Antarctica: January 2008

16-January-2008

I'm back in Christchurch for my third (short, three-week) visit to the ice. An old friend is here to meet me.

My first stop is Cathedral Square again. The place is still crowded with vendors and backpackers.

All the booths have racks that are packed full of shiny objects. Color overload.

I haven't seen the bungee apparatus in the square before. This kid was having a lot of fun.

Revisiting familiar places along the Avon river...

The river is lined with giant weeping willow trees that provide great places to hide from the harsh afternoon sun.

A green curtain formed by the weeping willow.

A couple of ducks are trying to cross the river, but the current pushes them downstream faster than they can swim.

My next stop for the day was the gardens, where I saw a handful of kids playing with two very cute, very excitable dogs. They didn't seem to get tired of splooshing in the water to fetch the toy.

The black devil duck, a geocaching travel bug and my companion for this trip. He's chilling with some of his buddies on the bank of the river.

Duck talk.

Lots of colorful flowers are blooming in the garden right now. I don't remember their names, but I especially like the large blue clusters.


Near the entrance of the gardens, there's an absolutely enormous tree. Actually, most of the trees in the gardens are about this size.

The duckie found a large, comfortable tree to perch on.

I decided to join him on the tree for awhile.

The branches are polished smooth from hundreds of kids climbing this tree.

Best. Beer. Ever.

Dinner at the Dux is always a good way to end a day in Christchurch. These mussels were cooked in Riesling with lemon, cilantro, ginger, and chilies.

17-January-2008

I spent the morning wandering around Christchurch with Maureen, a very nice lady who I met at the Windsor B+B. She lives in Montreal and spends a lot of time writing and traveling.

After a relaxed morning, it's time to pick up cold weather gear from the CDC. Marlene is giving us instructions and preparing to show us the informational video.

This brand spanking new poster describes what we need to wear on the flights: ski goggles, hat/balaclava, parka (a.k.a. "big red"), gloves, carhartt overalls, and bunny/fdx boots. And don't forget your undies!

The women's changing room in the CDC. I was the only girl getting clothing today, so the room is empty except for my two orange bags. Behind the red curtain is a window to the clothing storage area, where you can exchange any items that don't fit.

These are the ~30 pounds of clothing that are stuffed into each person's orange bags. Contents include a parka, bunny/fdx boots, boot liners and soles, windpants and/or carhartts, glove liners, about 5 flavors of gloves/mittens, thin long underwear, thick long underwear, polar fleece, expedition jacket, 6 pairs of massive gray tube socks, water bottle, ski goggles, balaclava, neck gaiter, and two hats. This excludes stuff that I've turned in in previous years, and it looks like bear claws are no longer required for summer folks.

The CDC did a pretty good job of recording what I used in the last two years, and almost everything fit perfectly the first time. The devil duck, on the other hand, is having some trouble finding anything that fits him. Luckily, there are many warm duck-sized pockets in the parka.

We're supposed to report back at the CDC at 10:15 tomorrow morning for our flight, which is at 1:00pm. Compared to ~6am departure times from the past couple of years, this is very civilized. The downside is that hot summer weather in New Zealand doesn't exactly mesh well with extreme cold weather gear...

18-January-2008

Today we fly to McMurdo! We got suited up at the CDC and then went over to the Antarctic Center to kill some time. I match the penguin's blue color.

Unfortunately, we ran out of stuff to do at the Antarctic Center pretty quickly. Tickets are a bit expensive, even with a student discount.

Joe's ready to go. He's a flight surgeon, and I met him on the flight from Los Angeles to Christchurch. He had suggested that I try getting a children's discount at the Antarctic Center.

Back in the terminal, which is still completely empty. Except for Larry, who's watching a Kiwi soap opera of some sort. :-) He's overseeing a couple of ships that are scheduled to arrive at McMurdo soon.

Finally, we're done waiting, the safety video is over, and it's time to go through security. Nearly all of us set off the metal detector with the metal buckles on our carhartts.

Time to board the C-17! They herded us in pretty quickly, and I was only able to get one photo.

Flying in style with lots of extra leg room. I chose a side seat, which has less padding than the middle seats, but it's easier to get up and move around.

The devil duck kept himself entertained during the flight by checking out some of the cargo.

This escape hatch requires bashing the panel open with the hatchet.

Somebody found a comfortable place to sleep in the cargo.

While trolling around in the cargo area, I found this shipment of digital optical modules for the Ice Cube experiment. I worked at DESY briefly a long time ago.

After a few hours, the first traces of ice start to appear in the water.

I think the dark line in the image is the shadow of the contrail, but I'm not completely sure.

The blinding light makes it difficult to take more than a few pictures before having to retreat for an eyeball rest.

Press here if you want to send the chutes out...

A very important part of Antarctic life: Frosty Boy. This is definitely a precious pallet of cargo.

Some of my flying buddies who I met at the Windsor and CDC. Patrick, the goofy one, and Don are on their way to a field camp at the base of Erebus to work on a power station. And Larry's the guy in charge of the ships.

I think Patrick is suffering from a combination of lack of sleep, altitude, and boredom from the long flight.

More ice starts to appear in the water.

About an hour before landing, we got to take turns checking out the flight deck.

Not a bad view from up above...

...and lots of shiny buttons and controls to play with too.

There's a bubble window in the flight deck that overlooks the interior of the C-17. The inside is massive. I was the first person to appear behind the window, so there are 3 people staring at me in this photo.

The view out a side window, down the length of the wing. Blinding white and blue.

As we approach our final destination, strange ice chunks start appearing below.

The ice is all clumped into large sheets, and there are no more fine particles swirling in the water.

Welcome to McMurdo!

It's a beautiful day, and Erebus is clearly visible from the Pegasus field.

It's great to be back home. :-) To quote the Indian navy, I was jumping up and down like a mad monkey.

19-January-2008

Today we fly to the Pole! Everything went so smoothly that I didn't have any time to take photos until we were already in the air again.

There were only three passengers on board and very little cargo, so there was lots of room to run around in the back of the plane.

The hatch at the back of the plane.

There are lots of beautiful mountain formations just a little past McMurdo.

The end of this particular mountain range.

The instructions for the emergency oxygen units tell you to put the plastic bag over your head.

The vast, empty C-130.

In previous years, we've received small sack lunches that contain expired crackers and sandwiches filled with some unidentifiable spreadable substance. This year, the flight lunches have been upgraded to "Go Picnic!" boxes.

Since there were only three of us on the flight, it was easy to spend lots of time hanging out on the flight deck and admiring the view.

The upper panel has lots of shiny knobs and switches.

The crew and the control panel.

A view from the flight deck. I can't imagine getting tired of seeing this scenery pass by.

Another view of all the displays and controls.

I spent a lot of time looking out the windows and enjoying the views of the mountains and glaciers. Here are a handful of snowy sights from the air...


It's the duck's turn to check out the landscape from one of the small window ports on the side of the plane.

After checking out the scenery, it's time for the duck to take a nap in the cargo area.

After a short flight, it's time for the flight crew to put on their big helmets and prepare for landing.

Far out in the distance, the station slowly starts to appear. At this point, I still couldn't see it by eye (but luckily, my camera can zoom).

The dark sector is the first part of the station to appear through the windows.

...and finally we land. It's lovely to be back on station.

After a short day in the lab, time for dinner and games in the galley. Erik is playing with fire.

Webster is back again, and she's teaching Kiwon and Yuki how to tie knots. Today's lesson is making grommets.

I think Erik is saying something obscene.

What better way to return to station life than an evening of JAMES BROWN BINGO!! I lucked out with the timing of my flight -- this is the last bingo session of the season!

James Brown Sparrow, the mighty pirate. Yarr.

Everyone in the galley is ready for the summer's last bingo...

There was a brief intermission during bingo to bring out a surprise birthday cake for Paddy.

She looked like she was having fun while BK led the galley in singing happy birthday. Kiwon's right up in front with his camera, as usual.

The singing and pictures are over, and Kiwon goes back to eating his Cocoa Puffs.

And the bingo crowd is ready for the next round...

...which features a Leatherwoman as one of the prizes.

Erik is completely disgusted by the idea of bingo and focuses on his knots instead.

Unfortunately, neither Kiwon nor I won this evening, but at least we got to eat a bunch of Cocoa Puffs.

20-January-2008

It looks like stuffed animals have taken over the skiway again this year. This time it's flightless birds instead of egg-laying mammals (although I think a stuffed owl snuck into the crowd).

Back into the lab for some quick calibration tests today. Look at the beautiful data on the screen! :-)

The devil duck visited BICEP for the first time, and he's checking out the electronics boxes.

Evan's FTS lamp that he bought on ebay. It tans like the sun!

And it's good for all the family!

Another visit to the ceremonial pole, since I can't get enough of the shiny ball.

The new station was completed and dedicated this year, and the ceremonial pole has been moved to line up with the station center. I hear Yuki got to move the Japanese flag.

All the gray siding is finally up, and the Antarctica banner is a new addition.

This is the new marker for the geographic south pole. It's shiny, and it has a pocket for collecting snow.

Another view of the marker and the sign behind it.

The new location of 90 degrees south.

I've gotten plenty of hero shots in the past, and this time it's the duck's turn.

The ceremonial and geographic pole markers are oriented so that the "best" view includes the elevated station in the background. The massive gray building doesn't do justice to the actual landscape... The dark sector is on the left, and the geographic pole is visible on the right. The extra greenish blobs are packs/tents/skis that tourists brought in.

After an afternoon of playing outside, it's time for the duck to get some rest back in my room. The dinosaurs are eager to meet their new friend. (Denis, your bowls survived the journey.)

21-January-2008

On our way to the dark sector today, we got stuck at the skiway because a plane was about to take off.

The basler is a snobby looking plane, with its nose pointed up in the air.

Kiwon and Yuki are also stuck at the skiway with me.

Kiwon and his camera.

Eventually we crossed, and the C-130 on deck took off a little later.

Back into BICEPland. There's some strange stuff on our whiteboard.

Yuki's wearing his superhero costume again today to assist in a cryo delivery.

Lowering the massive dewar onto the snowmobile below, where Al is waiting.

Meanwhile, Kiwon and Evan are working on aligning the spectrometer.

Kiwon is proudly showing off his homemade flex shaft coupling.

A trip up to the roof, and a view of the SPT death ray.

Evan and the spectrometer, which sits in the wooden box on the roof. The mirrors bounce the light over the groundshield and into the telescope.

Time to try moving the mirror in the spectrometer. Kiwon and Evan go diving into the big insulated box...

...in order to drive the mirror with the flex shaft.

A view of some of the optics in the spectrometer.

There's a lot of work that still needs to be done, but the first fringes from the spectrometer appeared today.

23-January-2008

Today SuperKiwon is leaving us and heading back home.

Kiwon, his always-ready camera, and his ride back to civilization.

Kiwon, Evan, and Brian, who just arrived on the plane.

It's a bit chilly today, so we ducked into the solar to warm up. Yukimoose took the opportunity to try out the fuelie hands.

They're this big!

Finally, it's time to go...

The departing crowd includes Kiwon and a bunch of people who just arrived on a traverse.

Goodbye Kiwon!

I rediscovered the pee nitrogen in the lab this afternoon. (We, well, I needed to transfer some nitrogen back into this storage dewar, and I couldn't find any funnels except for a dodgy looking one sitting in the corner of the lab...)

24-January-2008

A fuelie guides in a plane that just landed.

A second fuelie, and the incoming plane.

Welcome to the Pole, Joe! He's visiting briefly to do ultrasounds on some winterovers.

...but first, a tour of BICEP. That's right, the one that's next door to the big, gaudy telescope. ;-)

It was a very productive day in the lab, and Yuki caught a large Ericfish.

After such a productive day, time to visit the dome again. The spooky entrance has been completely dismantled, and even the sign has been taken down. :-(

Joe and the new arch structures that are being built outside the dome. Eventually this will be new storage space.

Exploring the inside of the dome with Brad, Eric, Tom, and Yuki. All of the orange buildings are now gone, and it's just food/supply storage. (Greg and Hien, if you're reading this, stop now. The empty dome is too depressing.)

Nothing left. A small snow mound has accumulated under a hole in the dome...the South Pole equivalent of tumbleweed, I suppose.

Another view of the emptiness and the light from the holes in the roof.

A view of the top of the dome. I don't remember the trianglular holes being there before.

A look around the dome wall reveals a spooky, ice-filled tunnel...

25-January-2008

After a 24-hr visit and a whirlwind tour of the Pole, it's time for Joe to head back to McMurdo.

The ride back to McMurdo, where the temperature is probably the negative of Pole temperature today (-30 F).

The C-130 starts speeding down the skiway...

...and takes off in the distance.

It's a bit chilly for this time of the year, and the planes leave contrails behind them.

The plane, a barely visible blip in the sky, passes over DSL.

Back over to DSL...

...where Evan succeeded in getting spectra today.

26-January-2008

Today's big event: South Pole Independent Film Festival! Nathan's our SPIFF MC tonight.

Everybody's watching the big screen and waiting for the films to start...

The galley is packed full, and there's standing room only at the back.

Robert's a star! There weren't as many films this year as either of my previous seasons, but I definitely enjoyed the QUaD retrospective.

And after SPIFF...party with the Icecubers in summer camp. Somebody brought out a sparkler at the bar.

The galley supplied lots of tasty junk food. Yuki told me the cheese sticks were bad for me, but then I caught him secretly eating one.

The dim jamesway is crammed full of people. I could hardly move, and was squished up against a wall of beer for much of the evening.

Party on, Ethan!

Everybody in the back of the jamesway is dancing under the disco ball.

Without the flash (and with a few drinks), this is closer to what the tent looked like.

A party on the ice isn't complete without a pole.

Sara and Nathan...

...probably the best dancers I've seen on station. :-)

David Hasselhoff stopped by the party too and gave me his name tag.

28-January-2008

One of the crates in the SPT lab. No comment.

The moon appeared today...

...hovering over DSL.

Yuki wanted to get a photo with the moon and BICEP, but he's not quite tall enough to get above the groundshield.

We decided to leave BICEP out of the photo and just focus on the moon. :-)

Another Yuki superhero shot.

An old winterover photo hanging in the hallway. Can you find John and Hien?

The photo from Robert and Steffen's first winter together. Awww.

29-January-2008

The monster that lives outside the dome.

Yarr!!!

The dome doesn't look complete anymore without its flag.

...and the entrance tunnel has been removed and blocked by a new arch structure.

Portraits of the previous winterovers. Can you find Steffen?

Perhaps the better question is: can you identify the object that he's holding? Keep it clean, kids.

Main index | January 2008 | February 2008