Katy's South Pole Journal 25 April, 1995

Greetings from Club 90 South, where the ambient temperature dropped to -100F last weekend! Brrrrr! Temperatures that cold are almost always accompanied by a cloudless sky, so we've seen some pretty outstanding auroral activity, too!

In case you've never been to the South Pole ;-), I thought I'd take you on a little tour...

The first South Pole station was built in 1957; it has since been abandoned, and buried by drifting snow. Operations moved to the current station in 1975. The station consists of the Dome and five archways, Skylab, Summercamp, the Dark Sector, the Clean Air Facility, and several smaller outlying buildings. The National Science Foundation manages all U.S. activity in Antarctica, through contracts with Antarctic Support Associates and the Naval Support Force Antarctica.

The Dark Sector is a group of astrophysics observatories and telescopes, located about one kilometer west of the main station (across the skiway).

You're probably wondering which way "west" is, since every direction from the South Pole is north! Well, we use a "grid" system. Picture a pie, with the South Pole at the center, and the lines of longitude radiating out to the edges. But instead of dividing the pie into two 180-degree sections (east and west longitude), we start at zero degrees longitude ("grid north") and move clockwise around the circle, 360 degrees. This way, 90 degrees east longitude is "grid east"; 180 degrees is "grid south", and 90 degrees west longitude is really 270 degrees, or "grid west". Whew!

The Clean Air Facility is "northeast" (upwind) of the main station. It houses many of the atmospheric studies, and any projects which require "clean" air which has not been contaminated by station operations.

Summer Camp consists of a dormitory, several "head modules" (bath houses), and rows of Quonset-hut-ish structures called "jamesways". This is where people live during the summer months (November-February), when the station population blooms from 28 people to 150 or more. Some of the jamesways are used as cargo and construction buildings; two are used as lounges.

The aluminum geodesic Dome, seventeen meters high and fifty meters across the bottom, protects the buildings inside from wind and blowing snow. Temperature under the dome is the same as the ambient temperature outside (sometimes -100F!), but the buildings are all heated.

There are four main buildings under the dome. The social hub is the galley. The kitchen and cafeteria are on the first floor, with additional seating and a "bar" (the only indoor area where smoking is allowed) upstairs. There is actually a bar up there, but you have to bring your own drinks!

Next to the galley is a small "shack" where fresh vegetables are stored during the summer. Most of our food stores are piled in huge lines along the inside wall of the dome. This is why we have to heat the ice cream in the microwave before we can eat it: it's too darn cold!

Next door to the galley is the COMMS building. The first floor is filled with communications equipment. And yes, we do have a HAM rig... you can usually hear Albie, Chip, or P.J. setting up phone patches from 0000-0200, Coordinated Universal Time. The call sign is KC4AAA; they use a 20-meter rig, usually around 14.240 Megahertz. Upstairs from COMMS is an office, a small "store", a library/ video room, and a pool table.

Next to COMMS is the science building. Downstairs are offices for the Station Manager, the NSF Representative, the Safety and Health department, and the Meteorology department. The Computer Manager has an office next to a common computer room, and there is another small space which is shared by several science groups during the summer. Upstairs are sixteen bedrooms, a bathroom, a laundry room, and a sauna. (!) I thought the sauna was a joke when I got here, but it's not just a luxury when you've been working outside all day!

Smaller buildings house the weight room, more science projects, and the Annex (more bedrooms and another bathroom). ASA just built a greenhouse on top of the Annex, but we might not have enough power to use the greenhouse this year.

Our power comes from a 350-KW diesel generator, which burns a mixture of fuels called "JP-8". The generator is running at maximum capacity, and we have experienced several brown-outs and power outages this year.

A short archway from the dome leads to Skylab, which is the only four-story structure on station. Skylab is filled with science experiments, but the third floor hosts a comfortable lounge with a couch and two big windows. For people who work under the Dome all day, this is a cozy place to sit and watch the aurorae, or read a book, or just "get away from it all."

As you walk toward the main entrance from the dome, there are two more arches extending north and south, like arms. To the north is BIOMED (a small medical facility), and the fuel arch, where the JP-8 is stored in nine 25,000-gallon bladders.

To the south is the power plant, the gym, the carpentry shop, and the garage. Another arch leads to the cargo office, the electrician's shop, and the Balloon Inflation Tower.

And thus completes our tour! In a couple of weeks I'll talk more about the aurora australis: seeing it is my favorite thing about living here! cheers, Katy McNitt