Winds were perfect yesterday for getting a kite cam up in the air. You can see our four main tents, the poo and science tents, our skidoos, a red sled, some fuel and cargo depots. The distant horizon at the top continues much like this for 350 miles to the South Pole, and on for many hundreds of miles beyond to the east coast. Many thanks to Ralph Lorenz for his gear!
-posted by Jani
Editorial note from Ralph:
This is a great opportunity to explain a bit about our camp architecture, so I’m chiming in. In this view South (or more SSE) is at the top, and that’s where the wind is coming from. The wind is the force of nature that affects us the most, and as a result ANSMET camps are set up to deal with it. The top row of four tents is where we live, two to a tent, with doors in the downwind direction (some Antarcticans prefer a side door arrangement. That lets in less snow when open but lets in a much stronger blast of cold wind). They are separated by 15-20 meters or so, or sometimes more. Get them too close together, they create a broad air dam that enhances drifting off to the sides. Get them just right and the Bernoulli effect sends that snow far downwind.
Off to the ends of that row on either side are cargo lines; the crates and boxes of stuff we use every day layed out in a line parallel to the wind to avoid big drifting. After 37 years of doing this we have a very nice collection of crates that are both windproof and can be opened without pulling your gloves off.
The next row from the top is mostly snowmobiles, and some flags too. The snowmobiles sit nose into the wind and are covered to keep snow out of their innards. Flags left lying down get buried quickly, since they are “rough” to the wind, creating turbulence that drops the suspended snow. Leave them standing and you get an awful cacophony of flapping, leading to nightmares straight out of Hitchcock’s The Birds. We tend to bundle them together, and leave only one small flag standing so we can dig them out of the drift they create.
Very purposefully downwind are two tents that can’t be called essential but in fact make ANSMET camp life livable; the Poo tent and the Science tent (also called the Party tent). The latter is basically a Scott tent that’s old, beat up, and has no liner; we use it to store crates that we really don’t want snow to get in (like electronics, collection kits, etc) and as a workplace when things need repair, like our solar power centers or snowmobiles (the tent becomes a garage when we drop it over the hood of the skidoo). It gets called the party tent because it’s the only indoor space we have where 8 can gather in reasonable comfort, so when it’s xmas or new years, that’s where we end up. Usually our small camp oven is set up in there for warm and the occasional roast game hen.
The Poo tent has an obvious use, and usually is very Scandinavian Modern in decor. A few boxes of toilet paper, trash bags and hand sanitizer sit at the walls, and in the middle is a bucket with (if you’re lucky) a big pink foam seat. I won’t lie to you, the comfort aspect of the Poo tent is not trivial. When I started in this business we simply went outside in the blowing wind, dug a hole (or not), dropped trou and let ‘er rip. But there’s a “green” aspect to this as well- once we knew McMurdo was equipped to deal with it, we embraced the charge to return all solid human waste to McMurdo for proper disposal. So yes, as a very early post said, ANSMET really can be about moving ”…. S@#$ from one godforsaken place to another”. The Poo tent helps us with that.
There’s another cluster of camp stuff further north, off the bottom of the page- it’s our refueling station, about 100 ft downwind and sidewind from camp. Usually we have 20-30 propane bottles (used for heating and cooking) and 6-16 motor fuel barrels (for the snowmobiles). Like the cargo lines discussed earlier, they’re laid out in lines parallel to the wind to avoid drifting. We try to keep this area very uncluttered so that snowmobiles can maneuver easily and we can manage the risk of spills without difficulty.
One final thing. A fair number of people are amazed that we’re not living in buildings at some base or the polar equivalent of RV’s, driving around in vehicles with sealed cabs, that kind of thing. We have seriously considered such things, but in fact they trade away function for comfort. First it’s important to note that aboriginal peoples have been living in similar environments for tens of thousands of years with few permanent buildings of any kind; the hardship level is exaggerated, particularly given the comforts we now associate with a modern home. We live primitive, yes, but it’s not “barely living”. Our long history of Antarctic work has allowed us to find a sweet spot in the space between logistical capability, the capacity of people to deal with the weather and the very remote places we need to go. Add more gear or stay closer to home, suddenly we can’t get to most of the meteorites due to cost, lack of aircraft, or lack of range. We’ve got a “cowpoke” kind of life now, mobile enough to get where we need to go without it being too much of a burden on USAP, light enough for 8 people to deal with, and everyone with their own “hoss” (the snowmobiles) letting us be very very flexible in terms of daily activities. I don’t think we’ll be messing with this basic design unless we’re forced to.