Monthly Archives: February 2012

End of Season

Today we close the station – it’s -40.0F (-40.0C), though the 7 kt wind brings it to-62.7F (-52.6C) with windchill. The station is prepared for winter and we’re down to only 86 people. The sun is getting lower from 22.5 degrees on the solstice to ~14 degrees above the horizon today, the shadows are getting long. The half-moon has been visible and bright (with the right half visible and the left in shadow) for those of you who don’t believe that the moon appears upside down/opposite down here…

In the 3.5 months of this summer season, with 189 Herc flights, Pole Cargo has moved over 1,000,000 pounds of cargo this season! From cylinders of compressed gas, to triwalls of heavy metal, vehicles, air sampling equipment, and construction material.

Scotty throwing a glass of warm water into the air at -40F/-40C

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Filed under Antarctic, Flights, South Pole

Gnomes!

February 11, 2012  South Pole Station Antarctica

Temperature -37.1 F

Population: 130

Gnome Population: 6

The Kern Gnome has come to visit the South Pole! The German based “Kern Precision Scales” had a pretty cool idea: send their little gnome around the world with a specific scale to see if there are any changes in weight due to slight variances in Earth’s gravity. He came from Peru and is off to the bottom of a 2 mile deep mine next! His weight of 309.82g is a little heavier than at other sites, potentially because despite our elevation we’re slightly closer to the Earth’s core. The earth bulges slightly around the equator, causing the diameter measured from Pole to Pole to be ever so slightly smaller. Track the project at: GnomeExperiment.com

The Kern Gnome and myself at the bottom of the world!

The Kern Gnome and the South Pole Telescope!

His weight here at the Pole was 309.82 grams

The little Gnome showed up last week and sparked a station interest in Gnomes. Unfortunately he is not the first Gnome here at the South Pole…here are a few of the others around the Station:

Buying souvenirs? Mailing a letter? Maybe checking out a movie? Keep an eye out and you might see this dude hiding in the store...

Enjoying some warmth and plants? This gnome and his rabbit will keep you company

Don’t even think of putting your dirty dishes in the bucket without scraping it clean…

A nice well-loved Christmas Gnome, unfortunately miss his right arm and cracked in half…

This guy has been kidnapped several times by other departments – thus the duct tape and “hostage” title

He’s had quite the adventure here and has made many friends. Alas, it’s been a short visit, but time to go – the Station closes for winter next week!

The Kern Gnome contemplating a Herc just like the one he arrived (and will leave) aboard

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The Greenhouse aka NASA’s Food Growth Chamber

The “South Pole Food Growth Chamber” aka Greenhouse

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how sterile it is here. We are all caught up in our jobs, our daily routine, but every now and then some small rocks and dust on a pallet from McMurdo or a bright bowl of freshies (apples, bananas, oranges, salad) in the galley brings it to mind. Walking through the station there are no plants, no windows overlooking green grass or trees, no animals…it’s just plastic and metal until you reach the Greenhouse. With the curtains drawn it’s almost easy to miss, but a bank of windows sits in the wall of the lower hallway between the Post Office and Quiet Reading Room (aka Library). Open curtains spill yellow sodium light onto the black hall floor…I push open the large freezer-type door and walk into the foyer – into a wall of humidity, warmth, and the smell of life and growing things. The sharp contrast between the dry, cool nothingness outside is almost overwhelming. The air feels thick, hard to breath at first. Approximately 10ft x 6ft, the foyer is filled with a blanket covered couch, small table, some edible flowers, and a stereo. This is separated from the “primary growth chamber” by large glass doors.

The "primary Growth Chamber" as seen from the small ante-room

At 70F and 60% humidity it’s a veritable sauna compared to the cooler 4% humidity air throughout the station. Just a few minutes of sitting in the antechamber relieves stress, renews energy, and generally lifts moods. Very rarely do I walk by and see the couch empty – many times it’s just one person with their head back, eyes closed, just breathing. Stepping into the Greenhouse calls up memories of tunneling through hay fields, climbing massive trees, rain drops on giant Pacific Northwest sword ferns, and the feeling of spongy bright green living grass beneath bare feet.

The Greenhouse is technically a NASA experiment; a hydroponic operation using water cooled sodium lights and a tightly controlled atmosphere with supplemented CO2. Consuming 140 litres of water and roughly 1.2 kg of CO2 per day, the system isn’t quite perfect, but it’s a HUGE moral booster.

The growth chamber consists of three rows of two tiered sliding trays. Carefully monitored nutrient/salt enriched water runs through the trays bathing the roots of the plants. To give structural stability to the roots they are grown in a matrix of vermiculite or more often, “rock wool.”

The trays can be pushed back underneath to make room to walk by

"Rock wool" provides structure for the roots and support for the leafy green above

At peak production the Greenhouse can produce up to 6kg per day of biomass, 2.8 of which is edible (the rest is a combination of roots/stocks/inedible leaves etc). This is enough for roughly 2 salads a day for the 40 people overwintering. During the summer with our population between 220 and 250 fresh greens augment flown in “freshies” – colorful nasturtium flowers, deep green waxy chard, and various types of curling crunchy kale are a welcome sight in the food line!

To protect this last continent from invasive species and to limit impact and disturbance the Antarctic Treaty prohibits growing anything inedible on the continent. You may laugh, but there are some places with exposed soil such as within the Dry Valleys and on some places along the Peninsula.

Baby cucumbers

Cucumbers

Delicious Kale!

Some links to more info on the Greenhouse:
http://ag.arizona.edu/ceac/south-pole
An interesting blog by our summer Greenhouse Tech John Rask: http://spacebiosciences.arc.nasa.gov/blog

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Filed under Antarctic, Science, South Pole