Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What the hell do i actually do here?

So it has now been about a month since I arrived in Antarctica. Time is flying by. Only five more to go. I am sure someone out there might be wondering what it is I actually do on a daily basis. For those that are wondering--at least about the work day--this blog entry is for you. Some days, I spend the majority of the day inside, organizing gear for a class, or doing some office task like filling out a timesheet. Timesheets seem to take me awhile. It can be challenging trying to properly describe an activity when the catergories I am given to allocate time are somewhat limited. As for the gear, there are so many different departments down here, I can spend half a day trying to pull everything together for a two day trip, and the same returning it all when we get back. Anytime we leave the base, we have to take a "survival bag" for every two people on the trip. The survival bag has a camp stove, two sleeping bags, some foam pads for insulation, a tent, and then some other random stuff so that if your vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you can hopefully survive long enough for someone to come and get you. Anyway, we usually have classes with about 10 to 12 students, so we need a bunch of bags, and you constantly have to load them and unload them because you never know what vehicle you will be in. Logistics and prep seem to be a fair amount of my job.

When I am not doing that, I am teaching classes. Right now, there are three types of classes. One is called, "happy camper", another is a sea ice class, and lastly, there is a refresher. The refresher, is the class for returning folks who just come in for four hours, set up a tent inside, lite a stove, watch some videos, and listen to me babble for a while.

In the sea ice class, we get new people who, as part of there job, need to travel on the sea ice. We start class with a little powerpoint show describing the sea ice and how it forms and where it typically cracks and what to look for when you are driving around. That lasts about an hour, and then we go out for the rest of the day and drill holes in the ice. McMurdo base is actually located on Ross Island. I have yet to actually go to the continent of Antarctica, I have been to Ross Island. A lot of research takes place out on the frozen ocean that surrounds the ice. The sea ice is also where the planes land and take off, as long as the ice isn't melting of course. At some point during the year, the ice will become too thin for planes to land, and the runway will be moved to a permanent ice shelf that is more expensive to operate from. So my job isn't to test the ice for the runway, but I do help get information for roads and tell other people where to put roads and stuff like that. During the sea ice class, I will take students out to an area where we need some data. Some of it is "off established roadways" so they get a view of what it would be like to travel in new terrain, and some is just checking existing roads that are already starting to have cracks form in them. Where there are cracks, we drill down to find out how thick the ice is, and see if it is safe for a vehicle to travel across. It isn't rocket science, but it is pretty fun.

At happy camper school, I teach people how to use all the stuff in a survival bag. We set up tents, build snow walls with a saw and shovel in the bag. We will dig a snow shelter that looks similar to an igloo, and then teach them how to cook. That, and a slide show about frostbite and hypothermia, are roughly day one of a two day course. It is a full day, and people are pretty tired, especially if the weather is bad. For day two, we talk about how things went, teach them how to use a very high frequency(VHF) and a HF radio, and then give them a scenario where they have to set everything up pretty quick. Most people seem to love happy camper. It is their opportunity to get out camping away from the base, and do something different. It is a challenge, but one they are happy to face and over come. Some people do have an absolutely miserable experience, where they don't sleep, are always cold, and just want to get it over with so they can tell their friends the horror stories.

The classes are fun, and a good way to meet people. It also helps that it is a way I can get off base, and I get to bring other folks with me, which makes people really happy. Here are a couple of photos, one of me laying next to a mumified Weddell Seal, and another of a friend drilling during a sea ice class.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Daily life

I wanted to include some photos of things that I get to see daily that at first were very funny, but are now just the norm. Hopefully, they will be funny to you as well. The first one is a sign in the bathroom. Everything that gets thrown away has its own place; bio waste is just one of the many trash containers we have that the janitorial staff has to empty. You don't want to screw up where you put things, because it makes sorting all the stuff a disgusting pain in the butt. The second is the United States Antarctica Program(USAP) symbol. It is on everything. It is still pretty cool. The third is a little piece of art that is on someone's door. The rumor mill, is exactly what McMurdo is. People having nothing to talk about other than their job and what other people are doing. It is pretty crazy. Lastly, I threw in a photo of myself at a superhero-themed party. I went as FDX man. FDX are the big boots that I have on my feet. My power was to keep peoples feet warm.

To a certain degree all is quiet on the southern front. Work starts at 7:30 and goes until 5:30 and the normal work week is Monday through Saturday. It doesn't leave a lot of time in the day to do stuff, and the weekend, Sunday, is spent recovering from the work week and Saturday night. Work has been going well. I have been getting out onto the sea ice and trying to do some measurements to make sure we can put in a road. I say "try", because twice now, the expedition has been thwarted by vehicle malfunctions. Everyone just says "it is part of being down here", "Antarctica is a harsh continent", but those just kind of seem like excuses to me. Coming from NOLS, it is hard for me to see the value in going out to do a job, and just having to turn around and come back, accomplishing nothing with the energy I expend. On an expedition, everything has a purpose and a pretty direct outcome. The rewards seem so tangible. I wonder whether I need to shift my thinking to, "this is just how things run down here", or if it's possible to make changes in the system. Chao

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


By popular demand, and I think it is because people are assuming that if they send me something I will send them something with an Antartica stamp on it, I am posting my mailing address. No wait a second, people just want to send me things because that is what nice people do, hence why I didn't think of it. Anyway, here ya go
Galen Dossin
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

Feel free to send whatever and I don't think postage rates are that bad. It is the same as sending something to California. As of now I don't have any requests but some of you probably know me better than I know myself.
Some folks also wanted a shot of McMurdo, so that is the top photo and the bottom is of Mt. Erabus, I think it is the southern most active volcano and right around the corner from town. It is constantly putting out a bunch of little puffs.