Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Time Zones at the Pole

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Tourists!  When we walked out to the visitor tent this morning, we were surprised to find 3 Toyota Hiluxes.  Very cool trucks these things are.  Not sure where they came from, but no doubt a long way!  A DC-3 landed today with a bunch of tourists.  We met a British woman who had been dropped off with her team 97 nautical miles away, where Shackleton turned around, deciding the pole was not worth the his and his companions lives.  The woman and her team were skiing these last miles, but the woman had to be evacuated due to a frostbitten nose and altitude illness.  She said her team was coming in a few days from now.  I asked her when...and it went something like this:
Her: Thursday
Me: Oh, tomorrow!
Her: No...I think they'll be in on Thursday...
Me: ...Isn't today Wednesday? (My mind about to be blown as I realize what's happening)
Her: It's Tuesday.
Me:  It's 11:30 am on Wednesday for us.  What time is it for you?
Her: Tuesday evening between 6 and 7.
Me: That's crazy!!

She came through Punta Arenas, Chile and has not crossed the international date line, whereas, I am on New Zealand time and have crossed the international date line.  Time zones converge at the south pole to an crossing point at the geographic south pole, where technically there is NO time zone.  So here we were standing at the same place, at two different times of day, on two different days at the same time! 

At the pole, one day lasts six months.  Three months of morning as the sun spirals up, three months of afternoon where the sun spirals down, then six months of darkness.  So technically, it's morning as the Solstice has not been reached, and therefore the sun has not reached its peak.  So right now, we're about 14 days from the solstice, each day counts for 4 minutes, so that would be 54 minutes before noon.  So we're at 11:06am south pole time.  Tomorrow will be 11:10am.  Boggles the mind!

We finished our work and I spent the evening playing chess and helping some friends make a zombie movie (they needed zombie extras) that will be shown at the South Pole and Mcmurdo international film festivals later this season (spoiler alert: science saves the day). 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Return to the Pole!

Monday 5 December 2011

Back to the pole!  Captain Amundsen arrived a hundred years ago, and Captain Urmston returns!  I love this place.  What took Amundsen and Scott many weeks, today took me a handful of hours.  It started with a two minute truck ride from our shop to the shuttles office.  Then a ride in an hour ride in a huge wheeled Delta out to the Pegasus airfield, then a bit of waiting, then a van ride out to the LC-130 aircraft. 

The three hour flight was fantastic, especially considering the historical route following Scott 100 years later.  We cruised over the ice shelf at 22,000 feet and then an hour and a half into the flight, we entered the Trans-Antarctic mountain range.  Naturally I asked if I could go up into the cockpit and subsequently had incredible views.  I loved being in the cockpit, knowing what most of the instruments tell of, knowing from just the binding of the books on the shelves, that they are for in-flight celestial navigation, and knowing that they were getting paid, in part, to fly me to the South Pole so that I can set up a solar system for the people who will visit this fascinating place this summer. 

From our viewing point in the air we could the Beardmore Glacier, which Scott had taken to the pole.  So fascinating to think of Scott, and Shackleton as little figurines with their sledges far below, 100 years ago.

 I could also look down upon the mountain tops and pick out peaks that I’d stood on, from my work last year as an antenna rigger.  I’ve seen a lot of peaks from the air – they are really special when I can look at them and remember exactly what it felt like to stand on top of it way down there.  I imagine it’s sort of like seeing Antarctica from space and knowing one has been there before.  (Yes, I hope this one person is me someday.)

I’m sleeping in the new station this time around instead of being out in a Jamesway, as I was five years ago when I was here last.  I feel important, but it’s really because we’re only staying for a few days.  Nonetheless, it is fun to feel like a real station resident and our rooms feel like ship cabins, which of course I like. 

Flying from sea level to 9,300 feet (with a pressure altitude of over 10,000 feet) in three hours is interesting…so far so good.  I am drinking lots of water and taking it easy.  The work begins tomorrow. 

Around 250 people here currently.  -32 degrees C, light winds, bright sunshine (the sun is 22 degrees above the horizon).  The hour of the day is arbitrary because there is no point where the sun reaches its highest of the day.  The sun slowly spirals up over the course of 3 months, reaches its peak around December 21st (the summer solstice in this hemisphere) and then slowly spirals down over the next 3 months.  The station runs on New Zealand time because it is the same time that its lifeline, McMurdo Station, runs on. 

That’s all for now.  Hoping for a good sleep tonight and good progress tomorrow!! 

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Didn’t sleep too well last night, but kept pounding down the water and take it easy to try to rid myself of the altitude headache.  By morning I discovered the sore throat that had plagued me for a number of days making it painful to swallow, had finally disappeared.  Apparently all I needed to do to get better was return to the Pole!  After breakfast and some more fluids the headache disappeared and I was ready to go.

The days task was sinking the pole five feet down into the snow for our solar array.  Thankfully we had a small back hoe do the trick but it was a bear wrestling in the pipe into our platform at the bottom of the hole.  It will be even more of a bear to get the thing out next month.  Lots of digging and filling and chopping and stomping and plumbing as well as checking lots of other components of the system that will be fully installed by tomorrow. 

The temps were -31°C or around -25°F but the wind was only about 2 knots so it was delightful to be working outside in under the entire southern hemisphere’s blue sky.  (If only I could see the stars!)  Nick was wearing just a tee-shirt at one point while I wore just a long sleeve over a short sleeve.  Quite balmy indeed!  Tomorrow, there shall be power!!

After work and dinner, I went for a ski “around the world.”  Amundsen got here by ski, and so shall Urmston, the last few hundred feet or so.  It is neat to have skied in all longitudes of the Earth, to stand where all directions are north.  These things endlessly fascinate me.  I have a little GPS and since the ice sheet that the station is on is slowly moving about 30 feet a year, I found the new position that is remarked every January 1st of the new year.  Very neat to look down at the GPS latitude and longitude readout and see South 90° 00.000’. 

The station is very cool, I feel like I’m on a space station!  Every time I go out through the doors out into the bright white, I feel like I’m going out into space for a space walk!  Fascinating stuff.  To get internet access we use 3 or 4 satellites at different times of the day.  It’s slow but the fact that there is internet here is amazing.  I sort of wish it was only ham radio, but so it goes. 

Now to sleep to rest up for another day at the South Pole!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turkey Trot 5K

Got to have something to train for.  First objective: Thanksgiving Turkey Trot.  Warmed up on the treadmill listening to Rocky music.  It's always a fun race, so much character in this little town!  More snow than usual for this time of year so I wore yak tracks over my running shoes for extra traction. 

The starting line, marked by the three turkeys was the shadow of a power line.  The Chapel in the background.

Ob Hill in the background: The sight of the x-mas day race, Up Ob Hill.

My customary NOLS wind pants and 11 year old wind jacket.

The turkeys leading me flying in to the finish with me.

The Rocky warm up worked and I was the first to cross the finish line with a time of around 20:17.  This had the extra bonus of being first in line for a free post-race massage!  Overall, Thanksgiving was wonderful.  A fun race, later a beautiful skate ski out to the ice runway and then some good food with lots of friends.  We haven't had a C-17 flight in about a week, so there were less freshies than normal but it was still very good.  And to have a second day off to look forward to was also wonderful.  The evening activities included some live music as well as FREEZING MAN, McMurdo's redition of the Burning Man festival.  Very interesting. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lake Fryxell!

Back to Lake Fryxell to trouble shoot some autogenerator start issues and confirm the wind gen was working properly.  All was well, climbed the tower to re-torque the blades and everything worked properly after the main cut-off switch was cycled.   The trick of it all seems to be how everything interacts.  Setting after setting concerning the inverter, charger, wind generator, solar panels, batteries.  There must be more than 50 settings to check and they all have to be coordinated to work together.  It was a beautiful day so I took my time up on the tower.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves - such a beautiful day there, and then a beautiful ride back to town near the open water and many icebergs! 

Mt. Erebus!

Up to Mt. Erebus last week to replace 12 batteries that did not survive the wintertime.  They were left connected to power some science experiments at 12,000 feet but something went amis.  (Strange, unexpected things happen in the wintertime...).  So from sea level to 12,000 feet we go in about half an hour.  It is an amazing helicopter ride with Mt. Erebus looming larger and larger through the front windows. 

It is typically cold and windy up there so we had tried for many days to get up there.  The first day was out due to weather.  The second day we went to the helo pad and then were put on a two hour delay.  Then it was too "warm" at the camp on the third day so the density altitude for the helo to land safely, so I was bumped to save some weight.  The helo was going to come back for me but Nick, my partner in crime who went up, discovered that all batteries had not survived the winter, so I went back to the shop to grab and test and package 12 new batteries.  On the fourth day, I think it was,  I made it up. 

The camp is awesome.  Stunning views and cold and high.  Solar panels, two of my favorite types of "wind birds" the Air X type we had on the top of Crazy Horse's mizzen mast! 

The camp solar/wind system was put in many years ago and now resembles some sort of rats nest that we are trying to improve.  There is only so much that can be done though in the 4-6 hours that they'll let us work up here before altitude sickness starts to threaten.  But the views are fabulous looking over McMurdo Sound and out into the Ross Sea.  It is especially exciting to be climbing the towers to check out one wind bird in a cold wind at 12,000 feet.  Feels kind of extreme, like a spacewalk.  (Naturally I love it.)  Maybe someday I'll be able to do that sort of things 200 miles up!

Lots to do...

 Once our work was done, it was time to do a little exploring of the surrounding area.  Beautiful formations called fumerols, where warm vents from the inside of the mountain reach the surface and condense and create amazing structures with the snow.  There is also a helicopter crash site from some time in the 50's or 60's that is still there.  Amazing history of this place. 

Where's my Ton Ton.

On the way home we could see the end of the beautiful peninsula where McMurdo Station sits.  I had the helo-tech take a picture for me as we meandered back down to sea level and oxygen rich air.

The peninsula.

A little closer to town.

Town, looking very industrial as it always does.

My shop desk in a state of disrepair.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shackleton's Cape Royd

Out to Cape Royds a week and a half ago.  This is where Shackleton had his hut more than 100 years ago.  Craziness!  It was a beautiful day and as we flew over the peninsula, we could see Castle Rock in front of Mt. Erebus, both frequently mentioned in the writings of the explorers who were here around the turn of the last century.

Big Razorback Island.  Another one mentioned in the old books.
 The inverter and charger were set in a box for the winter outside.  Snow finds a way through any hole and our box was no exception.  We had to set the thing by the heater to melt out all the snow - making sure none to the electronics were going to short out when we turned everything on. 

The inverter and charger and such are somewhere buried in this box.  Snow always finds a way in...

The science hut (with panels on the left!)
 Otherwise a routine day.  Panels got mounted, batteries tested and connected to each other, inverter and charger checked and tested, and the system is ready for scientists!  It is amazing to be where Shackleton and all his men had been.  Such history! 

Shackleton's hut!