Once again, I find myself at the South Pole.
My ice flights this year were quite nice. Last year I shared the plane with over 90 people and a firetruck. This year, the C-17 flight out of Christchurch to McMurdo only had 27 people on it, so they filled up the plane with cargo. I sat along the side of the plane with a 10-ton bulldozer right in front of me and a box of corrosive, flammable methanol phosphoric acid to my left. The bulldozer seemed to be held in place with far too few chains for its size and weight, so I found myself making plans to quickly jump on top of the tracks if the thing started to slip towards me rapidly during flight. Fortunately, we landed at Pegasus field near McMurdo without incident.
McMurdo hasn't changed. It sill looks like a mining town that, strangely enough, doesn't engage in mining. The food still isn't great, the station is crowded, and the area is dirty in the summer when the ice and snow melt and the volcanic dust flies everywhere. One nice thing about McMurdo is that there are numerous recreational trails around it where people can go hiking. So, while I had time to kill, I availed myself of those opportunities and went on a couple of nice hikes. As the ice has thinned a bit near the station, the waddell seals have been breaking through the really thin bits to sun themselves on top of the thicker bits. It's not legal or very practical to get near the seals, so I got some pictures but they aren't great.
Despite some flight delays, we got out of McMurdo near our scheduled departure time and I arrived at the South Pole yesterday. For whatever reason, the altitude this year hasn't affected me nearly as much as it did last year when I first arrived. Maybe it's the Diamox (an altitude acclimation drug) or maybe I'm just imagining it. Because this wasn't my first year here, I got to skip the briefing that all first-timers have to endure when they first arrive. I got my berth assignment (I'm in the station itself again this year), dropped my bags in my room, and started having conversations about what needs priority attention while I'm here.
Today I toured a building we call ARO (pronounced air-o). ARO stands for Atmospheric Research Observatory. It primarily conducts research related to particles and compounds in the atmosphere. For instance, they monitor the number of CFCs in the atmosphere and they have data that demonstrate the affect that banning CFCs had in the recent past. They also monitor carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to support climate change science and ozone levels to monitor the fabled ozone hole. As part of my tour, I got a glass vial that is filled with "The World's Cleanest Air." ARO is a sector known as the Clean Air Sector and incredible care is taken to ensure that everything that can be done is done to ensure that station pollution doesn't reach ARO.
It hasn't been all sightseeing today, however. I had House Mouse duties this afternoon, so I had to clean the bathrooms on my floor. In addition, I started the process of knocking items off my own work to-do list.
The wind was quite strong here today which meant bitterly cold windchills, reduced visibility, and plenty of drifting snow. The winds here at the Pole aren't very strong compared to stations on the coast, but the low temperatures and the ice crystals always present in the air make even moderately strong winds quite unpleasant. Hopefully, today will be a bit calmer.
One of the three satellites that provides Internet connectivity to the Pole is currently unavailable to us, so we're down to less than eight hours a day of Internet access and those hours start at 02:30 local time. So I'll try to keep up my blog, but it may not be a daily affair.