Monthly Archives: May 2013

300 CLUB

We’ve finally hit the magic number: 100 degrees below zero! I woke late this past Sunday, our one day off each week. There were a number of people sitting in the galley working on crosswords and chatting. The ambient temperature outside was in the mid 90’s and everyone was keeping a close eye on it betting whether or not it would keep falling. The legendary 300 Club was potentially eminent! Most years temps reach -100F in winter, but not all.
At -98F… Someone ran down to turn on the sauna.
-99.8F… We were all running for our gaiters, boots, and towels.
-100.1F… Thirteen of us were crammed into the small sauna which was cranked up as high as it would go. Boots on, gaiters in hand, a head lamp or two and nothing else but towels we sat sweating, watching the thermometer in the sauna creep up to 180F…190F…195F…

A radio call to our contact at a computer who was watching the temp outside – “Is it still -100?!”
“-99.9F, but hold on…” A loud groan from everyone around me “Noooo, Come on! So close!” We waited, people moving to the lower benches, stepping out for water bottles. The thermometer in the sauna moved slowly to 200F…then 205F.
A minute later another radio call temp check…
“-100F!” then “-101!! GO! GO! GO!”

We piled out the door and down the metal encased stairs we call the ‘beer can.’ Tossing towels on the stair railing we donned our gaiters and dashed out the door. There’s a steep drift like a bow wave in front of the station. Some people stumbled. Out to the Geographic South Pole and around. Hooting and hollering we shouted into the night. Pausing for a moment I watched a gorgeous aurora stretch itself undulating across the sky, a streak of blue green color through the bright stars and velvety black sky. Thick steam rose from my hot skin, now numb against the cold. I looked down to see every hair on my arm sticking up, coated in frost. Stumbling over sastrugi, guided by the sound of heavy footsteps in the snow and the beer can glinting in the star light I finally made it back inside. Clutching my towel around me I ran up the stairs to join the others in the sauna to warm up, gasping and laughing as we recounted the adventure: who fell, who almost ran into someone else, who saw the auroras, who accidentally grabbed the wrong towel, who didn’t wear their gaiter and would cough for a day or two…Craziness.

A 300 degree difference between sauna (200F) and ambient outside temperature (-100F) = The 300 Club.

The Wikipedia entry for 300 Club: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/300_Club

Komo News even did a short cover on the 2010 event: http://www.komonews.com/weather

No cameras for the actual event, but this was "drawn" with a headlamp and a long exposure - photo by Blaise

No cameras for the actual event, but this was “drawn” with a headlamp and a long exposure – photo by Blaise

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Filed under Antarctic, South Pole, Winter

Yukimarimos!

Last week I was walking to the End of the World to help our station manager Weeks dip the fuel tanks when he noticed something unusual – small balls of snow all around us. “Yukimarimos! Haha, not really…those are just ice chunks…They’re way too big to be yukimarimo” He had seen them before, but only around sunrise/sunset. I got down on my knees turning on my red headlamp and gently reached my thick mittened hand towards one. At the slightest touch it rolled away from me picking up speed in the gentle wind. “What?! They really are Yuikimarimos! Those are HUGE!” I turned my head, illuminating dozens surrounding us, some easily 3-4inches (8-11cm) in diameter. They jostled together and rolled off into the darkness in the light breeze. Tiny ones only centimeters across filled in our footprints behind us. It was ~85F below zero with 5 or 6 knots wind.

The Haz Shack, Store DNF, Cargo DNF, and Cargo office on the way out to the fuel tanks

The Haz Shack, Store DNF, Cargo DNF, and Cargo office on the way out to the fuel tanks

After lunch we returned to dip more fuel tanks, a very cold task. This time we were joined by a band of excited Yukimarimo hunters armed to the gaiters with red headlamps, tripods, and cameras that would die in the cold after half an hour. I tried to pick one up, but my clumsy oversized mitten crushed it completely. Pulling off my mitten I gently cradled another in my soft glove liners. It was a 3 inch snowball light as air, long hoar frost crystals held together by static electricity. “I dare you to eat it!” Weeks joked, I pulled down my thick fleece neck gaiter that covered my nose, cheeks, and mouth. “No! I was just joking! It’s -85F!” The Yukimarimo melted at the hint of my breath, leaving naught but a drop of water in my mouth. A ball of air held together by frost.
A while later our meteorologist, Phil, found a cache of them hiding under the station itself.

Congregations of yukimarimo under the station

Congregations of yukimarimo under the station

This tricky phenomenon has only recently been scientifically documented (1997)and requires very specific environmental conditions – only forming in the heart of the Antarctic plateau in winter.

“These balls of snow form best deep in the Antarctic winter, when the air temperature is below minus 60 °C (minus 76 °F), and there is a gentle wind blowing – conditions under which even well-equipped polar explorers stay in heated buildings. In this frigid environment, delicate needles of hoar frost form on the surface of the snow. Some of these are rolled about by the wind and create these fragile snowballs, which grow to a size of about 30 mm”

“The researchers gave these dainty formations the name ‘yukimarimo’. ‘Yuki’ is the Japanese for snow, and ‘marimo’ is a globular water plant found in a lake in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island.”

The full article in Nature can be found here:
http://www.nature.com/news/1999/990902/full/news990902-9.html

A yukimarimo - photo by Blaise Kuo Tiong

A yukimarimo – photo by Blaise Kuo Tiong

A little blurry and the light's not great, but that's part of my plastic ruler that shattered in my pocket...

A little blurry and the light’s not great, but that’s part of my plastic ruler that shattered in my pocket…

My mitten next to a large one

My mitten next to a large one

Many little yukimarimos gathering between sastrugi

Many little yukimarimos gathering between sastrugi

The expediton: Daniel, Phil, Blaise, Myself, Andrew, and Kris in front

The expediton: Daniel, Phil, Blaise, Myself, Andrew, and Kris in front

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Filed under Antarctic, Science, South Pole, Winter