The title of this blog sounds so much cooler, if you imagine Jeremy from “Top Gear” saying it.
When they say that Antarctica is the highest and driest continent, they are thinking of South Pole and a few other painfully beautiful places on the big flat white that is the Polar Plateau. The actual elevation of South Pole is approximately 9,300 feet. But the physiological elevation of the South Pole is usually a thousand feet higher due to atmospheric conditions (a similar phenomenon to wind chill) . South Pole is dry, so, so very dry. The average annual relative humidity is typically less than 0.05%. Yes you read that correctly- less than half a percent humidity (my hair looked amazing. Do you need lotion after simply reading that sentence?). A lot of people fall victim to the triple whammy of dehydration- accidental over exertion (so many stairs, such heavy gear) and altitude sickness. Bring it on
For me South Pole is about two things super sexy science and more mundane tourists. Some of the more important datasets related to climate change and the creation of the universe were collected at South Pole. We also have extreme expeditioners who walk, ski, kite, bike, drive weird vehicles- or just pay astronomically high amounts of money to have some one fly them here.
Let me take you to the Dark Side- or what is more formally known as the Dark Sector where most of the aeronomy, astronomy and astrophysics projects are conducted. It is called the Dark sector, because many of the experiments rely on the total darkness of the winter to take observations.
Ice Cube is one of the sexiest projects alive- or so says Physics World. Ice Cube detects and studies high energy cosmic neutrinos to learn about a little thing you might have heard of? The Big Bang? Origin of the universe? I didn’t go visit Ice Cube. Because well it was daytime, the internet wasn’t working and the scientists we off doing other things awaiting the return of internet communications.
South Pole telescope looks for super clusters of galaxies. It has a very precise way of mapping the cosmic background radiation to look for concentrations of very closely spaced galaxies. After just a few years of operation, this scope found hundreds of super clusters. Before it used to take 30 years to find two! Data gathered from SPT has refined the work of astronomers all over the world and greatly advance our understanding of the Big Bang (popular topic at Pole). They have made their data publicly available.
BICEP is related to SPUD- I am not sure how exactly. I think they are both look for signs of expansion of the universe with slightly different sensors As it turns out Astrophysicts/ Aeronomers could do with some classes in communicating their science to those not in their field. If you want to puzzle out BICEP or SPUD for yourself look here.
Super DARN stands for Super Dual Auroral Radar Network. That’s right, radar. There was some concern that if explosives were flown over the array or brought too close they would be set off. It was certified safe for flying explosives nearby, but I don’t think I would want to walk too close to it. Super DARN is a power hog and studies plasma density in the ionosphere. In other words, Super DARN studies space weather.
The Dark Sector is just one aspect of Science at South Pole, but it is the only science sector I visited this year. South Pole is, of course, the home of the cleanest air in the world and there are science projects at Pole dedicated to studying CO2 and other components of the air to better understand climate change.
South Pole, because it is “the most extreme” attracts a fair number of tourists- about 300 last year and probably about the same this year. South-Pole Station has taken several measures to help mitigate impacts of tourists on the local environment and on the work conducted at the station.
South Pole, like McMurdo Station has a lot of “charm”
The annual “Race Around the World” held around the actual South Pole Marker gained some fame this year. It is a really fun event involving costumes and for some actual racing. When you are done you can legitimately say that you ran around the world.
Well that’s it for my trip around the world…nothing left but to show you the obligatory selfies…