Dec. 13, 1998
Letter 5: My Typical Day

Dear Everyone,

A question I frequently ask myself is, "What day is it?" Since I work 7 days a week with no holidays (only a few of us work such a schedule), everyday runs into the next. This confusion is further compounded by the fact that I work nights from 10:00 p.m.-6:00 a.m. and am asleep during the daytime. Normally alternating darkness and daylight divides the day. It's not so here in our 24 hours of austral summer sunlight. I find myself saying, "Good-morning" when I arrive inside the dome for my night shift and because I eat breakfast for dinner before going back to my room, I often find myself saying, "Good-morning" to the day crew!

Obviously one could choose any time zone for South Pole time, but because we are logistically supported out of Christchurch, New Zealand, we follow their time zone. Sunday noon here equals 3:00 p.m. Saturday on the West Coast and 6:00 p.m. on the East Coast. When I crossed the Pacific and arrived in New Zealand, I had skipped an entire day due to crossing the International Date Line. When I return stateside I will experience 2 days of the same date.

Recently it has become warmer (only -52 F. today wind-chill) so I simply slip on my bunny suit over my indoor clothes plus polypro sock liners (I brought these with me), wool socks, my hiking boots and then my hat, neck gaiter, goggles, and polypro glove liners (down to one pair now) and mittens for my walk to the dome. I usually head off to the dome from our room 103 in the Elevated Dorm around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. to go directly to the Communications Department where I shed my ECW clothing, stash it into my cubby, attempt to find a place to hang my bunny suit on the very full coat pegs, and change into my sport shoes and socks. There is a small mirror on the wall next to the cubbies and I then make a stab at fixing my hair. Due to wearing hats covered with bunny suit or parka hoods and the wide elastic band of the goggles around the head combined with the extreme dryness, everyday is a bad hair day. Except for a few guys who came with nearly shaven heads, we are all in the same situation. However, with no haircuts available, most of us are getting longer hair. Once in awhile, though, someone gets, well let's say, creative with a not sharp enough scissors! After I sort of repair my hair, I chat a bit with Neil, the man who has the shift prior to mine, if he's not busy. I then head off for the galley for some breakfast.

There is no scheduled mealtime when I need to eat breakfast so I'm on my own. I begin with a quick dart to the freshie shack, the "refrigerator" that is heated to 40 F, inside the dome to see if I'm lucky enough to find a piece of fresh fruit. Once we get an air shipment of freshies (fruit, veggies, sometimes cheese and flavored yogurt) from New Zealand, they don't seem to last more than a few days because we gobble them up so quickly! If I'm not so lucky, I rummage around the pantry in the galley and open a # 10 can of apricots or peaches. I'm not into fruit cocktail. I usually have a bowl of meusli with either reconstituted powdered milk or plain yogurt made from powdered milk. There is no fresh milk here. I then make myself a cup of Earl Grey tea (no green tea here or English Breakfast) and find someone to talk to while I have my breakfast. Les usually wanders into the galley to find me and join the group before we both go off to work around 9:30 p.m. in a 2-story prefabricated orange building in the dome next to the galley.

Les and I both work for Information Systems in the Communications rooms on the ground floor of our building. Les is one of two Communications Technicians on station. His specialty is component level repairs of HF and VHF radios, antennas and a wide variety of other electronic equipment. Having worked in remote locations for many years where replacement parts may not be available, Les keeps radios operating under difficult conditions with his ingenuity and tenacious creativity. We were fortunate to be assigned the night shift together and are the only two communications people on duty during that time.

Les Kolb in the Comms' Tech Shop.
Photo by Sandi.

Once I arrive at my work area, the radio communications room where I am the night duty Communications Operator, I debrief with Neil, who I replace, about the events of the day and the various issues which may impact my work throughout the night. My job consists of air traffic control activities bringing aircraft into and out of our station as well as flight following for other Antarctic missions, weather reporting, station emergency response, general station communications, general communications with other Antarctic stations and camps, and information documentation. In addition, I have been reviewing operating procedure guidelines and have developed several new documents. The Comms Console is the station equivalent of a 911 center. Working in Comms involves intense multi-tasking, prioritizing, and quick decision making. And, yes, it can be very stressful sometimes.

My work area is U-shaped on a hardwood plank floor with the surrounding areas being carpeted. The hardwood floor is quite functional. It facilitates quick movement of my chair on rollers as I shove off from one telephone to the next, one computer to another, and across the width of the space and up and down one length managing all the radios! All chaos can reign in a matter of minutes, rather seconds, and my job is to be on top of it. I operate 7 radios (HF and VHF), 1 teletype, 2 telephones, 3 computers (2 up in Windows and 1 up in DOS) with 1 laser printer in addition to 2 alarm panels and 1 telephone automated alarm system.

This is me (Sandi) at the Comms Console.
Photo by Les Kolb.

Depending upon the flight schedule and the weather related activities coming my way, 12:00 midnight through 1:30 a.m. can be a very busy time for me. That is also when Midrats, our midnight dinner, is served. Les and I juggle our schedules so that he can cover for me while I run off to the galley to either fill my plate to eat in front of the radios or if it seems to be fairly calm, I will sit down in the galley and try to have a civilized meal for about 15-20 minutes. It is rare, though, for this time not to be interrupted by a station related situation like an alarm or phone call that needs to be dealt with immediately. It is probably OK, however, because as I rush back to Comms plate in hand it keeps me away from the desserts and tray of ever-present cookies our baker keeps out all night long. I'm always too busy to return. We are convinced that we have the best cooks on night shift and aren't about to let the secret get out!

The time passes quickly and towards 5:00 a.m. the pace picks up as the majority of the station population awakens for the day shift. We have 3 shifts on station: day, swing, and night. My replacement comes on duty at 6:00 a.m. After we debrief the night operations, Les and I head off to the galley for some breakfast for our dinner. The breakfast cook always prepares what I call a "logger's breakfast" which nearly always includes scrambled eggs or an egg-type casserole. We rarely have fresh eggs for omelets or eggs to order. Although he is an excellent cook I generally prefer the lighter fare. Our night cooks know I love yogurt and have been making it from powdered milk to serve at breakfast. It actually is very good. I usually have some hot cereal or freshly baked breakfast bread, yogurt and fruit along with some herbal tea. Les and I take the time to have a leisurely meal, talk to people (although most are not too conversational because they just got up), and wind down from the day. We then return to the Comms building to put on all of our ECW clothing for our walk home to our room in the Elevated Dorm. Lately, we have been taking various detours along the way to enjoy the sunshine, warmer weather, and get a bit of exercise.

One thing there is a lot of on station is books. They may not be the very latest or a specific title, but the selection is varied. We enjoy reading at the end of the day before trying to catch some sleep. Most people experience difficulty sleeping due to the 24 hours of bright sunshine, the high altitude, and the noise of doors, movement in the halls, heavy equipment and cargo operations, and the aircraft. The planes taxi past the dorm and park right in front of the dome. I always sleep with earplugs in place and can now sleep through the aircraft traffic, but it's the noise and vibrations of the huge Cats moving cargo next to the dorm and the slamming doors inside the building that tend to wake me up. I put up signs on the lounge and hallway doors saying, "Please be kind. Day Sleepers" but they are largely ignored. I know we will eventually be able to sleep through it all!

The sun appears to circle the sky and the number of degrees above the horizon gradually increases as we go into our austral summer and then will gradually decrease as winter approaches. The sun angle will reach a maximum of 23.5 degrees at our mid-summer day of Dec. 21. If the sun would be straight overhead it would be at 90 degrees. We do not see stars but occasionally we see the moon faintly in the sky.

Sometime during the day today the Christmas decorations went up in the galley. When I came to the dome to work this evening the galley was looking festive and organ roller-rink style Christmas music was blasting as I ate my pre-work breakfast cereal. It looks like Christmas will come to the South Pole Station after all.

Both Les and I would like to take this opportunity to extend our best of wishes to each of you for a delightful holiday season and a very special New Year!

The weekly climatological summary prepared by the South Pole Station meteorologists follows.

Best regards,

amateur radio: NE7V

Sandra Kolb,ASA
South Pole Station
PSC 468 Box 400
APO AP 96598-5400

Sandi by the entrance to the Communications department inside the dome.
Photo by Les Kolb.

The Communications Department.
Photo Sandi.

Date:          Fri, 11 Dec 1998 04:12:13 +1200
Priority:      normal

4 December 1998 through 10 December 1998 UTC

Avg Temp...-28.7 (C) / -19.7 (F)
Max Temp...-22.2 (C) / -8.0 (F) on day 4
Min Temp...-32.8 (C) / -27.0 (F) on day 10

Sky Cover:
Avg Sky Cover (8ths)... 4
Days clear............. 4
Days partly cloudy..... 1
Days cloudy............ 2

Sunset on 21 March, Sunrise on 23 September
Avg hours/day......... 22.6
Percent of possible... 94.2

Station Pressure (millibars):
Avg pressure........ 676.3 mbs
Highest pressure.... 687.5 mbs on day 4
Lowest pressure..... 671.0 mbs on day 9

Physio-altitude in feet and meters:
Average physio-alt = 10768 ft / 3282 m
Highest physio-alt = 10970 ft / 3344 m on day 9
Lowest physio-alt  = 10347 ft / 3154 m on day 4

0 days with visibility of 1/4 mile or less

Avg wind speed............ 6.5 mph or 5.7 kts
Max gust.................. 18 mph or 16 kts on day 10
Max gust direction........ from grid Northwest
Vectored wind direction... 038 degrees
Vectored wind speed....... 3.7 kts
Prevailing direction...... grid North

Balloon flight data:
Number of Soundings for the period.... 14
Avg hgt of Soundings...... 52.1 mbs
Highest Sounding.......... 7.0 mbs, or 34422 meters
                           on day 9/12Z flight.

0 Soundings were missed.
4 Soundings were terminated due to balloon burst.
2 Soundings were terminated due to flight equipment failure.
8 Soundings were terminated due to weak or fading signal.

No records were tied or broken during the period.

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