Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween on Ice

The day started with a C-17 flying in passengers and cargo. Among the cargo was mail, and among the mail was the most delightful surprise. Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class sent me Halloween cards that they made themselves. To the Class: Thank you so much for the cards! You are very creative and made great cards. I loved the animal pictures and the funny sayings inside. I also like the way some of you cut out your cards. They brightened up my day and bring smiles to everyone who visits the clinic here at McMurdo.

Last night was the annual Halloween Party at McMurdo. The party is so well known that it is hard to find an individual's blog or written account that doesn't mention it at some point. You can click here to see a gallery of photos from this year's party.

Lori and Barbie, our radiology technician and physician assistant, have drawn and colored a huge turkey. It is posted on the clinic wall next to the children's cards. The turkey is named "Mr. South Pole Tree" and he asks everyone to write on him all the things for which they are thankful. I am thankful for family, friends and the opportunity to work with a fine group of professionals in this wonderful place called "Antarctica".

I've been trying to find people who play bridge. So far, all I've found are people who want to learn to play. So, I have become the local bridge teacher. I had four students last Wednesday and hope to spread the word.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Camper Gets Frostbite

In the last entry, I mentioned the upcoming Snow Craft Training, affectionately known as "Happy Camper". I went and had a great time. Unfortunately, my fingers didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of me. More about that in a minute.

Happy Camper started with classroom education on camping in the snow environment. We discussed shelter, proper clothing, sun exposure, frostbite and other survival topics. There were 20 students in the group and two instructors. All the students showed up with their ECW and extra gloves, mittens, hats, and other protective gear.

After the classroom training we filed out to the transport vehicles (a Delta and a van) and loaded them with our personal gear and some camping equipment (stoves, and food, mostly). After a brief stop at the galley to pick up our lunch, we were off to the field. Our ride took us out onto the Ross Ice Shelf. We unloaded from the Delta and transferred the gear to a sled towed by a snow mobile. We then walked 20 minutes to a small hut where we received a briefing on how to set up, care for, and repair the camp stoves. The ones we used ran on a small cylinder of white gas (Coleman fuel) that is pressurized with a small integrated hand pump.After some more classroom training, orientation and lunch we loaded up the sled with sleeping bags and marched out into the open ice field. Once there we were taught how to set up a Scott tent, build a quinzee, pitch a mountain tent, build a wind wall of snow blocks, and use trenches as sleeping shelter.
I made a short video that shows the building of our quinzee but am prevented from uploading it because of limited bandwidth. We mounded up all the bags, covered them with a tarp, mounded snow, let it set up for a couple of hours, tunnelled into it, dragged out the bags, and voilá, it is done.

We used the snow blocks to build a wind barrier wall.

Later, our instructors departed. We had to figure out a method for firing up the camp stoves, melting snow, and then boiling water. The boiled water was used for instant coffee, tea, instant hot chocolate, or instant hot spiced apple cider. The hot water could also be used to rehydrate dehydrated meals. There were also candy bars, mixed nuts (just like us), and "gorp" - a trail mix-like conglomeration of nuts and chocolate chips. I ate just from this latter group of foods plus some hot chocolate. Almost all foodstuffs were years past their expiration date (e.g. "Best if used by: 07-05").
The view of Mount Erebus and its almost constant volcanic plume was spectacular. The wind carries the plume in a sideways drift, making the plume look like a cloud. In this shot you can also see a helicopter on a training mission.

I chose to sleep in a mountain tent. I've slept well in these in the past and hoped for the same experience this time. Alas, that was not my fate this trip. I slept fitfully, waking often. Footfalls of other campers were very loud in the snow and the almost constant sunlight was a distraction. I wore thermal wool socks on my feet and glove liners with hand warmers inside on my hands to keep everything warm at night. My feet felt great and never bothered me, but my hands often felt cold and would wake me. When I got up in the morning and got dressed, I noticed that my fingers were hurting when I tried to tie my bootlaces and didn't fit easily into my gloves. After reassembling in the hut, I removed my gloves and, to my horror, found frostbitten fingers. See the photo of my left hand.The third, fourth and fifth digits of both hands are frostbitten. You can see the color change at the last part of the fingers The pinkies are the worst on each hand. This is a classic example of first and second degree frostbite. It is also an example of how, despite taking all the precautions, it can still occur. Fortunately, after some blistering and peeling, they will heal fine. Right now, they have no sense of touch (I wouldn't feel a pin-prick) but are very painful deep inside and very tender if pressure is applied. Because of this, the entire blog entry was made with my two first fingers and thumbs in a hunt 'n peck style of keyboarding.

The rest of the morning consisted of VHF and HF radio training, simulating a search and rescue under white-out conditions, risk management discussions, and leadership education. Our return to base was uneventful and used the same vehicles.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Final Event of the Year

My compliments to the commenters on their quick assessment of the question posted yesterday. October 21, at about 11:35 pm, is the last sunset this year.

Sunrise will happen for the last time this year on October 22 at about 12:35 am. Once it rises, it will stay up until the austral fall, sometime in March.

Something else is connected with those two dates, but this time it is personal. Those dates, the 21st and 22nd, are the dates that I will be attending Snow Craft Training, affectionately known around MacTown as "Happy Camper". This two-day event teaches the priniciples of survival on the ice. My fellow campers and I will attend classroom lectures, get hands-on training on equipment, and techniques for survival on the ice. Then our instructors will drop us off on a glacier. We will put into action the skills we learned earlier. We spend the night on the ice and are picked up the next day. I understand it will be the coldest night of my life. This link is to Mary Lynn's website where she has a brief video showing her experience at Happy Camper last week. She gave me much valuable advice for getting through the experience. Thanks, Mary Lynn.

I'm doing a small scientific study aided by a member of the Air National Guard. We are checking the accuracy and correlation of the three electronic thermometers in the hospital. To do this, we borrowed a constant temperature circulating water bath from the Crary Science Lab. Each thermometer will be tested 10 times at each of four temperatures. I'll post the results in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Special Event

On October 21, 2008 something will happen in Antarctica for the last time this year. What is it?

Everyone is invited to submit their guess as a comment to this entry.

For Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class: if a person from your class is the first one to post the correct answer as a comment to this entry, I will recommend to Mrs. Shuwarger that she give the entire class a special treat. This will only be a recommendation. Mrs. Shuwarger is the final judge of whether the class actually gets the treat.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scott Of The Antarctic

Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class: I'm so pleased you got the bookmarks. I've heard from many of you and it was my pleasure to send them to you.

My last post had to do with our visit to Scott Base, the New Zealand base that is about 4 Km from McMurdo. I've talked about Scott Base before, in earlier posts. Scott was such a well-known and historic figure that a movie was made about his exploration of Antarctica.

My question to the class is:
Who is Robert Falcon Scott? Why do you think New Zealand's base was named in honor of him?

As long as I brought up the subject of Scott, let me share with you a quotation attributed to him in which he reflects on Antarctica, "Great God, this is an aweful place." Do you think he mean "awful" as in horrible, or "aweful" as in full-of-awe?

He also said, "Every day some new fact comes to light - some new obstacle which threatens the gravest obstruction. I suppose this is the reason which makes the game so well worth playing. " In this quote Scott puts forth the opinion that it is overcoming serious challenges successfully that makes life interesting. Have you ever tried real hard to do something and finally succeeded? How did it make you feel? Afterwards, did you feel it was worth the effort?

Below are pictures of Scott, including one when he was 13 years old.

Visit to Scott Base

Tuesday evening, the three medical members of the Air National Guard, our flight nurse and I were invited to Scott Base by Muppet, their paramedic. He will be leaving for New Zealand after a year on the ice so he wanted to have us over for a visit.

Our visit began by a brief wait at Derelict Junction for Muppet to arrive. He picked us up in a Toyota diesel 4 wheel drive SUV.

When we arrived at the base we could see the pressure ridges in the glacier. These form from the compression of glacial ice by movement of the glacier over time.
There are a couple of firefighters from Virginia here this season. One of them, Matt, has a mutual friend with my daughter. This is picture of Matt, nicknamed "Turtle", and me, taken in the hospital. A friend of Turtle's has a broken leg and will be medically evacuated. Turtle was here at the hospital visiting him.

On another note, I recently got the opportunity to go out to Pegasus Field and replace flags and runway markers. Pegasus is the only airfield of its type in the world. It is a glacier on top of which is compacted snow. There are plenty of compacted snow runways and roads, but this is the only one that is compacted upon a glacier. Upon this runway land C-17 jet transports, LC-130 Cargo transports and other large military cargo transport planes. The runway is 10,000' long and the airfield can support night vision goggle landings. It has modern navigational aids such as microwave landing assistance and other devices.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Making Water

Antarctica is a land mass with huge amounts of ice upon it. In some places the ice is reported to be almost 3 miles thick. You would think that with all that frozen water, getting some to drink would be a simple matter of melting it. Not so fast. It takes huge amounts of energy to melt ice when it is minus 30 degrees F outside and the sun is absent 4 months a year.

All the water for McMurdo Station and Scott Base is produced in the McMurdo Water Plant. I had the opportunity to visit the plant. A sketch of the basic process is shown.

The basic idea is that there is a long pipe going from McMurdo base into the Ross Sea, the liquid part, deep underneath the frozen top of the sea. The sea water enters the plant at about 28 degrees F. If it isn't warmed, it will freeze the equipment. So, the cold sea water runs through heat exchangers (which recover heat from the diesel power generators).
The heat exchangers warm the incoming sea water from 28ºF to approximately 37ºF. The warmed sea water then is stored, indoors, in a huge steel tank. Sea water is very corrosive to steel. Therefore, this enormous tank has a plastic liner to keep the sea water from coming in contact with the steel tank walls. In this sea water there are all manner of tiny and microscopic organisms that must be filtered out before drinking water can be made.

The sea water is passed through a series of filters, each finer than the one before, to remove all microsopic organisms and debris. After filtration, the sea water is forced under very high pressure through the reverse osmosis tubes (shown at right). These RO tubes allow water to pass through a semi-permeable membrane while salts and other chemicals remain. The sea water is passed through this system two times to extract every possible ounce of pure water. There are two sets of these RO tubes. The second set of RO tubes, not pictured, are just to the right of the photo.

After all the pure water is extracted from sea water, the remaining brine is returned to the sea. The pure water is treated with carbon dioxide (CO2), calcium carbonate, and chlorine. These give the water desirable properties for drinking, protect the pipes, and prevent the growth of bacteria and other organisms in the drinking water. Water ready to drink is stored in huge steel tanks, indoors of course, and is pumped out to the McMurdo Station and Scott Base.

I mentioned earlier that excess heat from diesel power generators are used to warm incoming sea water. There is still more excess heat from those generators that is used to heat a recirculating glycol system that is used to heat some dorms (including mine) and buildings on station. Currently there are the old and new power plants. The glycol heat exchangers come from the new power plant which uses more efficient generators. The old power plant is scheduled to be replaced by the new one when the new plant gets all the generators installed and is fully operational.

There is a sophisticated computer-driven monitoring system for the power plant. It may look like a video game but it is monitoring the function and condition of the six generators that are our lifeline. The temperature, oil pressure, engine RPM, electrical generation and other parameters of each of the six generators are displayed for the operator to see. Tests on any specific generator can be conducted. Logs of electricity production requirements along with fuel consumption are kept.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of McMurdo's power and water plants. I have just completed a tour of the wastewater treatment facility and it too is quite interesting. The biosolids are shipped off continent to a US landfill; the treated liquid is returned to the sea. In a way, we are a closed loop liquid system. We make purified water from the sea and return the treated water to the sea.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Just One Flight Gets In

It's been a week since our first Mainbody flight was supposed to arrive. We got Fight #1 in yesterday afternoon. That went well.

Flight #2 was due in this morning at 0600. This means that yesterday the passengers got up and checked out of their Christchurch hotel. They spent the day out and about in Chch. They probably reported to the CDC at 2200 for a 0100 departure this morning. Their plane departed and got all the way here (5 hours in the air). While the plane was en route, the weather here took a sudden turn for the worse with high winds and blowing snow. Visibility went down to around 100' and the ceiling dropped to about 500'. This is below the limits set for a landing. The plane turned around and went back to Chch. Those poor passengers.

There was supposed to be a second flight today carrying Flight #3 passengers, arriving around 2200 tonight. It was canceled due to our weather. Flight #2 will try again tomorrow, with a scheduled departure of 1000, arriving at 1500. There's no telling when we will get caught up with the flights.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Photos With Me In Them

I've had requests for photos that show me in them. I've got a couple from a buddy who took them over the past month. This first picture is from the inside of the C-17 as we traveled from Christchurch, NZ to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Can you find me?

From Medical Ice

My head is just under the lower left corner of the crate.

This next picture is of me with friends at Scott Base, the nearby Kiwi base. On some Thursday evenings they host "American Night" and we are invited over for a party.

From Medical Ice

Pictured from left to right: me, Jacob Woolery, Martin Robinson, Jess Ward and Mel Li.

I am not in this next picture, but since I recently wrote about Condition One, I thought I'd share a photo with you that shows the hospital in a Condition One. This picture is taken from about 40 feet away. If you look carefully, you can make out the red roof of the hospital.

From Medical Ice

Today's science lecture on penguins will likely be rescheduled because the scientist speaking is still in Christchurch. Now the hope is to try and bring a plane in on Monday, October 6. We will see.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mainbody Delayed

Mainbody, the series of flights that bring the 700 -800 people to McMurdo for the summer season, was to begin flying last Tuesday. The flight that day was scrubbed for bad weather in Antarctica. The people in Christchurch had to either check back into their room, or if it was unavailable, had to find new lodging.

Wednesday, the next day, they boarded the plane and took off. After 3 hours in the air the weather at McMurdo turned bad and the plane had to "boomerang" or return back to Christchurch. The travelers had to find new lodging again. To compound matters, new people were arriving in Christchurch for Thursday's scheduled flight. Upon arrival, these new folks learned of the two busted days for group one. Group two realized they would never fly on Thursday.

On Thursday, the flight was canceled, again because of bad weather here at McMurdo. Group one and group two were now joined in Christchurch by group three. There are now around four hundred people in Christchurch waiting for the chance to fly down to the Ice.

Today, Friday, the plane was scheduled to take group one but the departure was scheduled five hours later than usual. As time approached for them to board the plane, it was canceled. This time it was canceled on the forecast of bad weather. Sadly, the bad weather never materialized and as luck would have it, group one could have departed and arrived without weather issues. Tomorrow, group four is scheduled to arrive in Christchurch. I'm sure hotel rooms are becoming scarce.

I'm wondering if Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class remembers my earlier question: Who was the first explorer to reach the South Pole and when was it. For bonus points, tell me from what country this explorer came. You guys did a great job on questions about nacreous clouds, seals and penguins. Let's see if you can do as well with the question about the explorer. This is his picture: