iceman's South Pole Page

back to main page

Summer/Winter - 2004/2005

Photo Galleries

Picture of the Week

Flying South

QUaD in November

Thanksgiving Party

Thanksgiving Dinner

Happy Camper

Art Show

Beaker Box Move


Race around the World

Ice Sculptures

New Year

Beach Volleyball

Antonov Biplane

South Pole Wedding

QUaD in January


R & R - vacation at the beach

Last flights

Demolition of the old galley

Time of the long shadows



Aurora 2005

Iridium Flares

Al Dente

Midwinter Greetings

Midwinter Party

Some pix from July

Moon and Twilight

Twilight and Sunrise

Sunrise Party


Big Storm

First Flights

November 2004

I left New Zealand on November 3rd, heading South to McMurdo. There I had three days. I got some more fire fighting training and saw some friends from past years.
Nearly one year after I left, I'm back at the South Pole. :)) The flights South were nice since it was two weeks after the main body went. Therefore the planes were not as crowded as they are normally.

The QUaD-team made it in with on day delay. Also our detector and most of the material had arrived, so we could start testing. The first job was to uncrate all the cargo, all together 14 big boxes for the start. Since the telescope mount is with slight modifications the same as they used for the very successful DASI telescope, we did a fit test to see how the new detector will fit.
After that the first test of the fridge and the focal plane started - to make sure evertyhing survived the long trip South.
QUaD in November

Thanksgiving weekend, the first 2 day weekend. Every Friday we have "slushies"- cool drinks mixed with cleanest snow on Earth. Afterwards the crowds moved over to the Thanksgiving party in summer camp. One of the bands, Squeaky Meat, made it's first performance. It was a great evening.
Saturday the preparations for the big Thanksgiving dinner started. Since we are at max population with 245 people on station we had three seatings with about 82 people each. The galley was decorated and most of us dressed up. The party continued until the early Sunday morning.

December 2004

One month at the Pole, sometimes it already feels like I never left.
Santa Clause is visiting in Germany on the 6th of December (not that we don't have x-mas on the 24th, somebody else is taking care of that ;)) ) \ and he didn't miss the long way from the North Pole to drop by here at the South Pole as well, and I got a big sock filled with "Lebkuchen" and other sweets on my door.

Since the last year the offer now also at the Pole Happy Camper School. It's basically a short course how to survive away from buildings if you only have an emergency bag. But it's always fun to get out and to something different. Since there were still vacant spots I went again this year.

After I came back from happy camper we had to get ready for the South Pole Art Show which was held in the galley. There are a lot of very talented people down here and I wish they would have made use of them for the design of the interior of the new station and not let design team do it (see for bad bad design)

Another big event this day was the move of the elevated dorm, also known as the beaker box (beaker is the nickname for scientists in Antarctica) or the blue building.
Icecube the expansion of AMANDA is getting a new counting house to accommodate all the electronic and computers for 80 more strings. So the beaker box is to be converted into that, by stripping the whole interior of the building and rebuilding it according to the new demands. The only problem was that the el dorm was about 1 km away from its new location. Therefore the whole building was mounted onto big skies and dragged across the skiway to its new location. A big event, and many people watched the move, some maybe to get some spectacular pictures when the whole building collapses on the runway - but everything went fine.

The Construction of the new South Pole Station is still going on (and will for a few more years) but the changes are quite obvious if you compare the status of 2003 to now (is under Construction)


X-mas greetings
Christmas Eve, a normal work day, but in the evening the festivities started, and there were so many again, that it was hard to choose, slushies, the Annex party, the gift exchange... The gift exchange is another old South Pole tradition, unfortunately there weren't so many people this year, but everybody who brings a gift gets a number if it is your turn you can either take a gift from the table or "steal" a gift of a person who already got a gift you like. Of course this poor fellow can go again and get a new gift or steal some else's gift (can't take your own one back). It's always a lot of fun.
Later that evening the band "Squeaky Meat" was performing again in summer camp.

Christmas Day, after a very short night I got up early and called my family at home, there it was just X-mas eve and that is what we celebrate in Germany.
At 09:30 the Ice sculptures were judged, but they were all very good, so they all got a good prize. Over the last weeks huge blocks of ice appeared at the Pole and people could carve them to whatever they wanted.
At 10:00 the world famous "Race around the World" started, three laps around the geographical South Pole, therefore through all 24 time zone, hence "around the world"

With internet for about 12 hours every day it doesn't take long for news to even reach the South Pole, so shortly after the big earthquake we got the news as from that catastrophe as well and the following days we were anxious for the satellite to come up and to get the latest news.

Of course new year is also a big celebration down here, since we are on New Zealand time we are the second time zone to celebrate the new year. Like in the last years the only place to accommodate 250 wild people is the garage and the mechanics and some volunteers did a great job to clean and decorate it.

January 2005

The new year is over a week old. It's about 02:00 in the morning and I try to catch up on this page. The sun lost already one degree in the sky and is now just over 22° above the horizon. The last week was bad weather in McMurdo and neither northbound nor southbound flights left. We are desperately waiting for material and manpower to arrive.
A group of Russian aircraft mechanics came to the Pole and were working on the Antonov Biplane that stranded here three years ago, they replaced the engine and did some test flight earlier this week.

Today was a "hot" summer day with only -25°C ambient temperature and I set up a volleyball net just next to the South Pole and we had an awesome time playing beach volleyball.

I also started again the "pictures of the week"

Workwise January was a very busy month and my one week "vacation" in McMurdo had to be postponed several times.

Who can say "We got married at the geographical South Pole"?? Well Erica one of our Cooks and John one of the crane operators can now say so :)) The wedding took place on Sunday the 16th of January.

IceCube successfully installed the first string after some initial problems, well done. The new drill camp is quite impressive and the deployment changed quite a bit from my time with AMANDA.
The time is running short and still tons to do for my experiment, long days in MAPO and my R&R is pushed back until the 31st.

February 2005

I finally made it to McMurdo last night, for a few days of R&R. Most Polies don't like McMurdo and it is just the transit point, but I always find something interesting to do here. At the Pole we are very restricted with water, so we get two two-minute showers a week. So one of the first things I did here was to take a nice shower 5 weeks worth at Pole :)) And I guess I will do the same today ;))
Coming to from the Pole to the temperatures at McMurdo it feels like a heat wave, although the temperatures at the moment are just around freezing, but it feels nice to run around without gloves and only a sweater :))
This morning the "American Turn" docked on the ice pier and unloading started. The ship is one of two vessel which comes down here once a year. Besides this container ship there is a Tanker that just offloaded a few million gallons of JP-8 - the fuel the planes, generators and most other stuff run off.

First light with QUaD :)). When a new telescope is intalled the first time it is tested at a source in the sky is called "first light". It is always a big corner stone.

The last LC-130 Hercules left late in the evening. That is officially the start of the winter. Luckily we are not the original planned population of 102 but 86 are staying for the winter. All the summer people left on the planes in the morning.
About 30 people came out to see the last plane off, a few were watching "The Thing" (old version) an old South Pole tradition. You watch both versions of the thing on closing day, it used to be "The Shining" as well but that was moved to midwinter in recent years.

A symbol of South Pole is about to disappear, the old galley and bar. It lost its center position a bit 2 years ago, once we moved into the new station, but being the only place where people are allowed to smoke inside it was a favorite hang out for quite a few people. The interior of the bar is saved for the new bar which should be finished by next summer.
Demolition of these historic facilities started yesterday.
The black box, a little shack that used to house the video collection and rec gear is now the new smoking lounge. All the exercise equipment we had in the old galley is now in the gym - a better exercise room than the old galley, but unfortunately the gym is now gone. In my opinion a great plan - I'm a bit sarcastic here since we never had so many people on station and so little workout space compared to it - not a good idea. But well what can we do now. Once the new full sized gym will be finished it will be all better.

Most of the station closing tasks are finished, but I have to say it is a bit strange with so many people, there was not much left to do. It used to be everybody signing up for tasks, but this year the sign up sheets never appeared. And suddenly the stuff was done - another South Pole tradition is dying.
Not that I like to smell like JP8 for days after removing the fuel hoses etc. But it is quite a common picture that with that many people, there are specific individuals assigned to certain jobs that used to be community duty, like greenhouse and power plant checks etc. Everybody used to put in a bigger contribution to the community as it is now and that was part of the South Pole experience. At least we did a thorough clean up of in and around MAPO.
Station clean up is still community work and once a week there is a big clean up of the whole station and common areas.

March 2005

Today two years ago was when the last meal (lunch) was served in the old galley and the first meal (dinner) was served in the new galley. And now the old galley is disappearing rapidly.
Winter routine is now settling in and we got quite a pallet of recreational activities going on. Classes, movies nights, workouts etc. For the next three months I will give an introductory astronomy class and so far the interest is very good.
We just started the race the McMurdo. To give people some more motivation to workout we have a chart in the gym where you can put down your miles you made during your work out session. McMurdo is 840 mi away and for example 1 mi running counts as 1 mi, 1 hour on a bike counts as 6 mi. But from the pace the race is on at the moment, it looks like we have to call it the race to McMurdo and back to Pole ;)).
I got a small mp3 player that plays movies as well and with that set up I can stay on the bike for a movies length, otherwise I would fall off after 10 min, because I'm so bored :).

The sun is getting really low, about another week and it will be gone for 6 months. The last weeks were the time of the long shadows.

Equinox was on the 20th in the early morning, theoretically that would mean the sun is setting, but due to refraction in the Earth's atmosphere the sun appears quite a bit above the horizon. The actual sunset takes about four days. But it depends a lot on the weather and the atmospheric conditions.
But now the sun is gone and it won't come back for another 6 months.
Our Doc did some very interesting research about Vitamin D. Which is normally produced in the skin by UV-B light (sunlight). Well we don't have any UV-B light here for a while, also no happy lights or any full spectrum lights etc. It was quite amazing how little or none research was done in the past to find out more about this down here. Guess what, we also have no fortified food here (food with Vitamin D), so I guess we are happy as long our Vitamin pills don't run out ;)).
A big portion of the station is now volunteering in some long time test over the year to find out how the Vitamin D deficiency is affecting us and our bones since we will lose Calcium in our bones which can be only be absorbed by the body if Vitamin D is present.
Makes you wonder a bit since there are stations down here now for nearly 50 years.

April 2005

Another thing that makes you wonder is that we got word form the headquarters in Denver to cut back on certain food items, like chicken, otherwise there won't be enough for the next summer. Now we had a similar case in 1998 and it's quite ridiculous. So Raytheon the contract company tells us now during winter, don't eat that or that because we want to save it for summer, when people are only down here for a few weeks and they could fly more food in if necessary. Makes a lot of sense doesn't it - I guess there a quite a few people at headquarters that need to winter once to understand what they are doing.

It is getting dark outside and we could see the two brightest stars in the sky for a few days already. Jupiter and the Moon are visible as well if the storm would ease again. Winds with up to 30kts are causing quite a bit of snow drifting and keep us busy shoveling. Here are some more pictures from the twilight.

Sunday we had a clear day again and about 30 stars were visible. But the storms are back. When the wind is coming from the Weddell Sea it means normally bad weather and higher temperatures. Today we got a heat wave with only -38 C. But that can change quickly and temperatures can go down to -65°C in a few hours if the wind is shifting again.

It's getting dark enough to see the first auroras :)). The solar activity is pretty close to minimum, that means normally not the best for aurora, but the activity in the first days wasn't too bad. I hope it will continue.

Aurora 2005

We only have satellite coverage for about 12 hours every day, i.e. internet, email, IP phone. But for emergencies or work related issues we can also use the Iridium satellite phone. It is a system of 66 satellites (plus 6 spare, minus some that reentered atmosphere). Originally it was supposed to have 77 therefore the name Iridium, which has the atomic number 77.
The 66 satellites form a cross-linked grid above the Earth only 780 km high, close enough to receive a signal from a handheld device with their big antennas. The big antennas and the relative short distance can give some impressive reflections of the sun - Iridium flares. Since all the satellites have a polar orbit, i.e. they go over the North and South Pole we are quite fortunate to see a lot of these flares and they can get very bright (magnitude -8, that is about 100 times brighter as Sirius, the brightest star in the nightsky). During good days the flares are roughly every 9 minutes and last for a few seconds. To read more about the flares and the Iridium satellites see the following links info 1, info 2.

May 2005

On Saturday the band "Al dente" saw it's first performance. I was asked to appear as special guest and do the Rammstein song "Du hast". It was a lot of fun. :))

Some great auroras

We entered routine observation with QUaD, i.e. we finished the calibration measurements and observing now the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). But for that we had to shift our schedule to nights and do our cryogen fills now around 01:00 in the morning. So actually at the moment I'm working after German time, getting up at 06:00 and going to bed around 22:00 MESZ. But we shift with 4 min. forward, since after 23 hours 56 min the Earth finished a 360° turn.
The last few days were beautiful it was close to -70°C, but that normally means clear skies and not too much wind. Also the moon came up about a week ago and was full a few days ago. After weeks of darkness it seems very bright outside and makes outside walking and working easier.
The last week was pretty quiet aurora wise. I hope it will pick up again.
The first person finished the race to McMurdo, I'm about half way there and going. Another good workout is just the daily 1 km walk to work and back, I weight myself with all my gear on and the three cameras, lenses and two tripods I'm carrying around with me all the time. It adds up to additional 30 kg (65 lbs).

June 2005

Midwinter - the sun is 23.5° below the horizon and is coming back our way - three month since sunset and three more months until sunrise. Of course this is a big event all over the continent and every station is celebrating it. It became a custom to send out midwinter greetings and invitations to all the other stations on the continent, also we get greetings from country leaders, ministers, presidents etc. See for example the one from the White House

The whole continent is celebrating, except a few little American stations (sounds like the beginning of Asterix & Obelix ;)) ) because Raytheon Polar Services is playing god again and we have to wait until the weekend, can't shift a work day or maybe even lose one, that would be terrible in respect to construction, work and station moral. In the past they even made us move new year, sunrise, sunset etc. when it was during the week.

Midwinter party at South Pole:
Formal dinner starting at 16:30 with appetizers, see our menu
After clean up the party moved on into the B1 lounge were three bands were performing, One and a Half Canadians, White Noise and Al Dente.

July 2005

Oh oh, already a months past with no entries - time is speeding up :)). It seems like time is flying, over one month past midwinter, soon the first signs of the sun will be visible, it will be still totally dark, but if you are outside for a while you will see a very, very faint glow towards the horizon.

Another month is over and we are entering August. Check out some pictures from July
We reached several times below -100F (-73.4°C) so it was time for the old South Pole tradition - the 300 Club :). The Sauna is heated to over 200F and you stay inside until you can't stand it any more, then you run outside naked, only wearing shoes to the Pole. You experience a 300 F temperature difference and you become a member of the 300 Club ;))

More cold fun: We also set up a Scott tent right at the Pole (Earth axis is going right through the tent) and people using it for a camping trip :). During my night it was below -90 F but with 2 big sleeping bags, lots of hand warmers and 6 hot water bottles I could sleep quite well for about 7 hours, but you definitely appreciate your room again after a night out ;)).
July was another great month for auroras.

August 2005

We passed astronomical twilight, i.e. the sun is less than 18° below the horizon. Tomorrow the moon will rise again, that means it's over with total darkness. Once the moon will set in two weeks the glare of the sun will be visible on the horizon, compared to normal latitudes it will look like a good hour and a half before sunrise, but down here it will still take another 6 weeks until the actual sunrise.
Here are some Moon and twilight pictures.

August brought us some more great auroras, but some of the most colorful ones I have ever seen were today

Quite a few of the August auroras show blue and purple, an indication that sunlight already hits the upper atmosphere.

September 2005

It's stormy for the last several days with wind above 20 kts, which is considered high at the Pole. But even the blowing snow obstructs any sky view it is brighter every day and you can distinguish already colors outside again.

Yesterday we entered civil twilight, i.e. the sun is less then 6 degrees below the horizon. Still pretty windy and a very strange wind direction the power plant exhaust is blowing right into the clean air sector.

50 September marks my 50th months at the South Pole - and counting :)) 50

Sunrise - but unfortunately the weather is bad so no sight of the sun. Just before sunrise we had a nice full moon close to the horizon, at least the weather was good for that one, but it is harsh if you miss the only sunrise of the year ;).
Pictures of twilight and sunrise
Another occasion for celebrating with a big party and a nice dinner, the just finished cryo facility is an excellent room for bands and dance floor, so we had Vicky's 30th birthday there as well.

October 2005

Oktoberfest - of course we need one down here as well with beer hall music, fresh Pretzels and whatever beer is left on station ;)).

One week storm, with wind speeds up to 45 kts, that is very close to the alltime record. The visibility was very low, because of the blowing snow and we had the so called "whiteout conditions" where you can't see any definition on the ground and sky it's just all white and very hard to navigate.

Invasion started the first two planes came in today, nearly doubling our population, the 3rd plane was turned around since the temperatures dropped below the -50°C cutoff.
It is still so cold that the planes have a massive contrail while at the ground which makes loading and unloading very difficult.

Most of the winter-over crew left and only a few are remaining, we are now left-overs. Time to pack, station population is already over 200 and it will go up to something like 275, way to many people for this station.
I will be back 1st of February for another winter, it's vacation time now, off to warmer continents :))

November 2005

My last day here, weather permitting, time for some vacation before I will come back in February 2006

back to main page