The south pole is an intrinsically interesting place with a lot of unique character. In this post I’ve tried to capture some of the distinctive spots around station on film. Enjoy the photo-tour!
First is the station itself. The main station is built on stilts and anchored into the ice. This photo shows me learning how to fly a ski-kite with the main station in the background.
[Learning to fly a kite with the main station in the background. Thanks Denis for letting me fly your kite!]
Gymnasium. The station has a gymnasium the size of a volleyball court. It is fantastic having this space for sports activities, open-mic nights, parties, and other recreational activities. We play volleyball, soccer, basketball, frisbee, ride unicycles, run training circuits, dance, play floor hockey, badminton… It is a well-used space!
[Volleyball tournament in the gymnasium.]
Roads. Since everything is built on snow and ice, roads are simply groomed snow. The road from the main station to the “dark sector” where the telescope sits is about 1 km long. We walk there most mornings, and sometimes ride a snowmobile.
[The “road” to work in the dark sector.]
“Sun Dog.” Ice crystals in the air reflect light, at times creating a bright ring around the sun called a sun dog.
[Walking home after a long day with a spectacular sun dog over-head.]
Gas Station. This is where we re-fuel the snowmobiles and other vehicles. Even at the south pole, sometimes you have to wait in line to get gas!
[Jessica filling up the snowmobile at the gas station]
“Berms.” Extra equipment in stored in long rows called the “berms.” We made numerous trips there this year to find old equipment and un-used crates for sending telescope parts home.
[The berms area is on the right-hand side of this photo. photo credit Justin Willmert]
[Me taking a nap on an old spool in the berms.]
Climbing gym. Some number of years ago, a group of motivated winter-overs built a small climbing gym out in summer camp. It’s small but still steep enough to train in. It gets used often during the summers!
[I don’t actually climb with all of these warm clothes on, but it looked good in the photo!]
[The “cartwheel route.”]
“Beer Can.” This is a stairwell on one side of the station. It is built like a grain-silo. The sewage pipe goes out the beer can, so it usually smells a bit putrid on these stairs.
[The “beer can” stairwell.]
Logistics Operations hall. At the south pole the outdoors provides a natural freezer. Frozen food is kept in a giant Indiana-Jones-esque hall in the “arches” with row upon row of frozen food.
[The Logistics Operations hall with frozen food. Mmmm, guacamole!]
Fuel. The station is powered by a fuel generator. The fuel being actively burned is kept in a tank under ground in the “arches,” away from the main station. All of the other extra fuel tanks are kept out at the end of the berms, almost half a mile away. Most of the fuel is now drug to the station from McMurdo on the coast by tractors. This traverse takes 30+ days to make the trip. This year, three traverses were made to bring in fuel.
[Underground fuel tank for the power plant.]
[The fuel bladders that were drug in by the traverse, and the man who drove this particular set of bladders.]
[The Traverse tractors that bring the fuel.]
“The Tunnels.” The water on station comes from melting snow in large under-ground cavities called “Rodwell’s”. Each Rodwell lasts several years before a new one has to be created. It’s hard to get a picture of that! Long tunnels have been burrowed 40 feet under the snow to access the current Rodwell. These were originally cut with a dedicated machine, but they slowly shrink in size as the surrounding snow pushes in on the tunnels. Station workers maintain the tunnels by cutting out the walls with chainsaws and hauling the blocks out on sleds. It’s a form of mining, but with snow and at -60 deg F.
[The Tunnels and a sled full of snow blocks ready to be removed. The pipes on the right bring water from the Rodwell to the station.]
“The End of the World.” Wind blows across the Antarctic continent unencumbered for hundreds of kilometers, until it hits the South Pole station. Thus wind-blown snow drifts heavily around all of the buildings. Significant effort is put into bulldozing and removing snow with big trucks. The snow is simply dumped down-wind of station and allowed to continue blowing across the continent. The edge where the snow is dumped is called the “End of World,” where the vastness of the continent spreads out to the horizon and beyond.
[The End of the World where drifting snow is dumped.]
[Jessica just past the End of the World, with the Antarctic icecap spreading out behind.]
“Maps Wave.” As an impressive example of drifting snow, a massive cornice forms behind the Mapo building that we have come to all the Mapo Wave.
[Me and Jessica pretending to surf the maps wave. I obviously don’t actually know how to surf…]
“Dark Sector Lab.” Finally, the reason I’m here, the South Pole Telescope. The SPT and BICEP telescopes reside in the Dark Sector Lab.
[Dark Sector Lab with the South Pole Telescope and BICEP. I am adjusting the panel-gap tabs on the primary mirror. This picture was taken from a fully-extended man-lift.]
I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of some of the more unique places at the South Pole! A special thanks to Jessica Avva for joining me for most of this photo project and taking many of the pictures.