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Sat, Mar. 20th, 2004, 09:17 pm
Part Three

Dispatches from the Ice-Year 2
Part 3

Hello All,

Today is March 14th, and more time has passed relatively uneventful. The weather has been rather gloomy and not a lot of sun. Sun is a valuable commodity this time of year down here. There is not nearly enough of it and it recedes towards the northern horizon far too quickly. Yesterday, Saturday, finds the sun just clearing the hills to the north by a few degrees of elevation. Next week I am sure, the sun will begin to be eclipsed by those same hills. The sun’s warmth is already becoming a distant memory. Facing it finds no change in the temperature from the ambient air temperature.

This year, just for fun, I am graphing the weather records posted on the weather scroll on television. I am charting the low temperature (nobody cares about the high temp!); the strongest wind and lowest wind chill for the day. Over the past two weeks the average temperature was –7 degrees F, the winds were 23 mph and the coldest wind chill was –54 degrees F. I noticed over the last few days the difference between daily lows and highs is only a few degrees. The sun sets for good on April 24th at 1:16 pm until August 20th.


Black Island Traverse

There was a short traverse to Black Island this week. Readers from last year remember how enthralled I was going out there in the extreme darkness of July for generator maintenance. This week’s traverse was only to check the flagged route across the Ross Ice Shelf to B.I. The purpose was to put up new flags, repair old ones, and check ice conditions that may require Fleet Ops to groom the pressure ridges that occur when the ice moves with the tides and sea conditions.

For those who don’t know about Black Island, I’ll tell you. McMurdo Station sits on the southern tip of Ross Island. Sitting directly to our north is Mount Erebus, the only active volcano in a polar region, at 12,000 feet, 12 miles from town. It blocks our access to two geostationary satellites used for telecommunications and television just 2.3 degrees above our horizon. Black Island is 24 miles west of Ross Island and has an unobstructed view of these satellites, so the earth station built there downlinks all our data (including telephones, email, internet, teleconferencing, streaming NPR audio, and some things I probably do not know about), and television and radio services provided by American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).

From Black Island there is a microwave link back to town where we receive all this stuff and distribute around town. AFRTS television is on our own cable TV network. AFRTS radio is broadcast on our own small FM radio transmitters, as is National Public Radio streaming audio from the Internet. Data goes to our big ass servers where we get email and Internet on NSF computers.

Sean Dwyer from the shop went on this little ride and spent the night at Black Island. He, like most of us, thought it was a cool place but only as far as being a place to go to get out of town. I spoke up for this traverse but much happier for the next traverse next month and I really wanted to go when it is still light out. I am not sure exactly how dark it gets then, but it will still be cool.

South Pole Slot

I have been talking to Dave Anderson, another mechanic in the Heavy Shop, who wintered at Pole the last few years but is wintering here this winter about working at Pole. He plans to go back next winter. There are two mechanic slots at Pole. I was thinking how cool it would be to go to Pole for anything, even a visit. There is a possibility of me getting the second mechanic slot at Pole for winter 2005 with Dave. He gave me contact people and offered a reference to help me out. That would be cool to winter at the South Pole. You think it’s cold here! Dave says a warm day at Pole in winter is –70 ambient!

The crew is a lot smaller and you have to be more self sufficient in doing your job. There is not a support structure to go to (i.e. to get your parts for a repair job). You live on top of everyone else, a lot of smaller, shared spaces. Food is better than McMurdo. You get a private room to yourself so you have a place to go to. The room is half the size of the dorm rooms in town. Community bathroom facilities (I’ve gotten used to that), 2 minute showers 3 times a week, water conservation. It costs money to make water at Pole. No satellite access 12 hours out of the day, so we are effectively cut off completely. I don’t know what they do for excitement, but I got a feeling it is the same past time as here-drinking. Station is closed for 8 months instead of 6 here, meaning no flights in or out. And everything at the pole is flown in, always has been. Does have an operational ham radio station, unlike the one here that is still down due to antenna problems.

Going to the South Pole is one of my goals while I still come down here. It would be real nice to go as far south as one can go.

Tid Bits.

Here are a few little things that need to be said but not worthy of a paragraph or two.

**Winter population is at 191 people. 126 men, 65 women.
**Many of the movies played locally on channels 9 and 10 are the same ones form last winter. (Arrrrrrrgggghhhhh!!!!!!)
**We are eating burgers that came in on vessel 2003! What we don’t eat gets turned into chili. What chili we don’t eat gets turned into burritos. After the burritos…
**When did kielbasa and whole deep fried potatoes become breakfast food?
**There is an operations directive that says using fines on walkways are counterproductive to road maintenance, and may be a violation of the treaty. Do they expect us to spend the entire winter slipping and falling on our collective asses?
**I got drafted as a stretcher-bearer for the annual mass casualty drill because I did it last year.
**I discovered I don’t really like writing on my laptop in my room with the laptop keyboard. I may need to acquire a keyboard.
**I got a red 2005 Ford Mustang as wallpaper on my laptop. Nice to dream isn’t it?
**I have spent no money since I have been here (6 weeks). I do not foresee spending any for a while yet. I still have toothpaste and soap for a while.
**I spend way, way, way too much time surfing eBay for cool cars to buy. Don’t worry Ronnie, I won’t bid on any…yet!
**Life and living here is so much easier this time around.


That’s a wrap.

Today is March 21st. Despite the recent snowstorm, hope spring has finally sprung at home and things are warming up nicely. Miss the spring season, but spring in New Zealand isn’t so awful either. It is cold and partly cloudy today. I had signed up to go on a skidoo trip to room with a view on the slopes of Mt. Erebus, but it was cancelled, so here I sit. Heading down to the galley for Sunday Brunch when I post this. May go up to the ham shack and look at the antenna, or I may go make one up. Hmmmm…

Enuff…

Ernie Gray
McMurdo Station, Antarctica