10 December, 2002
Today was our first official “tent day.” The winds picked up again last night so Nancy came by this morning to tell us that we were going to have a “weather delay” today. This meant a day in the tents and no meteorite searching. Just looking outside, one couldn’t tell how harsh the conditions were. It was a blue sky, but the horizon was hazy from all the blowing snow. We were experiencing the full onslaught of the Katabatics.
Katabatic winds are pressure-derived winds. Cold air sinks over the Antarctic continent and races over the ice toward the ocean. There is nothing to stop the wind and the mountains only funnel it. It’s kind of like why the wind always blows in Wyoming. There’s nothing to block it.
We can tell when the Katabatics are coming from the pressure change. I have a barometer on my watch that shows basic trends in barometric pressure. If we see a change toward high pressure, that generally means that windy days are ahead. My watch uses this pressure to estimate our altitude. This doesn’t work so well in Antarctica. Due to the Earth’s rotation, the atmosphere bulges a little at the equator and thins at the poles. For instance, McMurdo is at sea level, but our “pressure altitude” was about 1500 ft. above sea level. The effect is most pronounced at the South Pole, which is already at an elevation about 9000 ft. above sea level. Due to the effect of pressure altitude, it actually feels like it’s over 11,000 ft! Members of our Rekki team are concerned about this because it’s easy to become winded and feel ill at high altitudes. Plus they have been at McMurdo for a couple of weeks, which isn’t helping with their acclimation. Our camp is just below 8000 ft. but feels like its over 9000 ft., which is equivalent to some of the higher mountain towns back home in Colorado.
Question: “Why is Antarctica colder than the North Pole?”
We have been able to partially capture this wind to derive electrical power through a wind turbine, but like most of our technology, it has been much more complex than it sounds.
Jamie put it best yesterday when he said, “…things develop a life of their own down here.” This has been very true. First of all, batteries go dead overnight from the cold. So, constant electrical power is necessary to run our satellite phone, computers, cameras, and any other electronic device. We are turning both to solar and wind generated power. Both systems ideally charge a bank of car batteries, off of which the direct current is converted to alternating current. Unfortunately these items don’t work perfectly and are entirely dependent on the weather.
To add to our technology limitations, our camp stoves have been breaking down at an alarming pace. We have already gone through 6 of 13 stoves that are supposed to last us the whole six weeks. We not only depend on these stoves for cooking, but also for heat in the tent. Hopefully, we will receive an emergency shipment of them from McMurdo tomorrow. Danny was in earlier and is reading about Shackelton’s expedition and we were comparing and contrasting our situation. Despite our technology, we are in the elements that stranded the crew of the Endurance. It’s really a miracle that we can post this to the web at all.
Despite our technology limitations, we are able to get news of the outside world through a short wave radio that picks up stations from Australia and from Carl Allen who just arrived yesterday. He brought us a poem written by Dr. Ralph Harvey, the principal investigator of the ANSMET team. Ralph usually makes it to Antarctica, but is home in Cleveland this year with his newborn son. This poem was Ralph’s reaction to the images of the Rekki team spelling out ANSMET:
RAW! RAW! RAWS! THE METEORITES COME FROM MAWS! WE’LL PICK THEM UP AND WRAP THEM UP ALL DAY AND NEVER PAWS!
WE’LL SNAG ‘EM! WE’LL BAG ‘EM! WE’LL DO A LITTLE DANCE!
AND IF IT IS A MARTIAN WE’RE GONNA WET OUR PANCE!
Answer to previous question: Water acts as a buffer against extreme temperature change. Since there is no land beneath the North Pole, the water keeps it a little warmer than over the Antarctic continent.
The winds have died tonight, so our meteorite hunting chances look good for tomorrow. Tonight will be a movie night. Looks like 2010 is on the “big screen.”
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