[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]
17 November...and a strange bit of news from Whidbey Island, Washington (!) has suddenly loomed on the South Pole radar. Remember the longtime science manager Al Baker...who on 31 May 2012 was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his wife Kathie Hill Baker...because another woman he'd met at Pole was scheduled to visit the next day. Al (who'd actually spent 5 years in prison for child sex abuse in the mid 1990's (6 February 2013 South Whidbey Record article) before he wintered at Pole in 2001) was convicted for Kathie's murder in October 2013 and sentenced to 52 years in prison. But he appealed. Recently the conviction was upheld, but there is still a resentencing hearing in the works (11 November South Whidbey Record article). And there could be further appeals to the state Supreme Court.
27 October--the Basler returned! Bringing...some management folks, heavy equipment operator/friend Boyd Brown, and 800 pounds of freshies! Amongst the freshies were bananas, mandarin oranges, and...100kg of...popcorn! Let the summer times begin! As they did...as the Basler was soon followed by the first LC-130 of the season, which showed up on 30 October. The station is open.
14 October...new faces! The first Kenn Borek Air aircraft arrived! The Basler refueled and continued on to McMurdo, while the Twin Otter stayed overnight. They brought fresh oranges, apples, grapefruit...and carrots, beets and red onions! Not everything went well...the pump in the fueling module wouldn't start, so the fuel team had to make do with a smaller pump and hoses (photos by Marissa Goerke).
12 October...and the new season for the 2016 winterovers has begun! No...they haven't arrived at Pole just yet, but many of them have gathered in Denver for two weeks of training. First, some orientation in Denver, followed by a week of team-building in Estes Park, fire training at the Denver Metro Fire Academy 18-23 October, and the flight south on the 24th. Meanwhile at Pole the skiway has been prepped, flags reset/reinstalled, and the sun has been shining of late...good signs for the upcoming KBA Baslers/Twin Otters. They had been expected at Pole by now, but as of yesterday they were still in Punta Arenas due to bad weather at Rothera.
The eagle (well, the C-17) has landed! The first C-17 flight of main body landed essentially on schedule at 1425 on 28 September, with 107 Antarctic souls on board. More to come! Meanwhile at Pole the sun has finally been sighted (sort of). And the first flights are only 2 weeks ago (well, the Twin Otters/Baslers transiting from Rothera to McMurdo, that is. From my experience it is a strange sight to see different people in the galley after so many months.
So what comes next? Sunrise...or at least the first refracted glimpse, was scheduled for the weekend of 19-20 September (the latest Pole news update from Marissa Goerke), but mother Antarctica intervened with clouds. Still, there was a Hawaiian-themed sunrise dinner.
Springtime in McMurdo...or at least the first spring flights. With delays, of course. The first flights made it south on Sunday 23 August...a C-17 and the Airbus (USAF news article about the C-17 flight). But the flight scheduled for the following day was delayed for, well, a week Antarctic Sun article). Now that the bad McM weather has cleared up, the third and fourth flights were in the air again on 30 August. in all there were six flights, four by Australia's A-319 Airbus and two USAF C-17 flights. The last of the six flights happened on 3 September.
Some news from the business pages...the word is out there that Lockheed-Martin may be selling or divesting the division that now holds the NSF USAP support contract. This story came up last month when, after announcing the purchase of Sikorsky Aircraft, L-M also announced that they were starting to divest much of its IT business. That story didn't hit the program radar until news articles started to mention that the divestment would involve components of its Information Systems & Global Solutions (IS&GS) operations (here's one news article out there). Well, IS&GS is the Lockheed-Martin division that operates the USAP contract. This could be an interesting process...bringing to mind the fact that a few years ago when the current contract was being bid, PAE was owned by L-M...but by the time the contract awarded, it had been divested. But as it was a part of the proposal, PAE is still the subcontractor organization providing many program employees. And thin back to the PREVIOUS contract bid process, when Raytheon had amassed a huge construction organization known as Raytheon Engineers and Constructors (this was touted in their proposal). But by the time the contract took effect in 2000, this division was sold off after being a major money loser (and the purchaser, M-K, didn't survive after the purchase). Stay tuned.
Things are lightening up a bit at Pole, as it were. Since the beginning of August the station has been in astronomical twilight, which means that the sun is between 18 and 12 degrees below the horizon. The next stage, nautical twilight (when the sun is between 12 and 6 degrees below the horizon) begins on 22 August. Hence there is now a glow on the horizon. But there are still auroras, perhaps right now...for another couple of weeks they may be visible on the new NOAA webcam, which has been up all through the winter.
From up north, there's a bit of information about some of the upcoming projects. In the next year more of the station subfloor will be replaced--the original material is a product generally known as FCB (fiber cement board) which hasn't held up that well over the years. A new project will be a leveling of all of the fuel tanks in the arch...differential settlement is starting to overstress some of the piping.
In the past few years, the Icelandic company Arctic Trucks has supported a number of nongovernmental tourist ventures as well as a scientific expedition or two, most of which have been based out of Novo (here is a December 2008 video of some of their vehicles being flown there from Cape Town). But this season they are teaming up with the British luxury travel firm The Explorations Company to offer...a drive to Pole. Yes, for only £110,000, you too can travel in (relative) luxury aboard one of their modified Toyota trucks, on a portion of "the same route that Amundsen used," or, as we know it, a portion of the South Pole Traverse route (left). The 10-day trips will traverse from Union Glacier to the base of the Leverett Glacier (or return), via Pole. This is the company page which offers this journey, and here is a Telegraph article about the venture.
At Pole, the sky has cleared up again, bringing auroras, but the moon rises on 22 July...and when it sets, the station will be in astronomical twilight, meaning that a bit of light from the sun might be visible to the naked eye (or the camera) on the horizon.
The third of three scheduled winter flights to McMurdo took off from Christchurch around noon on Saturday 18 July...but immediately boomeranged and landed after a collision with...a bird, just above the pilot's window. After a quick checkup and windshield cleaning, the C-17 took off again and made it to McM as seen here. The second of the three flights (another C-17) had taken place on 3 June. Next up...the beginning of winfly...currently scheduled to consist of a C-17 and the Australian Airbus A-319 flights on 20 August. Two C-17 and 4 Airbus flights are scheduled between 20 and 26 August.
The period following midwinters day brought some of the coldest weather Pole has seen in awhile, with some new records--including 20 consecutive whole days spent below -76ºF/-60ºC (21 June-10 July) and 13 consecutive whole days (28 June-10 July) spent below -85ºF/-65ºC. One tied record was 8 consecutive days with at least some time spent below -100ºF/-73.3ºC. The coldest it got was -109.1ºF/-78.4ºC, although the coolest photographed scroll (at left) doesn't show it quite that cold. This extreme cold snap is well documented in Marissa Goerke's August Antarctic Sun article--these were the coldest temperatures since I saw this one in August 2005.
Midwinters day was 21 June (well, the exact time at Pole was at 0438 Monday 22 June) . So...it was time for the annual exchange of midwinters greeting cards such as the one at right! And that said, it's also time for a news update on the winterover statistics from the Antarctic Sun.
The annual Antarctic Treaty meeting was held in Sofia, Bulgaria (1-10 June), and apparently nothing newsworthy happened, at least according to the news media, which gave it almost no coverage. There were some items of interest discussed, including the annual update of Russia's Lake Vostok activity (Antarctic Treaty home page with links to meeting documents).
27 May--the temperature got into triple digits (-101ºF), perhaps earlier in the winter than about 80% of when it usually happens. It stayed below -100 for perhaps 5 hours. No details or documentation of unusual outdoor activity, other than the continuing amazing auroras.
10 May...astronomical twilight is over. Which means the sky is very dark. Except when the moon is up. As it is now. Amazingly...you CAN see it. Boulder NOAA guy James Salzman sent a new webcam down to Pole that has much greater light gathering capabilities than previous ones...which means it not only is still up...but also it is displaying the almost-full moon behind the station! At left...a 9 May photo from the NOAA South Pole webcam.
Before the moon came up, there were some amazing auroras. Of course I'm not there, but I know that no video or photo will do justice to what you actually can see for yourself. But Robert Schwarz comes close with this early winter aurora video.
Meanwhile and otherwise...Pole has been quiet. No drama, no amazing construction projects...just the continuing cleanup/shaving/widening of the ice tunnels and the replacement of corroded copper waste piping with better stuff...not exactly a photogenic topic.
13 April...it's been dark enough for the first auroras to be seen. And almost cold enough for the 300 club, as on 11 April it got down to -99.2ºF/-72.9ºC. Back in the last week in March, most of the winterovers gathered for group photos, including this one (right) (Robert Schwarz).
Polar Flight redux...I mentioned in January that pilot Bill Herrelson flew a single-engine Lancair IV aircraft over Pole...and turned around and headed back to Punta Arenas. That much is true...but I just heard from Bill, who pointed out that he did actually break the round-the-world record over both poles by a factor of 5, despite turning back...as he continued his route from PA to New Zealand and thence over the North Pole. And I was also incorrect in stating that his flight was "apparently without any of the requisite approvals," as he forwarded a letter from the EPA stating that his environmental application for the flight met the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty and US law. He was on IFR and communicating directly with Mac Center as he overflew Pole. But no one at Pole knew he was coming, and no one saw him. But...he saw Pole...he just sent me this aerial photo (left). And he told me he was over the station at 2038 (0738 UTC) on Thursday 1 January...wonder what everyone was doing? I don't often do this, knowing that Polies can't download such things, but here is the original 4800x3600 image (6.2mb)...and another one from a different angle (5.7mb).
News about old news...on 28 January 1989 an Argentine military/hospital ship/tourist vessel called at Palmer Station so the tourists could see the place. They departed via a shallow channel with rocks that were clearly marked on the British charts...but they weren't using those charts. Crunch. Rocks hit. 100-foot hole in the hull. Vessel starts to sink. And not long afterward the 212 passengers and crew found themselves ashore at Palmer Station...as leaking oil started to contaminate the water. This little-known disaster has not been welldocumented until now. The Last Voyage of the Bahia Paraiso (right), by friend Dave Gallas...has just been published...it is available here.
Sunset has happened at Pole...although that celestial body may be making a few more refractive appearances before it finally sinks below the horizon. Of course that brought not only lots of sun-gazing, but also the sunset dinner on Saturday 21 January. At left...a photo of the before-dinner setting--I'm impressed by the smallness of the table setup compared to my most recent winters...as well as by the tablecloths, window art, and new china. The meal was impressive as well, as reported by Marissa Goerke...that's her photo of the table setup as well as of this menu.
On 5 March, after a 5-day delay for major mechanical issues...the last C-17 flight of the summer season flew to McMurdo to take lots of anxious folks out. This was the last "main body" flight--no more flights for...uh, about 6 weeks, in mid-April.
The program AIMS higher...or more simply, NSF has requested $3 million in the FY 2016 budget request for the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science project, to continue such efforts as the McMurdo master plan conceptual design, and replacing the Palmer pier (hmmm...I worked on that project a bit way back in 1986, and the pier hasn't changed since then except for its deterioration). Details in this 23 February Antarctic Sun article.
And speaking of Palmer Station...two other bits of news...first, the last week in February brought the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the original "Old Palmer" station at Norsel Point. Here's the NSF Polar Programs Facebook page about it, which anyone should be able to see. And then, sadder news. At about 0100 Florida time on 1 March, Captain Pieter Jan Lenie passed away from complications of pneumonia. More information soon...meanwhile, at right is an undated photo of Captain Lenie doing what he loved best, this shared by his grandson Pieter Glenn Williams.
Trash talk...last year's auction of USAP surplus was cancelled because the Maersk Illinos had to leave early due to bad weather, before all of the merchandise/trash could be loaded. This year, the auction is being run directly by Best Recycling, the ASC waste subcontractor...and it is online, due to increasing security restrictions at the previous auction site on the Port Hueneme naval base. This year's auction is already underway here. You can sign up to visit/inspect the goods...which do include some of those old stretch D-8s. The inspection dates are 24 and 25 March, the last auctions close on the 26th.
Pole had more than one closing...the main one was on Friday 13 February when almost everyone left, but that Herc left behind an "A Team" of folks from McM, led by Anthony Andrade, who were finishing up an overhaul of #3 generator. That was done on Saturday, but the Sunday flight was cancelled. So, the last flight happened on Monday 16 February, as documented (left) by Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin. Left behind for the winter...45 souls, including 8 women.
And with the oncoming Pole winter comes another one of those "weird" articles about it, from The Atlantic magazine. Well, they got the date and the number of folks wrong, can you really believe much else here? I don't think writer Philip Sopher has been to the ice.
More than a thousand miles north of Pole, the icebreaker Polar Star didn't have an uneventful trip north. After breaking ice, it arrived at the beset Australian fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain and took it under a stern tow. Two Coast Guard news stories--this 17 February "final update" news story, and this 14 February story with photos. After reaching open(er) water, the fishing vessel proceeded under its own power while being escorted for the moment by the Polar Star. The Antarctic Chieftain would later be escorted back to Nelson by the NZ fishing vessel Janus (16 February MercoPress article).
12 February. A day before scheduled station closing "weather permitting" of course. And it is cooling off...I just saw that the temperature was -40º. F or C...same thing. Up north in McMurdo, the tanker completed its offload last week, much of it during a "tanker storm" (Antarctic Sun article). The storm also blew much of the ice out. At right is an 11 February MODIS satellite photo over Ross Island (NASA MODIS page with the full sized image and others). Meanwhile, the icebreaker Polar Star has been diverted on its trip north to assist a beset 207-foot Australian-flagged fishing vessel (Coast Guard news story)
5 February...the Pole population is winding down as the summer folks leave and the rest of the winterovers show up. Only about a week left. Meanwhile at McMurdo (hmmm...isn't that a book?) the Ocean Giant headed north on the afternoon of 2 February...only to be replaced by the tanker Maersk Peary around midnight on 4/5 February. Check out the pier webcam here for the current view. It seems that in most years the tanker showed up before the cargo vessel, but apparently not always.
Oh, the Ocean Giant cargo heading north includes a record amount of trash, garbage, recyclables, and potential resale items. To be auctioned here. The auction is now being conducted online rather than at Port Hueneme, due to enhanced base security. And the sale is now being run directly by Best Recycling, the USAP waste handling subcontractor, rather than by Mather Auctions, who cancelled last year's auction because the cargo vessel had to leave early because of that McMurdo storm, before they could pick up all of the good stuff, er, junk. Some of the heavy equipment shipped out last year or this year is already listed here. Place your bids... Hmmm...bidding is starting to get hot for MaryAnn.
The Pole season is winding down...folks are leaving. But a few hundred miles uphill, the Russians have finally penetrated Lake Vostok (details). For some reason this story hasn't received much media coverage.
More shipping news...the Nathaniel B. Palmer was at McMurdo (and visible in the pier webcam) for 3 days through the 23rd...and the crew of the Polar Star have been putting up blog posts about their trip to McMurdo. Here is one of them...and another.
The annual McMurdo shipping season has begun. At left...the cargo vessel Ocean Giant arrived in Lyttelton on 16 January for a 2-day port call before continuing south (photo from 2002 McM w/o Paul Dietsche). And for the past few days the Polar Star has sometimes been visible south of the station, clearing the seaway (at right...this pier webcam photo is from about 1430 16 January). As of 19 January the icebreaker had docked at the ice pier. The tanker Maersk Peary is approaching Perth, Western Australia, where it was to call briefly on 20 January before continuing to McMurdo. As for the rest of the season...some of the summer folks are not leaving until April (!) as the flight schedule has been expanded...there will be aircraft landing at Pegasus in April...and June and July!
This 31 October Antarctic Sun article has the details.
Yes...it is a new year, so there is a new Pole marker (right). Check it out!
It's been a few years, but once again a private pilot ventured into Pole airspace on 1 January en route from Punta Arenas to Hamilton NZ...apparently without any of the requisite approvals. This was Bill Harrelson (seen at left in front of his aircraft), a retired airline pilot from Fredericksburg, VA...in a single-engine Lancair IV aircraft...in an attempt to set a record for circumnavigating the globe over both poles. Unfortunately (for his flight) he encountered severe headwinds, turned around, and headed back to PA. Unfortunately (for us), no one at Pole saw him. And unfortunately (for him) his venture will be cussed and discussed at the next Antarctic Treaty meeting. Here's the stuff.co.nz article with links to more information. The photo is from his public Facebook page.
27 December...cryo was moved about 50 feet east...to get it away from the sink that used to be the sewer (left, photo from IceCube w/o Erik Beiser). Still to be determined...how will this affect the BIF, and what will replace the BIF (more photos and info coming).
As the new year approaches, thoughts turn to...cargo and ships. The first one to show up will be, of course, our icebreaker Polar Star...on 3 January it was at 43ºS, south of Tasmania. Next...the tanker. Perhaps the Maersk Peary...that ice-strengthened tanker that came last year. Presently it is at 20ºN in the central Atlantic heading south. Maersk (its owner) recently received a contract extension for FY15 fuel deliveries to McMurdo and Thule (scroll down to the NAVY section). And as for the cargo vessel...the Ocean Giant (which was the January 2013 cargo vessel) departed Port Hueneme on 30 December at 2127 local time. Next stop--Lyttelton, on 16 January. Last year's cargo vessel Maersk Illinois is no more; in March Maersk terminated its joint venture which held that vessel, it has been sold to Denmark's Thorco Shipping, renamed Thorco Isadora, reflagged in the Marshall Islands, and is currently anchored in the Columbia River off Astoria, OR. Here's the 24 March tradewindsnews link, which may or may not work without an expensive subscription. The MV Ocean Giant, owned by Intermarine LLC and on charter to the MSC, is ice strengthened (class E3), 15,377 gross tonnage, with two 400t cranes to handle those containers. It was built in 2012.
There ARE some winterover jobs going begging. Mostly technical and trades type jobs, the sort that the station really needs. Check out my freshly updated jobs page (or just contact me).
Christmas was celebrated in the traditional ways, sort of, with the latest and greatest Race Around the World racecourse, followed by that dinner that couldn't be beat. Oh yes, a few of the NGO skiers/trekkers were around to observe. Elsewhere, on the science front, the SPICECORE folks have been on station since early November, testing and honing their drilling techniques. Follow their blog here.
Speaking of NGO visitors...sometime in the last few days this showed up--the FA Cup (right). Perhaps considered by some to be comparable to the Vince Lombardi Trophy...as the FA is the governing body of English soccer. It was brought down as part of a league publicity effort...by photographer Martin Hartley (seen here). The Basler that he came down on is clearly visible. Here's the Mail Online article. Martin is no stranger to the ice, he covered the Tetley South Pole Mission by Pen Hadow and Simon Murray in 2003-04.
Tourists have already visited this season by air, but the first NGO venture to arrive by land arrived at 1630 on 9 December--"Tractor Girl" Manon Ossevoort, seen at left with her team, the Arctic Trucks support crew, and her Massey Ferguson 5610 tractor. She and the team made it back to Novo on 21 December.
On Monday 1 December, controls technician Thomas Lawrence Atkins did not show up for work. After his absence was noticed, he was found dead in his room.
His death was apparently due to natural causes. His body has already been flown to McMurdo; it will continue north to his family. He was from Greenville, KY, and this was his first deployment. Here is an NBC News article as well as the NSF press release. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and fellow folks at Pole now.
1 December marked the loss of the TDRS 5 satellite. It was replaced by TDRS 6 which technically provides equivalent internet coverage...but as it overlaps with the GOES satellite pass, almost half of the 14 hours of satellite uptime has been lost. Here's the latest from the USAP satellite announcement page.
The ExtremeTech site recently interviewed winterover comms tech Marty Keefe...he describes the station, the science, the equipment he works with, the internet...have a look.
On 30 November, the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star departed Seattle for its 4-month deployment to Antarctica...the second consecutive Coast Guard mission to Antarctica (right, USCG photo by PO3 Katelyn Shearer). Here's the official press release with more photos as well as this video also by PO3 Shearer.
Thanksgiving week was a busy one. The first arrival of the SPoT 1 was on Wednesday the 26th, just in time for dinner. What's it like? Here's a timelapse of the trip taken by one of the traverse folks. Preparations were underway for the big dinner, held on Saturday as usual. Only two seatings needed nowadays.
23 November...while the USAP season is fully underway, there are a few brave souls heading to Pole on their own, on the ground. Here's my updated list.
The season is in full swing. By now, all of the 2014 w/o's should have headed north, and the station population is up to 130. Meanwhile, a bit north, the first traverse team had already reached the Leverett Glacier. heading for the station with a bunch of fuel. They will do THREE fuel traverses to Pole this season...while the other traverse team will be dealing with science cargo at Whillans and elsewhere. On a related note...there are only 78 LC-130 flights scheduled this year...contrast this to 250+ scheduled flights a few years ago when the station construction was still needing cargo and the traverse was still in the "proof of concept" phase.
Yes...a couple of the summer folks have blogs. Check them out!
Another bit of O&M scheduled--a tech rep for Alimak Hek (vendor for that cranky elevator in the beer can) will be spending some time on station...hopefully to get the lift back humming (for freight, not people).
On Tuesday 11 November, the icebreaker Polar Star was headed north to its home port in Seattle after some drydock time at the former Mare Island naval shipyard in San Francisco Bay. Here's a 11 November ABC news article with a photo of it getting ready to leave the drydock. While there, KQED interviewed commanding officer Captain Matt Walker...in which he, among other things, reveals his sure-fire preventive measure for seasickness.
Thursday 6 November--the first LC-130 of the season finally landed at Pole in late afternoon. Winter is officially over, and the rodwell is back on line. The first Herc flight WAS scheduled for Monday, but it was delayed for mechanical reasons, and finally cancelled after the pax were halfway to Williams Field. It tried again on Tuesday...it and the pax made it all the way to Pole but boomeranged due to low visibility.
Saturday 1 November...it seems that the C-17's did start flying again. One made it to McM on 29 October, and another was en route on 1 November. The first Herc flight to Pole was scheduled for Monday. And on 31 October, the rodwell pump was successfully pulled out of the well (left; more information/caption/credit)--it had been stuck about 160 feet down. Yes...things got fixed, and that second snow melter wasn't needed.
28 October...well, about the time the last paragraph was written, the McM weather improved, aircraft started to fly...and today the first flight (the Basler) showed up with freshies, some water drilling equipment, and PEOPLE (including Boyd Brown who shared the photo at right). Let the summer begin!
27 October...a few days before station opening. Or at least that was the plan. As of yesterday the 2 Baslers were still sitting at Pole waiting for McMurdo weather to improve. What will be happening? So far, local attempts to fix the rodwell have been unsuccessful. Well, the first flight (perhaps the Basler) may be bringing some hot water drilling equipment (hopefully with a couple of drillers) to get it back in action.
Other summer projects...moving Cryo...and starting work to raise the south bay to fit it with taller doors (next year) as the replacement BIF...assuming the current BIF doesn't collapse into the old sewer bulb before then. Oh...there IS the return of BICEP, namely BICEP3...its cryostat was being packed up at Harvard to be shipped south (left, photo from Steffen Richter who will be coming down to help install it)
Otherwise...there are plans to demo the VIPER telescope structure...perhaps in preparation for a future raising/moving of MAPO. Winter project plans include replacing the copper waste piping (which has suffered corrosion from those waterless urinals) and replacing some of the FCB hallway flooring.
17 October...the first LC-130 left Stratton Air National Guard Base to head south...(Air Force news article).
Pole isolation has ended. Wednesday 15 October...two Twin Otters arrived, transiting from Rothera toward McMurdo. And on Saturday the 18th, two Baslers showed up. With freshies...
Bad weather has continued to delay these aircraft from continuing to McM.
On Monday 29 September the first C-17 flight to McM was delayed on Monday for 24 hours due to McM weather. But it did head south the next day--one of two flights--the first to arrive was the Australian A319 Airbus (right), photo by Jack Green from the Antarctic Photo Library). The two aircraft brought more than 160 people to McMurdo to get the main body season started (Antarctic Sun article).
And at Pole...it seems that the rodwell pump has frozen up, and the emergency snow melter has been put into service. It has been moved from outside B1 to outside the power plant (left) so it could be connected directly into the main station water system. In the meantime it is paper plates, no showers, etc...perhaps until some summer folks can show up to help fix things :(
28 September...folks are gathering in ChCh for the first of the main body flights into McMurdo, perhaps as early as the 29th (Air Force News article) As for Pole, the equinox happened on 23 September, so the sunrise dinner was held last weekend. It was more informal than the sunset and midwinter dinners...still, it featured the unveiling of the 2015 Pole marker, crafted by machinist Matthew Krahn. It was unveiled only to his fellow w/o's...the rest of us won't get to see it until 1 January.
Winfly finally got underway 4 days late on 24 August, with a total of 5 flights. Due to bad McM weather, most of the 200+ southbound passengers had several extra days to spend in Christchurch. There were passenger flights by the C-17 and the Australian Airbus on the 24th and the 26th--the final flight was the cargo-only C-17 "night-vision goggles" mission (on the 27th, the weather closed in again.
More WINFLY info--this 29 August Antarctic Sun article, which also notes that the first of 91 LC-130 flights to Pole this summer is scheduled for 27 October. Weather permitting...
Update...TDRS F5 may stay around for Polies until sometime in November...a short-term reprieve (latest USAP IT service updates).
Ugh. At Pole...a satellite availability redux. As my 2008 winter ended, we heard that the MARISAT satellite would soon go away, reducing satellite access by about 30% (12 December 2008 Antarctic Sun article). Fortunately for us winterovers at the time, it didn't go away until we left in October/November. But now there's ANOTHER 30% connectivity reduction about to happen. On about 14 August, NASA announced that the TDRS F5 satellite--one of the major satellites used at Pole, would go away in 30-90 days. The major replacement, TDRS F6, will be able to continue to handle data transmission, but the issue is that the TDRS F6 orbit means that it will be visible at the same time as GOES...thus significantly reducing the hours of internet availability. Ugh. Yeah, I must add that we had a great winter in 1977 without any internet connectivity, not that it had even been invented...but things have changed a bit since then.
Anyway, these will be the U.S. Air Force C-17's as well as the AAD A319 Airbus--both of these will bring in pax on two flights each, 2 days apart, and the C-17 will do its night-vision landing (without pax) two days after the second pax flight...although it will take passengers north. As for the rest of the season...this year there will NOT be an annual ice runway. Instead, all flights will use Pegasus through main body deployment in November. After that, all flights for the rest of the season are currently scheduled to be LC-130's operating from a rehabilitated Williams Field, which hasn't been used much since 2009-10. The plan is to preserve Pegasus from the disastrous melt issues. It might or might not be used at the end of the summer season...plans keep changing. But it might be used for April flights...something new that is still being considered. Most but not all :) of these details are in this 15 August Antarctic Sun article, which also describes some of the other major projects...including WISSARD, the South Pole Ice Core Project (discussed just below), and the next-generation BICEP3 instrumentation at Pole...hoping to further confirm the "cosmic inflation" evidence reported by the BICEP team earlier this year. Here is a DVIDS (DOD video/imagery system) article about the beginning of the Operation Deep Freeze season.
It's still astronomical twilight at Pole...defined as when the center of the sun is at or above 18º below the horizon. But at 0307 on 22 August the sun will cross above -12º below the horizon, thus beginning nautical twilight. The glow out there along the horizon is increasing, but auroras are still happening.
Drilling down...two such projects are happening. First, the South Pole Ice Core Project (SPICE) is continuing plans to conduct two seasons of drilling at Pole beginning in 2014-15. The drill site is about 1-2/3 miles west of the elevated station, and a GPR survey of the area was conducted in the area last season. Here's too much more information about the project and the Intermediate Depth Drill, as well as an older March 2013 Antarctic Sun article about the project. And then there is the 28 July announcement that the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and professor John Goodge were awarded a $9m NSF grant to develop a new drilling system. Here is a 24 July UMD article with more information about the drill they'll be using, which is based on a diamond rock-coring system. Both of these projects will be using Estisol-140 as a drilling fluid--this is a synthetic ester manufactured in Denmark. Here's a link to more information about Estisol-140 from the IDPO. Thanks are due to IceCuber Michael DuVernois for some of this information.
There is a bit more out there about that Norwegian "Wild Viking" Jarle Andhøy, whose abortive Pole trip in February 2011 resulted in the loss of three men on his vessel Berserk. He's been out of the Antarctic news for awhile, but in July it was announced that he was refusing to pay his 45,000 NOK ($7,250) fine imposed by Norway for violating the Antarctic Treaty. And...his updated website now contains a cryptic announcement for "August 16,2015--The Hunt for Berserk." My coverage...
Some new news about one of the private expeditions to Pole planned for next summer (remember, I cover all such ventures here)...the British Antarctic Microlight Expedition. This group of injured/amputee British military folks plan to fly from McM to Pole this coming season along the traverse route, with some ground support presumably provided by Arctic Trucks (which hasn't yet mentioned this). Here's a 4 August gizmag article.
The first real cold snap of the winter arrived on 24 July (left), and yes, the three-digit temperatures stayed around long enough for that certain bit of outdoor activity known as the 300 club! According to Robert Schwarz, the temperature actually got down to -76.2ºC/-105.2ºF...not quite as cold as the -77.7ºC/-107.9ºF seen last winter and in 2006. But the -79ºC/-110.7ºF we saw in 2005 hasn't been matched since then.
Belated midwinter greetings...yes there is toast...as can be seen in the greeting card at right. The original plan was to take the photo outside, but the weather didn't cooperate, hence the above photo outside of comms. With lots of toast. The big dinner was on Saturday 21 June, followed by festivities including the flick "The Shining." Here are larger photos, the midwinter Antarctic Sun article, and of course a larger photo and the list of winterovers.
How to survive a winter at Pole? That is a complex question, but Business Week made an effort by publishing "A Guide to Wintering in the South Pole" on 11 June. An excellent article featuring some of the current denizens of the elevated station...but books could be written on the subject. And that's not the only story of Pole life to appear in the week preceding Midwinters Day. We also have a tale from plumber Ryan Boggs in the Janesville (Wisconsin) GazetteXtra. Yes, he's pictured with one of the larger pipe wrenches on station. And then there's an interview with IceCube winterovers Dag Larsen and Ian Rees on the IceCube web site.
28 May...things are quiet at Pole. That may be a good thing, meaning that the winter is going well. Or it may merely reflect on the May satellite/internet/email issues (so what else is new). Meanwhile, our 10x winterover astronomer Robert Schwarz is in the news for what may be his next venture. After the Keck Array telescope project ends after 2 more winters, Robert could be heading for an even more isolated place than Pole. On 20 May he was interviewed by NewScientist about his potential trip to Mars. One way.
Suppose they held an Antarctic Treaty meeting and no one noticed? It was held 28 April-7 May in Brasilia. Perhaps news coverage didn't happen because of a certain sports event that was held in Brazil a bit later. The only media article I saw was one about Southern Ocean marine species protection--not unimportant, but not the sort of story I was looking for. Several items I was interested in--one was the draft EIS for the new Chinese station to be constructed near Terra Nova Bay north of McM in Victoria Land (the full 20mb file can be downloaded here from the Chinese Arctic/Antarctic adminstration site. At right is an artist's conception aerial view of the station...here's another conceptual view of the main station, these are from that draft environmental impact statement. Unlike the nearby Italian and German stations which are summer-only, and the summer/winter Korean station, this one is planned for summer/winter occupancy, beginning in 2016....Brazil's replacement Ferraz station on KGI...and of course an update from Russia on their most recent Lake Vostok drilling activities.
On 13 May, New Zealand's Search and Rescue Council recognized the USAP for their support and cooperation in the response to the January 2013 loss of a Kenn Borek Twin Otter aircraft and crew. Here's the NSF press release about the announcement, as well as a Christchurch Press article. The tragic crash, which killed 3, occurred on 23 January 2013 (my coverage of the crash, including new photos from Canada's Transportation Safety Board (including the one at left).
More aircraft news recently surfaced about a scary McM aircraft landing on 7 October. A RNZAF 757 encountered low visibility (cloud and fog) after passing the PSR. After circling the Pegasus area for awhile to burn off fuel and wait for a break in the weather, they attempted to land more than once...finally doing so successfully. The passengers had been briefed on emergency landing procedures, but they did not find out until deplaning that McMurdo had fully deployed a mass casualty incident team.
If a landing had not been possible, they would have touched down in the "whiteout landing area" occasionally used by LC-130's in such situations. But...the Herc's have skis, the 757 did not, so while the passengers probably would have survived, the aircraft would not. Why did this story surface now? A report was released to The Press (Christchurch) at the beginning of May under NZ's Official Information Act. Why the interest? New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was on board. Reportedly he had a stiff drink that night at the Scott Base bar. Here's the Christchurch Press coverage. Oh yes, a good friend of mine was also on this flight.
Some older items of interest (other old news is in the archive):
WIRED magazine has a feature article on Jerry Marty, Carlton Walker, and the station construction in the July 2002 issue. Read about the settlement problems...why the place wasn't considered fit for occupancy for the 2002 winter.
Pole land cargo traverses in the works...in October 2002 NSF flew a specially equipped D8 from Christchurch to McMurdo aboard a C17...this equipment was be used to prepare a road south towards the Leverett Glacier, eventually hopefully to Pole. This is to augment the LC-130 flights for station construction cargo as well as for ICE CUBE and forthcoming science projects. More information...
Another new science project...in 2002 a 10-meter submillimeter telescope (up from 8 meters!) that will search for new galaxy clusters and study dark energy. Plans were to attach it to the DSL (dark sector lab) University of Chicago press release. It was originally scheduled to have a ground shield that is larger than the Dome (built by Temcor, the same company that built the dome...). The telescope was completed in 2006-07, and the huge ground shield was eventually cancelled.
On 8/13/02 NSF had a meeting with potential contractors and suppliers for a possible fiber optic cable to Dome C. Yes, you read that right (news article). Since Pole is way below the horizon for the commercial geosynchronous satellites, one option is to run a cable about 1050 miles to the newly constructed French/Italian Concordia Station at Dome C. (This station is scheduled for full-time occupancy next winter.) The project calls for several years of studies and trials, with the actual stuff involving traverses to get the cable to Pole and Dome C as well as along the route.
Back in mid March 2002 two other iceberg events happened. First, there was another piece of the Thwaites Ice Tongue (75°S-108°W) about 2100 square miles (NOAA press release) which got designated B22. And then there was the collapse of another hunk of the Larsen ice shelf east of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen Ice Shelf B disintegrated within the past couple of months, as evidenced by photos and animations from the NSIDC in Boulder, which also has links to other coverage. The BBC has an excellent article about both events.
Check out the amazing panorama of the inside of the dome by Marc Hellwig--seen here on Dana Hrubes' April 2001 page--warning it may make you dizzy!
The venerable New South Polar Times mailing list moved to a home on Yahoo, thanks to 2001 w/o science tech Andrea Grant. Join the discussion...
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) had a major feature on the Pole construction in their December 2000 magazine, including articles by Frank Brier and Jerry Marty. That section is no longer online, although I did archive the original article by Dennis Berry and Forrest Braun (BBFM Engineers, Anchorage) which features the details of foundation design and the jacking systems.
Here is the link to my 1999 Doc Jerri medevac coverage. The spectacular April 2001 medevac flight to Pole is covered here. And my archive of other news, links to press releases, and older media coverage is here.
Other Antarctic news sites...
Explorers Web (thepoles.com), freshly enhanced, is operated by Thomas and Tina Sjogren, the "Wearable" expedition folks that trekked to Pole in 2001-02. They are up to date on all the Pole NGA ventures as well as Vinson, Everest, the North Pole, and other similar attractions, and they have an excellent guide for planning your own stroll to Pole.
Brendon Grunewald's old 70 South news site has evolved into the Polar Conservation Organisation, but it still features lots of Antarctic and related news from everywhere, updated daily by anyone, yes, you too.
The news and information pages of the Antarctic Connection are updated occasionally with current news and other information from and about Antarctica.
The Antarctic Sun is extremely prolific of late. The current editor is Peter Rejcek, a 2004 Polie winterover. Sun archives run back to 1996-97, the final year when the McMurdo newspaper was a Navy publication, the Antarctic Sun Times. Before then in the old days it went by other names....here is the story.
NZ Antarctic Philately pages by Steven McLachlan . The news page features many current events, including many pictures from the various private expeditions at Pole this past summer. He also has information on the 99-00 cruises of the Polar Duke south of NZ in support of German and Italian science projects, 98-99 construction of the new base at Dome C...
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) published biweekly newsletters on NGA (private) expeditions, cruises and tourist events. Unfortunately this was discontinued in May 2003, and the archives are no longer available. But they do feature a separate news page for the official Australian program.
The NSF Polar Programs (PLR) page contains links and a search engine. Most recent press releases are also here, scroll to the bottom.
The rest of the story... can now be read online or offline in the newsletter of the Antarctican Society. Highly recommended. Here is the latest contact info as well as the historical background about the group.[top] | [home]
(Tricks: some wind speeds are given in meters per second. One m/s is about 3.6 km/hr, 2-1/4 mph, or 2 knots. Also, they may use a Julian date, this is the sequential number from starting from 1 through 365 or so. For example, 07031 is January 31, 2007.)
Now about those satellites...
As for the satellites themselves, since they were old the orbits wobbled so the station could see them a few hours a day. MARISAT-F2 (Maritime Communications Satellite), GOES-3 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, as it was a NOAA weather satellite), and TDRS-1 combined [the links for individual satellites here are to Wikipedia articles] gave a window of almost 12 contiguous hours per day with an original theoretical 5 MBPS transfer speed, which has been upgrades several times over the years to more than 60 MBPS. Most of the increased bandwidth goes to data transfer. The oldest of these three, MARISAT-F2 was decommissioned in October 2008 after deterioration in its telecommand link (Antarctic Sun article). This cut the total window by two hours and the bandwidth by a bigger percentage. A year later in October 2009, the TDRS-1 satellite (or TDRSS-1, depending on the NASA contractor and acronym you prefer--TDRS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and TDRSS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) also disappeared from service. The last TWTA (traveling wave tube amplifier) failed, and NASA moved it to another temporary orbit for decommissioning. The last day of service was 21 October 2009 NSF announcement and (Spaceflight Now news article).
So at present, Pole uses GOES, which provides a 1.5 Mbps inbound and 1024 Kbps outbound data rate for about 6 hours a day; and a constellation of NASA TDRSS satellites: TDRS F3, TDRS F4 (until it was retired in 2011), TDRS F5 (scheduled for retirement in November 2014--August 2014 USAP service announcement), and TDRS F6 via a second antenna terminal, the SPTR-2 (South Pole TDRS Relay) link completed during the 2008-09 summer (right, a construction photo from Dave Smith; here are more), and here is an April 2009 USAP page with a link to an Antarctic Sun article--lots more info. These satellites often are available for much shorter periods on an ever-changing schedule, and at a greater expense to NSF. They provide a 5 Mbps IP data link, and a separate 150 Mbps one-way (northbound) link for bulk science data. Not all of the "above-the-horizon" time (what typically appeared on the old scroll satellite availability page) is actually available to USAP--the program aims for about 4 hours per day, and at the time this created a complex daily scheduling job for a friend in Denver.
During the 2009-10 summer some field tests were conducted using the Intelsat/Paradigm/Astrium-operated Skynet-4C British military satellite, which was slowly increasing in visibility at Pole. Here is the October 2009 contract award announcement, a 2010 announcement from Intelsat, and a more detailed 2010 Intelsat report on the initial testing (interestingly, these satellites use the Oakhanger ground station southeast of London in the UK--while working for Ford Aerospace I visited that station in 1980 as part of a US Air Force satellite contract I was then involved with...and Philco-Ford, a predecessor to Ford Aerospace, actually manufactured the first Skynet satellites in the 1960s). The Pole equipment was designed, some equipment was bought (January 2011 SPAWAR request for information), a dish and receiving system was installed in the large radome with the GOES dish during the 2011-12 austral summer (Skynet and GOES are in opposite directions), and USAP bought time on the satellite. But when the installation was completed, the satellite could not be located. Turns out that the Skynet orbit had been adjusted so that it was behind MAPO, so the earth station would need to be relocated. Instead, arrangements were used to use a different satellite from the same family, NATO-IVB, and tests were conducted successfully during the 2012 winter. It is currently accessed using the antenna in the GOES radome (left, photo from Bartley Davis). This satellite is currently providing a T1 (1.5 Mbps link) for at least 4 hours a day...and it now appears on the various satellite uptime schedules and scrolls (such as this one). NATO-IVB was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1993, here's a generic photo from Astrium. The SKYNET-4C is still available for use as well, but this would require a new antenna installation at Pole.
In addition to the larger geosynchronous satellites there is, of course, Iridium, which is always available for official/emergency phone calls. Additionally there is a data link consisting of 12 Iridium phones, each capable of a 2400 bps data link, which are multiplexed to produce a 28 kbps data link. This is used for 24/7 email (for small emails <50k or so). Other resources linked here:
-the recently upgraded and enhanced USAP satellite information pages with links to the weekly satellite schedule PDF file (which requires Adobe Acrobat or reader for access) and even more geeky information.
-a brief NSF 2006 Powerpoint presentation by Erick Chiang and Pat Smith, titled "Data Communications Supporting Astronomy/Astrophysics at South Pole Station" which addresses the conditions and future plans at that point in time.
-a May 1995 report by Bob Loewenstein, Bill Smythe, and Brent Jones, Science Requirements for South Pole Station Computing and Communications. Some interesting facts, figures, and historical background. 1 GB/day of data transmission--hmmm, where would that leave IceCube?[top] | [home]
The 2015 Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting (ATCM XXXVIII) is coming up...1-10 June in Sofia, Bulgaria. Here is the host country web site and the official Treaty home page. The 2014 meeting was held 28 April-7 May, in Brasilia, Brazil. As with the previous meetings, there was very little public news interest/coverage of the event, but I try and highlight a few significant Treaty meeting documents elsewhere on this site.
Nowadays there are a number of commercial marathon/ultramarathon ventures in the Antarctic...most commonly sought out by people who want to complete a marathon on all seven continents:
As for nongovernmental visitors to Pole, 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 2014-15, 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08, 2006-07, 2005-06, 2004-05, 2003-04, 2002-03, 2001-02, 2000-01 and 1999-2000 NGA expeditions. Keep in mind that the older expedition web sites tend to disappear. The 2000-01 Russian "Millennium Expedition" (skydiving/ballooning) is covered on a separate page.