Sunning and Dressing before Deployment J.S.Sweitzer, January 4, 1995
Today is the day when we are issued clothing for Antarctica. But before attending the mandatory afternoon outfitting, I take the small total column ozonometer (TCO) from TERC out into the Sun. This is because the TCO needs the ultraviolet light from the Sun to measure the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. I am carrying this TCO down to the South Pole for "Live from Antarctica" program number 4 and to see how it works at Pole. It's now the beginning of summer here in the southern hemisphere, so the Sun is nice and high in the sky at noon. This is just what I need to make a good measurement of the ozone here. I am an astronomer, not an atmospheric physicist, and have used this instrument only once in Chicago and there the Sun was very low in the sky. I also need to practice using it in nice warm weather before I have to cope with gloved hands and cold- stiffened cables.
Operating the device is rather easy and I take three measurements near solar noon. That's the time when the Sun is highest in the sky. The reason this is a good time to do this is because this is when the light of the Sun travels its shortest path through the atmosphere. Late in the day, or at northern latitudes like Chicago this time of the year, the Sun's height in the sky is low. When it is low, the light must pass through more atmosphere than when it is high. When it travels through a long path in the atmosphere almost all of the ultraviolet light is filtered out. That makes accurate ozone measurements difficult, unless the Sun has a high altitude.
Traveling to Christchurch is the closest thing I know to time travel. It's at about the same latitude south as Chicago is north. So it's like going forward in time six months. The Sun is only about 25 degrees from the top of the sky (the zenith) and it feels like the July 4th Sun back home. It's odd, however, that the weather is unseasonably cool here -- in the 60s Fahrenheit and the wind is strong. Someone tells me that yesterday and today are the coldest January days on record for New Zealand. That's fine with me, because soon I will be waiting around for the airplane with Antarctic clothing on. This is usually murder when the Kiwi weather is normal and hot.
Later in the day I join the others traveling tomorrow and see a safety video that instructs us in the proper use of the cold weather clothing we will be issued. The video emphasizes the five principal hazards of working out of doors in the Antarctic: frostbite, dehydration, hypothermia, sunblindness and sunburn. The frostbite images turn my stomach, but have the desired effect -- to make me serious when I check through the clothing I have been issued.
By far the largest building here at the International Antarctic Centre is the CDC, which stands for Clothing Distribution Centre. Storing the dozens of types of Antarctic clothing in sizes for everyone takes up a lot of space. When you arrive at the CDC they already have two bags packed for you with what they think you need. You have to try everything on and can make some changes if you like. Basically, you get a bright red down parka, lots of long underwear and socks, windpants, mittens, hats and a polar fleece sweater. Oh, I forgot the boots. They issue you white rubber "bunny boots". They are really warm, but are very cumbersome and actually too warm for me. I trade them in for blue canvas mukluks Everyone who has been to Antarctica before has their own special preferences. I will exchange my own street clothing in tomorrow for this cold weather gear when I leave tomorrow.
In the evening I reorganize the other things I'm taking and then hop a bus into the center of town to have dinner with my CARA colleagues at an Italian restaurant. It's primarily the SPIREX crew headed up by Mark Hereld. Jamie Lloyd, the SPIREX winter-over scientist for the coming season arrives late carrying a big bag of chocolate bars. Jamie will be spending the coming winter with the telescope and will not get to shop for chocolate until next November.
Jamie also confesses that today is his birthday. The waitress brings out a makeshift cake that looks like an iceberg. It looks odd with candles on it We not only celebrate Jamie's birthday, but also his last night at temperate latitudes for along time to come.