Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Well hello again...

Oops.  I’ve been TERRIBLE about updating my blog!  Luckily, its actually a blessing in disguise – or something like that!  I have been so busy that the blog has once again taken the back burner.  Definitely a good thing in my mind!  If I was bored, I would not be having such a good time down here. 

I actually can’t believe we are already over a quarter of the way through June and less than two weeks from mid-winter!  The time down here is going unbelievably fast!  Some days of the week seem slow, but it seems like Saturday comes more and more frequently – definitely a good thing!  So some of the things that have gone on since April…

Its dark now!  When I checked this morning, the sun was almost 22.8 degrees below the horizon.  For those of you that don’t remember your Earth Science, the tilt of the Earth is about 23.3 degrees.  What that means down here is that the maximum degrees the sun will ever be above or below the horizon is 23.3 degrees.  The apparent motion of the sun overhead is a sine wave – for us this means it appears to rise or sink fastest when it is crossing the horizon, and seem very slow when we are near the peaks and troughs.  Right now is one of those slow times.  It will take another 13 days for the sun to sink the remaining 0.5 degrees below the horizon.  On the solstice we will be at our lowest point and begin to rebound.  Amazing stuff.

In the meantime, this week is about as dark as it is going to get all winter!  The sun is lowest, and there is no moon.  For having absolute darkness, it really isn’t all that pitch-black.  I had imagined that I would navigate mainly the sound of the flags flapping along our flag line, but this is certainly not the case!  The starlight and auroras are actually quite bright.  On most days, I can ‘clearly’ see the station from ARO, and vice versa.  And when I say ‘clearly’, I mean that there is a black smudge in the distance that can only be the buildings.  The darkest days are when we have clouds and wind obscuring the sky.  Then it’s a bit dark.  Still, navigation has been much easier than I would have thought.  Luckily, I have ‘laser eyes’ and my night vision was not affected by lasik over a year ago.  Some eyes don’t adjust well to the dark here, and many of the station crew use head lamps with red lights to navigate.  We can’t use white light because some instruments would be impacted by the entire spectrum.  It turns out red is a pretty good color (except for an instrument or two on top of ARO) and it allows your eyes to stay mainly adjusted even with the light being used. 

It is beautiful here in the light, but I think the real beauty of the South Pole is the night sky.  Unlike every other part of the world (other than the North Pole), we see the same stars all day and all night – nothing rises or sets besides the moon, sun, and planets.  Going outside several times per day, you really get to know the sky.  For the first time, I am able to pick out several constellations.  I only recognize one constellation from home, and it is only partial.  We Orion down here – usually I can pick out the three stars which make up his belt, but down here they aren’t visible.  Instead, all we see is his legs sticking out of the snow.  Its actually quite funny.  The most prominent and easily-recognized constellation is the Southern Cross.  It’s the constellation I use to navigate from time to time if the flags are difficult to see.  Its almost directly overhead and points in the different directions as the day progresses.  I have fallen in love with the Southern sky.

The auroras are INCREDIBLE!  WOW.  We had several amazing shows last month overhead.  I had only seen faint auroras in Alaska before – now I laugh at how excited I was to see the faintest hint of glowing green in the sky.  Our auroras are ‘full-on double rainbow’ auroras!   You just want to should into the sky, ‘What does it mean?!?!’  I can totally relate to what the Double Rainbow Guy felt during that hilarious YouTube clip.  (If you haven’t seen it, check it out ASAP.)  Most of the time there is at least a faint aurora streaming overhead.  Every once in a while it gets very bright and energetic.  The auroras vary in their intensities over a time scale of seconds.  It literally looks like a green glowing river flowing through the sky.  Sometimes when they are realllly energetic, red or purple is visible.  For several auroras, I saw streaks of purple flowing through the bright green auroras.  They move and vary so much that I always expect to hear a sound associated with them!  The crazy part is how low the auroras appear – this phenomenon actually occurs hundreds of kilometers above our heads and can be seen from space, but they appear to be hundreds of feet above our heads!  I am in awe every time I step outside here.  Just seeing the auroras makes the whole winter experience worth it.

In contrast, when the moon rises (the moon spends two weeks up, two weeks down), it is freakin’ bright!  I haven’t cursed the moon’s brightness since it used to wake me up shining in my window at home, but WOW it is bright here!  I get a little bummed because it completely washes out the auroras.  It is nice, however, to be able to walk from building to building seeing your footing, your path, and the actual destination clearly.  In the darkness, you end up stumbling a lot over new snow drifts that appear overnight – and sometimes you end up wandering off the beaten path as well.  I actually ran square into a flag the other day.  Its hilarious.  The moon eliminates these problems.  And we can perform some readings on the total column ozone that can’t be completed in the darkness.  The moon has its plusses and minuses. 

Station Events
Club Deep Freeze – in an effort to throw awesome dance parties, a few us organized ‘Club Deep Freeze.’  We essentially took one of the TV lounges on station and pimped it out with great lighting and sound.  On the club nights, we have great speakers, a designated DJ, a mini bar, black lights, laser lights, strobe-ish lights, and a disco ball set up.  Its wicked awesome.  The first Deep Freeze night had a 90’s dance music theme.  The second was funk.  The next party is going to be 80’s, right after mid-winter dinner.  Love it!

BF5K – This past weekend the station participated in the 7th annual BF5K, a 3.1-mile race through the station.  The catch is that it was a costumed race.  It was hilarious!  You could either race as an individual or as a team.  My team all wore lovely dresses, our competition wore matching ‘Life is Good’ garb, the women’s individual competitor went as the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, and the sole male individual runner started off as a valkyrie (I apologize for my spelling!), changing mid-race to a cheerleader.  All-in-all, it was a blast.  A good-sized crowd came out to watch and cheer on the runners.  I’m glad I was part of a team – running 3 miles in the station is brutal!  To start off with, you’re at about 10,000-11,000 ft physiological altitude, there is essentially 0% relative humidity in the station, and the floor is not forgiving.  After the race, I was coughing up a storm and I could feel my usual foot problems starting to come back.  Rawr.  I miss running outside! 

ARO Movies – I started ARO movie night back up last month.  I got a little burnt out my weekly ARO movie night this summer.  It was lovely having a break.  Now I’m holding it every few weeks, which is much better!  So far the movies have had a Soviet theme going.  Our first movie, by request, was ‘Red Dawn’, and the second requested movie was ‘Hunt for Red October’.  I think for the next movie, I’ll probably move on to a different genre.  Who knows!

Twin Peaks – About 10 of us have been watching Twin Peaks every Sunday night.  The lovely Ashley, our amazing host, has also been making pie, coffee, and home-made donuts for the show.  Its incredible!  I remember seeing the Sesame Street parody of Twin Peaks, ‘Twin Beaks’, when I was little.  Its very interesting watching the real series.  Its seriously messed up!  Just when you think you understand something, the whole situation changes and you’re left completely in the dark again.  Our little group has gotten really into the show.  Its not uncommon to hear someone mention Laura Palmer, Bob, or the one-armed man during week.

P90X – We have graduated from Power 90!  We completed our 90 days and moved on to P90X!  I’m reallllly glad we decided to finish Power 90 first before starting the next set of ‘Tony’ DVDs.  P90X is significantly more difficult.  If we had jumped into P90X, we would have either died or quit.  It is great though – you’re in pain most days, but it’s the good kind of pain!  The bad thing about this new workout plan is that we need to start at 0500 instead of 0530.  Its amazing how much of a difference 30 minutes makes!  I think its completely mental as well – there is just something wrong about waking up at 0430-0440 to work out.  I firmly believe that if the time of day has a 4 in the beginning of it, I should be sleeping (using military time here, people).  The three of us are now halfway through the third week and still going strong – that’s a good sign!

Knitting – Although this may not sound particularly exciting, I finished my first knitting project!  Instead of ending up with a normal cowl, I’m calling it a ‘sneed’ (Lorax reference).  Its HUGE – I can wear it as a cowl, hood, dress, skirt, you name it!  Hahaha.  I think it will be great for just keeping in the car.  You never know when you’ll get a chill.  It can probably even be a lap blanket.  I’ve learned my lesson – always test your gauge when knitting to see how many stitches you need!  With that lesson in mind, I have started my second knitting project, which is significantly harder.  I’m making a hat now – I can’t give too many details because it is a Christmas present, but it is comprised of two new stitches and actually has a real pattern to be followed.  So far I’ve started the test patch for my gauge twice and am now working on my third row.  Hahahahaha – this one project is going to take the rest of the winter!  I have been doing crochet projects on the side to keep myself sane – Christmas is pretty much completed except for this knitted hat.  I’m also starting to run low on my nice wool yarns.  It’s a good thing we only have five months left on the Ice!  I need another trip to Knit World in Christchurch!  If it is still standing, I’m planning on stocking up on my nice yarns and sending them home.  I’ll probably find a nice little project to work on during my 24 hours of flight time home too.  Ugh.  That’s too far in the future to start planning!

5 & 1 Pizzeria – Twice since the station closed, a group of 6 of us have run a pizzeria on days the galley crew has off.  Its been a blast – we start early making the dough and then reconvene after lunch to create about 25-30 pizzas, to be ready by 1800 dinner.  We are starting to get it down to a science.  Last time the pizza-making coincided with a ‘drive-in’ movie night in the gym, so we did pizza delivery to the movie-goers in the gym.  We had our awesome machinist create a rack for the bike and then attached a decorated box to carry the pizzas.  We’re a pretty serious operation, ya know.  Unfortunately, most of the audience was actually eating pizza in the galley, so we delivered to about 5 people, but we had a blast doing it!  Maybe next time… 

Life is good at the South Pole!  Sorry to everyone about not keeping in contact well these past two months – our satellite window has shifted and now I will either be calling the States super early in the morning, or super late at night!  And it’s the same here – when I call I either have to get up BEFORE P90X to catch the window, or stay up waaaay late past my bedtime!  It will be better in a month or two – I’ll be able to call everyone again!  I miss you all!  Thanks for all your support! 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Auroras and Iridium Flares

Okay, sunset and the green flash were cool, but can you guess what is way cooler?  The auroras!  I saw my first Aurora Australis (aka Southern Lights) a few days ago!  On my way back to ARO from lunch at the Elevated Station, I passed Johan.  He alerted me to keep my eyes to the sky – he had seen faint auroras on his walk to the station.  Auroras!?!?!  This early?  Amazing!  It took me FOREVER to walk my way back to ARO – just imagine me walking in the dark, looking up at the sky, stumbling over sastrugi and snow drifts, nearly running into our flag line, and trying not to fog my goggles.  It must have been hilarious.  My awkward walk was fruitful – I saw my first auroras!  It took me a few moments to figure out that what I was seeing was an aurora and not a cloud.  With it being still fairly light outside, the green auroras are very faint and don’t appear very green.  I knew I was seeing the aurora because it was oriented in the opposite direction of the rest of the clouds.  Also, it was moving.  Also, its brightness changed over seconds.  Definitely auroras. 

I was so excited to see a faint green ribbon of atomic oxygen giving off visible light hundreds of kilometers above my head that I screamed.  Literally screamed.  At this point I was extremely excited, but also a little worried that someone had heard my excited squeal and misinterpreted it for a scream of fear, pain, or general distress.  If I heard someone screaming outside, I would probably be forced to activate the ERT team, or our Emergency Response Team (the ‘T’ is redundant when you’re speaking in acronyms, I know).  So worried that all my peers would come running outside to rescue a fellow Polie in distress, I quieted down my excitement and joy associated with the first real auroras of the season.  Throughout my walk to ARO, the auroras danced overhead.  It was pretty amazing. 

Last night I saw a phenomenon called an ‘Iridium Flare’.  There is a comprehensive constellation of Iridium satellites overhead that provide a 24/7 voice and very limited data connection to the real world.  It’s basically our satellite phone connection.  We had Iridium phones on RAINIER.  They never seemed to work very well, given the mountainous areas we usually surveyed.  The little portable phones were more of a hassle than a help quite often.  Regardless, there are a lot of Iridium satellites up there.  As the satellites are orbiting the Earth and are overhead, the sun sometimes hits them at the correct angle, reflecting sunlight that is visible to a viewer on the surface.  These reflections are bright!  The Iridium Flares are very predictable, as we know the orbits of these satellites very well.  When they are visible, like they were last night, you can see an Iridium Flare every 9 minutes and 10 seconds.  What you actually see is a ‘star’ that’s moving at a decent clip through the sky.  As it reflects more sunlight toward the surface, the ‘star’ gets brighter and brighter, until it’s a ‘flare’.  It stays very bright for a second or two, and then fades back out.  It’s very cool.  Not as cool as the auroras, but I like them because they are so predictable and easy to spot once you know what you are looking for.  I have to get a shot of this phenomenon as well at some point. 

Yesterday we also had a momentous event at ARO – we made it officially winter.  “How can NOAA employees influence and control the seasons?”, one may ask.  Simple!  We brought in the last of the summer solar instruments from the roof yesterday.  Once they are safely inside, basking in the warmth of the building and settling in for a 6-month hibernation, we hit the ‘Winter’ button on our data acquisition system, ceasing the recording of non-existent data and causing the winter to officially begin.  It was so exciting – I had heard about this button MONTHS ago and was super stoked to push it.  It was even more of an event than imagined.  Although I was feeling sick yesterday, this brightened my day just a bit.

Stay tuned for pictures of the auroras and iridium flares – once I figure out how to work my camera in the dark and cold with a tripod without freezing my fingers off, I will be sure to post a few photos!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sunset and Such

Okay, yes.  It has been a while since I last posted… and a lot has happened!  The last time I wrote we were having our sunset dinner.  Well since then the sun has set!  What a dramatic event!  We were very lucky – the weather gods smiled upon us and granted us clear weather to view the sinking of the sun below the horizon.  I love all sunsets, but this one was particularly spectacular a) because I haven’t seen a sunset since January, b) because it takes several days for the sun to actually leave, and c) we saw the Green Flash!

The Green Flash is a brief ‘flash’ of green or blue light seen on the top of the setting sun.  Its rare to see – you need a clear view of the horizon.  It is often seen from aircraft, high altitudes like mountains, and at sea.  The green flash occurs because of the refraction of light through the Earth’s atmosphere.  Light is curved going through the different densities of the atmosphere.  Green and blue light curves (refracts) more than the reds and oranges – you end up seeing these colors being bent as the other colors have already sunk below the horizon with the sun.  (That’s a very basic explanation – there are better explanations available on the interwebs)  Because the sun sinks so slowly here, the Green Flash persisted for HOURS, not seconds.  It was fantastic.  I literally took hundreds of pictures when the sun was ‘flashing’ and I actually got a few decent shots.  So lucky!!!

Each day is getting darker now.  Although the sun is gone (it actually popped up above the horizon a few times after it set), it is still fairly light outside.  We are now in civil twilight.  In a few weeks we’ll leave official period of twilight and just be in plain old night.  That is very exciting.  We are starting to see stars and planets – Venus is very bright, as are Serius and Canopus.  That’s about the extent of my astronomical knowledge.  One of our awesome scientists is teaching an astronomy class, so he points out the stars to us.  I’m slowly picking it up.  Very soon we should start seeing the auroras!  That is what I am really excited for!  I’ve seen the auroras twice in Alaska and they were so faint that they looked the looms from a large town or city.  I knew it had to be the auroras because we were sailing in the middle of NOWHERE.  No towns for hundreds of miles.  Bring it on!

Things are starting to settle into their winter schedules.  Many departments have been working extremely hard getting things winterized and finished outside before it gets too dark and cold outside to stay out for extended periods of time.  There’s been a lot of trash and refuse moved and contained, lots of inventorying outside, and getting vehicles ready.  Here at ARO we have started bringing in our solar instruments.  We brought in four right after sunset, and next week we will bring in the rest that get to hibernate inside.  A few instruments just get to hang out in the darkness and chill until the sun rises again.  Its also gotten colder.  We’re averaging in the -70F range.  Yesterday the temperature dipped around lunch time – we hit -87F.  Later in the evening it hit -90, which is the coldest we have seen so far.  So close to the 300 Club!  I still haven’t brought out the Big Red jacket (except for an emergency drill outside and walk to the Dark Sector, which is farther than I usually walk – I was dying of heat on both occasions I wore the jacket).  Hardcore!!!!!

We’ve had a few events on station.  One was Bingo night – if you came dressed as a pop culture icon, you could play with 4 boards instead of 3.  Well, I wasn’t too into getting dressed up as anything until I thought of the perfect costume – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Oh yeah.  So I was making my costume in the arts and crafts room, happily cutting away at some scrap felt I found, when I had another turtle join in my idea.  I ended up making two costumes, while my turtle friend made our weapons.  We were so awesome!  We both had green shirts and sewed some ‘turtle abs’ I constructed out of felt and markers, bandanas which had eye holes, arm and knee pads in the appropriate colors, and weapons our characters always used.  When we were done, we spent some time sneaking around the station like ninja turtles trying to test out our outfits.  Unfortunately it was a quiet night and there weren’t many people around.  We managed to sneak up on three people, giving them all a start.  The costumes were a hit at Bingo – we had our arch-nemesis, Jean Claude Van Damme to battle.  Also in attendance were Dolly Parton, the Swedish Chef, Luigi, Gigi the Giraffe, and Sherlock and Watson.  Fantastic!  Bingo aside, we had fun in our costumes.

We also had a night where we played Paper Telephone – it’s a South Pole Summer classic game where instead of whispering phrases around a circle, you draw them.  Every player gets the same number of pieces of paper as there are players.  On your first sheet of paper you write down a common phrase – one of the better ones from the night was ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’  From there, you put the paper at the back of the pile and pass it on to the next person.  That person looks at what you wrote and then has to draw it.  The next person it is passed to only looks at the drawing and writes what they think the phrase was.  Depending on how many people you have and what their drawing abilities are, the results can be hilarious!  By the time all the piles of paper reach their original owners, the drawings are ridiculous and the phrases are completely wrong or make no sense.   It was another fantastic night at the South Pole.

Other than that, things have been pretty quiet.  There are more events on the horizon which will spice things up, but I’ll cross those bridges when I come upon them!

Stay warm back home… or cool?  Spring is here!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunset Photos!

Here are a few photos I've captured of our sunset over the past few days.  More will be uploaded over the next few days, and definitely more on facebook!

Frosty Station

Station and sunset as seen from ARO deck

Sunset seen from one of ARO's Dobson windows

View from the 'front stoop' of ARO

Super Moon, MAPO, and Ceremonial South Pole

ARO and Super Moon

 Station and Super Moon

Sunset Dinner cocktail hour in the galley lounge

Sunset Dinner table in the galley

Our amazing Sunset Dinner main course... beef tenderloin, lobster, pumpkin!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Baby, it's cold outside!

-86F – It keeps getting colder and colder! I love it! I really hope once the sun sets we’ll hit our -100F quickly, much like what happened down here last year. Our facilities engineer thinks he’s jinxed because the two previous winters he’s spent here have been warm – the Pole never reached -100F. I’ve had some friends from home suggest that we kick him out of the station when it gets near the century mark so that his bad vibes don’t affect us, but I’m not sure the weather gods will be fooled. -100F is so special because it is the temperature when you can become a member of the 300 Club. Much like Mount Washington’s Century Club, where they need to survive 100mph of wind, we need to survive -100F… naked (on MWN, they are fully-clothed). So where does the 300 come from? Welllllllll, we heat up the station’s sauna to 200F first, stay in there as long as possible, then toss the clothing (except for the essentials – foot covering, probably glove liners, and a neck gaiter for your face? I need to check my details and rules.), run down the ‘beer can’, out the door, and make a loop of the geographic South Pole before returning to the warm station, and most likely the sauna. We’re lucky this year. The geographic Pole moved about 30 feet closer to the beer can door, making the ‘run’ slightly shorter for us. Believe me – at these temps, every second counts. I’m psyched! Sorry… I will NOT be posting pictures from this event!

In my last post I explained how I hated the Big Red jacket and how I’m planning on holding out as long as possible – today may be the day I actually break it out. Rawr. I’m not enthused, but its becoming necessary. The soft shell I wear over my down layers is really not the right piece of equipment for these temperatures. I nearly broke the zipper this morning taking it off when I reached ARO. I was only outside for about 15-20 minutes, but the zipper was completely frozen and stuck. I definitely struggled getting out of it. The zipper is sealed to prevent water from getting in at temperatures where liquid water actually exists. Apparently this rubber-ish gasket-like seal doesn’t like temperatures over 100 degrees below the freezing point of water. Oops. When the wind blows, the down layers are not going to be enough to keep me warm. Plus, when I put on about 20 layers of clothing to avoid the Big Red, I feel like the little brother from ‘A Christmas Story’. Yiiiikes.

Tonight I am going to attempt to learn how to knit. One of my many projects down here for the winter is making next year’s Christmas presents for friends and family (at least until I run out of supplies). On R&R in Christchurch I spent a long time at Knit World, the most amazing yarn store in the world, picking out the perfect yarns to go with projects for family. I picked up crochet when I was home last Christmas (wow – two Christmas’ ago? Where does the time go?) and have already finished my sister’s presents. Now I have a great knitting pattern I want to try and make for my brother. If I can become a proficient knitter, so many doors will open up for me, as far as online patterns go. There are a ton of crochet patterns out there, but about ten times more knitting patterns than crochet! Verrrrry exciting! So tonight is the weekly ‘Stitch & Bitch” meeting, South Pole Chapter. The other Polie, who is the host of the event, is a knitter. She has made some beautiful items, including her own amazing socks out of merino wool. Sooo nice! So I’m going to corner and have her start to teach me. My first project is going to be something very easy. I’m planning on knitting a neck cowl – yet another layer I can wear when I go outside. It is like a neck gaiter, but very loose. It’s a nice layer to accompany more low-cut shirts (not that I’m wearing low cut shirts down here, but I’m talking about any shirt that isn’t a turtleneck). This project involves basic stitches and basic principles. I think it’ll be perfect to get my feet wet. Plus its something that I can use down here. Then I’ll continue to tackle Christmas! I’m very excited about my yarn purchases and can’t wait to give out the finished products!

Happy Stitching!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Quick Note on ECW

First of all, Happy Pi Day!  Gotta love the ol’ 3.1415926…

Second of all, this is the coldest day I have experienced on station so far!  We have officially hit -81F!  Wow!   At these temperatures there are very few vehicles we can actually use outside, and your soda is chilled pretty quickly sitting on the deck.  I have had several friends from home asking how you can possibly stay warm at these temperatures and how long you can safely stay out.  Hopefully this posting answers some of those questions…

ECW.  Those three letters are ingrained in every Polie – Extreme Cold Weather… gear.  When we pass through the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) on our way through Christchurch, New Zealand, we spend a lot of time getting our issued cold weather gear (ECW).  Everyone is required to pick up a basic number of items, ranging from rubber ‘bunny’ boots, ski goggles, and thick socks, to the classic and iconic ‘big red’ down parka.  You can spend hours trying on clothing items, checking zippers, and looking for other sizes.  Depending on what job you have in Antarctica, how long you will usually spend outside, and how long you are staying at your station (summer vs. winter vs. short visit), you are issued different items.  Since I’m a winter-over, I got it ALL.  Also being a winter-over, we are issued at least two of everything.  We have an emergency cache of ECW that is stored away from the station just in case (heaven forbid) the station burned down with all of our gear inside it.  If you came to the Ice without any of your own personal gear, you’d be perfectly warm and happy.  Snug as a bug in a rug.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of some of the gear that is issued.  Being a bit of a gear fanatic (and snob, I may add – hey, don’t judge), I brought down a lot of my own cold weather items.  And I’m pretty glad I did – you can never have too much ECW down here.  I came prepared with my own long underwear, fleece layers, hats, glove liners, gloves, balaclavas, neck gaiters, goggles, winter boots, socks… can you possibly put anything else on your body?  Now I wear a mix of my own gear and the issued gear.  Here’s how a normal trip outside goes:

First, I put on a pair of medium-weight long underwear, thick socks, and a t-shirt.  Next is my insulated pair of Carhartt bibs.  These bibs are serious – I highly recommend them.  I am actually going to invest in a set when I get home.  They are heavy-duty, warm, and have a million pockets.  They would be great for hanging around outside in the winter – I’m thinking ice fishing here…  The boots are next – I bought a pair of Sorel boots rated to -100F before I came down here – they’re a life-saver.  The boots we are issued (bunny and FDX boots) don’t have great ankle support and tend to have slippery soles in cold weather.  I loveeee my Sorels!  Next comes a fleece hoodie and a medium-weight down vest.  Before I zip the vest, I put on a wind-stopper fleece balaclava.  Zip!  The bottom of the balaclava gets snugly sealed into that first layer of warmth.  Next comes my medium-weight down jacket (that I got from Patagonia – I swear I’m not getting paid to say this, but it’s the best jacket I’ve ever had.  If you are looking to invest, this is the jacket for you.) and a fleece neck gaiter.  I have a black gaiter I brought from home, but I like to wear one I purchased in the store here at Pole.  It’s green, has gold decorative stitching, and clear sequins.  You’ve gotta feel like a girl every once in a while, right?  It might as well be when you’re headed outside.  After the gaiter, I put on a beautiful wool and fleece hat my parents gave me right before I left for the Ice.  Then my hood comes up, keeping the wind from sneaking down my neck, and my dark-lens goggles over it all.  The goggles I brought are pretty much worthless down here – they fog up so fast!  I have put duct tape on the bottom foam of my issued goggles to try and keep out my breath, but it’s not perfect. Lastly, the hands.  I’m still working this situation out.  I have several different kinds of glove liners, gloves, and gauntlets.  Today I wore a pair of fleece wind-stopper glove liners and my huge ‘bear paw’ leather insulated gauntlet gloves.  I used to wear just the glove liners back in the summertime when it was -20F.  It’s amazing what a different 60 degrees makes!  I think when it gets really cold (we’re talkin’ -100F here), I’ll probably opt for a pair of wool and possum liners I bought from Scott Base (Kiwi station near McMurdo), the insulating layer from another pair of mittens, and my bear paws.  And maybe hand warmers if I’m planning on staying out longer than my usual walk to ARO and tour of the roof to check instruments.  Today I actually added a soft shell jacket to my normal ‘ensemble’ to try to keep a little more of my heat from escaping.  I think it works, but the funny thing is that soft shell material sounds like a crinkly plastic trash bag at these temps.  Weird.

How long can we stay outside?  I’d say at these temperatures, a normal person should probably stay outside for about an hour before coming in at least for a few minutes to warm up.  Our Materials folks are mainly working outside on the berms, where things that aren’t currently needed are stored.  They dress a lot warmer than I do because they are out there so long.  You could stay out longer if you had to, but you would definitely need hand warmers and foot warmers!  And move around a LOT!

It’s funny, because once you reach cold temperatures, it doesn’t feel much colder, even when the mercury drops.  The main difference is that you get colder faster.  Earlier this morning I ran out to the roof of ARO to check on some instruments in just a fleece and Crocs before checking the temperature.  Sure, it was chilly, but it didn’t actually feel different.  I was amazed at how quickly I felt the cold, and then knew something was up.  Over the summer I could stay on the roof for several minutes at a time without a jacket, hat, or other ECW.  I would even go out in a t-shirt! (I know I’m crazy though – the temps were still well below zero)  Now I at least make sure my face is covered.  Air this cold is horrible for the lungs – you can damage the tissues by breathing it, giving you a horrible cough for a month or so.  Balaclavas are your friends!  I’m much more careful going outside these days.

Speaking of going outside, I’m headed back out to work on the Skua Shack, continuing to move clothes, random appliances, shoes, and costumes (we found a gorilla mask last week) into the station for the winter.  Since the Skua Shack isn’t heated and I’m planning on being out for a while, I’m definitely going to use hand warmers! 

Stay warm at home J

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fire Extinguisher Fun

Today it really does feel like the sun is setting!  There are clouds on the horizon, obscuring most of the direct sunlight.  No real sunset colors yet, but you can feel that those are just around the corner.  The wind has also returned, thank goodness – for the past few days it has been too light for me to complete my scheduled air sampling.  It is very frustrating waiting for conditions to change!  Every morning at breakfast for the past few days I look at the weather displayed on the scroll, sigh, and wish for wind.  This is counter-intuitive for most people.  Wind equals cold, so why would you want wind?  Sometimes I feel a little bit backwards.

By the time I'm at ARO I'm a little frosty.  And I'm only outside for 10 minutes!

It has been a fairly uneventful week, as far as life in the station goes.  Everyone has played it pretty low key.  Yesterday the fire team had equipment training – we went over how to operate the O2 sensor (used to see if we have an atmosphere that can support breathing during drills and events) and fire extinguishers.  Before this training, I completed a good deal of research on fire extinguishers and learned some interesting things.  Did you know that the first patent on a fire extinguisher was filed in 1723 by an English chemist?  I bet you didn’t.  This first fire extinguisher contained gunpowder and a fire-extinguishing fluid.  To work the extinguisher you had to light a fuse – the gunpowder explosion scattered the liquid out of the extinguisher and onto the fire.  Its just my opinion, but I think it’s a little counter-productive putting gunpowder near open flames.  I wonder how many additional fires this started compared with the amount that it actually extinguished.  But I guess if you already have one fire, what’s one more?

Tonight we are having a double-feature at the ‘drive-in theater’, aka gym.  The matinee is ‘Tron’ and the real feature (at least in my mind) is ‘Black Sheep’, the New Zealand zombie sheep movie classic.  ‘Black Sheep’ was a hit at ARO this summer, with a record amount of viewers flooding the lab.  We even had to pull out a mattress to put on the floor.  And people sat on our wicked hard wooden bench.  That’s dedication right there. 

There’s some weather moving in, so no real opportunities to take photos for a few days.  Hopefully when it clears I will get a few good shots of where the sun is so you have a better idea of what I’m actually talking about!  Stay classy, non-Polies!