Monthly Archives: June 2013

Happy Mid-Winter!

Happy Solstice!
(first day of summer for all of you in the Northern latitudes)

U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station!

U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station!

We are in the very heart of the long Antarctic Winter now and today is perhaps the most significant milestone of the season: Mid-Winter. With just over 4 months down (128 days since the last plane to be exact) and roughly 4 more to go it’s the turning point, it’s all down – or up? – from here.

At the southernmost point on earth we will celebrate this solstice with a showing of “The Shining” projected on the wall of the gym and a fancy dinner served tomorrow evening. Today we had a conference call with a few of the first Polies to winter-over here in 1957. It was wonderful to hear some of their stories of having dogs and only a handful of people.

The solstice means that the sun has reached its lowest point – 23.5deg below the horizon – exactly the tilt of the earth. It will rise gradually, reaching its peak on December 21, though we won’t see any sign of it for another month or two yet.

It’s been a dark and stormy night this past week with temps in the -25F to -30F range and winds around 30kts. The weather here is either cold, clear, and calm; or warm (relatively), cloudy, and windy. Today the temps dropped to -60F and the winds to between 5-10kts. The moon rose this week, but with the clouds it’s been pitch black outside for two weeks now.

Below are some of the midwinter greetings we’ve received from our fellow Antarctic winter-overs both at US and foreign stations.

I am grateful to be here and wish everyone a happy and healthy mid-winter!

U.S. McMurdo Station

U.S. McMurdo Station

U.S. Palmer Station

U.S. Palmer Station

A letter from the U.S. President

A letter from the U.S. President

Halley Station

Halley Station

KEP Station

KEP Station

Maitri Base

Maitri Base

Neumayer Station

Neumayer Station

Neumayer Station Crew

Neumayer Station Crew

Troll Station

Troll Station

Troll Crew

Troll Crew

Rothera Station

Rothera Station

Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island in summer

Macquarie Island in summer

Amsterdam Island

Amsterdam Island

Davis Station

Davis Station

A note from the Japanese Minister

A note from the Japanese Minister

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Filed under Antarctic, Stations, Winter

One Hundred Degrees Below Zero

So we’ve hit the magic number three times now – this past Saturday setting the record low for the year: -107.9F

A picture of our weather page showing the coldest temp yet.

A picture of our weather page showing the coldest temp yet.

This cold marks a whole new definition of the word. It’s hard to explain. Physical properties are different. Even finding words to describe it: frigid, biting, harsh, sharp…even the word “cold” seems too soft, describing a frosty fall morning or goose bumps. This cold makes metal tracks on the equipment pop and crack, sounding like rice crispies. It freezes huge sharpie markers after a minute or two leaving only a streak of black felt scraped off the tip. Filmy plastic bags become so brittle even being bent by the wind will snap them in half. Elastic bands on headlamps freeze solid, cracking sharply if you try to adjust or stretch them. Rubber seals break in half at the lightest pressure. Zippers and anything metal is cold enough to burn your fingers if you touch it with bare skin. Cameras slow until the shutter freezes in place. Hard plastic will crack if dropped or banged. Electrical cords crack or snap in half if bent. My breath freezes in the air so quickly there’s a sound to it – a gentle exhale, silent in warmer temps, produces a rushing sound as if I were blowing out forcefully…The snow squeaks like styrofoam, the air is perfectly clear. Sound travels amazingly well, footsteps echoing and voices carrying deceptively far.

It’s a cold sharpened by the wind, and with a wind-chill of -150F it’s cold enough to freeze your skin after only a few minutes.
Bundled up in our “ECW”, or extreme cold weather [gear], it’s tolerable for an hour or two at most. To work outside in these conditions I layer up: Wool or fleece long underwear, expedition weight thick socks, insulated carhartt bibs, a fleece jacket or hoodie, a thick fleece gaiter, a wool and fleece hat, my insulated carhartt jacket, warm liner gloves, and thickly padded leather mittens. On my feet I wear big FDX “blue boots.” With my gaiter pulled up to just below my eyes and my hat pulled down leaving only a half inch or so to see through I am set.
That said, it’s not instant death to step outside – I often run down DZ to drop of a bag of waste in just my jeans and hoodie. The only important part is to cover your mouth and nose with a sleeve or tuck it in the neck of your shirt…the cold air can burn your lungs resulting in a cough that lasts several days.

Ultimately, it’s so dry here that while it’s extremely cold it doesn’t feel quite as bone-chilling as a 40deg rain in the PNW.

Me at work just after lunch, rolling up a cargo strap on one of my waste triwalls at DZ - Photo by IceCube winterover Felipe

Me at work just after lunch, rolling up a cargo strap on one of my waste triwalls at DZ – Photo by IceCube winterover Felipe

An excerpt from one of my favorite folk songs that keeps coming to mind:
“The weather tried to beat him.
It tried its level best.
At one hundred degrees below zero,
He just buttoned up his vest.
It froze clear down to China,
It froze to the stars above.
And at one thousand degrees below zero,
It froze my logger love.”

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Filed under Antarctic, South Pole, Winter