Sunday – Questions for Pablo at the Pole

Okay, after a couple of weeks of slackerhood (honest, I was reading!), I’m trying to catch up on “Questions for Pablo at the Pole

“Is it warmer at noon than early in the morning if the winds and clouds are taken into account? Does the snow negate the ground/heat effect that we have here?” – Annie, Palo Alto, CA

That’s the crazy, unique thing about being at the Pole: the solar/astronomical notion of morning/noon/evening is completely gone. Not counting seasonal effects, the sun just goes around the horizon perfectly horizontally, so there’s no “early morning” or “noon” to speak of. It’s all just “day”, and it really throws your sense of time. Stepping out from the station into bright sunshine at 11 p.m., the sun is as high as ever, just coming from behind instead of in front of you. There are big piles of snow that want to be climbed and sledded on, enormous snow-moving machines to be watched… It’s hard to remember that it’s the middle of the night and you need to go to sleep, because in 7 hours you’ve got to be heading back to Station (when the sun is, uh… on your left shoulder).

That being said, the snow has a huge effect on luminance and temperature. Aside from being a great insulator, it’s a great reflector. Laura, our energy expert, has been doing some experiments with photovoltaic and solar thermal installations. She mounted a set of PV panels facing outward in a box shape on the roof of the Summer Camp bathroom building. Found that the panels facing (grid) north generated substantially less electricity than the others. The conclusion, after much head-scratching, was that because there more (dark-colored) buildings to the north, those panels were being deprived of light reflected from the snow. Where most solar installations point upward, toward the sun, Laura computed that because of snow reflection, the optimal angle for her panels was close enough to vertical that the difference was negligible.

“Have any pests managed to take hold at the pole? (ants, spiders, etc)?” – Paul Eastham
That’s one of the weird things that I expect to be overwhelmed with when I get off the ice: bugs. There’s nothing here but humans. Nada. And it plays with your reflexes. Something out the corner of your eye, as you’re looking out the galley window? Figment of your imagination. Because it’s not a bird. Or a fly on the glass. Between humans at the nominal top of the chain, and ineradicable fungi near the bottom, there are no life forms except what Joselyn is able to coax from carefully-imported veggie seeds in the greenhouse.

It’s going to be weird as anything to return to NZ and suddenly have to deal with flies, and mosquitoes. I recognize that they all play a vital role in the wonderful cycle of life, but honestly? I’m doing okay without them for now.

“If it’s too cold to snow there, where does the snow come from?” – Diana, Minnetonka,
According to our meteorologist folks: Actual snowflakes (branched crystals) are pretty rare at the South Pole, and generally are only seen during the warmest periods of the summer. But according to data from snow stake measurements, the annual snow accumulation averages about 9 inches/23cm. (3.4 inches/86mm of water equivalent).

Most of the actual precipitation comes in the form of tiny ice crystals, that can come right out of the clear blue sky. It’s very pretty (if the wind isn’t blowing), sort of like the sky is full of itty-bitty glitter. We also get a lot of snow blown in from the, uh, north (grid north, vast plateau in the direction of Siple Dome and Vostok base).

As I understand, what we get compresses down to about 5 inches of new hardpack. Coincidentally, the stuff below our feet compresses down about 5 inches each year, meaning that the elevation of the surface at the pole effectively stays the same. But anything built on the surface sinks 5 inches per year. Which accounts for the estimates that Amundsen’s flag, planted somewhere off in the Dark Sector almost exactly 99 years ago, lies hidden under some 45 feet of ice.

How’s the food at the South Pole? Do you need to eat differently there?” – Sharon 
Food here is totally awesome. Galley resembles nothing so much as the old Google cafe from Building 0, with a little more space. Really similar. Cooking team loves what they do and delight in providing us with tasty (and calorific) food. Last night was pasta night (linguini, ravioli and tortellini) with choice of marinara or crabmeat alfredo. There was a bunch of crab left over from Friday’s “crab and steak” blowout. Veggie option was stuffed portobello mushrooms. And a big pile of salad freshies with mixed lettuce, onion and ripe ripe ripe tomatoes.

As I mentioned, food tends to be a little more calorific here, because people are burning up so much energy. And a bit more geared to middle America, given the demographic. But the kitchen folks are awesome and eager to try to work in personal favorites when they can. An added bonus is the creative labels on the glass: “Cheesy meat-eaters pizza of doom” and “Real imitation crab bakes! With artery-clogging sauce!”

2 responses to “Sunday – Questions for Pablo at the Pole

  1. The Google cafes have been doing big crab feeds lately. So the pole cafe is in sync on that account too. Do people burn so many more calories there just keeping warm, or is there a lot more physical exertion too?

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