Archive for October, 2009

Classification of Weather Conditions

October 29, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

They classify the weather around McMurdo Station to inform the residents what activities are allowed.  The following is paraphrased from the McMurdo Station Guide:

CONDITION 1:  Winds less than 48 knots, wind chills warmer than –75 degrees F., and visibility greater than 1/4 mile.  This is considered normal weather.

CONDITION 2:  One or more of the following – Winds between 48-55 knots, wind chills of  -75 to –100, or visibility less than 1/4 mile.  Requires check in & out with the Firehouse by radio prior to leaving town.

CONDITION 3:  One or more of the following – Winds greater than 55 knots, wind chills colder than –100, or visibility less than 100 feet.  Only “mission critical” travel permitted.  Stay in the building you are currently in until weather improves.

The airport went to Condition 3 this morning.  Here in town,  Mike & I haven’t seen anything worse than Condition 2.

I saw some other stats you might find interesting.  There are a little over 1000 people here at McMurdo Station. 73% male and 27% female.

McMurdo Station sits on Ross Island, which is about 45 miles long and 45 miles wide.

Mike and I get to go on a boondoggle on Sunday, so hopefully I’ll have a good story and some new pics.


Above: McMurdo Station; Below: Glacier




October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009

The Sunday evening science lecture on October 25th explained some of the logistics behind the “South Pole Traverse.”   The South Pole Traverse is an attempt to save money and leave a smaller environmental footprint in providing supplies to the South Pole.  Traditionally, transporting the provisions to the South Pole has been accomplished by C-130 airplanes.  The C-130’s are equipped with skis for landing and takeoff.

The traverse uses tractors, towing the supplies on specially designed sleds, over 1000 miles from McMurdo Station to the South Pole.  On the return from the pole they haul out as much waste as possible.  Apparently, an overabundance of waste has accumulated at the pole throughout the years.  I tried to write down the following facts and statistics correctly, but don’t quote me:

The Traverse consists of:  8 tractors hauling sleds

1 radar vehicle (searches down, looking for hidden crevasses)

930,000 pounds of goods delivered

10   people

160,000 gallons of fuel (at the start)

They hope to average 33 miles per day on the way to the pole, and 47 miles per day on the way back.   Key dates:    November 6,  Leave McMurdo.

December 6.  Arrive at South Pole.

December 16.  Leave South Pole.

January 6.  Arrive McMurdo.

The traverse will save 36 trips to the South Pole by the C-130’s.  That will save 88,000 gallons of fuel and emit less pollution.

The hope is to start doing 2 traverses to the pole per year.  I’m not sure when that will commence.

As an attempt to make the trip more efficient they have developed new sleds and fuel tanks.  The sleds are made of extremely tough, slippery plastic.  The fuel tanks are long, thin, and tough bladders that rest on the sleds.  Both sleds and bladders are flexible to “roll” with the uneven terrain.   Compared to the old fuel tanks & sleds, the new ones are 1/10th the weight, 1/3rd the resistance, and 1/5th the cost.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to share with you.

Goodbye Night

October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009

Hello moon.  Last night, I saw it for the first time since I’ve been in Antarctica.  I’m sure it’s been around – I just haven’t noticed it.  Ironically, last night was the last sunset/sunrise at McMurdo until February 20th.  The sun was below the horizon for just over on hour.  From now until the summer solstice it will keep spiraling higher and higher into the sky.  I am intrigued by this phenomenon and how will if affect me, both physically and mentally.  Will I be able to tell about what time it is by looking at the sun?  If I look at a clock and see it says 6:00, will I know if it is morning or evening?  The fact that we will be working shift work (we are open 24-7) will add to the confusion.

The aircraft that we are controlling are in Antarctica to support the research happening in down here.  We will have 2 airports and 1 dump area (for a controlled crash – in case of an emergency).   Every year the Federal Aviation Administration has to come down here to flight check the instrument procedures for the airports.  The FAA has special instruments on some of their planes, which they use for this purpose.  Yesterday, both Mike and I got to go up in the FAA’s plane while they were running some of their checks.  It was interesting and educational from a couple standpoints.  First of all, we learned a little about what all is involved to certify an instrument flight procedure.  Secondly, we got to see the area we are living in from a different perspective.  This is the main reason I asked to go.  It was great to get up into the air and see, not only McMurdo Station, but other landmarks I had read about in The Worst Journey in the World.  We also got to see the open ocean, which is about 15 miles north of McMurdo.

PICT0767 The final sunset this Spring

DSC_0071 Mt. Erebus with open water to on the left side


October 21, 2009

October 21, 2009

Yesterday and todays weather is the worst we have had since we’ve been here.  At  1:00 in the afternoon it is –15 degrees F. with winds at 24 knots gusting to 35.  Skies are overcast with an occasional snowflake.  All flights are cancelled again.  The best weather in the last 36 hours was last night between 10:00pm and 4:00am.  I was working a mid watch I got to observe the sunset and sunrise.

When I arrived at work (10:00pm) last night the sun was shining through the southwest facing window.  The sun was low on the horizon, just above some low lying mountains.  It traveled towards the south, parallel to the horizon, occasionally going behind the higher peaks and returning on the other side.  The sun finally set at midnight and rose again three hours later.  For approximately four hours that section of the sky near the horizon was slowly changing shades of pink.  I didn’t have a camera, of course.  I plan on taking one tonight, but who knows what the sky conditions will be.  The sun was down for three hours last night, but will only be down for two and a half hours tonight.  I’m guessing that in another week the sun wont set for months.

We have not seen any wild life since we have been here.  No penguins, no birds, no mice, not even a fly or bug.  Ditto with flora.  No trees, on bushes, not even any weeds.  They used to have a green house at the station, but apparently it didn’t survive the budget cuts.  Mike and I are hoping the ice around McMurdo moves out to sea this year.  That will bring lots of marine life to area.  But, the sea ice has remained in the area for the last six or seven years.   Everyone says that we will see penguins, other birds, and seals when the weather warms up.


Dog sleds from a bygone era.  Mike says dogs are no longer allowed in Antarctica for environmental reasons.   I would like to hear the rational for that decision.  It seems kind of crazy, considering what they do allow.


Some of the vehicles that they do allow down here.

PICT0758Helicopter leaving McMurdo, carrying a load to an outlying camp.

BBC’s Frozen Planet

October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No flights were scheduled today, so Mike & I had the day off.  It was overcast and windy this morning.  Mike did laundry and I laid around and watched college football.  (Stateside Saturday is our Sunday).

After lunch we noticed that the sun was starting to break through and the wind was calm. It was time to get out and explore a little bit.  We decided to walk over to the New Zealanders Antarctic base (Scott Base) here on Ross Island.  It is about 2 miles to Scott from McMurdo.  We got some nice views of the Ross Ice Shelf and Mounts Erebus & Terror.

The Sunday Night Science Lecture was hosted by Dr. Chadden Hunter.  He is a member of the BBC’s Natural History Unit.  They are the group that filmed and produced the Planet Earth series that was broadcast by the Discovery Channel.  Currently, the same group is working on a 7 part TV series called Frozen Planet “The Ultimate Challenge of the Polar Regions.” The series will cover both the north and south poles and most likely air in 2011.  Sir David Attenborough will be the narrator.

We got to see some film footage and learned about some of the BBC’s  gee-whiz camera equipment.  The  cinematography is going to be spectacular.  They will be in and out of McMurdo through February.  The film crews will be filming throughout the continent.


Above:  A picture of Mike, with Scott Base (green buildings) and Ross ice shelf in the background.

PICT0756Above:  Mount Erebus (an active volcano) taken near Scott Base

Observation Hill

October 14, 2009

October 14, 2009

Today was beautiful with little wind.  The temperature was about 10 degrees.  Since the wind wasn’t bad, I decided to climb Observation Hill, which is on the edge of town.  Mike had an evening shift so I went with another controller we work with.  I would guess it was about a 45 minute hike from our dorm to the top.

On the top of observation hill is cross that was erected in 1912 to honor Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans (the members of Scott’s team that died returning from the south pole).   It was hauled up there and erected by some of the survivors of the expedition.

From the top of Ob. Hill we had a beautiful view of Mount Erebus.  Erebus is the southern most active volcano.  In the picture below you can see some steam coming out the top.  We can’t see Erebus from town – it is blocked by a hill.   Apparently the view of Erebus is good from Ice Runway and the control tower.  They just opened Ice Runway today and I haven’t been out there yet (I’ve been working in town at the center).  While on the top of Ob. Hill, we also got to watch the C-17 depart Ice Runway for New Zealand.

The pictures below are of:

1)    Sun, setting behind the Royal Society range from behind our dorm.

2)    Observation Hill and cross.

3)    Mount Erebus from the top of Ob. Hill

4)    Me, in front of the cross on Ob. Hill


Scott’s Discovery Hut

October 10, 2009

October 10, 2009

Today’s C-17 flight from New Zealand was cancelled due to unstable weather, as were the helicopter flights.  We are supposed to get some nasty weather here tomorrow – visibility 1/2 mile or less and wind gusts to 70 mph.  The clouds will keep the warm air from escaping so we should get the warmest temperatures we’ve seen.  I think the high is supposed to be around 14 degrees.

I had the opportunity to walk over to Hut Point and visit Scott’s Discovery Hut.  It was built during his expedition here in 1901.  Scott used the hut again during his 1910–1914 expedition. Shackleton made use of it for his expeditions in 1908 and 1917.

Frost prevented me from seeing much through the windows, but I’ve been told that parts of a dead seal are still present (they used seal blubber for heat).  Very little decay takes place due to the extreme dry atmosphere and the cold temperatures.

Tomorrow we get the day off, due to the bad weather.  I plan on attending a lecture about some research they are doing down here concerning the planet Mars.  They are also doing some guided tours around the science labs.

I will try to attach a couple photos.

1)    Scott’s Discovery Hut

2)    Frozen sea ice off Hut PointPICT0743PICT0750

First Days on the Ice

October 7, 2009

October 7, 2009 – “Acclimate” is defined as “become accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions.”  Mike and I have been trying to acclimate to our new conditions in more ways than one.

The most obvious new condition is the weather.  Before we left Denver (and also in Christchurch) we had a few cool, damp days with temperatures in the 60 degree range.  I remember feeling chilled.  Since arriving at McMurdo Station we have had constant temperatures of well below 0.   The winds have varied quite a bit, from mostly calm to pretty gusty.  Gusty and 35 below is cold,  but the clothes they gave us are pretty amazing.  Needless to say we haven’t spent extended period of time outside yet.

Mike and I have also had to acclimate to rooming in conditions similar to what we haven’t seen since our college days.  We have a typical dorm size room that we share a bathroom with a couple suite mates.  The food is cafeteria style and has been pretty good, so far.  My problem is keeping myself from eating to much junk.  They always have lots of desserts to choose from that I have a hard time passing on.

Last night Mike and I attended the Outside Safety Lecture.  This means it is “legal” for us to do some local hiking outside of the town limits.  We are looking forward to enough free time to do some local exploring (a little warmer & calmer weather would also be appreciated).

We have been busy the last few days training for our jobs.  There are 3 different positions we will have to get checked out on.  Mike & I are training on separate position right now and do not always have the same hours.  After we get all checked out, we will probably be working shift work.  Both the tower and center will soon be open 24 hours a day.

McMurdo Station has numerous indoor activities that we could get involved in.  There is a weight room, a separate cardio room (stationary bikes, treadmills, stair steppers, etc.  The have a gym for basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc.  I have seen ads for yoga, knitting, lectures, etc.  There is even a chapel in town.

October 3, 2009

The bottom picture from the previous post shows a building in Lyttelton that would drop the big ball down the pole at exactly midnight Greenwich Mean Time every day.  The sailors needed that for their navigation.

We see these beautiful flowers blooming all over the place. (Top picture from previous post)

The middle photo was taken from the gondola that rises to the top of a pass between Christchurch and Lyttelton.   The photo shows Lyttelton harbor.

Akaroa is farther from Christchurch, on the south side of the Banks Peninsula.  The town of Akaroa sits on the east side of Akaroa harbor.  The harbor is a caldera from a volcano that eroded to the sea on the south side.

Akaroa is now a popular place for people to visit for holiday or weekends in the summer.

The following are all photos of Akaroa harbor.

The pictures below are from Akaroa


Lyttelton and Akaroa October 1st & 2nd

October 3, 2009

We spent today and yesterday site seeing around the Banks Peninsula.  Captain James Cook was the first European to see the peninsula in 1770 and he named after his ships naturalist – Sir Joseph Banks.  It is located just south and east of Christchurch.

Lyttelton is the port for Christchurch and is only a few minutes drive southeast from downtown.