Antarctica: January 2012

Leaving home: ctrl-alt-del

After five years of wishful thinking, three months of chaos, four trips to the doctor (many vials of blood), two trips to the dentist, and one trip to get my (in)sanity checked, I'm finally living the dream of spending a winter at the Pole! This time I'm changing teams and moving to the other side of the Dark Sector Lab to work on SPT.


This trip begins with a bit of sadness: returning to a post-earthquake Christchurch. Although it's been a year, Cathedral Square is still inaccessible, and nearly all of my beloved food and hangout joints no longer exist. Below are a few pictures of the temporary mall, which is constructed from shipping containers and located near the center of the city. It was a strange and surreal feeling to see the city full of partially torn down buildings and churches with their steeples removed and placed on the ground, like hats.

08-January-2012 -- 09-January-2012

Time to get our cold weather gear! After a bit of a delay, we arrived at the CDC at 6:30pm and scrambled to sort our clothes before the 9pm flight. The ice flights now depart in the evenings because the ice runway is too warm and slushy in the daytime. It's truly terrifying, not to mention exhausting for the passengers.

A year's worth of life on a luggage cart. For winter, I get three orange bags (instead of the usual two), which include spare clothing that gets cached away on station in case of an emergency.

Nick, my fellow SPT winterover, is packed and ready to go!

Walking to the passenger terminal, which is right next door...

Waiting in line to check our bags.

We're allowed 150 lbs of checked baggage for the ice flights, including ECW.

After our bags are checked, it's time to lounge around in the terminal before it's time for our flight.

One last quick walk outside to enjoy the fresh air and warm weather. The Antarctic Centre is just opposite the CDC.

It's always nice to see this sign, which marks the beginning of the adventure.

Back in the terminal, where they're bundling our checked bags into one monolithic cube.

Before we head out to the plane, it's time for the usual briefing...

...and safety video. "The adventure of a lifetime..." :-)

After the video, time to line up for the last security checks and board the plane.

The long check-in line. Just like commercial flights, we also need to pull out our laptops and walk through a metal detector. (And be scanned with the wand, since all of us set off the metal detector with our carhartts.)

Looking back at the security checkpoint.

We stuff ourselves into the white bus...

...which takes us over to our ride, a giant C-17.

We're all given big bags of food and water as we hop on the plane. Goodbye, civilization.

I'm sitting towards the back of the plane, and there are a few big pallets in the cargo area, including equipment for an airdrop over Pole that's scheduled for the following day.

An orange shipping container takes up most of the space in the middle of the plane. The loadmaster told us that if the chains came undone (?!?!), we should just ask them to fix it.

Time to investigate the contents of our food bags, which never fail to amuse and entertain.

Contents: one yummy muffin.

And two units of cookies.

And a "go meaty." No, I didn't eat it.

The overnight flight was pretty brutal. These guys found a good spot to sleep.

Patches of ice starting to appear among the clouds below.

More floating chunks of ice.

Sitting in the jump seats is a bit uncomfortable after awhile, so time for a walk to the front of the plane.

Lots of sleepy passengers.

I always enjoy staring at the pipes and wiring running across the ceiling of the plane.

One more look out the window before heading back to my seat...

...and suiting up in preparation for landing.

Nick is completely cocooned in his parka.

After a safe landing, the back hatch opens up for offloading the cargo.

Preparing to exit the plane.

The folks with the orange and black parkas are heading to Scott Base.

The view from the airplane door, the gateway to wonderland.

Back home on the ice! I insisted on taking a hero shot of Nick and the plane. :-)

The C-17 is quite a monstrous thing.

We all get herded towards Ivan the Terrabus to get transported from the Pegasus airfield back to the station.

...but not enough room for us, so we got sent back to the Delta.

The stickers are mostly still the same, although the collection slowly grows with time. There's a BLAST sticker in the lower left!

Erik, one of the "bad boyz 4 life." I also enjoy the aliens in Antarctica sticker.

Looking back towards the stickers at the door of the Delta.

It's about 6am, and we're all completely wiped out. It's a long trip into town from Pegasus, and most of us only woke up during the last few miles, which were particularly rough and bumpy.

After yet another briefing, waiting to fill out paperwork, computer screening, etc, etc, there's finally time for a short nap. My temporary room was in 203a, a nice quiet building away from the chaos of 155.

A color coded pee guide. Couldn't resist taking a photo of this.

...or this sign, next to the sani bucket.

After dinner and bag drag, time for a trip to building 136 to visit Harry.

There are interesting artsy metal bits all over the station, and I hadn't seen this string of hands in previous years.

Harry teaches metalsmithing classes at the station, and he always has the most interesting gadgets and creations.

Since Harry was in the middle of a class, we decided to make a quick trip to hut point. Somehow, I've never had the time or energy to walk out there in previous years.

Some goofy red pods along the way. I think these are emergency shelters, although I'm not sure.

Discovery Hut, which was built by Scott and his crew in 1902.

Rocky slopes meeting the sea ice, which is partially melted.

Thin ice and the chilly water below.

Vince's cross in the distance. The sign reads "Vince's Cross, Hut Point. This cross is an historic monument and preserved in accordance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty. It commemorates T. Vince of the British Antarctic expedition of 1901-1904 who lost his life in the vicinity of March 1902."

Looking back towards McMurdo. It's nice to have some peace and quiet, away from the commotion of the "big city."

There's a radome in the far distance, on top of the rocky hills.

A gigantic, scary, beautiful crack in the sea ice. If you look carefully, the squiggly line coming out from the left of the hole in the ice is a seal track.

Zooming in on the seal (the black blob) and his squiggly path. He looks very relaxed, just peacing out by himself in the middle of the ice.

Another look at the mountains, ice, and radome. The sky was dumping big fat snow chunks on us when we arrived, but it turned into a beautiful day.

Nick and I are both mesmerized by the crack in the ice.

Time for another glamor shot for him (I insisted again)...

...and a glamor shot for me too.

We took a slightly different path back and walked along the edge of the icy water.

Chunks of ice are dripping and melting into the water, forming odd shapes and fringes of miniature icicles.

This "iceshroom" was my favorite. I think it looks like a spaceship.

We stopped by the galley to warm up with a cup of tea. I especially like the flier that's advertising the "Poor Life Decisions" radio station.

Somebody on station draws some amazing penguin cartoons. Apparently, this person is also a Trekkie.

Back to building 136, now that Harry's class is over. As usual, he has an incredible stash of loot -- piles and piles of opals that he cut, polished, and turned into jewelry.

I followed him back to the Corner Bar in building 155, a dorm room with four residents who have kept this fine tradition alive for many, many years.

Harry, the bartender, is making the usual rum and cokes for us.

The bar is well stocked, and Harry seems to have a knack for getting people to make good contributions.

I was honored that Harry busted out his special scotch that he usually keeps squirreled away. An excellent way to end a day (after being on a plane and not sleeping the night before)...

The full glory of the corner bar. The big screen TV is new, and it's pretty amazing.

Even the parrot has a beer.


There's a sign outside the station store that explicitly forbids durians.

Transport for our Pole flight is bright and early, 6:45am. Time to grab our bags and check in at building 140.

Back inside the terrabus for yet another briefing before embarking on the long trip back to the airfield.

Our trip takes us past Scott Base and some cool looking sea ice formations.

It looks like waves have been frozen into the sea.

Our driver told us that, unfortunately, we had a short delay because of mechanical issues with the plane, so we got dropped off at the passenger terminal to hang out for an hour.

A glamor shot of the terrabus. Everybody loves Ivan.

There's not much to do at the terminal except admire the mountains in the distance.

The last land features on the horizon that I'll see until November.

Nick is also admiring the local scenery.

I'm not sure what this odd vehicle is, but it kind of looks like a Santa sleigh for cargo pallets.

It's finally time to go, and we're herded back into the shuttle to be transported out to the plane.

Boarding the C-130. Goodbye, McMurdo.

The propeller line is marked on the side of the plane.

It's a crowded flight, and we're all crammed into the jump seats. The front section is reserved for a handful of DVs who were flying with us.

A tired Nick on the other side of the plane.

It's far too cramped and uncomfortable to stay put for the whole three-hour flight, so most people are up and about, wandering around.

Erik with a halo of light around his head. :-)

Just passing the time on the plane...

I finally got a chance to peek out the window, and there's some wrinkly ice down below. And gorgeous mountains and glaciers:

Nick and one of the few windows in the plane.

The EPOS bags, one of my favorite things on the military planes. I love the instructions to put the bag over your head.

This guy found a comfortable spot to nap in the back of the plane.

The airplane rear is crowded with cargo.

Looking towards the front of the plane. The urinal is located behind the small green curtain. As someone recommended on my first trip to the ice, dehydration is really the best strategy.

Suiting up in our giant parkas as we prepare to exit the plane.

Walking down the steps of the C-130...

...and arriving home. There's a huge crowd on the flight deck.

I'm equally as excited to be back at Pole!

The world's warmest welcome home: walking into a sea of familiar faces and hugs from my ice family.

Lingering on the flight deck, watching the C-130 refuel in the distance.

The outbound passengers include a couple SPT guys, so we stuck around for awhile to say goodbye before heading into the station.


My first day at work. :-) Here's the gateway to SPT-land in the Dark Sector Lab.

The instrument! The giant white cryostat houses the secondary mirror, and the small black cryostat ("Black Cat") is the polarized receiver.

Liz rides the man lift up into the receiver cabin to attach some chain hoists.

Preparing to unmount the receiver from the optics cryostat.

The optics cryostat is hoisted up so that the receiver is parallel to the ground.

Removing the receiver goes smoothly and quickly. The optics cryostat reminds me a bit of a window cow. Yes, it's a midwest thing.

Black Cat is moved to the cart and wrapped in plastic to protect the interior.

The receiver is relocated to the lab space, where it'll be opened up.

Liz works on removing the radiation shields.

The heart of the instrument!

Looking down into the receiver and the back side of the focal plane. It's a pretty amazing sight.

Back to the other side of the building to take a look around the receiver cabin.

Nick and I rode the man lift up, and it's a long way down below.

The one and only Erik!

The base of the mount and the giant azimuth bearing.

Peering into the gnome hole in the mount base.

The cable wrap spirals around the central column inside the mount base.

Twisting lines for the pulse tube coolers.

Upstairs, Abby and Brad are preparing for focal plane disassembly and surgery inside the clean box.

The focal plane experts, hard at work!


The empty cryostat. Everything on the optics side has been removed for some final hardware modifications.

The IR filters sitting on the bench.

The baffle that surrounds the receiver aperture.

Brad is working on the lens mount.


On our way to DSL, we made a quick stop by the geographic pole to check out the new marker. They've even spiffified the sign, which is all shiny and new.

The shiny new pole marker, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival.

Looking out towards the dark sector, about a kilometer away.

The ceremonial pole is the next stop. An ice bust of Amundsen was placed here at the beginning of the year, but now it's distorted from melting and looks pretty surreal.

Nick and me reflected in the shiny ball.

I transported another Flat Stanley to the ice this year, so here's a glamor shot of him at the bottom of the world.

A semicircle of flags from the countries that signed the Antarctic Treaty surrounds the ceremonial pole.

Time to continue on to work. Walking to the dark sector is the best commute ever.

At the lab, the receiver team is deep into focal plane surgery. Here's the cold plate that all the detectors mount to.

Jason and Liz are hard at work in the clean box.

The truss that supports the focal plane.

Liz is installing the 150 GHz modules.

The other focal plane shift is taking a break downstairs. Abby thinks the aluminum beam makes a comfortable pillow.

A handful of guys are working on a calibration source, and I tagged along on the snowmobile ride out to the site. The giant wooden structure is a 20' x 20' flat mirror that redirects light from the sky into the telescope and blocks the ground.

Clarence and the giant mirror. The calibration site is about 3 km from the station, and it's a pretty nice setup. There's a generator that provides power, a shack that's warmed by the waste heat, and even an outhouse. Luxury!

A gorgeous sight, the vast ocean of ice stretching out as far as the eye can see. Chasing the horizon on a snowmobile is quite an awesome feeling.

The station is visible as tiny specks in the distance.

The calibration source. It's basically a lamp that blinks on and off, and it'll peek out through the middle of the mirror.

Climbing up the back side of the mirror to check out the hoist in preparation for fit-checking the calibration box.

Nick (Prime) and the mirror. It's like those wooden cutouts at carnivals that you can stick your face though. :-)

Another view of the front side of the mirror. It really is impressively large!

Back in the warming shack, Ryan is doing some final checks of the source.

There are some pretty frost formations on the window of the shack.

More frost, and preparing the chain hoist for lifting the box onto the platform.

Hoisting the box up! After a successful fit check, time to take down the box and head back to the warmth of the station.


In the endgame of focal plane reassembly! Abby and Jason are working on attaching a sheet of mylar for RF shielding.

The completed mylar donut around the edge of the focal plane.

The receiver effort has been fueled entirely by sour patch kids. This FIVE POUND BAG was half full last night. And completely full just a few days ago.


After heroic efforts from the receiver team, the cryostat is closed and on the pump!

Black Cat's name tag.

We decided to celebrate the closing of the cryostat with a movie in the B2 lounge.

People piling into the squishy chairs, eagerly awaiting the start of the movie.

Our choice for the evening: THE ROOM.

The movie watching experience is enhanced with pink wine.

Even though the movie has been screened several times already this season, it still draws a huge crowd. (There were people standing in the back later on!)


Today is the 100th anniversary of Scott's arrival at the Pole. People from both the station and the tourist camp are gathering for a brief ceremony.

A great view from the top of the pisten bully.

There were just a few speeches, ending with this guy from ANI.

What better way to celebrate the centennial than with PUB TRIVIA? As we were getting ready in the galley, Nick busted out this coin to score a free drink from his classmate. I guess it's a Princeton undergrad thing.

The BICEP2/SPUD guys are hosting this week, and Justus is collecting our cash. (There were two team names that referenced The Room!)

Our trivia hosts: Darren, Grant, Jon, and Justus.

Our scratch paper included...this Norwegian song.

Darren gets an A for effort for preparing powerpoint slides for his questions! We were supposed to identify the movie and animal here...


The detectors are cold and functioning! We've opened the pod bay doors and are bouncing light into the cryostat with an aluminum sheet (precision mirror).

The receiver cabin doors are opened and closed with this pulley and rope system. It takes more than my full weight to close the door...

Tyler is at the helm, placing zotefoam in front of the window to measure the optical efficiency.

Later in the evening, it's time for the eagerly anticipated James Brown bingo! Mouse and Justus are excited and ready to win!

Over in a corner of the galley, a gingerbread house from earlier this season.

The bingo gals are ready to go.

Elissa and Kiell, the official ball girl for the evening.

The one and only James Brown and Kiell! The theme for this evening, in case it wasn't obvious, is cowboys.

James wanted to make sure his sheriff's badge was visible in the photo.

Elissa won the first round! The prize: a bag of coffee and a mug! Awesome!

Andy and Phil tied in a later round. The audience was chanting "pants off dance off" for the tiebreaker...

O69! Goodbye, gingerbread house. (Other popular calls include B1 [with the universe], B2 [bomber], B4 [and after], B9 [tumor], I18 [that's what she said], I16 [she lied to me]...)

Back in the science lab, the entire SPT crew is hanging out and looking at data.

The BICEP2 guys are also around.

It's not all work all the time. The "Justus will be served" fliers were hanging up all over the station when we arrived on January 10.

We were randomly shipped some speakers recently, and they came in this goofily decorated box.

I think that's a penguin talking to a beargoatdinorat.

The Justin Bieber shrine. It contains many gems, including rhinestone stick-on eyelashes.

A big crowd in the science lab...

Justus is preparing for the Cowboys, Indians, Pirates, and Ninjas party. By dressing up as a robot.

More robot preparation. Jon is practicing his robo moves.

Even though the original party was just for cowboys, indians, pirates, and ninjas, this flier was ammended to include robots and "porky piggin."

The start of the party in summer camp. That's Candy at the right end of the table.

Having some fun with Candy and the stripper pole...

...maybe a little too much fun.

Ryan disappeared to change into his costume, and he appeared 40 minutes later in an amazing princess outfit.

A typical South Pole Saturday night.


Today we mounted the spectrometer (the aluminum box on the left) onto the receiver. It's compact, and the whole thing sits on a translation stage.

A closeup of the lenses and mirror that direct the receiver's line of sight into the spectrometer.

Nick and I are on board swapping and cabling duty. It gets pretty tiring pretty quickly to be scrunched up under the electronics boxes on the underside of the cryostat

After coming back from the lab, there was a party in the growth chamber.

Its Greenhouse Jon's last evening on station, so a bunch of folks are gathered in the greenhouse with wine and cheese.

Flint is looking for stickers to use as an improvised label for his homemade wine.

Sunrise Chardonnay, 2010! We chose the most sunny stickers we could find from my "So Many Monsters" sticker book.

Admiring the final product. The 2010 winterover wine crew apparently made over 70 bottles, and this is one of the last ~5 remaining.

Opening the bottle...

...and distributing to the greenhouse crowd: Seth, Jon K, Carla, Kiell, Daniel, Rhiannon, Flint, Greenhouse Jon.

Cheers! Good times guaranteed in the greenhouse.

We finished the bottle, which was quite tasty. Here's a closeup of the sunny monster stickers.

The pipes, which serve as a seat, are the "robot butt."

After the end of the party, a quick stop by the galley to put away the leftovers. Sidney decorated the dish pit with these drawings, which are incredible.

I believe there was a jorts party earlier in the season...

Dish pit portraits of Polies and a dragon.


A recent addition to my room: a polarbear humidifier made by a company that's called SPT!

He's very happy to be in his new home.

We're done with lab tests, and it's time to hoist the receiver into the telescope! The cabin is docked, open, and ready to receive.

Brad is one of the lucky people with cabin duty. He gets sent up on the man lift and will stay up in the cabin as the receiver gets hoisted in.

Goodbye, Brad!

Meanwhile, the ground crew rotates the receiver into position for lifting.

Four chain hoists are attached to the corners of the optics cryostat.

Tyler gets to wear the superhero hard hat.

Brad's just hanging out for the time being while the ground crew prepares the cryostat.

Tyler and Abby are taping the gas ballast tanks above the cryostat, out of harm's way.

They almost look like they're about to fire off a missile.

Jason and Nick work on disconnecting the pulse tube cooler lines.

Without the lines connected, the system slowly begins to warm up. We're giving ourselves 2.5 hours to finish hoisting, reconnect the lines, and begin cooling again. We're at the seven minute mark.

A second timer runs in parallel, counting down from 2.5 hours.

Liz gets cabin duty opposite of Brad, and she gets up there by climbing onto the cryostat.

In position and ready to start!

Nick, Ryan, Tyler, and Clarence begin lifting the receiver in the cabin while Liz and Brad keep an eye on it from above.

As the receiver approaches the cabin entrance, Liz pushes it away from the wall so that the giant vacuum valve doesn't snag on its way up.

Making steady progress...

Nick in action with the chain hoist.

Almost there!

The hoisting pauses while Brad checks alignment, and we check that Brad is still alive.

Abby pulls out a ladder to get to the electronics rack, where she turns on the linear driver for the pulse tube.

Brad, hard at work in the cabin.

With the cryostat aligned and in place, it's time for the ground crew to take a break while the cabin crew fastens the bolts.

Everyone likes Abby's hard hat.

It's a tough choice deciding which hard hat to use during the winter, Abby's amazing sunny hat...

...or Clarence's dinodragon hat. Which has a sticker that says "FOO."

Nick's hands are covered with chain hoist gunk...but he's going to eat that peanut M&M anyway.

Time to send Jason up to the cabin to give Brad a hand.

Goodbye, Jason.

The receiver cart makes a great piece of lab furniture for the ground crew while we're waiting.

Abby found a comfortable corner to perch on.

Liz is getting hungry, so we're sending an apple up to her via the chain hoist.

I guess Ryan's hungry too. The apple container: kimwipe + foil tape.

The apple in transit to the cabin. Only Liz's feet are visible, poking out from behind the cryostat.

Successful snack delivery!

Liz looks like she's been crushed by the cryostat, like the scene from the Wizard of Oz.

The ground crew is still lounging around...

Finally, Brad and Liz declare installation victory!

A very high five!

Time to send Abby up in the man lift to rescue the cabin crew.

Brad is the first one to return down to the lab...

...while Liz is still hanging out in the cabin.

Last human extracted, and the mission is complete!

With half an hour to spare!

The receiver, in its final home for the year, ready for first light!

Time to bring up the electronics and cabling. One of the cabin doors is closed so we can use it as a staging area for all the hardware.

Abby is ready for action!

After a few man lift trips back and forth, the electronics racks are in place.

Because it's Wednesday, it's business time.


As I walked by the galley, I noticed a new flier among the usual collection...

Hello? Is it me you're looking for? (Several of the paper tabs were torn off by the time I walked by again.)

It's Darren's last day here, so time to celebrate with a drink and a few rounds of Loot!

Kiwon is very excited about the wine stash for SPT Ladies Night.

Nothing like pirates, trash talk, and grapefruit gummies to end the day!


It's Darren's last day on station, and a bunch of us are out at the flight deck to say goodbye. Here's Walt, Jon, Darren, and Martin, part of the BICEP2/Keck crew.

My turn to rotate into the photo with Jon, Darren, and Martin.

Waiting at the flight deck as the last cargo pallets get loaded.

Finally, time to say goodbye as the outbound passengers are herded into the plane.

Later in the evening...the most anticipated event of the year, SPT LADIES NIGHT! The fliers were posted only in the women's bathrooms. Who could resist slow dancing with a cosmologist?

All the women on station also received personalized invitations.

The fine assortment of chocolate provided at DSL for Ladies Night.

There was also enough cheese and crackers to feed a small country.

Clarence is manning the booze booth and is already pushing champagne in my direction.

The lab windows are covered with pink bubble wrap and foam to create the appropriate atmosphere.

Abby, Clarence, Nick, and Liz are hanging out, waiting for the crowd to show up.

Ladies Night includes tours of the telescope, and Abby is showing the first group of visitors around the control room.

It's Erik!

The slowly growing crowd...

Martin tried to set an example for everyone else by going in for the opening dance with Elissa.

Alas, most people were still hanging out in the receiver lab (the snack/drink room).

Mouse promised to bring two ladies with him, and this was one of his guests.

Everyone's looking sharp this evening.

Ryan's geting fresh with Martin...

The gal in green was Mouse's other guest.

The cargo receiving room was the dance area, complete with pink foam windows and speakers daisy chained together...with totally not-ghetto connections...

Finally a few people got out onto the dance floor! Kiwon is ready to party.

DJ Brad with his Ladies Night mix, scientifically formulated to make everyone rock out.

The happily dancing crowd!

Someone's getting fresh with the green gal...

Flint is trying to match Ryan's outfit.

The last ones standing (for the most part) at SPT Ladies Night 2012!


Yet another highly anticipated event of the year: the South Pole International Film Festival! The crowd is gathering in the galley for the film festivities.

The SPT table: Erik, Clarence, Tyler, Nick, Liz, Jason. And the obligatory bottle of wine.

Mikey is the MC for the evening...

...and does a good job of working the crowd.

One of my favorite entries for the evening was a Werner Herzog parody about the ice tunnels (-60F!). Another excellent film was the drunk history of the South Pole.


ARO hosted an open house today, so I dropped by to see the gadgets. Heather is telling us about how they collect clean air samples.

A case full of air sample flasks. They collect samples regularly throughout the winter and ship them back to Colorado at the end of the season.

Everyone's favorite part of the tour is getting our own miniature clean air sample tubes! Flint is marking his with the date and the CO2 concentration (388.9 ppm).

The dobson, which measures ozone levels by looking at absorbed sunlight (or moonlight during the winter). It needs to be steered and pointed by hand, and it lives in this room where there are many windows.

Looking back at the clean air sector as we returned to the station.


This plane brought in a load of winterovers today, and it's also Brad's ride back home.

Welcome back, Steffen of BICEP2!

Everyone's happy to see old familiar faces again.

Daniel and Dana, last year's SPT winterovers, have returned for a week to put us through winterover bootcamp.

Brad's farewell party: Jay, me, Abby, Daniel, Dana, Nick, Stephen, Liz, Erik, Martin, Jason.

Goodbye, Brad!

Click here for February photos and adventures...

Main index | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | April 2012 | May 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | November 2012