Looking to the North at dawn – the green house is still in darkness, the shop just visible behind the drift, and the 50m tower in front of the sun.
Looking to the South a little while later – the Big House at sunrise!
Looking to the North at dawn – the green house is still in darkness, the shop just visible behind the drift, and the 50m tower in front of the sun.
Looking to the South a little while later – the Big House at sunrise!
After 4 days of weather delays the final turnover flight made it to Summit on November first. We unloaded several hundred pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and various other resupply items then refueled the plane and loaded it up again with bags and passengers. The fall crew had finished their tour of duty and were heading home at last. The rest of the afternoon here on station was mostly spent settling into winter rooms and unpacking the fresh food and supplies.
Fresh food, aka “freshies”, is a big deal in the polar programs. A few stations (such as the South Pole) have green houses and are able to grow some fresh food, but most stations do not have such facilities. As with everything else, freshies must be shipped in from elsewhere. For McMurdo and field camps these come from New Zealand. Here in Greenland it depends on the season – in the summer (Apr-Aug) we get supplies via LC-130s with the NY Air National Guard out of New York state, so food and cargo can be shipped directly from the US. In the winter the hercs are deployed to Antarctica and so for the few crew turnover flights (Oct and Feb) we rely on chartered Twin Otters from Iceland.
Even a few minutes’ exposure to extremely cold temperatures will blacken banana skins and wilt lettuce so freshies from Iceland are sent up in styrofoam boxes to prevent freezing while being transported to and from the plane. We won’t get any flights until February so the freshies we get at the Oct turnover are it – We have to make them last as long as possible. Lettuce goes the fastest and there isn’t much we can do to preserve it so we try to eat that first. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, beets, onions, and squash can last for months and can also be frozen. Even apples, bananas, and oranges will last weeks to months before we are forced to freeze them.
Now that turnover is complete the station is relatively calm and quiet. We are stocked up with food and fuel and are looking good for the months ahead. Winter is a drawn out marathon compared to the frenetic summer season – there’s less overall to do, but everything takes longer. We won’t get another plane until late February 2017 so it’s just a matter of keeping ourselves alive, the station functioning, and our year-round scientific instruments, such as NOAA’s observatory and ICECAPS, in working order.
It is now officially winter and it’s starting to feel like it. Today the sun rose at 9:13am and will set at 1:20pm, tomorrow it will be 9:22am and 1:12pm…the last sunrise will be on November 14th (www.timeanddate.com/summit). Temperatures are variable, but they are dropping lower and lower. Current conditions here are publicly available at: summitcamp.org/weather. On Thurs evening we reached a new low this season of -52F and with the cold and the dark come auroras!
We awoke yesterday to the wind howling. The Green House was filled with a deep resonating sound as the wind vibrated wires on the roof. I peaked out my window. Seeing only flying snow in the pre-dawn light I pulled up the weather page: 35 knots. I pulled on my windproof layers, complete with goggles and stepped outside. The Big House was completely lost in the blowing snow…this is why we put up flag lines. I followed the flags to the Big House and found our mechanic inside sipping coffee. Gradually the others trickled in. As we ate breakfast and commenced the morning meeting the wind rose to nearly 40 knots, swaying the Big House on it’s stilts. Con 1: No travel unless absolutely necessary and check in via radio upon departure and arrival when moving between buildings…
We hunkered down, working on indoor projects and getting ready for turnover with the next crew who are due to arrive later this week. The winds stayed strong most of the day, tapering off at sunset. Darkness fell quickly. Inside the Green House after dinner we all gathered to watch a movie when one of the Science Techs went out to prepare for their nightly weather balloon. “Umm…You guys might want to pause that…there are some pretty good auroras…” After a quick look outside, I quickly threw back on all my layers and grabbed my camera and tripod. The sky was filled with one of the brightest, most active aurora I’ve ever seen. Curtains of bright green light tinged with red danced across stars, swirling and spreading.
I turned off the outside light on the Big House, however in the 2-8 second exposures the other lights on station lit the building up in a surreal light – it was not photoshopped into the picture 🙂
Temperatures plummeted last night. Lately we’ve had temps around -20F, maybe down to -30F, but today it stayed solidly between -43F and -36F…right around that magic value where the two scales cross: -40F.
Later in the afternoon a thin fog crept over the station. The flat white can be so many things – crystal clear with bright, sharp blue skies and glittering snow, or a greyish white nothingness which we call being “inside the ping-pong ball” where you can’t tell where the ground meets the sky…it can be blowing 30 knots, scouring the earth with a gritty onslaught of ice, or at night of winter, when it’s the most peaceful place on earth; crystalline stars spattering the infinite abyss of sky.
I know for a while again
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven
from which even I may step
forth from my self and be free.
– Wendell Berry
On September 27-28, 2015 the Earth passed between the sun and the moon…all three lining up perfectly. The earth’s shadow fell across the moon causing a Lunar Eclipse. This isn’t particularly rare, eclipses of varying degrees (penumbral, partial, or total) happen almost every year and can be calculated and predicted decades in advance, however this year garnered much attention as a few things came together: Not only was it a total eclipse, it was a Super Moon, meaning physically a little closer to Earth than other full moons this year, it was also a Harvest Moon, the first full moon after the Northern Hemispheres autumnal equinox, and finally it was the last eclipse of a tetrad of lunar eclipses – 4 lunar eclipses each 6 months apart…Pretty amazing!
At Summit Station in Greenland we were front and center for the show. Unfortunately it was pretty stormy this weekend and no one was very optimistic of a good sighting. The sun set at 6:14pm. It was pretty dark with a low blanket of clouds and a fair bit of blowing snow in the 20kt winds. At 10:30pm however I glanced out the window and saw the clouds had cleared, revealing a full moon shining brightly above the blowing snow. I bundled up and headed outside. Everyone was still up – glancing out of windows or huddling near their cameras mounted on tripods. The earth’s shadow was clearly visible from the beginning and we watched as it crept further across the lunar disc. It was -15F without windchill. At 12:47am (2:47am UTC) the eclipse reached totality. The entire moon was in shadow and the more diffuse light bending around Earth bathed the full moon in its picturesque red glow.
Here is a series of photos I took here at Summit:
There are many beautiful photographs and lots of information on lunar eclipses out there, while we got a great view of the moon it was hard to stabilize the tripod in the gusty 20kt wind for a good shot of the stars.
For more information, and a great technical info-graphic, please check out NASA’s page at: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/lunar.html
Earth and Sky has a nice page too: earthsky.org/tonight/
And Wikipedia has a great summary of the process and tables predicting eclipses – though this is Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_2015_lunar_eclipse
Finally, IFL Science posted a timelapse of the eclipse here: http://on.fb.me/1QJpYjG
And finally a few photos I took this week, not eclipse related…
A month since the last plane and a month yet to go, we’ve settled into our respective winter roles keeping the station running and warm. Our focus so far has been to get everything stored for winter and we’re almost there. All the cargo has been moved to the berm, the buildings have been dragged out away from the main station, and our HEO has been working diligently to clear as much snow as possible from around the remaining buildings before the winter storms begin in earnest.
It’s definitely autumn here on the ice sheet. The sun is setting around 7:00pm now and rising around 6:00am, and by 9:30pm or 10:00pm it’s properly dark outside! It catches me off guard…I know it sounds odd, but I’m used to the ice being either light (summer) or dark (winter). I’m not used to seeing the sun set below the great flat white each day, and how fast it changes!
Along with the darkness comes stars, and auroras! We had our first sighting this week. While I’ve seen the Southern Lights this was my first undeniable glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.
Named for the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, the Northern and Southern Lights are formed by the same process. In summary: charged particles carried by the solar wind are deflected by Earth’s magnetosphere and carried towards the polar regions where they interact with the upper atmosphere releasing photons – light. For a more thorough explanation please refer to my previous post here…or check out these websites for more information:
As these charged particles are released by solar flares and carried on the solar wind, aurora events can be forecasted somewhat, though the accuracy is even less than predicting the weather. (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-3-day-forecast)
The aurora is a beautiful and magical phenomenon, but it is not rare – it is happening nearly constantly day and night! The light emitted is so faint however, that it can only be seen at night. Every planet with a magnetic field has auroras at the poles – those that don’t, such as Venus, still have the occasional aurora, but they are more random and not specifically polar.
Over the past few days we’ve had stronger winds and more blowing snow in the air, while this has obscured the night sky it did illuminate the normally invisible LiDAR instrument shining through it’s little window in the MSF roof. A very strong laser, the LiDAR instrument is part of a suite of experiments that compose the ICECAPS project that are studying precipitation and cloud properties over the Greenland ice sheet. Check out the official Polar Field Services blog for a more complete summary: polarfield.com/blog/tag/lidar
The NOAA Observatory webpage has some interesting information on the MSF and the ICECAPS project found at: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/arctic/observatories/summit/
The University of Wisconsin website also has a webpage with information on ICECAPS: http://icecaps.ssec.wisc.edu/
Temperatures have stayed fairly warm so far (between 0F and -20F), though we have had the occasional dip down to -40F. The general trend is that it’s either clear, calm, beautiful, and very cold (-30F to -40F)…or windy, overcast, snowing and warm (+5F to 0F). As the winter progresses and the days get shorter temps will continue to fall. It won’t reach the coldest temps seen at the South Pole in winter, but it gets cold enough!
For those who might be curious, Summit’s weather data is publicly available at: summitcamp.org/status/weather
Dawn is upon us. The sky grows lighter each day – swallowing the stars and washing away the auroras. The first faint glow was just visible in the second week of August, by now it’s taken over the sky. Right now it looks like it does at 530am in Denver, or 5:18am in Seattle…with the brightness of the sunrise circling the horizon 24/7, getting just a little lighter each day.
On clear days now it’s bright enough to see the sastrugi, to see footprints in the snow, and even to label my triwalls without a headlamp! The sky is a deep blue still speckled with stars and hints of aurorae. This month has been stormy, and on cloudy days it’s dark, a veil of clouds sliding across the horizon taking back what light was just revealed, but it’s lighter than black…on the darkest days of June and July it was hard at times to know if one’s eyes were open or closed. The sun hit its low point of 23.5 degrees on June 21, the solstice. Today it’s at 8º below the horizon – Nautical Twilight. 3 weeks until sunrise!
It’s no warmer outside, but just seeing the light is rejuvenating. It feels like a light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon pulling us forward day by day. I know it’s completely illogical, but there were days when it felt like it was never going to return. Like we would be stuck here forever – the stars spinning round and round above us, the same petty dramas played out on repeat. A skipping record. We still have two months left, so we’re far from done yet, but time is progressing. We’re getting closer to the now nearly mythical first plane.
Life inside the station this past month has lived up to the reputation of “Angry August.” This week however, it’s a new month. The window covers will come down and on the 21 the sun will rise above the edge of the world – a new day.
Days since the last plane: 200!
Days since sunset: 165
Days since midwinter: 73
Days until sunrise: 18
Days until first plane: 59*
*We’re scheduled to get a Basler and a Twin Otter through here in mid-October, but they’ll just be refueling. There will be no cargo/freshies/mail for us and no one but the crew leaving with them. “Our” first plane will be a C-130 Herc scheduled for Nov 1, but that’s always subject to weather and mechanical delays…that date isn’t by any means set in stone, it’s more like the middle of a bell curve.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on August 17th.
Toast, also known as “Polar T3 Syndrome” or “winter-over syndrome”, is a phenomenon that often presents itself in polar winter-overs. While it’s a popular joke and a common excuse it can ultimately become a serious issue. Someone who’s toast is burnt out – simply done.
In a paper published in 2003 Dr. Palinkas examined winter-overs and the winter-over syndrome: “This syndrome is characterized by varying degrees of depression; irritability and hostility; insomnia; and cognitive impairment, including difficulty in concentration and memory, absentmindedness, and the occurrence of mild hypnotic states known as “long-eye” or the “Antarctic stare.” These symptoms have been observed to increase over time, peaking at mid-winter, and then declining during the third quarter of winter-over duty, only to increase again at the end of the winter-over period. These symptoms were first reported by Frederick Cook (1900), the polar explorer and anthropologist who served as physician aboard the Belgica. Since that time, they have been evident in almost every expedition. Most winter-over personnel at both stations experience these symptoms to various degrees.”
We’re pale with bags under our eyes. It’s not uncommon to see someone just staring at the juice machine for 10-50 minutes…long-eye. Words fail us, simple processes that we’ve done over and over suddenly make no sense. The personality quirks we normally keep hidden from public make their way to the surface – the months of isolation and confinement stealthily eroding our defenses, our social normalcy.
“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
– Mark Twain
We’ve been living together, just the 44 of us, for over 7 months. Sure, we have a few hours of internet each day and phone calls are relatively easy, but it’s still isolating. Topics for dinner conversations have run their course. Punctuated by long moments of silence our dialogue flows seamlessly from news of a bill in congress to the state of the bathrooms someone House Moused on Monday to the wind speed forecast for next week to the details of designing space suits for “biological functions”…
In 2008, Daniel Zwerdling of NPR interviewed several Polies who had wintered-over in previous seasons. It’s interesting and the last bit is dead on…it’s August, “Angry August” as it’s often known, or “Apathetic August” as some people have started calling it this year. As Zwerdling notes more than once in the interview a sense of camaraderie has developed, however I’m beginning to feel a bit toast myself. Some days the idiosyncrasies of my fellow winter-overs get under my skin and I’m grateful that I’m the sole Wastie here – that I work alone. When it gets too much I can always go outside to deal with my triwalls and snow drifts in solitude, the immensity of the sky around me putting into perspective all the trials and tribulations that seem the world to us inside the station.
Medical researchers actually have a name for this. They call it T3 Syndrome, or as the polies put it, you’re toast. Studies at the pole show when you isolate a small group of people in a dark and freezing place, their body chemistry changes. They feel worn down, weepy, crabby. They sleep too much, or they don’t sleep at all. They turn on each other…People’s spirits get dark in the hear of winter
When the “Lord of the Flies” started to happen, it just kept going. Our two cooks couldn’t be in the same building together. You know, when the power plant goes down, you’re supposed to run towards it and help; some didn’t. So when that starts going down, then you start seeing the true inside of humans. I really thought that grown-up humans would rise to the challenge. That’s what I thought I would see when I signed up, and they don’t.
But then, the sun finally comes back. It jumps above the horizon in late September, and the polies realize they’ve made it. In fact, they formed tight bonds, and they say they see the world differently than they did before.
The recorded interview and full transcript can be found at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89967120
Another link worth checking out is the blog by the Doc at Dome C from 2012 – the whole blog is worth reading through, but this post in particular is about winter, darkness, and some of the physiological and psychological changes he noticed: http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/lost-in-time-in-the-antarctic-ice-age/?_r=0
More information on Polar T3 Syndrome and a study that was done on the ice a few years back: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=15478
Details of the official Palinkas study: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1999/nsf98106/98106htm/nsf98106h2.html
It’s late August already, and most of us here are showing at least a few signs of being toast…Ultimately though, we’ve made it through the darkest hours, days, weeks, and months – there is a glow on the horizon.
It’s incredibly powerful – this undeniable evidence that the sun will return. It sounds absolutely crazy, but for a while it seemed like we would be stuck here forever, windows covered, with only the cold black outside and the same 44 people driving each other nuts inside. But there’s a glow, a pre-dawn hint of light and I know the sun will rise, the temps will warm, the planes will come eventually, and before we know it winter will be over.
“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” -Conrad
“We are not conscious of daylight as that which displaces darkness. Daylight, even when the sun is clear of clouds, seems to us simply the natural condition of the earth and air…We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again. Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight…We need daylight and to that extent it is utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need. When it comes, it serves no necessity. It transforms…” – Watership Down
We’ve passed the darkest point and ever so slowly the sun is returning. Astronomical Twilight! Or so they say…with the 35kt winds and cloudy skies we’ve had this past week it’s as dark as ever.
We haven’t seen the sun for over three months now; the darkness only broken by the moon which rises every two weeks illuminating the polar plateau in a wash of silvery light. When full it’s bright enough to cast stark shadows, but when it sets again we are plunged into the deepest of dark. With the stars hidden by clouds it’s utter pitch black – without a headlamp you can’t see a thing. For this reason DZ is illuminated by 6 bright red lights, as are some of the other out buildings used for navigation in the dark. White lights are forbidden (except in an emergency) as they interfere with some of the research projects monitoring the sky. Equipment, headlamps, any lights outside are covered with red cellophane or paint, and lights in general are kept to a minimum.
The lack of sunlight can be depressing and the dark when the moon sets can be challenging to be sure, but when the moon sets and the clouds clear the sky is phenomenal. The stars are bright, the Milky Way a clear slash of light through the velvety sky (see the two pictures below – both 30 sec exposures). The redness of Rigel is visible. It’s awesome in the truest sense of the word. Galaxies, stars, the dark “coal sack”, planets, satellites flying at just the right angle reflect the sun in a bright burst – iridium flares. Not to mention auroras.
Pictures from back home with sunlight and shadows, trees, grass, large bodies of liquid water, white fluffy clouds, people in shorts…animals…it’s starting to feel like a different world, a dream. I remember the warmth of sunlight on my skin. Here at the South Pole there is only one sunrise and one sunset in a year. Watching movies, it seems strange to see the sun rising and setting every day. An excessive number of sunrises and sunsets!
The days are blurring together, the weeks blending into one long stretch. I wake up and have to think about what day it is…what month…is it time to get up? Is it the middle of the night? Or did I sleep past my alarm? It’s always dark outside, always cold and even inside there’s not much more variation, it’s the same people doing the same thing day after day after day.
I haven’t completely lost sight of the beauty this place has to offer – auroras and star filled skies contrast with warm stormy days, projects and parties…I know however tired I am now, however much I yearn to leave this place, I will miss it the moment I leave. It brands the soul.
Like life aboard ships or submarines, routine anchors us in some form of sanity. Some people (researchers mostly) “free-cycle,” sleeping when they’re tired and working all night sometimes to end up on a 28hr day, others follow the satellite passes which advance every day by 4 minutes. Most of us are paid however, to work regular hours from 7am-5pm. It’s important for me to have a regular schedule. A typical day for me begins with my alarm at 6:00am. I eat breakfast in the galley, go to stretching from 7-7:30am, check my email, do my ‘rounds’ in which I check all the trash cans and recycling bins in the station, head outside to check my triwalls at DZ, setting up new ones and banding full ones as necessary then lunch from 12-1pm. After lunch it’s on to odd jobs like taking fluorescent bulbs out to my box on the berms, collecting used batteries, staging empty drums or moving full ones, organizing and scanning hazardous waste paperwork, editing the waste SOP. At 500pm we’re done for the day and most days I workout. Dinner from 6-630 then a movie, a card game, scrabble, maybe a lecture if one’s being presented. On Wednesdays I shower, and then to bed between 10-11pm. We get Sundays off.
Insomnia, or “big eye” is a common problem. For me personally it seems to take forever to fall asleep, but then I feel I could sleep for days. As the season progresses I start to feel tired all the time, more tired when I wake up than when I went to sleep. It doesn’t help that with no sunlight there’s no way of knowing what time of day it is. On Sundays I wake thinking it must be 7am or maybe 8 and I might get to sleep some more, but my watch shows 1130! Even with a regular schedule it can get slightly disorienting at times. Some people here use full-spectrum “happy” lights, others take vitamin D supplements. The greenhouse is a sanctuary of light, life, humidity, and oxygen. Just sitting in there for a few minutes is rejuvenating.
The station windows (42″x42″ or 42″x18″) are blocked with cardboard to prevent light pollution and to insulate against the cold. As progressive as this station might be they installed metal window frames which have proven to be huge heat sinks. These window covers go up right around sunset and are taken down around sunrise. While some are plain old triwall cardboard, others have become works of art: