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! Alas...all did not go well with the flooring work (more info and another photo).

Johan Booth passes away (29 June).

Johan Booth
He had a total of 20 winters--14 at Pole between 1995 and 2020, and six at Palmer between 1994 and 2004. His roles were as science technician/research associate as well as NOAA physical scientist, electronics engineer, and station chief. I knew him for much of that time, and got to winter with him in 2008. A great guy...he'd been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021 and chose to die among friends in Washington State thanks to their Death With Dignity Act.

Here is obituary and other information. The photo at left was shared by Johan's brother David Booth.

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 

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc with the Antarctic program.

the coronavirus New Zealand had ended its quarantine restrictions, and folks headed to McMurdo used commercial air rather than charter flights...and COVID happened. The first case was confirmed on 24 September. In early November there were over 70 cases at McMurdo, and cases also happened at Pole. On 5 November NSF announced a 2-week pause in travel from NZ as well as testing, masking, and isolation protocols. Here is a 4 November NBC News article about the outbreak, and an NSF special report page about the situation, most recently updated on 2 February (and the source of the CDC image at left).

SPIDER long duration balloon flight, launched from McMurdo, recovered on flights from Pole.

SPIDER balloon components to be recovered
The long-delayed project sent six cryogenically cooled detectors into near space (20 miles up)...they were looking at cosmic microwave background radiation from the earliest days of the universe. The balloon and payload landed near Hercules Dome, and several flights from Pole recovered the stored data and the rest of the payload... this photo depicts the first recovery flight. The rest of the story....

Winter 2023 

Manager: Zane Ziebell; population 43 (list and photos).

Christina Hammock Koch On 3 April 2023, NASA announced the crew members for the next Moon mission aboard the Artemis spacecraft...and the list included friend Christina Hammock Koch, whom I wintered with at Pole in 2005. Here's the NASA press release and the source of the photo at left. She also spent time at Palmer...and spent 328 days on the International Space Station, a record time for a woman. Here's a page of 2005 photos I put together in 2013 after learning she'd been accepted for the astronaut program, and a 2013 Antarctic Sun article about her selection to the astronaut corps. More photos and a link to her biography are on this NASA page.

LIDAR beam shoots into space from the station roof.

TELMA LIDAR shoots into space This photo by research associate Hans Suedhoff was taken in the 3rd week of April...it shows the Temperature LIDAR for Middle Atmosphere Research (TELMA) LIDAR in action... this is part of the multinational Antarctic Gravity Wave Imaging Network (ANGWIN) project. They analyze properties of gravity waves in the mesosphere--a layer of the Earth's atmosphere between 31-53 miles/50-85 km) above the Earth's surface. In previous years, lasers and lidars were also operated from the roof of ARO. More project info from the 2022-23 USAP Science Planning Summary.

Hamish Harding, who died in the 18 June 2023 Titan implosion, was heavily involved in Antarctica.

Hamish HardingThe UAE-based adventurer had been involved with the development of the White Desert camp (Wikipedia page mentioning Hamish Harding) and Wolfs Fang runway (2016 environmental evaluation report and web page); he was on the November 2016 Pole trip from White Desert along with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who had to be medevaced. He was a pilot on the July 2019 Gulfstream business jet flight that set a Guinness world record for a circumnavigation over the Poles...in 46 hours 40 minutes. In 2020 on one of his several Pole visits he took his son Giles, who at age 12 is the youngest person to visit (Buzz Aldrin at age 86 is the oldest). And on 4 June 2022 he flew into space on the suborbital Blue Origin NS-21 mission (Wikipedia link). Also see the Hamish Harding Wikipedia page, which is the source of the photo at left. The photo is © Blue Origin originally published in the Guardian...see this Wikipedia page which provides fair use rationale. Thanks to Wayne White for this info.

Summer 2023-24 

Ceremonial Pole marker pole replaced!

a new Pole pole
The original striped pole...the top of Paul Siple's flagpole when the original station was built in 1956-57, was starting to break up. So, a new pole was created from a carbon fiber pole that was otherwise to be recycled.

Seen here...2023 winterover research associate Luke Haberkem...or Hans Suedhoff, in a 21 October sitrep photo by heavy equipment technician Brendan Fisher.

More historical information about the "old pole" is here.

Aircraft incident--the LC-130 ramp suddenly opened after departure from Pole!

marking blocking At 1646 on 8 February 2024 as aircraft 83-0493 was returning to McM from Pole, it declared an in-flight emergency. At 30,000 feet, the hydraulics failed and the cargo ramp opened. The aircraft with 22 pax and crew returned to Pole and landed safely with no significant injuries. Members of the emergency response team suffered some minor frost nip. There was a hydraulic fuel spill in the cargo loading area which had to be excavated with equipment, and the aircraft stayed at Pole overnight while things were checked out. This has happened before on the ice. [Note, this is a 20 December 2016 file photo of the aircraft by Mike Lucibella from the USAP photo library (link to original).]

First season of preparation for more IceCube drilling completed.

Seasonal Equipment Site
Nearly 2 dozen people came to Pole to make initial preparations for the IceCube Upgrade...which will drill 7 additional strings in 2025-26. Equipment was moved out of storage, fixed up, upgraded, and tested extensively before much of it was moved to the Seasonal Equipment Site (SES) (left) otherwise known as the drill camp at the end of the summer season. More information and details here.

Winter 2024 

Manager: Ben Russo, pupulation 41.

Icebreaker update: the Coast Guard may buy one from Edison Schouest!

Aiviq at Davis In early March 2024 it was announced that the Coast Guard, seeing delays in delivery of the first new new "Polar Security Cutter" until 2028, was seeking to acquire an existing icebreaker--the Aiviq...constructed in the US and operated by a unit of Edison Chouest Offshore...yes, those folks that operate the two NSF ice strengthened research vessels. Details! The first of the new vessels, named Polar Sentinel in 2022, is now under construction by Bollinger Shipyards in Pascagoula, MS (they acquired the shipyard and contract from VT Halter Marine in November 2022 (Cruisemapper) article).