Working at the South Pole…Not Your Average Day at the Office

Posted January 12th, 2016 at 9:05 am (UTC-4)
1 comment

The author runs through daily checks on the solar radiation equipment at the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) at the South Pole.  (Photo by Hunter Davis)

The author runs through daily checks on the solar radiation equipment at the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) at the South Pole. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

I live in the western wing on the first floor of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station.

SOUTH POLE JOURNAL
Refael Klein blogs about his year working and living at the South Pole. Read his earlier posts here.

My room is small — perhaps 3 meters by 3 meters (9 feet by 9 feet) — with institutional blue carpeting, and tan-and-blue walls. I have a twin-size bed with a surprisingly comfortable mattress (at least for government standards), large wooden desk, chair, a small home-made shoe rack built out of a broken plywood pallet, two 3-drawer dressers, of which I only use one, and a narrow free-standing closet, with two small mirrors built into the inside of the doors.

On the same side of the room as my bed, I have a small, 15-centimeter (6-inch) thick, double pane window that looks out onto the station’s central entrance and, conveniently, lines up with the sun around 6 a.m., the time my alarm is set to go off.

A typical berthing at Amundsen Scott South Pole Station. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

A typical berthing at the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., breakfast is served in the galley. We have a full-time baker from Vermont who makes fresh pastries and bread, and a hot bar with a rotating selection of American-style breakfast staples. If we’re lucky, we also have a large bowl of fresh fruit and, if we are really lucky, we have two.

A bowl of oatmeal, an apple and few cups of mint tea are my typical morning meal. I rarely drink coffee, but if the weather is really bad, I’ll have a small cup to help push me through the half-kilometer (quarter-mile) walk to work.

I get to the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) a little before 8 a.m., and if we have Internet, start the day at my desk checking and responding to emails from scientists I work with at NOAA, NASA and a range of other institutions. Depending on the day, and how well equipment is working on station, this could take me anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.

Once the Internet disappears (when the satellites drop below the horizon), I begin my daily rounds, checking all the instruments we operate for proper function. I like working from the top of the station down, (it’s always easier to go with gravity), so I typically start my inspection on the roof, where all of our solar radiation equipment is mounted.

From the roof, I move to the second floor where, among many things, we have instrumentation that measures aerosols, surface ozone, and cloud density. The first floor, my last stop, is home to our gas chromatograph and CO2 measuring systems.

Watch: Heading to work

If everything is working perfectly, my round takes me about an hour. If something is malfunctioning, my round could take me all day.

Noon is lunch time, and if I’m not buried in repairs or a new instrument installation, I’ll be back in the galley enjoying a warm meal by 12:30 p.m.. There are normally three entrees to choose from — one with meat, one for vegetarians and one for vegans — and a stock pot full of soup. If we’re lucky, we also have a bowl of fresh fruit and, if we are really lucky, we have two.

The author's desk at work. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

The author’s desk at work. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

It’s 1:30 p.m. and I’m back at ARO, calibrating instruments or trying to de-bug the program that keeps crashing our UV monitoring system. If the weather is really nice, I’ll check the instrumentation on our 30-meter meteorological tower and spend a few minutes at the top enjoying the view.

At 4 p.m., I make my afternoon round and, provided that nothing is acting strangely or about to explode, I’ll be out the door, mittens on hands at 5 p.m..

An hour on the stationary bike, skiing on the ice-cap, or playing volleyball in the gym, and I’m hungry.

Dinner is from 5 to 7 p.m.. I rarely get there before 6:30 p.m.. Like at lunch, there are typically three entrees to choose from — one for carnivores, one for vegetarians, and one for vegans. There are always desserts, typically homemade cookies, cakes or puddings. If we are lucky, we also have a bowl of fresh fruit and, if we are really lucky, we have two.

A few pages in a good book, say this year’s Push Cart Prize anthology, and I’m ready for bed. I fill up my humidifier, pull down the blind over my window, and tuck myself in between a pair of well-worn, scratchy cotton sheets.

Sleep comes quickly. I typically have one of three dreams: one about surfing, one about work or one about home. These dreams can be in English or Spanish. On occasion they’re in a language I don’t understand.

If I’m lucky, I encounter a bowl of fruit in my dream and, if I’m really lucky, I wake up eight hours later and find a fresh grapefruit in the galley.

Look for Refael Klein’s weekly blogs from the South Pole every Tuesday here on Science World.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

One response to “Working at the South Pole…Not Your Average Day at the Office”

  1. Richard says:

    Hey Refael.

    Once again I am really enjoying you blogs. Keep up the great work. ( I am envious )
    Hey on your way down the stairs on the ARO you might kick that camera that has a shot back
    to the station. It has been down for about a week. Carry on !
    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/spo/livecamera.html