Tuesday, December 23, 2008

South Pole Bound

I just received confirmation that I will be spending a week in January at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. This is an exciting and welcome opportunity. The physician at the South Pole will be staying there over the winter. Consequently, she will come to McMurdo Station for some rest and relaxation in early January. While she is out, I will fill in for her at the pole.

Tonight is Christmas Eve. I am on call tonight and tomorrow. Our Hanukkah party two days ago was fun and well attended. The food included such favorites as latkes with applesauce, smoked nova lox, challah, Hanukkah Gelt (not exactly a food) and other less traditional items such as cookies in the shape of a Magen David and spinach-artichoke dip.
Tonight is an all-station Holiday Party festively decorated in the Christmas theme. This will be the first time the Holiday Party is not held in the cavernous heavy vehicle maintenance facility (VMF) but is instead hosted in the gymnasium. I also understand from those who have been her before that in years past this Holiday Party had been quite the blowout with food, potent potables and live music. This year's event promises to be more sedate with none of the prior amenities. I'll let you know how it turned out, if I get to go.

Christmas Dinner will be served tomorrow. On the menu are roasted breast of duck, chilled crab legs, and prime rib. It's about the prime rib.....or the lack of it. It seems that the galley staff put the prime rib into the thawing refrigerator a few days ago. Shortly thereafter, 160 lbs. of it disappeared. Gone. Vanished. It has yet to return. It is unlikely that it could be cooked anywhere on station and everyone not smell it or discover it. Therefore, it is my speculation that it was purloined beef destined for another location. I know I've told you this story before, so this is just an update to let you know the prime rib is still on the lam (groan).

So here's wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Season's Greetings

Season's Greetings to all my readers. Once again, I have been the lucky recipient of handmade holiday cards from many of the students at Forest Elementary School in Forest, Virginia. Thanks to all the students that made cards and especially to the students in Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class. I love receiving your cards and very much appreciate the time and energy you took to make them and send them to me.

The McMurdo community is getting all geared up for the upcoming Solstice, Hanukkah, and Christmas holidays. The dining hall is decorated with a Festivus Pole, Christmas tree, garland and many other seasonal items. The Jewish members of the community hope to complete work on a large scale paper representation of a Hanukkah menorah to display there too.

There will be a Christmas dinner on the 25th. I'm told there will be breast of duck, chilled crab legs and prime rib. Just one thing....there will not be as much prime rib as the galley staff planned. It seems that while the prime rib was out thawing, two of them were purloined. Yes, we have a beef thief. The irony is that now that the word is out about the missing prime ribs, who in their right mind would think they could cook and serve it without being discovered? It is the community's hope that the missing 160 lbs. of prime rib magically reappears. Naturally, this event sparked numerous jokes and rumors. The latest is this graphic I received in an email from a friend.
On a sadder note, this has been a busy week in the medical department. We had three medical evacuations this week, one of which was for very serious trauma. Our flight nurse went out on the first medevac and on the day she returned to MacTown she had only time enough to change clothes and there was another medevac waiting to go out. Her gear had not been returned to the hospital yet by the cargo department, so she had to cobble together an entire second set of equipment, supplies and drugs to take our second patient out. This patient flew in a Bell Helicopter from the hospital to Pegasus White Ice Runway where it met up with an Australian Airbus A319 that was scheduled to leave hours earlier, but was delayed specially for this mission. This beautiful twin jet is equipped and outfitted to enable an ambulatory patient to be medically treated. There are numerous 110 volt 60 cycle outlets along the walls and in the seat arms. The seats fold flat to allow litter placement.

Our third medevac patient was not fortunate enough to ride on this plane, nor was he ambulatory. He flew by helo to the airfield, then flew to Christchurch on an Air National Guard Hercules LC-130. The ride north normally takes about 8.5 hrs, but this crew made it in 7.5 hrs. The patient is in the ICU, is stable and is expected to make a full recovery.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ob Hill, Discovery Hut, and Helicopter Inspection

Yesterday, Dr. Hanson and I got to tour the helicopter facility here at McMurdo. We saw the New Zealand helicopter in the hangar and the AStar and Bell helicopters out on the pad. We evaluated the set up and arrangement of the helicopter for aeromedical evacuation.
Today, Air National Guard officers and I toured Scott's Discovery Hut at Hut Point.
SSgt McMannus was our official guide. This hut, erected in 1902 for Scott's Discovery Expedition, was originally designed and manufactured in Australia of Jakarta wood. The design worked well in hot dry Australia to keep the interior cool. That was not the best design for Antarctica. Later built huts were designed to retain heat inside.

According to Wikipedia:
"In selecting a base of operations for the 1910-1913 Expedition, Scott rejected the notion of re-occupying the hut he had built on Ross Island during the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904.

This first hut, known as the 'Discovery Hut' was located at Hut Point, 20km south of Cape Evans. Scott's ship, the Discovery, had been trapped by sea ice at Hut Point, a problem he hoped to avoid by establishing his new base further north. Discovery Hut was never fully occupied during the Discovery Expedition, as most expeditioners elected to live aboard the ice bound ship. Ten years later when members of the Terra Nova Expedition journeyed south from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans they found Discovery Hut intact (although full of snow and ice), along with supplies left over from 1903. Discovery Hut was cleaned out and used during 1911 and 1912 as a staging and rendezvous point for Terra Nova expeditioners heading south towards the Pole from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans."

After visiting Discovery Hut, Maj. French, TSgt Green and I climbed Observation Hill (referred to generally as Ob Hill).

Again, from Wikipedia: "Robert Falcon Scott's party was found by a search party led by the surgeon Dr. Edward Atkinson. They were found dead by the members of the base camp, who took their photographic film, scientific specimens, and other materials. They had to leave Scott and his men in their tent, and later parties could not locate the campsite, since that area had been covered in snow. So Scott's party eventually ended up drifting out to sea as part of an iceberg as the ice shelf made its way to the sea.

The search party then returned to what is now known as McMurdo and climbed Observation Hill. There they erected a large wooden cross, inscribed the names of the fatal party and a short quote from the Alfred Tennyson poem "Ulysses", which reads "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

The photo below shows MacTown from the vantage point of Ob Hill.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Birthday Wishes Arrive

Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class at Forest Elementary School send me handmade birthday cards! I am proudly displaying them for all to see on the wall outside my office.

All the cards are great and I so enjoyed receiving them. Thank you to all the children in the class. One of the cards gave me an extra laugh. It is from Peter. His card reminds me of a TV show and book by the late comedian, Art Linkletter: Kids Say The Darndest Things. The picture below is of the card Peter designed.

What can I say? 

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pressure Ridges

Monday night I got to tour the pressure ridges located just beyond Scott Base. Tours of about 10 persons were taken by bus to Scott Base. We then walked up and down a defined flagged route through the pressure ridges. Click on the photo below to see a whole gallery of images taken last night.

The above photo is of me with Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, in the background.

A pressure ridge is formed when sea ice encounters the Ross Ice Shelf. The mostly immovable ice shelf acts as a backstop for the sea ice. The sea ice is compressed against the ice shelf through a variety of different forces including tidal action and the expansion of water as it freezes. The pressure upon the sea ice causes it to develop a variety of shape changes from gentle undulations to violent upheavals. These changes take place over years.

Many of the tall ice formations have veins of blue and grey running through them. The blue is from water's ability to filter out the red and infrared spectrum of light. This is said to be some of the purest ice on the planet. The pressure that forms these structures causes small bubbles of gas to become trapped within the ice. If some of this ice is chipped off and put into a glass of water, the melting ice will release these trapped pressurized gas bubbles with a cacophony of hissing, popping and spitting.

In the background of the last of these photos can be seen Scott Base, Castle Rock, and Mt. Erebus. You will notice the tiny plume of smoke trailing off to the right from the cone of Erebus, an active volcano.