Working at the South Pole
South Pole Station, Antarctica
Posted by Cameron Martindell on 7 November 2005
I was told when I applied for the job that there would be a lot of snow shoveling, especially for the first month. There was really no way for me to totally understand what that meant.
For the past week I have shoveled snow at least five hours a day. Most days it’s been eight or nine hours — my entire shift. On Thursday, after a solid nine hours of shoveling, it felt so amazing to just lay down, in all of my ECW (extreme cold weather) gear and do nothing. The risk in that is falling asleep and missing dinner which would be very bad. By about day two, my appetite picked up and I’ve been eating mounds of food at each meal. Fortunately food is part of the deal here so it’s all free (so to speak).
Oh, did I mention we’re at over 3,000m (10,000 ft.) here? We’re sitting on a glacier that’s over 3km (2.5 miles) thick, so the air is relatively thin. Mountaineers figure acclimatization at about 300m (1,000 ft) per day. I came from sea level and have been here seven days. It doesn’t quite add up. Aside from the work of shoveling, I don’t think the altitude has been my biggest problem, rather it’s the dry air.
My daily schedule has looked roughly like this:
- Wake up at 4am (time is arbitrary here as the sun is always up).
- Put on all my ECW and walk to the bathroom, brush teeth, etc.
- Walk eight minutes to the New Station.
- Remove all my ECW, go to the computer lab to write or process images or read.
- Go to breakfast when it opens at 5.30am. Eat. Sit and let it settle for a bit.
- Head downstairs around 6am to start putting my ECW back on for the 10-minute walk to the construction office (not far from where I sleep).
- Arrive at the office a little before 6.30am — my report time.
- Pick up a shovel and walk five minutes outside to the berms.
- Start shoveling.
- Break for 15 minutes at 9am. It takes us eight of those minutes to walk to and from the heated carpenter shop where we can take our break.
- Break for lunch at 11.30am. Our lunch hour includes the 10-minute walk, sometimes 15 minutes depending on how far out we are.
- Back to the job by 12.30pm — my lunch break is really only about a 1/2 hour when you include the walk and getting in and out of my ECW.
- Another 15-minute break at 3pm.
- Free to go at 4.30pm.
- Walk home, three minutes.
- Change out of my work clothes. (I’ll do a detailed gear description later.)
- Put on my “casual” clothes.
- Walk back to the New Station (still eight minutes).
- Eat dinner.
- Sit and chat.
- Walk home (still…)
- Get in bed by 8 or 9pm.
- Read if my eyes stay open.
- Asleep by 10pm at the latest.
If I’m lucky, I won’t have to go to the bathroom while I’m sleeping and the dryness of the air won’t give my nose and throat too much trouble. At 4am I wake up and repeat.
The rumor is that as a GA (General Assistant) we (there’s about half a dozen of us) will end up helping with projects all over the station. We’ve seen some evidence of this in the past week. One afternoon I got moved over to Cargo and Materials to help move some shelving in the Dome to make more space. Another GA from our group has been helping the electricians pull wire for the past day or so (inside!).
So, that’s work so far. I’ll keep ya posted as things change!