South Pole is a phenomenal place

2019 Mar 29th

South Pole is a phenomenal place

Wow! Everything about living and working down here is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Kudos to the staff and scientists who work down here on a regular basis - some of whom live here for 12 month stints (in the winter it is dark 24 hour per day). It is an extraordinarily challenging environment, but the only place on Earth where some science can be done (or done optimally).

Monday we stared the field work that we came here to do. Two of the Research Associates (staff at the pole who assist the various science groups that come through), plus a volunteer from another science project, joined us to go out to the “SPRESSO” site. SPRESSO is the South Pole Remote Earth Science and Seismological Observatory. I’m pretty sure it was named by a colleague who is awfully fond of espresso. We were so thankful for the extra hands because . . . you guessed it . . . lots of snow digging was involved. We had a great day but it stretched out a bit long in our effort to complete everything. In the end we connected the essential equipment for an overnight test, and planned to come back Tuesday. 

We got to tour the SPRESSO vault as well, which involved climbing down a shaft about 20-25 feet deep to get to the “control” room. From there the SPRESSO sites control a wide range of seismic instruments, some of them several hundred feet down in the ice. I added my name to the wall where everyone who has ever visited SPRESSO has signed their name. SPRESSO is located about 7 or 8 km from the South Pole to avoid seismic noise contamination from all the heavy equipment operating at the pole (mostly bulldozers that clear snow).

On Tuesday two more science associates came along and we installed sensors, debugged some cabling issues, and just generally worked hard to wrap things up, which we did. The PASSCAL test facility at SPRESSO is now in great shape. We finished the day by sorting our tools and equipment, and repacking our cargo for the trip back to McMurdo.

Perhaps the most amazing thing being out in the field at South Pole is that you have the sensation of being far out at sea on an ocean of snow. The horizon, for all 360 degrees, is white and flat and featureless for as far as you can see. And it's cold - and this is the summer! Daytime temps are around -6 F (it is very nice this week) with windchill taking that down to about -22. A weather scientist here at the station told me that the record high here is 10 degrees F.

So, now we try to catch a flight home (home being McMurdo). There is a group of folks here that have been trying since Monday to get to McMurdo, but everyday the flight has been cancelled. It is a shame to have to leave, but other tasks await back in McMurdo.

A few of us got to help launch the official station weather balloon (these are launched twice daily) at 10:00 PM on Sunday evening. We got to sign our names on the balloon. If this balloon is ever found I hope I don’t get in trouble for littering in Antarctica.

There are a couple of unofficial rules down here. First, everyone shares. All the scientists and staff down here are happy to explain what they do, and if they are not too busy they will let you visit their facility and take you on a tour. Second, everyone helps. 

Digging, digging, digging. While we dig we talk about the book/movie ‘Holes’, and we get in touch with our inner gopher. Note the dead flat horizon!

The shaft leading out of SPRESSO. Luckily the control room is heated, so it is a great place to take a break. We left some cookies for the next visitors. And I borrowed some toe warmers from the stock. What a lifesaver those were.

We dug the station box out of this hole. It was down there a ways.