Combustions and Corrections

Yeah, I said I was going to stop posting every day, but it’s been a newsworthy couple of days – Michelle and I started a fire in the galley last night, and they blew up Old Pole yesterday. Oh, and I was wrong about a few things.


To be less dramatic, we lit candles in the galley last night to mark the start of Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights. Michelle had been unable to find the station’s old menorah out at the cargo berms (see what happens when you don’t put stuff in Mapcon?), so she spent an hour down in the metal shop with John Richard getting help fabricating a new one from sheet aluminum.


Open flames are verboten in station, so we crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s, getting permission from Katie, setting up away from the most sensitive smoke detectors, and promising to snuff the candles in a smokeless manner as soon as blessings were done. Yeah, Jewish law says you’re supposed to let the candles burn all the way down, but Jewish Law in the polar regions is an entire education on its own.

The next complication (after not setting off a station-wide fire alert) is the idea that you’re supposed to light candles at…sunset. Which would be March 23rd, as it would for every other holiday over the course of the year (remember: we only get one sunset each year down at the the Pole). The rabbis, of course, have had a field day with this. One school of thought from the 19th century is that you should observe virtual sunset at the time it would occur in whatever place you came from. Problem here is that when you’ve got travelers from different places converging, it would be nice to have everyone using the time zone. So we’re going to use NZDT, 20 hours ahead of the west coast, which is used everywhere on the station here.  Except, I think, for the South Pole Telescope, which uses GMT.

But this still doesn’t solve the problem, because you still need to arbitrarily decide what time in that time zone corresponds to “sunset”. We decided that “sunset” was going to be 7:30NZDT, because that’s the time the galley stops serving dinner. Hey – it’s an accommodation.


So lit our candles and said our blessings, then snuffed them out, making as little smoke as possible. Eric from the kitchen has slipped “latkes” onto the lunch menu today, and we’re going to see if we can fabricate an oversized dreidel or two out of spare tri-walls.


Okay – so that’s the “fire in the galley”.  The other combustion event of the day was Old Pole. I think I mentioned that it was scheduled to get imploded to mitigate the hazard of people and things falling through the surface (will post, at some future day, the pictures I’ve gathered of the two vehicles that “went in” last summer). Well, yesterday was the day. The team really looked like you’d expect a South Pole demolition team to look. Friendly and approachable, but exuding leather-and-tattoo cool competence, with nicknames like “Blaster Ed”. They used about 2.5 tons of dynamite to collapse the superstructure about 40 feet down, and the entire station turned out to watch (from a safe distance).


Pictures below are from other Polies who were helping out with the demolition, and thus were much closer than I was to “The Event”:

That’s a lot of dynamite

And finally, some video from on-the-scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LauUY1Lhj10

But after that fun and games interlude – I have some corrections to announce.

Johan Booth, who appears to have a bit of Antarctic experience himself, wrote to me that he doubted a couple of my numbers from previous posts. He pointed out that the “$30/gallon for water” I’d heard wasn’t realistic (though fuel is around $30/gal), and explained that, while exact cost is hard to pin down depending on whether we charge ourselves for using waste heat from generators, he estimated I was off by about two orders of magnitude.  And guess what: he’s absolutely right. Turns out that our latest estimate is $0.60/gallon. (Which, I have to admit, makes me second-guess the strict four-minutes of low-flow shower time each week, but this isn’t the forum for debating policy)

And Johan also correctly guessed that I was mistaken on my ice tunnel temperatures. I’d said -65C, but going back and listening to the video I’d shot, Renee told me it was -65, and then clarifies that it’s -65F, which comes out to a relatively mild -50C.

Many thanks to Johan for being on the ball and helping me correct these things!

2 responses to “Combustions and Corrections

  1. Hey there, David! I should have mentioned . . . there is a station menorah. The MCM Chapel brought it up a few years ago. It used to live in (or on top of) the filing cabinet in the Area Director's office. No worries though! A new one built by John is probably just wonderful. Happy Hannukah.

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