Sunrise…Sunset

At 72 degrees North, Summit is within the Arctic Circle. The sun doesn’t set for much of the summer, however since the Solstice on June 21, it’s slowly been sinking lower during the night. At the Poles the sun circles with almost no change in degree above the horizon between noon and midnight. Here we’re 18 degrees from the Pole so it follows an ellipse, sinking closer to the horizon in the night and swinging high into the sky during the day. While it still isn’t getting quite dark enough to see stars it’s definitely becoming dusky.

Today the sun rose at 3:27am and will set at 9:41pm, though it stays fairly bright throughout. Here’s a good page to check out for more information on weather and such: Summit Almanac and Weather. The nights are getting longer by 12 minutes each day!

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A chart showing sunrise and sunset times for our coordinates.

To make your own chart by either your city or latitude and longitude check out this page.

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5pm Aug 21 at Summit

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Sunset on Aug 14 at 10:15pm

The shop at

The shop at midnight on Aug 20

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Summit Science!

As in Antarctica, our purpose in Greenland is science – primarily climate research. Summit Station was first established in 1989 to support the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2) ice core and has since become a leading arctic station supporting a wide variety of seasonal and long term projects.

Summit was chosen for its location at the summit of the Greenland ice sheet. Some facts: There are two ice sheets on earth, one in Antarctica and one in Greenland, and as they are near the poles we call them ice caps. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC – based in Denver) an ice sheet is defined as a “mass of glacial land ice extending more than 50,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles).”  Glaciated areas less than 20,000sq mi are called ice fields – such as the Patagonia ice field, or the Juneau ice field.
Ice sheets and ice fields are incredibly important to climate research as they are not only highly sensitive to global temperature changes but provide a physical archive of the atmosphere going back as long as the ice has been there. The water molecules of the snow/ice itself contain isotopes that correlate to average global temperatures and between these molecules, bound by the ice, are tiny trapped air bubbles – discrete samples of atmospheric gases. This is one way scientists can measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels over past millennia. The Vostok ice core for example, provided data on the climate going back over 400,000 years. The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) ice core goes back 800,000 years. CO2 levels are of particular interest to climate scientists as there is a direct correlation between global temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere. Over the past 400,000 years CO2 levels in our atmosphere have fluctuated between 180-280ppm. Since the Industrial Revolution and large scale burning of fossil fuels those levels have continued to rise. Right now we are close to 400 ppm. (check out http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ for recent levels) The US Environmental Protection Agency has a great website with information on greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide, trends in the US, and ways to reduce emissions: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html.

The GISP2 borehole in 2011

The GISP2 borehole in 2011.

The GRIP borehole 28km from Summit Station

The 1989-1992 European Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) borehole 28km from Summit Station

GRIP Ice cores at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark

GRIP Ice cores at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark

Annual layers are visible in the cut GRIP cores (U. of Copenhagen)

Annual layers are visible in the cut GRIP cores (U. of Copenhagen)

Greenland Ice core sites

File:Vostok Petit data.svg

A graph showing CO2 levels from an ice core (Vostok, Antarctica). Our current atmospheric CO2 levels are off this chart.

While the GISP2 ice core was completed over 20 years ago, Summit continues to provide valuable data. As one of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratories the Greenland Environmental Observatory (GEOSummit) provides long term monitoring of the Arctic environment and atmosphere.  Much of climate research relies on these trends and long term variations to distinguish climate change from variable weather patterns. TAWO (Temporary Atmospheric Weather Observatory) houses a suite of instruments collecting continuous measurements of a number of greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide, tropospheric ozone, and black carbon among others. Summit’s science techs launch ozone sondes weekly to measure upper atmosphere ozone and collect air samples twice monthly to be processed for trace gases. Once a month the science techs complete a GPS survey (IceSAT) for CryoSat - providing calibration data for a European Space Agency satellite measuring ice thickness around the globe.

Some other long term projects here at Summit include: ICECAPS (Integrated Characterization of Energy, Clouds, Atmospheric state, and Precipitation at Summit) which is studying the atmosphere, clouds, and precipitation. Today a third station science tech position has been added to focus primarily on the ICECAPS instruments. BSI (Biospherical Instruments) is monitoring ultraviolet radiation. GEOFON has a seismometer buried away from camp as part of a global network. A magnetometer has also recently been installed to measure geomagnetic variations in central Greenland.
This season a new intermediate ice core drill was tested near Summit. The proposed project will drill a 1,500m ice core at the South Pole Station in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. More information on this project can be found here and on the official SPICE Core site.
The complete list of currently funded projects is publicly available on the Arctic Field Projects site.

Some other interesting links:
http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/sum/
http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/icesheets.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_core
http://www.gisp2.sr.unh.edu/

During the summer of 2011 I was one of two station Science Technicians at Summit.  We monitored and maintained the long term research equipment on station, trouble shooting and repairing as needed. We also assisted with launching weather balloons and ozone sondes and collecting various samples for projects. A typical day included doing rounds to clear meteorological equipment of snow/ice/frost/rime, cleaning lenses collecting data on solar radiation with ethanol, backing up data or sending it via email to researchers at their home institutions, collecting air and snow samples, measuring accumulation rates, launching weather balloons, conducting GPS surveys, and assisting around the station as needed. Here are a few pictures of Summit science techs in action…

Launching a weather balloon in April 2011

Launching a weather balloon in April 2011

Measuring accumulation rates at Summit

One of the 2010 techs measuring accumulation rates at Summit

Radiometers measuring solar radiation and albedo

Radiometers measuring solar radiation and albedo

Bundled up for IceSAT

Bundled up for IceSAT – GPS equipment is in the red “Poly Pod” behind me, the survey takes several hours and is done once a month.

Leveling the seismometer

Leveling the seismometer

Cleaning rime off a tower

Conducting maintenance on the 50m “Swiss Tower”

Cleaning rime off the TAWO tower

Cleaning rime off the TAWO tower instruments

Air sampling flasks!

Crates of  air sampling flasks!

Inflating a balloon

Inflating a balloon in the S.O.B.

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Launching an ozone sonde to collect data on the upper atmosphere ozone layer

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Heavy Lifting

Establishing and maintaining a long-term station on an ice sheet raises unique challenges for engineering and construction and with over a mile of ice beneath us it’s a constant battle to keep surface structures unburied. The South Pole faces similar issues, but the issue there is primarily drifting, thus the aerodynamic shape. At Summit it’s not only drifting, but also the issue of roughly a meter of snow accumulation annually. To deal with this issue there are several ideas in use: some buildings are on skis and can be dragged around the station with heavy equipment, others are modular and can be moved every few years to a berm which will gradually be buried, a few instruments are buried in vaults, and many are seasonal – simply taken down and put on a berm for winter to be set up come summer.
The Big House and TAWO however, utilize an “infinite leg” system. The buildings are raised up on stilts, or legs, and can slide up as the snow level, or grade, rises. Once they reach the top of the legs another section can be welded on and the process continues. Let me say at this point that this is not quite as easy as it sounds…but it does work and it’s pretty awesome!

The Big House is essentially a double wide trailer with the kitchen, a large refrigerator, a scullery, a bathroom with a shower and a toilet stall, the manager’s office and comms, and large common space that’s used as a dining and living room. There are lots of windows and it’s quite homey. Beneath the building, in the area scoured clear by the wind moving under the structure, there is a wide metal hatch leading down to the freezer trench where all dry and frozen food is stored. With the accumulation rate at about a meter a year, the Big House is raised every two years. During my first year up here (2010) they welded on new leg extensions and raised the building. They raised it again in 2012 and now again in 2014. The hollow, square, steel legs have holes drilled through them every ~6inches. The building rests on a set of 3/4in steel bolts that run through the holes on each leg. BHJacks2014bSmall platforms are bolted to the legs below the building. When it’s time to raise the building hydraulic jacks are securely bolted to each of the smaller platforms. The jacks are connected to a manifold which regulates the hydraulic pressure across all the jacks – the system has a lifting capacity of about 120,000lbs. The jacks lift the building just enough to take the weight and then the upper bolts (or pins) can be manually removed. Once those are all removed the building is resting on the jacks and the lower platforms. It can then be raised to the next set of holes where the pins are replaced, slowly inching its way up 4-6 feet. TAWO is designed in much the same way, but a bit smaller in scale.

Here are some photos from 2010 and 2014:

The Big House encrusted with frost and snow in April 2010

The Big House encrusted with frost and snow in April 2010

The Big House in April 2010

The Big House in April 2010

The kitchen

The kitchen

The scullery

The scullery

The common living/dining room

The common living/dining room

BHlegs2010

The Big House with one set of new legs in 2010

Raising the Big House in 2010

Raising the Big House in 2010

BHRaise2014

The Big House being raised in 2014

One of the jacks in place

One of the jacks in place

The hydraulic lines all hooked up

The hydraulic lines all hooked up

The Big House at it current height

The Big House at it current height

TAWO in 2011

TAWO in 2011

The midnight sun on Aug 2

The midnight sun on Aug 2

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Arrival

July 16, 2014
The flight from Kanger was a quick ~2hrs on a packed LC-130. We landed smoothly and stepped off the plane into blowing snow and low clouds; More grey than white. The droning, rumbling pulse of the props faded as we made our way off the flight deck and towards the Big House. The snow was soft, sliding beneath our boots like sand. The air is thin and I breathed hard, clutching my heavy parka and water bottle. I was prepared for the cold, but maybe I’m getting used to it by now, the wind was brisk, but not shockingly cold. It’s warmer here than at Pole – more like West Antarctica (10-20 degrees Fahrenheit…above zero), and we are at the height of summer. Walking past the Shop (SOB) and the Green House I couldn’t hide a grin, it’s good to be back. Some of the Summit crew was out to greet the pax and people hugged and waved and welcomed us to Summit Station.

I spent the summers (April-August) of 2010 and 2011 here at Summit as a Field Coordinator and Science Tech respectively. While most people start in the Antarctic program before coming to Summit, things happened to work out such that I deployed up here first. It was my first experience in the polar regions, in the true Arctic, and amidst the Great Flat White. I fell in love with the variety of projects, the significant research, and the small community.
This time around I’m here for just a short period, 6 weeks till the end of August – an extra hand to wrap up the summer season and close things down for winter. There are 19 people here now, but at the end of August we will leave only five: the manager, mechanic, and three science techs. The large summer science groups have all gone and until next month we have in addition to the five person winter crew, a cook, a cargo person, a heavy equipment operator, two field coordinators (including me), a medic, an IT person, and a construction crew (aka Carps) including an electrician, a plumber, and six carpenters. The summer season, like down South, is a whirlwind of projects both for science and support. These last few weeks are a chance to delve into some of the more intensive endeavors such as raising the Big House and constructing and organizing the winter berm.

Most of the people here have spent many seasons in Antarctica and many are going back to the ice later this fall. They understand when the question “Where are you from?” isn’t easy. Saying “Well, my storage unit is in…” is a perfectly valid answer.

Here are some photos from the flight up and the first few days at Summit:

Melt pools and streams along the Greenland ice sheet near the coast

Melt pools and streams along the Greenland ice sheet near the coast

A partially frozen lake on the ice sheet

A partially frozen lake on the ice sheet

Inside the herc from Kanger to Summit

Inside the herc from Kanger to Summit

Equipment wait at Summit to offload and onload cargo and to greet the incoming pax

Equipment wait at Summit to offload and onload cargo and to greet the incoming pax

Back on the ice. The skis are lifted when the Herc comes to a stop so they don't freeze in place. The plane is now resting on the wheels.

Back on the ice. The skis are lifted when the Herc comes to a stop so they don’t freeze in place. The plane is now resting on the wheels.

A sign on the Big House

A sign on the Big House

All of Summit looking very small in the great flat white.

All of Summit looking very small in the great flat white.

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Summit Station, Greenland

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Welcome to Summit! 72°35’46″N 38°25’19″W

At the height and heart of the Greenland ice sheet Summit sits at 10,530ft (~3,200m), surrounded by thousands of square miles of ice. The great flat white. Away from the station it looks much like the South Pole, or Byrd.

Established in 1988 to support the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) ice core Summit now supports a wide range of seasonal and long term monitoring projects. It also serves as an important site to test equipment heading to Antarctica. Today the station is maintained by CH2M Hill Polar Services, and through them, Colorado based Polar Field Services (PFS). CH2M Hill’s official site gives a good overview of the station.

Summit consists of three main buildings: the Big House, the Green House, and the S.O.B. or Science Operation building (the shop). In addition, there is the Temporary Atmospheric Watch Observatory (TAWO) and the Mobile Science Facility (MSF) which are used year-round. During the summer a number of seasonal structures and a “tent city” are erected to support the larger population.

Summit in 2011

Summit Station layout in 2011

Unlike the South Pole’s distinct winter and summer seasons, the year at Summit is divided into three Phases: Feb-Jun, Jun-Nov, and Nov-Feb. The winter crew is a tiny 5 to 6 people: manager, mechanic, three science techs, and sometimes a heavy equipment operator in the spring. During the peak summer season, Apr-Aug, a medic, cook, cargo coordinator, and field coordinator are added to the station staff. With science groups and construction crews the summer population can reach 50, though the average summer population is closer to 30 people.

Some other cool links are the webcam which is mounted on the Big House – looking North towards the Green house and SOB: Summit Webcam and the current weather page here.

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Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

3hrs 15min to the North Pole

3hrs15min to the North Pole

 

Kangerlussuaq, Kanger, Bluie West-8, Sondrestrom, Sonde, Søndre Strømfjord…The coastal hub for US operations is tucked back in Greenland’s longest fjord. Established in 1941 by the US military it is now a commercial and air hub for West Greenland. The small town (~550 people) is surrounded by undulating glacially scoured hills where muskox and caribou roam. No trees grow here, just scrub and grasses.

 

For science support and researchers coming from the US this is the point of entry. The town is comprised of a few houses, old military barracks, an airport, and a few other buildings. The Kangerlussuaq International Science Support, aka KISS, hosts researchers from around the world. There’s a very small grocery store, a cafeteria at the airport, and the Polar Bear restaurant with thai, muskox, and anything fried. It’s a small community and nearly everyone smiles and waves as they pass on the road. There is quite a lot of research done in the immediate area of Kanger and at sites on the ice sheet not as far away as Summit.
The Summit crew however usually spends a day or two getting the required gear and making sure everything is lined up for the season. There are some good hiking routes in the area and beautiful lake Ferguson and great views from prominent Black Ridge. In past seasons I’ve arrived in April when the ground is still covered in snow, and the wind is bitingly cold. This time we arrived in the warmth of summer – luckily just past peak mosquito season. The light lingered and it was bright well past 10pm. We are definitely now in the land of the midnight sun.

We spent two nights in Kanger, filling the day between with orientation, training, gathering gear, and stretching our legs on walks around town – enjoying the last bits of green and brown, of birds and bugs and people. Next stop the flat white – Summit Station!

The K.I.S.S. building that houses researchers and support staff.

The K.I.S.S. building that houses researchers and support staff.

Black Ridge and the old barracks

Black Ridge and the old barracks

Søndre Strømfjord - Kanger is located on the left side of the wide sandy area along the river where it meets the fjord

Søndre Strømfjord – Kanger is located on the left side of the wide sandy area along the river where it meets the fjord

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Greenland

Since starting this blog I have worked only in the Antarctic, but after taking several months off to travel I am now heading up to Greenland to work for a few weeks with the U.S. Arctic program!

The Greenlandic flag.

The Greenlandic flag

The Arctic region encompasses the area between 66°33′ and 90° North. The Antarctic, between 66°33′ and 90° South. There are some major differences:
The Antarctic is a continent of itself, neatly isolated by oceans and sitting beautifully over the geographic South Pole. There are no indigenous peoples living in this region and while there are lots of penguins and sea life, no wild polar bears live in the Southern hemisphere.
The Arctic, on the other hand, encompasses parts of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and numerous islands. The North Pole is beneath the Arctic Ocean so there is no permanent base at the North Pole. There are polar bears here, muskox, caribou, and lots of seals, but no penguins.

Before starting this blog I spent two summers (Apr-Aug) up at Summit Station as the Field Coordinator in 2010 and as one of the Science Techs in 2011. Photos from that last season are here. Summit is located at 72°35’N 38°25’W,in the very heart of the Greenland ice cap. Like the South Pole, it’s flat and white with no animals except a stray bird now and then. Summit sits at 10,500 ft elevation above two miles of ice. It’s much smaller than Pole with a summer population usually under 50 people.

During the Northern hemisphere summer (~Apr-Aug) The New York Air National Guard (ANG) sends the ski equipped LC-130 Hercs up to Greenland. These are the same planes and crews that work in the Antarctic. Deploying to Greenland during the summer season starts in Schenectady, NY, near Albany. This is where the NY ANG is based. From here it’s about a 7 hour flight on an LC-130 to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland with a quick refueling stop in Goose Bay, Canada.

Here is a map of Greenland. Kangerlussuaq is located near the arctic circle, just SE of Sisimiut on the West coast. Summit Station is located in the heart of the ice sheet, near the maximum depth icon.

A map of Greenland

So after lots of reading about Antarctica, the South Pole, and field camps, the next few posts will be from the other end of the world. The Arctic!

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Farewell Antarctica

Winter 2013 is officially over. On November 5, 2013 I departed the South Pole aboard an LC-130 Herc all but empty with just a handful of DVs (distinguished visitors) flying out after a tour of Pole and two of us winterovers with our baggage. The flight crew was very friendly and while most of the pax slept I went up to the cockpit and chatted with the pilots as we flew over the nunataks and exposed rocky peaks of the Transantarctic Mountains. “So, you wintered this year? Like, just now?” “Um, yeah. I’m on my way out, these are the first rocks I’ve seen since February!” “Wow…what was it like?” Where could I even begin? “Dark and cold.” I said and everyone laughed.

How can I describe winter? How can I sum it up into one clear and concise sentence? How can I explain the feeling of seeing that last plane leave? Of seeing the glorious, impossibly bright, life giving orb that is the sun sink below the horizon and know that I will not see it again for half a year? How do I convey the thrill of watching the mercury plummet getting closer and closer to the mythical threshold of -100F, and then the excitement when it actually reaches that number?
How can I explain the auroras to someone who has never seen them? Ethereal lights dancing across the sky. And the stars…my god, the stars, with the Milky Way so bright you can see the faint colors in it and our nearest neighboring galaxies the magellanic clouds as clearly delineated as the darkest spot known as the “coal sack.”
How can I explain the cold? The breathtaking, teeth-aching cold that makes plastic shatter and even metal become alarmingly brittle. A depth of cold that seeps in through the holes in the stitching at your seams and weighs your eyelashes with ice and frost?
And how can I explain the weariness? The exhaustion that no amount of sleep can alleviate, the energy expelled by living at 10,000ft and wearing 20lbs of clothes and burning calories just to maintain regular body temperature…How can I explain Toast, not just feeling burn out, but the sluggishness of thought and lapses of memory?

And where do I begin on how we tormented and grated on each other? Small things like someone laughing too loudly, or big things like someone deciding the only way they’ll be happy is when ever one else is unhappy… but on the flip side, how can I explain the intensity of bonds that form in the face of that adversary? The biggest challenge of winter isn’t the cold or the darkness, the isolation or physical demands, it’s the people, hands down.

I had a day in McMurdo. I had friends who met up with me, who walked with me through the overwhelming galley and sat with me at a table against the wall. It’s hard to be surrounded by strangers after knowing everyone by their walk/stance alone. A day in McMurdo, the halfway house, is good. I didn’t have to jump right into finding transportation and accommodation and paying for food…Once in Christchurch the first night is covered, but after that you’re on your own, and many flights get in late.

On Wednesday November 6, I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand. This is perhaps the most perfect country to return to after wintering. It’s beautiful and friendly. There are epic valleys and huge expanses of wilderness to get lost in. There are magnificent birds and plants and no snakes and no poisonous animals (except for one sole native spider only found in the most remote regions). There are no lions or tigers or bears…no large mammals of any kind to be exact, except for some cows and lots and lots of sheep. New Zealand is temperate, and right now in late November it is just at the beginning of summer. Winter at the South Pole with it’s -130F windchill and flat white horizon seems like a dream a long time ago and far far away.

I limit this blog to my exploits in the Arctic and Antarctic. For now, I will be taking a break to explore the world and indulge in all that my senses have lacked. I will resume posting here upon my next high latitude adventure, which will probably be sooner rather than later.
Please feel free to leave a comment below if you wish to contact me. I will also be posting pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antarcticarctic/. *I will not be updating Picasa anymore*

Thanks for following and for all your questions and comments this season!

Beautiful New Zealand

Beautiful New Zealand

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The End of Winter

The first Herc - officially ending Winter.

The first Herc – officially ending Winter.

November 1, 2013 – The weather is clear, just warm enough (above -50C), and calm. After two hours of mechanical delays the radio in comms crackles “Skier 51 is offdeck enroute to Pole.” The first LC-130 Herc is on it’s way. Touching down at just after 3:40pm Winter is officially over. They brought in 32 members of the summer crew and over 2000lbs of “freshies.”

It’s with mixed feelings that we transition to summer. There’s  a part of me that thinks “That’s my table! My chair!” frustrated at the line for food in the galley. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge a new sense of camaraderie between my fellow winterovers.  It’s hard to describe. Hard to answer the question “How was winter?” It’s almost sad to know that it’s over now, like finishing an engrossing novel…not necessarily good or bad, just all consuming. Now, the station feels crowded, a bit like my place is gone.

It’s somewhat disconcerting to not recognize everyone’s walk and laugh. Not to know without a doubt who’s hat you glimpsed as they went around a corner. Not to know who it is just by the sound of their footsteps in the hall. But there’s also an almost tangible sense of relief. People laughing and smiling. We won’t be here forever, it’s alright if we’re tired, help has arrived. It’s good to see familiar happy faces, their enthusiasm and opptimism rubbing off just a little on our jaded selves. They’re just starting, all tan and rested and raring to go. Well, I’m happy to turn things over to them. And I know Cheech (Christchurch, NZ) is waiting, with it’s bright green grass and decadent flowers, it’s salty ocean breeze and cool wet sand, it’s fresh food and no reason to get up early except to watch the sun rise.

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Post-Shutdown

The shutdown has ended, but like any storm the worst may be yet to come. The USAP is trying to salvage this season, but it’s already too late for some projects.

“Initial actions toward caretaker status were implemented in recent days. Planned deployments of scientific and support staff were either disrupted or cancelled, and in some cases personnel were removed from Antarctica. With funding in place under a continuing resolution, NSF is directing all efforts towards an orderly resumption of seasonal activities…Over the coming days, NSF will work with the USAP support organizations and researchers to recover planned research and operations activities to the extent possible. It must be understood that due to seasonally dependent windows and logistic limitations, certain research and operations activities may be deferred.”Oct. 18 USAP Press Release

Popular Mechanics also recently published an interesting article outlining some of the impacts of the shutdown on science in general across the board. (www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/med-tech/what-the-shutdown-did-to-science)

Meanwhile, here at Pole, we have a Basler on deck! They are just flying through on their way to McMurdo. Pole is a place to rest, refuel, and to wait out the inclement weather in “Town.” And they brought fresh fruit! I forgot how amazing oranges smell…and how simply…ORANGE they are!OctBasler

 

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