Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween on Kwajalein

Halloween is a BIG DEAL on Kwajalein. In the morning the preschoolers came to the hospital in their costumes. How cute!

Marshallese and American children dress up and go trick or treating throughout the housing areas. They are adorable and so excited.

After the trick-or-treat time, I was invited to an adult party at the Colonel's home. There were about 40 people there enjoying snacks and homemade chilis. It was a delightful evening.

I've put up a web album of all the photos of the children in their costumes. I think you will get a smile from seeing them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunset at Emon Beach

Sitting on Emon Beach on the evening of August 13th, the sunset was developing into a real beauty. Took out the trusty point-and-shoot digital camera and took 12 gorgeous photos. The other 11 shots are equally as gorgeous. In case you were wondering, yes, there was a "green flash".

Friday, July 31, 2009

Reflections On Pacific Diving

Sperm Whale photographed by Officer Mark Ervin at Gea Pass

I am doing plenty of scuba diving in Kwajalein. Some of the dives are from a boat and others are from the beach. I have been using Zofran to prevent my debilitating seasickness and it worked, all but once. There are a wide variety of things to see and diving environments. During the beach dives I've seen manta rays, eagle rays, octopi, and the usual variety of reef flora and fauna.

The water temperature is a comfortable 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm actually warm wearing just a Lycra dive skin. Some people dive just in shorts and a short sleeved "rash guard". I've tried the rash guard and shorts method too, but I like the protection offered by the Lycra suit.

I'm using my new SeaQuest Balance BCD. It is very comfortable, light weight, and well outfitted with D-rings, integrated weights, and pockets. It has a high pressure inflator coupled to an integrated second stage regulator. My first stage regulator has a Suunto tank pressure sending unit. The second stage main regulator is an old Mares MR12. I've used newer but never better regulators. A Suunto D9 dive watch computer receives the tank pressure directly from the sending unit. As a result, my regulator set up has just two hoses: my primary regulator and the high pressure inflator hose. The Suunto also gives time, depth, temperature, compass, No Decompression and Decompression data for air or nitrogen-enriched dive gas. My fins and mask are as old-school as the regulator but they work well.

I have to admit that I am very partial to the walk-in beach dives. No seasickness potential. Also, my house is about 100' from the beach dive shack. Most of my walk-in dives are from Emon Beach but next week I will do a dive from the ski dock. There is a wreck there at about 80 - 90 feet deep that I hope to explore.

To dive in Kwajalein one has to belong to the Kwajalein Scuba Club (KSC). Once one is a member, all the tank fills are free. I am told that the KSC does more tank fills per year than any scuba club or outfit in the world.
Click here to see a photo gallery of my home and surroundings.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fireworks on Kwaj

Today it is the Fourth Of July on Kwajalein. It was a full and delightful day. It started with surgery this morning, but after that it got much better.

At 10:30 am Bess, her husband, Stan, Kevin and I went out diving. Stan captained their boat and took us to the Pacific Ocean side of some distant islands. For those readers who know my handicap, seasickness, you will know that this was quite the adventure for me. Thanks to a fabulous medicine, called Zofran, I was able to make the 7 hour trip without incident. We did two dives. While Stan spearfished, Bess, Kevin and I tootled around the reefs. The 82 degree water did not require wet suits. The dives were spectacular. The second site had more clams and enormous stony corals than I had ever seen. Bess is quite good at identifying abandoned shells. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got more sun exposure than I am happy with, but am not burnt. It was obvious that I am new here because my legs were the whitest on the boat.

After returning home I showered, changed clothes and went to Emon Beach. The whole day there were activities there for the holiday. Families were out in droves with barbecues, picnic tables, beach chairs, and all variety of events and music. The sun set at about 7:30 pm and at exactly 8:00 pm (with military precision) the fireworks began. There was a barge anchored off shore from the beach and for the longest time (which was really only about 15 minutes) we were treated to a constant and impressive display of pyrotechnics. I sat with Kevin, Mary, Marian, another Marian and her husband, John. We snacked and listened to the Souza patriotic marches as fireworks exploded overhead. A nearly-full moon lit the beach and water in a awesome display of natural moonlight. It was a special time: sitting on the beach, 50' from my front door, listening to music, visiting with friends, eating good food, and watching fireworks. What a finalé to a fabulous day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My First Dive on Kwaj

This afternoon Mike Malone took me out for my USAKA-required check-out and orientation dive. First we pedaled down to the scuba tank house and selected our tanks. Along the way, Mike familiarized me with the lagoon dive sites and some of the features and wrecks there are to be seen. He told me about the flags that might fly above the Harbor Tower: a red flag means small craft warning; black and white pennant means the hyperbaric chamber is not available and diving is restricted to above 50').

Mike oriented me to the tank house. There are hundreds of scuba tanks in numbered racks. Each tank has a number and it goes into the rack slot that matches its number. We tested our tanks for a full fill and loaded them into Mike's Tipke Foldit Cart with Bike Trailer Attachment. Off to Emon Beach we rode.

Emon (I'm told it means "good" in Marshallese) Beach is about 50 feet from my front door. It is a lovely family beach with a volleyball court, large clean sandy beach, a pavilion for grilling and dining, restrooms, and a lifeguard tower that is staffed on weekends. The photo above is from Emon Beach.

Mike lent me some extra gear and we got suited up. The water temperature was about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, somewhat cooler than normal since we had a torrential downpour about two hours earlier. We waded in from the beach and floated out about 200 feet. Then down we went. There was a huge coral head at about 30 feet that was loaded with fish and fry. Attached to this coral head was an enormous carpet anemone. Along the way down the reef there were many more anemones. The thing I noticed was that the anemones were home to scores of clownfish. I am accustomed to seeing just one or two clownfish per anemone, so this was quite a surprise. The other unusual finding was the plethora of sea cucumbers littering the sandy bottom. The coral heads were teeming with a wide variety of small fish.

After a satisfying and relaxing dive (70' max. depth for 52 minutes) we rinsed off our gear in the fresh water tank and packed it back up. I was then introduced to Mike's wife and one-year old daughter. They live just one block from me, in similar quarters to mine. Mike will take the tanks back to be filled when he goes to work in the morning. It was a great experience for my first dive on Kwajalein.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Trip to Kwaj and My First Days

Photo: Sunfish Regatta by Timothy Hall

My parents took me to the Lynchburg airport on Tuesday morning and I boarded the jet for Atlanta. Once there I chilled out in the Sky Miles lounge and later boarded my plane to Honolulu. After arriving in Honolulu about 2:45 pm (local) Tuesday afternoon, I got my bags and checked into the hotel. I had an early dinner and hit the sack early because I had to be up at 3:15 am Wednesday morning to catch the next plane.

My plane boarded and departed on time Wednesday morning and after a 5 hr flight to Majuro (the capital of the Marshall Islands) and a 45 min flight from Majuro to Kwajalein, I arrived at about 11:30 a.m. THURSDAY (we crossed the international date line so the day advanced by one). I was in-processed at the airport, had my photo taken and was met by my friend from Antarctica, Jake Woolery, and a contingent of people from the medical department: Beth Turnbaugh (Hospital Administrator), Stacy Welcher (Administrative Assistant to Beth and me), and Dr. Jill Horner.

After collecting my bags, we dropped them off in my temporary quarters (more on that later) and went to lunch. After lunch was the tour of the medical facilities and introduction to the physicians and staff. The medical facility is a two story structure with ED, pharmacy, doctor's offices and exam rooms on the first level. The hospital, including OR, is on the second level. My office looks out over the Pacific Ocean with gently swaying cononut palms in the foreground.

Right now there are four docs and one PA. Dr. Hallman is our general surgeon, Drs. Horner and Thorne are FPs, Bess Buchanan is the PA, and then there is me. There is an excellent group of nurses who staff the facility 24/7/365.

My house is not finished being refurbished, but I am told it will be available next week. Until then I am lodged in DV Quarters (Distinguished Visitor). It is essentially a hotel-type room, very large though, with a kitchenette. Waiting for me in the room were snacks, Special K, milk, coffee, mixed nuts and some other things. I did get an island tour on my first day and got to stop by my house. It is lovely. It has two stories, two bedrooms, two baths, plus an office. The laundry room and kitchen contain all new appliances. The laundry room even has a dedicated full size freezer in addition to the refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen. It has new carpeting, new paint and is very clean. The best part, though, is the view. From the master bedroom I look out over the ocean and coconut palms. It is a million dollar view!

The island has, in addition to the airfield and tracking installations, many recreational and entertainment features. There are two softball fields, a bowling alley, a skate park, two gyms, racquetball courts, an indoor adult recreation center with pool tables and ping pong, two theaters, outdoor bar/lounge (curiously nicknamed "The Snake Pit" but its real name is the Ocean View Club), a small boat marina with boats for rent (sail, ski, dive, & fishing), a Yacht Club, a Country Club w/ 9-hole golf course, a number of gorgeous sandy beaches, a family pool, an adult pool, soccer field, an elementary school, a grades 7-12 high school (ranked in the 95th percentile of all schools, private and public, in the US), and many other features that I am forgetting to include.

There is shopping here too. Surfway is our main grocery - they deliver! There used to be stores called "Macy's" and "Macy's West" but those have been replaced completely by AAFES PX faciities. There is an excellent selection of fresh fruits and vegetables as we get a barge in twice a week with produce from Hawaii and California. The PX faciities are in three different buildings: one is a department store (clothing, gifts, jewelry, linens, etc), another is hard goods (tools, yard equipment, camping stuff, coolers, fishing gear, etc.), and the third is like a convenience store, but larger with more selection. There is a small jewelry and craft store that sells handmade Marshallese items. We have a full-service post office.

Transportation around the island is by foot or bicycle. There are no private cars. There are a few cars & trucks for official use. There are also a number of pieces of heavy equipment, such as fire trucks, loaders and trash collection vehicles.

Since I am in temporary quarters, I have a meal card that entitles me to eat all my meals at Café Pacifica, the chow hall. The food is fresh, well-prepared and tasty. There is always a good selection of items. The cooks and servers are Marshallese and are all very friendly. Once I get into my house I will be off the meal plan and on my own.

This weekend (which, for us, is Sunday and Monday to correspond to the USA's Saturday/Sunday) I am going to ride my bike around to get oriented.

My camera battery is completely dead and I have to mail order a new one, so photos will come later.

Next weekend I am flying to Roi-Namur (an outlying island in the Kwajalein Atoll) to tour the dispensary and visit with John Snook, PA-C who staffs that facility.

My mailing address is:

Don Shuwarger
P O Box 1082
APO AP 96555

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Leaving On A Jet Plane

"Well, my bags are packed,
I'm ready to go.
Taxi's waitin'
He's blowin' his horn..."
(from "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by Peter, Paul, and Mary)

Three days ago the movers came and packed up my things. Two thousand one hundred fifty pounds of my life's stuff is bound for Kwajalein, Marshall Islands. A similar amount will be stored by them locally until I return.

It's sad and interesting that the stuff of my life can be expressed in pounds. How can photographs of my lovely daughter and a gas barbecue be measured in the same units? I clearly value the pictures of her much more than a grill, but in moving company parlance it is completely the other way around.

The packers were gentle and considerate with my things. I trust that most things will arrive intact. Their journey is an interesting one: after being trucked from Virginia to Richmond, California they will be loaded into a container and placed upon a barge. The barge will take two weeks to travel across the Pacific ocean to Kwajalein. Upon arrival in Kwajalein, many containers holding a variety of necessities will be unloaded. Eventually my stuff will be delivered to my home and unpacked.

So, what about my travel itinerary to Kwajalein? Thought you would never ask. Well, Tuesday (09 June) I fly from Lynchburg to Atlanta and then after a brief lay-over fly non-stop from Atlanta to Honolulu, a 10 hr. flight. Arrival in Honolulu is expected sometime around 2 pm local time Tuesday afternoon. I will overnight in Honolulu at an airport hotel. Early the next morning, Wednesday, I take a flight from Honolulu to Kwajalein, stopping first at Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The flight is about 6 hours, but since it crosses the International Date Line, I actually arrive on Thurday, 11 June! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thawing Out

After leaving the Ice I toured the south island of New Zealand and went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Since returning to the US, I have been thawing out looking for my next big adventure. That's why the name of this blog was changed to Medical Adventures from Medical Ice.

Next month I move to the South Pacific. I will be living and working on the island of Kwajalein, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The military base on the island supports our country's missile defense program. I will be the Chief Medical Office for the island, and will work for KRS.

Keep checking back to see what this adventure will bring....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back in Christchurch

I'm back in Christchurch. I've been meeting Ice People coming off the Ice. Some are staying in Chch for a few days before going off on vacation. Others are here just overnight before taking the next available plane home.

Mostly we get together in the evenings at restaurants or pubs. Last evening I went with my friend Patrick to Cafe Valentino. It was his first time there and, as you know from my earlier post, my second. This time I had Fettuccine Valentino, a delightfully cheesy fettuccine with panceta and mushrooms. From there it was off to Bailie's for a Guinness. Already there were large numbers of people from the Ice indoors and outdoors. Patrick and I sat and visited with them for hours.

Tonight a number of the folks from McMurdo Medical will meet at Holy Grail, a local sports pub. There are only three more flights coming to Chch from the Ice: today, Saturday, and Sunday. About 80 – 100 persons will be on each flight. At that point, McMurdo station will close for the winter with a final population around 140 - 150 persons.

Since returning to Chch, I have enjoyed Sushi twice. It was never served on the Ice....unless you count the few times we had lox.

Thanks for following along. I'll keep you posted on my travels as they unfold.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Queenstown and Wanaka

Greetings, faithful reader. Today I drove from Te Anau to Queenstown, a tony lakeside town that reminds me of Jackson Hole. It is very tourist oriented with numbers of high end restaurants and stores. The lodging was high end too, so I decided to drive a bit further to Wanaka. There is a lake here also, and a smaller, less trendy, town. I got a cheap motel that reminds me of the Peaks of Otter Lodge in Virginia: no phone, TV or internet in the room. I am making this posting from the lobby where they have wireless internet for a fee.

I will hang here tomorrow and spend the night again before deciding whether to return to Christchurch Wednesday or go further up the west coast of NZ to Greymouth before returning to Christchurch on Friday or Saturday. It's nice to be free to choose.

Speaking of freedom, although I haven't gotten the absolute final word, it is looking more and more like I will not have to return to the Ice for winter. The South Pole station is fulled staffed and the last provider for McMurdo is scheduled to arrive today into Christchurch. Assuming all goes well and that provider makes it to McMurdo without a hitch, I will probably be taken off call on Wednesday.

I left my camera's charger in Christchurch (oops!) so my photos from here on will probably be very limited. My camera does not take replaceable batteries, opting instead for a built-in battery that needs periodic recharging. I've currently got a half-charge on it. Speaking of that, I want to assure you that Troublemaker, a rollerskate of a car, is still performing well after its repair in Dunedin.

That's it for today. I'll keep you posted on what I see and do tomorrow in Wanaka.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

After getting a couple of good night's rest in Christchurch, it was time to begin exploring New Zealand's south island. An internet search revealed a real bargain – about $22 day. 
I got a Mazda Dimeo, a small four-seater with a hamster-powered engine. He picked me up, just like Enterprise, and whisked me to his office. To call it a hole in the wall is to exaggerate it's good points. With the car signed, sealed and delivered, it was putt-putting my way to the USAP NZ offices. There I checked in with Leeann and got the latest update on the two providers, one for South Pole, the other for McMurdo, and checked my USAP email.

Back on the road I pointed south toward Dunedin. After a quick stop at a small town along the way for lunch and to pick up a disposable mobile phone, I continued on what ended up to be about a six hour journey. Once in Dunedin, I went to the Otago Albatross Center, a recommendation from Steve and Carol Jones. As usual, they were spot on. It was very interesting to learn about a fascinating bird that heretofore had only been known to me as something worn about one's neck.

After a nice fish dinner, it was off to sleep at a cheap motel. In the morning I awoke to find a puddle of antifreeze below the car. After a series of back and forth phone calls (thank goodness I got that cellphone), the car was off to the repair shop and I was on foot. Fortunately, Dunedin was having a huge street festival in the center of town, about a fifteen minute walk. There were musical performers, arts, crafts, clothing, games, and food. I also walked down to the Farmer's Market where local growers sold fresh foods. I bought lamb-on-a-stick. Wow, was it ever delicious. 

By five o'clock p.m. the Troublemaker was fixed and I was back on the road headed to Te Anau, a small tourist town at the gateway to the Fiordlands. After a night's rest at yet another cheap motel, I took off in the morning for Milford Sound. This is a very special, almost magical, place. Tall mountains jut abruptly up from fiords. Fresh water lakes wind along to reach the ocean between New Zealand and Australia. There are waterfalls and clouds that cloak the mountain tops in a misty lace. A nature boat cruise up and down the fiord gave an appreciation of that special place.

There were fur seals sunning themselves on rocks.

Back into Troublemaker and back to Te Anau for a quick dinner and a pricey internet connection I went.

Tomorrow I am off for my next destination, Queenstown.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


The C-17 lifted off from Pegasus White Ice Runway yesterday with about seventy passengers headed north for Christchurch. When we arrived 5 1/2 hours later it was night and raining. We have not seen darkness in five months. We have not seen rain since before we deployed to Antarctica.  It's hard to describe to those who have not experienced it the sense of wonder at revisiting these familiar but distant events. I have written here before of the curious nature of walking out of a building in Antarctica at midnight and being blasted between the eyes by bright sunlight. I've also talked about the lack of any humidity. To get on a jet and travel a mere five hours and be thrust suddenly into these most normal events of night and rain after having not experienced either for months is quite jarring.

The next morning brought other reminders: city noise, green plants, and familiar scents. What a surprise to the senses. I rode a bus.  I ate at two different establishments. Lunch was at Subway where I had a delicious roasted lamb sub. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant (Valentinos) where I enjoyed a delightful Canterbury Lamb dinner. The exchange rate is favorable now. One US dollar buys about two New Zealand dollars. When I deployed one US dollar only bought about $1.25NZD. Occasionally I would bump into Ice People (as ones returning from Antarctica are known). A stop by Bailie's after dinner for a Guinness topped off a relaxing first day.

Tomorrow I will rent a car and begin a brief driving trip south of Christchurch. First destination: Dunedin, a city recommended  by many who have been here before me. I need to stay in contact with McMurdo, though, because there is a scant possibility that I may be needed back on the ice for the winter.  The station is attempting to fill the remaining medical provider vacancy and if they are successful I will not be needed. However, if there is any glitch in getting that provider, then I can be recalled. You, faithful reader will be kept posted on the events, experiences and photos as I begin exploring New Zealand's spectacular south island.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cartoon of the Week

Matt Davidson, our resident cartoonist, reminds us in this week's installment that the ice over the Ross Sea is breaking up and penguins are arriving.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reflections on Ice - Season End

The summer season at McMurdo is quickly winding up. Our annual resupply vessel, the American Tern, will be here in three days. After a whirlwind of activity off-loading the vessel, then reloading it with items to be returned to the U.S., the station will begin quickly sending home those people who are not staying for the winter season. The term used for working a winter is "winter over", as in "Are you wintering over?" or "Did you winter over last year?".

I am scheduled to redeploy on 11 February. I will fly back to Christchurch, NZ on a C-17 jet just like the one on which I arrived. There are some significant travel plans and I will continue to update the blog as I visit New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. 

My experience in Antarctica has been transformative. The continent, this environment, is majestic yet harsh. It is alluring though challenging. I am continually impressed by the people I meet here. Everyone has a story, a life journey that includes working and living in Antarctica. I have been privileged to become very good friends with a small group of diverse individuals. They include managers of significant departments, an electrician, and a firefighter. The Wednesday evening Bridge group, which played its last game two days ago, started as students. I taught them how to play the game over six weeks. We have been playing weekly ever since. It warmed my heart that "Reefer Bob" (the refrigeration technician) told me he already located a group with whom to play Bridge when he gets home next week. It is my hope that Pedro the Food Monkey, Greg the Electrician, and Marci the Sous Chef continue playing too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Room With A View

Yesterday I was treated to a morale trip up the side of Mt. Erebus. You might remember from earlier posts that Mt. Erebus is an active volcano that is on the Ross Island, near Scott Base and McMurdo Station. It constantly emits a large plume of steam and smoke. Occasionally it will belch rocks. You can watch a live video from inside the Mt. Erebus crater at the MEVO website.

The trip started with a briefing on the outing at the Field Safety Training Program offices. Then we selected helmets to fit us. We then took a Hagglunds tracked transport from McMurdo to the Scott Base sea ice transition. The Hagglunds is a Swedish dual-cab, medium class, over snow vehicle. Six persons sat in the rear cab and four sat in the front cab. A minimum thickness of 50 cm of hard ice is required before a Hagglunds can be driven across sea ice. They are powered by turbo diesel engines driving four rubber tracks through an automatic transmission and transfer case.

Once there, we were briefed on the proper operation of the snow mobiles (Bombardier Ski Doos). Interestingly enough, at McMurdo these are called "snow machines" not snow mobiles. I don't know the history or reason behind this change.

We rode tandem on the snow machines. There were many bumps and hills that occasionally caused the snow machine to become airborne. We took a route from the sea ice transition up the side of Mt. Erebus until we reached a large dome-like clearing. There was a Scott tent set up and inside it there with a football and soccer ball to play with. The wind was ferocious, probably at about 35 - 50 kts. The view was the most impressive part.
There was a giant panorama in 360 degrees that showed Mts. Erebus, Terra Nova and Terror;
the glacier that runs down to meet the sea ice;

the back side of Castle Rock; across the Ross Sea to Black Island and White Island;

the Royal Society Mountains;

and finally out to the liquid open water of the Ross Sea.

I could see the path the ice breaker Odin cut and the fuel tanker just behind it bring us 5.5 million gallons of fuel – enough to last the station for the next 12 months. These last photos are of the fuel tanker waiting just outside our ice pier and the pier itself.

It was a delightful afternoon outing that really gave one the sense of enormity and grandeur that is Antarctica.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Another great cartoon from our friend, Matt Davidson.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Royal Visit

His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco is visiting Antarctica as part of his interest in global ecology and climate. Americans may remember that he is the son of Prince Ranier and American actress Grace Kelly.

Wednesday, January 14, he visited the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Thursday he visited McMurdo Station. He spoke with the assembled people in our dining hall at 7:15 pm. His comments were extemporaneous and unrehearsed. He spoke of his pride that Monaco is one of the signatories to the Antarctica Treaty, that the principality participates with Italy and France in other environmental issues and that his trip to both the Artic and Antarctic arose from his interest in the vital roles the poles play in global ecology and climate.

As you can see in this underexposed photo, he spoke to the crowd for about 15 minutes then he took a few questions from the audience. The questions were generic in quality as were the answers. He describes Monaco as a 2.2 square mile area with 33,000 residents, the majority of whom are not Monegasques (the name given to natives of Monaco....they are not Monicans). There are over 125 different nationalities living in Monaco where they receive over 4 million tourists annually. Prince Albert's grandfather was also a polar explorer, according to his remarks.

From McMurdo he travels to Antarctic bases of other countries: Concordia (France & Italy), Vostok (Russia), and Davis (Australia).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Arrived at the South Pole

Greetings from the South Pole. I flew here from McMurdo Station aboard a USAF LC-130 Hercules. The flight took approximately 3 hours. I sat in webbing alongside the interior. There were seven of us on the plane plus the crew made up of the 139th Air National Guard out of New York. 
The nominal altitude at the South Pole is 9300 feet. That is the measured altitude. However, due to less atmosphere and gravity at the poles, the barometric pressure is much lower here at any given altitude than would be seen in most of the world. The effect of this is that the effective altitude varies daily, but today was 10, 240 feet. I took Diamox before leaving McMurdo and will continue to take it for three more days to minimize symptoms arising from living at significant altitude
Sunday was a great day here for me. It turns out that over the past couple of days some tourists (yes, you read that right) skied into the South Pole. They were guided and outfitted by a company and paid no less than $50,000USD for the privilege. They stay in tents outside the station. They brought their own provisions. They spent money to get where I am and I am making money being here. Go figure. Anyway, since they were here a tour of the Ice Cube science experiment was arranged and I got to tag along. 
Ice Cube is an experiment where neutrino detectors are placed 2500 meters below the surface in an attempt to detect neutrinos passing through the Earth….from north to south. These neutrinos enter the Earth in the arctic or far northern regions, pass all the way through the Earth and are detected on their exit from the South Pole. It turns out that this is the best place on the planet to do this research because the Earth filters out all the other cosmic rays coming from that direction and leaves just the neutrinos to pass through. So, to get these detectors so far down under the ice, they use a hot water drill under extremely high pressure to melt a cylindrical column of ice 0.65 meters in diameter. It takes about 5000 gallons of fuel to generate the extremely hot water (88° C) for each hole. This summer they will drill about 19 holes. That will give them about 40 holes to their goal of about 80. Once the hole is drilled, they lower a specially made Digital Optical Module, or “DOM”, down into the hole.
 The water in the hole refreezes over a couple of days. The DOM is spherical and clear with electronics inside. It can withstand about 10,000 psi pressure. The DOM is attached to the surface by an umbilical cable. All the cables from all the DOMs are gathered together in a common computer room that receives the data in real time. Massive banks of computers process the data and it is uploaded via satellite to the US nightly. The principal investigator for this $270 million project is at the Univ. of Wisconsin. Of the $270 million, about $240 million is funded from the National Science Foundation with the rest coming from a variety of European countries.
The drilling work can only be done during the austral summer months, but data collection and transmission is performed 24/7/365. This is pure research. Detecting neutrinos by a multiple detector array can give the approximate location of the source of the particle. The scientific question is: will knowing the sources of these particles lead to discovery of previously unknown things in the universe? It’s wildly expensive, highly theoretical, uses vast amounts of fuel (2/3 of all the South Pole fuel supply goes for Ice Cube), but it is science and that is what we are here to support.
After returning from that amazing tour, I went with Wayne, the Physician Assistant here, on a tour of the bowels of the station. He took me to the ice tunnels (See page 3 of this link). These tunnels were carved out of the ice 15 meters (45 feet) below the surface. The tunnels are about 6 feet wide and 10 feet tall. They house the fresh water and sewage lines for the station as well as the electrical cables. As you might imagine, we melt ice to get fresh water (more on that later). The wells that are melted are called Rodriguez Wells, or just Rod Wells for short. Any one Rod Well will have a useful life of about 7 years. Then they have to begin a new Rod Well. The former Rod Well is now an immense cavern deep within the ice. It becomes a storage depot for sewage which freezes solid over time. These ice tunnels take the fresh water out of the current Rod Well and return sewage to a former well, all via insulated piping. Did I mention that in the ice tunnels it is a consistent minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit? You better believe it was as cold down there as I have ever experienced. My eyelashes, mustache, and beard were all frozen with ice crystals. The hairs at the end of my nose were frozen. After about a half hour touring the ice tunnels, which Wayne tells me few people get to visit, we went to the power plant and water plant.
The power plant uses one Caterpillar generator for routine power generation and a second one for peak loads. There are two more generators: one for backup and one undergoing maintenance. Nearly all the heat produced by these massive diesel generators is recovered. They use the heat to provide all the heat to the station, provide domestic hot water, and heat the water for the Rod Wells. With the heat recovery these generators are 70% efficient – a huge number in power generation.
From there it was on to the water plant right next door. The water from the Rod Well is exceptionally pure…in fact it is the purest water on the planet. That makes it not great for drinking. We humans like the taste of minerals in our water and the deionized water from the Rod Well would leach minerals from our bones and the water pipes. Also, the pipes like the pH to be slightly alkaline to reduce corrosion. So the water plant adds Calcium Chloride, Soda Ash, trace minerals and a tiny amount of chlorine for protection against germs. Water quality is analyzed daily, more sophisticated analysis is done weekly, and a lead and chloroform assay is done monthly. It always passes.
From there it was on to see the carpenter shop and heavy vehicle maintenance facility.
 In the latter they had a giant Caterpillar snow mover’s rear section dismantled. The transmission area was so large a person could get inside. Some of their wrenches were larger than my arm.
Our next stop was the geographic South Pole. It turns out that the South Pole’s ice cap moves over the land some 3000 meters below. Over the course of a year the ice moves about 10 meters relative to the actual pole. So, on January 1st of every year the geographic South Pole marker is moved. I got a photo of me at the geographic marker and know that since it was taken on January 4th, it is truly at the right place. Next stop was the ceremonial South Pole marker with the flags of the original signatories to the Antarctica treaty around it in a horseshoe configuration.
My first day was filled with science, exploration, discovery, and learning. Tomorrow I start work as the station doctor for approximately one week. The current station doctor, a delightful lady named Ella Derbyshire, is going to McMurdo for some rest and relaxation. Weather permitting, I’ll fly back to McMurdo on 12 January.