forum discussion #32

Life and Work at the South Pole

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Listen to our interview with Freija Descamps here.

Descamps is a Belgian astrophysicist working at the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole. She is one of 49 workers spending the winter there, and she was our guest in this Science Forum discussion.

The sun has set over the South Pole and the last plane has left for the season. Descamps and her colleagues are now spending six months in darkness on a desolate continent. Continue Reading ...

Today, scientists like Descamps can spend the entire winter in Antarctica without worrying about the extreme temperatures. Things were very different a century ago when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team made the first successful trek to the South Pole, arriving on December 14, 1911. A month later, a team led by British explorer Robert Scott also reached the pole, only to perish on their way home.

Although his expedition ended in tragedy, Scott is considered a hero by many who work in Antarctica today. Listen to our story about Scott’s legacy by reporter Eric Niller here.

See this slide show of pictures taken at the South Pole by Freija Descamps.

So what is life at the South Pole like for researchers today?

And how do you remain sane in such a frigid and desolate place?

Descamps answered your questions all the way from the South Pole.

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Your Comments

  1. Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

    Hi everyone!
    I am excited about answering any questions you might have about working and living at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station and about the science experiments, in particular IceCube, that are currently operating at this remote location.

    Maybe I can already anticipate one question by saying that there are no penguins here.

    In fact, there is no life whatsoever except for the
    crew of 49 people that winter-over at this station. The last plane left on February 15th and there are no flights until the end of October. The sun went below the horizon this week and will only be back in 6 months. The current temperature is
    about -77 degrees Fahrenheit and the physiological altitude is 10 235 feet.

    Cheers,
    Freija

    • Hi Ms. Descamps.
      Thank you so much for doing this.
      My question is: how do I get to go?? My background is more in music, writing and production than science – maybe I could help keep people entertained. :)
      Seriously though, I have always wanted to go there – it seems like the closest thing on Earth to being on another planet.
      Is it quiet outside? Or is it windy and loud?
      I guess that is 3 questions. Sorry.
      Good luck to you!
      Scott

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi Scott,
        There are several ways to get here. I was lucky to be able to do my PhD on an IceCube subject. This allowed me to obtain the IceCube winter-over job.

        Other jobs on station are, for example, IT personal and electricians. Check out the USAP website for more information about the Antarctic Program and job opportunities: http://www.usap.gov/

        Currently, when there are no machines running outside, there is usually only the sound of wind (if there is any) and the crunching sound of your own footsteps in the snow.

        Thank you!
        Freija

    • Rodolfo B

      Hi Freija,

      No questions today. You are an inspiration. I hope you accomplish your objective. I also hope that you have access to wine and jazz. Cheers and good luck!

      Rodolfo

    • Mrs. Sandecker's 4th Grade Class

      Hello, Freija!
      We are Mrs. Sandecker’s 4th grade class in Ithaca, NY. We are currently learning about arctic climates, and we wanted to know what it is like to live in a place where it is dark all day sometimes. It must be quite different!
      Also, we wanted to say we hope the best for you and that we will keep you in our thoughts. Thank you!

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi Mrs Sandecker’s class!

        I also wonder what it will be like to live in a place where it is always dark outside. Currently, we still have twilight but soon we will start seeing the stars.

        People who have spend several winters here already tell me that it is rarely truly dark because of the stars, auroras and the moon (when she’s above the horizon).

    • Mohammad

      Freija

      I am a communication technician and my question is how do you connect with internet at south pole? If using satellite internet don’t the weather effects the speed and quality?

      Thanks

      Mohammad

      PS: Do you guys have access to good coffee up there?

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi,

        we use satellite communication,
        using different satellites. There is typically about 8 hours of coverage each day. Most of this is during our night though. I am unsure how the weather affects the quality. The dishes are all inside heated buildings.

        We have an awesome espresso machine here!

        Freija

    • Theodore

      Hi -
      I am a physician (general internal medicine) and wonder what kind of medical/surgical equipment/facilities/back resources you have in case someone becomes seriously ill. I imagine you have telemedicine links and would like to know who provides the telemedicine capability.
      Thanks very much and good luck to you all!

      • ajo

        See the book _Ice Bound : A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole_ by Dr. Jerri Lin Nielsen and the article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerri_Nielsen for some background on answers to your question.

        –ajo

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi Theodore,

        we have 2 physicians on station and a (so I was told) well-equipped medical facility, where the doctors can take X-rays if necessary. If one of us becomes seriously ill, there is the option of limited surgery. This can indeed be guided/assisted by experts in the North using the satellite connection.

        I do not know the details of this system, but will for sure ask the medical staff!

        cheers
        Freija

      • Theodore

        Thank you for your answer and for the story about Dr. Jerri Nielsen. By the way, which time zone do you all choose to set your clocks by?

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi,

        we follow the New-Zealand time zone.

        Freija

    • Dear Freija, What do you use to generate electricity? Can you pick up any stations on short wave? thank you

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi Jason,

        we can communicate with the other stations, usually over the Iridium satellite phone or just by e-mail.

        All electricity is generated currently by generators that use JP8 fuel.

        Freija

    • morgan daniels

      Hello Ms.Descamps.
      I’m Morgan and I was wondering what it’s like in the south pole, with no sunlight and cold weather. I don’t think I could do it! I think your a real brave person. Good luck!
      morgan daniels 9 years old

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi Morgan,

        Living at the South Pole is like experiencing 1 day in a year. We have roughly 6 months of sunlight and 6 months of darkness. In between, there is one long sunset and one long sunrise. It’s pretty cool!

        Now that the sun is down, we will soon see the auroras and the stars. This is something we all have been looking forward too :)

        Thanks,
        Freija

    • Drusy Henson

      Hi Freija!

      I hope you’re enjoying your time. My question is about the ice cores you drill out to set your instruments into the ice. What do you do with the cores? Are there geologists or other scientists that study the actual cores? I imagine it is a lot of work to drill them out and therefore they don’t go to waste!

      Curious (and enjoying the spring finally coming to the northeastern United States),

      Drusy Henson
      Massachusetts, USA

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Hi Drusy,

        I am having a great time, thanks!
        Now to answer your question: IceCube does not extract ice cores. The holes we drilled were melted by a hot water drill. This way, we could drill big water-filled holes fast (typically 32 hours).

        However, there is still interesting glaciology science that has been done using the IceCube holes. One way to study the ice is to send down a laser inside the hole. By looking at the amount of returning light, we have been able to identify ash layers from volcano eruptions for example.

        On top of that, water samples have been taken and are being examined for the presence of certain (natural) radioactive isotopes.

        As you can see, even though we do not have cores, the IceCube holes indeed to not go to waste!

        cheers
        Freij

    • silviu

      hello there
      is it very nice of you answering questions and telling us about the fabulous life on the south pole .
      i have always dreamed to get a job there and be able to stay for at least 1 year.. since you are kind enough to tell us about the place maybe you can tell me how this can become possible . I have experience as a mechanic, use to be a military navy diver M.O.D, i speak 5 languages, and i am good at lodes of other things if needed :)
      But the most important is my passion for new and exploring..had the chance to be visiting a few countries , about, 24 and i am sure Antarctica is the place for me to go, live and explore

  2. Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? David Baron

    Freija –
    Thanks so much for joining us! I’m curious to hear a bit about the neutrino observatory you work on. In simple terms (if possible), what is the experiment aiming to do?
    David

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      thank you for your question!
      IceCube is aiming to study, for example, violent astrophysical sources by detecting neutrinos emitted by these objects. Neutrinos are elementary particles that only interact very feebly with matter. That is precisely what makes them uniquely valuable as astronomical messengers. Unlike photons or charged particles, neutrinos can emerge from deep inside their sources and travel across the universe without interference.

      You can find more information on the official IceCube website:
      http://www.icecube.wisc.edu

      Freija

  3. Larry

    Hello from Los Angeles, I just heard the show, and have always been interested in the S Pole. Do you see animal life when you go out? What do you guys eat? Is global warming affecting the world as I believe it is? Keep warm and safe, and I will monitor your progress from the comfort of my office! If you are bored one day, please up load some pictures for us all.

    Thanks
    Larry

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Larry,

      there is no animal life at the geographic South Pole. At very rare occasions, we might see a bird that is flying over very high above us.

      The food is really awesome here! We have an amazing galley staff that manages to prepare tasty food out of a limited choice of ingredients. We also have a high-tech greenhouse that produces fresh lettuce, cucumbers and other so-called ‘freshies’!

      I asked one of our resident meteorologists about the temperature trends of the past years here at South Pole and apparently there are no solid conclusions on the subject.

      thanks!

  4. Hi Freija,

    2 questions.

    1) I’ve heard that neutrinos can be utilized for early detection of super novas. If neutrinos have mass, how are they able to arrive faster/sooner than the gamma ray burst associated with a super nova?

    2) I’ve also heard that the south pole has a better view of the center of the galaxy. Is this true, and is this the reason why the IceCube is located at the south pole as opposed to the north pole?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      2 answers in two separate posts!

      1) Indeed, the neutrino burst from a SuperNova (SN) is expected to reach Earth before the visible (photons) signal. Because of the fact that neutrinos interact very weakly with matter, they will escape the SN before the photons. The time between the neutrino burst warning and the first visible light could be minutes, hours or days, depending on the nature of SN and its surroundings. Most of the energy of a SN is emitted in the form of neutrinos.

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        2) It is true that the Southern Hemisphere has a view of the galactic center. However, IceCube is mainly looking downwards, towards the Northern Hemisphere. The reason is as follows: the largest source of background in IceCube are muons that are generated by charged particles in our own atmosphere. These muons can look like neutrinos to IceCube. However, they cannot traverse the Earth whereas neutrinos can. We are therefore using the Earth as a way to filter out the muons.

        Hope this answers your questions!
        Freija

  5. Lee

    Hi Freija!

    I’m curious to know about the culture of life in Antarctica. Is it a very close and warm community? Or are people more individualistic? Do most people form close friendships and relationships? Do people find themselves going a little stir-crazy in such a closed environment- particularly in the winter? Is it liberal? Conservative? How diverse is it racially/ethnically and sexual orientation wise? Do most people come back year after year?

    Thanks so much and best of luck! Have a great Winter!

    Lee

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      this is a hard question for me, since this is my first winter here and we have only closed the station 1.5 months ago.

      From meeting previous winter-overs, it seems indeed like people form very tight friendships here, often referring to the group they wintered with as family.

      The population (small as it is) strikes me as being diverse and tolerant. We have 14 woman out of 49 people and 8 non-US citizens.
      I count at least 10 returnees this winter, some of which have done over 5 winters!

      I’ll have to get back to you in a few months on the stir-crazy question :)
      cheers
      Freija

  6. Christopher Geidl

    My name is Christopher Geidl. I’m 4 years old. We are learning about the South Pole in school. I would like to know if you ever play in the snow. Do you have snowball fights?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Christopher!

      Awesome that you are learning about the South Pole! Unfortunately, the snow here is not sticky enough to make good snowballs (we tried!). Every year there is a snow-sculpture contest. We dig out large blocks of snow and people can then carve out animals and dragons for example.

      Freija

  7. Keith

    Good evening,

    Why there? Is the South Pole a better place to try and detect Neutrinos than anywhere else?

    Thank you,

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Keith,

      The South Pole has one big advantage: the large layer of ice (about 2.8km thick) that we are living on here. This ice is crystal clear (optically transparent) at large depths.

      An interacting neutrino will give rise to an optical signal. Therefore, we drilled 86 holes in the ice to lower optically sensitive equipment. This way, we are looking at a large portion of the ice and catching the flashes of light.

      cheers
      Freija

  8. Adrian and Leigha

    What’s it like down there? How much time do you spend outside? We are 10 and 7 years old. Can kids go to the south pole? Good luck…stay warm!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Adrian and Leigha!

      I think that the South Pole is a beautiful and interesting place. There are many different types of scientific experiments and everybody is willing to share and explain their projects.

      The time one can spend outside depends on the activity (walking versus working) and the person. Personally, I would say I currently can spend about an hour outside before needing to go inside to warm up again.

      I have not seen any kids here at the South Pole. All people that live here also have to work here. The station does not have any infrastructure for you here, like school or playground. Also, the snow is not sticky enough to make snowballs!

  9. Freija:

    Thank you so much for taking our questions. What does the sky look like at night?
    Are there Southern Lights – the Southern Cross and how did the moon look the other night?

    Brendan

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Brendan,

      currently we are still experiencing the start of civil twilight. Therefore, there are no stars or auroras visible yet. I hear from people who have spend previous winters here that the sights will be spectacular! Can’t wait to see it for myself…

      Freija

  10. Ben and Joe

    Freija,

    I listened to the interview with my kids today. Thanks so much for the great interview and for taking the time to respond to questions.

    10-year-old Joe asks: What supplies do you need?

    14-year-old Ben asks: Do you ever get sick of the people you stay with?

    Good luck in the months ahead,
    Tamara

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Tamara, Joe and Ben,

      Joe, the supplies here are indeed an important issue. Since we are isolated from the rest of the world for 9 months, we need to make sure we have everything we might need. Food of course, but also fuel and spare parts for important systems on station. We cannot just go to the shop or order things online!

      Ben, living with the same 49 people on the station for an extended period of time can seem like a big challenge. However, we have plenty of space to void each other for a while if that would be necessary. Speaking from my own point of view, I am certainly not sick of anybody! :)

      Thank you for the questions and take care
      Freija

  11. I love that knitting is among the activities that people pass the time with in Antactica! I’m an independant yarn dyer, and would love to be able to ship yarn to a knitter on that continent — so much so that I’m offering a free skein, and could even do a custom colorway for the knitter. So far, I’ve shipped yarn to customers on 5 of 7 contintents, with Antartica and Africa still to go. I realize that there won’t be any shipments going in until October, but if you could pass my contact infromation on to a knitter, I would be grateful.

    Stay warm,

    Astrid

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there,

      I will pass it on to the yarn specialist here on the station. Thanks

      Freija

  12. Dan Marsh

    Hi Freija,
    Could you please attempt to answer the following questions:
    1. Is the polar plateau at the south pole moving/flowing slowly northward?
    2. If so, roughly how far north of the current south pole would be the location of the old south pole visited by Captain Amundsen?
    3. Have any archaeological digs or journeys been attempted to find any trace of the first south pole visitors?
    4. There are photos of a building raised above the polar surface. I would think that a below surface structure would be potentially warmer and safer from fierce polar winds. Do you know why it was constructed that way? Was it pre-fabricated? Is it raised to allow snow drifts to pass harmlessly underneath?
    Thank you very much for being featured on P.R.I.’s “The World”, and offering to answer our questions.
    Dan

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Dan,

      1) The layer of ice we are living on here is indeed moving at a speed of roughly 10 meters each year.

      2)I have not seen any research on the subject of the location of Amundsen’s Polheim South Pole Camp. If he indeed managed to locate the precise geographic South Pole and the speed of the glacier has remained constant over the past 100 years, then logically his camp should now have moves about 1km relative to the pole. However, with the instruments at his disposal at that time, Amundsen could not have known the South Pole location within 1km precision.

      3)There have been attempts at finding Polheim, but no success so far.

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        4)Anything build on the snow surface will inevitably be drifted over by the snow. Therefore, the new station has been build on pillars that can even be jacked up. The design and orientation of the building help reduce snow drifts. The station was constructed here at location.

        Hope this answers your questions!
        Freija

  13. Cathy Hunter

    Hello from Vermont-USA! Just heard your report on the radio- fascinating. This winter I read Lucy Bledsoe’s book the ‘Big Bang Symphony’ which she wrote while on an artist’s fellowship in Antarctica. It’s a great read and really gives you a sense of what life is like there. I highly recommend it! I’m wondering what you do to compensate for no sunlight i.e. do you take Vit D? How much? How far from the research station can you stray and how do you do that so you don’t get lost! Thanks, Cathy

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Cathy,

      During the summer we had 24 hours of sunlight so it will indeed be a large change to have 6 months of no sun! We have a greenhouse with a couch where people can relax and soak up the humidity, some UV light and enjoy the smell of greens. Some people indeed take vitamin D or other vitamins, I do not have precise information on quantities.

      To walk to the outer buildings (maximum about 1 mile), one can follow the flaglines if it is too dark outside.

      Freija

  14. Andrew

    Freija

    Thanks for taking to answer our questions!

    The place looks vast. How far can you travel by foot in each direction?

    Thank you
    Andrew

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Andrew,

      Personally, I only go as far as the IceCube Laboratory at about half a mile of station. There is a flag line that we can follow when it is too dark.

      There are people that walk all the way from the coast (900 miles) during the summer months… for fun!

      cheers
      Freija

  15. Terry Benton

    Hi Freija,

    Thanks for the interview that I heard today. I have always been interested in what it is like there. I thank God for people like you who are are willing to sacrifice so much for science,though my question doesn’t involve science.

    What feelings went through your mind as you watched that last plane take off knowing that you would have no way back to civilization for eight months?

    Thanks in advance for your response. I hope you get to be a member of the 300 club soon!

    Terry

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Terry,

      In all honesty, I felt relieve! As IceCube winter-over, I was also required to spend the entire summer here. These 4 summer months were very busy and sometimes it felt even crowded (often over 250 people on station). It was nice to start a more regular routine, have IceCube running smoothly and really settle in.

      cheers
      Freija

  16. rick strange

    Hi I am a ham operator. I would like to know what would be a good time (gmt) to contact other hams on the repeaters you have in the Antarctic. Thank you very much.

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      we indeed have HAM radio equipment, but I am unsure if there are any licensed operators on station. I will get back to you on that one!

      cheers
      Freija

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi again,

      so I asked around a bit and for the moment,
      I have not found a licensed HAM operator here on station. You have better chance during the summer months when there are more people on station… not sure how to get in contact with them though.

      Sorry for the disappointing answer,
      hope you’ll get to talk to South Pole!
      cheers
      Freija

  17. Robbie

    Hi, Freija,
    I’m fascinated by the ability of you and the others to be cooped up for eight months. You must want “a breath of fresh air” occasionally – what is that like? What is involved in going outside? Do you just bundle up warm, or is it a big production with several paople involved? At 100 degrees below (Fahrenheit, right?), I would assume that any exposed skin would be almost instantly frostbitten. When one joins the “300 Club,” is it necessary to get completely bundled up while in the sauna, or do you get time to dress in between the sauna and the outdoors? Thanks to all of you for the sacrifices you make for your research!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Robbie

      In order to go outside at the current temperatures (-77F), we indeed bundle up really well. The trick in to have simply no exposed skin whatsoever. As for the 300 club, let’s just say that people have been known to participate with limited amounts of clothes…

      cheers!
      Freija

  18. Abby A. and Lauren M.

    Hello Freija,

    Thank you so much for answering all these questions from the public. We are two college astrophysics students and we recently stumbled across your research, it’s very interesting!

    We were wondering what exactly are you studying about neutrinos? More specifically, what aspects of neutrinos are you studying and what are you attempting to determine?

    Also, where does the food and water that supplies all the researches come from? Is it brought in at the beginning of the winter or is there some sort of renewable greenhouse/water system?

    Thank you so much!
    Abby and Lauren

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Abby and Lauren,

      Ah, astrophysics! IceCube has a multitude of science goals. For example, we are looking for astrophysical neutrino sources in the universe. We do this by determining the direction of the detected neutrinos. Combining our findings with the results of cosmic ray detectors (like for example Auger) could help reveal the nature of certain astrophysical objects.

      Check out the IceCube website (http://icecube.wisc.edu/) for a more complete list of the science goals and links to our publications.

      All of our food, with exception of the vegetables that are grown in the greenhouse,is flown in by plane. Our water consist of melted ice.

      Freija

  19. Mustafa

    Hi,

    My name is Mustafa. I am 10 years old. I am in 4th grade. What plane did you use to get there?I love birds, are there any there? One last thing, What do you do for entertainment?

    goodluck!

    Mustafa

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there, Mustafa

      The plane that flies us from Christchurch in New-Zealand to the coast of Antarctica (McMurdo) is a huge C-17. The C-17 lands on wheels on the sea-ice. We then change planes to a smaller LC-130: this plane has large skis that allow it to land on the snow here at South Pole.

      I also love birds! At the coast, there are penguins and seabirds. Here at South Pole,
      we only very rarely see a bird fly over.

      We have a large collection of puzzles, movies and books here. There is also a large gym where we can play volleyball for example.

      thanks!
      Freija

  20. Hi and i heard your interview today as well… I am a sailor and have a boat here in Los Angeles, Marina del rey and envy you being so far away and alone… some day I will get there I hope. What is it like to be outside when it is 175 below zero or is it below freezing 32?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Greg,

      We will never reach 175F below,
      the minimum is around -100F. I have only experienced -77F up to now. It is impressive how fast you start loosing feeling in your fingers when taking of the thick gloves to take a picture for example!

      cheers
      Freija

  21. Ed A.

    Hi, hope you are having a good day. The interview was great! I hope you don’t regret giving it. For me, the interview was too short, so many things to talk about. Your work and project is very interesting. Enjoy making the 300 club, enjoy making the memories of wintering over. When you get to those moments when you ask yourself questions, remember only a small group of people are good enough for this work assignment, and only the BEST are good enough to winter over.

    Hats Off, Have fun! Enjoy the work.

    Ed

  22. Freija —

    Clark Boyd here. I cover technology for The World, and I happen to be based in Brussels, Belgium! Two questions: 1) Can you talk a bit about any sorts of cool tech that you use to do your job, and 2) do you miss the fries and chocolate here in Belgium?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there,

      2) I am biased of course, but I think IceCube is a very elegantly designed detector… it is quit literally ‘cool tech’ :) The base component is the Digital Optical Module (DOM). These are Photo Multiplier Tubes (PMT) combined with an electronics main board placed in a high-pressure glass sphere. All light signals in the ice are locally digitized and send to our data-processing computers many kilometers away.

      2) I brought a lot of chocolate with me of course! Thanks for reminding me of the Belgian fries, now I am craving them :)

      cheers
      Freija

  23. Susan Nerlinger

    Thank you for the opportunity to communicate. It’s a fantastic thing.

    What are you all doing down there now that sheds light on global climate change? What’s the latest on that subject?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      hi Susan,

      I asked one of our resident meteorologists about the temperature trends of the past years here at South Pole and apparently there are no solid conclusions on the subject.

      They are of course keeping track of all temperatures and other atmospheric data, like for example the evolution of the ozon layer.

      Freija

  24. Hi,
    We’re a sixth grade science class in Berwyn, Il (a suburb of Chicago) and we have a few questions. If you could answer all of them, that would be great, but even just some of them would be appreciated!
    Have you or the other scientists gotten frostbite?
    Are there ever any kids born there?
    Have you ever seen anything weird, out of the ordinary?
    What are the most common diseases there?
    Do you have to walk like the kid in “A Christmas Story” with all those layers on? :)
    How do you use those flags to find your way in the dark?
    Do you ever see any wildlife or other forms of life, like bacteria?
    Do you miss your old home?
    What specifically do you do when you’re not working?

    How did you get interested in studying in Antarctica?

    Thank you!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there!

      Here are the answers to your questions:

      -I have never gotten frostbite. Other people, however, have had minor frostbite here at pole. This usually heals well.

      -There were never any kids born at the South Pole.

      -Being at the South Pole might feel a bit like being on another planet. The environment is so different to what we are used to… i would say that is extraordinary!

      -The most common disease is for sure the common cold.

      -We do feel a bit clumsy sometimes, having to wear all those layers. Just today, a colleague compared our walk to the one from the kid in “A Christmas Story”.

      -The flags allow us to find our way mainly in bad weather. Often, the eyes adapt to the darkness just enough to see the next flag, and then the next flag after that and so on.

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        - There is no wildlife here at South Pole. We do (very rarely) sometimes see a bird fly over. There is research being done on the presence of bacteria or microbes inside the ancient ice below us.

        - I do miss my family and friends from Belgium. We keep contact through email and phone calls.

        - When I am not working, I keep busy by working on personal programming projects, watching movies, reading books and do sport. There are also many social activities organized in which I like to participate.

        - I’ve always been interested in astrophysics and therefore I studied physics and astronomy. This got me to IceCube which eventually led me to the South Pole

        Thank you for your questions!
        Freija

      • Thanks so much for answering our questions!

  25. Oops, we just read that there’s no life there at all, so obviously, skip that question!
    Thanks! :)

  26. Cynthia

    Hi Freija. How exciting to have the experience of the South Pole! Thanks for sharing it with us, as it is travel that most of us will never experience. Warm blessings to you and the other workers there.

    My question is in regards to the internal management structure. Is there job structure for station management and authority over all researchers? Who is the “boss” of the researchers to be sure work is done?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi!

      There is indeed an internal structure,
      the station manager is in charge of everything and everyone. Most people on station are employed by Raytheon Polar Services. Personally, I am employed by the University of Wisconsin but I am still to follow all station rules of course.

      The researchers typically have their bosses in the North that keep an eye on them by mails and weekly reports.

      cheers
      Freija

  27. Morris Kimura

    Dear Ms. Descamps,

    I am an ESL teacher working in Keene, New Hampshire. I work with a small group of third grade students from the US, Poland, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. We have been reading about the different Antartic explorers- Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and Gurrard. We listened to your story on “The World” and my students were fascinated with your life in the South Pole. My students immediately had questions about what you do there.
    Here are some of them.
    1. How large is your bedroom? Is it cramped?
    2. Have you ever gotten frostbite?
    3. What would you happen if you crashed two nutrinos going at tremendous speed?
    4. When do you want to join the 300 club?
    5. How long does it take to fly to Antartica?
    6. Is it tiring to be inside inside all day?
    I hope you can answer some of them!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there!

      1. We do get our own bedrooms here at South Pole, the size depends on how many months a person has already spend in Antarctica. My room is about 8 square meters and it does not feel cramped.
      2. I have never gotten any frostbite!
      3. Physicists are currently postulating theories about that. The z-burst theory describes the interaction of a very high energy neutrino with a low energy (relic) antineutrino. High energy photons and protons are expected to be part of the result.
      4. That depends on the temperatures!
      5. From Belgium to New-Zealand it takes about 23 hours of flight time. After that we take two military planes with a total of about 10 hours fligh time. Total travel time can be up to 5 days.
      6. I get to go outside a lot so that is fun!

      Thanks,
      Freija

      • Morris Kimura

        Dear Ms. Descamps,

        Thank you so much for your reply! They were very excited to hear someone from the South Pole! I think we have some future scientists here who will want to be a great scientist like you!

        Let us know when you make it to the 300 CLUB!

        Morris Kimura
        ESL TEACHER- Franklin School
        Keene, New Hampshire

  28. Stephen Mayfield

    Hello, this is pretty neat.

    Is there a marker that is placed at the exact location of the South Pole, 90 degrees south latitude?

    This is great. I look forward to your answer and stay warm!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Stephen,

      There is indeed a marker placed at the exact location of the geographic South Pole. This marker is designed each year by the winter-over crew. Every year, the marker is then moved over to the new location of the South Pole. This changes every year due to the movement of the ice in one direction (about 10 meters each year).

      cheers
      Freija

  29. Andrew

    Greetings:

    I am writing to find out if you will be available via email following this time chatting online. Our school, Lawrence Academy, is currently on spring vacation. Our students return the first week of April.

    Andrew

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Andrew,

      You can contact me by email to set up
      a conversation with your class.
      Please contact theworld@pri.org for my details.

      cheers
      Freija

  30. Bau Ur

    Is it possible todo any sort of useful research in Antarctica without ever actually getting cold?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      we are issued Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear.
      These clothes allow us to work outside without instantly getting too cold. During the summer months, we can get a lot of outside work done. During the winter-months, the focus is more on maintenance. For IceCube, we only need to walk in between the station and the lab, no outside work is required during winter.

      Freija

  31. Wendy

    Hello Freija,
    You mentioned the lack of wildlife. Have extremophiles ever been studied at the S. Pole? They have been discovered in places where no one expected to find life. Recently I heard a pod cast on the possibility of extremophiles on meteors/meteorites. Do you think extremophiles will ever be pursued in the S. Pole?
    My best to you and your colleagues!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      I know that research exists on this subject,
      check out for example the following paper:

      P. Buford Price, “A habitat for psychrophiles in deep Antarctic ice,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97, 1247 (2000).

      Freija

  32. Clay Thompson

    Ms. Descamps,
    Greetings from the Sunshine State.
    Please pardon for inquiring about something to which you may not yet have all the answers…
    I have seen a number of questions concerning how you might deal with the extremes of temperature and the close confines at the Amundsen-Scott research station, but nothing about the lack of sunlight. You are entering into a long period when the sun will be absent from the sky for five months. Have you ever lived in such conditions before? I cannot imagine anyway in which you might prepare for this. Is the base outfitted in any way to provide a natural spectrum of light? Is light therapy available? Does staff maintain a time routine to simulate normal sleep-wake cycles? Have any studies been done on the effects of, for lack of a better term, solar

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi!

      Ah, the Sunshine State, that does sound great.
      I have never lived in a place where it is 6 months dark. Although the winters can be very dark and rather cold in Belgium.

      There all no full spectrum lamps on station as far as I know. We do have the UV lamps in the greenhouse and there is a nice and comfy couch there. Hanging out in the greenhouse is for sure a nice way of soaking up some humidity too.

      There is a strict work and meal schedule on station. I try to keep regular hours and work out every day to keep fit.

      There are papers available on the effects of prolonged lack of sunlight, more precisely the lack of vitamin D. I believe chronic fatigue is a possible symptom.

      cheers
      Freija

  33. Karolina Gudmundsson

    Hello Freija,

    My name is Karolina, I am writing to you from Quito, Ecuador.

    I know about you since my teacher Tamara told us about you reaching in Antartica.

    How is it like there, is it very cold? I hope you can enter in the 300 club.

    Hope you write back, take care. Karolina

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Karolina,

      It is indeed very cold here! Much colder than I ever experienced. The trick is to wear many layers of clothes and have no exposed skin whatsoever when you go outside.
      Here are for example today’s temperatures:
      Temperature
      -62.6 °C -80.7 °F
      Windchill
      -83.9 °C -119.1 °F

      The sun went below the horizon a few days ago. The sky now has the most beautiful shades of pink, purple and blue. It is very beautiful…

      Take care!
      Freija

  34. Hi Freija,
    Just hear the piece on “The World” on NPR radio. I thought I’d check in and say Hi. I worked for Univ. of Wisconsin Physical Sciences Lab in Stoughton for about 17 years.
    I heard about your research on Neutrinos. I became good friends with Cosmic Rays back in 1967 when U.W. sent me out to Colorado to run the cosmic ray lab on Mt. Evans and later Echo Lake. We started at 14,260ft. and moved down to 10,400ft in order to operate year around. We did a Quark search but they never showed up on our film. Things have come a long way since 35mm film, scintillator plastic, IBM cards and paper tape to record data.
    I’m still in Colorado and can show you the old lab if you get back this way. My son Shawn Brown is spending the winter at McMurdo. Take care. Roz rozzie@rozbrown.com

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi!

      Thanks for your post,
      interesting! I hope your son is spending
      a wonderful winter,

      cheers
      Freija

  35. Becky

    Freija,
    I can’t imagine being there at -77 below! WOW!!
    I’m in Canada but not the far North, but the Southern coast of British Columbia. Much warmer. This is a crazy question? Where does the soapy water go from the washing machine? Does it just go out into the -77 below weather and freeze into a solid? Isn’t that a pollution on the pristine environment? I am an artist and it is nice to see all the bright colours in your living and working station. I guess now the sun is beginning to think about vanishing completely, will you be staying there at that time?
    All the best to you in your silent environment. Keep tuned to NPR.
    Becky

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Becky,

      the station ships out all trash,
      except the water which is stored in a Rodwell cavity inside the ice.

      The 49 winter-overs (including me) will be staying here throughout the darkness. We just had a art exposition where people designed window covers for the station…

      Freija

  36. Mrs. Howe, Tyler, Thomas and Robert

    Dear Freija,

    We are a small reading group of third graders from the Igo Elementary School in Foxborough, MA. Recently we’ve been reading a book about the North and South Poles, and our teacher heard about your expedition on the radio. We think what you’re doing is very cool! We wanted to know how long you can stay outside safely? We were also wondering what you do in your free time? Do you play board games and/or did you bring an iPod? Thanks for your time & keep warm!

    Sincerely,
    Mrs. Howe, Tyler, Thomas and Robert

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there,

      the time one can stay outside depends on the cloths and the activity. When being active and having no exposed skin, I can stay outside for over an hour at the current temperatures.

      We do play board games, I also do sport and paint. I did bring my iPod, that is nice to have when I walk to the IceCube lab!

      Thank you for your questions,
      Freija

  37. Cairo Baldy

    Dear Ms. Descamps,
    I am 9 years old. I am wondering how you can catch the nutrinos. They’re so tiny! When you’re not catching the nutrinos, what do you do in your free time? How do you exercise when it’s so cold out? Do you have your own room or do you share, and if you have your own room have you decorated it?
    Sincerly,
    Cairo

  38. Tell Big Country it’s 75F here in Tucson and that I’m having a Michelada. Miss you guys.

  39. Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

    Hi Cairo!

    When neutrinos cross the ice, some of them collide with tiny little particles inside the ice. This interaction will produce light! IceCube catches neutrinos by looking at the light in the ice.

    I exercise inside, it is too cold outside! We have a nice gym with a lot of options. There is even a rowing machine :)

    We all have our own rooms. My room is decorated with a lot of pictures and cards that my family and friends send to me. I also have a giant poster of the movie ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd and some balloons that my friends here on station taped to my door for my birthday :P It is colorful.

    Thank you for your questions,
    have fun!
    Freija

  40. Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

    Hi,

    I want to thank everyone for their interesting questions, some of which gave us ideas here (snowball-fights…).

    It is now getting really dark outside and the temperature reached -90F yesterday. IceCube is expected to start taking data with the full-sized detector soon so these are exciting times for us!
    I’ll be posting updates and pictures on my blog:

    http://coldlife.blog.foreach.com/

    Thanks
    Freija

  41. Ferne

    Dear Ms Descamps,
    I am 9 years old and am writing a school project on Antarctica. What is the best bit about being in Antarctica and what is the worst bit?
    How may layers of clothing must you wear?
    Do you see many penguins?

    Thank you

    Ferne

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi Ferne!

      The best thing about Antarctica is the beauty and the adventure. The worst thing is probably the fact that I can’t see my family for over a year.

      I usually wear 4 to 5 layers of clothes when I go outside. The trick is not to have any exposed skin. All skin that is exposed to the outside temperature and wind will likely get frozen.

      There are no penguins here at the South Pole, but I have see a bunch of then when I was at the Antarctic coastal research station called McMurdo.

      thanks and good luck with the school project!
      Freija

  42. Hi this is Louisville Middle’s Science Club in Colorado,, Boulder Valley School District. Here’s a set of questions which we’re going to also send as a podcast link that we’ll send separately.

    Ajit’s q: Why do you use Iridium in your Satellite radio? How many layers do you guys wear?

    Nik’s q: How long is the runway? Do all the planes have skis for landing gear?

    Connor’s q: How often are supplies flown in? How big is the base camp? What vehicles are used for getting about, and what antifreeze methods are used in the fuel?

    Maddi’s q: Where is your water supply? Can you drink it from melted ice? Does it have to be filtered if so?

    Ben’s q: Have you been caught in a white-out?

    Drew’s q: How deep is the ice there?

    Melba’s q: Does the drill or supporting structure ever fail?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi there, Louisville Middle’s Science Club in Colorado!

      Ajit: The Iridium system consists of a network of satellites. We have a limited amount of lines and mails that we can send out over this system. There is no landline going to the SouhPole so we communicate via satellite.

      Nik: The runway is 12000 feet long and is made out of compacted snow. Only planes with skis can land here.

      Connor: Supplies can only be flown in during the summer months. Then we have several planes a day! During wintertime, no planes can land. We use skidoos and track-vehicles to get around in summer. It is hard in winter to use the vehicles, so we usually walk. I am unsure what type of special additives we use for the fuel!

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

        Maddi: We drink melted ice from about 300feet deep. This water is so pure that we actually need to add minerals!

        Ben: I have seen white-out conditions. It is a strange feeling to see white all around and no contrast. A bit like floating in a cloud maybe!

        Drew: we live on a glacier here and the ice is about 2800 meters thick!

        Melba: The IceCube drill has had some failures, but the crew has always been able to fix it. We have plenty of back-up scenarios in case vital station systems would fail (but they never have so far).

        Thanks for your questions!
        Freija

  43. Hi Freija
    I am an engineer from India. Just surfing about south pole and found about ICE CUBE.
    I read your blog and earlier posts. You are doing a good and brave job. I sounds very interesting and adventurous. Hope you all are doing well and safe. I want to ask, rather know – how a compass behaves when you exactly take it to south pole point.

    Take care
    Cheers !!!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Freija Descamps

      Hi,

      the magnetic South Pole is located several hundreds of miles away from the geographical South Pole (where we are located here). Therefore, the compass should behave more or less normally here.

      thanks!
      Freija

  44. Harrison

    Hello my name is Harrison and I just have a couple question. What would I have to go to school for to go on one of those arctic expeditions? And my other question is do you guys get free time there to like watch tv and play video games and stuff?

    Thanks in advance
    Sincerely, Harrison :)

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