Dec 24th – Day 1 Back in the States

Weather: No idea. Who cares… Warmish. 60s maybe. Cloudy

Landed in LAX today. Tonight I fly Santa Air back to IAD where I will arrive at 6am. Just in time for festivities back home in MD.

It’s certainly weird being thrown back into COVID world when I have had literally zero exposure to it before. Besides a few days of practice level yellow and a few days of real level yellow at Pole I haven’t even worn a mask before! Christchurch was a nice way to ease into it because there aren’t any cases currently in NZ but the folks at the airports still tend to wear PPE.

Here in the good ol’ USofA, it’s a bit different. Hopefully with my sanitizer usage and winterover anti-social glares, I should be pretty safe on my return journey.

Can’t wait to be back at home and relax on the couch. and sleep. like for a whole day. 🙂

I kind of botched my adjustment to East Coast time today by napping in the middle of the day. Hopefully I can also get some sleep on the flight tonight and start a normal sleep cycle tomorrow.

Dec 21st – Day 355 on Ice

Weather: Balmy, 30F positive! Calm winds and overcast.

Living the dream in McMurdo… been here for 12 days now. Weather delays, runway delays and crew turnover delays are the story of our escape from McM. As conditions warm for the summer here, the runway has deteriorated into a skiway, and so the US Antarctic Program needed to spin-up the US Air National Guard, which has LC-130s (C-130s equipped with skis).

First precipitation I’ve seen in about 12 months! Calm, warm and snowy was a strange combination.

I’ve been mostly running around, eating and sleeping. I’ve also gotten to play volleyball a few times here which was fun, and now constitutes the 2nd most I’ve ever played volleyball (next to at Pole). There have been some recreational activities that I’ve participated in too, such as the “Scott Hut 10k” run (which I placed 2nd in, of course) and the “Ob Hill Uphill” challenge (which I also placed 2nd in… not surprisingly).

Times from the Scott Hut 10k. I was pretty surprised by my time of 41 minutes… I think I might have still been inebriated from the night before :* ..

Both races I was blown away by some very nice person who happens to also be very fast! Beating my time of 7m48s in the uphill challenge (he got 6m36s!) and beating me in the 10k by about 4 minutes! Needless to say the only chance I have of beating him is in a distance race (which I will hopefully not be here for!! – the marathon is scheduled for Jan 10th).

Lounging on top of Castle Rock… This low-resolution image probably isn’t very easy to see anything, but ahead of my feet you can see a roadway splitting off to our two airfields (Williams to the left, and Phoenix to the right), as well as the green of Scott Base peaking around the hill.

It’s nice to be able to run around outside but I’m about ready to be home now. With the 2 flights per week from NZ to the US, the earliest I can hope for now is to arrive back in DC at 6am on Christmas morning! So long as I don’t get delayed bast Wednesday, I should make that timing.

Clouds rolling in over The Royal Society Range across the sound from McMurdo.

Fingers crossed that Santa and I cross paths on my way home, and I can make it back to spend the holiday with my family. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen my fiance, and needless to say it’s time to get back!

On the bright side, the person who left Pole on my original Nov 30th flight is still stuck in McMurdo… so ya know… at least I’m not that person!

Dec 8th – Day 342 on Ice

Weather: Warm, variable skies. Temps got up to -5F yesterday! That’s damn warm! But windy, with winds around 20knts. Skies cleared up today.

Well. Later today I am expected to do my ‘Bag Drag’ – where anyone leaving on a flight has to bring their bags to be weighed before the flight. This makes the prospect of going home all the more real. After bags are weighed, any checked bags are stored for loading on the plane. I actually checked a bag for yesterday’s flight because our flight is full and may be nearing it’s weight capacity. So most of my stuff is sitting in McMurdo already!

After bag drag at 9am, I have a weekly update telecon and then lots of telescope greasing to do before my flight arrives (hopefully) tomorrow Dec 9th to take me North to McMurdo. I’m not sure what the weather forecasts are, but there is only going to be one more northbound C-130 going from McM to CHC before mid-late January. I believe it’s supposed to arrive in McM on Dec 14th, so I’d be heading North on the 15th… but we’ll see – seems to be an extra-ordinarily “play-it-by-ear” sort of year.

Last weekend we got to celebrate Thanksgiving (we pushed it back so we could be in level green; i.e. no social distancing necessary) and the Galley crew once again knocked it out of the park… One of my favorite things about the South Pole!

Getting ready to celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving with 2020 winterovers Geoff (right, of Australia) and myself (center left), and 2021 winterovers Matt (left, of Australia and most recently Canada) and Sasha (middle right)…. I’m looking like a degenerate and drinking a Coors because the pre-dinner cocktail contained apple cider, which I’m allergic to unfortunately.

As exciting as the prospect of being home is, I’m also a little sad to be leaving South Pole. It’s been my home for the last 11 months (almost to the day — I arrived on Jan 4th), and it’s been a trying and difficult winter at times. I made some new friends, shared lots of laughter, and lots of tears. Went through some dark times (both literally and mentally/emotionally) but also have a lot more fond memories. I don’t know what survival mechanism it is that allows you to forget the bad and remember the good memories, but I’m definitely going to miss our winter here. It’s very different from any summer at Pole. Much calmer, much more intimate and much more relaxed in many ways. You build habits and do the same thing every day; one might say you become institutionalized… But it’s an experience not many people get to experience (though with COVID I’d bet a lot of people felt pretty isolated this year). I think I’m somewhere around the 1600th person to ever have wintered over at Pole… It’s a pretty small club formed here at the end of the Earth.

As much as I would love to stay, there is someone I’ve left behind and I can’t bear to be without any longer! I can’t wait to reconnect with my fiance and hear what life was like during a worldwide pandemic, unfortunately being at home alone… though I expect I will learn very quickly since the US is in the midst of the worst outbreak yet. It was hard to be here, away from everything and knowing I had left her for this year which turned out to be very isolating to people at home who had not signed up for a year-long isolation, as I did.

Anyway, I can’t wait to be back in warmer weather (any temperature above zero will suffice!), and to be back with Polly in our house and to describe our year apart and to regain some normalcy. I think I’ve grown a lot as a person and I’m ready to tackle life’s challenges… or maybe just start writing a thesis… who knows. Maybe I’ll just take some time and go running or biking around. Even the short time I’ll get in NZ before the flight back to the US will be well spent exploring the outdoors, probably getting really sunburnt. The world is my oyster :). Whatever that means.

All for now. Let’s hope a plane comes on Wednesday!

Dec 3rd – Day 337 on Ice

Weather: Clear and calm up until yesterday. Now windy with plenty of blowing snow. Temperatures are warm, around -20F.

Summer turnover is wrapping up at SPT, and we’ve completed most of our critical summer maintenance. Soon we will be fully beginning uninterrupted Summer observations (and by we, I mean the new winterovers, not me!). We have to change our observing field during summer because the sun begins to enter our field and cause contamination in our CMB maps (so we basically just shift over to avoid it).

The first of three South Pole overland Traverses (SPoT) arrived a few days ago, bringing with it more than 100k gallons of fuel (and quite a few new faces!). The galley now seems overwhelmingly full, especially after a week of level yellow (socially distanced seating in the galley).

Nice sun dog today! Lots of ice crystals blowing around!

Flight schedules are always being updated, rearranged, delayed and moved around here at the South Pole due to various things. There is a possibility that I will be flying North starting next week (Wednesday the 9th). From there I’ll likely be in McMurdo until the last C130 of the year arrives on the 14th, taking passengers northbound to Christchurch on the 15th.

We shall see if that plan holds up! 🙂

Nov 25th – Day 329 On Ice

Weather: Beautiful clear, blue skies. Windy. Temperatures near -20F.

We just received our 3rd flight this year. Unfortunately since there had been south-bound pax from CHC earlier this week, we are now in level yellow… which I guess is what everyone everywhere in the world has been doing for the past 8 months.

My homemade mask (and definitely the cutest on station!)… today begins 6 days of level yellow before we can go back to green.

I’ve also been bumped back from my original Nov 30th flight to Dec 12th since our 2nd 2021 winterover just arrived yesterday and we have many more days worth of work to get done (probably even 6 days worth of EHT training alone!).

Seems like at this point all of the grantees (science folks) are on the Dec 12th flight due to all of the weather delays this past ~few weeks. Hopefully that means that they will be very serious about getting us on the Dec 17th LC-130 north from McM to CHC (the last one for more than a month!).

For the next 2 weeks we will be hitting the ground running doing SPT turnover tasks and summer maintenance including lots and lots of greasing! Yay!

Nov. 18th – Day 322 on Ice

Weather: Beautiful, clear, calm. Light winds and cloud systems moving through with enough clear conditions to land a plane! Temps around -26F.

THE STATION IS OPEN!! IT IS OFFICIALLY SUMMER!

First plane in more than 9 months! This plane brought us some of next year’s winterovers and took out some people who needed to leave for new jobs or other reasons!
Watching the plane come in!
Obligatory sun dog selfie.
Greetings to our new station mates, from our heavy machine operator, Todd!

Seeing new people is weird.

Today was very exciting having a plane arrive and knowing it was the end of winter. Summer has now started and it seems as though winter is long-gone.

Some of these new folks will be wintering and some will just be helping out for the summer. Either way, we feel weird and awkward around these new people. Our stories revolve around a year no one cares about and no one experienced down here. Meanwhile everyone has been living in COVID-land for the past 10 months, so their stories are different and disparate from ours.

People are weird. But hey. It’s SUMMER TIME!!!!

Nov. 16th – Day 320 on Ice

Weather: Unseasonably warm, windy, cloudy. Temps got up to -11F today!

We have been delayed opening station for about 3 weeks. Generally South Pole Station gets it’s first flights in around the 3rd week of October, but due to COVID logistics and weather, we have still yet to receive a flight and are nearing the record late opening of Nov 20th (set in the Navy days in like 1956 or something). It really is an unprecedented year for South Pole Winterovers.

Current weather models don’t show much hope over the next few days, so we have to just wait and see. The difficulty of course being that weather has to be good in McMurdo as well as at Pole (for the ~12 hour round trip the Baslers take).

I have been scheduled to leave Pole on November 30th, but if our new winter over crew doesn’t arrive for a few more days, we might have to extend that until the December 12th flight out of Pole (which would then go northbound to CHC on Dec 17th). I think a 2 week turnover period would be short, but doable with our experienced incoming SPTers, but something more like 10 days is starting to push the envelope.

One good thing about all these delays is that McMurdo is now in level green (meaning they don’t need to socially distance, etc). So the first few flights into Pole will also allow us to remain in green which will make turnover and training much easier and more convenient. The confounding factor is that a southbound flight from CHC to McM is scheduled to bring pax in later this week… so McM will go back to yellow , and any other pax flights to Pole will then also turn Pole yellow.

While it would be neat to break the all-time latest station open record, it would also be nice to have our replacements arrive soon to start the turnover. People who have jobs lined up and have been delayed for ~3weeks are starting to get antsy! Luckily (or unluckily) I of course don’t have any travel plans and I work for SPT as a grad student, so the delays don’t affect me (besides family who want to see me again!).

It’s crazy to think that we will be opening soon. Some people have had to pack up their things and ‘bag drag’ (which is where you take your luggage to be weighed, and then they palletize your baggage). I couldn’t imagine having to pack already. Seems like this place is just my life now and going back to the ‘real world’ is just a thing we joke about. No-fly November is really living up to it’s name… but we will soon have new faces on station, and the real work will begin!

Nov. 1st – Day 305 on Ice

Weather: Warmer, with temperatures hovering around -50F . High winds most of last week. Sun, sun and more sun.

Welcome to “No-Fly November”, the eternal optimists least favorite month! Well, at least I know that I’m not flying until the 30th at the earliest (possibly later with weather delays). Next year’s winterovers and any summer staff have arrived in McMurdo a few days ago. They’ve been in level yellow during their time so far (7 days of level yellow for each incoming pax flight). Folks here are getting antsy and hoping for good weather on Nov 10th, when the first flight is scheduled to land here (the first flight in nearly 9 months)!

The USAP Basler and flight crew are currently finishing up their last few days of quarantine in Punta Arenas Chile, and will be transiting the continent to get to McMurdo sometime mid-week this week. They will then begin the 7 days of level yellow again in McM before flying the first of the Winterovers to Pole.

Last night, we had a bit of a ‘last hurrah’ with our crew. We hosted a “social undistancing party” , as we will most all be headed back to the US, where COVID and social distancing awaits us.

Some 2020 Winterovers getting cozy during the Social Undistancing party.

With my trip home nearing, I’m getting excited about being able to go outside, go on walks, and be back with my fiance. I still have another month here, but I think it will go by quickly with the 2021 winterovers Matt and Sasha here to train and hang out with.

It’s a bit weird to think that I’ve been here for 10 months. I can hardly remember when it was dark out (which it was… for 6 months)!

Oct. 20th – Day 293 on Ice

Whew, I’ve been slacking on these updates! Sorry!

Weather: It’s been fairly cold, around -70 to -80F with high winds (up near 20 mph) making wind chills well below -100F. Skies have remained relatively clear, despite the higher winds.

With station open looming only 2 weeks away people have begun getting antsy and the rumor mill on flights, delays and flight order has been churning. I’m not antsy because I know I have to stay at least until the 3rd week in November before heading out. I have to help train next year’s winterovers and perform the summer telescope maintenance that would normally be done by SPTers who come down for the summer.

I’ve been busy attempting to generate a schedule for training and to try and clean up some of the analysis code that I’ve been working on this winter.

One of the projects I worked on was looking at transient (short timescale) objects that show up in our maps. After the suggestion that perhaps these transient signals are caused by balloons (which might sound crazy here at Pole, but in fact is quite common — almost 2 balloons per day are launched for measuring atmospheric conditions and ozone levels, etc) I began to poke around at the data and ask the meteorology and NOAA folks about their balloon flight data.

As it turns out, 3 of the transient events were indeed co-located with balloon flights in both time and space, making it extremely hard to believe it could be anything else. To confirm this, we had to take GPS data from the balloons and pointing data from SPT, and correlate them in time. At the time of the transient events in the scans, the balloons happened to be in the line-of-sight of SPT!

Here is a video I made, showing the path of the balloon and the pointing of the telescope. At +-2seconds of the transient signal, you’ll see a red circle appear at the boresight of the telescope: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jYkyLkeCot8-tv2uqfThmpI9A4qBEBEw/view?usp=sharing

Because of this work, having talked a bunch with the NOAA person in charge of launching the ozonesondes, I was able to ‘help’ launch one of the large plastic balloons used to carry both the Met and NOAA payloads. I must admit, I don’t much like launching large plastic balloons into such a pristine environment, but it was going to be done whether I was there or not :/ .

Me holding the balloon, about to be launched. An unnamed NOAA employee holds the payload, which contains an ozone measuring device as well as gps units and met’s atmosphere radiosonde. The lift from the He was actually fairly ‘heavy’, not to mention the slight winds pulling on the balloon.

Here is a video of that balloon launch. Much thanks to Jeff DeRosa for freezing his fingers off and getting some pics and a video of me!

Balloons aren’t much of a scientific discovery but at least we know what some subset of our transient signal is caused by (part of a so-called ‘transient background’ which includes other non-astrophysical sources like satellites.).

All for now. Hopefully will update more frequently!

Oct. 6th – Day 279 on Ice

Weather: It’s been warming up. Today is a balmy -49C and in fact is a gorgeous day with very low wind.

No pictures on this update, unfortunately, but I haven’t really done too much besides work and run on the treadmill for the past few days. This morning I ran 20 miles, and for about 13 of those I was actually reading while running… which was not all that great, I must admit, but I think the act of reading was better and more thoroughly distracting than watching a movie, or listening to music. I was reading, and finished, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild ; I don’t think it was the first time I’ve read it but it definitely gives me a bit of wanderlust. I finished up the other 7 miles by listening to some Garth Brooks CD that was available in the gym.

I spent about an hour and a half outside this evening, walking the final visibility marker line and clearing them off. I sat at the end of the markers for a few minutes, looking out over the vast nothingness and listening to the sounds of silence. The unusually low winds made it very possibly the first time I could actually enjoy the silence outside. I was far enough away from station that I couldn’t hear the exhaust vents roaring out heated air, and there weren’t any flags around to rustle even if there was some wind. The only sounds were that of the ice slowly shifting underneath me. It was calming, relaxing and peaceful. Alas, one can only sit on the ice at -50C for so long, even in full ECW.

And that was my day today, mostly.

Another fun fact about today (well, tomorrow for you Northerners in the US) is that the 2021 South Pole Winterover crew is beginning their long slog down to the Ice. This year is an unprecedented year for the United States Antarctic Program (and, I presume, all other Antarctic programs) because Antarctica is still COVID free so much care is being taken to assure that it remains this way. The new crew is flying to San Francisco, where they will be quarantining for a few days and tested twice during their stay. They will then board a contracted flight down to Christchurch, where they will spend at least 14 days in managed isolation at a hotel. If the weather on the ice cooperates, they will leave Christchurch in a Kiwi LC-130 headed to McMurdo. When the plane arrives to the Ice, McM will go into ‘yellow’ status for 1 week – which means social distancing, wearing masks, assigned meal times, etc.. If after 1 week (and no other incoming flights) there are no signs of COVID, McM can return to ‘green’ status, which as I understand it, is operations as usual.

Here’s the fun part,

There will be no on-continent LC-130s, so once the South Pole crew arrives in McM, they will be waiting for clear weather at both Pole and McM for flights in DC-10s (also known as Baslers) which are much smaller and slower than the LC-130s. Right now, as I understand it, the plan is to go to ‘yellow’ status at Pole for 1 week whenever we get a flight in. This means social distancing. At Pole. Boo. That would be no fun, and would present a challenge of it’s own (since we all live in the same building). It’s also no fun because the plan is to have flights coming in to Pole every other day for about 2 or 3 weeks which means that ‘yellow’ status would remain in effect for the entire month of November (which is our entire turnover period with our replacements).

One hope, is that there is a chance we might be allowed the following reprieve: If McM is in ‘green’ status before the flight leaves for Pole, we might allow Pole to remain ‘green’. Fingers are crossed that our incoming crew gets delayed a week in McM for weather, and by the time they leave, McM is ‘green’ and we can remain so!

1 Month until station open!

All for now.

Cheers!

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