Sunday, December 19, 2010

McMurdo Week 2

Three interesting things:
  1. The main entrance of each building is marked by a large red light.  This is so people can find the doors during white-out conditions.
  2. McMurdo station is located in the New Zealand claim.  Occasionally there is tension over this, such as when people on site misbehave on or near the Kiwi base and are dumb enough to post photos of this on the common drive.
  3. The night-crew (MidRats) flip their time orientation.  They hang out in the coffee shop in the morning, and talk about getting to bed before midnight (noon).  Since the sun never sets, that works great for keeping their internal clocks on track.
Another World
Just finished my second week.  Still enjoying it, though at times this place is like another planet, both physically and culturally.  Spent my day off writing, revised 15 chapters of ZPF, and wrote this lovely blog article for you to enjoy.

The weather

The weather has remained warm, near or a little above freezing most of the week.  There was one cold spell where it snowed a little, and one morning where the wind was still, the sun shining bright and it really felt like spring (minus the budding plants).

We are under the ozone hole, and despite being at sea-level I burn in minutes without sunscreen.  I have even burnt inside our radome (as have some co-workers), which leads us to the conclusion that the membrane is transparent to UV.

Christmas and a shocking discovery
Christmas decorations are going up and people are getting in the holiday spirit.  However, I have made a shocking discovery:  South Pole Elves are evil.  Yes, they are stuffing Santa into a trash can.  The reindeer looked kind of mean too.

South Pole Elves -- not the nice kind
One of the big events for Christmas here was the Women’s Soiree which took place Saturday. This started out in the 90’s as a social event for the station’s few women who wanted to dress up and enjoy some wine and for some years men on station thought it was a women-only event despite open invitations (this is from the official history). Now the station population is about 60/40 men to women, with every job integrated, but the tradition of having women-only acts has continued.

It was described to me as talent show, but turned out to be a bit more involved, lasting over 3 hours with several exceptionally talented performers and nothing at all that was Gong-Show worthy (which is what I expected). The finale was a choreographed dance-off between the shuttle drivers and the Wasted Wrecked Jan-Hos (A team comprised of dancers from waste, recreation and janitorial).

Stage set up in galley

There also decorations on the streets and in the Galley, and even my door--my roommate is a regular down here and some of his friends did a drive-by decorating of our door.  Best of all, everyone gets two days off next week (yay!).

Long Duration Balloons
Another highlight was observing a long-duration balloon launch.  Nine miles out on the ice they have facility that launches very large balloons with a variety of instruments which ascend to high altitude and are carried around the pole by the prevailing winds which rotate around the pole in a very stable pattern during the summer.  Some of these balloons can remain aloft in excess of 90 days, and some carry huge instruments.  One I saw a lecture on carried a 2m optical telescope which has resolution rivaling space-based telescopes, at a fraction the cost.  From our work site we were able to watch it ascend throughout the day.

Unfortunately my camera lacked the zoom to really show much detail.  For a good part of the day it looked like a jellyfish undulating across the sky.

Stay warm northerners

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