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South Pole Station Archives - 2020

Polar Holidays

On Christmas morning, runners participate in the annual Race Around the World, a 2-mile run that takes participants around the geographic pole
Photo Credit: Christian Rahl
On Christmas morning, runners participate in the annual Race Around the World, a 2-mile run that takes participants around the geographic pole, and effectively across all the converging lines of longitude.
Station residents pass the newly unveiled Geographic South Pole marker to its correct location
Photo Credit: Christian Rahl
Station residents pass the newly unveiled Geographic South Pole marker to its correct location. In what's become a New Year's Tradition, the pole marker has to be relocated every year because the ice sheet the station is constructed on shifts about 30 feet annually.

December at the South Pole was filled with exciting projects and plenty of festivities in preparation for the holidays.

Over the span of several weeks, a number of Polies participated in small field expeditions to remote sites accessible only from Pole. They helped recover the fuel caches that were dropped near AGAP South sites in support of ice sheet science earlier this season, as well as the retrieval of NASA's Long Duration Balloon X-Calibur that was launched in 2018. Spending a full day in the field, requires the teams to attend field safety training prior. After the required training, a two-hour flight on a Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter plane brought Polies about 300 miles away to the fuel-drop site, where parachutes were recovered, and fuel drums dug out of the snow. It was hard work, but the remote trip was a treat to many of those who don't regularly get to leave the station.

The station also pitched in to help prepare for the 88-South Traverse, a caravan of PistenBullies and sleds carrying camping and GPS instrumentation following the 88-degree South latitude line around the Pole. Their objective is to collect highly precise elevation data to compare to ICESat-2 elevation data.

There was also snow science to be done. Accumulating snow drifts require that several of the scientific outbuildings will need to be raised within the next few years. This involves jacking the buildings up, laying down layers of snow beneath them, allowing for the snow to compact to sufficient strength and setting the buildings down again. With limited independent data on snowpack compaction, support staff at the station carried out some of their own experiments to see what might work best. They looked at different methods of working snow (bulldozed, snow-blown, or undisturbed), time elapsed and analyzed different depths of layers. Using the Snow Beast (a large snowblower) and bulldozers to work the snow into different height hills, ice cores were then collected to measure densities over the span of a few days.

The station's greenhouse is also officially up and running. Carbon-dioxide emitters and ultraviolet lights have been turned on for the season, and the sprouts are being transported to their hydroponic growth chambers. The station just performed its first harvest—bok choy and mizuna for fresh greens on Burger Day.

In preparation for the holidays, station residents enjoyed the annual gingerbread house contest. A gingerbread version of the station won the competition and was placed as the Christmas Dinner dessert table centerpiece. Just as it had for Thanksgiving, the Pole community gathered on Christmas Eve to prepare the galley for the special dinner, and the Galley staff went all out for the Christmas meal.

On Christmas Day, the annual Race-Around-the-World fun-run; participants ran a two-mile race that looped around the Geographic South Pole. Afterwards, several Polies participated in Secret Santa, a gift exchange where gift givers were forced to get creative with hand-made presents, as shopping isn't an option.

January 1, 2020, saw the traditional relocation of the Geographic Pole Marker to the new correct position. The ice sheet the station is built on shifts about 30 feet a year, meaning that the pole marker has to be moved to the geographically accurate location each year. The winter crew designs and fabricates the new marker, keeping its final form a secret until it's unveiled on New Year's Day. During the month of December, surveyors map out the new correct position. Finally, at the ceremony itself, each station member passes the pole marker down the line in a spiral towards the pole, where it is placed for the next year.


The Season Starts Up

The telescopes of the South Pole: (Left to right) The South Pole Telescope, BICEP3 and the Keck Array, soon to be the new BICEP Array.
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
The telescopes of the South Pole: (Left to right) The South Pole Telescope, BICEP3 and the Keck Array, soon to be the new BICEP Array.
One of the big projects this season at South Pole is upgrading the former Keck Array (seen partially disassembled here) to the more powerful BICEP Array.
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
One of the big projects this season at South Pole is upgrading the former Keck Array (seen partially disassembled here) to the more powerful BICEP Array.
A rare sight over the South Pole: A C-17 practices an emergency air drop maneuver over the station.
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
A rare sight over the South Pole: A C-17 practices an emergency air drop maneuver over the station.

The summer season has kicked off and is now in full swing—the month of November seemed to fly by. Time seems to work differently at the South Pole. On the one hand, time seems to pass quickly and the amount of new experiences and the number of different things going on seems like it can't possibly fit in the time that's elapsed. At the same time, though only a month has passed, it can feel like ages to Polies, in the best of ways.

Due to some initial flight delays, there was a bit of a slow start to the season, with many of the larger projects such as BICEP and IceCube waiting on science cargo to arrive. But by the end of November, the cargo finally made it to Pole, and the BICEP folks are hard at work tearing down the former Keck Array and building its successor, the BICEP Array, which is intended to be operational in time for winter.

The Pole just celebrated Thanksgiving last week as well. A yearly tradition, the community comes together to decorate the galley as the kitchen staff are hard at work on the Thanksgiving meal. The room was dimmed by closing the windows and festive lights were draped above the tables for a warm, holiday ambiance. This is the first meal of the season where Polies typically dress up, and the tables are adorned with tablecloths and fall decor. Spiced apple cider and hors d'oeuvres were served as diners waited to be seated. The kitchen staff did a phenomenal job with Thanksgiving dinner and desserts, and spirits were high throughout the first two-day weekend the Polies enjoyed.

The following week, the South Pole Traverse arrived. The station receives most of the fuel it uses for the year from the traverse. Arriving in a train of Challenger tractors towing fuel bladders and shipping containers housing the living and eating quarters for the crew, it was a sight to behold. The crew had been traveling for about three weeks, and they held an open house of their setup during one of the weekends to show Polies how they lived, worked and ate on the long road from McMurdo.

As thanks to the kitchen staff for the work they put into Thanksgiving, the Polies participate in Community Cook Day to give the galley staff a full day off. Each department is assigned to one of the three meals throughout the day, and Polies took part in the demanding work feeding the station for a day. Although the menu items were rather simple, grilled cheese with tomato soup for lunch and pizza for dinner, there was a unanimous feeling of gratitude amongst the Polies now having understood what goes into feeding nearly 150 people every day.

Sprinkled throughout the month have been a number of science lectures, detailing the exciting new upgrades coming up for IceCube and describing what goes on behind the scenes to operate and upgrade the South Pole Telescope and BICEP. As the state-of-the-art technology in imaging the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) matures and a thorough understanding of the temperature map of the universe develops, scientists at the frontier of the field of CMB research will continue the search for any signal in light polarization that could offer up evidence about the inflation in the very early universe.