2020...hindsight and the future

Winter 2020 

Manager: Wayne White; population 42 (list and photos).

Wayne in front of the final flight of the 2019-20 summer season A couple of "firsts" for the station and for Wayne! He is the first to hold the manager's position 3 times (2017, 2019, and 2020). In previous years Katie Hess and Bill Henriksen held this position twice. Another first: he's the WSM for 2 winters in a row. Alas, the position no longer includes a corner office with windows as it did in the dome, but Wayne has a window looking north with a view of the Ceremonial Pole. He's seen here with the last flight of the season, wearing his custom-made anorak, made in Russia from wolf skins, similar to what Roald Amundsen wore when he stopped by more than a few years ago. I had dinner with Wayne in Denver in 2016 before his first winter and can attest that he's a good guy! This photo is by friend and 2006 and 2020 winterover Jeff DeRosa.

Construction of a new ice pier at McMurdo was well underway at the end of June.

ice pier construction in July 2020 Methods have evolved since the first one was created in the 1973 winter out of necessity...engineered by then UT1 James Wallace. After the sea ice has frozen to more than 3', a 1' berm of snow and ice is built around the edges, and pumps drilled into the ice will flood the surface with sea water several inches at a time. This is repeated, and after the ice is perhaps 12' thick, old salvaged steel cable is laid across the ice as reinforcement. More cables are added added as the ice thickens. In spring, an insulating layer of gravel is spread on the surface. in January 2004, the pier built during the 1999 winter was 20' thick. The gravel is removed after ship operations. This photo from Joe Miller was shared by the NZ-based mostly-on-Facebook The Antarctic Report.

A new Vostok Station has been preconstructed in Russia and will be shipped south this season!

the Vostok II station
Amazingly, the initial design contract was conceived in April 2019, and by now the station has been built, preconstructed, and will be shipped south in the 2021 summer season!! Lots of info and photos here!

Icebreaker Healy suffers a fire on 18 August in the Arctic and is in drydock for major repairs.

Healy in drydock This story isn't completely irrelevant here. Now that the Polar Star is not traveling south this season, it will be doing an Arctic science cruise instead. Here's the initial 29 October Coast Guard press release about the Polar Star's Arctic deployment, as well as a 4 December press release announcing the departure from Seattle. The specific route has not been revealed, but Polar Star will detect and deter illegal foreign fishing in U.S. waters and patrol the maritime boundary between US and Russian waters.
Here is my updated coverage of Healy's travails and the repair effort, including a video of the motor swapout. As of Christmas, Healy was still in drydock, but after some time at a San Francisco pier, she returned to Seattle in mid-February.

Summer 2020-21 

SARS-CoV-2 wreaks havoc on the US Antarctic Program as well as the rest of the world.

opening Pole flight in November 2020 Left: the 18 November first flight...the second latest opening flight in station history (photo by Yuya Makino). The latest opening was on 20 November 1958...with an R4-D (the Navy version of a DC-3...note that the Basler is a massively upgraded DC-3). Originally, no LC-130s were to travel to the ice unless needed for a SAR or medevac...and the sealift cargo vessel was also canceled. Most science and station projects have been canceled or severely cut back, A4 was converted into a COVID-19 isolation area (hopefully not needed), and folks traveling to the ice endured several to many weeks of quarantine in the US and NZ. Eventually, four NYANG ski LC-130 aircraft did fly to Christchurch, and in January and early February they did make flights to Williams Field, as the Phoenix Runway was too soft for landings by wheeled aircraft. The first C-17 flights happened in mid-February.

Winter 2021 

Manager: Ryan Betters; population 39 (the smallest winter group since 1998 when there were 28 wo's!) (list and photos).

Greenhouse (growth chamber) lighting upgraded to all LEDs.

the greenhouse volunteers The greenhouse lighting was originally a full-spectrum high pressure sodium lighting system which required a water cooling system and used a fair amount of power. But...the LED technology has advanced quite a bit since the station was designed...LED lighting has been installed in a number of places including unheated areas, and the front half of the greenhouse lighting had been replaced with LEDs by 2014 December 2014 photo by chef Jase Grimm (who wintered in 2012 and returned for the 2014-15 summer). The August 2021 photo at left depicts the winterover volunteers...back row from left: Joshua Veitch-Michaelis, Joseph Singleton, Joseph Days,, Jonathan Weise, Toni Traub, Brandon Amat. Front row: Joseph Samaniego, Ryan Gutierrez, and Ted Lee. Photo by Clint Perrone with name help from Brian Tamm.

Historic South Pole-North Pole satellite phone call conducted (15 August).

people in South Pole comms talking to the North Pole The Iridium call was with Sven Lidstrom who was on a science cruise aboard the Swedish research icebreaker Oden at the North Pole (Oden Wikipedia reference which I have edited) as well as a short 28 December YouTube video depicting the science cruise (no narration). Oden has made several science and icebreaking trips to McMurdo in the 2007-08 through 2010-11 seasons. Friend Sven is no stranger to Pole as he has wintered in 2007 and 2012 and has spent many other seasons there working on AMANDA and IceCube. This photo by Sasha Rahlin shows meteorologist Clint Perrone talking with Sven as other Polies in comms watch. Oh...this actually was the SECOND such call...the first one happened back in April of 1999.

Summer 2021-22 

McMurdo's Ross Island Earth Station (RIES) antenna dish was set on its pedestal (16 November).

the installed Ross Island Earth Station antenna

The 13 meter (43 foot) diameter dish was lifted into place on 16 November...it will soon be covered with a 21 meter (69 foot) diameter radome...and is scheduled to be in operation in January 2022, providing significantly enhanced internet connectivity to the station. It will replace the Black Island facility, although that site will be retained as a backup and for use when maintenance on the new antenna is required. More coverage and photos!

Partial solar eclipse observed at Pole (4 December).

timelapse photo of the 4 December partial solar eclipse
At left, timelapse photo of the eclipse. It was about 90% total at Pole, while elsewhere in Antarctica at Union Glacier it was total. I have been told that it is geometrically impossible to see a total solar eclipse at Pole, although I have yet to unearth a proof. Yet...partial solar eclipses are sometimes visible...including an annular eclipse, also about 90% totality at Pole, that I observed on 27 January 1990...viewable without eye protection as the Sun was covered by a light cloud layer. Anyway...here is more documentation of the December 2021 eclipse.

Winter 2022 

Manager: Eric Hansen; population 44 (list and photos).

Shackleton's sunken vessel Endurance discovered (6 March).

the stern of Endurance Perhaps the most significant Antarctic news in years! Endurance was found after 8 days of searching by the South African icebreaking research vessel S.A. Agulhas II...and after an unsuccessful 2019 effort by the same vessel, which failed after the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) was lost. This time the AUV in use was tethered and everything worked! The star that appears below the name Endurance is a remainder from the vessel's former name Polaris. Here are more details with extensive links to details and photos!

Another black hole!!

the Sagittarius A black hole at the center of the Milky Way

The South Pole Telescope was one of the instruments with the Event Horizon Telescope array that photographed this image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Of interest...this image was first created in April 2017 but it was not unveiled until 12 May 2022...I'm thinking that the consortium learned much from the developing of this image, as the image of M87*, which was created in April of 2019 and released the same month. Here is the rest of the story.

A lunar eclipse!

lunar eclipse visible over the SPT
This was considered a "supermoon" eclipse, as the moon was near its closest point to earth in this orbit...so it was...super sized. All or most of the eclipse was visible over continental North America...the partial (umbral) eclipse began at 1427 South Pole time/0227 UTC 16 May/2227 EDT 15 May, and it ended at 1755 SP time/0555 UTC/0155 EDT on 16 May. The totality lasted for about 90 minutes. Here's more data about the eclipse; the timelapse photo is from Aman Chokshi.

The major winter project is refurbishment of A1, A3, and A4 pods...

replacing the subfloor boards

In this photo by Eric Hansen from the 25 June sitrep, carpenters Troy Leighton and Sam Millar work to replace the deteriorated fiber cement board in the first floor A3 hallway. Other rehab efforts have included replacing carpeting, deteriorated ceiling tiles, damaged wall panels, and the mattresses!

Coast Guard icebreaker Healy visits the North Pole...prompting a North Pole-South Pole phone call!

Polies on the North Pole phone callCaptain Boda on the Healy bridge The US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy reached the North Pole on 30 September 2022, and that prompted a phone call to the folks at the South Pole on 6 October (perhaps 5 October Healy time). This was the third such North Pole-South Pole phone call, and Healy's fourth trip to the North Pole. At left...the winterovers in the large conference room...right, Captain Ken Boda on the bridge of Healy. This was Healy's fourth visit to the North Pole. More information...

Summer 2022-23 

First tourist Antarctic overflight that reaches Pole (27 November).

South Pole Station aerial photo
There have been a few commercial flights over Pole beginning in the 60s, typically "round the world" flights...and the first flight over the Antarctic coast happened in January 1977. But this flight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner out of Auckland was the first to make it to 90 South. And 2013 winterover Polie Blaise Kuotiong was aboard as part of the crew! The photo at left is by flight photographer james Stone. More information, a larger version of that photo, and information on future flights (the next such flight is scheduled for 3 December 2023) and other travel options by operator Chimu Adventures...is here.