Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fire Team- Antarctic Softball Champions 2009!

The yearly softball tournament at The Ballfield (in outdoor cargo storage area).

4 teams- fire, carp shop, shuttles, et al

Fire is champion!

Only one injury this year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

34 degrees and partly cloudy

Monday, December 28, 2009

Joining the Antarctic Boxing Team!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Summer solstice-
2 months til sunset!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Time to do some shopping for Winter season...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Celestial Navigation

New York Air National Guard Lt Colonel Samantha East teaches a course on the rare science of celestial navigation

Small ice crack Weddell seal cub nuzzles against its mother

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pressure Ridges, cont.

Melt pool and Erebus Ice cave full of deep blue light

Looking south across Ross Ice Shelf towards White Island. Road flag on bamboo pole in foreground.

Peak of Mount Discovery visible above low cloud layer

Friday, December 11, 2009

More pics from Pressure Ridges

Scott Base in background:

The sun is out 24-7 but freeze-thaw cycles caused by overcast days and lower temperatures brought in by weather fronts form these icicles. In a week or two melting and crack formation will make it unsafe to travel through the pressure ridge area.

Castle Rock in left background (an old cinder cone). Mt Erebus looms in right background with its top covered in cloud and vented gases.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Easy three day weekend of reading, writing, and talking to friends back home...
At last, I have found the Elusive Bellydancing Class I Actually Have Time For!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Life in McMurdo

Every now and then this message will unexpectedly come over the radio:
“Attention all stations, this is the firehouse with an emergency announcement. Power conservation has reached a critical state! Activate your power reduction plan immediately. Again, power conservation critical - activate your power reduction plan immediately. Time now xx:xx.”
Translation: turn off all your lights, radios, and TVs, or everything's going to go black!
Until recently McMurdo station ran on several large generators. Last year a massive power-plant replacement project began and we were cut back to 2 generators (+ an outdoor "cat-in-the-box" backup generator) producing 1400kw or so for the town. Occasionally usage will exceed production capacity and unless effective power reduction measures are taken immediately, the generator dumps a feeder and a third of the town or so will be blacked out for a good while. On Sept 3rd, we came within 7kw of shutdown. I'm not sure, but I think 7kw equates to about 4 of those little space heaters people like to run in their rooms when it's neg 80 outside. At the last moment enough people got word to shut off unneccesary electrical draws and we avoided a mess. Life on the edge!
Last year a catastrophic failure occurred in one of the main generators. It stretched into a long and interesting hazmat/MCI/fire coverage event as skeleton fire crews raced back and forth between covering incoming flights and mitigating a big hazmat spill. The SCBA compressor choose this moment to give up the ghost, further complicating an already sticky situation.
Since Mainbody things have been running pretty well on the 2 main gen.s and the cat in the box. We still have "momentaries", as they say in Maine, as feeders are endlessly switched back and forth to allow preventative maintenance of the machinery.
It's been very cool to watch the erection of three windmills above the town on Crater Hill (also home to T-site, the off-limits communications/antennae array for the station). They've been blasting footings and assembling the structures for a couple weeks now. So far one is spinning and looks operational, a second's fully assembled, and a third is up but on delay due to some key parts arriving broken. I'd like to look into the special challenges involved in building on permafrost on a volcano and keeping such machinery working through huge temperature extremes, months of unfiltered UV radiation, and some of the strongest winds on Earth. When the wind-power project is complete it should meet all the electric needs of Scott Base and power 25-30% of McMurdo!
Along with the new windmills, a re-vamped power plant is currently being outfitted with another Six generators of similar capacity to the current ones. There used to be more than 2 generators, but apparently they were dissasembled and shipped away. Why we were left with inadequate power supply, and why we will have such an excess supply in the future are questions that occupy many a McMurdo mind on long, cold nights. Personally, I suspect that oil has been discovered in McMurdo Sound and refining operations will begin as soon as the Antarctic Treaty expires.
At least building on Ross Island is simplified by the fact that, although we're sort of part of the Ring of Fire, Ross Island sits over a hot spot very similar to Hawaii. Mt Erebus is a huge shield volcano- broad and wide with thin, flowing lava that really doesn't create explosive eruptions. Antarctica in general is one of the least seismically active places on Earth, so buildings and other structures don't have to be engineered to withstand quakes. That said, infrastructure in McMurdo is pretty old on average... a couple of roofs on residential buildings failed to stand up to the winds and snow last winter! One of the town's structurally unsound central buildings has been condemned this year and FD volunteers have just finished gutting it out in preparation for demolition. Sadly, it used to hold a bowling alley, pottery kiln, and bouldering cave.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You know it's windy in Antarctica when your snowmobile blows away...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Until the 1990's, McMurdo fire was run by the Navy. Firefighters lived in the firehouse and worked in the firehouse (and partied in the firehouse).
Still in love with out open-cab tanker in Antarctica...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pressure Ridges

Visited the pressure ridges near Scott Base recently. Pics courtesy of Mike on I-Drive

The northern edge of the extensive, flowing Ross Ice Shelf is folded and broken up into beautiful ice ridges when it meets the shore of Ross Island.

Weddell seals use the areas of open water in the pressure ridges as breathing holes. They are the only mammals that venture far under the Ice Shelf, therefore they have few natural enemies. Most seal species live to forty years, but Weddells wear down their teeth by chewing the ice around their breathing holes to keep them open. After about twenty years their teeth are severly worn and they starve.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I.... am a Librarian

Excerpt from a neat book I found while working at the library. It's got a lot of crazy ideas and a couple good ones:

"Here’s an exercise to try at home….
Watch the second hand as it passes around the face of the clock. Picture the moment of your death, perhaps many decades into the future, or perhaps only a few years or months (who can know?). Wait for the second hand to reach the top of the clock face, then watch as it records the passing of one minute of your life. Now imagine the clock counting down the minutes of your life to the moment of your death. Try this exercise picturing this moment a few decades in the future, then repeat it picturing the moment next year. Repeat it picturing the moment of your death next month. Next week. Tonight. After all, you never know.
Now observe the minute and hour hands on the clock. What were you doing at this time twenty-four hours ago? Forty-eight hours ago? One month ago? What will you be doing at this time next week?
Imagine that the moment of your death is one month away. Consider- if you knew this was true, what would you be doing right now? What would you be doing at this time tomorrow? Repeat this step, imagining your death to be one year away. Does this make very much difference to your thoughts about what you would do today and tomorrow if you knew the date of your death?
Compare your activities over the last twenty-four hours to the activities you would have chosen if you had known you would leave this world in one month or one year. Compare your activities over the last month, the last year, the last decade, to those you would have chosen if you had known that on this day you only had thirty days or twelve months left to live. How different would your life have been if you had known the date of your approaching death? Would you be ready to die in a month or a year, having lived the life that you have?
Chances are… that most of the people who read this text and participate in this exercise will live for many more years afterwards. But, still, look at the second hand of the clock, and follow it as it records the passing minutes, counting down the minutes of your life that remain to you as they slip away. Are you living the life that you want to live? Are you living a life that, at any given moment, you could look back upon with satisfaction if you suddenly realized it was about to end? Are you living the sort of life that you would wish upon a human being, a life that is exciting and full, that is well spent, every minute of it? If the answer is no, what can you do in the time that still remains to you- however long or short that may be- to make your life more like the one you would like to live? For we all have a limited amount of time granted to us in this world- we should use it with this in mind.

...If you find, looking back upon your life, that you have spent years living without any consideration of your mortality, this is not really unusual, for our social/cultural environment does not encourage us to think much about the limits that nature places on our lives. Death and aging are denied and hidden away as if they were shameful and embarrassing. The older members of our society are hidden away in “retirement homes” like lepers in leper colonies. The billboards, magazines, photos, and television commercials that meet our eyes at every turn show only images of healthy men and women in the prime of their life. …When a man dies, the rituals which once would have celebrated his life and brought the subject of human mortality to those who survived him are now often regarded as mere inconveniences. …there is no time for death in today’s busy world of corporate mergers and record-breaking conspicuous consumption.
And indeed if we were to stop and ponder the subject, perhaps we would find that when we seriously consider the limits of our time on this planet, keeping up with the television comedies and having a good resume seem less important than they did before. Our cultural silence about human mortality allows us to forget how much weight the individual moments of our lives carry, adding up as they do to our lives themselves. Thus we squander countless hours watching television or balancing checkbooks, hours that in retrospect we might have better spent walking on the seashore with our loved ones, cooking gourmet meals for our children and friends, writing fiction, or hitchkiking across South America. The reality of our future death is not easy for any of us to come to terms with, but it is surely better that we consider this now than regret not doing so when it is too late.
Our denial of death has a deeper significance, beyond its function as a reaction to our fear of mortality and a selective blindness that helps us preserve the status quo. It is a symptom of our ongoing struggle to escape the cycles of change in nature and establish an unnatural permanence in the world. Our mortality is frightening evidence that we do not have control over everything; thus we are quick to ignore it, if we cannot do away with it altogether- a feat towards which our medical researches are working… it is worth questioning whether this would even be desirable.
Since the dawn of western civilization, men and women have hungered for the domination of not only the world and each other, but also for the domination of the seasons, of time itself. We speak of the eternal grandeur of gods and empires. And we design our cities and corporations to exist into infinity. We build monuments, spyscrapers, which we intend to stand forever as a testimony of our victory over the sands of time. But this victory can only come at a price, at this price; that though nothing passes away, nothing comes to be, either-that the world we create is a static, standardized place that can hold no surprises for us any more. We would do well to be wary of fulfilling our own darkest dreams by creating such a dystopia, a frozen world in which no one must fear death anymore, for everyone exists forever and no one lives for even an instant. "

-From Days of War, Nights of Love… Crimethink

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Castle Rock crevasse deaths 1986

McMurdo search and rescue report, 23 November 1986:

"... The two entry sites into the crevasse were approximately 30' apart. Looking into the crevasse we could not see the bottom, nor was there any response when we tried to yell to the victims..."

"Once a rope to the first victim was established, (Mr.) Petty prepared to rappel down, and observed a repeated tugging on the rope from the victim below. On descent into the crevasses, it was noted that the crevasse width decreased from three feet at the top to approximately fifteen inches, seventy-five feet below the surface, where the victims were."

"Both had slid down the rock surface vertically, and appeared to be tightly wedged in... Petty (McMurdo medical) was the first to assess victim #1, and found him able to talk, although he appeared in a shocky state."

"Victim #2 was able to grab the end of the rope and coil it around his wrist, but was unable to hold on when it was pulled. His only words were to the effect "Get me out of here... I'm really in a mess, aren't I?"

"On victim #2... a final extrication attempt... we were able to secure a grappling hook under his arm for a fairly secure hold. With eight rescuers hauling on a 2:1 pulley system, the patient remained jammed, showing how tightly #2 was in fact jammed in..."

Both victims died in the crevasse accident. They had left the safety of the designated Castle Rock flagged route and had attempted to take a "short cut" to Scott Base (the New Zealand Base). A third member of the party was between the two when they dropped through the hidden snowbridge and into the crevasse. He crawled on his hands and knees to the flagged route, below the area known as the "Ice Fall" and ran to Scott Base, instigating the Search and Rescue (SAR) call-out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

SAR training all day today- pt treatment and packaging, communications, and ICS
Sea Ice training tomorrow...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

everythings white and fresh and its sweatshirt weather after two days of snow

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just made the Winter SAR team!!!!

World map of photosynthesis

Sun night science lecture

Biogeochemistry in Antarctic waters

talk by a scientist conducting DNA sequencing and protein analyses of local phytoplankton in order to study the effect of nutrients and micronutrients on their growth.

Interesting points:
- important elemental nutrients used by phytoplankton: N, Fe, K, Si, Zn, Co
- some nutrients only come from bacterial processes- B12 for example. Guiness beer is rich in B12 due to its special bacterial populations.
- about 30% of the world's ocean surfaces are Fe-deficient
- polar regions are more likely to be Fe-deficent because much iron comes from windblown dust. Dust is in shorter suppply in mostly snow-covered areas such as Antarctica.
- Some Antarctic plankton "hot-bunk" iron. They use iron to build photosynthesis-related proteins during the day, then tear these proteins apart each night so that the same iron is available for alternative purposes. This allows the plankton to produce more in iron-limited conditions, though at a high energy cost.
- The metal hulls of scientific ships can throw off study measurements by artificially enriching the immediate vicinity with Fe from underwater rust
- underwater volcanic vents release metals and other nutrients which are carried away by currents, forming a plume pattern
- scientists theorize that global warming is being caused in part by excess carbon released into the atmosphere by human activities such as burning fossil fuels. One of the geo-engineering solutions suggested is to fertilize the oceans with iron, thereby causing a plankton bloom which will form a massive sink for atmospheric carbon (and eventually carry this carbon back into the rock cycle). Experimental fertilization attempts thus far have caused blooms visible from space for a month or more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saw my first puddle of liquid water in 2 months outside yesterday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday night science lecture

This week's science lecture featured SCINI - McMurdo's underwater ROV. The original SCINI was pioneered in 2003 using a grand total of $300 of off-the-shelf equipment, including sewer pipe, model helicopter propellers and toy racecar controls. The 2008 version of SCINI remains quite simple and cheap and has been repaired in settings such as inside a tent in a remote field camp. Including high tech cameras and navigational equipment, the newest SCINI is worth about $30,000 (typical for similar built-to-order ROVs). SCINI is 15cm wide, modular, and can travel at up to 4.5 knots to a depth of 300meters. Power and communication is provided by a tough tether with two ethernet (no delicate fiberoptics) cables.
SCINI's purposes include
1) providing a cheap and speedy way to evaluate possible scientific sites. Drilling, blasting, or melting holes large enough for divers can take several days. Local fluctuations in light, temperature, current, etc. can create undesirable nonrepresentative microenvironments. Winter Quarters Bay is very polluted; it contains more PCBs than LA harbor for example. Until 2003 raw masticated sewage was dumped into McMurdo Sound; the pile of sludge resting under the pipe is predicted to remain there for thousands of years before breaking down.
2)making deeper, longer dives than human divers can acheive. During the 1960's Dr Paul Dayton of the Scripps University conducted many experiments involving long-term growth observations of local sea life. These are known as the "Lost experiments" because many of them were below 40m, the current accepted maximum safe diving depth. SCINI can access these sites and collect decades worth of data. Long dives also make mapping of hard-to-access sub-ice areas possible.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

good time at the halloween party last night...
went out to Cape Evans today and visited the hut that Scott and his party wintered in during 1910-1911 before they started on their fatal South Pole expedition. They set out on this very day- November 1 - 98 years ago. They reached the pole just after the rival Norwegian Amundsen expedition. The norwegian expedition made use of arctic standards such as skis and dogsleds, while Scott used a less effective combination mechanical sleds, manpower, and horses. On the way back Scott's party ran into rough weather and their progress was slowed. Starving and frostbitten, the team lost first one man to injuries and a then second who, near death, walked out into a storm rather than be a burden to the desperate team. The three surviving members of the original 5-man group hunkered down in their Scott tent through a storm at the end of March and never woke up again. Their bodies were recovered later that season.
There's a joke that goes: why did the English come to Antarctic?
Answer: to put up crosses.
Scotts hut was used as a refuge a few years later by some of Shackleton's men when their ship broke free and drifted away north in the pack ice. Above the hut on a hill is a cross dedicated to three members of the Shackleton expedition who died nearby. After 1917 the hut was buried under drifts until the 1950's, when it was dug out and its contents were found to be remarkably well preserved. The hut is 50' by 25', constructed of wood with a rubberized roof, and insulated with seaweed. A addition on the north side was built to house Scott's horses.
The hut's interior is dim and saturated with a smell of rancid seal meat that was strong enough to make me feel slightly nauseaus after a while. It included a large kitchen still stocked with boxes of flour and butter, cans of "pea flour" and preserved cabbage, and bags of cocoa. The hut was kept quite warm by a combination of acetylene, coal, and blubber burned in the kitchen stove and a second warming stove. The center of the hut held a long well-worn dining table, and its edges were lined by sleeping areas, storage, and benches covered with scientific equipment. At the huts rear was a 1911 era darkroom complete with necessary chemicals. Scott, the doctor, and an officer had semi-private sleeping quarters in a rear corner. The beds were short wooden platforms, still holding reindeer skin sleeping bags and surrounded by shelves of spare wool socks and sweaters. Scotts rough wool blankets looked a lot like the ones they gave me for my bed.
The wind and sun had dried the hut's exterior to a bleached white color. Scattered nearby lay the bones and skeletons of what seemed to be every dog and seal that had died in the vicinity. A couple of dogs were whole and mummified, one still attached to its chain.
From the hill above the hut I enjoyed the most beautiful view I've ever seen- looming Mt Erebus with its glacial tongue pushing out into the ice of the bay, sea ice bounded by high ice cliffs stretching north, permanent surface of the Ross Ice shelf stretching south, and the tall rugged Royal Society Range across the bay. All was painted in the array of blue, purple, yellows, white, and orange light peculiar to the Antarctic.
On the Delta ride to the Hut we stopped and got out to look at some penguins standing half a mile from us. To our surprised delight as soon as they saw our 21 member group they waddled over to within a few feet of us and checked us out. When they got close enough their yellow necks identified them as Emperors. They slid around on their bellies some and made that funny lonely call that penguins make. I'll have to try and get some of Docs pictures of the event. They had a good look at our Delta then continued on across the road.
Our final stop was an ice cave created by the interaction of seawater with the Erebus ice tongue. It was very beautiful, filled with intricate ice crystals and deep blue light.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Weather forecast for Halloween looks pretty mild- neg 10 with a 10-20 knot wind. It would be downright warm without the wind...
However forecasts here are extremely unreliable

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunday Night Science Lecture

BBC was in the mess hall last Sunday night to tell us about their new 6-part documentary series 'Frozen Planet' and show some sneak-peak footage. NSF, the Discovery Channel, and the BBC are collaborating on this upcoming series. BBC is providing the talent in Antarctica and using the same kind of innovative filming technology and techniques used to produce the Planet Earth series.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Weddell seals link
Dive tended for the producer of an Antarctica underwater documentary today. It was an ice dive through a 4' wide hole drilled through 6' thick sea ice out by Arrival Heights. A Weddell seal popped up and watched the divers get ready, then returned every 5-10 min and hung out breathing in the warm dive hut air, only a couple feet from my boots.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

almost over the 5-week Crud (knock on wood)... time for more hiking soon

Friday, October 16, 2009

First Ice Runway Operation

Called in on my Kelly day yesterday for our shift's first Ice Runway operation of the season. Ice Runway takes about 5 minutes to reach from town, versus at least 30 min to get to Pegasus. B shift had attempted to take the rehabilitated Red 1 out the day before, but it has developed a cold-transmission-fluid issue. Apparently the transmission line leaks if the truck is moved without warming it up for a good long time first. Red 6 was also out of service because of its turbo power issue, which will be a 12 hr repair when VMF gets a chance.
Equipment eccentricites aside, it was a good day. Checked out Station 2, a double-wide next to the runway that the ARFF shift stays at. Its fully supplied with TV, Internet, board games, and a nice sunny reading nook for the evenings so I'm happy. Bathrooms are a cold walk away in another building though.
Our first Basler arrived, having made the trip in tandem with an Otter down through South America and across the South Pole. The Otter had problems and stopped at the Pole while the Basler went on. Polies are probably going out on Monday.
Today packages came in... MP3 and camera battery included!
Our Mainbody firefighters have been here about a week and are in the midst of the Academy. Like us they got a tour of the desalinization Water Plant. It's an interesting process, more simple than I expected. Two seawater pumps collect water from just outside town and pump it to the water plant. Then the water is stored in large tanks and heated up from 28 degrees to 36 degrees. This is the most energy-intensive part of the process and is done with waste heat from the Power Plant (this heat is also used to heat Crary Science Building and the dorms in the form of glycol pipes that run aboveground up the hill from the power plant). Once warm, the water goes through a 100 micron filter (100 microns is the width of a human hair) to remove algae. Next it's forced at high pressure through a setup of 32 3-4' long tubular osmosis filters which remove the salts. The filters are worth $15000 apeice and the system can process 40,000 gallons a day. After processing chlorine, soda ash, a calcium mix, and CO2 are added to the water to keep it clean and make it less corrosive to pipes. (Lots less hazmat concerns than at the water treatment plant back home). Desalinization makes the water so ultra-pure that before they figured out how much salt to add back in the water actually leached metal from the pipes and caused significant damage to the distribution system. Untreated ultra-pure water isnt good for people either; a scientist at Crary drank it for awhile and ended up getting medevaced with cramps and heart issues. Finally, two freshwater pumps pump the treated water up the hill into town and maintain a system pressure of at least 55 psi. As far as fire protection goes, we have 150,000 gals of freshwater stored at the plant, as well as 8 fire hydrants distributed through town. Water mains are small and the terrain is hilly; hydrant flow ranges from 290-700 gpm.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I am a Raytheon employee.
The views expressed in this blog are mine alone and not the Company’s.
I am not authorized to act as a Company spokesperson, and
that statements and views expressed are not sanctioned or approved by the Company.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Pegasus operation of spring!

Fun and exciting new challenges of yesterday's shift:

Cpt, myself and another firefighter took Scat (Ford pickup with very big wheels and a lift) and Red 6 (4 yr old Ford pickup with the misfortune to be fitted out with large tracks which it was never designed to handle) out to Pegasus airfield at 1000 to find out how the ARFF rigs weathered yesterdays storm. The ARFF complement for the day was to be Red 1 (Challenger), and Red 3 and Red 6 (Renegades). These trucks really need pics to do them justice, so I'll leave explanations for after I get a new camera battery...
There were still a lot of funny winds present on the way out. We drove over several miles of Mcmurdo Sound sea ice. The first foot or two of air above the road was clouded with streamers of snow blowing northwest in the ~30mph winds, but the air cleared halfway to Pegasus when we entered the lee of the distant White Island. Driving conditions were better than usual; apparently the wind had swept most of the soft drifts off the road and we didnt get bogged down as much as on previous trips.
We beat Red 6 out to the airfield, but moments after we arrived 6 called us back to assist them with "engine trouble". The sea ice road took on a surreal quality on the trip back. The sun was ahead of us, and in the extreme cold it was framed by the pinks and greens of high nacreous clouds. Pegasus is on clear, hard snow, out of the lee of White Island. Soon after we turned back, the island's lee became visible again as a two clearly demarcated walls of wind on either side of a several mile-wide section of calmer air with dark, still snow underneath it. We entered the wind shadow and weaved and shimmied through the drifts while 100' high snow-devils were born out of the eddies at the edges of the lee and raced onto the road before and behind us. To our right the ice shelf stretched south, bright with curling foglike tongues of airborne snow.
We reached Red 6 and were informed that it had made a 'loud bang, shuddered, and lost all forward motion'. With drive shaft intact, forward and reverse motion spontaneoulsy reestablished, and no fluids leaking, we decided to resume the drive out to Pegasus.
Once there I was assigned a check on Red 3, and promptly made the mistake of thinking the truck was all set because there was little drifting around it and the radiator was clear in front. After checking the rest of the truck I popped the hood and found that every last inch of the engine compartment, from axle to hood, was firmly packed with fine snow. Half an hour of digging and an hour of quality time with a Herme heater later, Red 3 started up and ran just fine. Drove her around on her Matt tracks (which maneuver nicely compared to the larger Grip Tracks on her cousin Red 6) so the water dripping from the engine compartment wouldnt freeze them up. She went well and is probably our most reliable ARFF rig. She carries a big box in back with 4 large nitrogen cylinders that flow agent to a preconnected 1 3/4" line, a booster reel, and a remotely controlled turret in front.
Cpt checked Red 1. It started (!!!) but when he opened the package there was a 6" deep pool of foam from a small leak that had been going for the 3 days that Pegasus was inacessible. The rig was also semi-buried by several feet of very hard drifted snow. Thus began a ballet of mechanics, plumbers, and firefighters shoveling and shuffling trucks, all rushing to beat the 1330 estimated arrival time for the day's C17...
Red 2 (the other Challenger) was brought out and made it all right. Red 3 thawed and ran. Red 6 made it to the airfield a little behind us, and after the mechanics looked at it they informed us that other than the transmission, brakes, steering pump, turbo system, low nitrogen cylinders, and a blown suspension airbag, then truck was good to go. We dug out Red 1 most of the way and she rolled the rest of the way. Cpt fixed the leak, but Red 2 was primary for the operation.
The wind died down a little in the afternoon, but I proceeded to bet that the plane would boomerang (ie circle and head back to Christchurch without landing). It landed in the ~25mph gusty crosswind. I now owe Lt D. one Tui beer. Landing, offload, takeoff without incident, other than a D-6 (?) dozer had taken the place of our mail on the flight...
That evening Red 1, Red 2, and Red 6 all made their way back to the island without incident (I think). After dinner we (the original crew of sufferers from Pegasus that morning) spent 3 or 4 lovely hours at the Vehicle Maintenance Facility in the back package of Red 1 chipping foam from around hoses, tubes, and wires and from difficult-to-access spaces beneath tanks and machinery on the floor. Red 1 does not smell very good when warm. Sometime around 0100 everyone turned in, all machinery having been returned to a semi-functional status.
Strangely, this was a pretty fun day, foam chipping and all. Not an unusual day; its pretty representative of how quickly equipment breaks down out here. Antarctic remains all that I hoped... now for three days off of reading, writing, and playing the market.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Condition 1 storm predicted for tonight/tomorrow with 70mph gusts!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sunday Science Lecture: Sea Ice Microbes

Last Sunday's science lecture was presented by Andrew Martin of the University of Tasmania, Australia. His group is conducting an in situ study of microbes in sea ice. One of the focuses of the study involved drilling ice cores, then flipping them and replacing them so that the microbes at the bottom of the cores were subjected to surface conditions of temperature extremes, variable salinity, and sunlight. 36 ice core sections were monitored for a period of 18 days during Winfly. In spite of increased nourishment available in the form of light, subsurface microbes failed to thrive on the surface due to light shock and temperature sensivity.

The team identified about 20 taxa of algae and 25 phylotypes of bacteria in Antarctic sea ice. Cores are taken from relatively thin sections of ice (3-6' thick). Apparently most of the Winfly research took place at a location remote from McMurdo, as local cores contained relatively few microbial specimens.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Crary tour

Went on my first guided tour of Crary Lab today. Crary is the main science building on base. It's named for Albert P. Crary (1911-1987), who was a great polar physicist and glaciologist and the first man to set foot on both Poles. He led extensive research and many scientific expeditions in Antarctica.

The building consists of 3 levels and provides lab facilities for biological, geological, astronomical, and atmospheric research, as well as a library and meeting rooms and an aquarium.

The tour was really excellent and touched on a variety of subjects. Myself and the new doc were the only ones who showed today, and when doc had to leave early it ended up as a private tour. Lots of interesting discussions on current science projects, including camera research on the low-light hunting habits of Weddell seals, local atmospheric monitoring, seismic stations that are part of the global earthquake detection system, work on Erebus (including a camera that records footage of the constantly venting/erupting crater), and an ice microbe study.

The Weddell seal group was there when we arrived but were running out in order to capture and retrieve footage from the 3rd of 5 seals they've equipped with monitoring devices during Winfly. A member of a Kiwi science team was in; theyre wrapping up a study involving drilling cores of sea ice and subjecting the microbes found at the bottom of the ice cores to varying temperatures while measuring their changing health and ability to produce and store nutrients. Interpretations hopefully to give insight into the possible effects of global warming and sea temperature changes. Also discussed a recent series of mysterious dog deaths on North Island NZ beaches. For what is it worth opinion in our little Antarctic outpost is that the dogs were killed by tetrodotoxin, a byproduct of a cyanobacterial algal bloom which was concentrated by carnivorous sea slugs, which washed up on the beach and were eaten by the dogs. Tetrodotoxin is an extremely potent neurotoxin (its the one found in pufferfish); the dogs died within minutes of ingesting the sea slugs.

This is a good excuse to post pictures of sea slugs (nudibranchs), which are my favorite ridiculously beautiful sea creatures. (altough the ones in Antarctica only come in white, and aren't poisonous- actually I was just holding one unfortunate enough to end up in Crary's aquarium)

Basler BT-67

So the word is we'll be seeing mostly C17s, C130s, and twin otters here. However in a couple weeks a Basler is supposed to fly in.

The Basler's a twin engine turboprop BT-67 (a converted DC3). It is suitable for short, rough, remote airstrips, has long range with a heavy payload, and is used for a variety of civilian and military applications. It carries a load of 5 tons, standard fuel load of 5000lbs (775 gals), is 68' long, and has a range of about 2000 miles. DC3s are rugged planes; some are still flying retrofitted on airframes used in WWII. Sayings attached to the DC3s: "the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3" ... "a collection of parts flying in loose formation."

Interesting story about a failed takeoff a couple years ago at a field camp near South Pole:

New York Times

World Briefing Antarctica
10 Survive Plane Crash

Published: December 22, 2007
A DC-3 aircraft chartered by the National Science Foundation crashed while taking off from a remote research site in West Antarctica. Although the plane was heavily damaged, none of the 10 people on board were injured, the agency said. The crash occurred near Mount Patterson, where researchers are deploying G.P.S. units and other sensors to obtain data on changes in Antarctic ice sheets. A foundation spokesman said the six passengers and four crew members were flown out on another aircraft. The site is about 550 miles from the main American research and logistical hub at McMurdo.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nacreous Cloud Pics

More on nacreous clouds and pics taken during Winfly by my trusty little Olympus, which has survived mild freezing 3 times now! (think you'll like this, dad)

As explained during a sunday science lecture by Dr Terry Deschler, atmospheric scientist, nacreous clouds are formed of very small particles like chlorine which refract light very effectively. The angle of refraction is very localized so the brilliant colors in the clouds are constantly changing minute to minute as air currents flow through. Many of these are lenticular clouds- formed by a standing wave of cold air rising up over mountainous terrain. Air must be very cold to form nacreous clouds, so they're generally only seen at very high altitudes over mountains during cold times of the year when there's low-angle sunlight.

The chlorine in the clouds is actually breaking down ozone as we watch- chlorine combines with 03 to form ClO and O2, then ClO interacts further with O3 to form Cl and O2. Thus the chlorine is recycled in the equation and oxygen is formed from the breakdown of ozone.

Atmospheric chlorine comes from natural reservoirs such as acid clouds in the atmosphere. (Interestingly high-flying fighter jets experience etching of glass and metal due to atmospheric acid, and many commercial airliners needed scarred windows replaced in the months after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo released sulfuric acid into the atmosphere). The breakdown of CFCs has added to Earth's natural reservoirs of atmospheric chlorine and resulted in the ozone hole in the Southern Hemisphere. There is actually more chlorine in the skies over equatorial latitudes, but the chemical processes which break down ozone occur at high latitude. Ozone is produced naturally by O2 interacting with the solar winds. Therefore banning of CFCs means eventually the excess chlorine will be naturally cycled out and the ozone layer should reseal, but this will take several generations.

In the meanwhile we enjoy a beautiful pheonomenon with disturbing implications behind it.

day 3 of 3 days in a row off... slept in late, read, got online, movie, workout, and karaoke.
Sposed to be a flight in tomorrow to take winterovers out, but theyre calling for another storm so it doesnt look good

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Easy day of cleaning bays, truck checks, inventorying ambo, EMS scenario, PT, lunch, then inspections, and compressor training.
Originally we had a flight scheduled to come into Pegasus today, take out winterovers, and bring in our new summer people. But it was cancelled by snow. Condition 2 out on the Ice Runway today, not looking good for the winterovers....

(Condition 3= good weather, free travel
Condition 2= no recreational travel= wind 48-55 knots, OR windchill -75 to -100, OR visibility < 1/4 mile
Condition 1= all personnel must stay indoors where they are until weather clears, except in emergency situations = sustained winds > 55 knots OR < neg 100 windchill OR visibility < 100'
debris such as small rocks, sheet metal, etc tends to get picked up and flung around, so bad time to be outside.

As Rob 1.2 (?) says, its not THAT the wind's blowing, it's WHAT the wind's blowing

Monday, September 28, 2009

Warm enough for Snow today!
Winterovers are unsettled because their flight out's tomorrow though...

First scheduled Pegasus airfield coverage for me tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Medevac Article from NY Times

NZ Air Force Medevacs Sick Man From Antarctic

NY Times

'September 21, 2009'

Published: September 21, 2009
Filed at 7:38 a.m. ET
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- An American working at a U.S. scientific base on the frozen continent of Antarctica has suffered heart problems and was being evacuated to New Zealand, the New Zealand air force said Monday.
The air force was asked to help Sunday and sent a Hercules C130 airplane on the 16-hour return flight, New Zealand Sq. Ldr. Richard Beaton said in a statement. The man suffered cardiac problems at the McMurdo base and was being flown to a hospital in Christchurch, southern New Zealand, for treatment.
He had been working as part of the U.S. Antarctic Program and was in a serious but stable condition, Beaton said. The man's name and hometown were not immediately available, nor was more information about his illness.
''He needed immediate evacuation from here for treatment'' but was stabilized for the flight, Raytheon Polar Services operations manager Kerry Chuck told The Associated Press by telephone from McMurdo.
Colorado-based Raytheon provides communications, logistics and other support services for the U.S. National Science Foundation's programs in Antarctica.
Two New Zealand defense force medics and two civilian medical staff were also on board the Hercules C130 airplane to provide medical aid during the flight back to New Zealand, Beaton said.
''Medical evacuation is a capability the air force can deliver as and when required,'' said Beaton. ''Our crews are experienced flying in and out of Antarctica and this task doesn't present any issues for us.''

Crack Spackling

One of the AFD duties is... crack spackling
Tidal movements, wind, waves, glacial movements, etc. make the 6'-12' thick sea ice shift and crack. We take our 3500 gallon tanker out and dump loads of freshwater onto the ice to fill in cracks that run across roads.
Today we also assisted in building the Ice Runway. In September, when the sea ice is thick and stable, Fleet Ops spends weeks scraping and leveling out a 10,000' runway for LC-130s. C-17s, and smaller planes. The surface of polar snow gets wind-blown into sastrugi- waves similar to the ripples on a sanddune, but on a larger scale, which have to be knocked down with heavy equipment. The Ice Runway provides a close, convenient landing spot right next to the station until the ice starts to melt in Nov/Dec.
Today it was nice- about 20 below and calm. We ran water out through a couple 2 1/2s to fill in three 3' wide crevasses that the dozer had pushed soft snow into. Once we shut down the lines we have to walk them out and roll them immediately or theyll freeze solid.
Working outside in turnout gear at 20 or 30 below in calm weather is surprisingly comfortable; it feels like Maine except that you have to watch each other's cheeks for frostbite and it's difficult to keep fingers warm unless you draw them out of the fingers of your glove and make a fist. They have some really good iron/salt chemical hand warmers here, but your fingers still freeze after a while. One of our guys got some frostnip on his cheek a week ago and its still healing. And if you go for a hike on a windy day, even if you're dressed in ECW (extreme cold weather gear), you really understand quickly what frail little animals humans are. I've had the same feeling trying to hold myself still against the force of fast, deep water, or when a wave tumbles me off my surfboard and holds me under for an uncomfortably long time. Wrapped up in a lethal force like that you start to wonder how long you could hold out if you had to, before giving up. Then you come up for air or wander into a warm comfy building and wonder how on Earth did Steven Callahan, Shackleton, and Mawson do it? Daily life in America, with its MVAs and crime, is probably a lot more dangerous than life here in McMurdo. But here most of those little distractions and competitions of hectic modern city life get stripped away and you get to be close to nature and think a little about your humble place in the grand scheme of things.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shoveled snow today.. what else?

Monday, September 21, 2009

hot chocolate coffee and 4 square after a busy day conducting a Medevac at Pegasus

Sunday, September 20, 2009


btw, remember all my posts and info are susceptible to the occasional FNGy mistake :)

(FNGy- "fin-jee" - Ice term; F---ing New Guy/Girl)

So what's involved in a Medevac from Antarctica?

Here's some insights from a recent discussion...

So what's involved in a Medevac from Antarctica?

1)EMS is called. Dispatch/EMS notifies medical immediately and gives a basic patient report. Medical personnel (the doc, nurse/labtech/xray tech/pharmicist) respond to the clinic if they're off-duty at the time. EMS treats and transports.
2)Medical clinic stabilizes patient, performs basic tests such as xray and labs, administers medications and conducts basic procedures. EMS assists as requested.
3)Early in treatment patient is triaged and a medevac decision is made by the medical team.
4)Ongoing treatment of patient.
If Medevac is called for, several station departments go to work to get ready for the flight. At this time of year for instance, no regular flights are coming in. This year there are two airfields at McMurdo: an annual sea ice runway for the warm season which is still under construction, and the year-round runways at Pegasus airfield. Because Pegasus is not active it must be supplied with electricity and basic infrastructure for the flight. Pegasus runway has to be groomed. The road to Pegasus (a 1-2 hr trip depending on conditions) passes over the rugged land-to-sea-ice Transition and the ARFF vehicles need to put in service and gotten past the Transition and out to Pegasus. On the other end, a medical crew preferably including a doc needs to be assembled in Christchurch, NZ. NZ or the US supplies a C17 (5 hr flight 1-way) or an LC130 (8 hr flight) and flight crew. Then the weather needs to be decent (by Antarctic standards).

What does all this cost? According to my sources, scheduled C130 flights to the Ice run around $150-200,000. A Medevac is more in the neighborhood of $1mil. So what's the cap on your health insurance policy?
Up to 18.5mil in ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) funds to Raytheon via the NSF and Obama for use in Antarctica. Prime uses to include The Traverse (annual overland supply trip from the Ross Sea at McMurdo to the South Pole Station) and INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS
Embarking on an endeavor to converse with someone who's spent a career fighting fire in the extreme cold.

We have some good innovations down here, but I know there's more we could do.

Startin with
Had an interesting call last night... not to be a dork, but firefighting in Antarctica is everything I hoped it would be... you wouldn't believe the stories you hear down here

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One call today- smoke alarm going off at Building #141... gonna be slow til Mainbody flights start up

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aurora Australis

We saw some faint auroras last night around 0100 high in the northern sky. They were visible as light white bands that dimmed and brightened as they shifted against the backdrop of stars.

Auroras are the result of interaction between gas particles of the earth' s upper atmosphere and solar wind (a constant stream of plasma traveling out from the sun at 250mile/sec). They occur 50-150 miles above the surface. Atmospheric atoms such as oxygen are excited by the solar winds and emit light of characteristic colors. Oxygen emits red and green light, nitrogen emits light blue-purple light, and neon emits a rare orange light. Astronomers are able to deduct the chemical composition of fawaray galaxies by measuring the electromagnetic frequency (ie color) of the light that reaches us from their direction.

Imagine poking a copper wire into the top of an orange, then bending the wire down and around and sticking its other end into the bottom of the orange. Your result would be a good model of the Earth's magnetic field. The geometry of this field means that solar wind speeds are greatest and excite atmospheric particles the most near the poles, especially during the equinoxes when the earth is straight on its axis. While most auroras are observed at high latitudes, in 1859 an aurora occured over the skies of Boston that was bright enough to read a book by. Such a powerful magnetic storm today would produce trillions of watts of electricity and disrupt telecommunications, air traffic control, power grids, and GPS systems.

Additionally, some of the outer planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, have very strong magnetic fields that produce spectacular auroras in alien skies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Playing the Market from Antarctica

Playing the stock market in Antarctica... Bottom of the earth, periods of 24 hr darkness, temperatures down to -100, limited internet connectivity and phone communications that are... as I understand it so far... transmitted across McMurdo Sound by microwave to a communications outpost at Black Island, beamed up to a satellite, received in Australia, and sent via underwater cable to the States.
Sounds like a good idea, right?
So far anyway(knock on wood)... oh well dont bet what you cant afford to lose.

Feeling a little fuzzy today after a week of The Cold from Hell. Not sure what it was but an acquaintance got so wiped by it he sat down outside his work building to rest and decided it was a good idea to take a nap there (-30 that day). Fortunately a coworker came along. Been up for 3 days coughing, station store's closed... the doc took a look at me and offered me my first taste of Schedule IIIs. Vicodin woohoo! Turned it down though, jeez all i wanted was some Nyquil! Hope they add this strain to the flu shot brew for next year.

Feeling better now. My Kelly day's tomorrow so I get three days off. Did a P90X cardio workout today followed by Abs. Thinking about a hike to Castle Rock this week. Explanation: We work 24 on 24 off and each of us has an assigned Kelly day that we get off. Mine is Thursday so I'm always off on Thursdays. The way it works out this month is that I work this Tuesday, off Thursday, work Sat, Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun, Tues, then get my Thursday off again and so forth.

Shift change is at 0800 every day, so we're expected to be at the station by 0745 to get our gear on the truck we're assigned to for the day, tag in, and check our MSA pack over, relieve the offgoing person assigned to that seat and get a briefing from them. Our first shift was Tuesday. We spent the morning cleaning the station and fixing equipment (it breaks down fast and frequently here). We have a 1 hour workout then lunch. We spent the afternoon doing Driver/Operator and Dispatch training. The remainder of the shift, 1700-0800, is our own time to spend as we see fit. At 0800 the second day we do shift swap including a group briefing with the oncoming crew, then we have the day to ourselves.

After working an ungodly number of hours/wk the past 18 months, it's really, really great to have Time to do simple things like read, workout, and hang out with people.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

happy to answer any questions!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Nacreous Clouds

Beautiful nacreous clouds tonight... description and example pics from wiki (antarctic pics to follow):

Polar stratospheric clouds, also known as nacreous clouds, are clouds in the winter polar stratosphere at altitudes of 50,000–80,000 ft. They are implicated in the formation of ozone holes; their effects on ozone depletion arise because they support chemical reactions that produce active chlorine which catalyzes ozone destruction, and also because they remove gaseous nitric acid, perturbing nitrogen and chlorine cycles in a way which increases ozone destruction.

The stratosphere is very dry; unlike the troposphere, it rarely allows clouds to form. In the extreme cold of the polar winter, however, stratospheric clouds of different types may form, which are classified according to their physical state and chemical composition.
Due to their high altitude and the curvature of the surface of the Earth, these clouds will receive sunlight from below the horizon and reflect it to the ground, shining brightly well before dawn or after dusk.
PSCs form at very low temperatures, below −78 °C. These temperatures can occur in the lower stratosphere in polar winter. In the Antarctic, temperatures below −88 °C frequently cause type II PSCs. Such low temperatures are rarer in the Arctic. In the Northern hemisphere, the generation of lee waves by mountains may locally cool the lower stratosphere and lead to the formation of PSCs.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Weather in McMurdo

Negative 100 windchill yesterday, -91 today! Winterovers say its about the coldest weather all winter.

Antarctica is the highest, driest, and coldest continent. Snow accumulates continuously at the pole and is compressed gradually into a pancake ice sheet which is about 3miles thick at the pole and thins to nothign at the edges where it melts/breaks away. Like glass, even though it seems solid, ice flows. The weight of 3 miles of ice causes ice to flow outward from the zone of accumulation at the pole towards the edges of the ice sheet. Most ice caps and glaciers are wet-bottom; pressure causes a lubricating layer of meltwater to form beneath the glacier. Because Antarctica is so cold, it is covered in dry-bottom ice. Some scientists fear that global warming could convert Antarctic ice to the wet-bottom variety and accelerate flow and melting at the edges. The Antarctic ice sheet holds 61% of the world's freshwater.

South Pole is considered high elevation (9,186ft - note: the difference between 9186ft and 3 miles is due to the weight of the ice pressing the bedrock down- the ice is thicker than the elevation of the pole is high). Weather at the Pole tends to be calm, cold, and sunny. An enormous force is created by the Pole's altitude and the density of the cold air there which results in "Katabatic winds" ("downslope winds") which often exceed hurricane force at shore locations such as McMurdo. (Cold dense air warms as it travels downslope and in warmer regions can become hot and dry; another example of a katabatic wind is the Santa Anas fueling the fires in California. In Antarctica everything is so cold that the warming effect is negligible. It is very very dry here though). Pics from wiki.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

McMurdo Station and Ross Island

With a summer pop of 1100 McMurdo Station is the largest base in Antarctica and the main transit point for half the continent. The station is located on a peninsular extension of Ross island, a volcanic island that lies on the Ice Shelf-Seasonal Sea Ice Transition and is distinguished by the southernmost bare ground accessible by sea. Mt Erebus, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and the southernmost active volcano in the world, is one of the two main volcanoes on Ross Island. During summer months Erebus coats the town and everything in it with a continuous outpouring of abrasive volcanic ash. Ross island contains 3 airfields, a summer ice pier, and the heads of land routes to neaby NZ the South Pole. The station is populated by scientists and a large support staff.

Some background on the Antarctic Fire Department

AFD is a full time department working 24 on 24 off with a crew of about a dozen during the austral winter and around 50 during the austral summer. We have three stations- station 1 in McMurdo town, station 2 at the airfield, and station 3 covering the South Pole town/airfield. We are equipped for crash rescue, structural firefighting, hazmat, and EMS. Abundance of hazardous materials, importance of individual buildings to station operation, climatic extremes, limited staff and water supply, and lack of mutual aid all mean we have to respond and mitigate incidents with all possible speed. Apparatus include 2 engines, 2 ambos, 6 ARFF vehicles, and a command unit.