Saturday, March 19, 2005

Snow Tears

It is magical to be outside at the moment. It is like the deep breath before the plunge...the temperature plateaued between -45C and -50C for nearly a month in Feb/March, but now again the mercury has plummeted, and it will only drop faster as the sun disappears. Some interesting phenomena start to occur now that the temperatures are at -60C and below.

Walking outside is still fine if there is no wind, as you warm up from the exercise soon enough and apart from your face, you are quite toasty. But if you pull down your gaiter and leave off your goggles (a popular choice for me at the moment because the light is so spectacular as the 100-metre long shadows of the station curve over the sastrugi), it is quite another thing.

Even in summer, your breath fogs a bit, but nothing like now. Every puff of breath steams into massive swirling clouds of water vapour in front of your vision. For photos outside now, it is only possible to see the subject's face if they hold their breath. At temperatures below -60C, every breath and you hear a tiny series of tinklings and cracklings. That is the water vapour from your lungs freezing into tiny ice crystals only a few centimetres from your lips, and then clinking together in a shimmering, musical cascade as they float away.

It is important not to blink too much. I was taking photographs outside and closed one eye as I peered through the viewer. My eyelashes instantly fused together and it was an effort to pry them apart. The tiny breath-crystals curl and fuse to your eyelashes and define them better than any eyeliner. Walking inside after any expedition and these little stalactites melt, and slide down your cheeks, the purest snow tears in the world...

Anyone who has seen a beautiful sunset knows that the truest, loveliest colours of the light can last minutes, sometimes only moments. Perhaps this is the most wonderful thing about spending a year at South Pole. This is a sunset that lasts weeks - and each new phase of the sun's path lasts hours, days, and we are spoiled for beauty. The sun is only a finger-width from the horizon now, fat and lazy as it spins ever lower. My shadow stretches perhaps fifty metres in front of me as I walk to MAPO. It is a luxuriously long sunset, and I look forward to the long dark, and the everlasting stars...

Not much other news on station. My telescope is behaving himself at the moment (touchwood), and people are settling in with each other, we have a great crew this year. I have updated my webpage with a couple of new photo pages. These will be added to in the next few weeks, please let me know if images are too big, or there are broken links etc.

Here's hoping everyone is well at home, and cheery,
big smiles

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