The station has been closed for one week. Most of the crew has been involved in "station closing tasking" this week--the biggest job was digging out and rolling up the fuel line that runs from the fuel arch, where all the fuel is stored, to the flight deck. We've also been putting up flag lines to outlying parts of the station--I helped put up the line to the new satellite Marisat and the radar that I take care of, which is downwind of the satellite (to help prevent the radar from drifting in over winter!).
The road to the satellite has been graded, which means its very hard, like ice. Jeff, one of the comms techs, and I had a lot of trouble getting the flags put in. The flags are bamboo poles of varying length and structural stability with one foot square cloth flags at the top end. There are several colors, green, red, blue, black, blaze orange, that used to mean something but don't really anymore. First we tried using a hand drill to make the holes, but we couldn't make a dent in the pack. Finally we resorted to using a piece of steel conduit and a sledgehammer. It was hard going but we got it all done in three hours. The satellite is about a mile from the dome, but we laid the line only from the end of the berms (slightly raised snow platforms where stuff is stored) out to the satellite platform.
I also helped Mike and Steve, known down here as The Sparcle Boys, dig a large pit. SPARCLE (South Pole Atmospheric Radiation and Cloud Lidar Experiment) is a project run by Steve Warren from the University of Washington. Mike and Steve are two of his graduate students who will conduct the research over the winter. It is important for their measurements of relative humidity in the atmosphere that the snow level be reasonably flat over the range of the measurement. A 4'x4'x5' wooden crate containing a transformer had been placed outside their building, and it needed to be flush with the snow surface, so we dug a large pit with a ramp so we could slide it down. As with the road to Marisat, this area had been graded, so the shoveling was slow going. About an hour into it I finally said, "What does this remind you of?" .... then answered myself, "Happy Camper School!" But that made us remember that at happy camper school we used saws to move snow, not shovels, so we quickly found an electric chainsaw and went to town. (We can't use a gas powered chainsaw at the SPARCLE building because it is in the clean air sector and the exhaust would be a major pollutant.) Once we had the snow out of the hole we had to haul it on sleds about 50 feet away-- leaving a big pile of snow would cause more drifting than the transformer itself. I felt like Scott, pulling the sled! I left after dinner, exhausted, but they stuck it out and managed to get the transformer down in its hole before calling it a night.
Later that night the radar had a glitch and so I walked out there to fix it. Its a nice walk. The temps have been varying from about -15F (-25C) to -40F (-40C), with winds from 0 to 20 knotts. The sky has been very interesting lately--bizarre cloud covers, sometimes with little funny openings here and there. On the night I walked to the radar it looked bruise--I would call those storm clouds at home but we don't get thunderstorms here! The sun is dropping noticeably in the sky--it will set in a month. The best pictures are in the next few weeks during the extended twilight.
I had shipped a large box of movies down, and wasn't sure if they would make it in. They somehow wound up on the vessel, and came in on one of the last flights of the season. I finally got them delivered two nights ago! I threw up a quick webpage listing them, with a small description, for others on the station. I will keep them for winter but when I leave I will donate them to the station. Many people brought DVDs down also, and one person has donated a nice DVD player to the lounge in the library so we can all enjoy the movies. (Many people also play the DVDs on their laptop computers that they brought.)
It seems empty here. 50 people is a lot for a small station, but it doesn't seem crowded yet. Perhaps it will by winters end when we are tired of each other. Often when I walk into the galley now it is empty. Meghan and I removed a bunch of tables and chairs from the galley for the winter. People have also been mining the summer camp lounges for couches and comfortable chairs, some to put in their rooms, some for common areas like the galley. We put a small couch in the meteorology office, which we now call the Met Cyber Cafe!
It is a good crew. There are all different kinds of people here. I don't know where else a person could have this kind of experience. The military or jail, perhaps, but this place seems wholly positive to me. Some people were a little aprehensive right before the doors closed; not really wanting to leave, but having normal second thoughts. There has also been a lot of publicity about Dr. Nielsen, and many of the crews family members were worried from watching the tv interviews and reading her book. I personally haven't had any second thoughts at all. Its good that I like it--I spent a lot of time thinking and hoping and dreaming before I got down here, and its nice that the reality has surpassed my expectations!
copyright 2001 Andrea Grant
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