. Here's a bit of older information about the project.
By Friday 8 November, all but a very few of the 2012 winterovers had headed north...some have made it back to North America already. And the summer people and some of the winterovers have continued to arrive from McMurdo, despite some aggravating flight delays, boomerangs, and cancellations. Both of the 2013 IceCube winterovers have arrived and are busy learning everything. These guys are Felipe Pedreros...who will be the first Chilean to winter, and Blaise Kuotiong...the first winterover originally from the Philippines. And in amongst such things as fire team training, job training, altitude sickness, they've also been blogging and posting photos! Check out the links!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, the tourist season is getting started. The Union Glacier camp is up and running, and the first Pole venturer on the ice is American Aaron Linsdau, aiming to be only the fourth person and the first American to travel to Pole and back without assistance or resupply (ulp, that means not one cookie or drink of water from the Polies). He started his trek from Hercules Inlet on 2 November. And last week another American, Eric Larsen of Boulder, CO, announced that he'll make a solo bicycle trip to Pole starting in December. The list of NGA ventures, updated on 11 November, is here.
Surprisingly on short notice, the second flight arrived on Tuesday 30 October...it was a cargo flight bringing no new people, but it took the first winterovers north. All Pole flights were cancelled on Wednesday for mechanical reasons...Thursday, plans changed several times, but an evening Herc flight brought in 40 more folks. The summer is truly underway! And on Monday the next passenger flight happened...scheduled to take about 25 of the winterovers north. A few of them who left earlier are already back in the US.
The folks on the Friday (26 October flight to Pole waited on the ice runway because of a mechanical delay...until 1300. Then the flight was cancelled. On Saturday the Pole flight was an alternate to WAIS...but the first flight to Pole did take off, and landed at Pole around noon on Saturday. At right...some of the new arrivals getting off of the aircraft (photo from Carlos Pobes). Winter is over!
Yes, the big airplanes are coming. The first of the NYANG LC-130's left Schenectady NY for the ice on the 16th and 17th...(Air National Guard article). And the first one, Skier 81, reached McMurdo at 1800 on Tuesday 23 October. For a time it was announced that the first Pole flight would be on Thursday the 25th...a day ahead of schedule...and the weather looked good for the first 30 or so Polies to head south. But no...it was cancelled. Then it was to go on Friday the 26th...or.......whenever. Watch the Pole weather and the McMurdo weather...
The Pole isolation ended after noon on Friday 19 October, when the first KBA aircraft, Basler MKB, showed up from Rothera for a one-hour refueling stop en route to McMurdo (left, photo by Sven Lidstrom). Its arrival had been delayed a couple of days. The aircraft and its crew of four did not enter the station...yes, they did bring freshies--including onions as well as fruit (all were enjoyed). A Twin Otter (KBG) was scheduled to arrive that day as well, but that flight was postponed until Monday the 22nd...it showed up at 1235. It was followed at 1300 by another Basler. These aircraft brought more freshies, as well as wine (!) The second Basler (JKB, below left) was chartered to the Australian program and was on the way to Davis. The Twin Otter stayed overnight before continuing on to McMurdo; the Australian Basler and crew stayed for several days because of bad weather at Davis...most recently they were scheduled to depart Pole at 1300 on the 25th (the three photos displayed on this page are by Sven Lidstrom from the Antarctic Photo Library). Here's an Antarctic Sun article with additional photos. More KBA USAP aircraft--another Basler and another Twin Otter, were still en route. Some of these aircraft as well as a BAS Twin Otter were spotted in Punta Arenas on 15 October Chilean time, and another BAS Twin Otter was already headed for Rothera. The original plans called for the first Pole passenger flights to start on the 26th using NYANG LC-130s.
I spent several days in Colorado Springs between 17 and 21 October...among other things attending some of the Antarctic events being held as part of the Colorado Springs Cool Science Festival. Thursday evening I attended a presentation about the "Cleanest Air on Earth" by Brian Vasel, a 2002 and 2003 NOAA winterover who is currently the NOAA observatory director based in Boulder. Wednesday's presentations included a talk by Katy Jensen and a discussion by Paul Sullivan about the South Pole telescopes...this event included a video conference with Pole featuring IceCubers Sven Lidstrom and Carlos Pobes, South Pole Telescope folks Cynthia Chiang and Nicholas Huang, as well as greenhouse technician Joselyn Fenstermacher. One amazing comment I heard afterward was about a 15-year-old high school student who was extremely impressed by seeing Cynthia (right) talk about physics. Moderators and organizers included Dave Bresnahan and Carol Crossland--Carol was the first woman to winter at all three USAP Antarctic stations...and amazingly I had lunch on Thursday with Rachel Javorsek who just finished a winter at Palmer and is now only the second woman to winter at all 3 stations (so far as I know...have I missed anyone?)
1 October brought the first of the main body flights to McMurdo...the prelude was the Christchurch arrival of the Air Force C-17 on Sunday 30 September (Press article). The Australian Airbus-319 arrived first (left), followed later in the day by the C-17. A total of 130 passengers arrived, so the McMurdo population is starting to swell to summer proportions. And the Kress trailer (right) is something new in ground transportation. These two 1 October photos are both by Bobby Werner from the Antarctic Photo Library; here's a closer view of that passenger trailer. The next phase of the Air Force operations were to begin later in October when the LC-130's start heading south (Military.com article). A total of about 50 Air Force flights from Christchurch to McMurdo are planned.
The McMurdo summer population, like that at Pole, will be a bit smaller this year. Many of the departments have been cut at least 20%, and other cutbacks first mentioned at the annual planning conference held in Arlington in June are being implemented. For example, there will be no C-17 flights from ChCh to McM from the end of November to mid-January...and this of course will result in a cutback in freshies and mail, as well as transportation for people before and after the Christmas holidays. Another McM innovation is "the smell of fresh paint" which involves the first phase of dorm renovations, described in the 21 September "around the continent" Antarctic Sun report as well as this article which details the dorm renovations as well as changes in the housing policy. Other McM changes involve the shuffling of facilities...no more yoga in the chapel...the gerbil gym moves to the library, and the library gets shrunk and moved to a dorm lounge. On the construction front, work has already started on another new fuel tank, and the new ice pier, which was started in early July, had reached its minimum acceptable thickness of 18 feet by 19 September (right, photo by Mike Rice). From this angle, it looks a bit smaller than the last one, but it means that the backlog of trash and garbage may get sent north this season. As for Pole...the lack of freshies during the midsummer period will affect things here as well, as the greenhouse will be shut down again this summer...for cleaning, repairs, budget cuts, and/or the operational change, as the University of Arizona is no longer involved. And speaking of Pole, many of the 2013 winterovers are in Denver last week and this week, doing psych tests, trauma and fire training. And yes, I got together with a few of them last weekend....
The last big Antarctic adventure...or another disaster in the making, perhaps comparable to Scott's demise 100 years ago? The ceaselessly intrepid British adventurer Ranulph Fiennes is planning another trans-Antarctic crossing...for next winter (see map at left from the expedition web site)--appropriately titled The Coldest Journey. Their preliminary plans have them arriving at Queen Maud Land by ship in mid-January, at the Lazarev Sea coast near Novo. Starting on 21 March 2013, their motorized venture will head south using the traverse route more recently used by Extreme World Races/Arctic Trucks. They plan to arrive at Pole in mid-June. They then will continue to McMurdo along the USAP South Pole Traverse route, arriving on about 21 September. Hmmmm. Here's the 17 September BBC News article as well as a link to his web site and blog. And more information is out from Alexander Kumar, the British physician who wintered at (and blogged from) Conncordia in 2012. He reports in his 21 September blog post that the expedition has been secretly planned for 4 years; he also provides more detail about the venture and promises to provide more details about it (and discuss his own involvement) in his next blog post.
Ran last showed up on Pole with his snowmobile-equipped Transglobe Expedition in December 1980...in sunlight and summer temperatures--at right is Ran (left) with station manager Tom Plyler discussing a certain article of clothing (perhaps from a sponsor) of a type commonly worn at Pole (more info and photos). The following northern summer I met him and the team when their ship, en route to the Arctic, stopped in Los Angeles for a trade show.
After a fairly significant storm, with wind chill approaching -100ºC, things finally cleared up enough for the sun to peek through the haze on 22 September. The sunrise dinner was Saturday the 15th. But it is still cool...there was yet another 300 Club event in early September...about #8 for the season. Sorry, you'll have to go elsewhere for photos :)
Josiah (Siah) Heiser, the heavy equipment operator during my 2008 winter, has just published a book about his life...from growing up, to his work on the ice which included much time at McMurdo as well as Pole...to the present time (he and wife are currently living in the Philippines). The book is now available on Kindle (readable on most anything) at Amazon.com, for not very much money (here's his blog with information and purchase link). I highly recommend it!
Winfly is over at last. The first of the six flights departed on the scheduled Monday 20 August date, but it turned into an eleven-hour boomerang, as the forecast bad weather at McM materialized at the wrong time. What may have been worse than being on the flight...the McM passengers WERE waiting at Pegasus when Condition 1 was declared...a truck carrying baggage lost the flag line and went off the road...after a long wait, all of the vehicles made it slowly back to town. Oh well. The latest storm was to get even worse, and last for a couple of days, so the Tuesday flight was canceled. And on Wednesday morning it was still Condition 1 at Pegasus, so that day's flight was canceled as well. Thursday morning...McMurdo weather was better, things were back to Condition 3, and that evening the flight arrived, boosting the population by 120 people. But the second flight did not arrive until Monday 27 August...the date when the last of the flights had originally been scheduled, before Mother Antarctica had her way. The last of the six flights reached McMurdo on 31 August NZ time (31 August Antarctic Sun update) and Military.com article). The McM population is now over 400.
Discussing Winfly...here's a 17 August US Air Force press release about this year's Operation Deep Freeze (ODF); it featured the logo at right...I don't know if this is new, but I don't recall seeing it before. More coverage of Winfly the and summer season is this 17 August Antarctic Sun article...which also describes some of the upcoming events for the 2012-13 summer season. Some things we already knew...such as the 168-person Pole population, and attention to the Blue Ribbon Panel report which was released in July. Other items of note...the first main body flight to McM is scheduled for 1 October, and the Pole opening flight is scheduled for 26 October...with a USAF LC-130 rather than a Basler. One of the major construction projects at McM this season will be another 2-million-gallon fuel tank--it would give the station a better capability to operate for 2 years without a fuel resupply. And the status of the ice pier is still questionable due to a warmer-than-usual winter.
As for other summer projects at Pole...it is time to do some jacking and leveling of the station, as well as the VMF (garage) building. Hopefully the permanent fuel line from the fuel arch through LO to the VMF arch and under the station toward the flight line will finally be finished, so that the fuel hose can be rolled up for good sometime during the summer. The Old Pole site needs a bit more remediation...using either heavy equipment or explosives. And there will be another attempt to establish communications with another new old satellite, either Skynet-4c or a similar one. The 2012 winter is the last currently scheduled for the BICEP-2 telescope, which is the only all-year science project requiring significant amounts of liquid helium (June Antarctic Sun article). The cryo building will be used for another science project, and there will no longer be cryo tech position after the 2012-13 summer.
Google Street View update...it seems that the team also collected photos INSIDE the elevated station!. You can start here inside the galley and navigate through the hallway to Destination Alpha, and then descend the stairs outside the gym to the first floor! It's a bit discontinuous, but here are a lot of things to see along the way, including even a few Polies.
Thursday 9 August...a medevac flight to McMurdo was underway. As is usual, there were not many details, but there is an interesting twist or two, as well as the usual media kerfuffle. The aircraft of choice is the Airbus A-319 that the AAD now uses for transport to Wilkins Aerodrome, the artificial ice runway near Casey. The aircraft and a 5-person medical team arrived in Chch on 8 August from Melbourne, via Hobart, and they departed for McM on the 9th, expecting to arrive there at 1300 McM/SP time, per this updated CNN article. Here is the 8 August (US time) an 8 August (US time) NSF press release. As a backup, a US Air Force C-17 is on standby in the US. Winfly was originally scheduled for later this month, with six C-17 flights to McM between 20 and 27 August. The media has been confusing things by showing old photos of the South Pole dome and referring to other Pole medevacs. This ABC Australia Radio article stated that McMurdo's Pegasus runway was "open all year round," which some of the equipment operators at McMurdo might take issue with. And the CNN report states that there are "60 or 70" folks wintering at McMurdo...actually there were 153, with another 14 souls at Scott Base. The update...the flight was successful, it was on deck at the Pegasus airfield at McM for about an hour on 9 August during the midday twilight, and returned to ChCh, arriving about 1700 that evening. The weather at McM was good, the temperature was -31ºF/-35ºC when the aircraft landed. This was probably the earliest landing of a large wheeled aircraft during the austral winter. Here's the second NSF press release of 9 August which announces the successful completion; it also reports that an additional passenger left McMurdo on the flight because of compelling personal circumstances. The press release includes a file photo (left) of one of the first test landings of the Australian A-319 (on the annual sea ice runway) in November 2007 (photo by Ralph Maestas from the Antarctic Photo Library). Also, here is the 9 August Christchurch Press article with a photo of the aircraft in Christchurch. Afterward, the AAD Airbus returned to Hobart, arriving on Friday morning (ABC Australia article). Oh, and in a postscript, the AAD director stated that Australia would pay the the costs of the medevac (10 August Sydney Morning Herald story). Remember that the USAP has assisted in several medevacs from Australian stations over the years, including this one in November 2008.
On a related note, Renée-Nicole Douceur, the 2011 Pole winter site manager who suffered a stroke in August 2011, is reported to be recovering from that mishap, "...about 80 percent back by now," in her words. She's been recovering since April, living in her luxury coach "The Gypsy Queen" in Hampton Falls, NH, and she hopes to head for Wyoming. She hasn't ruled out a lawsuit, and there may also be a book. The complete story is in this 8 August Newburyport (MA) Daily News article.
Another medical update on a more positive note...UTMB, the ASC medical subcontractor, recently hired Dr. Scott E. Parazynski as the director of their Center for Polar Medical Operations. Scott, as an astronaut, flew on five space shuttle missions, and is also a serious mountain climber--he's the first astronaut to summit Everest in 2009. Here's the UTMB press release.
That long-awaited NSF Blue Ribbon Panel report addressing the future of the US Antarctic Program WAS announced and released on 23 July. My brief summary...Pole is in good shape because there's a new station, but the rest of the USAP needs some improvement in infrastructure and logistics, such as that pier at Palmer that was obsolete 25 years ago when I was involved with the engineering study for its replacement that never happened. (Ulp...25 years ago??? I'm getting old...my first visit to the ice was 40 years ago). The only Pole-specific recommendation is for a hard-surface runway so that wheeled C-17s and other large aircraft can land. That is a hard problem. Although many studies have been done over the years, and some have stated that the solution was imminent, the real story is that every other Antarctic ice runway that has been certified for large wheeled aircraft is based on blue ice, and there isn't any of that at Pole.
Several links to note. First and most important, the actual page to download the full report or the executive summary is here. My summary? I defer to others; actually the executive summary is good, or a shorter excellent one was written by Peter Rejcek in this Antarctic Sun article. For more background information, this NSF page includes links to the 23 July webcast which announced the panel's results, as well as shorter video statements by panel chairman Norm Augustine and members Don Hartill, Bart Gordon, and Duncan McNabb, and acknowledgement of the report cover art (right) by NSF illustrator Zina Deretsky. Three of the panel members, Hugh Ducklow, Lou Lanzerotti, and Diana Wall, have spent lots of time doing research in Antarctica, and Hugh spent much of the 2008 winter at Palmer studying microplankton.
A couple of other interesting news stories have been making the rounds this week. First, this 17 July feature from the Washington Post's weather blog, "South Pole weather: 200 degrees of separation from Washington D.C.'s scorching heat." It features commentary from several winterovers, including meteorologist Dale Hershlag, IceCuber Sven Lidstrom, South Pole Telescope observer Cynthia Chiang, and physician Dale Mole...and if that isn't enough, given the current Washington D.C summer heat, there is a link to Antarctic jobs (!) And earlier this month the discovery of the Higgs boson stirred new interest in IceCube; one of several good articles appeared in the Huffington Post...this features one of Sven's many amazing outdoor winter photos.
Google Street View hits Pole! Yes...it doesn't matter that there aren't any "streets," but Google has been continuing to expand their Antarctic coverage (left). All of this interest started when Google employee David "Pablo" Cohn (his blog) took a sabbatical from the Mountain View company to work the Pole help desk for the 2010-11 summer. Over the past year they've improved their mapping coverage, and on 17 July at the international SCAR meetings in Portland, OR (meeting web site), they announced some enhanced Street View coverage not only outside, but also inside some of the historic huts on Ross Island, as well as the Crary Lab and the BFC at McMurdo. The Pole coverage features the roof of DSL including the BICEP2 and South Pole Telescopes, as well as the Ceremonial Pole. The Google team visited the ice in November 2011 with the Street View camera system to capture the images. Two links...here's the Google Lat Long Blog which briefly describes the project and links to some of the video, and here is the gallery link which includes all of the current Antarctic collections. And as well, here is a December 2011 Antarctic Sun article about the Google/USAP collaboration...but since Sun editor Peter Rejcek had lunch in Portland on 16 July with Alex Starns, the Google technical program manager for Street View, Paul Morin, director of the University of Minnesota's Polar Geospatial Center, Pablo, and other perpetrators, I expect a revised article soon.
Got helicopters? It seems that the contract for McM helo's, currently held by PHI, (company web site), is up for renewal, effective for the 2013-14 season. PHI got the original contract in 1996, taking over from the Navy flight squadron (VXE-6). Here's an Examiner news article, as well as the fedbizopps.gov announcement page which has additional links and info.
In a surprise announcement released by NSF on 3 July, arrangements with Russia's Murmansk Shipping Company have been concluded successfully, so the diesel icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk will again handle the McMurdo Sound icebreaking and escort operations for the upcoming 2012-13 season. According to the NSF announcement, the agreement follows a series of technical discussions with the shipping company. Here is the NSF press release, as well as a 6 July AAAS/Science Insider news report. The one-year contract with renewal options was originally announced 25 August 2011; more details about the Canadian-built vessel and the original contract can be found here. At right is the vessel in front of Hut Point on 26 January 2012; this photo was taken by Steve Royce and can be found in the Antarctic Photo Library.
A celebration of life for Kathie Hill was held in the Denver area on 4 August (details).
Time to highlight some excellent artistic work. First, Anthony Powell, from Hawera, NZ, has spent 9 winters on the ice (and a few more summers), some with his wife, working at Scott Base, McMurdo, and under NSF Artists and Writers grants. His work has appeared in various places around the world, most recently in the BBC "Frozen Planet" series. Now he's in the final stage of putting together his feature film, "Antarctica: A Year on the Ice," a ten-year project. He's been soliciting funds on Kickstarter, offering copies of the completed DVD and other goodies...it now has been successfully funded, and the Kickstarter preorder period has now closed. But there may be other options to preorder, stay tuned. A glimpse of Anthony (Antz) is at left along with the first trailer; his website is here, it also includes the time-lapse video of the 2012 McMurdo ship offload. His frozensouth.com blog includes both the first and second trailers.
Another worthwhile project, although a bit smaller, is already funded, This is "Mikey Going Down the Book" put together my Mikey Kampmann from Portland, OR (and Portlandia) while working at Pole last summer. The kickstarter preorder period has now closed, but stay tuned to mikey going down for other options.
The NSF/USAP annual planning conference, 26-28 June in Virginia, is over. And a bit more news about the upcoming seasons is coming out. The lingering contingencies that were discussed include the possibility of no icebreaker in the upcoming summer, the thin condition of the sea ice around McMurdo (which could affect the science projects traditionally based on the annual ice, not to mention the annual ice runway), and planning for the ice pier (well, if there IS an icebreaker). Closer to Pole...the peak summer population this season may be only 168...or to put it into my perspective, only 200% of the planned peak population for my first season in 1976-77. Instead of opening summer camp (which still has that frozen sewer outfall, remember?) a couple of Hypertats would be moved over close to the station to house the peak population; the occupants would use the bathroom facilities inside the station. I wonder if they'll try and move the freshly upgraded solar-powered Hypertats...perhaps if it can be done this way as was done with the Jamesways in 1997-98.
Midwinters weekend is over...and the sun is slowly moving back up toward the Pole horizon. The celebration and the food seems to get bigger and better every year. At right is the official midwinter greeting photo (more information)...and be sure to check out the great photos by Robert and Cynthia!
More sad news...TWO Polies lost their lives in a one-week period at the end of May. Kathie Hill Baker, for many years the met coordinator for RPSC (and a 1993 and 1995 winterover) was tragically murdered in Whidbey Island, Washington, on about 2 June. Her husband Al Baker, who wintered in 2001 and since then has been the Pole science support coordinator, has been arrested and charged with first degree murder. I didn't know Kathie personally, but we'd been in contact. This whole story left me seriously shaken. Here's a tribute page, with that amazing photo of Kathie (right) as well as some even more impressive commentary by the photographer. Lockheed-Martin ASC has offered counseling to Polies past and present.
A week earlier, 2011-12 summer carpenter Jesse Peterson died in a Colorado canoeing accident (story below).
The middle of June...things were quiet on the ice. Well, after all, it is the month of midwinter (and the McMurdo folks celebrated on the weekend of 16-17 June). And it has also been cold. At Pole the temperatures dipped back into 3 digits (scroll image and weekly climate summary), with, of course, some of the traditional events associated with that phenomenon.
So...much of the major ice news is happening north of 60ºS. First, it must be said that folks are being hired for next season...PQ's are underway...and planning for the summer is happening. On the jobs front, next year's Pole winter site manager has been hired and starts work on 2 July, but there are still lots of openings out there. Is it too late to apply? Well, maybe not, but it is not getting any earlier. Remember, the ASC job postings are on this page, along with links to a few of the other subcontractor positions. ASC announced that they planned to get job offers for next winter for current winterovers made and confirmed by September...but there are lots of other jobs to fill.
Otherwise, what happens in the rest of the world during the middle of the austral winter is...meetings. The biggest one is of course the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting which was held in Hobart between 11-20 June. So far there have not been any earth-shaking announcements, but some of the news of interest includes formal approval of a new Korean station next to the Italians in Terra Nova Bay. This will be a futuristic US$ 91 million 50,000 square foot facility depicted and described in this news article, it will be completed and occupied in March 2014. The Koreans as well as the Chinese were being courted to set up major science/support bases in Hobart. And on the science front, an Australian geographic study identified 15 distinct Antarctic regions--a far cry from the generic East and West Antarctica we are familiar with (AAD press release).
Concurrently with the Treaty meetings, an Australian Green Party spokesperson hosted a forum on 17 June to discuss a proposal to seek World Heritage status for Antarctica...but some consider this to be an opening to reopen the minerals debate (The Conversation blog post).
Other meetings in America...the Blue Ribbon Panel, which visited Antarctica this past season, has held several formal meetings which are documented on the NSF web site. Minutes for the first 3 of the meetings have been published; the first meeting covers the initial charter of the panel, the second is a followup after their visit to Pole and McMurdo, and the third is a later followup after they visited Palmer. The fourth meeting (for which minutes have not been published) addressed the final details of report preparation. Some interesting thoughts...some may get implemented, some we may consider a bit surprising, and some are probably out of the question considering the current state of the economy and the NSF budget. But...remember, the 1997 report by the previous panel resulted in many significant changes...including the final impetus for the current elevated station. The final report is expected to be released before Winfly. Here's the NSF link to the Blue Ribbon Panel documentation; these pages also include other older reports including the seminal 1997 document.
And then there was the NSF USAP Annual Planning Conference, which was held on 26-28 June at a Lockheed Martin facility in Crystal City, Arlington, VA. The conference web site includes the agenda and a list of point papers and discussion items...interestingly, some of these are items of interest which were mentioned in the Blue Ribbon Panel meetings...such as icebreaker support, McMurdo and field camp housing, and a runway at Pole for heavy wheeled aircraft (something that people have been talking about since the early 1960s).
A sad bit of Pole news from...Colorado. Jesse Peterson, a 2011-12 summer carpenter, was lost on 25 May in a canoe accident in Willow Lake...a remote lake at 11,660 feet, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness about 100 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. The canoe overturned, and he disappeared. His companion, Natalie Brechtel from California, made it to the lake shore and was assisted by an Outward Bound team which was training nearby. Jesse, age 27, was from Alma, Colorado. Natalie also worked at Pole last season. At left is the announcement of his remembrance on 9 June; here's a Denver Post article.
The first weekend in June saw the voting for the next version of the South Pole marker, which will be created by machinist Derek Aboltins and unveiled next New Years. There were SEVENTEEN entries in the competition this year!
Remember the dome? The top ring with the five holes was installed at the new Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme last year, but it was incomplete. The American flag was put in place atop the dome ring by Steve Bruce, Lee Mattis, and Jerry Marty, on 29 March 2012 California time (Antarctic Sun article).
Lockheed Martin appears to be progressing with their assumption of the USAP contract. Folks are being hired by them and the subcontractors, the PQ process has been set up by the UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch) in Galveston, the same organization that studied my swollen knee during my 2008 winter. And plans are being made for next summer (well, assuming there is an icebreaker, see below). At present it looks like the station opening will be one or more LC-130 flights on 27 October, rather than Baslers.
The auroras have been amazing this year, or at least so it seems compared to my 3 winters (well, I thought they were amazing then). In addition to miscellaneous photos posted by the winterovers on the links page (and I've added a couple more links), check out this Japanese site for the very latest photos and videos from equipment maintained by science tech friend Ethan Good.
On 9 May, NSF announced that the Murmansk Shipping Company, which had contracted to provide the icebreaker Vladimir Ignatyuk for the 2011-12 and future seasons, had advised that the icebreaker would not be available in the future. Here's the "Dear Colleague" letter from Scott Borg, NSF Antarctic division director...and here is a fresh 9 May solicitation by NSF on the FedBizOpps site. They did this last year about this time after the Swedish government withdrew the availability of the Oden. The US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star is still in refit and will not be available until 2013. Of historical interest...the solicitation (as did the one in 2011) includes a detailed spreadsheet of US Antarctic icebreaker operations since the IGY.
The denial of the CH2M Hill protest of the contract award to Lockheed Martin was announced tersely by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on 18 March. Finally on 9 May we have the detailed report, or at least a redacted version. Here's the Washington Technology article with a link to the pdf of the decision (which has now also been included in the GAO decision page.
7 April was a cool day at Pole...literally (right)! This year was the earliest ever that the temperature dipped into 3 digits (ºF). The previous earliest running of the 300 Club was also on 7 April in 1982, but this year the temperature dropped below -100ºF about an hour earlier than it did in 1982. Nice to know that Polies are still crazy enough to risk extremities and lungs in this athletic endeavor. The past 12 months have brought several weather records including the highest temperature and the highest recorded wind speed. Here's a fresh Antarctic Sun article.
3-5 April...I attended the annual Polar Technology Conference in Fairlee, VT...close to sponsor CRREL (the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) in Hanover NH, not to mention Dartmouth. This is a somewhat ad-hoc production...the conference is a volunteer effort, this one drew about 70 people including new and old friends. NSF was represented by Vladimir Papitashvili, the astrophysics/geospace program director. It was a great experience. The formal discussions included power and communications for small remote data collection stations in the Arctic and Antarctic that need to be powered with wind and solar and high-tech batteries, and equipped with hardware that will send data out via Iridium and other satellite systems. There was also discussion about bigger stuff...the traverses to Summit in Greenland as well as from McMurdo to Pole...the new BAS station at Halley that is currently in its first winter season...and the future plans for Summit and/or nearby stations in the middle of Greenland. One interesting data point...it seems that a consortium from Taiwan, the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA), and the Smithsonian, were recently given a "free" 12 meter telescope...a prototype constructed at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in New Mexico, for development of the ALMA (the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) in Chile (Academia Sinica news release and February 2011 Nature article), (left, NRAO photo by Kelly Gatlin) (more information and links to larger images and usage info). The consortium is planning to move it to a site at or near Summit...which has hitherto been a small "clean" research site. Two meters bigger than the one at Pole...although it won't be doing any CMBR stuff so it won't need a ground shield, just a foundation...and a bunch of electrical power. Should be interesting.
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 3, TDRS 4, TDRS 5, and TDRS 6 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 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 this has created a complex daily scheduling job which keeps a friend of mine busy 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. This satellite is currently providing a T1 (1.5 Mbps link) for at least 4 hours a day...and it was operating on a preliminary basis since late October. (Since it is till provisional, it doesn't yet appear on the various satellite uptime schedules (such as this one), but in late November it was available in the early morning hours, roughly 0100 to 0500.) 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 (still sans SKYNET) and even more geeky information.
-the old link to satellite times and network information from the folks at Richmond (South Miami, formerly Malabar) which now only includes GOES.
-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) is coming up later this month--28 April-7 May, in Brasilia, Brazil. The preliminary meeting page is here, but there isn't much public content except for the preliminary agenda boilerplate and a link to the host country website (which doesn't seem to be working at the moment). The 2013 meeting was held from 20-29 May in Brussels, Belgium. It must have been rather low-key; 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 several commercial marathon 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 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.