happy halloween from antarctica!
this year I went as a bus driver. :)
in the photo, I am driving Ivan the Terra Bus out to the runway on the frozen ice shelf to pick up some passengers that had just arrived from the south pole. the seat is about ten feet off the ground, requiring me to climb up a metal ladder on the side of the vehicle and grab the steering wheel to haul myself in. the ice runway is in use from october through early december, when it thaws to the point that the ice becomes unstable and we're driving through ten-inch-deep puddles of water. at that time, air operations move to williams and pegasus fields, more permanent runways further out from mcmurdo. as shuttle drivers, we must learn to drive a variety of vehicles on a variety of frozen and thawing surfaces, and anytime we leave town we must carry our extreme cold-weather gear in an orange cargo bag, complete with snacks and foot- and hand-warmers. I am wearing my carhartt parka with fur-lined hood, leather work gloves (they come in handy when doing dirty work like checking fluid levels), a knit hat to conserve body heat and sunglasses to prevent snow blindness in the land of the midnight sun. oh, and a liberal slathering of 30+spf sunscreen -- we're under the hole in the ozone layer here.
here is a view from Observation ("Ob") Hill, taken by someone that is not myself. (the one time I attempted to scale the hill, the wind nearly blew me to new zealand. I will wait for warmer weather.) mcmurdo station consists of a bunch of metal buildings intersected by gravel roads and wires strung on poles. in condition one weather, 'lifelines' are strung between buildings to enable people to get to the dining hall or the dorms without wandering out into the storm and getting lost (and summarily frozen). it could be an outpost in greenland, or on the moon, populated by machines -- the huge stillness punctured by the sounds of loaders and forklifts beeping, helicopters buzzing and trucks gunning their diesel-fueled engines.
in addition to a number of dorms and the dining hall (still referred to sometimes as "berthing" and "the galley" as a throwback to the days when the navy ran the USAP program), there are buildings to house the vehicle maintenance facility, the heavy machinery shop, the carpentry shop, paint supplies, waste management, IT and communications, helicopter ops, and the power and water plants, as well as a chapel, a state-of-the-art laboratory, two gymnasiums (one with a bowling alley and climbing wall), a coffee house, two bars (smoking and non-smoking) and a greenhouse. we have a post office, so I guess that makes us our own little town. this is a town where all the inhabitants eat, work, sleep and play together around the clock, with a common lingo and a common purpose -- ostensibly, to further the research and understanding of terra australis incognita for the good of humankind. (personally, I think our large presence on the continent -- three year-round bases, including the only permanent south pole station -- is mainly a show of political power for the day when a war is fought over water rights and we are sitting on the continent that holds 90% of the world's fresh water. but science is pretty important too.)
well, my workday is almost over, so I'll sign off for now. happy halloween!