Dec. 5, 1998
Letter 4: ECW Clothing

Dear Everyone,

As someone here said to me, it seems as though we spend most of our time getting dressed and undressed for work. Every time we go outdoors or indoors it involves a major amount of clothing exchange. This leads to the problem of space and where to store Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing in our crowded living and working spaces.

At the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) in Christchurch, we are issued our ECW clothing according to our job description and the size information we sent ahead. First timers to the ice are encouraged to take everything issued to them as it is always better to have too much of this clothing than not enough! However, the second time around, I knew my preferences and in the interest in saving both space and weight I turned back several large pieces and many smaller ones. Since I am working indoors, I did not take the heavy insulated Carhartt hooded parka nor the matching coveralls. Instead I requested an insulated red quilted one piece hooded coverall we call a bunny suit. It zips the length of the torso down the front and all the way up each leg to the top of the thigh. Although it is not as heavy-duty nor as warm as the parka, it is quite comfortable for me wear on my walk to the dome to work. It serves as windbreaker pants and hooded parka all in one piece and simplifies ECW dressing. ECW clothing is issued in men's sizes and in many cases is too large for me or doesn't fit well. With this in mind, I brought all of my own Thermax underwear, socks, and also a pair of small glove liners given to me by a friend. ECW clothing is provided free of charge and it must be returned when we come off the ice.

When our group arrived at the CDC in Christchurch for our clothing issue, we were directed to either the men's or women's dressing rooms to try on our clothing. Once inside the dressing rooms we found our 2 neatly stacked large orange canvas bags per person in the center of the room with our names tagged to them. From there we drug our bags to any available space, dumped out their contents trying not to get them confused with the person's issue next to us and proceeded to try on everything including the socks. It is extremely important to try on everything and we are reminded to do so. Some of the clothing items are new, but most are not. In any case, all the clothing is cleaned and supposedly repaired which means that it may have shrunk or that needed repairs were missed. It is the time to correct sizing and condition because this is the clothing we have to live with for the next 3 months. There is extremely limited clothing resupply on station and it is often old and rarely the same replacement. The larger and costly items such as parkas have serial numbers written on them. All serial numbers, quantities, sizes, and items are recorded on an inventory sheet that we sign and leave at the CDC. Even if clothing is damaged beyond wearing, it is important to keep it to return to the CDC. Once we are satisfied with our ECW issue, we repack it into the orange canvas bags to carry to the ice.

The amount and quality of ECW clothing varies depending upon the assigned station due to the diverse climate conditions and the season. For the austral summer season at the South Pole Station, parcticipants are issued this basic ECW clothing: 2 orange canvas clothing bags, 1 windbreaker balaclava, 1 pair thermal white rubber bunny boots, 1 quart-sized water bottle, 1 Yazoo cap, 1 Carhartt parka with hood and insulated coverall, 1 fleece neck gaiter, 1 pair insulated gloves, 3 pair insulated heavy leather gloves, 1 pair goggles, 1 ski-type hat, 1 fleece jacket and pants, 2 pair polypro glove liners, 1 pair gauntlet furback mittens, 1 pair windproof mittens, 1 pair insulated mittens, 1 pair bibbed wind pants, 1 parka, 6 pair wool tube socks, 1 pair sunglasses, 1 set expedition underwear and 1 set Thermax underwear. The South Pole parkas are feather filled and are dark green and black with "South Pole Station" embroidered onto the upper left pocket. The red, white, and blue United States Antarctic Program National Science Foundation circular patch is stitched above the upper right pocket and on the pocket flap our first and last names are attached with Velcro. The names are important when faced with a long row of coats on hooks in the galley! Since most of us are dressed alike, clothing items are frequently inadvertently mistaken. It is not unusual to see an e-mail about a misplaced ECW item, but these items usually make their way back to the original caretaker.

ECW coats, boots and backpacks in the galley.
Photo by Les Kolb.

Of this ECW issue we are required to wear on all flights to, from and within Antarctica, thermal underwear and wool socks with fleece pants and windpants over all. On top of this goes the fleece jacket and parka with its pockets stuffed with the neck gaiter, mittens, goggles, cap or balaclava, and somehow we find a way to carry the huge gauntlet furback mittens that extend beyond the elbow. On the feet are, of course, the heavy monstrous thermal white bunny boots. Additionally, most of us have a water bottle, camera and book somewhere on our person.

Inside my workplace, the communications center inside a building in the dome, I wear sports socks and shoes, jeans, turtleneck and usually a fleece vest (I brought two) or a denim vest. I don't wear the Termax underwear inside as it is comfortable room temperature most of the time. If it is cool I just slip on my fleece jacket for awhile. I have a cubbyhole where I leave my sports shoes when I leave the dome after my shift and store my mittens, glove liners, goggles, hat, and neck gaiter when I'm on the job. Next to the cubbies is a coat rack for the parkas. When I dart from one building to another inside the dome, I throw on my fleece jacket. Now that it is getting warmer and if I'm really feeling cavalier I go quickly without it. Those working outside need to wear the ECW clothing, of course, including the goggles.

I have received a few questions concerning altitude illness. The most commonly experienced symptoms include headache, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, and sometimes loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Generally about 70% of those going above 8,000 feet experience headaches. It is not possible to determine who will experience altitude illness although rate of ascent is probably a factor. Altitude illness does not discriminate between males and females nor seems to be influenced by one's physical condition. I have seen people in excellent physical condition become quite ill while in other cases couch potatoes do not appear to be affected. Some people seem to have a tendency toward altitude illness although they may not have a recurrence or become ill every time they are at high elevations.

An excellent National Science Foundation (NSF) color booklet for schools and younger audiences is ANTARCTICA, publication NSF/CTW 96-33. If I recall correctly it is $5.00 for 25 copies. I placed a classroom set of 40 copies in my school library and gave another classroom set to the classroom I am mentoring on Orcas Island, WA. It is an extremely useful publication when teaching about Antarctica. Visit the NSF web site at to get the latest information on NSF publications. To order publications or forms send an e-mail to or telephone (301) 947-2722.

My job will be the topic of my next letter. If for some reason you have not received one of my letters let me know and I will resend it to you.

John Gallagher, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Senior Meteorologist.
Photo by Sandi Kolb.

The S. Pole Station November Climate Summary prepared by John, one of our meteorologists, follows.

Best regards,

amateur radio: NE7V

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


Avg temp................ -37.6(C)/-35.7(F)
Departure from normal... + 0.7(C)/+ 1.3(F)
Max temp................ -23.5(C)/- 10.3(F) on day 30
Min temp................ -48.8(C)/- 55.8(F) on day 1

Sky cover:
Avg cloud cover (8ths).... 6
Days clear................ 6
Days partly cloudy........ 8
Days cloudy............... 16

Avg wind speed............ 14.4 mph or 12.5 kts.
Prevailing wind direction..Grid North or 020 degrees.
Max wind.................. 42 mph or 36 kts on day 03
Max wind direction........ Grid North.
Avg vectored wind......... 027 degrees at 11.4 knots.

Station pressure:
Avg pressure........... 679.0 mbs or 20.051 In. Hg.
Departure from normal.. - 3.4 mbs or -0.100 In. Hg.
Highest pressure....... 692.4 mbs or 20.447 In. Hg. on day 30
Lowest pressure........ 666.2 mbs or 19.673 In. Hg. on day 01

Sunset on 21 March, Sunrise on 23 September
Average hours/day........ 18.2
Percent of possible...... 76%

Snowfall..... Trace; Avg net change at snow stakes: +0.901

Visibility... 5 days with a visibility of 1/4 mile or less.

Balloon flight data:
Number of Soundings for the month... 59
Avg height of Soundings.... 42.8 mbs or 25811 meters above msl.
Highest Sounding........... 4.6 mbs or 36399 meters above msl.
                            on the day 15/00z Sounding.

 1 Sounding was missed.
 47 Soundings were terminated above 50 mbs.
 5 Soundings were terminated between 50 and 100 mbs.
 7 Soundings were terminated below 100 mbs.

Day 2 - The maximum wind of 33 kts/38 mph tied the previous
        record set in 1961.
Day 3 - The maximum wind of 36 kts/42 mph broke the previous
        record of 30 kts/35 mph set in 1961.
Day 26 - The maximum wind of 28 kts/32 mph tied the previous
         record set in 1964.

Prepared by: John Gallagher

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