Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry Christmas!

South Pole welded Christmas tree

With a tangible sigh of relief felt throughout the entire station the work day ended on Friday for a two day weekend. All of Logistics (Cargo, Waste, Fuels, and Materials) gathered in Cargo’s DNF building for a white elephant party. We’d created a tree out of bamboo poles and green side nets a few days before and it had since steadily accumulated decorations hung from bailing wire – old respirators, a snowmobile spark plug, a rock that arrived on a pallet from McMurdo, a Hazardous Materials sticker or two, some tinsel, silver duct tape…the bamboo poles stuck up too high and it lilted to one side, but it was glorious.

Our awesome cargo net Christmas tree

Christmas Eve came in warm (~0F), but with a 20 knot wind blowing the snow horizontal. Despite the lack of horizon and the chilly wind the much anticipated “Race Around the World” went ahead anyways and with much gusto. This year the Race was a 2.3 mile groomed course that wound around the elevated station, across the skiway to the Dark Sector, over to the Tourist Camp, and back to the pole. As it goes around the Geographic Pole it technically passes through all the world’s time zones and “around the world.”

A second track parallels the race course to avoid vehicle/racer interference

A line of flags leads into the whiteness

A variety of walkers, runners, racers, skiers, snowmobiles, Pisten Bullys, and various pieces of heavy equipment gathered at the Pole most decorated or dressed up in some way shape or form. While the majority of participants were out just to have fun, there was also an official timed race component – the winners (fastest man and woman) will get to go to McMurdo in January for a full marathon there! James Tolan came in first for men at 19 minutes 3 seconds. Sarah Kernasovski came in first for women with a time of 23 minutes 53 seconds. After the race everyone gathered in the galley for a huge brunch and the awards.

The Race Around the World begins!

Bikers, skiers, jugglers, walkers, runners, drivers…

The ICECUBE chariot!

Racers between snow and sky

The first and second place men: Carlos and James

At 630pm we gathered in the hallway for hors d’oeurvs. Again everyone looked lovely in something other than carhartts – slacks, ties, dresses. I wore a long black dress, silver high heels I’d found in the craft room costume box, a green shawl, and pearls. Third seating for Christmas Dinner is the most popular. With 231 people on station the holiday dinners are served in shifts. An hour is given for each meal and for the first and second seating that means there’s not much time allowed to sit and chat afterwards. Third seating however was delightfully leisurely. The tables were again laid with white table cloths, candles, and cloth napkins folded like fans atop special plates. A fake tree was set up in a corner with lights and decorations…it was beautiful.

The galley transformed

Today, at 10.0°F, we’ve broken the previous South Pole high temperature record of 7.5°F above zero. It’s snowing outside (which is actually very rare here) and everyone is enjoying a quiet Christmas Sunday. A friend pointed out that we’re on the most peaceful continent on earth – continent-wide, though here at Pole especially, there is really no violence or theft to speak of. May everyone have this peace today. Merry Christmas!

The Ceremonial Pole on Christmas Eve


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Happy Holidays from all of us at the South Pole!

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It’s a Harsh Continent

It’s stormy today – 20 knots, and while it’s only about -10F the windchill is -35F!

Trudy and Megan riding on the sled behind the snowmobile after a run of deliveries.

When it’s windy like this, the snow gets picked up and visibility decreases significantly. There’s still quite a lot of outdoor work to be done, and we’re busy with delivering cargo from the two flights we got yesterday, but mostly everyone tries to find work inside. Finishing up deliveries, then rolling cargo straps and cleaning up the clutter that collects during the busy week. It’s a nice contrast from day after day of clear bright blue. The flat white horizon blurs with the white sky and tendrils of new snow drifts snake out from anything near the ground. When the horizon disappears some call it being “inside the ping-pong ball.” It’s chilly, with the wind blowing through seams and up jackets, and the snow grains in the air scour at bared skin. I’ve heard more than one person today say with a grin “Finally it feels like I’m in Antarctica!” But still a good day to stay inside.

Some photos from around the station today:

The Station in a little break from the blowing snow

The cargo office

Our equipment: the 953s “Barb Allen” and “Felicia” and the 950 “Big Foot”

The Waste Yard and Summer camp as seen from the cargo office, with a gust everything disappears into whiteness.

The Cargo Yard getting drifted over

Blowing snow in front of the DNF

A sled of snowy cargo straps and helmets

Christmas is this weekend and we’ll celebrate with two days off, another fancy dinner, caroling to the other Antarctic Stations on the HF radio, the “Race Around the World” and a white elephant party for Logistics! We got a huge load of mail the other day and everyone’s looking forward to the extra day off.

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Centennial Celebration

On December 14th,1911 man stood at the Geographic South Pole for the first time, unveiling one of the last places of mystery on earth. On December 14th, 2001 a ceremony was held at the Pole in commemoration of Roald Amundsen.

An Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station group photo taken at the Geographic Pole on Tuesday the 13<sup>th</sup>. (I’m in my brown carhartt jacket and dark hat, just to the left of the American flag, third from the front, between a green and a red coat)

In honor of the Centennial RPSC groomed a special camping area for the planes to park and the tents to be erected. A visitor’s center was built to provide information about the US Antarctic Program and the science going on at the Pole. With several hundred tourists expected during these busy few months of summer it would be disruptive, and often unsafe, to have tours of the work centers and research sites for each tourist group to arrive.

The United States Antarctic Program welcomes you to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. 90˚00’ South. Established 1957.

The Visitor Center complete with outhouses and solar panels

People arrived from all corners of the globe. Some were flown straight to the Pole, others were dropped off by Twin Otter and skied the last degree, a few skied all the way from the coast! A Kazakhstani expedition arrived in specializedToyotatrucks (with tires inflated to 4psi).

One man arrived in traditional fur clothing similar to what Amundsen’s team wore.

The Norwegian press groups who were here with the Prime Minister interviewed some of the tourists and the Prime Minister himself skied a bit around the Pole.

The Prime Minister skiing to the Pole

The week of December 14th 2011, for me, was fairly typical, flights to load/unload, pallets to build, and cargo to deliver. I’m back on days now so work from 7:30am-5:30pm Monday through Saturday. On the 14th however, everyone was invited to an all-hands ceremony at the Ceremonial Pole. We gathered together in a semi-circle around the Pole; an eclectic mix of the 233 people here with USAP and the more diverse 93 person group of tourists/visitors.

A microphone and speakers were set up and cameras placed on tripods. The snow squeaked and crunched as people gathered and found their places. I arrived early and knelt in front near the camera men. Foreigners held up their national flags, and there were lots of pictures taken.

The ceremony was filmed and sent back toNorwayduring the satellite pass just following event.

Some of the tourists standing across from me

The ceremony commenced with fellow Cargo Load Planner Zondra Skertich playing the Norwegian national anthem on the flute.

The Prime Minister then spoke, commemorating Amundsen, honoring the ultimate price paid by Scott and his men, congratulating the success of the international peaceful Antarctic Treaty and gently urging the world to face the facts of a changing climate – to note that this seemingly untouchable and pristine place is indeed changing.

The Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Giving final thanks to the United States Antarctic Program, the National Science Foundation, and the people who work here every day he unveiled a beautiful ice bust of Amundsen – taken from the same mold used to create a full body statue of the famous explorer unveiled simultaneously in Norway by the King.

Simon Stephenson, the NSF rep here for the event, spoke next touching on the science happening here at Pole from the kilometer square ICECUBE project, to long term seismological stations, and NOAA’s sampling of the purest air on earth.

South Pole Area Director Bill Coughran and the director of the Norwegian Polar Institute said a few words as well, and then the Prime Minister presented Bill with a Norwegian flag and that was it – keeping true to Amundsen’s sentiments on a ceremony in the same place one hundred years before: One gets out of the way of protracted ceremonies in those regions — the shorter they are the better.

It was just over half an hour all together and I stood up moving my cold and stiff knees and shaking the blood back into my hands. We all milled about for a while, chatting with the visitors and taking pictures of the bust and dignitaries, and then moved back to the galley to warm up and enjoy dinner.

South Pole Area Director Bill Coughran and NSF Rep Simon Stephenson with the Norwegian flag

The crowd around the Ceremonial Pole

The Norwegian Prime Minister and myself at the Geographic Pole

The Norwegian Polar Institute


Filed under Antarctic, History, South Pole

One Hundred Years

December 14, 1911. One Hundred years ago.

Superconductivity was discovered, Bingham rediscovered Machu Pichu in Peru, the first public elevator was unveiled, and construction began in Boston for Fenway Park.

Only three years before, in 1908, the Ford Model-T car made its debut. The year after, in 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. It would be another three years yet, in 1914, that the First World War began.

One hundred years ago today, Roald Amundsen of Norway (1872-1928) became the first man to reach the Geographic South Pole. He and four companions left the coast, anchoring their ship the Fram in the Bay of Whales in the Ross Sea on October 20th and arriving at the South Pole on December 14th 1911. They stayed for three day to take, and re-take, sun measurements and verify their actual position at the Pole.

Amundsen's team leaving their ship the Fram

Taking a solar observation at the South Pole on Dec 14, 1911

It was a long and arduous journey – a race against England’s Robert F. Scott. Yet as much as it was a competition between contemporary polar explorers it was a competition between the established country of England and the young nation of Norway (which gained independence in 1905). Both were experienced and tenacious men, however the two differed significantly in their planning, preparation, and outlook. The goals of the two teams also differed in that Scott and his financial supporters saw the expedition as a platform for science as much as exploration, whereas Amundsen’s primary purpose was to reach the Pole as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Roald Amundsen

Robert Falcon Scott

Learning from his experience in the North and with the Inuit populations Amundsen’s team brought dog teams and sleds, skiing much of the way. Amundsen had dreamed of being the first to reach the North Pole, but Frederick Cook and Robert Peary beat him to it, reaching the North Pole in 1908-9. He thus turned his passion for polar exploration to the South. Scott on the other hand, was motivated less by passion than by duty. He would have received notable promotion upon planting Britain’s flag at the Pole. He brought ponies, who unlike the dogs could not eat penguin and seal meat and whose fodder had to be brought all the way). They designed special snowshoes for the ponies, but these proved to be fragile. When the ponies succumbed to the harsh cold and exertion they resorted to man-hauling the heavy and cumbersome sledges by foot. While Amundsen’s men had been skiing for many years Scott did not attempt to do so before starting the journey itself. It proved to be difficult and frustrating and in the end they walked. Another piece which I found particularly interesting with a sizable rock collection in storage myself: Scott and his men hauled over 30 lbs of rock samples from the mountains they passed early in the journey all the way to the pole.

Amundsen near the Pole with his dog team

A photo from Amundsen's journey

Perhaps surprisingly Scott did manage to make it to the South Pole, arriving on January 17th, 1912. Heartbroken at finding Amundsen’s tent and Norwegian flag planted and left more than a month prior he turned around depressed and pessimistic. Tragically while Amundsen returned to his base camp, with no casualties, nearly 100 days after leaving, none of Scott’s expedition survived the return march from the Pole.

Upon his return and his telegram announcing their success in reaching the Pole Roald Amundsen penned a manuscript detailing his voyage and experience:
“Brisbane, Queensland, April 13, 1912.
Here I am, sitting in the shade of palms, surrounded by the most wonderful
vegetation, enjoying the most magnificent fruits, and writing — the history of
the South Pole. What an infinite distance seems to separate that region from
these surroundings! And yet it is only four months since my gallant comrades and
I reached the coveted spot.
I write the history of the South Pole! If anyone had hinted a word of anything
of the sort four or five years ago, I should have looked upon him as incurably
mad. And yet the madman would have been right. One circumstance has followed on
the heels of another, and everything has turned out so entirely different from
what I had imagined.
On December 14, 1911, five men stood at the southern end of our earth’s axis,
planted the Norwegian flag there, and named the region after the man for whom
they would all gladly have offered their lives — King Haakon VII. Thus the veil
was torn aside for all time, and one of the greatest of our earth’s secrets had
ceased to exist.”

The official photo of Amundsen's team and the tent and flag they erected

On November 29th, 1929 Admiral Byrd flew over the South Pole, but Scott’s arrival in January 1912, marked the last man stood at the Pole itself until 1957. It was the International Polar Year (IPY) and the US Navy constructed the first South Pole Station. There has been a US station manned year-round ever since. The first women did not make it to the Pole for another 12 years. In November 1969 six women stepped off the back of a US Navy plane, so none could claim to be the first, these women were Pam Young, Jean Pearson, Lois Jones, Eileen McSaveney, Kay Lindsay, and Terry Tickhill.

The first women to stand at the South Pole - US Navy photo

The first station, now familiarly called “Old Pole”, was built of simple rectangular buildings and covered walkways placed on the snow itself. Steadily the drifting snow began to bury the place and in the end it was buried completely. In 1972-73 the iconic Dome was built and Old Pole was abandoned. Construction of the new Elevated Station began in 2000 and was finally completed in 2008. The Dome has since been completely deconstructed and Old Pole was demolished last year. (a post about that event will come shortly)

Today the new Elevated Station rises almost majestically above the wide flat polar plateau. It looks a bit futuristic, standing eerily out of place reminiscent of the obelisk in 2001 Space Odyssey. Shinning a dark grey-green with a sloping aerodynamic bottom it sits about 15-20 feet above the ice beneath on numerous columnar legs. Four wings or “pods” stretch back towards the cargo yard, summer camp, and the berms. The front of the station faces the Ceremonial Pole; the galley windows looking out over the white nothingness to the often indistinct flat line of the horizon. There are over 230 people here today: support staff, research groups, and DVs or Distinguished Visitors and over 90 tourists/visitors – a record for the largest number of people at the South Pole yet! Of note the Prime Minister of Norway is here for the centennial along with several camera crews and advisors. A small tent city of tourists has grown about 500m on the other side of the Pole, facing the station. Two larger tents have been erected as a visitor’s center in something of the middle ground. Tourists are not allowed into the station except in small guided groups, we are not to go marching into their tent area without express permission. Most are on Chile’s time. It’s a bit surreal sometimes to be having breakfast and watching men and women pose next to the Pole in their expensive and brightly colored expedition down suits. Some have skied in all the way from the coast, some flew in today, some are self-supported, but most are with tour companies. There are world renowned adventurers and mountaineers and people who just had enough cash to buy the ticket. And then there are us – here for several months in the name of science to maintain the U.S. presence at the axis of the Earth.

It’s remarkable really, to think of all that has happened in the past 100 years; from World War 1, to putting men on the Moon, to the development of the internet and cell phones. There are few places as untouched as this. If one were to walk away from the station, off the groomed and pushed or drifted snow, past the bamboo poles and little nylon colored flags, past the buildings and berms and antennas, past the snowmobiles/machines and heavy equipment, past the exhaust of the power plant and furnaces…if one were to pass beyond these signs of habitation the view is exactly the same as Amundsen and Scott and their men witnessed a century ago. Beyond our bubble, our island of influence here, we are surrounded by literally hundred of miles of snow and ice, the emptiness that is the Great Flat White.

An excerpt describing in detail the arrival at the Pole from The South Pole Vol. 1 and 2 by Roald Amundsen:

“The weather during the forenoon had been just as fine as before; in the afternoon we had some snow-showers from the south-east. It was like the eve of some great festival that night in the tent. One could feel that a great event was at hand. Our flag was taken out again and lashed to the same two ski-sticks as before. Then it was rolled up and laid aside, to be ready when the time came. I was awake several times during the night, and had the same feeling that I can remember as a little boy on the night before Christmas Eve — an intense expectation of what was going to happen. Otherwise I think we slept just as well that night as any other.
On the morning of December 14 the weather was of the finest, just as if it had
been made for arriving at the Pole. I am not quite sure, but I believe we despatched our breakfast rather more quickly than usual and were out of the tent sooner, though I must admit that we always accomplished this with all reasonable haste. We went in the usual order — the forerunner, Hanssen, Wisting, Bjaaland, and the reserve forerunner. By noon we had reached 89º 53′ by dead reckoning, and made ready to take the rest in one stage. At 10 a.m. a light breeze had sprung up from the south-east, and it had clouded over, so that we got no noon altitude; but the clouds were not thick, and from time to time we had a glimpse of the sun through them. The going on that day was rather different from what it had been; sometimes the ski went over it well, but at others it was pretty bad. We advanced that day in the same mechanical way as before; not much was said, but eyes were used all the more. Hanssen’s neck grew twice as long as before in his endeavour to see a few inches farther. I had asked him before we started to spy out ahead for all he was worth, and he did so with a vengeance. But, however keenly he stared, he could not descry anything but the endless flat plain ahead of us. The dogs had dropped their scenting, and appeared to have lost their interest in the regions about the earth’s axis.

At three in the afternoon a simultaneous “Halt!” rang out from the drivers. They had carefully examined their sledge-meters, and they all showed the full distance — our Pole by reckoning. The goal was reached, the journey ended. I cannot say — though I know it would sound much more effective — that the object of my life was attained. That would be romancing rather too bare-facedly. I had better be honest and admit straight out that I have never known any man to be placed in such a diametrically opposite position to the goal of his desires as I was at that moment. The regions around the North Pole — well, yes, the North Pole itself — had attracted me from childhood, and here I was at the South Pole. Can anything more topsy-turvy be imagined? We reckoned now that we were at the Pole. Of course, every one of us knew that we were not standing on the absolute spot; it would be an impossibility with the time and the instruments at our disposal to ascertain that exact spot. But we were so near it that the few miles which possibly separated us from it could not be of the slightest importance. It was our intention to make a circle round this camp, with a radius of twelve and a half miles (20 kilometres), and to be satisfied with that. After we had halted we collected and congratulated each other. We had good grounds for mutual respect in what had been achieved, and I think that was just the feeling that was expressed in the firm and powerful grasps of the fist that were exchanged. After this we proceeded to the greatest and most solemn act of the whole journey — the planting of our flag. Pride and affection shone in the five pairs of eyes that gazed upon the flag, as it unfurled itself with a sharp crack, and waved over the Pole. I had determined that the act of planting it — the historic event — should be equally divided among us all. It was not for one man to do this; it was for all who had staked their lives in the struggle, and held together through thick and thin. This was the only way in which I could show my gratitude to my comrades in this desolate spot. I could see that they understood and accepted it in the spirit in which it was offered. Five weather-beaten, frost-bitten fists they were that grasped the pole, raised the waving flag in the air, and planted it as the first at the geographical South Pole. “Thus we plant thee, beloved flag, at the South Pole, and give to the plain on which it lies the name of King Haakon VII.’s Plateau.”

That moment will certainly be remembered by all of us who stood there. One gets out of the way of protracted ceremonies in those regions — the shorter they are the better. Everyday life began again at once.

Discovery has a brief and interesting article at:

Bill Spindler has a great summary of Antarctic history at: More recent history can be found by following the link at the bottom back to the Timeline.

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Thanksgiving eclipse

A great picture of the eclipse by David Renfroe

Last weekend Thanksgiving was celebrated with a two day weekend, a fancy dinner and a solar eclipse! The partial eclipse occurred on Friday Nov. 25th between 6:30-8:30pm covering about 75% of the sun. A large group of people gathered at the Pole to watch armed with welding helmets, dark glasses, CDs, and foil covered mylar sheets. We took part of our dinner break to run out to the pole. Swapping lenses and laughing as we tried on the welding masks. I clumsily tried to hold the thin mylar sheet in front of my lens with big gloves or numb fingers and focus not on my foil, but on the sun. I think the best bet is to have a tripod. The shadow of a kitchen sieve provided a cool effect – showing the progression of the eclipse within the shadow of each hole. At the most coverage it grew just noticeably dimmer, as if a thin cloud had passed over the sun, and then began to brighten again. Here are some pictures from the event:

The partially eclipsed Antarctic sun as seen without any sort of filter

The sun through the foil coated mylar – kind of interesting – it reminds me of a Mac screen saver

The best shot I was able to get...

Trying to take pictures through the welding mask

Polies at the pole watching the sun – and a good shot of the station

Using a sieve from the kitchen to observe the eclipse

The holes in the sieve showed the progression of the eclipse. Photo by Kiell Kosberg

A picture of all of us watching the eclipse at the pole – I’m playing with a new lens on the very left. Photo by David Renfroe

The last few pictures here were taken by Kiell Kosberg and David Renfroe as credited. Kiell ( was here last year as the heavy shop General Assistant and is back again in Materials. This is David’s first season on the ice. He is here with his wife Kasey as Dining Attendants or DAs. Their awesome blog is another to check out:

Thanksgiving itself was celebrated with an amazing feast on Saturday evening. An extra day off affects the schedule enough as is, so holidays are moved to weekends. I did not bring my camera to the event, but will make sure to do so for Christmas. The pictures here were taken by head DA Kasia McGrew. Each seating was kicked off with a half hour reception in the hallway outside the galley with music and beautiful hors d’oeuvres. The galley itself was transformed with candles, table cloths, crackling “fire” on the TVs, wine glasses, and elegantly folded cloth napkins. The large windows were blacked out with cardboard and dainty white Christmas lights strung between the overhead fluorescent light fixtures. It was lovely and many people dressed up in ties and slacks or dresses. I’d brought a long black evening gown for the event. Strange not to see a single carhartt brand anywhere! With 199 people on station we had 3 seatings, 18 turkeys, and more than a few bottles of wine. Afterward there was a hilarious, though rowdy, extended team game of scrabble followed by a big dance party. It was a welcome break from routine and a respite from the sometimes monotonous 54 hour work weeks. Days seem to blur together here; it’s always bright and cold, there are the same people at lunch and dinner that I saw at breakfast, there aren’t too many places to go other than the Station, Summer Camp, and work. Even the one day off becomes the same week after week– sleep in a few hours, enjoy a 2 minute shower, have a long brunch, do a small load of laundry, use the internet, play games, or write letters. The holidays are a fun way to break up the season and highly anticipated two day weekends are given for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

The hall decked out for the hors d’oeuvres and reception. Photo by Kasia McGrew.

The galley looking beautiful. Photo by Kasia McGrew.

A table setting with fancy plates, folded napkins, table cloth, candle and everything! Photo by Kasia McGrew.

Turkey! Lots of Turkey….Photo by David Renfroe

Hope everyone had a delightful Thanksgiving!

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Antarctica Day! Yay!

December 1st is “Antarctica Day”!

The 2011 Antarctica Day will be held on Thursday, December 1st. The event celebrates the signature day of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, and is intended to engage the next generation in recognizing Antarctica’s lessons in international governance and the significance of its science in planning how to manage our changing world.
Antarctica Day began in 2010 as an annual legacy of the Antarctic Treaty Summit ( The 2010 event was celebrated with an inaugural lecture at the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute, a balloon launch held in 15 countries on six continents, and an international webinar hosted by PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating,

This year’s events will again include balloon launches and a PolarTREC webinar. The 2011 webinar will be held live from Antarctica ( Multiple collaboration options are available for anyone who would like to participate in Antarctic Day:
– Consider initiating your own Antarctica Day activity;
– Inform local libraries about Antarctica Day so they can display books about Antarctica on December 1st; and
– Launch a virtual balloon for Antarctica Day to signal “common interest” from around the world (

Anyone active in primary or secondary schools who would like to create an Antarctica Day activity or who would benefit from educational materials about Antarctica (such as the book ‘Polar Science and Global Climate: An International Resource for Education and Outreach,’ which emerged from the International Polar Year 2007-08), is invited to contact Allen Pope at APECS ( Suggestions for Antarctica Day activities this year or in the future are also welcome.
For further information, including Antarctica Day fliers, please go to:

And a very cool image I found showing the relative sizes of the U.S. and Antarctica:


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