New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Updated entry... read on!

Life goes on here... and the sun is going away.  In fact, the orb itself is gone and we're left with whatever particles can make their way up and over the horizon, bouncing along through the atmosphere, gracing us with the slight bit of energy left that can make it to where we are, waiting patiently for the dark.  I see so many pictures of the auroras that we will supposedly be witnessing sooner rather than later... but I admit, it still seems like a hoax, a big fantasy that previous winter-overs are stuck in or agree as a group to perpetrate on the rest of us.  It's always been light in my experience of Antarctica, and it's hard to believe that soon the light will be pinpoints surrounded by ink-black rather than covering the sky, scintillating off the millions of facets of snow particles that make up our ground.

Wow, waxing quite poetic (or something) this morning.  I guess that's what a grim day and a lazy morning in bed will do.  It's only -70F outside but the wind is whipping along at 12 knots making a cozy -107F and obliterating any of our landmarks... can barely see the flags at the ceremonial pole which is only about 20 yards out from the window near my computer cubicle.

Life thankfully is slowing down for me.  After a crazy transition from the summer greenhouse person, to a week as a work order scheduler (an admin position tracking the work done by the facilities and maintenence crew) then an official switch to the recycling technician (garbage woman) but having to train the new work order scheduler in a job that I was still figuring out myself... and then finally starting waste duties a week or so late and catching up on regular trash maintenence plus dealing with the inheritence from the summer waste folks of all kinds of random unorganized things... it's bit a bit hectic here for the last month and a half.  Whew!

I've gone from working inside all day every day and gazing longingly at the out-of-doors to working outside every day for generally at least half the day in -70F temps... here's a look at what I've been doing, thankfully helped by volunteers...

Here's a big woodpile that resulted, I think, from all the packing materials that are involved with sending everything we need to Pole.  And This is only half the pile.  We'd already dismantled the other half!  How did we do that?

Ta da!  Thankfully I was able to recruit a lot of help as my carpel tunnel symptoms started to act up after several days of hard work.  I love you community!!!

Here are some other shots:

Our garbage piles up in various places (this is the galley's stash),

And this is the station recycling room (and me, fresh from an outside afternoon), where everything gets sorted before it goes outside...

Then it gets moved to the waste line just outside of the station:

And then when the triwall is full (we call these big cardboard boxes triwalls cause they have three layers of corrugation to make 'em Antarctica tough (ha!), it gets closed up and banded with steel banding and labeled-these ones, 'FW', are food waste.

Other categories include AL (aluminum), MP (mixed paper), NR (non-recyclable), FMH (ferrous metal heavy), GL (glass), CB (cardboard), etc.  I'll give a full list later... can't divulge all the goods in one post!

After banding, the triwall is moved to a berm-- if you'll notice the triwalls are banded onto a pallet-- for ease of transport by loader with fork attachments. 

Berms are elevated snow platforms so that supplies or whatever is on them don't get totally drifted over during the winter.  Just wait-- will have some before and after shots at the end of winter to show how the snow piles up... that's why it was critical to get rid of that wood pile asap, otherwise if it didn't get picked up, it would drift over and make a nightmare of a job to unearth it all come spring/summer.  Unless we were to be digging around in the snow in the dark all winter... uh, no thanks.

My job goes much more smoothly b/c there is a dedicated Heavy Equipment Operator that aside from his primary duties of fueling the outbuildings like science areas and our Rodwell that keeps our fresh water supply working, he helps the Materials department get supplies out of the storage berms away from station, and helps me keep the waste stream moving so things don't pile up.  Thanks Rob!

 I'd love to be doing all the operating myself, but it's so much smoother this way it mostly covers up my desire to get to run the big rigs.

So, the triwalls on the berms sit until space is available for summer shipment via LC-130 to McMurdo and then is either processed more by the McM wasties, or loaded directly into a milvan and onto the vessel in February.  All waste from the US Antarctic program goes back to the US, gets unloaded and sorted at Port Hueneme, California, and all the different triwalls get shipped to different companies for eventual recycling/reuse/disposal depending on what it is.

Here's my outside office, the Haz Shack. 

This is where all strange things come to discover their fate... it's definitely an exercise in discovery...

this truly is the land of random things... lightbulbs with mercury, old paint, aerosols, fire extinguisher residue, anonymous strange smelling absorbent pads... you name it, I have to figure out what to do with it.  All hazardous items, whether a tube of superglue, or a barrel of mysterious lab chemicals, they all need paperwork to identify what they are, where they came from, and then are tracked to make sure they go where they're supposed to go.  Solid waste is tracked too, but the haz stuff is much more high-profile.
Lots of guidelines are available, thankfully, but it still comes down to me to suss it all out.

Here are a couple of other photos from just a day or so ago... the light is fading... auroras are next!

When toting things around outside, we use sleds.  Can you see the red lights of the loader in the distance?  The Haz Shack is the orange square building to the center right of the photo...

This is our welcome home view... after trudging across the snow, trying to warm up fingers, glancing up out of your hood (b/c you're trying to stay tucked out of the wind) every so often to make sure you're on the right heading, finally you see DZ, Destination Zulu, the "back" entrance to the station.  Waste line on the left, supplies for building triwalls on the right.

And still, harkening back to my summer greenhouse days, I got some files posted on a friend's website.  It's a powerpoint that my boss and I gave during the summer about the greenhouse and what it's all about, then also a more science-y article about the chamber with more research-related information.  And Robert's website itself is great-- he's spent quite a bit of time here at the Pole so his website is a treasure trove of info.  Enjoy!

love jos :)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

So, yea, it’s been a long time.  So let’s start off with the reason for my silence—the job.  I was doing it the whole time I was here but it got exponentially busy after my supervisor from Arizona arrived after Christmas.  But I get ahead of myself.  I still have never actually shared in detail what I’ve been doing here!

I came down for the summer season to be the South Pole Food Growth Chamber Technician.  Say that ten times fast!  Really, I and most everyone else on station call it the greenhouse, but since it’s a closed-system space with no light coming from outside, it’s more of a chamber than greenhouse, but that sounds too sterile.  Anyway, I also called myself a farmer/caretaker rather than a technician, for the same reason.  It wasn’t just about tweaking computer readings and writing down numbers, though that did happen.  But it was also about cleaning house, starting seeds, pruning, and keeping things going to set up the winter operator with a stable foundation to take the station successfully through the winter with lots of good veggies.

So, what does this place look like, you might ask?  Well, here are some photos from full jungle like I found it when I arrived, to empty after I and some wonderful volunteers pulled out all the growth and gave the whole thing a sterilizing once-over with bleach solution (to start fresh, and kill off fungal spores that can become a problem), to freshly planted with seedlings, to full harvest growth—at least the greens.  I planted all sorts of things, from herbs to lettuce and other greens to tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers.  Oh, and strawberries!  And flowers… all edible of course.  According to the Antarctic Treaty, no plants can be introduced to the continent except edible things.  And boy are there some pretty edible flowers!

The chamber when I arrived-- jungle-like.  November 8.

the hobby system in the front "happy room"-- it's open to the station as a nice place to hang out and read or make phone calls, and for folks to try their hand at hydroponic growing-- it's not automated like the interior food production room so folks using it have to hand balance the nutrient levels and take a little more care... but here it's at the end of last winter/beginning of summer and the caretakers have left... now it's my turn!

Volunteers that showed up to help me for a "Death and Destruction" party-- taking out all the plants so I can give the chamber a deep clean...

plants gone, final cleaning of water and roots out of the middle bins in process... much more cleaning to come... scrubbing the floor,wiping down all surfaces with bleach solution...

empty and clean chamber!  December 6.

Jan 5, all the sprouts planted on 18 and 24 December are ready to go in the system... so why not have a party?!

We had a couple of parties to get the community involved with their local source for organic veggies: a seed starting party to get a bunch of seeds started, then a planting party to help get all the wee sprouts in their places.  This is the planting party on January 5, and the picture is taken showing the Happy Room in front, looking through the doors into the production chamber.  Thanks Rickey Gates for such a great shot!

Jan 10, all the little sweeties are in their holes, roots sucking up the nutrients, ready to go gangbusters!

Jan 17

Jan 22

Feb 7, ready for harvest!  I cut a few things about 10 days earlier (radishes, Bekana, Pac Choi), but this was the first major harvest of the crops I started in December.  Exciting!!

Some of the Pac Choi leaves were so big, we were able to use them to help cool down one of our volunteers after she worked so hard!

The fruits of our labors... about 50 pounds of greens and herbs.  Amazing!  You can see through the glass chamber doors that the cucumbers have reached the ceiling and are filling up the windows with greenness... pretty incredible how fast the stuff in there grows.
 It might look like it was magic... seeds get wet, they sprout, and grow till they can be harvested... bam!  Easy peasy.  But there was a little work that went into it.. the system is automated but needs a lot of TLC and maintenence, including working with the computer-controlled automation system, troubleshooting pumps, fixing leaks... oh all sorts of things.  The respirator picture is when I was using a strong bleach solution for cleaning, and here's a few shots of the behind-the-scenes life of the chamber operator:

going into the subfloor to look for leaks below the chamber-- the chamber module isn't water tight, surprisingly, and we seal the seams in the floor with silicone, but they're not always perfect...

this is the mind-mapping organization that Lane my supervisor laid out when he arrived to keep track of what we needed to do... are you suprised you haven't heard from me in a couple of months?

Lane.    :)

calibrating the pH and EC sensors...

OK, that' really it.  Stay tuned, I'll be back with more, I promise.  Got to tell you about my three jobs in one week adventure!  But I've settled down to just one, and I'm happy with it.  A garbage professional, otherwise known as a 'wastie' in the program.  Love to all!

Friday, March 4, 2011

trying to add in a quick pic before the satellite goes away...

Hello All!

Yes, an egregiously long time since my last post... no great excuses except for that work here has been amazingly busy, and the internet is only available during work hours.  So not much time for dinking around... but life is slowing down... not because I'm not working any more, but because I'm still here at the South Pole.

Big news... I'm staying here for the winter season! The last plane left about two weeks ago... so no chance to back out now.  The next plane we'll see will be at the end of October, bringing in the first of the summer crew to ramp things back up again.

I'm really excited to be staying, for many reasons.  Right now the main one is because I'll finally have a chance to rest!  Sounds counterintuitive, but life has been pretty crazy since after Christmas... but I'm finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Internet is about to run out, and I have to go and catch brunch... a special production now that we're in winter mode.  This is our first two day weekend and everyone has off-- so no cooks cooking for us, officially.  It's rummaging thru the leftover fridge, unless you want to make a meal of your own.  But one of the kitchen staff volunteered to make a brunch today... and I don't want to let him think his efforts are all for naught!

So I'll be back soon with more... details of my greenhouse job (finally!) and of the crazy path it's been till now, working as a 'wastie'.  Stay tuned for details and translations!

Truly, I'm thinking of all of you, I know I have many emails that have gone un-answered... just know I'm still here and excited about sharing what I've been up to.

love jos :)