Friday, December 16, 2011

Questions (and Answers): Part 1

Here are answers to some of the questions I've received from back in the States. More forthcoming soon...

1. I know there are no polar bears in Antarctica. Why not though?

There are no large, land-based predators in Antarctica at all. I'm not an expert, but believe that it's basically because there are no land-based animals at all. The penguins do nest on shore, but must go into the water to feed, and there there are seals and killer whales (orcas) that fill the top level predator niche that the polar bear fills in northern lands. The Antarctic waters (Southern Ocean) are filled with sea life.

2. What do you wear outside? What did Amundsen wear?

If I'm only going to be outside for a short time, I wear wool socks, hiking boots, pants that are somewhat windproof, shirt, fleece jacket, gloves, sunglasses, and hat. Not too different from what I might wear outside in the winter back in the States. If I'm going to be outside longer, then one starts to think about three layers: an inner layer that allows moisture to escape (important if I'm working hard and sweating), insulation layer, and an outer, windproof, layer. So for a full day working outside, I wear polypropylene sock liners, wool socks, extreme cold weather (ECW) boots, polypropylene underwear, insulated & windproof overalls, fleece jacket, fleece neck gaiter, fleece hat, googles, two layers of gloves, and a big, heavy down coat. And we take little chemical heat packets to put in our gloves and boots if needed.

Amundsen studied what the Inuits, the folks who live in the far northern Arctic regions, wore. He went with reindeer skins as an outer layer, and then multiple woolen inner layers. He had felt boots that were stuffed with straw to absorb moisture. He understood those same three layers from outside to inside: windproof, insulation, and water-repelling.

3. How does your drill work?

We drill by using hot water to melt a column of the Antarctic ice down to the depth we're interested in. We have a large, insulated hot water tank, a snow melter, and a series of six diesel-fired water heaters to heat water. There's a long hose on a hose reel that feeds down the hole as it melts and at the end of the hose there is a set of nozzles that spray the hot water.

4. What do you do for fun at the Pole?

Well, in the station there is a gym with popular volleyball and basketball games. There is also a weight room, exercise room, musical practice room, arts and crafts room, movie room, game room, and some limited outdoor running and skiing. I brought a guitar with me, but I haven't had much time to practice or play with others. Been keeping busy with work. The work week here is six days per week, maybe nine or ten hours per day. At the moment our drillers are working twelve hour days with no days off.

There's an arts and crafts fair tomorrow, also I'm giving a science talk to everyone on the station tomorrow, and maybe people are keeping blogs or photo journals while they're here. Also, there are lots of interesting people to chat with here...

5. What is the military plane like? How did you get in the cockpit?

Loud. Earplugs are required or hearing damage could take place. I take big earmuffs so that I can slide my earphone from my mp3 player in under the earmuffs during the flight. The plane can also be cold, especially the smaller LC-130 (ski-equiped) Hercules planes we fly between McMurdo and the Pole. It's a cargo plane, so a lot of the space is taken up with pallets of cargo. That cargo could be food, vehicles, scientific equipment, or most anything else that is needed on Antarctica. I flew one time on a plane with a helicopter in the back. There are rows of paratrooper jump seats along the walls of the plane, you sit on strapping, and stick your carry-on bag under your seat. Sometimes on the larger C-17 (and the older C-141 and C-5 transport planes) they load pallets with old airline seats on them.

Often the pilots will announce that at some point in the flight, anyone can come up and take a look, but just a couple of people at a time. It used to be that commercial airliners would do that too, especially for children to let them take a look at the cockpit and out the windows. That isn't done any longer due to security concerns. On the military flights it's especially nice because the windows in back are few and pretty small. (See previous post for some photos.)

6. Why do you travel through New Zealand?

The main US base in Antarctica is McMurdo Base on Ross Island and that's more or less straight south of New Zealand. So it makes sense to fly (commercial airlines) down to Christchurch on the southern island of New Zealand, and then take the military flights south. All of the cargo and people (who often feel like they're treated as cargo also) for the US Antarctic Program travels that way for McMurdo and South Pole. There's also a US station called Palmer Base which is on the opposite side of the continent and there the logistics are done through Chile instead.

South Pole Station runs on New Zealand time while Palmer, and the tourists down here, run on Chilean time since that's where they came from back in the "civilized" world. At the South Pole, it doesn't matter much which time zone you pick, just need to be consistent.

No comments:

Post a Comment