Hello from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The station was named in honor of the first two explorers to reach the geographic South Pole. Amundsen and his team beat Scott and his team to the pole by several weeks. When Scott arrived he found an empty tent left by Amundsen. Amundsen went home to glory and fame. Scott and his team did not survive the return journey from Pole to the coast.
The US has maintained a presence here at Pole since the 1950’s. The current elevated station was only completed this year, so it is brand new (and shiny). Before the elevated station, residents at pole lived under a dome that was meant to shield the buildings inside from the worst of the wind and snow drift. The dome was built in the 1970’s and replaced the collection of now buried buildings known as “Old Pole”. The dome was emblematic and many were sad to see it go, but the new elevated station is much more energy efficient, can provide housing for about 150 people (compared to the 30 who could live under the dome). The elevated station has many conveniences such as running hot water, sauna, library, craft room, basket ball gym, exercise machine room, tv lounge and reliable (if infrequent) satellite access.
I have had a chance to visit some of the science projects here at South Pole. Scientists working in the clean air sector here are able to measure all of the molecules in the air. They have been able to chart the rise of carbon dioxide since monitoring started in the 1950’s. They are also able to chart the significant decrease of CFC’s since those substances were banned in the 1970’s. Because there are no cars and so few people, the air at South Pole is some of the cleanest in the world. I am bringing home a vial… you know for emergencies.
There are many astronomers and astrophysicists working in the dark sector. The have huge powerful telescopes that were able to look at galaxies billions of light years away. Project IceCube, is burying over 5,000 neutrino detectors in the ice and snow. The detectors are arranged in a three dimensional array. The deepest detectors are buried about 1.5 miles deep! It is an impressively large and ambitious project. Today Project IceCube is getting ready to drill its first hole of the season. I was able to see the drill before it went down. It was was pretty neat. The drill is actually a huge hose that shoots hot water to melt the ice and snow. It does not rotate like a drill you have at home. To ensure that the drill goes in a straight line, a string of metal weights are hung in front of it. Gravity then pulls then weights and the drill in a straight line. The diameter of the hole is set by bulging metal bands behind the drill head. The bulge of the bands can be adjusted before drilling so that larger or smaller holes can be drilled.
I was lucky enough to get tours of the facilities. I saw how the waste is sorted, stored in berms, and packaged to be flown out. I saw the cargo berms where usable items are stored before they are used (food, lumber, etc). And best of all I got a tunnel tour. We went 40 feet below the surface to see the tunnels where the water supply, waste, and electrical lines run. It was -65 F and absolutely amazing. The folks who worked down there digging the tunnels and setting the pipe and electrical lines left little monuments. There was a frozen sturgeon in the wall, creative sculptures, paintings and more. I tried to get pictures but it was so cold and dark that the camera wasn’t very happy.
Now I am waiting for a flight back to McMurdo. I was supposed to leave last night but bad weather at McMurdo canceled the flight. I am hoping to get out today. If not, I may be stuck here until Wednesday. Everyone has the day off on Sunday and they plan to move the McMurdo runway Monday and Tuesday so after today the first flight will be Wednesday.