Manager: Mel MacMahon, population 47 (list and photos)Official end of the "South Pole Station Modernization" project (31 March). This date was originally picked to coincide with the end of the RPSC contract, which of course had since been extended to 31 March 2012.
First winter since 2006 with new 300 Club members
In 2007 the temperature dipped into 3 digits but too briefly for the sauna to get heated up. And in 2008 and 2009 it never got cold enough. But this winter saw the first triple digit temperatures for, well, 22 minutes, as documented here. For those who missed that opportunity, the thermometer dipped to -103°F on 5 July, staying in triple digits for about eight hours.
Historic Pole online amateur radio exam produces 8 new hams
Back in the pre-satcom days, ham radio was the only way Polies could talk to the folks back home. But now there is still interest, and after a bit of admin difficulty, volunteer examiner Ernie Gray W1MRQ administered the online exam in the large conference room on 29 October. The result: Eight new Technician licensees!Here's the Antarctic Sun article with the details (and the names and new call signs). The event was facilitated by the ARRL, here's their news article and link to Ernie's photo of the event, seen at left.
Altie Meadows sewer line freezeup creates lots of work for the UTs and makes summer camp life, er, difficult
Massive Russian airdrop establishes fuel depot near PoleOn 21 November, a charted Ilyushin dropped a massive quantity of aircraft fuel, perhaps 8600 gallons...14 miles northwest of Pole in the direction of Novo from whence the aircraft came. The fuel was sorted out by some of the ALCI support members of the Indian scientific expedition...some of the fuel was intended for future science support ventures, and some for ALCI tourist expeditions. More info on the fuel drop....
Tragic French helicopter crash kills 4The Squirrel helicopter (file photo, left) had four men aboard, flying south from the French resupply vessel L'Astrolabe to Dumont d'Urville, when a distress beacon was detected late Thursday evening, 28 October 2010. The crash occurred on the sea ice 65 miles north of the French station (more information and credits). Hercs in McM had been held on standby for a possible medevac of survivors.
Multiple rubber-tired expeditions travel to PoleThe first of three to arrive from Novo was the scientific expedition from Indian National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR)...8 members of the group showed up on 21 November in three of the Toyota Hilux AT44 vehicles which had been modified by Arctic Trucks of Iceland. This was almost certainly the earliest overland arrival at Pole in history. The second was the Kazakhstan National Geographic Society (KNGS) with 4 men and 2 vehicles, showed up on 5 December. The third was the ski race...six AT44 6x6's were used to support the event, four went all the way to Pole. (more information and credits)
The Moon Regan Expedition shows up with more rubber-tired vans and a strange vehicle (3 Dec.)The main vehicles for this trip were two modified 6x6 Ford vans from Icecool...what you see in this photo is the Bio- Inspired Vehicle...an ice sled powered by biofuel. This trip planned a trans-Antarctic crossing from Union Glacier to McMurdo, but because of delays they turned around at the Ross Ice Shelf at the bottom of the Leverett Glacier. This BIV was only driven as far as Pole; it was parked while the team continued to the Ross Ice Shelf and was towed back to Union Glacier on the return trip (more info, photos, credits and links)
Power plant generator overhaul cycle begun...So...what happened this summer was that a new alternator showed up in a 10,000 lb crate...something to seriously test out those roller conveyors in the LO. This alternator was installed on generator #1; the old one was shipped out to be rebuilt and installed on #3 in 2011-12, etc. Yes, the "new" power plant is now 11 years old--so this was due. In the original dome power plant the alternators were replaced after 10 years of service... partly because of rear main seal issues and partly to get slightly larger units. Here it is being moved into the power plant arch (photos from Michelle Springer).
IceCube drilling successfully completedThe 86th IceCube string was successfully completed on 18 December 2010...after seven years of drilling and a few more of planning. Now let's go find them neutrinos.... (the rest of the story)
...and test installations begin for the Askaryan Radio Array (ARA)The project management is another collaboration with significant University of Wisconsin involvement... basically it is another neutrino detector, looking for the highest energy neutrinos which emit radio or microwave radiation. It will use radio antennas above and below the surface in an 80 square km array, much larger than the IceCube footprint. Since most of the detectors will be too far away from the station for power supply, each node will include a wind turbine and a control unit. This season there were two separate tests...first, 3 sites with wind turbines and control/comms equipment...and second, some test antennas and control systems. Details...
Old Pole blasted into (presumably) smithereens
The place was imploded with several series of explosions on 1, 4, and 7 December, using 7600 pounds of dynamite to collapse all of the "top hats" and many of the main buil- dings. Info, photos, links and video...
South Pole Telescope jacked up to replace azimuth bearing/gear
The bearing was disintegrating...there was metal in the lubricant, so it had to be replaced. The consortium brought in Mammoet, a heavy lift contractor, to install structural steel and jacks to jack up the telescope, and this sliding skid so that the old gear could be removed and the new one installed. Lots of heavy precision work...the full story and photos.
AST/RO building demolished
This building was the first structure to be constructed in the Dark Sector (well, since Old Pole), and there had been consideration given to jacking it up if the appropriate science project came along...but that didn't happen. Here's the rest of the story.
First documented USAP "real" South Pole Marathon (16 January)
No, the marathon itself was not this paper exercise, but the race had to be planned out on short notice after the flights for these 3 erstwhile competitors in the McM Ice Marathon were cancelled. Rickey Gates (left), Christina Knoblock, and Marco Tortonese sit in comms the day before the race, plotting the course, planning the aid stations, and soliciting supporters and volunteers. The event actually featured eleven participants and 4 full marathon finishers (all the details).
Extreme World Races brings reality TV to Pole with an Austria/Germany team race
This race, a prelude to the larger event planned for the centenary 2011-12 season, featured two four-person teams from Austria and Germany in a two-stage 250-mile race to Pole...featured on Austrian and German television. Who won? Well, it was kept a secret until March 2011, but the results, details, links to videos, and Pole party pictures are here.
Chinese expeditioner medevaced from Dome A to Davis Station (7 January)--originally when the member suffered altitude sickness, the Chinese program contacted Pole...and flight planning began, eventually resulting in a Twin Otter flight from Davis which returned the patient to sea level. He commenced recovery, was transferred to the Chinese expedition vessel and later returned to China (2011 report presented at the XXXIV Antarctic treaty meeting in Buenos Aires, June 2011) (MS Word document)
Korean "green expedition" arrives from the coast on solar-powered electric snowmobiles
Four members of the original 6-person team showed up on 28 January after a 41-day trip from Hercules Inlet...barely completing the journey before the scheduled closure of ALE/ ANI support operations. Charging the batteries for the vehicles for a driving session took at least twice as long as the driving time...and often charging was impossible due to overcast and windless days. The rest of the story...
6.3 Christchurch earthquake (22 February) wipes out much of the city we know and love, kills 200+, and disrupts the final summer redeploymentThe earthquake tragedy is well covered elsewhere...I suggest the continuing coverage by the Christchurch Press, whose old downtown building was ravaged. The photo at left is the logo for thePress earthquake coverage. All of the normal USAP hotels in the central business district were off limits, so the final flights from McMurdo were being linked to RNZAF flights to Auckland. The penultimate flight left McM on Monday 28 February... the last Airbus flight brought out 33 folks, including lots of fuelies, on 5 March. The NZ media said this was an "emergency" partly because flights were delayed by a storm, and partly because the ice breakout around McMurdo was much more significant...USAP coverage...
A major storm helped produce the most significant McMurdo ice breakout since 1998
At left, a composite photo of several NASA satellite images from the past few years...documenting the fact that in the early years of this century there were serious issues with ship access to Winter Quarters Bay...resulting in an NSF scramble for extra icebreaker assistance. Well, this year the ice went out way out beyond Pram Point for the first time in years...unfortunately the major breakout usually occurs at the end of February...a month too late to help out the shipping season. Have things changed over the past century? My coverage...
Strange February expedition to Pole ends up with 3 lost
The 47-foot steel-hulled Norwegian yacht "Berserk II" dropped off the captain and another crew member at the Bay of Whales in late February...they planned a trip to Pole on belted quad bikes. A few days later, a distress beacon was heard from the Berserk, which is presumed lost with its remaining crew of three. Meanwhile, the Pole expedition returned to McM to be flown to NZ on 28 February. The story...
Top ring of the dome is reconstructed in Port Hueneme museum
Eighteen months after the dome was deconstructed, in July 2011 the top ring was reassembled in the new Seabee Museum just out- side the gates of the Port Hueneme Seabee base (which, of course, also supports all of the surface cargo shipments to Antarctica to this day). Read the story and see the rest of the pictures and links...here.
Late winter airdrop delivers urgently needed medical supplies (8/29)
The successful airdrop mission was added to the third scheduled Air Force winfly flight. Two packages, about 200 pounds each, were dropped and retrieved without incident...in addition to the medical stuff, there were other items including Cat parts, a few oranges, and a fair amount of mail, including some mail order items that had been ordered only 10 days before the airdrop (!) Here are (more details, photos, and links to news coverage and video.
Winter site manager Renée-Nicole Douceur has an apparent stroke (8/27)The 58-year-old engineer from New Hampshire was sitting at her desk, when suddenly half of her computer screen disappeared. She immediately sought help from the two physicians on station; the clinic is well stocked but does not offer CT/MRI equipment. A medevac was considered but not implemented, as her condition seemed stable. A month later, her niece created a web site, as well as a Facebook page (both now deleted; the FB page was the source of the photo at left), to stir up interest in her plight. The story caught the attention of the international media. Yes, she was flown out on the first transiting Basler ...had an MRI in ChCh, and saw specialists at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The story...
All time wind speed record broken (27 September)
According to Tim Markle in met, "...the peak wind speed of 50kts/ 58mph broke the record for the all-time strongest wind speed at South Pole. The previous record of 48kts/55mph was set on August 24th, 1989." At left is Robert Schwarz's photo of what MAPO looked like after the storm. The storm raged from the 21st to the 27th. This Antarctic Sun article outlines the details and all of the new records that were set.
Visitors center complex erected near the ceremonial Pole to welcome...
...the many NGO tourists and official visitors that would appear at Pole to mark the centennial of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival. This project, as well as new signs, kept the carpenters and IT folks busy...(details)
...and the first centenary event itself: the 100th anniversary of Amundsen's arrival on 14 December
The highlight of the event was a ceremony at 1600 on the 14th, in which the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg spoke and unveiled an ice bust of Roald Amundsen. There were other speeches and special music at the ceremony...and the event also featured ski touring, a reception and dinner...and the arrival of a Norwegian ski team clad in replica clothing from Amundsen's day. And there were other tourists camped out nearby...in fact, there were an estimated 93 tourists at Pole, along with 233 USAP members around--an all time population record. And most of them were at the ceremony (my coverage).
All-time high temperature record set on Christmas Day
Despite the data that the scroll depicted automagically (left), the official record high temperature was +9.9°F/ -12.3°C recorded at about 1550 on the 25th, breaking the old record of +7.5°F/-13.6°C on 27 December 1978. Actually, the old record was broken twice...on the 24th the high temperature reached +8.1°F/-13.3°C. More details on the heat wave in this Antarctic Sun article...
Pole projects...lots of energy saving stuff including Hypertat renovation...
Two of these structures were renovated inside and out...the PV panels on the roof put more power into the grid than is used inside. Other energy saving ideas were implemented or tested, some worked very well, some... didn't. But the effort will continue since the generators aren't getting any newer or more powerful (more info and photos). Interestingly, at the end of the summer, two Jamesways at the north corner of summer camp were removed and replaced by the other two Hypertats, which had been sitting at the End of the World for several years. Of course, this was before the drastic 2012-13 population reduction had been announced, making their use unnecessary.
CRREL/Dartmouth robot "Yeti" surveys Old Pole with ground penetrating radar
The robotic device seen here in front of the station is one of several developed by the folks in New Hampshire over the past few years for use in Greenland and Antarctica, was autonomously controlled as it took GPR data... and determined that there was still a bit more remediation work to be done (more info).
Other projects included more permanent fuel piping (still not quite done), and a few other things...
...such as the deployment of the first of 37 planned "clusters" for the Askaryan Radio Array.
Yes, folks from U-W Madison (and elsewhere) are once again using a hot water drill to make holes in the ice...but these are smaller and shallower (only 200m deep) than IceCube holes, and they must be pumped out before installing radio antennas to detect and track...you guessed it...neutrinos. They were also testing wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, and data communications systems, as many of the cluster sites are too far away from the IceCube laboratory to be hard-wired More on this project...
McM cargo ship offload requires use of an deployable causeway, brought in by an Army unit, as the ice pier ended up being too thin and weak for the cargo offload
Russian scientists at Vostok Station successfully drill into Lake Vostok (6 February)
At left, a hero shot of the successful drill crew. Drilling at Vostok has been underway since 1989, when scientists started a project to obtain climate history information from ice cores. After the existence of the lake was confirmed by satellite data in 1991, interest slowly shifted toward deep drilling to investigate what many thought would be a hitherto unknown ecosystem. Here is more information, including all of the technical details of the drilling (and links to the even more gory details). Yes, there was hydraulic fracturing...
Cargo ship Green Wave arrives (14 February) and offloads at McMurdo...
The McMurdo sealift can never be taken for granted... sometimes there have been huge icebergs in the area... sometimes the ice near the bay has been too thick, requiring long hoses to get the fuel to town... and sometimes, well, this year there were many problems. First, there were difficulties in acquiring an icebreaker. Then, a ban on heavy fuel use in the Southern Ocean required a search for a suitable tanker. And there was a new contract for the cargo vessel as well. Finally construction of the ice pier didn't go well because of warm weather...so an Army unit had to be called upon to provide a modular causeway system to be used instead. And all went well! Here's the full story with many pages of photos, video links, and the rest of the details.
USAP Antarctic support contract shifts from Raytheon to Lockheed-Martin (1 April)
Here's the new sign in front of the building in Centennial...an impressive logo! this is a fresh photo taken by Elaine Hood on a July afternoon with solar illumination. My coverage of the long process that led to the contract change is here.
Earliest 3 digit temperature in history (by a few hours) recorded in April, with appropriate festivitiesThis 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 in 1982. This year the temperature hit 3 digits at least 7 times (depending on how you count); the coldest was -104.8ºF/-76.0ºC on 15 July, and the latest was on 7 September. There were no official 300 Club events for 2007 through 2009; in 2007 the temp dipped into 3 digits too briefly for anything to happen. Still, it has been awhile since it got as cold as it did during my 2005 winter.
We Polies mourn the tragic death of Kathie Hill Baker (2 June)
Her body was found behind their Whidbey Island home in early June. Husband Al Baker was arrested and charged with first degree murder, with the trial now scheduled for early 2013. The photographer who took this photo of Kathie has an amazing tribute to her. I attended a celebration of her life in Evergreen, CO in August. Here are my details.
Big Dead Place author/historian/blogger Nicholas Johnson commits suicide in Seattle (28 November)
My first thought when posting this was...what is wrong here...I've had to chronicle two tragic deaths in a row? But that is life. Nick (known to some as Darin) poked at some of the seemingly incongruous administrative and cultural issues for years on his bigdeadplace blog, and he later compiled some of the details in the book of that name, which I highly recommend. Nick wintered at McMurdo in 2001 and 2008 and at Pole in 2004, and spent other seasons on the ice as well. His writing showed great intelligence, incisiveness, humor, and a sense of history...we of course communicated off and on for the past ten years. Our most recent email communication was a few years ago when he was working in Afghanistan...the topics were body armor (he wasn't wearing any) and the Jake Speed incident in Greenland. The photo above left is from Kathy Blumm, taken at McMurdo during the 1999-2000 summer when they both worked in waste management. Here's a good tribute from his fellow Antarctican author Jason Anthony who was at McM with him during that same season.
Rodwell 3 put in service (New Years weekend)
New projects like SuperDARN alter the local landscape
This project had been planned for Pole for a number of years, but finally it happened. First light was on 21 January. Briefly, it is "...a global international radar network of 22 installations observing high frequency (HF) bands between 8 and 22 MHz. Radar systems have been installed at McMurdo (2009-10) and South Pole (2011-12), extending the global-scale coverage in the Southern hemisphere and helping answer questions about geomagnetic conjugacy of global magnetic storms and substorms and differences in the ionospheric plasma convection caused by the asymmetry of solar illumination in both hemispheres." (a quote from the science planning summary). It consists of a series of antennas located on the east side of the station arches...and a control building created from the old SPASE-2 structure (more coverage).
Old Pole remediation investigation continues...
After the 2011-12 investigations by the YETI robot rover, it was decided to excavate the south end of the builder's tunnel where voids were found, as seen here. Still to come...making them go away (the documentation).
Tragic Twin Otter crash kills all three Canadian crew members (23 January)
The Kenn Borek aircraft (left, a 2011 photo of it) had been at Pole for two days, when it was directed to head to the Italian station at Terra Nova Bay. At 2200 it missed its hourly comms checkin, and a few minutes later its emergency locater transmitter was detected. After several days of bad weather and eventual searches, the aircraft was discovered...accordioned into the side of 13,000-foot Mt. Elizabeth, halfway between McM and Pole. The crash was not survivable (details).
NSF publishes response to the 2012 Blue Ribbon Panel report (21 March).
The response, as with the 2012 report, didn't deal much with Pole, as the current station came about because of the previous 1997 report. Some items were included in NSF's 2014 budget (Antarctic Sun article). The only Pole items addressed were traverse vehicles and automation (included in the budget) and that hard-surface runway. The big items involved McMurdo...such as the master plan (left)--here's the NSF press release, and here's the "coffee table" version of the plan...and Palmer. The first Palmer recommendations--a new boat dock and ramp--have been implemented, and the pier is being studied (info).
NASA selects the 2013 class of eight astronauts...including four women, two of whom have Antarctic experience (17 June).
Here's one of them, Christina Hammock, who wintered with me at Pole in 2005 as the cryo science tech. I took this photo of her in what then was the cryo office in September 2005. She gave a couple of us the $10 tour of cryo that day...which included an opportunity to help transfer some liquid helium to one of the small dewars for the telescopes in the dark sector (more pictures of cryo...and Christina!) The other ice person selected by NASA was Jessica Meir, who did penguin studies near McMurdo between 2004 and 2008. Other news coverage...the official NASA announcement, this Samoa News article (most recently she was working for NOAA at their station on American Samoa), and this Antarctic Sun article.
Sir Ranulph (Ran) Fiennes' private British expedition "The Coldest Journey" cancels their winter crossing from Crown Bay (near Princess Elisabeth Station) to Ross Island (18 June).
Ran aggravated old frostbite injuries to his left hand during the preliminary stage and had to bow out, leaving five men to complete the trip with two D6N tractors pulling "cabooses" and fuel sleds. They set out on 21 March with plans to reach Pole in time for Midwinters Day...but on 18 June, still mired in an extensive crevasse field which they couldn't escape before dark, they called off further progress after traveling only 195 miles. They continued their science program and would return to Crown Bay in the spring. Here's more of my commentary, the expedition website, and my coverage of Ran's successful arrival at Pole--the Transglobe Expedition--in December 1981. The photo at left was taken by Ian Prickett on 22 March, the day after the departure from Crown Bay.
What is now known as the GOES antenna elevation drive successfully repaired (September).This is the third time this has needed winter attention-- by now there is a level of experience, and it is a bit warmer and easier to work on. The first problem occurred in 2004 winter when the elevation worm gear (seen here) was stripped out (the azimuth worm gear is behind it under the metal cover). There was no radome at the time, and no spare parts, so the elevation was locked in place for the winter, which reduced the satellite pass times. During the 2008 winter the assembly required replacement again, the old unit was later rebuilt. The drives are inside a heated enclosure, but it got cold after some insulation has to be removed to secure the antenna with come-alongs and straps. Two crews alternated working and warming up inside the heated RF shelter (photos from satcom tech Mike Rice).
Earliest opening flight in history (8 October).This photo was taken on 5 October (by Blaise Kiotuong) when two Twin Otters arrived at Pole on their transit from Rothera to McMurdo. One of them would return on the 8th with the first passengers--at that time the temperature was in the -60's (ºF) and the visibility wasn't the greatest as you can see. It's been proven that Twin Otters can fly to Pole at any time of year including midwinter, but this is still the earliest summer opening flight in history. The previous record was the LC-130 arrival on 16 October 1999--the medevac flight for Jerri Nielsen. Why so early this time...one reason might be the...
USAP program put into "caretaker status" due to U.S. government shutdown and lack of funding (9 October).The politics are too divisive and complex to be discussed here, but the facts are that the USAP didn't have the funding to continue the program except to maintain and protect the facilities while canceling the science...which they were forced to do...until 16 October when Congress provided continuing government funding. The effects on Pole science may turn out to be minimal, although some of the summer construction program was cut back. Similarly at Palmer, where the LMG was less than 24 hours away from taking the science groups back north when the funding was restored. At and around McMurdo, things were a bit more drastic, and a number of science projects were cancelled or cut back. The details are here (the December 2011 photo at left is by Sven Lidstrom from the USAP photo library.
Multiple teams unite to drill sewer and water well access...
Although the new rodwell (RW3) was put online in 2012-13, the conversion of the old rodwell (RW2) to a sewer couldn't be completed because of problems accessing the hole. So plans were made to mobilize a crew from PSL, which was possible because the ARA project wasn't funded for this season. These folks, plus station forces, SCOARA summer machinist Dave Pernic, and members of the SPoT team, drilled new access to RW2 so it could be converted into a sewer outfall. They also created a new emergency sewer outfall, and happened to be on hand when a power outage knocked out the rodwell water pump; it couldn't be pulled out, so they were called upon to ream out the well pump access hole (the rest of the story).
Yet another explosive blast conducted at Old Pole (4 December)
Previous surveys indicated some areas that still needed attention. And as the SPoT team carries explosives and is trained to use them, their help was enlisted to set off a bit of explosive (well, 1200 pounds worth). With the usual audience of spectators, on the roof of DSL (documentation).
"Expeditions 7" NGO venture visits Pole and jazzes up the place.They decided they wanted to drive their Toyota Land Cruiser on all continents, so they hired Arctic Trucks to help them do Antarctica--a 3400-mile return trip from Novo, via Pole, to the point on the Leverett Glacier that marked the land/ice boundary--about 300 miles north along the traverse route. The group included Utah Jazz owner Greg Miller who is seen here presenting area manager Bill Coughran with a unique Jazz jersey, as WSM Shelly Finley looks on (more info and video link).
An end-of-season postscript on the government shutdown--this 13 February ScienceInsider article outlines the actual effects on several projects...as well as the impact of the early February "perfect storm" which destroyed the ice pier and sent the Maersk Illinois away early before the ice core freezer milvans could be loaded. The article includes a link to Jessica Lane's blog posts about the cargo vessel operations and the storm.
Another end-of-season issue--warm McM weather and dark dust again caused the Pegasus ice runway to melt. This season it was even worse, and eventually all end-of-season wheeled aircraft flights were cancelled (24 January Antarctic Sun article and 14 February American Forces Press Service article).
And then there was that storm that blew in on 6 February which ended the cargo retrograde early, among other things.The storm brought winds from an unusual angle, and there was no ice in the area to inhibit the wave action. In this photo, the cargo vessel Maersk Illinois was unsuccessfully attempting to leverage a departure against a deteriorating ice pier. This storm put an early end to the retrograde, causing many milvans of ice cores, science and other cargo, and waste to be left behind (more information and video). As a result, the annual Port Hueneme auction of salvageable retrograde was cancelled. Nevertheless, two of the three IGY era Caterpillar stretch D8's were shipped north.
An aftermath of the February storm...the end of Hut Point calved off(!)
The storm severely undercut Hut Point, exposing some of its ice-rich soil. And of course the ice-rich part of the soil melted from the warm temperatures, eventually resulting in the crack you see here. This looks like what is technically known as thermo-mechanical block failure--something that is now occurring all too frequently in the Arctic after severe storms in open water areas. Fortunately, this calving is far from that Discovery Hut, which has seen some amazing conservation efforts this season. More information with photos and references...