Saturday, September 27, 2008

Condition One!

Saturday morning I awoke to a Condition One. Actually, I was awakened frequently during the night by howling winds and a gentle vibration of the building. The weather in Antarctica is categorized into three conditions.

  • Severe Weather Condition 1
    Issued when at least one of the following conditions is occurring or imminent:
    Sustained wind speed greater than 55 knots
    Wind chill temperature colder than -100°F (-73°C)
    Visibility less than 100 feet

  • Severe Weather Condition 2
    Issued when at least one of the following conditions is occurring or imminent:
    Sustained wind speed 48 knots to 55 knots
    Wind chill temperature -75°F (-60°C) to -100°F (-73°C)
    Visibility 1/4 mile to 100 feet

  • Severe Weather Condition 3
    Issued when all conditions exceed criteria for Condition 2. This is the normal condition.

If you are unfamiliar with knots as a speed indicator, I found out that a knot is equal to 1.15 miles per hour.

This YouTube video shows a Condition One here at McMurdo. It is was not made yesterday, but it is quite an accurate portrayal of the event.

When there is Condition One, everyone is required to remain indoors and not to go outside. I was, fortunately, in the hospital where we have the comforts of home: kitchenette, snacks, restroom, beds, computers, and TV. The Condition One lasted from about 7 am to noon and was more impressive than the hurricane I experienced in Houston back in the early 1980's. The snow here is as fine as baby powder, but when it hits you it feels like needles. Larger pieces of snow can feel like bullets. The wind will knock you over. I saw a recycling bin, a huge wooden box, blown down the street. A large piece of plywood took flight. Snow was blowing into the hospital's break room through a tiny crack above a window. Some buildings suffered minor damage or had windows blow out.

Last night the Carpenter's Shop, known locally as the "carp shop", hosted CarpStock - a party featuring about 4 or 5 rock bands, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, lots of other munchies, and a variety of beverages. Everyone seemed to have a great time enjoying the music, dancing and letting out the stress of a busy week and lousy weather.

Tonight, at 8 pm, we will be treated to another Science Lecture. Tonight's subject will be on a variety of weather topics, such as Fata Morgana (Wikipedia Link) and other oddities. These are always interesting and topical presentations by leaders in their field.

Earlier today there was a craft fair. Local artisans showed a variety of amazing talents in photography, jewelry, knitting, and ceramics. I am continually impressed by the talent we have on station.

As some may know, I am Jewish. Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our High Holy Days (HHDs), in the coming weeks. Celebrating them here, at McMurdo, is a bit of a challenge. We have a non-denominational Christian chapel (Chapel of the Snows) and arriving soon will be a military chaplain and a Catholic priest. However, there is no facility, liturgy, or accomodation for Jews to observe these holidays. My request to be permitted to view streaming audio or video of services from a (technologically progressive) Synagogue in the U.S. was denied. There is a strict policy against permitting streaming audio/video due to bandwidth limitations and it is the opinion of station management that any variance from this policy, regardless of how worthy, would lead to other worthy requests. The concern, as explained to me, is that to make an exception for one would require an exception to all, and there is no desire to have that happen. So, for me, observing the HHDs will require finding printed resources online and trying to conduct self-guided worship. This should be an interesting experience. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Hike

Last Saturday, the wind howled all night. When I got up Sunday morning it was still howling. I turned on the TV to our local weather report (just a series of slides, no audio). The temperature was -8 F with wind chill of -35 F. It is our "day off". The galley opened at 10 am for brunch. Afterwards, Shawn, a plumber, and I went for a hike. We went to Hut Point, which is where a cross sits on a hill, just past Scott's Hut. Scott's Hut was where he and his team arrived and built the shelter. The trip didn't end so well for them, as you probably know.

I got all decked out in my extreme cold weather gear for the hike. Let me tell you what was involved from the inside out:
underwear and socks
thermal long underwear, top and bottom
jeans and long-sleeved knit shirt
wind pants and Polartec fleece pull-over
balaclava (the grey ski mask covering my entire head except for a small opening around my eyes
Polartec fleece stocking cap
specially protective sunglasses
Thinsulate lined gloves
Thinsulate lined hiking boots
big red parka with fur-trimmed hood

The tiny patches of skin that show on the photo were really cold. When facing the wind, I had to turn my head to keep the wind from creating frostbite on the exposed skin.

The plaque that sits outside Scott's Hut is shown.
The last photo is of me standing at the cross at the top of Hut Point. The cross is in memory of a fellow whose last name is Vince. He died at or near that spot in 1902. He was part of Scott's team.
The hike to Hut Point was with the wind at my back. No worries. The hike back was with the wind to my face. Phew, that was tough: fighting the 35 kt winds and trying to guard against the effects of the cold wind against my exposed face. I should have worn the full-face goggles instead of sunglasses. Luckily, no harm came of it. As soon as I got back to the main building, Shawn and I made arrangements to meet in the dining room, where I was planning a warm cup of cocoa. As I was washing up to go to the dining room, my pager went off (yes, I carry a pager 24/7). The call was from the hospital, which was just across the street from the dining room. I walked over to find Colin and Maureen, the other doc and the nurse practitioner, already there. The three of us waited for the arrival of a hypothermia victim. He was on a longer windier hike. The day was bright and sunny and he was tricked by the appearance versus the conditions. Anyway, his buddies recognized his distress and called in the emergency. The Search and Rescue team was on it immediately. They brought him to the clinic. We were able to rewarm him appropriately and safely.

Harry Owens, the summer lead physician, arrives October 10. Also expected to arrive during the summer flights are a radiology technician, laboratory technician, physical therapist, flight nurse, and physician assistant. They are all seasoned veterans of this place, which leaves me as the sole newbie.
Dr. Harry Owens

I am volunteering in the library on Sunday afternoons. It's quiet, warm and humidified. Glorious! At 8 pm tonight is a Travelogue by one of the group. It should be an interesting talk. I am going to give a science lecture in late January on Dengue Fever. Many of the people redeploying will visit southeast asia. This is one of the areas in the world that is experiencing an epidemic of Dengue, so I thought it might benefit our community to learn about it prior to redeployment.

Today Colin x-rayed and casted a broken arm. Tomorrow begins my weekly series of meetings.

I am so impressed by the research that Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class has been doing on nacreous clouds, Antarctic seals, and penguins. Way to go! Now, can you tell me which explorer was first to reach the South Pole and when?

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Before I talk about penguins, let me say how impressed I am that NRH from Ms. Shuwarger's fifth grade class took up my challenge to learn about nacreous clouds (or polar stratospheric clouds). She did a wonderful job of describing them and explaining what they are.

The class asked about penguins, so this is for you:  Emperor penguins are the largest of all penguins, standing up to 42 inches (115 cm) tall and weighting 84 lb (38 kg).  The female lays the egg, but it is soon transferred to the father who incubates it for months under a skin fold and on top of his feet. While he incubates the egg, the mother walks about 70 miles (112 km) to the sea. She needs to eat krill, squid and shrimp. When she returns, the chick has been born and it is tranferred back to her care from the father. You already knew this because you watched Happy Feet and/or March of the Penguins.

There are many other types of penguins. We talked about some of them when I visited your class. Do you remember their names? There is a book in your classroom that can help you recall their names and appearances.

So, what I want to know from you is what type of egg incubating behaviors are exhibited by other penguin species. Do they build nests? If so, what do they use? Who tends the egg? I think what you discover will surprise you.

Speaking of penguins, there has been some research on the effect of global climate change on penguins. The news is mixed: some good, some bad. This news story will talk about how our climate is impacting penguins. The webpage contains a link to a 7 minute audio recording of the broadcast, a video, and an audio slide show. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

I leave you with a beautiful image of an Antarctic sunset.......

Friday, September 19, 2008

Funny Photos

During my review of the USAP's website, I came upon this photo. I am told it is copyright-free and able to be reproduced, so here it is for your giggles.

Sometimes the working environment can be harsh. This food freezer at South Pole Station is outside the geodesic dome. It uses no energy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Gorgeous Day

It Was a Gorgeous Day!

This view from McMurdo Station shows the Royal Society Mountains. The Ross Ice Shelf, in the foreground, looks blue because the white ice reflects the sky. Thin wispy clouds can be seen arriving from the southwest.

This view of Mt. Discovery shows the volcano without its usual plume of smoke. Clouds from the southwest bisect the mountain. The Ross Ice Shelf is in the foreground. Both these pictures show mountains that are about 10 miles away. The clarity of the air is indescribable. They look so close that one is tempted to think that they are but a short walk to reach them.

The horizontal white line across the ice shelf is an ice road leading out to Pegasus, the ice airfield on which the C-17 jets land.

That was yesterday, a Gorgeous Day. Today I had duty as a Dining Assistant. That is a euphemism for dish washer. One of the benefits of being a DA is that I got to see the inside of the kitchen that prepares meals for over 1000 people, three times a day, plus midnight rations for night shift workers. The most impressive part is the scale on which everything is done. They have no use for the size pots and pans any of us have at home. Their baking trays are the size of a pool table. Mixing bowls sit in a floor mounted mixer large enough to fit a 5th grader! The roasting pans are the size of foot lockers. Bakery ovens stack one on top of another, many high, and side-by-side. Salad is prepared in a bowl just smaller than a hot tub.

Last night was Bridge Night. I organized an evening of Bridge playing in the galley. Only two people showed up and neither of them play Bridge, they just wanted to learn. I'm guessing that with Mainbody and the arrival of about 800 more people on station, including the scientists, there may be more success in recruiting a game.

Our work schedule is 9 hrs. a day, six days a week. We get Sundays off work. However, this weekend is a 2 day weekend, meaning we get off both Saturday and Sunday. This is the last such 2 day weekend until Thanksgiving so everyone is excited to make the most of it. I don't have any specific plans yet, but will probably find something to do with friends. I know one thing I won't be doing: playing Bridge!

Tonight I will go to Scott Base, the New Zealand base on Antarctica. It is about 4 km. from McMurdo. Our Kiwi hosts are very entertaining. They have a smaller base with about 125 people. Their mission is the same as ours: to support science.

I'll keep the pictures and stories coming. Thanks to everyone who has left comments. They really help me feel connected to everyone back home. Until my next post.......

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Antarctica Facts

You can click the map of Antarctica to be redirected to the CIA World Fact Sheet on Antarctica. There are listed some interesting facts about the continent.

Monday it was bitter cold with wind chill factor around minus 55 degrees F. Today it is much better, around minus 18 degrees F.
To Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class: Did you discover the different species of seals that are found in Antarctica? Post a comment to the blog and let me know the names of the seals you were able to find.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Awesome images

Greetings from Antarctica!

Today is Sunday for me. The wind is howling outside, gusting to 35 kts There is little to no blowing snow. The temperature is now a balmy +3 F with wind chill down to -17 F. They expect more wind with blowing snow later today.

I've washed and dried my clothing and linens today. I've cleaned my in-room sink area and the bathroom this morning. We have to care for our own room and bathroom areas.

Yesterday was interesting. I saw a couple of patients and took an x-ray. When I say "took an x-ray" I mean everything: warm up the x-ray machine, load the digital film carrier, and literally shoot the film. Then I processed it in the digital reader and send the image to Denver for review. In three weeks there will be a radiology technologist here for the summer, but for now, we are it. In addition to seeing a couple of patients, I also filed charts for the incoming summer people (it took two days and was about 1000 charts). I vacuumed the hospital's carpet and mopped the floors with bleach+water. That wasn't covered in my internship. Janitors arrive the first week of October with Mainbody. Can't wait. Today, ostensibly my day off, I saw two patients and took another x-ray.

We recycle nearly everything at MacTown: batteries, cardboard, aluminum, light metals, mixed paper, glass, plastic, and probably other things I am forgetting. It is amazing how little trash I am generating. Each morning I throw into the sanitary disposal bucket a couple of Kleenex. If I eat an orange in my room, then I dispose of the peel in the food items bucket. That's about it. The galley has us recycle our paper napkins. We bus our own tables and separate the silverware by type. During this period, Winfly, before Mainbody arrives, everyone has to do a shift of dishwashing. Mine is Sep. 30th from 12 - 3:30 pm.

Last night about 20 of us took a shuttle over to Scott Base, the New Zealand base on Antarctica. They have a smaller base with about 100 people that is 4 km from McMurdo. We joined the Kiwis to watch the Tri-Nations Rugby match between New Zealand and Australia. The Kiwis won and it was smiles all around. There were three Australians who were disappointed: one of them was Colin, the other doctor that I work with here. We got back around midnight, the latest that I stayed up in Antarctica!

It's interesting to meet people here. The majority of scientists won't arrive until mainbody. The Raytheon people I've met have been very interesting: a state legislative lobbyist working in construction; a culinary institute graduate working as a dining assistant; a fellow in his master's program working in the fuels department; an environmentalist attorney working in the hazardous materials and spill clean-up department; a registered nurse working in logistics; a former flight attendant works in payroll, and the list goes on and on. These are people who see the adventure and excitement of travel to Antarctica and are willing to take any job available that will get them here. There are a number of OAEs (Old Antarctic Explorer) who keep coming back season after season. One 69 year old fellow has his master's degree and has been coming down for the past 9 seasons to work in the supply area (our version of Home Depot). Yesterday I met an old guy who retired as an electrician years ago, but wasn't ready to stop working. He and his wife have been coming down every season since.

Colin Muir, the current lead doctor, is a former Ob/gyn. He left ob/gyn a few years ago and became a cruise ship doctor. He'd be gone months at a time, but his wife and son would fly out and join him aboard the ship for a week or two at a time. They loved his job! This McMurdo gig is a new experience for him: no warm weather, no tanned bikini-clad passengers, no liquid water, etc. He's been here continuously since February and is eager to leave in October. He will be going to Australia to visit friends before returning home.

Today I am volunteering to work in the library from 3 -5 pm. I have no idea what that entails, but am willing to do it because it will familiarize me with the library...where it is located and what is located within.

I've signed up for Snow Camp. This is a two-day experience where they take us out onto the continent and teach us how to build a snow shelter, create heat, cook, sleep, and survive out on the continent. The OAEs call it "Happy Camper School". It may also include helicopter safety training. I don't know the dates for this training as scientists and others who require these skills have priority. It should be in late October.

The still image you see is of nacreous clouds. Due to their high altitude and the curvature of the surface of the Earth, these clouds will receive sunlight from below the horizon and reflect it to the ground, shining brightly well before dawn or after dusk. In the Antarctic, they are made up almost exclusively of ice crystals. The 30 second QuickTime movie (below) is of Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. I have these images courtesy of my friend, James, who spent a great deal of time acquiring these excellent specimens.

For Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class: can you look up nacreous clouds and see why they call them by that name, by what other names they are known, and how they differ from the clouds we know in Forest, VA?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An Average Day

After days of excellent weather (Condition 3), it began to snow lightly this afternoon. I saw patients today and got to do my first x-rays. Our x-ray technologist doesn't arrive until Main Body (in October) so I had to turn on, warm up, and calibrate the equipment. Then I did the x-rays, processed them in the digital x-ray machine, read the images, submitted them to our consultants in Denver for review and reset the image cartridges for the next use. This was all new stuff to me.

Tomorrow we have a conference call with our medical director. Still plenty cold here. No complaining about the food, though. It is excellent and much better than anticipated.

For Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class: What species of seals can be found in Antarctica? How many can you name? How are they different? Hint: there are at least 4 different varieties. There may be a book in Mrs. Shuwarger's room to help.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Christchurch to the Ice

Got up at 4 am Monday (local time) in Christchurch and was downstairs with all my luggage at 4:20 am. Boarded the shuttle to the CDC and donned my ECW clothing. Checked in all my baggage for the flight and went across the street for breakfast at the Antarctica Center. After breakfast, we watched a briefing on safety, caring for the Antarctic environment, handwashing, and the trip. At about 7 am we went through the x-ray screening of carry on bags and walked through the metal detectors. Everyone set off the metal detectors due to the hardware on our ECW. We had to be individually examined with the wand. We were then shuttled to the military transport section of the airport where a New York Air National Guard C-17 was waiting for us. This is a four jet-engine plane built to carry cargo on palettes. The forward-most palette was a palette of airplane seats. Most of us sat on those. Others sat in webbing seats along the sides. We were given a sack lunch during the boarding process. We wore or carried our ECW. The rest of the plane was filled with palettes containing scientific instruments, replacement parts, and other materials needed both at McMurdo and South Pole stations.

We took off at 8 am for a five hour flight. We landed exactly at 1 pm at Pegasus airstrip. This airstrip is make from compacted snow over ice. Prior to disembarking we had to dress in our complete ECW. We disembarked and it was cold and windy! I was prepared physically but not mentally for the impressive cold. We boarded "Ivan the TerraBus". This vehicle is a large bus on enormous tires. These tires seem larger than the ones on the monster trucks. We rode another 30 minutes to McMurdo Station. We went inside the main building (155) and waited a few minutes before receiving another briefing on, what else, safety, respect for the environment, handwashing, etc. Then the station doctor, Colin Muir, took the dentist and me on a tour of the medical facility. It is small and compact but very functional.

You might be interested in the reason behind the emphasis on handwashing. As Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class at Forest Elementary School can tell you, it is because bacteria and viruses that make us sick are transmitted primarily by way of the hands. We must wash our hands before entering the dining hall, before touching patients, after touching patients, after coughing, sneezing or just because it has been a while since we washed last. This is a closed community and the "Antarctic Crud" can pass quickly through the station if we are not vigilant about handwashing. We even have to sanitize our hands with something like Purell before and after touching community keyboards/mice.

Next, we got keys to our dorm rooms. I went to my room (room 219 in Dorm 209) and checked it out. It was a bit smaller than Meris's freshman dorm room, there is a sink in the room and two lockable wardrobes, a TV (old 21" model), a telephone, small refrigerator, and a shower/commode room shared with the room next door. After retrieving my luggage, I unpacked and found a place for everything purchased in Christchurch. I made my twin bed with the linens they provide. I don't have a roommate right now, but am sure to get one when the rest of the group (called Main Body) flies down in early October.

Then, it was off to dinner. Dinner here is from 5:00 - 7:30 pm. The food was very tasty and there were plenty of choices between entree (meat & vegetarian), salad, breads, vegetables, a wide variety of juices and drinks, and desserts.

The sunset at about 6:15 pm was gorgeous. The air clarity here is unbelievable. Seeing the mountains 70 - 100 miles away is effortless and they seem so close that one is tricked into thinking that they are much closer than they are. Another observation: facial hair on men is much more common here than back home. I think this is partly because of the cold and partly cultural. There are about twice as many men as women on station.

I've got a question for Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class: On what continent can you not find any frogs?

I hit the sack early this first night. The wind howled all night long and it got down to about -25 degrees Celcius with a wind chill temperature of -40 degrees Celcius. I was comfortable in my bed.

I've put together a collection of photos from my last day in Christchurch and the trip down to the ice. Unlike prior photos, I am actually shown in some of these.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Leaving for the Ice

The trip to the Ice is taken in two parts: first is the travel from Denver, CO to Christchurch, NZ; next is the trip from Christchurch to the Ice. I'm covering the former in this posting. We left Raytheon's headquarters in Denver a bit past 12 noon on Thursday, September 4th. The plane left DIA about 5:45 pm (MDT) to LAX. The plane from LAX left about 9 pm (PDT) and arrived in Auckland, NZ shortly after 5 am on Saturday, September 6th. Note the date change.

This is the current date and time for Christchurch, NZ:

The flight from Auckland to Christchurch got us in just before 9 am. A quick shuttle to the hotel where we found our rooms....were not ready. We stored our luggage and went exploring. Got back to the hotel and our rooms were ready. The rooms at Hotel So are very small by any standard, but contain a bed and shower. Right now, that's all I want. Here are some pictures from our travels.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Going Away Party at Benjamin's Restaurant

Briana hosted a fabulous Going Away Party for me at Benjamin's Restaurant in Forest. Guests were greeted by "Chilly McMurdo" the inflatable penguin. Meris wrote on the message board her hopes for a great voyage.

Friends from all over came to see me off in style. There was barbecue chicken, pork, baked beans and cole slaw. Drinks of all kinds flowed. People enjoyed conversation indoors or sun and music outdoors on the deck. A number of cigar aficionados were present.

People enjoyed the late afternoon and early evening weather.

Tim tried to teach a penguin a new vice.

Benjamin's put a penguin with my name on it on their back bar until I return from the ice.

Everybody said they had a great time. There were over seventy people who came to help us celebrate and send me off in style. Many thanks to Briana for organizing and decorating this fabulous party, to Meris for driving in for the weekend, and to all our friends and family who joined us. I can now say that I'm ready to go.