International Polar Year Antarctic Blog
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Antarctica 2007!
International Polar Year link8:30 a.m., Nov. 20, 2007--Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, with support from the National Science Foundation, a team of University of Delaware researchers will be at work in one of the iciest, coldest, most austere places on the planet: South Pole, Antarctica. Currently stationed at the South Pole are UD researchers Thomas Gaisser, Stoyan Stoyanov, and James Roth of UD’s Bartol Research Institute, who are working on the IceCube neutrino telescope.

Their Antarctic blogs will appear on UDaily and on the Wilmington News Journal’s Delaware Online Web site through a partnership between UD and the newspaper.

Getting There
I have embarked on my fifth adventure to the South Pole. I left form Philadelphia International Airport on the 7th of November. I flew to Los Angeles via Chicago. Luckily my brother, Steve, lives near LA, so I was able to break up the long trip by spending a couple of days with him. The Grand Canyon was one of the many spectacular views I saw traveling across our great nation.

I left LAX on the evening of the 10th on a Qantas Longreach 747. It still amazes me how big this aircraft is! They usually pack all 300 seats full, but I was lucky to have an empty seat next to me. After crossing the International Date Line, we arrived in Auckland, NZ at 7:10 a.m. on the 12th . After passing through customs, I picked up my luggage and checked it back in at the domestic terminal for one more flight to Christchurch (Cheech for short). There was a 10 minute walk to the domestic terminal. It was a pleasant stretch after being cramped for the 12 hour flight. It is spring time in New Zealand so everything is in full bloom.

A shuttle driver met us at the airport in Cheech and took us to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) and then on to our hotels. I had only one hour to check-in, get a quick shower and catch a shuttle back to the CDC for my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing issue. At clothing issue, I tried on each piece of clothing I will use for fit and function. You don’t want to find out in Antarctica that your zipper doesn’t work! We received a “show time” for 6:00 a.m. the following morning for our flight south.

Extreme Cold Weather gear.

The Trip South
Yesterday I arrived in Cheech and had my ECW clothing issue. Today, Nov. 13th, it was time to put all that clothing on and make the flight south to Antarctica. We had 56 passengers (PAX) scheduled for today’s flight to McMurdo station. We showed up at the CDC at 6 a.m. The first thing I did was organize my gear and clothing into the two orange bags that I will take south and the bags I will leave at the CDC for my return. At the clothing issue, I had already packed my orange bags, one as a checked bag and one as a carry-on bag. The ECW gear I wore on the plane was in my carry-on bag and everything else that I wouldn’t need until I reached Pole was in my checked bag. Once I got dressed in the required gear for the flight, my carry-on bag was nearly empty; so I packed my civilian clothes, my laptop computer and anything else I would need in McMurdo. My shorts and everything else I wouldn’t need in Antarctica were checked into storage at the CDC in my luggage. Once we were all dressed, we were weighed, checked-in and given a boarding card. We had a few minutes to go across the street, in our ECWs, to the Antarctic Center for a quick breakfast.

After a briefing on military aircraft, we grabbed a box lunch and boarded the C-17 cargo plane. I sat on web seating on the left side of the plane. We were seated in the same area as the cargo. Once we are at altitude, we were allowed to get up and move freely, or maybe find a comfortable spot to get some sleep.

We landed on the ice at 2 p.m. after the five hour flight at Williams (Willy) Field on the McMurdo Ice Shelf. Later in the season this ice surface will begin to melt and we will have to use the Pegasus, the blue ice runway on the permanent ice shelf.  “Ivan the Terra-Bus” was there to pick us up.

James Roth pictured here arriving at South Pole Elevated Station.

Next Goal, The Pole
During our MacTown briefings, we covered several topics. The first was about safety. While there are medical facilities at McMurdo and Pole, serious injury would certainly require evacuation from the continent. Next we filled-out forms for our travel plans for the return trip (redeployment). Many people take additional travel after leaving the ice. Those of us going to Pole (Polies) are assigned a transient room. Polies were briefed on Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and given the opportunity to take Diamox. AMS occurs when people go to a high altitude in a short time. The South Pole Station is built on top of two miles of ice! We went from sea level to 10,500 ft. in three hours. Some of the symptoms are headaches, nausea, dizziness, and sometimes High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). HAPE causes fluid to collect in the lungs and is life threatening. The doctor told me that one person had already been evacuated from Pole this season with HAPE. Diamox helps your body adjust to the altitude. I took it the night before I left and the first day at Pole.

After enjoying a meal including salmon, I took the opportunity to do a load of laundry. While waiting for the laundry, I hooked-up my laptop and fired off a couple of e-mails that I had made it to McMurdo. Then it was time to perform another Polie ritual called “Bad Drag.” We repacked our orange bags, climbed back into our ECWs, and pulled our bags back up the hill to building #140 where we were weighed again and checked-in for our next morning flight to Pole. We were given a show time of 7:30 a.m. YES, an opportunity to sleep in!

I had a good night’s sleep, even with my five roommates! In the morning I had my last “normal” shower, a good breakfast and reported for my flight.

Out With The Old
The SPS Dome has been the home for many Polies since it was commissioned Jan. 9th 1975. The Dome is now closed. During my first season here in 2003, I became attached to the history and the personality of the Dome. While the new elevated station has many more advances and comforts than the old station, it will take some time before it has the personality. At the South Pole, the snow never melts; it just keeps piling up, compresses and moves toward the coast. The Dome is being buried by the snow and has out lived its usefulness. The Dome has been emptied and dismantling of the arches and entrance has begun. They took down the sign just after my plane arrived on Nov. 14th. The dismantling of the Dome itself will take place over the next few years. Rumor has it that the Dome will be reassembled in the States as part of an Antarctic museum. It will be sadly missed here at the Pole.

--James Roth, UD Antarctic Research Team