Sunday, April 16, 2017

What do you do for fun?

What Do You Do For Fun?

16 April 2017

Hi everyone, sorry for the very long silence.  We had several weeks of really bad internet connection (think 1 Kb/s, or literally hours to upload a single picture), and then I got lazy.  Right now our satellite window is in the middle of the day, and I feel a bit guilty about blogging during standard work hours.  Even though I can flex my schedule, old habits die hard.

So I thought I would talk a bit about social activities on the station.  I find boredom is rarely an issue, which is a pleasant surprise.  We're obviously a very small community, but a good one.  There is at least one organized activity every night of the week.  On Mondays folks play board games int he galley.  On Tuesday we're holding an astronomy class, followed by TV series night.  We started watching HBOs "West World" and are currently going through the BBC's "Sherlock."  Both are excellent if you haven't seen them.  I'm giving a few guest lectures for the Astronomy class which is really fun.  In fact I'm doing the next two weeks covering stellar evolution.  We have a resident astrophotgraphy expert who conducts classes on that.  Wednesday's feature volleyball and Unicycling classes, and Thursday's have a casual hangout/conversation group and a classic movie from the 40s-70s.  Fridays offer some sort of sportsball game in the gym, and on Saturdays our station manager shows an adventure film of some sort.

Of course, these are just the main options, and not everyone attends all of them.  You can usually find someone to hang out with by looking around the halls, or there's a pretty good book and movie library that you can always borrow from to just watch quietly in your room or one of the two TV lounges.  There's also a small but adequate gym which I've been using very regularly.  I also volunteer in our greenhouse a few days a week, so that we have *some* sort of fresh vegetables for salads, etc.

Overall, I manage to keep occupied and entertained.  Signing off for now, hopefully I'll be better about being regular here.

Oh, one more thing!  We had our first visible auroras of the season a few days ago!  The first I've seen in person, which has long been a goal of mine.  I didn't have my camera, so no pictures yet, but there should be even better shows to come as it gets darker.  I leave you with two pictures.  One shows another social option, two different groups which meet on Saturdays and Sundays.  They don't quite see eye to eye on things...

BYOTFH=Bring Your Own Tin Foil Hat

And the other day/night (there's really no difference), there was a great moon pillar.  I took a few pictures, and while this ine is a bit dark, I think the starburst pattern on the moon makes it one of the best

Monday, February 27, 2017

Where Do You Live? (Part 2)

Where Do You Live? (Part 2)

27 Feb 2017

It has just been brought to my attention that there' a new, really great video tour of the station up on the youtubes.  Kate is a high school teacher from Virginia who came down for a good chunk of the summer as part of an outreach program.  She spent her time mainly helping the IceCube neutrino astronomy project and doing lots of outreach to school kids back in the states.

If you'd like to see a full tour of where I spend my days, check her out!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Station Close!

Station Close!

15 Feb 2017

The last members of the summer crew board the last passenger flight out of South Pole

Here we go.

The South Pole winter is too cold to operate aircraft.  Below temps of -45 C or so (typical these days, with a windchill around -60 C), engines are difficult to start and hydraulic fluid freezes in the lines.  The departure of the last plane is known here as "Station Close," and it marks the official beginning of winter.

There are 46 of us here for the 2017 season.  41 men, 5 women.  There's now no way in or out of the station until flights resume in the spring, around late Oct.  Only approximately 1500 people have spent the winter at south pole, fewer than have climbed Mt Everest.  The ultimate clearing house for stats and info about winter-overs is maintained by Bill Spindler.  His site is fascinating and you can dive way into minutiae there.

It is traditional for the last plane leaving to give the station a flyby and dip its wings in salute.  My NOAA counterpart, Gavin, is a video editing whiz and put together a short video of the event which you can download here.

A few of our photos are going to be featured on the homepage of on Tuesday* as part of a story about our mission down here an station close.  Be sure to check it out!  Apparently NOAA might also be sending a twittering or putting things on that facebook thing I hear so much about.  Not sure about the URLs for those things, but I trust you to find them if you're so inclined  :-)

Tonight (actually in about 15 minutes) we're celebrating another South Pole tradition with a marathon screening of all three versions of "The Thing."  The original 1950s version is set at the North Pole, but the other 2 (from 1982 and 2011) are set down here and all three have become cult classics among the Antarctica set.

I'm excited.  This is what I came here for.  We have about a month of daylight left, then 2-3 weeks of twilight, and then it will be complete darkness until mid-September.  There's no turning back now, and the only way home is through November.

EDIT:  *The story is now up at

Sunday, January 15, 2017

BBC story about my office

15 Jan 2017

Just a very quick post to share a story that one of the senior scientists in my office sent out to us:

I know most of the NOAA scientists featured in the video personally, and a lot of it is filmed in the office in Boulder I trained in from July-October.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Marking the Pole

1 Jan 2017

Sorry this post is a bit late.

On New Year's day, we officially marked the new geographic south pole.  The station is built on top of a ~3000m thick ice sheet which slides about 10m/year.  All the buildings of the station slide along with the ice, but this means from our perspective the exact geographic pole seems to drift.  It is tradition at the station to update the location of the marker for the pole on New Years day.

The pole is marked by a metal rod topped with an ornament designed and fabricated by the winter over crew.  When I got here, the pole was marked as so:

The pole marker when I arrived.  Placed on 1 Jan 2016, it was designed by the winter over crew of 2015.

There are other photos of me with this marker elsewhere on this blog, and I have heard scurrilous rumors that perhaps other images are on something called the book of faces, or some such.

Professional surveyors come down to pole every December to verify the relative position of all our buildings and reorient our local coordinate system.  They also stake out the new location of the exact pole.  I got to the site early, and before the new marker is placed, had the opportunity to stand directly on the axis of the earth, and so for a while, yes, the world did in fact revolve around me.

The two poles behind me mark the location of the new big white sign, and the pole directly beneath me marks the axis of rotation for the entire planet.

First our station manager Wayne arrived with the new pole marker, shrouded in mystery:

We then all formed a semi-circle, with one end at the location of the old pole, and the other at the location of the new.  Our area director Bill touched the new marker to the old, and we passed it from one person to another, towards its new resting spot:

And Wayne did the honors, driving it home and unveiling the new design:

The new marker was designed by the winter crew who just left:

The engravings on top are of the station and some of the out-buildings.  The outer ring is tilted at what I presume is a 23 degree angle, for the annual path of the sun through the south pole sky.  At the top of the arc is the sign for the sun, at the bottom is the southern cross.  The dates of sunset and sunrise (20 March and 23 Sept) are engraved at the sides, where the solar ring meets the disc.  It's difficult to see from this angle, but all the winter over crew signed the post below the ornament.

After the ceremony, everybody had to act like a tourist and have their picture taken with the new marker:

The old marker is traditionally taken down and placed in a display case we have inside the station.  Unfortunately this year, some of the station's dodgy element were seen trying to make a break for it, with the ultimate souvenir

Watch out for this ruffian.  But check out that awesome beard frost.  Only the hardiest of Antarctic explorers can get that going on.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

31 Dec 2016

For New Year's 2000, tickets were sold for a flight aboard the Concorde that started with a midnight celebration in Paris.  Passengers then boarded the plane, which could beat the rotation of the earth, and landed in New York to see midnight again.

That's cute, but I can circumnavigate the planet on foot in less than a minute.  

As I write this, it is 2 hours to midnight on 31 Dec (New Zealand Time).  We'll be celebrating the New Year every hour down here.  Head out to the pole, and take one step further to the right and you're in the next time zone.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

What would you say... ya do here?

1 Dec 2016

So what exactly does my job entail?  I am the station technician for NOAA's south pole climate observatory.  One of two NOAA staff members down here for the next year.  We have about 2 dozen instruments here devoted to monitoring the driving forces of earth's climate.  We monitor several atmospheric trace gases, some at sensitivities of parts per *trillion*.  We monitor the total radiation flux being delivered to the earth from the sun at multiple wavelengths, and quantify the amount of that radiation which is reflected back by the earth.  We measure the thickness of the ozone layer over the south pole daily, and we launch balloons to obtain spatially resolved ozone profiles from the ground up to altitudes of around 35 km.

That sounds very grandiose, but what do I actually do?  My office is in the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO, pronounced "arrow") about 500m from the station.  Seriously, check out that link.  Note that the floor plans are links to photos of the interior of ARO.  They're way out of date, but they'll serve.  We'll update them this year.  When things are going smoothly (which they do most of the time), I walk out to ARO every day and run through our daily checks.  We verify every instrument is running fine, that all the data has been transferred successfully the last time the satellites were up (overnight these days).  We have several large tanks of compressed gases, and we monitor them all daily to ensure the tanks are swapped out for full ones before they run out.

After the dailies are done, every day we need to do multiple measurements of the total column thickness of the ozone layer.  We use a Dobson differential spectrophotometer to do this.  The Dobson is a fascinating instrument, and will get its own post at some point.

On weekly and monthly periodicities, various instruments need to be recalibrated or have maintenance tasks performed.  Every two weeks, we collect literal samples of air in pressurized bottles.  These will be kept on station during the winter and mailed back to our collaborators in Australia, San Diego, and Boulder for further analysis.

Every 5 days, we launch a large balloon to an altitude of about 35km to obtain a spatially resolved profile of the ozone layer.  These measurements nicely complement the integrated column thickness measurements done using the Dobson from the ground.

All that is the normal, day to day stuff.  We're also on hand to repair anything that goes abnormally.  We're prepared to reconstruct data cables, reload the operating system on the computers, rebuild the plumbing connecting the gas cylinders, and hopefully save an experiment with a minimum of down time for any other issue.

In trivial news, a famous person came by the station today.  I had a brief opportunity to speak with him, but it was made very clear that he was not interested in a bunch of dirty nerds clamoring for photographic evidence of such a meeting.  The rumor is that video footage may appear on the BBC sometime in the next several months.

By the way, it should go without saying that this blog is completely my creation in my role as a private citizen.  It in no way is, or claims to be, a reflection of the opinions or views of any agency or department of the US government, the National Science Foundation, the US Antarctic Program, or the local Dairy Council.  All views and opinions stated herein are purely my own.  I hope that satisfies all the lawyers out there.