Dispatches 1999-2000

Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1999 18:44:54 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: New Zealand!

Christchurch in winter, well late winter - mighty nice. It's great to be back here and finally heading in the right direction. Reporting for deployment at 2:45 am tomorrow!

Caio for now,


Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 23:00:40 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: McMurdo Station

The town itself ain't pretty. But I didn't realize...well, words fail, pictures fail because I've seen pictures before and there's nothing like the snow-covered mountains, flat sea ice, immense huge long sunrise and sunset around the few hours the sun comes over the horizon. Matter of fact I'm going to go look at it again now.


Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 13:42:10 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: It is a desert

When the wind blows, there are snow devils in the streets. Yow!

Ok, so some of you are confused right now. It's late winter here, I'm at McMurdo Station, the main US base (biggest town in Antarctica!), there are 200-odd (very) people who have been here all winter (i.e., since Feb) with no physical contact with the outside world. This week there are 4 scheduled flights from NZ (2 have gone on schedule, 2 more waiting for plane parts) and then there are no more flights until late Sept. Those of us who came in on these flights (collectively, WinFly) are preparing for summer (Main Body). I'm very very happy to be here now because I get to see the change of seasons. Main Body people never see night here. Right now there are about 8 hours of sunrise and sunset, and a few hours of low sunlight. Temps -30's to -50's (F).

Still with the big grin,


Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 13:08:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: One day at McMurdo

This is what I did on Saturday, which is just another workday here.

The alarm goes off at 6:30. I grab my shower things in the dark because my groovy roommate Tatia (pronounced "Taysha") has a later shift in the galley. Down the hall to the common bathroom, shuffling in slippers (vegans don't look: lovely fuzzy sheepskin slippers from NZ, mmm). Back in the room, light on now, Tatia grunts and pulls the covers up. I put on: *socks and sock liners, light thermals under office clothes, *wind bibs, polarfleece vest or *jacket, *neck gaiter, fuzzy hat, big *red parka (name tag so you can tell whom you're talking to outside). *=Gov't issue Extreme Cold Weather ration. This is enough clothing for the 2-minute walk to the galley in bldg. 155. I slow down because the sky is blueing but stars are still out, Southern Cross right overhead. Observation Hill is a black triangle against the gradient of medium to dark blue. Then I speed up again because my nose hair is frozen.

Breakfast is homemade yogurt and granola, fresh-baked apple bread. Yum! The winter-overs are all excited because the last Winfly plane brought in the first fresh fruit they've seen in a long long time.

The Helpdesk office is in the upper floor of the Crary Lab. Once you get into the building through the big walk-in freezer doors it could be any science lab, until you get upstairs into the library and see the view down the slope of the hill across the frozen bay to Mt Discovery and the Royal Society range, and you see the colors slowly slowly change through the course of the whole day. The moon has just been full and it hangs just above the mountains, which slowly turn purple then pink and orange and sometimes there's a band of fog above or below the moon which also turns colors and sometimes the shadow of the hills behind the station is projected on the fog or ice haze or whatever it exactly is. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the Helpdesk office itself is a small windowless office next to the library.

Work is mostly answering telephones, along with some routine tasks. We have a pretty wide range of users and some idiosyncrasies built into the system. I'm learning from Jen who knows an awful lot.

At 8:30 I skip out for the drivers' briefing and receive my Antarctic Driver's License. Yay! Main points: how to use the special brake system that, unlike normal hand brakes, doesn't freeze here; people with their parka hoods up can't see or hear you coming; and always chock the wheels. They're still talking about the management yoyo who parked on a hill awhile back and chocked the uphill side of his wheels.

At lunch I run up to the greenhouse, which has no windows. It has an awful lot of lights though, and the walls are covered with reflective sheeting. Plants are grown hydroponically. It smells very good. Unfortunately the guy who runs it couldn't make the volunteer meeting so I have to wait to get my hands dirty.

The afternoon is pretty routine. I pop out into the library when I have the chance and gape at the view some more. Light slowly creeps away over the mountains.

Dinner and all the winter-overs are building themselves huge salads. They're pale but happy. Well, some are pale and grumpy. I hear lots more stories from past seasons and there's a small but intense napkin fight.

I'd better go back to my dorm and change now, there's a band playing at Gallagher's (the non-smoking bar) later tonight and if there's dancing I'm guessing the place could get pretty warm - it's not THAT big. Hope you all are well and having fun,


Date: Sun, 5 Sep 1999 16:30:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Brrr!

Cold shower in Antarctica! That was part of the sauna experience...it's a pretty nice sauna actually, tucked away in one of the upperclass dorms.

It's been a quiet week. Yesterday was my day off but it was gray and blowy, so no running around outdoors except for running between buildings. When the wind gets going here it's something serious! My parka quit zipping for a while and that was bad, but a friend fixed it.

I did get out on the Castle Rock loop with friends last week, that's a 7.-something mile trail. Amazing scenery, sunset all the way. Lots of rules: once you get off the road you stay on the flagged route because there are crevasses hiding under a skin of snow out there. You don't go out alone, you check out and back in at the Firehouse, you take a radio--and that's how it is! We were wearing layers and layers and layers and I discovered that anything outside of the parka freezes - like raisins and drinking water. Oops. I was surprised at how comfortable I was though. Gov't issue is good stuff. On the way back we stopped at Scott Base, the New Zealand station that's just two miles down the road. We visited a friend and drank Milo, which is a lot like hot cocoa but not exactly.

The tumult of Winfly is quieting down somewhat, the winterovers are getting used to the stress of new faces, the one shipment of fresh fruit & veggies is gone (we still get freshies from the greenhouse though). The sun is changing its path noticeably from day to day, when it's out at all. The last day it was visible the sunlight got down to some of the outlying buildings here. I'm sure when it clears up we'll have direct sunlight in town.

Next message I'll write some more about the wacky people down here. What kind of people sign up to spend a year in a freezer anyway?

Best to all,


Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 20:53:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Heat wave!

It hit 19F (-7C) here! The warm air brought in some weather with it; we got wind and snow for a couple of days. I can't say the wind was terribly strong because it never got both my feet off the ground at once, but between the snow and wind visibility was pretty much nil and the wind was howling between the buildings. We had plenty of drifts around the station once the storm was done. My only struggle was going up the greenhouse yesterday: it hasn't been shoveled out yet and the drift was halfway up the door. Getting in was easy enough but on the way out I had to clamber up onto the drift and then close the door by wedging my foot on the handle, with an arm draped over the light above the door. This took some effort because the latch has lost a couple of bolts and it's very difficult to get it closed properly - it's like an old-fashioned freezer door, very stiff to shut. And if it's not shut the plants will die! They're unhappy enough because the inside temperature got down into the 40s during the storm. After I got the door shut I was rewarded with sunset across the sound, all the mountains and clouds turning colors, and the thinnest new moon you ever saw hanging right over the NASA satellite transmission dome.

The season is changing fast now. Even though we haven't seen the sun itself in several days there's obviously more daylight and less twilight than before. People are starting to wear other coats than the ubiquitous red parkas.
Everybody is revving up for the beginning of Main Body. The first flights get here in two weeks. On the bright side, I'll be able to get mail! You can send me mail same as if this was in the States (it goes through CA), but there are some restrictions. No styrofoam (packing peanuts, etc.), no plants or dirt, nothing that will spoil on the way, no aerosols, no hazardous materials, and generally no excess packing materials (waste is a big deal here). I'd love to get photos, things to put on the wall etc. Letters usually get here from the States in 1-2 weeks, packages take 2-6 weeks, but the flat cardboard mailers from USPS or FedEx are treated as letters.

Hope you're all well! Best,


Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 16:16:21 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: No plane!

The first flight of Main Body was supposed to be yesterday, but a fortuitous snowstorm blew up and is helping preserve our peace and quiet - at least that's how I see it. The winterovers are starting to grumble about getting out of here. So we're sitting down here with a wind I can hear no matter how deep in the building I am, carrying enough snow so that I can barely see the outlines of the nearest buildings. In the meantime, the folks who are supposed to be here now are sitting in Christchurch in light-sweater weather, collecting per-diem allowances and ordering mai-tais. Maybe.

There's a downside to the good life, of course: bag-drag and boomerangs! Bag-drag happens before every flight, when you show up at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) at maybe 2:45 am to get ready to go. Boomerangs are flights that get part or even all the way here but are turned back to Christchurch because the weather isn't good enough for planes to land. Last year the weather here was consistently awful and everybody was going to bagdrags and getting sent back to their hotels, or getting sent out on flights that boomeranged. Some unlucky folks boomeranged 9 times before making it here. Ouch! It kinda makes sense, considering that the appearance of the sun is what sets off these weather patterns. It's been cold but calm all winter, I've heard.

Me personally, well I've been working hard of course and getting to know the place a bit better. It's been iffy weather the last couple of Sundays so no big outdoors adventures to report. The NZ base had a Polar Plunge (they chop a hole in the ice and jump in) but I skipped that. There are some interesting people down here and I'm trying to convince some of them to be Special Guest Writers. Stay tuned.

Still happy to be here,


Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1999 13:39:14 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Special Guest Writer: Commander

Commander's been here forever (and at South Pole and Palmer stations as well). He also remembers when there were only four women at McMurdo, same total population!

(Commander is a nickname, not a title. In case you were wondering.)

---------- Forwarded message from Commander ----------

Things you may not have considered about living in Antarctica.

Remote, but not isolated. Phones, e-mail, US Mail via an APO address in San Francisco, aircraft from New Zealand once a week in the summer. Satellites have replaced HF radios. Many field camps have e-mail as well. There are people carrying e-mail pagers that get zapped from a third of a world away. You cannot escape.

If you were running around barefoot all summer and can walk on anything except puncture vine, forget it. After three weeks in bunny boots or mukluks or even shoepacs, your feet will be soft mush.

No cats and kittens, no dogs and puppies, no kids. No retired people. Except for a gaggle of Distinguished Visitors (hereafter DVs) (not to be confused with the Dry Valleys) such as Senators and members of Congress, everyone works. Or is supposed to. No land plants except on the Peninsula. Lichens and nematodes. No land animals. Not many birds.

There will be Weddell seals in the summertime (don't get close) (because of the $10k fine) and skuas (cross between an eagle and a seagull). The nearest penguin colony is Cape Royds, 20 km away. Most people cannot go there. Some people have come down for years, and have never seen a penguin closer than a km away, walking on the sea ice. But sometimes they come to town.

McMurdo is a company town, 1000+ people in the summer. The National Science Foundation (NSF) owns it, divides some control among the various contractors. Don't make them angry. Mostly this means that there is only one source for anything, and often none.

This continent has the highest education level of any. There are flunkies with PhDs. There are supervisors with a courtesy pass out of high school. Often enuf, this is the way it should be. Dinner conversation can be interesting.

The Navy, which supplied logistic support for decades, is gone. The New York Air National Guard (NYANG, or the Guard) has taken over most fixed wing functions, but they are transients. The military used to envy civilians for two things. Our salaries, and the ability to quit.

Flexibility is the key to happiness in Antarctica.

Keep your survival training current and your bag packed. It may happen that you will get to go some place just by being more ready than the next person. Remember your camera.

Dry air. The humidity outside is low. Bring the air inside and warm it, and the relative humidity drops to 10% or less. Think of how your throat will react to that. But you do adapt.

Altho it rains at Palmer Station, just off the Antarctic Peninsula, it has rained only once in McMurdo (officially; there was an unofficial rain a few years ago), and a zeroF day at Pole is a heat wave. 20 to 30 below is a typical summertime temperature.

Antarctica is also the highest continent. The T-shirts read "Ski Pole. 9000' of base and half an inch of powder." All but a few hundred feet of that is snow compressed to ice. A desert is a place where little water falls. Around here it just never goes away. If it did, there would be trouble.

By the way, a couple of the ice shelves have broken up recently, and Palmer gets more rain than snow now. It may not be global warming, but it certainly is regional. Do you live close to the ocean?

Air density at Pole is 2/3 that of sea level. Puff.

McMurdo has three airports. Pegasus is on permanent ice. It is far from town and used only at the start and end of winter. In the summer the sun would destroy it, so it is covered with snow. The ice runway is built yearly on the sea ice, two meters thick. If you know planes, the sizes run from Twin Otter to Hercules (C130) to Starlifter (C141) to Galaxy (C5). If you leave the latter two parked too long, the ice starts to bend beneath them. Time to taxi. After the ice runway gets soft and slushy in December, operations move to Williams Field. If you get killed, sometimes they will name something after you. Williams went thru the ice in his Cat during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Willy is an airport built on the snow of the Ross Ice Shelf. Ski-equipped aircraft only, and that means the Otters and certain Hercs. Skis are not as slick as wheels, and the payload goes down as the drag goes up.

Pole has a skiway also. Other times the planes land in the field, on unprepared snow. Sometimes they find a crevasse that way. It happened last year. Ruins your day. No one got hurt much this time.

Fuel delivered to Pole costs about $11/gallon. Extrapolating, cargo costs around $1.50 a pound. Just how much do you want that can of beer?

McMurdo is an industrial town. On the average, one worker in three will be injured every year. Last year around three dozen required evacuation for medical reasons. OK, sometimes that was just a rotten tooth that the dentist did not want to treat here. The program has averaged around one death a year over the past forty years. Lately that rate has been dropping.

Part of Antarctica is not claimed. The US does not recognize any claims. Chile, Argentina, and Great Britain have overlapping claims on the Peninsula. The Falklands war was partly over Antarctica. But mostly, countries on the ice get along much better than they do at home.

If you can look past town, the view is worth the trip. There can be mountains clearly visible 100 km away. The Fata Morgana [a kind of mirage caused by certain atmospheric conditions] builds cliffs and columns and levitated rocks. Or the visibility can be essentially zero, fog or ice crystals or blowing snow. Good days to stay put.

Ice caves have their own special colors. Montana has some in its glaciers, and Alaska. Take a look if you cannot come here.

The first year, people come down for the adventure. The second year, for the travel afterward. New Zealand is a great place to play. The next few years you come for the people, the community. After that going to the ice becomes the least adventurous of your choices. There are bozos here, but not as many as elsewhere.

The days are long, the weeks are short, and this season is almost over.

A major myth says that people have lots of free time in Antarctica. It does not happen. Two great lacks are privacy and time to play. Housing is in short supply. Time on ice and status points determine where you live, and indirectly with whom.

Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1999 17:04:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: WAHOO!!!

The heck with this crazy MacTown scene, I'm going to the South Pole!!

Here's how it happened: The Polies are all here now, they got in last week and the first flights of the season (Dr. Neilsen's medevac doesn't count) are today. Well, they need a radio operator for Dec-Feb and their alternate hasn't passed the medical stateside yet, so they did the traditional thing and poached on station personnel. Works for me! Like Commander said - right place, right time, ready to go.

How come it's cool: Well, it's like the South Pole!

What it's going to be like: something around 200 people in a base designed for oh, 50 people or so. I'll probably be sleeping in a Jamesway, a Korean-conflict-era quonset-shaped tent. Yep that's a TENT. The base has 3 bathrooms and showers are 2 minutes twice a week.

What I'll be doing: Talking to lots of people - ok I already do that; on a radio - well that's new. I've got 4 or 5 weeks before I go so I'll be spending time here training with MacOps and MacRelay. I'll be talking to field parties, airplanes, you name it. Also, since there are so few staff people at Pole compared to here, I'll be responding to fire alarms, providing PC support, filling in logistics paperwork... I'll tell you more when I get there.

It'll be busy. They're building a new dome so there's construction traffic, you get extremists skiing in, more whackos sky-diving on New Year's Day (BYO body bag please, stocks are limited), all kindsa stuff. Not to mention, the Pole is at 9,000 feet but since air is thinner at the poles it's the equivalent of 10,000+. Everything is more extreme: colder, dryer, windier. I hear the food's pretty good though. People claim they go there just for the baked goods.

See y'all,


Date: Sat, 30 Oct 1999 21:52:42 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Halloween at high altitude

I was 5'8" for Halloween. Actually I was Victoria Landgraf for Halloween but only a few of you know Victoria. Between the height (10" of construction-quality foam duct-taped to my boots) and a good wig, plenty of people didn't recognize me at all. Hee hee. I managed not to fall down, in spite of one trip up the stairs to the bathroom (scuse me - pardon me - scuse me - wo! no sudden movements there dude) and some jostling on the dance floor, so I guess the evening was a success. Yep I was dancing, but very carefully. No swing moves. I was dancing with the South Pole for a while, so now I can say the Pole rotates around me!

We had some good costumes: Soviet cosmonaut, a stack of freshies [fresh vegetables] (nice idea, made it tough to dance), an iceberg, several penguins of course and your standard mix of dam' weirdness and sheer class. Oh yeah the bulldozer was pretty realistic.

Some of you have heard that Raytheon was awarded the contract for support management here, it's on a 10-year renewal cycle (unless the contractor really messes up). This is doom and gloom for the Antarctic Support Associates brass, a shrug of the shoulders for the rest of us. We care if they lower the whole wage scale (which ASA did when they took over from ITT 10 years ago), or if their management is really really dumb. All of ASA in Denver took two days off when they got the news but it's work as usual down here.

Me? Working the Sunday shift, looking forward to training as a radio operator starting this week. I climbed Observation Hill with perfect weather yesterday but now the cloud ceiling is back just under 10,000' today ( I can say this because just the summit of Mt Discovery is cut off). The craziness is slowing down a bit at work since the bulk of the workforce is here and more-or-less settled in.

I don't know how often I'll be writing email from South Pole but we'll have some sort of internet access. Real mail will get forwarded.

Hope you're all well!


Date: Wed, 24 Nov 1999 23:58:28 -0800 (PST)
Subject: How I saved science in my spare time

I went out dive-tending yesterday, which was very cool. The work itself isn't too tough: load and unload gear, help the divers into the bulky gear, make sure the hut stays warm, pull gear off the divers when they come back, load and unload again. Of course having at least one person on dry (ish) land (well, ice) is also a big safety factor. The divers went in through a hole drilled through 10 feet of ice, the water bubbled like a jacuzzi for a few minutes, then it became very very quiet. I watched the hole for a while, but nothing swam past. I stood in the doorway some and listened to the seals. They make noises like very loud wordless human voices, or loud thump/chirp sequences that resonate through the sea ice. Then I heard a strange fizzing noise, walked out to make sure it wasn't, say, gas running out of the Sprite (the cutest little box on caterpillar tracks you ever saw), and then realized it was the divers' bubbles under the ice. Kinda spooky, once you've gotten used to thinking of the ice as a solid surface. The divers were going back and forth under the hole for a bit so there was some more jacuzzi action before they popped back up again. The site was Little Razorback Island, just a bit north from here. White ice, white sky, black volcanic dirt islands. Seals are black lumps. The only color is a bit of ice blue where the ice is broken up around the shoreline. One diver was after fish and the other was scoping out the site for a film project. The second diver, Peter Brueggeman, was down here two years ago and made that cool diving website that I sent out a while back (http://scilib.ucsd.edu/sio/nsf/). He's back again with Norbert Wu, who makes a living diving in cool places and taking amazing pictures. Dang.

On the way back to town, we had to call in on the radio because we were going to be back later than our scheduled time. They keep pretty close track of who's where. We followed the standard procedure for calling in to extend our time, which meant we were pretty surprised when we got back to town and found out that they were expecting us at the original time and were about to call out the Search and Rescue team on us! It was a strange thing: Kevin and I swore that Kevin had a standard conversation with MacOps (Peter was snoozing in the back), MacOps swore they never talked to us.

I was over in MacOps for radio training yesterday afternoon and we went through the tapes. It took some digging around but we finally figured it out: what happened is that Shuttle Ops (not MacOps) was talking to a van on the Ice Runway road. We could hear Shuttle Ops (but with bad static) but they couldn't hear us. Somehow we hit the conversation with the EXACT timing so that when we called in we heard (garble) Ops responding, and when we gave them the new time we heard "Copy that (garble) I wanted to tell you (garble)." On the tape, you don't hear us at all. It was an odd feeling to listen to this conversation that I thought was between us and MacOps and it wasn't us and it wasn't MacOps.

So here's the saving science part: turns out the fish group has had a couple of instances of forgetting to check in, or extend their time, and they've been warned that if they did it again they would lose their sea ice privileges! Can't do much of a fish project without ice privileges. So when we came in late yesterday people were up in arms and the NSF representative was sending angry email and all kinds of things were going on. But now everybody is calming down again. I get to gloat because they wouldn't have figured out what happened without me listening to the tape.

I'm getting ready to leave. We have our big Thanksgiving weekend coming up - 2 days off in a row! And then I'm scheduled on a plane to the Pole on Monday.

Hope you're all well,


Subject: South Pole
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 1999 02:32:54 -0000

I'm not sure why it's been so hard to write about the Pole. Maybe because it's even stranger for humans to be here than at McMurdo. There at least there's some of the continuum of life - seals, seabirds, penguins, the undersea critters that the divers bring up. Here we're almost like a space station, a small blob of life next to an arbitrary point in the middle of the flat white vastness of the polar icecap. No mountains to look at, no hills to climb. You can walk around the Elevated Dorm. You can ski out to the ski hut that's an arbitrary distance away from the station. You can ski back again. Most folks work, watch videos, maybe play instruments, knit. But mostly work. Construction is going round-the-clock for the new station. Watch out you don't get bulldozed by accident.

I was going to write about how rough it is to live in a 50-year-old quonset-shaped Jamesway tent at 40 below, but then I found the gap in the tent canvas that was letting outside air pour into my cubicle, stuffed a pillow on top, and now I don't have much to write about any more. Nice Jamesway. The Jamesways are preferable to the Hypertats, fancy tin quonset-shaped dorms built by the government at vast expense with plenty of heating but no sound control at all. People can hear their neighbors turn pages. Some people live inside the dome, but the station that was built for 50 or so is now housing 220 so most of us are out there in Summer Camp.

The job is plenty of fun though. The big thing is talking to airplanes: we don't do air traffic control, but we track them in and out, relay cargo and passenger information, give them our weather, and turn on and off the blinky light that tells people not to walk across the skiway. We also talk to McMurdo, field camps, and all the local folks with handheld radios. Plenty of knobs, buttons, and dials. I get to say things like "Skier 96, Skier 96, South Pole with the 03 Zulu METAR, are you ready to copy?" It's all very real and very serious of course, but I do enjoy it. We're in a windowless room in the middle of the dome but we have a strange verbal view of all the activity around the station and the whole continent.

It's easy to be a "dome slug" but it's hard to really get your brain around where we are. The place starts with a physical assault: altitude, cold, and dryness get most people down for the first couple of days. My first impression of the Pole was a headachy blur. There's always a bit of doubt of the reality of the whole place. We had a bit of overcast move through and since then it's been bright sunlight (24 hrs a day of course) with ice crystals, tiny flecks imperceptible except for a myriad of bright momentary rainbow refractions. Flat white, sun and sky, and this incongruous construction site that we live in.

Me, I've been sleeping a lot.

Best to all,


-----Original Message----- From: Met, (South Pole Station)
Sent: Monday, December 06, 1999 4:59 AM
To: South Pole All
Avg temp................ -40.0(C)/-40.0(F)
Departure from normal... -1.7(C)/-3.1(F)
Max temp................ -32.0(C)/-25.6(F) on day 5
Min temp................ -51.9(C)/-61.4(F) on day 2
Sky cover:
Avg cloud cover (8ths).... 4
Days clear................ 9
Days partly cloudy........ 11
Days cloudy............... 10
Avg wind speed............ 8.7 mph or 7.6 kts.
Prevailing wind direction. Grid northeast or 040 degrees.
Max wind.................. 25 mph or 22 kts on day 7
Max wind direction........ Grid northeast.
Avg vectored wind......... 044 degrees at 5.0 knots.
Station pressure:
Avg pressure........... 681.0 mbs or 20.110 In. Hg.
Departure from normal.. -1.4 mbs or -0.041 In. Hg.
Highest pressure....... 699.3 mbs or 20.650 In. Hg. on day 7
Lowest pressure........ 663.0 mbs or 19.578 In. Hg. on day 2
Physio-altitide in feet and meters:
Average physio-alt..... 10591 ft/3228 m
Highest physio-alt..... 11276 ft/3437 m on day 2
Lowest physio-alt...... 9908 ft/3020 m on day 7
Sunset on 20 March
Average hours/day........ 19.2
Percent of possible...... 80%
Snowfall..... Trace; avg net change at snow stakes +0.085 inches.
Visibility.... 0 days with visibility of 1/4 mile or less.
Balloon flight data:
Number of Soundings for the month... 60
Avg height of Soundings.... 38.7 mbs or 24904 meters above msl.
Highest Sounding........... 3.4 mbs or 39131 meters above msl.
on the day 29/12Z Sounding.
0 soundings were missed.
44 soundings were terminated above the 50 mb level
10 soundings were terminated between 50 and 100 mbs.
6 soundings were terminated below the 100 mb level.
Day 4 - The maximum temperature of -32.6(C)/-26.7(F) broke the previous record high of -33.2(C)/-27.8(F) set in 1985.
Day 5 - The maximum temperature of -32.0(C)/-25.6(F) broke the previous record high of -33.3(C)/-27.9(F) set in 1959.
Day 17 - The minimum temperature of -45.1(C)/-49.2(F) broke the previous record low of -45.0(C)/-49.0(F) set in 1987.
Day 30 - The minimum temperature of -41.1(C)/-42.0(F) broke the previous record low of -40.1(C)/-40.2(F) set in 1983.
Prepared by: John Gallagher

Subject: Christmas etc.
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 1999 18:11:44 -0000

Christmas here was pretty quiet, but maybe that's because I was working nights for the week. It's not like it makes a whole lot of difference, really: the sun always shines, the Jamesway where I sleep is always dark and quiet. On the down side, no airplanes to talk to. I did make it to the first couple hours of the gift exchange; worked overnight, and stayed awake for the Race Around the World. It's supposed to be 3 laps around the geographic pole but I skied 1 and went home to sleep. Serious people run it, frivolous people put lounge furniture on cargo sleds and get towed around the course. The bagpiper added something but I'm not quite sure what. Woke up again for dinner, now that was some serious food. Everybody makes an effort for things to be special and almost everybody can point to something they helped with (I whipped cream cheese for the smoked salmon doodads, I swear I got more in the bowl than my hair. Funny thing, the galley staff said I had done enough volunteering after I cleaned up). We got a planeload of freshies and package mail at almost the last minute, so it felt like Christmas for real.

Overall it was surprisingly homey. Most folks get the weekend off so the station was quieter than I've heard it: no bulldozers clanking, no cranes plonking things about, no blower out at the new snow tunnel.

Now the fuss and bother is starting up for New Years. There's a TV crew here which is some mixture of BBC and WGBH, and the Russians are coming...we think. They haven't been terribly communicative, but they're advertising Millenium skydiving, hot air ballooning, and snow buggies at the Pole. The best rumor we've heard lately is that they don't have enough money for the fuel to support the skydiving, so they might skydive at their base camp at Patriot Hills and then just drive in with the snowbuggies. There are plenty of folks here who helped with the cleanup after the last skydiving attempt and we'd just as soon not have a repeat. We're also expecting a couple of ski trips to arrive around the same time.

There are a couple of skiers who have been stuck here for a week, now that's a bit of a fuss. They started out from Patriot Hills on the South American side of the continent, skied past here on their way to being the first ever totally unsupported coast-to-coast manhaul expedition, then discovered that two of their fuel containers had spilled into their food so they had to turn around and come back here. Then their insurance company started fussing about paying for the rescue flight, and the outfitter started fussing about having an airplane available and charging an outrageous rate, and it was getting towards Christmas so nobody was answering their phones, and as their stay lengthened NSF started fussing about having them here. There's been plenty of he-said-they-said but now it looks like they'll be leaving on an NSF flight through McMurdo. Peter and Tim have been good company but they'll be happy to be on their way home. Oh and here's another silly thing: they wanted to help out for Christmas but the NSF wouldn't let them because of liability. What if they got hurt in our kitchen?? Oy.

So I'm looking forward to an interesting week. What are you all doing?

Subject: World is still turning
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 02:28:37 -0000

Well we had a good time here. We danced, we made noise, we had bagpipes at midnight. Some of us were on TV and some of us avoided the cameras. The evening started with a women's picture at the Pole, in full evening dress - there are 44 of us! Went on through the party (live band!), ran around the Pole at midnight, um...more dancing...the Pole moving ceremony (the ice sheet moves 30' a year, gotta keep up) and on into...the next morning's 12-hour work shift. Just one of the joys of working in the only department at Pole that has to be staffed all the time! That was an awfully long, quiet shift.

The skydivers skydove without incident at their commercial base on the coast. Now they're on their way here in snowbuggies, arriving around the end of the week, with hot air balloons. Could be pretty neat, could be disruptive. 31 strangers at once is a big crowd here.

Back now to life as usual, for a while. End of season is coming up soon enough. My McMurdo sources tell me that snow is melting there and water is running through the streets, the Coast Guard icebreaker is clearing a path for the cargo ship, and penguins and seals are taking full advantage of the open water. In the meantime, the South Pole is still...flat and white. When the sun shines the snow has iridescent sparkles. If there are ice crystals in the air, a subtle rainbow forms all the way around the sun.



Subject: And there I was thinking things were back to normal
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 02:36:29 -0000

Well "normal" just up and flew out the window. Any window you care to name, normal just flew out of it.

It started with the Argentineans, 7 of whom showed up unannounced on Thursday happy as larks after 38 days travelling across Antarctica on snowmobiles. Turned out they were an official expedition from Belgrano, their nearest base, coming to visit the far end of the pie slice they consider theirs. Since they were official we decided to support them, and they proceeded to camp out in Comms using our radio to talk to the Argentinean President, the press, the press, the press, and then finally they got to talk to their families. Turns out my mediocre Spanish is still mediocre so I got to talk to them a fair bit. They're all great guys, nice to talk to, and we traded descriptions of life in Antarctica. Their bases are much more basic and they only have women at Esperanza, the "family" base, where they also have kids, a school, etc. The expedition doctor, the only civilian, studied at Harvard Med School so he speaks excellent English and we got the added bonus of talking about Boston and Cambridge. They established email communication with home and I got to show Sarg (scientist?) a digital photo of his 3-year-old daughter whom he hasn't seen in a year. No words for the look on his face.

Saturday we got in a bunch of DVs - the head of NSF, three Congresspeople, and various high-level hangers-on. This kind of thing gets station management in a tizzy. Fortunately they had a quick, smooth visit and were impressed by the Argentineans.

Just after the DVs flew out the entire circus came to town. This was the International Millennium Expedition: the Russian-organized group that was initially planning to fly in skydivers for New Years and pick them up in snow buggies. The skydivers did their thing back in Patriot Hills and the snow buggies got here half-strength and a week late, but they were enough of a circus just by themselves. We've been talking to them by radio so we were able to announce their arrival. We had a whole crowd out by the Pole to watch them pull up: 4 brightly-painted homemade-looking boxy things with 6 each huge truck-inner-tire wheels, stuffed with several ebullient Russians, a handful of miscellaneous Europeans, and a couple of Americans. They did a fair bit of yelling and the crowd did some yelling back, they asked for volunteers and ran them over with a snow buggy, they ran the snow buggies around in circles, they hugged all the women they could, and within an hour they had their hot air balloon up and flying. First ever at the Pole according to them, I haven't done the research but I don't know anything to the contrary. I wandered around checking things out, spent a while translating between an Argentinean mechanic with no English and a Russian mechanic with rudimentary English discussing their extremely different vehicles.

A few hours' sleep, then Sunday brunch and Boston Sunday comics (thanks Mom). The Argentineans tried to help a local parapenter who brought his sail with him, but he didn't have enough wind to launch even with the snowmobile assist. I said goodbye to the Millennium Expedition with many hugs and thankyous and a bit of finger crossing - one snow buggy was reluctant to start but it made it. Visited with the Argentineans a bit more and said goodbye to them in the evening, a bit more soberly. Their planned departure was at midnight so when I woke up and saw it was 11:48 I grabbed my boots and ran outside in time to see the line of snowmobiles with sleds and Argentinean flags vanish across the skiway.

I think we're all feeling a bit goggle-eyed now, some of us more than others. The Millennium Circus, um Expedition, was the attention-grabber for sure but I keep thinking of more things I'd like to ask the Argentineans or discuss with them. Juan the radioman told us heart-in-throat (corazon en garganta) stories about crossing crevasse fields, Louis had some great mountain-climbing stories, and I hardly got to talk to Nicholas about his experiences in the US. They had a vehicle fall in a crevasse (grieta) 200km out setting up their first fuel caches and were lucky to be able to crawl out the top hatch. They should be able to get home much faster since they were setting up caches on the way out, and several of us admonished them to let us know when they're home safe. Don't know if the whole visit was the Argentinean Invasion or the Argentinean Adoption.

For the record: this is not normal. Repeat, this is NOT normal.

Best to all,


Date: 31 Jan 2000

Latest big news: first freshies since Christmas! We had a big old bowl of fruit and a green salad with dinner last night. That was a fine thing.

We've been through our last two groups of outside visitors, each of them exciting in its own way. A couple of astronauts, Capt Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and 13, a couple of Geminis) and Dr Owen Gariott (Spacelab and Skylab II) showed up with a private scientific expedition. Of course there was a big fuss because, you know, astronauts. I guess in the Apollo 13 movie Capt. Lovell was played by Tom Hanks, haven't seen it myself. Anyway they were both pretty sharp and pretty nice, had plenty of patience for people following them around with cameras. They had their own media crew and did a bunch of interviews over our Iridium phone. They wound up stuck here for a couple days because of Patriot Hills weather and unlike any other private expedition were invited to sleep in the gym.

Our last group of skiers showed up last weekend, the 5 members of the British Women's Expedition. They spent a whopping 60 days skiing here from Hercules Inlet 638 miles away, and I think they were the happiest expeditioners I've met so far. They were happy to get here for sure, but also they were totally thrilled with the trip itself and claim they would do it all over again. They set a reasonable pace, and arrived here in great physical shape and all still liking each other. They also got to stay here a few days because of Patriot Hills weather, and they were great to visit with. Their ages range from 32 to 46 so they're not just young jocks. Oh yeah, and they're the first group of women to reach both Poles. More info at www.isa-challenge.com .

Now we're pretty much focused on the end of the season. Station closing is Feb 15 but a big chunk of us (incl me) are scheduled out on the 12th. A smaller crew will stay behind to handle the last station closing tasks, then the winter-overs are on their own until late next October. They're a good bunch and I know I'll be thinking about them a lot.

The station is in fairly good shape. The new station construction has overshadowed science this year but there has also been progress in beakerland: AMANDA, the project looking through the earth for neutrinos, has six more strings of detectors in the snow; and DASI, a radio telescope so high-falutin that it needs liquid-helium cooling HERE fer cryin out loud, is not only installed but collecting data already. Some big chunks of the new station are up and ready to transition from outside to inside work. The sun is circling a bit lower in the sky, temperatures are sinking, and the wind is rising. I'm ready for a bit of summer.



Subject: In transit
Date: Thu, 17 Feb 2000 14:18:48 -0800 (PST)

Finally got my sorry self off the ice, after weather delays at Pole, weather delays in McMurdo, and some last-minute drama involving plummeting temperatures, personnel evacuation, and a problematic helium dewar.

Everything's fine now though and I'm all set to gallivant around New Zealand in the rain. Probably won't write much in the process. Should be home sometime in April.

It's been quite the week. May write it up in more detail...some other time. My brain is still spinning with all the new sights, smells etc I haven't had in 6 months.

See you all,


Sarah home