As I’ve written about life in Antarctica in the past, you can get people to turn out for just about anything if it is different than the routine.
As I’ve gotten to know a couple of the NOAA folks on station, and one of the meteorological technicians, I started to hear more and more about “the biff.” If there is one universal truth of Antarctic life, it is that an acronym or abbreviation enhances nearly all facets of life. So, I assumed that “the biff” was merely the pronunciation used by those in the know for YAA (Yet Another Acronym). The BIF, or Balloon Inflation Facility, is a “temporary” building, erected in 1995, where balloons are filled, payloads are attached, and then the whole mess is set free to monitor weather, ozone, CFCs, and other components of our atmosphere.
The day I went out to observe a balloon launch was the day that the NOAA crew sent up their once a week ozone sounding balloon to sample ozone levels at varying altitudes. The Met techs (that’s the local slang for meteorological technicians) send up balloons twice a day, at 10:00 and 22:00, but their balloons are smaller, so I was interested to see this much larger balloon. The process of readying the balloon for launch is fairly straightforward. First, the workspace is cleared of all sharp objects (duh). Then, the latex balloon is attached to a helium inflation system which runs for several minutes to fill the balloon. Once the balloon is full, it is secured to the table with string so that an instrument package and a parachute can be attached. The parachute is used to slowly float the instrument package back to the ground once the balloon bursts so that readings can be taken on the way down, in addition to the way up. Finally, a pair of two-story steel doors are opened so that the balloon can be taken outside.
Once the balloon is outside, the drama is over fairly quickly. The balloon is released and ten to fifteen seconds later it has risen so far that it can no longer be seen.
Today, we had the second C-17 air drop ever at the Pole. The Air Force is practicing their air drops during the summer season so that if they ever needed to make a winter air drop, they would have some idea of what to expect. Last year, the air drop was a series of large containers that contained food that were all sent out the back of the plane in one go. This year, we had two drops of smaller boxes. The first drop was a series of eight to ten boxes. The C-17 then circled around again, and had another go. This time, two of the boxes tangled on the way out the door and they fell like stones to the snow. According to people who were working the drop, those boxes are deeply embedded in the snow. As you might expect, the air drop was a big event here on station, and a good number of people turned out to watch it. Weekly events like yoga, and the Wednesday night documentary film series were also cancelled so that people could see the air drop.
Once the air drop itself was concluded, the C-17 made a series of low level passes down the skiway. The theory there was that if the Air Force had to do a winter air drop, they would try and drop on the skiway, rather than way out past the antenna farm. That would make retrieval significantly easier for the winterovers. There is no reason to make them battle distance, in addition to brutal temperatures and darkness.
In other, more personal news, today was a big day for me: shower day. I took my second shower since I arrived on station last Wednesday. We only get two, two minute showers per week, but maybe that just makes each one that much sweeter.
I’m looking forward to Friday night. Since there are no television signals at the Pole, we get a series of DVDs from McMurdo every Thursday or Friday that contain many of the televised football games from the previous weekend. Since the Vikes played on Monday night, we’ll get that game, no doubt. Every Friday night at 19:30, a number of us gather in one of the lounges to watch one game on TV as a group. Since the organizer of that event is also a Vikings fan, we may end up watching that game on the big screen. Regardless, I could always get the DVD and watch the game myself on my laptop.