Antarctica '09: The South Pole and Amundsen-Scott Research Station

Part 3 of our Antarctica Experience

The South Pole

We just have to repeat it again:

We are happy, overwhelmed, impressed, exhausted, emotional, but most of all happy!

On arrival at the pole and after shaking hands with the welcoming party from the research station, we agree to take up the offer of a SP:ALE SP:ASS station tour. But first we quickly drop in at the ALE camp and having a look around the “bottom of the world”. In the tent, we are not only greeted to a most welcome cup of hot chocolate or tea, but also to some interesting news: a Twin Otter is about to arrive, having dropped off Prince of Monaco 10 km from the pole. The prince will walk to the pole (under the guidance of currently the most experienced Antarctic explorer, Norwegian Boerge Ousland) as part of a good-will tour around the Ice Continent in celebration of Monaco joining the Antarctic Treaty. The Twin Otter will then be able to take us back to Patriot Hills whenever we are ready, saving us from setting up camp and wait to the next day for a plane to come for us from PH.

The local time at ASS is actually on New Zealand Daylight Savings Time (GMT+13), in accordance with bases choosing their time zone according to their off-shore supply base. ASS gets serviced from McMurdo, which in turn is supplied from Christchurch, New Zealand. In contrast, SP:weather Patriot Hills is supplied from Punta Arenas and therefore runs on Chilean time (GMT-3). We have been maintaining this time zone throughout our trek in order to stay synchronised with our base camp. Thus, while we arrive at SP on Monday, 12 Jan 09 at nine in the evening "our" time, the station is still in the middle of the afternoon, though 1 day ahead, Tuesday, 13 Jan 09.

We stroll around leisurely enjoying the surrounds, taking all the obligatory photos of... with the ceremonial pole... SP:flags SP:ceremonial1 SP:ceremonial2 SP:ceremonial3 with the geographic pole... SP:board SP:geographic smiling, etc.

SP:weather SP:weather The base it self looks very busy, especially after our rather solitary time on the trek. Apart from big construction work going on, we also witness the landing of a Hercules, a supply flight from McMurdo.

As it has already been all day, the weather keeps changing constantly halo from sun peaking through the clouds to overcast and at times the slightest haze of ice crystals. We are fortunate to be treated to an incredibly impressive phenomenon: a 22° solar halo with two parhelia on the side, an upper tangent arc and, a rare feature, namely the bottom of the halo touching the horizon, with the lower tangent arc barely visible!

Amundsen-Scott Research Station (ASS)

We are then taken very generously on a tour through the research station ASS. Having spent time with only a small tent as shelter, the huge buildings and their facility are indeed impressive—they are housing about 250 people during the summer season and 40–50 over winter. Facilities include library, gym, etc. However, for us, we are particularly keen to check out the toilets, which have civilised features such as sit-down capability without literally freezing your bum, toilet flushing, and topping it all off, washing your hands with soap and warm water!

In their canteen, over tea and cake, they give us an overview of their research program. We are very fortunate to meet Vladimir O. Papitashvili, the NSF project manager, who is presently visiting the station. He is very enthusiastic and proud to talk to us about “his baby”, especially the Ice Cube neutrino observatory. This is a physically huge structure, covering one cubic kilometre, buried between 1.5 and 2.5 km deep down in the ice. And it is a major reason why the ASS looks like a huge construction site—it actually is a huge construction site!

As we tour one of the labs, one of the assistants is more than happy to take time out for us to explain in more details what they are working on for the Ice Cube.

skiinlin skiinlin As we leave the main ASS building and the station tour after a couple of hours, we see the Twin Otter already parked next to the ALE tent and ready for loading our gear. We depart at 0:45 on Tuesday, 13 Feb 09 (Chile time)—a short, but extraordinarily impressive visit to the South Pole.

Trudy & Gernot

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