I've been conversing a bit with Issaquah's Jeffery Fogg, who is stationed down at McMurdo Station in Antarctica for the next six months. He was the one that sent the stunning Nacreous Clouds we featured in the blog earlier this week.
It turns out, Antarctica is more than just pretty clouds and bone-chilling temperatures. They are doing important research!
I've been asking him what it's like down there, and we'll try to feature some of his experiences here on occasion so you can get a glimpse into life near the South Pole.
"This place is a beautiful wonderland," he said. "The scenery is spectacular!! Pictures just don't do it justice. You almost have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate it."
Of course, the first question you might ask: Just how cold is it? Here's a hint:
That might look like a typical day in Phoenix, until you notice the little minus sign in front.
"Last week we had some of the coldest weather ever recorded, at this time of the year," Jeff said. "I thought it was -92 but the official temp, here, with wind chill, was -104!!! It was considered a Condition 1 which means NO ONE OUTSIDE except for emergencies!!! It has been about -20 to 0 most of the time I've been here. Supposed to start warming up next week. (17 or above!!). Yesterday morning we experienced White-Out Conditions. Work was cancelled in the AM then cleared off and was beautiful for the remainder of the day."
He says on on typcial cold days there: "Breath freezes on the face in a matter of minutes. Frostbite can set in in less than 5 to 10 minutes to exposed skin. You can take a glass of HOT water, go outside and toss it in the air and it will turn to ice crystals before it hits the ground!!!" (We'll have to see if we can get video of him doing that some day.)
McMurdo is like its own little city:
The station has a harbor, landing strips, ... and a helicopter pad. The station's 85 or so buildings range in size from a small radio shack to large, three-story structures. Repair facilities, dormitories, administrative buildings, a firehouse, power plant, water distillation plant, wharf, stores, clubs, warehouses, a science support center, and the first-class, 4,320 square-meter Crary LabExternal U.S. government site are linked by above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines.
Aside from weather, it's also the land of endless summer sun and nonexistent winter sun. As they head toward their summer, he says it won't be long before they're in 24 hour daylight, caused by the Earth's tilt. The sun just makes laps around the horizon all summer long and never sets.
Here is a photo of a recent sunrise:
Note the anti-crepuscular rays on the horizon. (Scott's note: Originally I said this was a shadow being cast on the sky by one of the mountain peaks. But no, you can see on the mountains the sun is over to the right of the image. Mea culpa.) Speaking of mountains, here's another shot:
I also asked him -- how is the Internet down there? I was mainly impressed that he could send e-mails with 5-7 megabytes' worth of photos. He said Raytheon Polar Services, who he works for, provide the satellites for any and all communications for them and the National Science Foundation Scientists.
(I forgot to ask if the toilets flushed backwards :) Which of course, is an urban legend.)
As to what's coming up, they are working on building a long duration balloon pad -- about a 1/2 mile in diameter. He says the balloons that they launch from there, when fully inflated, will be so large it could fit the entire Houston Astrodome inside. That launch will be coming in a month or two and when it goes, the balloon will be able to reach altitudes over 400,000 feet! Here's a photo of another balloon launch there:
I'll be keeping in touch with Jeff from time to time. if you have any questions for him, ask away in the comments below and I'll compile some of the best ones.