Monday, May 6, 2013

Under the South Pole

Last week I fell and broke my right foot. I spent most of the day in medical where the x-rays showed multiple fractures. The USAP medical contractor (where the x-ray scans were sent) listed 3 fractures near the base of my toes. So I am hobbling along on crutches.

I am back in the gym biking and rowing. The South Pole inside the station 5k run is in two weeks. I hope to jog that.

My friend from last winter in McMurdo, Will, gave me a tour of the South Pole Ice Tunnels. His job as a Utility Technician takes him to various unique places during his daily rounds. These ice tunnels were carved by huge machines over a three year summer period starting in 1999. A large area was dug out of the ice to the depth of 80 feet. An ice mining machine and team from Australia were then employed to dig the various tunnels that are used to carry water, sewer, and electrical lines. The main tunnel extends 1,850 feet. There are also five cross tunnels up to 200 feet each. It can be a bit claustrophobic and it reeks of sewage gas.

The ice tunnels entrance.

The approximately 3000 feet of ice tunnels are 60-80 feet under the South Pole.

These tunnels are cut out of solid polar ice and act as utility corridors for sewage, water, power and heat.

At one point raw sewage is literally dumped into an old Rodwell cavern. 

The tunnels are about 5-6 feet wide and 8 feet tall depending on the ceiling bow.

There are a few warming huts with a small electric heater and cold  cookies.

I tagged it!

Ice block storage whenever something new is added and space cut away.

There are also a number of shrines commemorating various groups and events at the South Pole.

If the tunnels ever collapsed and you were nowhere near an escape exit it would be a long and painful death.

Climbing 80 feet out of this in total darkness could be tough. There are four of these emergency exits.

There must be a story here somewhere.

I didn't know that liquor froze but it does. That is three shots of frozen scotch.

A fish from McMurdo permanently resides in the tunnel.

Some parts appear to be bowed in.

At a constant -53 degF this is the warmest place at the South Pole at 80 feet under. So far this winter the surface has averaged in the -60's degF ambient. The lowest has been -98.9 degF ambient.

A very unique Valentine's card.

I asked my tour guide Will to turn the lights off. It would be really hard to make it out with this head lamp. And when the battery froze even harder. Fortunately we all carry excellent radios so a simple call would bring in the rescue troops.

A sculpture of Roald Amundsen of Norway. His team first reached the South Pole in December 1911.
At first look it seemed like we were having a sunrise already. But this is the full moon rising with a unique glow about it. We are now in astronomical twilight with the sun 15 degrees below the horizon.

The Southern Cross (Crux-Latin for cross) as seen from the station is now visible 24 hours a day as it moves 15 degrees every hour with two pointer stars on the right. Crux is the smallest of 88 modern constellations.

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