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From South Pole:

Wind Storm and Moon Dust

Friday, Nov. 25 2011 UTC

Nov. 25, 2011 15:32 NZDT B2 Science, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

The “South Pile” in windstorm

For those of you who don’t know, December and January are the centennial anniversaries of Amundsen and Scott’s arrival at the South Pole, respectively. I think a lot of people are writing online about the event, and at any rate, I’m going to miss the celebration here, so I won’t go too much into the preparation and planning that’s being done to prepare for a record number of 'tourists’; but it is interesting to contemplate the history a bit and to think about how comfortable it is here compared to what Amundsen and Scott went through.

Today we received an email 'status report’ of where Amundsen and Scott were about this time one hundred years ago. Amundsen recorded that the dogs were doing well and that he had pitched his tent in the most beautiful campsite in the world. Scott wrote, “quite the most trying march we’ve had…. If it were not for the surface and bad light, things would not be so bad. There are few sastrugi and little deep snow. For the most part men and ponies sink to a hard crust some 3 or 4 inches beneath the soft upper snow…. Our forage supply necessitates that we should plug on the 13 (geographical) miles daily under all conditions, so that we can only hope for better things. It is several days since we had a glimpse of land, which makes conditions especially gloomy. A tired animal makes a tired man, I find, and none of us are very bright now after the day’s march, though we have had ample sleep of late.”

Other interesting tidbits on Thanksgiving Day (in the States, anyways — it’s Friday here): there is a partial solar eclipse this evening at about 6:30. Unfortunately it is cloudy and windy here and you cannot even see the horizon. Yesterday is was even windier. We have not had flights for three days or so because of the weather here and in McMurdo.

Halo in windstorm

Last night I went to the greenhouse to read a bit before bed. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be in there when the greenhouse guy is working, so I didn’t clear out when he came in. He introduced himself as Jon and we talked for quite awhile. We both agreed that one of the best things about coming to Antarctica is meeting all sorts of really interesting people and learning about what they do, but Jon himself personifies that very phenomenon. He explained in fascinating detail about the greenhouse, its control systems and its yearly cycle of operation. In the winter, it produces enough veggies for one salad per person each week (!). But what I found most interesting is that he also studies greenhouse designs for possible lunar and Martian habitats. Did you know that there are recent indications that the dirt on Mars is extremely toxic, which could severely impact the possibility for creating long-term habitations there? That the International Space Station has (or has had) a small greenhouse that revolves around an axis to create simulated gravity for plants? Or that the lunar south pole contains lots of water ice and is possibly the coldest place in the solar system? He has also touched (studied) moon dust — I dare say a lot more people have been to the South Pole than have touched objects from the moon.

Today I’m feeling a bit under the weather, perhaps due to something in the food not agreeing with me. But I have less than four days to go, the winter-overs are doing well, and I’m eager to start heading back northwards. The weather will have to clear up first, however!

Ceremonial Pole from B2

Sven and David