By Refael Klein, NOAA Corps officer, from South Pole, October 3
The sun sits two fingers above the horizon. It is obscured by fine, white, icy clouds, but nonetheless you can make out its circular shape—dimming and brightening with each gust wind and slight fluctuation in temperature. Pulsing, blinking, fluttering, stuttering, in a dead language, in a Polar Morris code it jabbers away. Transfixed, I stand in the middle of the frozen plateau, trying to decipher its speech, until my corneas start to burn, my eyes begin to water and my eyelids freeze shut.
“The sun has risen, the winter is over!” I can walk to work in broad daylight, and see from the station one quarter mile to the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO)—it doesn’t matter if it is cloudy. I no longer stumble over snow drifts and sastrugi on my walks outside, and I’m awakened each morning by bright, natural light bouncing off the snow and the walls of the main station into my small, rectangular room.
Light sensitive experiments that were turned on at sunset have been turned off and window coverings throughout the station have been removed. As I drink my morning coffee, I can stare outside onto the icy white canvas I have called home for the past 11 months. If it is windy, I can see how windy it is, and if it is clear I can see for 12 unobstructed miles to the horizon.
It hasn’t begun to warm up yet, and it won’t for several more weeks, not until the sun climbs higher into the sky. Nonetheless, being able to observe the landscape around me, the blowing snow, and shifting drifts has lifted some type of psychosomatic weight from within me, and the cold no longer feels quite as cold as it did when the sun still slept out of sight. Negative 80 degrees feels like negative 50 degrees, and where once I wore two pairs of long underwear I now only wear one.
Perhaps I should say “the sun has risen and the winter is nearly over.” A million things still stand between us, the winter crew, and station opening–the first flight is due in four weeks. Two miles of runway need to be groomed and a dozen outbuildings opened, heated and dug out. ARO’s standard operating procedures need to be revised and rewritten for the incoming station chief and technician. Hundreds of air sample flasks need to be packaged and prepared for delivery, and dozens of ozonesondes need to be calibrated for balloon flights.
The sun has risen– the station awakes from its icy slumber, the pace of life increases as all race against the clock to ready the station for summer operations, and talks of the future–travels plans, vacation, future jobs can be heard down every hallway, ladder well and hatch.
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