Station and Ceremonial Pole, December 2008
[photo by Nick Powell, Antarctic Photo Library]

NEWS

Nicholas JohnsonA bit of iconic history, otherwise elsewhere described as the "WikiLeaks of Antarctica..." is the iconic book Big Dead Place. Author Nicholas Johnson, unfortunately, is no longer with us after he blew his brains out in 2012, but his work survives. And his work has now been given a new lease on life. On 30 April, ABC's program Earshot aired a 30-minute podcast/download which describes and details Nicholas's work, life, and the rest of his story. The interview and accompanying web pages include the voices and photos of several friends. Two ABC links of interest: this page gives basic information about the episode along with links for listening to or downloading the story...and this page gives additional background information as well as more photos. But that is not all. Nicholas' sister worked to get THE BIG DEAD PLACE WEBSITE back up to coincide with the release of this documentary. Have a look! Not everything is there, but there is a lot of the good stuff. The photo of Nicolas at left shows him at work in the McMurdo waste barn in about 2001...it's from Kathy Blumm and used by permission.

2018 Pole sunset dinner Palmer Station 50th anniversaryThere were not one, but TWO significant Antarctic celebrations at USAP small stations in late March...of course, the expected one was the sunset dinner at South Pole on 24 March (left above, photo by Raffaella Busse). But there was more...on 20 March a major celebration was held at Palmer Station commemorating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the permanent station! More details of that, as well as links to documentation of the 1968 dedication event...are here.

Other important stuff...the Pole winterover statistics page has been updated for 2018 Check it out!

As I also keep track of NSF's Arctic program, I'll mention that the Arctic support contract is being rebid. It was previously awarded to CH2M Hill for a 4-year base period beginning on 1 February 2012, with options for two 2-year extensions. More recently, CH2M has been acquired by Jacobs in 2017, but the Arctic support contract organization site Polar Field Services has not been updated to mention Jacobs (perhaps this is because the person in the Littleton office who used to update these things, Kip Rithner, is no longer with us. Anyway, the draft RFP was to be issued in April, with proposals due in September and award due in August 2019, presumably to begin on 1 February 2020. Already at least one company (Parsons) is seeking to hire people to work on the proposal. The presolicitation info is here.

Argentine Navy helicopterA bit of news from the Antarctic Peninsula area...a research team from UCSB was studying raised beaches (a sign of historic sea level changes) on Joinville Island just north of the Peninsula. But when it came time for the Laurence M. Gould to pick them up, the sea ice conditions were too think. So instead they were picked up by an Argentine Navy helicopter (right) on 11 March for eventual transfer to the Gould. Info/photos/video....

"Breaking" news from...the Washington DC Navy Yard (my first duty station in my early 1970's Navy days). On 2 March, the official request for procurement (RFP) was issued for from one to three new heavy icebreakers...in what is called the Heavy Polar Icebreaker (HPIB) program. The RFP release was announced in Coast Guard commandant ADM Paul Zunkunft's 1 March State of the Coast Guard address, and described in these Navy Times and US Naval Institute news articles. The official RFP posting is here, although most of the the technical specs aren't/won't be available to the general public. The first vessel is supposed to be available in 2023, and there are provisions for possible armament. While the icebreakers are destined for the Coast Guard, the procurement is being handled by the Naval Sea Systems Command, which has much more experience with the procurement of large military vessels. Five bidders are expected to submit proposals.

partial solar eclipse at Pole18 February...last week of the summer season. As with the first weeks of the season, several flights were cancelled. But there WAS a final flight on Friday the 16th. But first...earlier that day there was a partial solar eclipse (right, photo by Robert Schwarz). More than 40 percent of the Sun was covered! It was a bit hazy as you can see, and the weather continued to deteriorate, so the last flight opted not to do a fly-by. After it disappeared, there were 40 winterovers left behind--this is the smallest winterover crew since 1998--before the elevated station construction got underway.

10 February...the summer season is winding down...people are leaving, winterovers are arriving, and it is cool (-35ºF/-31ºC). The summer construction and science season is over...more details are here.

the Polar Star in McMurdo SoundYes, there was yet another government shutdown, although it didn't last long enough to have any effect on USAP (although I didn't get up in the middle of the night to see if the NSF and Coast Guard websites had been shut down).

Speaking of the Coast Guard, on 6 February they put out this news article about the Polar Star's adventures and misadventures on their 2017-18 trip to McMurdo. The ice conditions were not as bad as last season, but there was that "flooding" and "engine failure." At left, one of many Coast Guard photos (by CPO Nick Ameen) from the Flickr album accompanying the article--this shows it breaking ice in McMurdo Sound on 13 January. Other photos depict some of the repair efforts. Meanwhile back in the USA, the U.S. Naval Institute has announced that the RFP for a new Coast Guard heavy icebreaker is expected this month. I will be watching for that. Hmmm...FIVE prospective bidders?

peak of the McMurdo shipping seasonA wrapup on the McMurdo shipping season...after the Ocean Giant arrived on 19 January (photo below left) and was securely tied up, the "offload" portion of the evolution took only 2-1/2 days. The backload would take a bit longer, but it departed on the morning of 2 February...to be replaced at the pier by the tanker Maersk Peary. At right is a rather unique photo (from Michael Christensen) of the Ocean Giant departing, the Polar Star standing by, and the Maersk Peary lurking until the coast is clear. The tanker would tie up later that day...and stay until 6 February. Here's a webcam view of it heading off in the distance.

22 January...yes, there was a government shutdown. But this time, since the one in 2013, USAP has changed its funding structure so that there is no immediate impact. For a time the Armed Forces Network was shut down, cancelling TV broadcasts to McMurdo, but later it was declared "essential" meaning that folks could watch the NFL playoffs on Monday instead of, say, flying LC-130's to Pole. But it is early yet. In 2013, things went along normally for about a week before things started getting shut down and people started to lose their jobs.

the Polar Star at the pierAnd it IS the shipping season! The Polar Star first appeared off McMurdo around 14 January. By the 19th it was at the pier, checking in before heading back out to continue breaking out the channel. In the photo at left, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is waiting for the Coast Guard to go away so it can dock. The cargo vessel Ocean Giant left Lyttelton on the 18th and is supposed to reach McMurdo around the 25th. And the tanker Maersk Peary is now south of Australia after a stop in Fremantle.

17 January: after the successful lowering of the beer can stairs and adjusting all of the attached piping, some of the attention has turned to doing a bit of jacking and leveling of the elevated station itself. It's early so no photos yet.

But...the calendar and the news bring to mind the discussion of another US government shutdown this week. What might this mean for the US Antarctic program? Too early to tell, of course. And hopefully we won't have to find out. The last time a shutdown actually happened was in October 2013...resulting in major program disruptions and lost jobs--many people already deployed to McM or en route were sent home. Some never were rehired. And the end of the shutdown happened less than 24 hours before the Palmer Station summer science season would have been cancelled. Details!

DSCS module foundation13 January: here is a glimpse of one of the more visible summer construction projects--a new equipment module to better manage reception of the DSCS satellite. Here's the foundation support structure (from Sayer Houseal)...yes, more photos coming soon. Otherwise at Pole...the berms continue to be attacked...including the third annual Berming Man (no bonfires were created for this event)...and Kelly Brunt's NASA ICESat-2 traverse has completed and the team is back at Pole (latest blog post).

The NGO trekkers continue to arrive and approach as their season starts to wind down. Veteran Ben Saunders reached Pole on 29 December but opted not to continue his planned unsupported trip to the Ross Ice Shelf due to a shortage of food (Telegraph article). And Robert Swan opted to leave his South Pole Energy Challenge trek temporarily as he felt he was slowing the progress. He rejoined his group, along with some "last degree" folks, at 89ºS. They are one of the last 2 NGO teams/individuals still trying to reach Pole. Looks like the deadline for them to reach Pole before ALE pulls out is 17 January. My full coverage of all NGO ventures is here.

the 2018 South Pole Marker2 January...Happy New Year! Of course New Years Day brings with it the unveiling of the brand new South Pole marker...co-designed by BICEP3 winterover Grant Hall and IceCuber Martin Wolf. Here are the details. The quote "By endurance we conquer" is a translation from the Latin of "Fortitudine vincimus" which was the Shackleton family motto. More info with photos...this 6 January Saxony FreiePresse article (in German)--which includes the photo of the makers at right. From left--the fabricator, machinist Matt Krahn, and the designers Grantland Hall and Martin Wolf (Martin's photo).winter photo of the 2018 Pole marker creators

The past weeks have brought significant progress to the summer construction projects--one of these--a significant effort to lower the stair tower in the beer can was recently completed. This was required because the station is settling faster than the vertical tower structure. The project involved setting up screw jacks on each of the ten columns and slowly lowering the steel structure 12 inches in two six-inch lifts. Modifications to the plumbing, piping, and elevator systems were also required. The result--perhaps one or two less stair steps in that torturous stair climb! Meanwhile, the other projects including the ice tunnel wall cutting and escape raise work, as well as the new DSCS platform are also well underway.

The McMurdo shipping season is fast approaching. The first part of that will be the icebreaking by the Coast Guard's Polar Star. It departed Honolulu on Friday 15 December local time (gCaptain article) and arrived in Lyttelton on the 29th. They stayed there for the New Years weekend, during which time some of the crew were to participate in a tree-planting project in the area of last year's Port Hills fire (stuff.co.nz article). They were to head south on 2 January, taking with them a New Zealand naval officer who will be observing things. Meanwhile, the cargo vessel Ocean Giant left Port Hueneme on 2 January SP time and is now heading southwest toward Lyttelton...and the tanker Maersk Peary is heading southeast in the Indian Ocean after transiting the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.

Christmas dinner at PoleMerry Christmas! At right...the Christmas dinner, which happened on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning brought the latest rendition of the Race Around the World. That dinner photo is from Kelly Brunt...she and her NASA traverse team were a bit delayed in their departure, so they were around for the festivities, before eventually setting off around 2 January. As for their traverse project...read on:

Brunt's traverse route16 December...an interesting NASA science traverse is about to get underway from Pole. Glaciologist Kelly Brunt, along with cryospheric scientist Tom Neumann (and a lucky mountaineer and mechanic to be named later) will set out on 21 December in two Pisten Bullys, each towing a magic carpet (plastic sled) carrying their supplies and equipment. This will be a 470-mile 2-3 week traverse. The goal is to provide accuracy assessment and ground truth for the IceSat-2 satellite (which will be launched in 2018 to measure and track ice sheet elevation changes). They will head north initially along the SPoT traverse route, and then turn east to follow the 88ºS parallel to 131ºE, where they will turn south and head back to Pole (map at left). Most of this terrain is unexplored. They will collect GPS elevation data and set up reflector cubes that the ICESat laser beams may be able to find. Both Kelly and Tom are no strangers to the ice--Kelly has worked on various other projects on continent and remotely with IceBridge as well as in Greenland, and Tom wintered at Troll in 2007 before the first year of the Norwegian-American traverse. More project info... as well as their blog!

11 December. By this point the major summer projects are finally ramping up after the early season flight delays. On station, the big ones are the rework of the ice tunnel escape raises (emergency access ladders--something that has been cussed and discussed for several seasons), the upgrade of what originally was the GOES-MARISAT antenna (both of those satellites are no longer around) to handle the current DSCS satellite, and the relocation of the sheet metal shop--the last of the old construction Jamesways originally put up to support the elevated station construction. Meanwhile, on the science side, perhaps the largest project is the expansion of the Askaryan Radio Array (ARA) project from three to six sites--the first major expansion of this University of Wisconsin project since it was originally set up west of the IceCube laboratory in 2011-12.

Otherwise, the first group of NGO tourists visited Pole recently after having been flown in from Union Glacier...and most of the long polar and other NGO treks are well underway (details).

The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star headed south from Seattle a week ago...as of 11 December they were approaching Hawaii. The cargo ship, presumably once again the Ocean Giant, will be heading south from Port Hueneme at the end of the month.

the traverse vehicles in front of the station the traverse en route4 December...the first South Pole Traverse (SPot) reached Pole last Thursday the 30th. Two photos: the one at left is from Sheryl Seagraves, some of the equipment in front of the station shortly after arrival. The photo at right is earlier and also of interest. It was taken by members of the Spectre Expedition team, who met up with the traverse team on about 25 November at about 87ºS. The expedition was headed north to the Gothic Mountains where they intend to do some significant rock climbing...they briefly followed the traverse route, which allowed them to get some serious kiting on the freshly broken tractor trail. The second traverse left McMurdo around the same time, and should get to Pole around the 21st.

Tuesday 28 November: the dearth of flights continued...until yesterday. On Tuesday the 21st was the last ChC-McM flight to bring Polies south--the New Zealand Air Force 757. But they ended up being stuck in McMurdo over the Saturday Thanksgiving holiday, as did the last seven 2016 winterover Polies who'd flown north to McM on the 22nd. But as I write this, an aircraft just left Christchurch, which should get those last winterovers in ChC early Tuesday morning. And the waiting Polies in McMurdo, including a large SPT crew, reached Pole around 2300 on Monday the 27th.

21 November: a bit more of an update on the Pole flights (or lack thereof). As of the 20th there had been exactly THREE Herc flights to Pole...the most recent of which was that DV flight mentioned below. Which had an extremely rough landing...touching down on the last 1000 feet of the skiway. Well, there WAS another Pole flight on 18 November...but it was a C-17 doing the annual airdrop practice, and it obviously didn't land. But it DID stop at McM on its way north to pick up waiting Pole wo's and others and transport them to Christchurch, although they did carry enough fuel to not land on the way north if the McM weather had turned bad. Did the airdrop drop anything useful? No. Just sand or shredded paper (?). Another good bit of insight on the recent McMurdo weather--this blog post from the University of Wisconsin automated weather station team stating that the McM weather at this time of year is the worst that blogger Carol Costanza and others have ever seen. Slight update...this morning, folks were being checked in at the CDC for a southbound C-17 flight...they haven't posted that they were sent back to their hotels, so hopefully they are in the air as I post this.

18 November...and it has been more than a week since there have been any McM-Pole flights...or ChCh-McM flights, for that matter. Bad weather can be blamed for some of this...a couple of days ago McM was in Condition 1. But at other times the weather seemed perfect. So...this has left the remaining winterovers are stuck at Pole, while others have been stuck at McMurdo...not to mention many southbound pax also stranded. The most recent ChC-McM B-757 was just cancelled, and the next McM-Pole flight is currently scheduled for Sunday 19 November...the NYANG normally does not fly on Sundays.

Perhaps the last flight in and out of Pole may have been this one on 9 November. After leaving Pole, McM was socked in so the aircraft and passengers spent the night at the Italian station on Terra Nova Bay. There were no Polies on board, it was a DV flight, so presumably there were USAF public affairs folks aboard...so presumably that's why that article was written.

But that's not to say that there haven't been flights into Pole. On the 13th, the first AL&E Twin Otter showed up from Union Glacier, bringing staff to start opening up the NGO/tourist camp. And the NGO trekkers have already started heading south. Meanwhile, the first AL&E Ilyushin IL-76TD aircraft arrived at UG from Punta Arenas on 4 November--two weeks earlier than last year due to good weather. And the flight brought Ben Saunders, the Ice Maiden team, as well as Astrid Furholt and Jan Sverre Sivertsen".

8 November...as usual, more LC-130 flights had been scheduled in the past week, and cancelled for various reasons, some for weather, some for ??. But the second one finally did show up late evening on Tuesday the 7th, taking about 30 winterovers north. The summer season is well and truly underway.

More strange sad news from Washington state about an old subject...Al Baker's 52-year prison sentence for murdering his reported fourth wife Kathie Hill Baker in June 2012. On 6 October 2017 it was reported that he'd filed another appeal, this time claiming that his trial attorney had been ineffective. ??...read the story yourself in this 6 November Whidbey News-Times article.

Trivia with a bit of an update: to date the NOAA winterover teams have included a total of 13 women over the years. As of now, the 2018 w/o team will consist of two women--both the NOAA Corps officer and the civilian tech. Only once before did the NOAA team include two women--that was in 1993 when there were three NOAA folks wintering. The two women were Katy McNitt Jensen and Kathie Hill, who was not part of the ongoing NOAA global monitoring team, but rather monitoring a separate wind profiling project. Yes, THAT Kathie Hill who was murdered in Whidbey Island, Washington, in 2012...per the above paragraph.

Some older items of interest (other old news is in the archive):

WIRED magazine has a feature article on Jerry Marty, Carlton Walker, and the station construction in the July 2002 issue. Read about the settlement problems...why the place wasn't considered fit for occupancy for the 2002 winter.

no way southPole land cargo traverses in the works...in October 2002 NSF flew a specially equipped D8 from Christchurch to McMurdo aboard a C17...this equipment was be used to prepare a road south towards the Leverett Glacier, eventually hopefully to Pole. This is to augment the LC-130 flights for station construction cargo as well as for ICE CUBE and forthcoming science projects. More information...

Another new science project...in 2002 a 10-meter submillimeter telescope (up from 8 meters!) that will search for new galaxy clusters and study dark energy. Plans were to attach it to the DSL (dark sector lab) University of Chicago press release. It was originally scheduled to have a ground shield that is larger than the Dome (built by Temcor, the same company that built the dome...). The telescope was completed in 2006-07, and the huge ground shield was eventually cancelled.

On 8/13/02 NSF had a meeting with potential contractors and suppliers for a possible fiber optic cable to Dome C. Yes, you read that right (news article). Since Pole is way below the horizon for the commercial geosynchronous satellites, one option is to run a cable about 1050 miles to the newly constructed French/Italian Concordia Station at Dome C. (This station is scheduled for full-time occupancy next winter.) The project calls for several years of studies and trials, with the actual stuff involving traverses to get the cable to Pole and Dome C as well as along the route.

Back in mid March 2002 two other iceberg events happened. First, there was another piece of the Thwaites Ice Tongue (75°S-108°W) about 2100 square miles (NOAA press release) which got designated B22. And then there was the collapse of another hunk of the Larsen ice shelf east of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Larsen Ice Shelf B disintegrated within the past couple of months, as evidenced by photos and animations from the NSIDC in Boulder, which also has links to other coverage. The BBC has an excellent article about both events.

The venerable New South Polar Times mailing list moved to a home on Yahoo, thanks to 2001 w/o science tech Andrea Grant. There have been no posts in the past few years, but the archived posts are here.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) had a major feature on the Pole construction in their December 2000 magazine, including articles by Frank Brier and Jerry Marty. That section is no longer online, although I did archive the original article by Dennis Berry and Forrest Braun (BBFM Engineers, Anchorage) which features the details of foundation design and the jacking systems.

Here is the link to my 1999 Doc Jerri medevac coverage. The spectacular April 2001 medevac flight to Pole is covered here. And my archive of other news, links to press releases, and older media coverage is here.

Other Antarctic news sites...

Pythom.com has pretty much supplanted the Explorers Web site. Both continue to be operated by Thomas and Tina Sjogren, the "Wearable" expedition folks that trekked to Pole in 2001-02, as well as Correne Coetzer, who also made a ski trip to Pole in 2006-07. They are up to date on all the Pole NGA ventures as well as Vinson, Everest, the North Pole, and other similar attractions, and they have an excellent guide for planning your own stroll to Pole.

Brendon Grunewald's old 70 South news site has evolved into the Polar Conservation Organisation, but it still features some Antarctic and related news from everywhere, although the site is hard to navigate.

The Antarctic Sun is extremely prolific of late. The editor through July 2015 was friend Peter Rejcek, a 2004 Polie winterover.. He's currently a traveling freelancer; some of his work can be found on singularityhub. The current editor, also a friend, is Michael Lucibella. Sun archives run back to 1996-97, the final year when the McMurdo newspaper was a Navy publication, the Antarctic Sun Times. Before then in the old days it went by other names....here is that story.

NZ Antarctic Philately pages by Steven McLachlan . The news page features many current events through 2006, including many pictures from the various private expeditions at Pole. He also has information on the 99-00 cruises of the Polar Duke south of NZ in support of German and Italian science projects, 98-99 construction of the new base at Dome C...

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) published biweekly newsletters on NGA (private) expeditions, cruises and tourist events. Unfortunately this was discontinued in May 2003, and the archives are no longer available. But they do feature a separate news page for the official Australian program.

The NSF Polar Programs (PLR) page contains links and a search engine. Most recent press releases are also here, scroll to the bottom.

The rest of the story... can now be read online or offline in the newsletter of the Antarctican Society. Highly recommended. Here is the latest contact info as well as the historical background about the group.

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Weather information... has been moved to a separate page.

About the satellites:

dishing it up For most of the last decade until October 2008, things were simple. Pole used the MARISAT/GOES terminal, originally constructed in 2000-01 (left) to communicate with 3 satellites that used to be geosynchronous...here's a May 2000 Christian Science Monitor article about one of them--MARISAT. The RF building and MARISAT/GOES terminal 1 mile south of the station were first turned on in 2001, but they suffered through cold weather mechanical and electronics problems off and on ever since. A radome was added in 2004-05 (photos), but that didn't cure everything...during the 2008 winter the gear drive system failed again...but this time a MacGyver effort by the satcom tech and station mechanics got things rebuilt and running (Antarctic Sun article).

As for the satellites themselves, since they were old the orbits wobbled so the station could see them a few hours a day. MARISAT-F2 (Maritime Communications Satellite), GOES-3 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, as it was a NOAA weather satellite), and TDRS-1 combined [the links for individual satellites here are to Wikipedia articles] gave a window of almost 12 contiguous hours per day with an original theoretical 5 MBPS transfer speed, which has been upgrades several times over the years to more than 60 MBPS. Most of the increased bandwidth goes to data transfer. The oldest of these three, MARISAT-F2 was decommissioned in October 2008 after deterioration in its telecommand link (Antarctic Sun article). This cut the total window by two hours and the bandwidth by a bigger percentage. A year later in October 2009, the TDRS-1 satellite (or TDRSS-1, depending on the NASA contractor and acronym you ball doneprefer--TDRS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and TDRSS is Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System) also disappeared from service. The last TWTA (traveling wave tube amplifier) failed, and NASA moved it to another temporary orbit for decommissioning. The last day of service was 21 October 2009 (NSF announcement and Spaceflight Now news article).

During the 2009-10 summer some field tests were conducted using the Intelsat/Paradigm/Astrium-operated Skynet-4C British military satellite, which was slowly increasing in visibility at Pole. Here is the October 2009 contract award announcement, a 2010 announcement from Intelsat, and a more detailed 2010 Intelsat report on the initial testing (interestingly, these satellites use the Oakhanger ground station southeast of London in the UK--while working for Ford Aerospace I visited that station in 1980 as part of a US Air Force satellite contract I was then involved with...and Philco-Ford, NATO-IVB antenna inside the GOES radomea predecessor to Ford Aerospace, actually manufactured the first Skynet satellites in the 1960s). The Pole equipment was designed, some equipment was bought (January 2011 SPAWAR request for information), a dish and receiving system was installed in the large radome with the GOES dish during the 2011-12 austral summer (Skynet and GOES are in opposite directions), and USAP bought time on the satellite. But when the installation was completed, the satellite could not be located. Turns out that the Skynet orbit had been adjusted so that it was behind MAPO, so the earth station would need to be relocated. Instead, arrangements were used to use a different satellite from the same family, NATO-IVB, and tests were conducted successfully during the 2012 winter. It is currently accessed using the antenna in the GOES radome (left, photo from Bartley Davis). This satellite is currently providing a T1 (1.5 Mbps link) for at least 4 hours a day...and it now appears on the various satellite uptime schedules and scrolls (such as this one). NATO-IVB was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1993. The SKYNET-4C is still available for use as well, but this would require a new antenna installation at Pole.

Until midwinter 2016, in addition to NATO-IVB and various TDRSS satellites, Pole was using GOES-3, which provided a 1.5 Mbps inbound and 1024 Kbps outbound data rate for about 6 hours a day. But during 2015 tests were conducted on the DSCS-III-B7 satellite which was slowly drifting into view. Then, on 29 June 2016 NSF announced that the GOES-3 satellite was being decommissioned...and being replaced by the much-better-bandwidth DSCS-3 satellite. More information on the demise of GOES is here...and here is an October 2016 Lockheed-Martin press release describing implementation of the DSCS satellite. As for the shrinking constellation of NASA TDRSS satellites--they have been TDRS F3, TDRS F4 (until it was retired in 2011), TDRS F5 (scheduled for retirement in November 2014--August 2014 USAP service announcement), and TDRS F6 via a second antenna terminal, the SPTR-2 (South Pole TDRS Relay) link completed during the 2008-09 summer (right, a construction photo from Dave Smith; here are more), and here is an April 2009 USAP page with a link to an Antarctic Sun article--lots more info. These satellites often are available for much shorter periods on an ever-changing schedule, and at a greater expense to NSF. They provide a 5 Mbps IP data link, and a separate 150 Mbps one-way (northbound) link for bulk science data. Not all of the "above-the-horizon" time (what typically appeared on the old scroll satellite availability page) is actually available to USAP--the program aims for about 4 hours per day, and at the time this created a complex daily scheduling job for a friend in Denver.

A significant upgrade to what we once knew as the MARISAT-GOES terminal was begun in 2016-17 to improve its capability to handle DSCS-3 traffic--presumably that project will be completed in 2017-18. And currently in June of 2017, the DSCS satellite has been unavailable due to some major issues with the terminal in Christchurch...apparently major enough to require special NSF funding (approved) and ITAR approval (pending). AARGH!

In addition to the larger geosynchronous satellites there is, of course, Iridium, which is always available for official/emergency phone calls. Additionally there is a data link consisting of 12 Iridium phones, each capable of a 2400 bps data link, which are multiplexed to produce a 28 kbps data link. For a time USAP used this for 24/7 email (for small emails <50k or so), but that has been discontinued. More recently, the IceCube project has implemented other mail/text systems using Iridium. Other resources linked here:

-the recently upgraded and enhanced USAP satellite information pages with links to the weekly satellite schedule PDF files.

-a brief NSF 2006 Powerpoint presentation by Erick Chiang and Pat Smith, titled "Data Communications Supporting Astronomy/Astrophysics at South Pole Station" which addresses the conditions and future plans at that point in time.

-a May 1995 report by Bob Loewenstein, Bill Smythe, and Brent Jones, Science Requirements for South Pole Station Computing and Communications. Some interesting facts, figures, and historical background. 1 GB/day of data transmission--hmmm, where would that leave IceCube?

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SPORTS (?!)

The 2016 Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting (ATCM XXXIX) was held in Santiago, Chile between 23 May and 1 June. Interestingly (or not) I saw absolutely NO media coverage...and a review of the papers presented confirmed the reason for the lack of media interest. Something I always look for are the Russian reports on the Lake Vostok drilling, but due to budget cuts, there wasn't any field activity, and their only report was this technical paper about drilling fluids. The 2017 meeting will be 22 May-1 June in Beijing, China. Here is the official Treaty home page. From there you can navigate to the final reports, or you can search the various meeting papers by selecting the "Meeting From/To" and/or the submitters.

Nowadays there are a number of commercial marathon/ultramarathon ventures in the Antarctic...most commonly sought out by people who want to complete a marathon on all seven continents:

  • The oldest such event--the Antarctica Marathon--is actually held on King George Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula. The first such event was on 28 January 1995; the 2018 event happened on 16 and 17 March. There were 112 marathon finishers for two separate races depending on vessel arrival; the winner was Todd Lubas with a time of 3:07. The fastest woman was Wendi Campbell with a time of 3:58 (all results). There were also 83 half marathon participants including 2 DNFs. In 2019 it is scheduled for 17 and 18 March...there are actually two separate vessels bringing contestants from Ushuaia to KGI for two separate races on those dates--there is a limitation of 100 runners for each race. Each trip includes 3 days in Buenos Aires before the race as well other exploration of the eastern Antarctic Peninsula after the race. The course starts and ends at Bellingshausen Station (the Russian base) and passes several other bases. It is organized by Marathon Tours & Travel in Boston; event registration includes a cruise ship voyage from Ushuaia--the event is sold out for 2019 and 2020, although they are accepting waiting list entries. The entry fee is only $250, but the total registration cost another $6,990 or more per person double occupancy (ex Buenos Aires) (there are no single occupancy cabins) for the vessel accommodations and other insurance, tax and visa fees. In 2017 there were 114 marathon finishers. The male winner was Luan Huynh from Aalborg, Denmark, with a time of 3:24:22, and the female winner was Lesley Mettler Auld from Seattle, in 4:06:14. There were also 21 half marathon finishers. Eight finishers of the races were from the Chilean and Chinese bases on KGI.

  • At Union Glacier (UG), the thirteenth Antarctic Ice Marathon was held on 24 November (UG time/UTC-3) 2017. This is currently the only "Antarctic marathon" actually held south of the Antarctic Circle and on the continent. There were a total of 59 competitors in the various events, including 38 men and 15 women who completed the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, and 4 men and 2 women who opted for the half marathon. The men's winner was Frank Johansen of Denmark with a time of 3:37:46. The woman winner, Kelly McClay from Beverly, MA, finished in 4:56:37. Twelve of the runners were raising money for the Navy Seal Foundation in honor of Brian Hoke, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2016. There was also a new event, the Antarctic Mile, run by Irishman Paul Robinson (who was not otherwise a competitor) in a time of 4:17.9. Impressive! For 2017 the 100k was held separately in mid January. There were 10 total competitors including Richard Donovan (yes, THAT Richard Donovan, winner of the first such event, the only NGO marathon held at Pole, in January 2002). The male 100k winner was Belgian Kurt Alderweireldt with a time of 11:13:53; the only woman participant was Jennifer Cheung from Hong Kong, she finished in 18:34:54. The 2018 marathon event is scheduled for 13 December; no future 100k events are scheduled at this time. The 2018 marathon or half can be booked for a mere €15,000 ex PA; here's the site with more information as well as the race results. This event has been held annually at PH/UG annually beginning in January 2006...but there actually have been fourteen such events staged by ANI/ALE--the first one was staged to finish at Pole on 21 January 2002...there were five finishers in that event, and no small amount of controversy (my coverage). The controversy resulted in a hiatus in what had been planned to be an annual event. In 2011, organizer Richard Donovan participated, with a 100 mile run in 24:35:02, and he completed the 100k in 2017 with a time of 21:05:34.

  • A newer event, also on King George Island, is the White Continent Marathon (with a half-marathon and 50k). Sponsored by Minneapolis-based Marathon Adventures, it includes a from PA to KGI with a day of camping there either before or after the race, which for 2018 is scheduled for 25 January (organizers skipped the 2016-17 season). The event also includes participation in a Punta Arenas marathon. The 2016 event happened on 26 January--the marathon winners were Erik Zeitlow (M), age 48, from Arvada, CO, with a time of 4:16:03; and Natalia Constantinescu (F) from Toronto, ONT, with a time of 5:02:19. There were 30 marathon participants as well as 20 other participants in the 50k, half marathon, and 10k. For the inaugural of this event in 2013, the PA marathon turned out to be the day before the flight to KGI and the race there. Things got interesting on the ice--the race was on 27 February, or at least most of it. Because of deteriorating weather on KGI, the marathon was cut short after only 17 runners had finished because "the pilot wanted to leave" (blog post by participant and SERIOUS runner Joseph Coureur). After runners were given an opportunity to complete their remaining distance immediately after arriving back in PA, there were a total of 44 marathon finishers, including 9-year-old Nikolas Toocheck of Pennsylvania Runners World coverage). The winner was 31-year-old Steve Schaefer of Philadelphia (there were also 21 half-marathon finishers).

  • Another one out there is the Last Desert 250 km experience. It originated in 2006 when 15 runners completed the first ever 100-mile (160 km) race on Esperanza; since then the event involves a total of 250 km. happened on Deception and KGI. Since then it happened in 2007 and 2008, and has been scheduled every other year since then. In November 2016 the event had 61 participants. There are six planned stages in different locations--each is a loop of varying length that runners had to complete as many times as they could under the time limit (or until the stage was ended due to weather). Oh, all competitors have to carry all of their food, camping gear, etc. (except water) for the entire race. In past races, the winning rank was determined on how early one completes 250 km on the various stages. The locations are dependent on ice conditions. in 2016 The first stage was a 14 km loop on 21 November on King George Island; stage 2 the next day was a 3 km circuit at Telefon Bay on Deception Island; Stage 3 the following day was at Paradise Bay on the continent; stage 4 on the 24th was a 4 km course at Dorian Bay on Wiencke Island in deep snow; it was cut short after 3 hours due to high winds. The 5th stage was a 3.1 km loop on Danko Island on 25 November--on this day the first four competitors reached the winning 250 km total. The sixth and final stage was on the 26th--a 2.4 km loop on Half Moon Island. All 61 competitors completed the entire course, and eight of them reached the 250 km goal. More links--the official news from each stage, and the blogs of some of the participants. Oh, one other thing...potential participants must have first completed two other of the 4 Deserts events (Atacama and the Gobi and Sahara deserts) before being permitted to do this one. The next one of these is scheduled for November 2018, it is ship-based. Ex Ushuaia cost is $12,900; it is by invitation only for finishers of at least two other of the 4 Desert races.

  • A new promotion in 2015 was the Antarctic portion of the Triple 7 Quest--which actually promised seven marathons on seven continents in seven days (!). Needless to say, Mother Antarctica intervened...their flight to the KGI marathon site on 14 February boomeranged 20 minutes before landing, and the participants didn't make it there until the 16th...the race was the next day. I haven't seen any results, but one of the participants, Kim Pursley of northern Maryland, was featured in this Baltimore Sun article. In 2017 the package was a trip to seven marathons on seven continents in January and February, and the Antarctic portion of the race was actually the White Continent Marathon mentioned above. For 2018 they've expanded it to "8 marathons/8 continents/8 days" by adding Zealandia (aka New Zealand) to the mix. The 2018 series starts in Auckland on 23 January and ends up on KGI...that race is actually the White Continent Marathon (and half marathon) on 30 January mentioned above.

  • After seeing this 19 January 2017 Washington Post article, I've learned that there's yet another "7 marathons in 7 days" package venture out there--the World Marathon Challenge. The 2017 event starts with a marathon at Union Glacier on 23 January...with races in PA, Miami, Madrid, Marrakech, Dubai, and Sydney on the next six days (list of future races with info). This is the third year for this event--the first of which happened in January 2015, with 9 male and one female finishers. Price for this year's challenge was €36,000 which included all flights except getting to PA and home from Sydney.

  • The apparently defunct Maraton Antartica, organized by a Chilean company, was to be its second year in 2014. That event was to have been on 28 February, but apparently it didn't happen, nor, apparently, did the one scheduled for 1 March 2015, which still appears on the website. It was also to be on KGI, including full and half marathons and a 10k--the next one is on 1 March 2015. The announced price was US$3,400 ex PA, including the flight to KGI, the same-day race, and a same-day return to PA. They were planning on a maximum of 60 registrants; as of late November there were only 5. In 2013 there were about 20 participants in the 3 events, most of whom were from Chile (there were 2 Australians, no North Americans). That race was on 28 February, the day after the aborted White Continent Marathon...and it was also cut short by weather, with no marathon finisher.

As for nongovernmental visitors to Pole, the 2011-12 season was the biggest ever for Pole, as it had been the centennial year of Amundsen's and Scott's arrival at what has been called an "awful place." But folks continue to show up. There are two principal tourist operators--flights from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills (nowadays Union Glacier instead) and beyond are operated by Antarctic Network International (ANI)/Antarctic Logistics and Exploration (ALE). ANI continues to be actively booking tourists. The other operation is based out of the airstrip at Novo (Novolazarevskaya), a Russian base which is served by flights from Cape Town. It is operated by Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) and The Antarctic Company (TAC). These organizations do not appear to be seriously booking private tourist flights at present, but another British based company White Desert, has established a tourist destination "Whichaway Camp" near Novo (no, nowhere near the Whichaway Nunataks) with penguin colonies and mountains nearby. TAC also operates its "Oasis" guesthouse about 10 miles from Novo at Schirmacher Oasis. Novo is a 3000m blue ice runway originally built by ANI near the Russian Novolazarevskaya base, in the past it was known as Blue One, and on some maps you may see it designated as "White Desert." Perhaps the most serious travel agent booking Pole trips is the Chicago-based company Polar Explorers...they are booking trips to Pole via PA/Union Glacier for US$45,000 ex PA.

Here's the current listing of NGO treks/ventures planned for 2018 or later years...(expedition links from previous seasons are on the news archive page; see these links).

Announced for 2018-19 or future seasons:
Lou Rudd
a British Army captain, has announced a planned unsupported solo crossing by the same route used by Henry Worsley in his fatal crossing attempt in 2015-16--from Berkner Island to the Ross Ice Shelf via Pole. In 2016-17, Lou led the SPEAR 17 expedition of British Army reservists in a ski trek from Hercules Inlet to Pole. Here's an 18 April ExplorersWeb interview with Lou about the venture.
Kate Leeming
an experienced long-distance Australian cyclist and tennis pro) has proposed her South Pole bicycle trip for several years now. Earlier this year she said she was shooting for 2017-18, but her rather confusing recent blog posts would seem to indicate she's now thinking about 2018-19. Her most recent training for this was a long cycling venture in northwestern Canada in early 2017. She is to be supported (presumably still on snowmobiles) by expedition leader Eric Philips and filmmakers Claudio Von Planta and Phil Coates...although Eric Philips is also listed as a guide for Jade Hameister's trip described above (?). She'll be riding the first-of-its-kind 2-wheel drive bike, built by Steve Christini in Philadelphia...it uses a series of gears and shafts to power the front wheel. In 2013 she trained with it in Svalbard. At present it appears that her route will start at the base of the Leverett Glacier, following the South Pole Traverse route to Pole, and then continuing to Hercules Inlet. Her trip will support AIDS treatment programs and education. This photo from her web site shows her bicycle; the silver tube visible on the right side of the front fork contains one of the drive shafts which transfers power to the front wheel.
Baz (Barry John) Gray
is a 26-year veteran of the Royal Marines Commando currently living in southwest Devon, England. His 2018-19 plan is an 1800-mile solo ski crossing of Antarctica from McMurdo Sound to Berkner Island, via the Shackleton Glacier and Pole (note...Shackleton's 1907-09 expedition used the Beardmore Glacier to get to the plateau). He'll be supported by AL&E out of Union Glacier...so of course they'll need to fly him to his starting point on Ross Island. As of July 2017 he was already training, planning, and fundraising, and his new website went live.
The Hampshire (England) Scouts
are a serious troop of expeditioners...they've done many serious treks over the years, and as of October 2016 they'd already spent several months training for a South Pole venture, which is currently scheduled for 2018-19 as a 6-person unsupported return trip from Hercules Inlet. In 2017-18 they are planning a 6-week trip to Chilean Patagonia where they'll explore as well as take part in a community project. They're getting nutritional advice from scientists at Southampton Solent University, per this 24 April 2014 Daily Echo article.
Jan Meek
from the UK, announced in January that she's planning to lead a 5-woman team, dubbed the "Polar Maidens," to the South Pole in 2018-19. Not much information out there about her detailed plans, other than she plans to take "the 200-mile trek that Robert Scott didn't survive in 1912" in this 2 January Richmond & Twickenham Times article. She may be describing the final 125 miles back to Ross Island that Scott didn't complete that year...the 224-mile return distance to Pole from where Shackleton turned around in January 1909, or the 530 miles short of Pole where Scott and Shackleton turned around in December 1903. Jan, who completed a trek to the North Pole in 2008, will be 73 years old when this happens. Stay tuned...
Eirliani Abdul Rahman
from Singapore, still hopes to be the first woman from that nation to visit Pole--her plans now are to do it in 2018-19. She'd originally proposed this for 2016-17, to be guided by Sarah McNair-Landry, but that didn't happen. And there's not much more about her plans other than media such as this 9 August Straits Times article. In March and April 2017 she was training in Canada, and more recently she's been dragging truck tires around. She now works for the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation, and she plans to move to the US to work in their Washington, DC office.
Zero South
is an outfit I'm not yet giving up on. Their delayed plans involve a 1200-mile Pole trip starting from Union Glacier (to ??) using two massively converted Hummer H1 vehicles...the conversion included not only the installation of Mattrack-like tracks, but also a hybrid power plant where the biofuel-burning engines power generators with batteries, and the drive wheels are powered by electric motors. During January-February 2016 they set out on a planned trip from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay using rubber tires. They then switched to tracks at nearby Oliktok Point for a planned round trip to Barrow. From there they continued west on the sea ice...to about 50 miles west of Oliktok point, where track issues caused them to turn around. Their final report on this trip is here...and more recently this K&N Filters page details the modifications made to the H1's for the polar trips. The vehicles were presented in Los Angeles during the April 2017 March for Science, one of several items presented on their Facebook page. They plan another test excursion in November 2017, which means that the earliest that the Antarctic trip would happen is 2018-19. And for housing they will be towing a heavily modified 23-foot 1962 Airstream trailer they're calling the Snowstream. And I must mention that Oliktok Point, perhaps 50 miles northwest of Deadhorse, is still the site of a radar station, originally a DEW Line site where a guy named Art Brown worked in 1961.
Ryan Newburn
an 26-year-old adventurer from Papillon, MO (a St. Louis suburb) has announced plans for a 600-mile trek from Union Glacier to Pole in 2018-19. He's been quite active in the past, having completed the 1900-mile Te Araroa trail across New Zealand in February 2016. There's actually nothing yet on his website about the planned trip, but he had been discussing it in 2016 on his public Facebook page, and more details are in this 27 June Papillon Times article. I'd say this is doubtful unless he posts more info soon.

Here are my records of the nongovernmental expeditions (skiers/hikers/kiters/drivers/sledders etc...) for: 2017-18, 2016-17, 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2009-10, 2008-09, 2007-08, 2006-07, 2005-06, 2004-05, 2003-04, 2002-03, 2001-02, 2000-01 and 1999-2000. Keep in mind that the older expedition web sites tend to disappear, although I keep many of the links around for historical interest. Note that the 2000-01 Russian "Millennium Expedition" (skydiving/ballooning) is covered on a separate page.

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