Week 49: Snow height measurements

After two weeks on the station, life is becoming more routine. A couple of Basler flights have taken out the remainder of the outgoing winter-overs (though John is with us until January) and we don’t expect any more flights until the New Year. Although the lack of flights this year means that cargo is very limited, it does mean that we will remain in code Green (no COVID restrictions) for the near future. The South Pole Overland Traverse (SPOT-1) has nearly finished offloading fuel and will soon return to McMurdo. The next supply transport, SPOT-2, is already en route and we expect to welcome them sometime around Christmas.

My room: Just big enough to sleep in

I have a standard South Pole station room of about 6 qm. It is not big, but big enough to sleep in. Most of the time, we are at the station together with the other people anyway. I have a middle room, thus, without a window, but this is fine - I would only have to darken it to be able to sleep. In winter, all windows are anyway darkened so that there is no light pollution, as we also have aurora cameras here that scientifically measure the aurora activity. In general, windows cannot be opened in the station, of course. Ventilation is only via air condition. Inside, the temperatures are around 21 degrees Celsius, which means that we wear normal clothes. Most of the time, I additionally wear a fleece jacket, which is more comfortable.

If you have forgotten something, have a look at Skua

In Christchurch, we were equipped with the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing for the South Pole: a thick red down jacket and insulated dungarees that protect against wind and cold. We also received some fleece garments. The rest we had to bring ourselves. The luggage is limited to 38 kg (85 lbs), plus 20 kg hand luggage, but since we will not get a lot of mail this year due to Corona, we were allowed to bring a little more, 45 kg (100 lbs). Bad luck, if you have forgotten something! But there might be the chance that you find it in Skua. Skuas are predatory seabirds that are specialized for life in temperate and Arctic regions, and are long-distance migrants. They have even been sighted at the South Pole. Anyway, we call Skua all things that have been left behind by previous polies and can be reused, like garments or unused Shampoo bottles. There is a corner in the station where all the Skua stuff is collected.

Busy with IceCube operations

John, Josh and I are fairly busy with IceCube operations these days. We started the week by testing the paging system, which calls (in turn), both of our radios, telephones in our bedrooms and our work phones. Our plan is to each be on call for a week at a time. This summer at Pole, there is some ongoing work to service the three generators that power the station. We don’t foresee any issues, but we theoretically discussed how we would respond to an extended power outage in collaboration with the other experiments.

Towards the end of the week, on December 10th, we made our first IceTop snow measurements as new winter-overs. This involves driving around the entire IceCube detector – an area of 1 qkm - and measuring the accumulated snow on top of some of the strings. It also involves replacing flags that have been buried or destroyed over winter, and occasionally extending the string marker rods which slowly get buried. This year we were fortunate to have a couple of laser rangefinders shipped to Pole, which made the work a lot easier, but some of the rods were too tall for either of us, so we had to do it the old-fashioned way with a tape measure. It’s nearing midsummer here and the weather is quite mild, for Pole! It was a beautiful day and we saw some fairly spectacular ice haloes around the Sun.

Community cook day: burgers for lunch and an optimized dish pit

Finally, since the galley staff spent a lot of time preparing Thanksgiving, they were given a day off on Saturday, December 12, and we had a community cook day. We made burgers for lunch and ran a very optimized dish pit! The same day, I started my South pole workout program. I will exercise every day from now on (running on the treadmill and a little weight lifting). When I arrived, I had 104 kg. My goal is to reduce weight down to 83 kg by the end of my time here. Let us see!