I apologize that it has taken so long to write a new blog. It’s not that I’m really busy, but rather we’ve been having satellite issues. One of the satellites we rely on for internet and phone service is well past its expected lifetime and so we are having connectivity issues. We are still waiting for our drill site to get set up, but progress is being made. We anticipate drilling to begin December 1st.
In the meantime, I’ve been staying busy by making new friends, playing volleyball (3 times last week!), learning to play guitar and card games and going to the gym. I’ve also been working on my own research – what I can with no internet access!
I’ve had a few questions about life at the South Pole, so here you go! I love reading your questions so please keep them coming!
1) Since it's almost summer in the southern hemisphere, is there 24 hours of daylight? If so, do you find it difficult for your body to adjust to a sleeping schedule?
Yes, there is 24 hours of daylight here at the South Pole right now. As the Earth rotates around the sun during the year, the tilt of Earth’s axis does not change. Therefore, in the northern hemisphere’s winter (southern hemisphere’s summer), the Earth is actually tilted away from the sun in the northern hemisphere, but tilted towards the sun in the southern hemisphere. As the earth rotates around its axis during the 24 hours of a day, the sun never “sets” at the South Pole during the summertime. The same is true for the North Pole during the summertime in the northern hemisphere. Basically, the sun stays at the same angle in the sky during the whole day, but just moves around the sky. The angle of the sun does change slowly each day and by mid-February/early March here at the South Pole, the sun will start to set and winter begins with 24 hours of darkness!
The 24 hours of daylight does make it difficult to adjust to a sleeping schedule. My room has a window with a solar blind, but it does not get completely dark as one imagines “nighttime”. The cafeteria has windows too, so if we are playing cards after dinner, it really does not feel like it is getting late in the evening. The best thing I have found is to shut my blinds around 9pm and stay in my room so I can simulate nighttime.
2) How many people are at McMurdo now? Are there people there year round (even in winter) to keep up with the weather balloon launches and such?
McMurdo Station is on the coast and during the summer is home to around 1,000 people, contractors and scientists. McMurdo is basically the “port” of U.S. Antarctic support and all incoming food, supplies, people, etc. come through McMurdo and so it is always a hustle and bustle city. In order to keep research and facilities up and running, people do stay at McMurdo (and all the other US stations) year round. Staying during the winter is called “wintering over”. I’m not quite sure about the exact number for McMurdo, but I’m estimating that around 50 people winter over at McMurdo. In order to be qualified to winter over, every person must undergo a complete physical and physiological exam. Planes cannot land in the dark and extreme temperatures during the winter months and therefore every person staying on the ice must be in great physical and mental health. The reason for the physiological exam should be self-explanatory – complete darkness and isolation can really do a number on your mind.
The number of people currently at the South Pole station is 150, which is the maximum occupancy of the station. I’d estimate that about 50% of those people work to keep the station running, including plumbers, electricians, carpenters, IT specialists, etc. The rest are people like me- scientists or technicians working on a specific science project. Around 20 people winter over at South Pole.
Until next time,