Geoff Sims @ UNSW
Home South Pole Diaries 2012/13 3rd January, 2013


Thursday, 3rd January, 2013

Our first day at Pole. (John)

We deliberately took things easy today as we acclimatize to the altitude. The station have provided us with a Weatherhaven tent to work in, and this will make a perfect workshop and staging area for us. It's in the "Dark Sector" next to the main astronomy laboratory building

After breakfast we kicked off with snowmobile instruction, after which Abe and Nic took all of the loose pieces of equipment across to our tent. Daniel and I went to the Comms. Shop and organized three walkie talkies for the team. There was also just enough time for Geoff and I to take a few quick photos of each other at the Ceremonial South Pole. This is is the classic South Pole photo op., with the traditional barber's pole surrounded by the 12 flags of the original 1961 signatories to the Antartcic Treaty.

Yes, it's cold!

The 12 flags of the original Antarctic Treaty signatories.

After a long lunch, we walked out to our Weatherhaven tent and unpacked the crate with all our gear in it - tools, three spare engines, engine oil, and two very heavy tents we'll use at Ridge A to put over the PLATO modules. These will heat up in the sun, and hopefully bring the temperature up from around -44C to perhaps -15C. We also unpacked our 60 spare batteries, and stood back and admired our collection of things.

Life at South Pole is good - at least in summer. It's still around -24 C, with just enough wind to make it feel cold. There's no sense of day and night of course. It's midday all day, as the sun circles around through all points of the compass while staying at the same distance above the horizon. To impose some kind of a routine, we keep to New Zealand time, with breakfast, lunch and dinner at the times you'd expect. (New Zealand time is convenient because McMurdo is in that time-zone, and all our logistic support comes from NZ via McMurdo.)

The other diurnal cycle imposed on us is that of the satellites, which give us our only broadband communication with the outside world. We have Iridium available 24/7, but for any web-based work (such as updating the blog!) we need to wait until one of the once-geostationary satellites is available. So, the blog will be updated now somewhat sporadically, and at odd hours

Another somewhat confusing thing here is the concept of north. From South Pole you cannot, of course, travel in any other direction, which makes it less than useful for describing where you're going. Grid North is therefore defined to point along zero longitude, with the other "grid" directions defined appropriately. Thus, flying from McMurdo to South Pole we are of course heading due south but, as it turns out, roughly due "grid" north. Given that the south magnetic pole is currently wandering around somewhere in East Antarctica ("east" in a "grid" sense), magnetic south is a more or less useless concept here, as is a magnetic compass.

Craig and I, possibly due to our advancing years, have been granted the privilege of staying in the new station, while the rest of the team have been dispersed to the "Hypertats". The new station has quite a sci-fi feel to it, and is extremely comfortable. My room is like a (rather small) university college room, complete with individual temperature control, local network access (and when the satellite is up, full Internet access), a bunk bed (with a stool to help me climb into it), plus plenty of storage.

My home for the next week, in the new station.

After dinner we met with one of the meteorologists, who taught us how to describe the local weather in meteorologist-speak. We'll need to do this when we're at Ridge A, to let the incoming Twin Otter pilots know what to expect. We learned that things like surface definition can be "nil", "poor", "fair" or "good". Apparently things never get any better than "good", which must be a bit depressing if you're a meteorologist.


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