Monthly Archives: October 2013

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

 

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Antarctic

The SHUTDOWN

(I am not an official representative of the NSF or USAP, all opinions stated below are mine personally and do not necessarily reflect those of the NSF, USAP, or the US Government)

“All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.”

Friends have lost their jobs, research opportunities are lost forever, and the sheer logistical nightmare of shutting down USAP operations is underway. With the US government shutdown federal funding has been cut across the board  and the NSF is no exception. The USAP has lost funding and is moving forward with a plan to run the stations in “Caretaker Status.” This means we’ll have a very minimal skeleton crew, no field camps, no science, just maintaining the stations so they can be used again next year. For example, the peak population at the South Pole this summer might be 50 people, rather than the 250 scientists and support staff of previous seasons. McMurdo might max out at 100-150, rather than 1200. Rumors abound and facts change daily, but either way much of the science and projects for this upcoming season have been cancelled and it’s too late to put it back on line.

It’s been hard – the program is just ramping up to begin the short summer research season. The winter across the continent is long, dark, and cold. Research projects, surveys of all sorts, construction projects, maintenance projects, resupply, and anything beyond the immediate vicinity of the stations is all but impossible during the winter. Not to mention research projects that involve the sea, animals, remote sites, the dry valleys…There is one window for all of that work each year – and it’s only about 5 months long. The last government shutdown (1995-96) came in the middle of the season when it was too late to turn things around. This time, however, the entire year has been cancelled – and even if the government figures things out, it’s already too late. The USAP is moving forward with a plan to shut the program down.  The USAP announced the decision on Oct 8 (the full press release can be found here):

“Under caretaker status, the USAP will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.” They continue, “It is important to note, however, that some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal workforce is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.”

Thankfully, I’m only affected peripherally. Pole already has a minimal crew in winter and I’m at the end of my contract, still planning to leave Pole in early November. The incoming crew will get the brunt of it. This next season will indeed be…unique. I have many friends who made it to McMurdo and are now being sent home, or who are in the process of deploying right now, or who were planning on it…friends who quit their jobs, rented out their homes, put everything in storage, and were relying on the paycheck of a several month contract.

For more information I can direct you to already published articles. Nature’s Oct. 4 article outlines possible repercussions of shutting down the USAP – www.nature.com/news/us-antarctic-research-season-is-in-jeopardy. NPR’s Oct, 8 article has an audio story as well (www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/09/230445614/shutdown-forces-antarctic-research-into-caretaker-status). And the tourist groups Adventure Network International (ANI) and Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), supporting skiers and tourist groups that visit the South Pole in the austral summer, wrote this article touching on how this might impact their operations (not a whole lot, but sad nonetheless) – www.explorersweb.com/polar/news.php?url=south-pole-shuts-down. On Oct 11, Wired explained some good points in their article, stressing that this isn’t just like taking a few days off, there is no “back-pay” or workers and researchers who are sent home, there is no undoing – shutting down the US Antarctic Program will have long term, global, repercussions – www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/10/why-shutting-down-u-s-antarctic-research-will-have-global-repercussions. More recently the New York Times published an article (Oct 14) stressing the hope that some researchers are clinging to, that they might be allowed to get their samples or do their work if funding returns (www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/us/an-american-shutdown-reaches-the-earths-end).

For a less formal opinion – here are some blog posts from other Ice people that I recommend:

I know that established ‘ice people’ are resilient and will figure something out, but it won’t be easy. If you were planning on going to the ice and have been laid off, check out Bill Spindler’s link above (he might have some more resources) and the Facebook group “Ice Friends Helping Ice Friends” has plethora of housing and seasonal job ads. For those of you who were on your way down for the first time, there’s nothing I can say to make it any better. It’s heartbreaking, I know, and I am truly deeply sorry. I hope you will have another chance someday – Don’t give up!

My own experience reaching the ice was thwarted two years in a row. I had decided early in elementary school that one day I would go to Antarctica. It was a dream come true when, almost a decade later, I was hired as a Core Handler for the WAIS Divide project in 2008. The day prior to deploying (my bags packed, tickets in hand, everything in storage…) I crashed my bicycle and separated my shoulder. NPQ’d. I was devastated. Six months later I was hired to be one of a few Field Operations Assistants at Toolik Field Camp in Northern Alaska. It was a foot in the door, a way into the seemingly elite world of polar logistics and I had an invitation to return as a Core Handler for WAIS Divide that upcoming austral summer. Yet again, however, my hopes were dashed when I tore my ACL in a skiing accident a week before heading north. I struggled to find something to do instead. Everything was set on working at the Poles. I had majored in Geology in part because I figured Glaciology would be one of the best ways to get to Antarctica. My geology field work was studying glaciers with the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and I returned as staff to lead the Mass Balance project the summer after graduating. Flying to Europe after high school, I pressed myself to the little plastic window, peering excitedly down at the blinding white expanse of the Greenland ice sheet – “I will go there someday.”
With three seasons in a row shot down, I hated to think that this just wasn’t meant to be. I had felt innately drawn to the ice, to polar work in general- both to the research and logistics. After so long I couldn’t just give it all up and do something else. I grew even more determined. I pressed all my friends in Geology, glaciology, science support – anyone I knew who knew someone who had been to the Ice, who had been to Toolik or Barrow, who had been to Greenland. I called on professors at the University in my home town and emailed researchers around the world. I applied to every job I might barely qualify for…and begged for recommendations and contacts from friends in the field. I didn’t care what I did or if I got paid, it was just a matter of getting my foot in the door. It was hard to get a job without knowing someone.Finally it paid off.
In early 2010 I got a call asking if I would like to work as the Field Coordinator at  Summit Station, Greenland. I couldn’t believe it. Could I PQ and deploy in 2 weeks? Sure! Did I want to spend April-August in the heart of the Greenland ice sheet? ABSOLUTELY. I tried not to get my hopes up, tried to have backup a plan. I didn’t let myself get too excited until I was in Kanger, Greenland…then on the herc, then on the ice sheet itself looking up at the contrails of planes heading to Europe. Everything fell into place after that. Since then I have bounced between Antarctica and Greenland working as a General Assistant (GA), Science Tech, Cargo (when I started this blog), and as a Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO). And here I am, wrapping up my first Antarctic winter at the Pole in Waste Management/Spill Response. I might just be a lifer.

We joke that it’s not all rainbows and penguins. Seasons are hard – the frenetic pace of summer is exhausting, but so is the marathon of winter. Most jobs are very physical demanding, though the social situation can be even more challenging. There are a growing number of people who are here because they can’t find a job at home – they don’t necessarily want to be here and don’t necessarily like it here, and they bring everyone else down. But there are also people who love it here, who come not for money, but for the idea, the community, and the adventure. I’m really ready to go at the end of each season, sometimes wondering why I do this to myself, and yet as soon as I step off the ice I’m thinking about the next season. The lows might be LOW, but the highs are HIGH. Plus, it’s pretty nice to work for a few months and then get a few months off. But above and beyond all that – the simple truth is that I love it! I love the ice, I love Antarctica, I love the cold, I love the Hercs, I love the excitement of a new season, I love the crazy research, I love the dichotomies of this extreme world, I love the simpleness of the world here, the pureness. I refer you once more to Genevieve’s blog and her most recent post, A Sordid Love Story, about her love of the ice, her first deployment, and the pain of almost being sent home this year. She puts words to these feelings better than I can.

Anyone who has worked or researched on the ice knows weather rules all…delays are just part of the game, but this season is a whole new story. Science hasn’t just been delayed – it’s been cancelled. And that’s the only reason any of us are here – to support science. With the climate changing as it is, it’s more important than ever to study what we can, to try to understand these systems and quantify the rate of melting ice. Politics aside, in the grand scheme of things it’s too late to turn things around. There is no debate or disagreement among the global scientific community. Millions of people have been affected by climate change and millions more will be. The sea level is rising and will continue to rise. That’s the thing about science; It’s true whether you believe it or not. It blows my mind that a group like the Tea Party Republicans can exist in this day and age, demanding a state based on “Christian” beliefs while refusing to help those in need and while they throw their tantrums and refuse to do their jobs we are losing critical scientific and educational opportunities.  There is a reason why America is not number 1 in education, research, technology, health, happiness…

But to end things on a lighter note…here are penguins in sweaters! Click on the image to go to the related article:

Penguins in sweaters after an oil spill - the sweaters keep them from pruning themselves and being poisoned by the oil while keeping them warm until they can be cleaned.

New Zealand penguins in sweaters after an oil spill this month – the sweaters keep them from pruning themselves and being poisoned by the oil while keeping them warm until they can be cleaned.

3 Comments

Filed under Antarctic, South Pole

Aliens

After 7 months of being sequestered away – isolated from the rest of the physical world – we welcomed our first planes yesterday. Two Kenn Borek Twin Otters arrived from Rothera on their way to McMurdo! They travel in pairs for SAR purposes. It was strange to hear their voices over the radio, sounding so close, and so…Canadian. Winterovers drifted out to watch – standing on roofs, out on the snow, on the decks, and stairs watching and waving – and then when they had landed we all scuttled to our rooms and at lunch filled one long table in the galley, sitting close and trying not to stare. I wonder what they see in us – with our pale skin, wide eyes, and overgrown facial hair (on the guys at least). It’s beyond strange to see a figure and not be able to immediately identify them by how they are moving alone.

No matter how strange it may be, they have more than made themselves welcome with a bag of freshies! Apples, bananas, and kiwis! Enough for half a piece per person. I stood in line (yes, there was a line in the galley!) and found myself just staring at the kiwis, they were so luminous, so succulent looking, so perfectly real. I have been dreaming of apples though, so I picked one of the halved granny smiths. Perhaps the best apple I have ever tasted. There’s nothing quite like not being able to have something to make it so much more desirable.

They’ll refuel, rest, and wait for the weather in Mac Town to clear then they’ll head onwards. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is crackling with energy reminiscent of a Christmas morning. Still a month to go – but a month filled with changes, flights, and preparations for the summer crew. This is the beginning of the end.

The first Twin Otter touches down on October 5, 2013. -43F and little wind.

The first Twin Otter touches down on October 5, 2013. -43F and little wind.

IMG_7702

As for the Government shut down – we’re business as usual for now, we’ve been assured that we won’t be stranded. Some impact might be felt next season however, as per this article: www.nature.com/news/us-antarctic-research-season-is-in-jeopardy

1 Comment

Filed under Antarctic, Flights, South Pole, Winter

I want…

OCTOBER!
IMG_7590

We are down to the last month here – 30 more days – and then the C-130 Hercs will begin to arrive, laden with mail, freshies, and the eager, excited, exuberant faces of the summer crew ready to go…It will definitely be a transition and I’m sure I will find myself cringing and wanting to be left alone – crowded by the new people and their optimism, just wanting them to stop smiling so much, stop talking so much…the frenetic pace of summer is exhausting even when you haven’t just survived a 9 month winter!
I’m scheduled to head out just a week after the first Herc arrives, shipped back to the real world, to beautiful New Zealand. Lately as I try to fall asleep, or whenever I let my mind drift, I find myself dreaming of everything the rest of the world has to offer – everything I have missed and yearned for these past long months. Here at Pole there is no dirt, no insects, no wildlife, no birdsong nor animals of any kind. There are no people younger than 22 or older than 65. We have no fresh fruit and only the limited vegetables grown in the green house, no real eggs, and only powered milk. We have showers, but are only allowed two (2minutes long) per week. It’s been an extraordinary experience, both challenging and enlightening, but the sun is up now, it’s relatively warm (-65F) and I think we’re all ready to go.

So here is a list, the idea stolen from a blog of a friend who has wintered here at the Pole twice before:

I want to feel the warmth of sunlight

I want to wake up to bird calls and the rising sun, not the electric screech of an alarm clock

I want to taste the crispness of an apple or an orange on my tongue

I want to let my hair down and feel the wind in it

I want to get my freckles back, even if it means getting sunburned – I want my semi-translucent, pale, dry, skin to draw color and warmth from the sun, to heal

I want to stand barefoot on green grass damp from dew

I want to wiggle my toes in the sand and feel the cold ocean waves wash over my feet grasping at my ankles, begging me to follow them out into the sea

I want to smell the rain – to hear it pattering on rooftops and window sills

I want to wear a skirt and feel warm air against my legs

I want to look at a horizon with puffy clouds and jagged mountains

I want to see the saturated color of dandelions on a stretch of green grass

I want to hear the wind in the trees and the songs of birds

I want to speak with someone whose name I do not know, whose stories I have not heard

I want to take a shower without goose bumps, and to just stand and let the hot water run over me regardless of the time

I want to see fresh fruits and veggies – resplendent in their color, holding in my hands the glossy red strawberries, deep purple eggplants, dusty blueberries, and bright yellow bananas, the orange peppers, brown mushrooms, white garlic, pink apples, and the myriad of greens…

I want to watch the sunrise, not stretched out over the course of weeks, but over mere minutes – and to watch it set that same day

I want to feel the heat of a hot day radiating from the earth after the sun has set

I want to feel dirt between my fingers

I want to blow my nose without getting a nose bleed and to wake up without being congested

I want to have the freedom to leave the mile radius I’m in whenever I please

I want to see color on the horizon, on the earth – something other than snow

I want to run outside – not on a running machine, er, treadmill…

I want to step outside and breathe without burning my lungs from the cold

I want to touch metal with bare hands without freezing to it

I want to go somewhere new – where I don’t know each bump and scratch on the walls, where there is something new about my surroundings

I want to sit near people and not feel obligated to say something or listen (like in a cafe or on a bus)

I want to hear a child’s laughter and a dog’s bark

I want to wear a tank top and feel the sun on my shoulders, to step outside without 25 pounds of clothing weighing me down

I want to wear sandals

I want to sit on a rock, to feel the warmth of the sun from it

I want to hike somewhere surrounded by trees and animals, to be the only human, to be alone

I want to swim naked under the stars

I want to go.

5 Comments

Filed under Antarctic, South Pole, Winter