Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life at the South Pole batters body and mind

(As published in The Kansas City Star:)
PALMER STATION, Antarctica | Jon Brack loved the South Pole.
The rest of the world might consider life there a banishment, might think the place is some frozen gulag to be endured.
But Brack relished his sunless winter at the bottom of the world. He tended a greenhouse, learned to play guitar, picked up conversational Italian. Venturing out of the Amundsen-Scott station meant dressing like an astronaut, but it promised the mind-blowing colors of the aurora australis.
“I didn’t want the sun to come back,” he said, “because I didn’t want the auroras to go away.”
Brack is part of a breed that has been drawn to Antarctica for better than a century — men and women intrigued more by the exotic than the easy, who think life is too short to be squandered in someplace ordinary.
Working all three U.S. research stations on the continent, Brack never went hungry or lacked a warm bed and an Internet connection.
At 22, he set aside a business degree and went to work as an Antarctic chef. Raytheon — the giant defense contractor that also runs the American polar research stations — started him at a field camp about eight miles from McMurdo Station on the Ross Ice Shelf on the continent’s New Zealand side.
MacTown, as regulars call it, is a summertime home for about 1,000 people — in winter, a fifth of that. Typically, about half the people are researchers. The rest are people such as Brack, who keep the scientists warm, fed, healthy and free to pursue research.

Antarctica: A frozen hotbed of climate research for hardy scientists (belated post of story)

(As published in The Kansas City Star:)

ANVERS ISLAND, Antarctica | Roald Amundsen attacked this frozen nowhere-land as a racing explorer, determined to be fastest, to be first, to be remembered.
His determination and savvy got him to the South Pole before any other, and made him a hero in an age when Antarctica existed in the human imagination as a final conquest.
Mostly for show, he brought along a scientist.
Just shy of a century later, the conquerors have given way to the curious.
Now scientists such as geologist David Barbeau and ornithologist Kristen Gorman, rugged individuals of another age, shuttle in rubber Zodiac boats from remote research stations and ice-breaking research ships. They bump aside small floes, bend against brutal polar winds and scramble up cliffs in search of their own discoveries.
They search not for fame, but for answers about the same climate that once tortured and killed their polar adventuring forebears. Around this continent, the weather has mellowed alarmingly. Giant glaciers and tiny creatures are threatened as this tip of our global iceberg warms faster than anywhere else on earth.
These modern-day researchers come not to conquer, but to understand.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shackleton, after waiting for established air route and better food, gets to South Pole

OK, not that Shackleton. But a distance relative of the old man became not the first, but about the gazillionth person to make it to the South Pole.

From the Military Times:


   After five attempts, a Shackleton has finally made it to the South Pole.

   Navy Reserve Cmdr. Scott Shackleton reached the pole the night of Feb. 9 while serving on a three-week resupply mission helping prepare the scientific communities stationed there for the Antarctic winter from mid-February until October.

   Scott Shackleton's distant cousin, famed British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, made four unsuccessful attempts to plant a flag at the geographic bottom of the earth before he died of a heart attack on his last expedition in 1922.

   "It's a beautiful and mystical place," said Scott Shackleton in a phone interview from McMurdo Station just hours before he was scheduled to leave the continent and begin his journey home. "It's unlike anywhere else in the world. I understand now why he kept coming back to explore, and I hope I get another chance to come here, too."

   Scott Shackleton's job was to oversee the offload of a tanker and a container ship. He made it to the South Pole in an Air Force C-130 aircraft, which was making ferry runs with supplies to sustain those living at the South Pole for another year.

   During Ernest Shackleton's second expedition, he got within 97 miles of the geographic pole - the farthest south anyone had made it until that time.

   His hopes to be the first to the pole were dashed when Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his party got there Dec. 14, 1911.