As Saturday evening draws to a close at the South Pole, it is time to look back and reflect on the day.
Those who’ve never experienced 24-hours of sunlight, may not be aware of just what all that sun does to the human body’s sense of time. If there weren’t clocks on the walls here, the station would be seemingly timeless with nothing to help one gauge the passing of time. 07:00 looks the same as 12:00. 12:00 looks the same as 01:30. Even though I won’t be able to post this writing until the morning, I’m writing it about 23:30 local time. I’m sitting in a room with windows and there is so much sun pouring through the windows that it feels like 14:00 or 15:00 hours on a sunny day in Wisconsin.
All of that sun makes sleeping and waking times almost arbitrary. The so-called Night Shift goes to work in bright sunshine, eats their lunch in bright sunshine, and gets off of work in bright sunshine.
When I get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, the light streaming in through the windows on the way to the restroom trigger my body’s waking mechanisms, which makes it somewhat difficult to get back to sleep.
Then again, as the Northern Hemisphere moves rapidly towards the shortest day of the year, I’ve got all the sunshine I need to avoid the seasonal blahs.
Today was something of a laid back day for the group of which I’m part. We’re waiting for some work to get done so that we can leap in to action on Monday and create 24-48 hours of chaos while we rip the still beating heart of the network out and replace it with a newer, better, faster one. Or, that’s the theory at least.
That’s not to say that I didn’t do any work today. Most everyone at the Pole works six days a week, at a minimum. Instead of engaging in some complex and risky systems administration, I spent my time exploring the existing systems looking for potentially difficult situations to manage come Monday. Many of the systems have lacked for a relatively disinterested party to oversee them, so there are some rough spots that need to be smoothed out yet.
As part of that process, I toured several of the out-buildings that house some of IceCube’s legacy systems, as well as equipment and systems for other scientific projects. You’ve never seen so many oscilloscopes, build-it-yourself cables, one-off computers, and other crazy science gear.
While I was putting some gear together in the B2 Science Lab, I took this photo of myself with a webcam that I was configuring.
Dinner was pizza tonight and while it looked good, it’s not about to knock any of My Top Ten Pizza Joints off the list. Interestingly enough, the only vegetables or fruit served tonight were on the pizza itself. At almost every meal, at least one form of vegetables is available, often more than one. While none of the cooked vegetables are remotely tasty (frozen vegetable medley isn’t likely to make anyone’s list of favorite foods), they are a good way to get fiber and nutrients that meat just doesn’t provide.
After dinner, I took a tour of the old station known as The Dome. The Dome was the station of record before the current station, the Elevated Station, was built. The Dome and its attached tunnels, known as The Arches, are being slowly swallowed by the snow here. The Dome is a geodesic dome, but if they don’t remove The Dome soon, it will be crushed as the snow is piling up unevenly on the surface and starting to warp the Dome.
Life in the The Dome was vastly different than what we know in the Elevated Station. If I want to eat a meal, I just climb a flight of stairs from my berth, and walk down to the other end of the station. In the Dome, I would have been forced outside of all heated structures to find the galley. The walk wouldn’t have been far, but in -80°F, even a twenty foot walk is a test of endurance in street clothes.
The Dome is still used, but now almost completely for storage. There are boxes and boxes of food stored there. Boxes of frozen seafood, beef, tomato paste, and whatnot are stacked all around the Dome, waiting to be hauled into the Elevated Station for use by the kitchen. There are no mice, rats, raccons, or mammals other than humans here at the Pole to nibble on the food stored so completely unprotected. In addition, there are no bugs to infest things like bags of flour or boxes or cereal. In short, the very deadness of this place helps to keep the food safe.
While I out scouting the outbuildings and the Dome earlier today I discovered some little luxuries that I appropriated to make myself more comfortable. I was quite excited to discover a cache of unused hangers which I immediately raided to supplement the one hanger that was in my berth when I got here. In the States running out of hangers is no big deal. You just run down to a drug store or department store and buy a pack of new hangers. Here at the Pole, getting more hangers is a bit more involved. Let’s say you want to get twenty hangers delivered to the Pole. First, you create the necessary paperwork detailing your needs and then you send that paperwork to the States. That paperwork is processed somewhere in the South (I’ve heard somewhere in Louisiana, though I’d be more inclined to believe Denver). The results of that processing might generate an order for twenty hangers, or two thousand hangers, you never know. The order is then fulfilled by government contractors. The hangers are then placed on a flight to New Zealand (if the hangers are needed urgently and it’s the austral summer). Otherwise, the hangers are placed on a ship bound for New Zealand. Once the hangers are delivered to New Zealand, they are flown to McMurdo as part of a cargo bundle. Once in McMurdo, the hangers are placed in a queue for flight to the South Pole. Eventually, the hangers make their way on to an LC-130 and they are delivered to the Pole where half of the shipment is immediately scavenged by others who need hangers. So, you will get your hangers, but it takes time and the end result is that you end up with some the world’s most expensive hangers due to the involved transportation costs.
It can be difficult to take pictures here. When you exhale in cold Polar weather, your breath immediately forms a little cloud of frost in front of your head. So, if you forget and exhale just before you push the shutter, you get a nice cloud of frost in front of your intended target.
The skylight at the top of the Dome. You may notice the rubber chicken that some enterprising winterovers suspended from the top of the Dome.
One of the frost-coated and snow-carpeted entrances to the Dome.