Captain's Web Log(10) - 11 June 2016 - What's the inside of the station like?

I'm long overdue for a blog post, and so in honor of our upcoming midwinter celebration, I thought I'd give a small window into our daily life here at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station by doing a little photo tour of the inside of the station.
Most of these photos were shot with a super wide angle lens, so things look a little bigger than they really are, but you get the general idea.

First, a couple of shots of the outside of the main station. The first one was taken around sunset, sometime in March, and the second was taken in January when I first got here. It's now completely dark outside 24 hours a day since we're in the middle of winter, so currently the station looks like a black blob sitting on the ground (also a black blob), against the sky (also a black blob, unless there are auroras, in which case a green blob).

Now for the inside of the station. First, a couple shots of my berthing (it's not always that clean... I tidied up just for you).

This is the view allllll the way down the main hallway on the second floor of the station. The first turn-off on the right leads to the dish pit window and then the galley.

Inside the dish pit, where all the dishes from the galley get washed and sanitized. There is a steward who runs the dish pit on weekdays during the day, and then all of the members of the community take turns manning the dish pit for dinner and all day Saturday. Sunday there's no regular meal service in the winter (leftovers day!) and everyone does their own dishes individually.

And here's the galley, where we eat all of our meals. The kitchen area is off to the right.

Farther down the main hall, this is the game room, one of the main areas for socializing after work.

This is the primary laboratory space for the main station. All of the experiments that are staffed over the winter have their own little area in this space: The meteorologists are at the very far end, IceCube has space in the middle, BICEP and Keck have space in the left foreground of the photo, and SPT's space is in the right foreground. My desk is the last one visible in the right foreground. Behind where I stood to take this photo is some space for the two RAs who operate all of the smaller experiments that run over the winter but aren't big enough to have a fulltime winterover researcher. Off camera there's also a large loft space used mostly for storage, and a small reading nook with a couple of couches and a desk. In the summer this room is usually pretty busy with so many researchers hurrying to get their experiments squared away before station close. In winter, it's a lot quieter, as you can see.

One of the two conference rooms (I didn't photograph the other... it's just a smaller version of this one). This is where we sit for our twice-weekly telecons with the rest of the SPT collaboration back in the US. (It's a bit silly just the two of us sitting by ourselves in that big room).

In the side hallway where all the main offices are. They've framed and hung up the old sign that used to mark the geographic south pole.

This is the communications room. Another one where there's a lot more activity in the summer, when there are planes flying in and out on a frequent basis. In the winter it's usually pretty quiet here.

The upper gym.

Aaaaaaaand now down on the first floor of the station, the lower gym. We use this space for movie screenings (notice the big sheet hung up on the back wall), twice weekly yoga classes (taught on a very generous volunteer basis by one of the community members), weekly organized games of volleyball and dodgeball, the occasional round of badminton, or just about any other activity for which you'd want a big open space.

Continuing on the first floor, here's the music room. We've got a surprising array of instruments, many of which have been donated by previous south pole residents. I was surprised when I first got here to find there's even a violin! (As you can imagine, with the incredibly dry weather here, it's in pretty rough shape, but it's definitely playable!)

This is one of two TV lounges (there were people watching a movie in the other one when I was going around taking pictures, and I didn't want to interrupt them so I didn't get a picture of that one). This one also has some video game consoles set up. In the summer, this is the first room new arrivals see (apart from the hallway); everyone coming off a flight comes in here first thing to watch the orientation video.

The coat room. Pretty empty in the winter, but it's usually packed in the summer.

The door straight ahead is more or less our 'front door'. Called 'Destination Alpha' or DA, this is normally the door where you enter the station for the first time after getting off the plane. This is also the door I use to head out to the telescope. The other doors you can see on the right are the TV lounge and the coat room. Around the corner to the left are the music room and the lower gym.

Craft room.

Library / quiet reading room.

A couple views of the greenhouse, our only source of fresh veggies during the winter. It's fully hydroponic, since importing soil is forbidden by the Antarctic Treaty (normally importing seeds is illegal too, but there are special exceptions for appropriately-contained food growth). We grow cucumbers, cherry tomatos, all sorts of salad greens, and some cooking herbs. It usually produces enough for us to have salad a couple times a week, which is pretty amazing in the middle of the coldest, dryest desert on Earth.


This is the post office and store. Of course in the winter there are no flights, so there's also no mail. But in the summer this functions as a regular US postal office (our mail gets processed through the APO system). The store is open for an hour a few days a week during the winter. They sell basic toiletries, snacks, candy, soda, alcohol, and souveniers.

Trash and recycling sorting room.

The sauna. Sooooo nice for warming up after being outside for a long time.

That pretty much covers the 'normal life' stuff on the station, though there are a lot of work areas inside the main station that I didn't cover (like the IT offices, the cubicle farm where many of the contractors have desks, medical, etc), plus the many areas that are outside of the main station. For instance, the arches (which connect to the main station via a staircase that leads down the side of the station, below the snow level) house the main work centers for the power plant, materials, waste, vehicle maintenance, and fuels folks. Plus all of the biggest experiments are housed in their own buildings outside of the main station: Dark Sector Laboratory is home to SPT and BICEP; MAPO is home to Keck and the machine shop; IceCube Laboratory is home to (you guessed it) IceCube; and the Atmospheric Research Observatory is home to the atmospheric and climate research being carried out by NOAA. I'll probably do a photo tour of the Dark Sector Laboratory at some point later in the winter.

Current conditions

Temperature: -52F/-47C
Windchill: -59F/-50C
Wind: 1.4 kts Grid 220 (wow, the wind is hardly ever that calm! Especially when it's so warm out. Too bad we're not due to grease the telescope yet; today would be a perfect day for it.)
Barometer: 671 mb (10,970 ft/3,344m)
Sun elevation below the horizon: 23 degrees (We are now past astronomical twilight and approaching the winter solstice on June 20, and holy cow was it dark outside today with the moon below the horizon and clouds covering the stars and auroras.)

And just for Lena: The moon is currently 2.5 degrees below the horizon and rising.

Bonus: auroras from the end of last month. Timelapse video version coming soon to a blog near you.