Hi. My name is Nicholas Papke and I used to volunteer in the Physics Lab at OMSI. I had to take a break from that role because I am spending the year at a faraway place – the South Pole!
Did you know that there is a scientific research station down here? In fact several countries conduct scientific research at stations all over Antarctica. Back in 1959, 12 countries originally signed a treaty to protect Antarctica, designating it as a place for peaceful purposes only and establishing freedom of scientific investigation. Today there are approximately 50 countries that observe the Antarctic Treaty. The United States Antarctic Program operates three research stations on this icy continent: McMurdo Station, Palmer Station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The US has maintained a presence at the pole since 1956, when a Navy crew became the first to overwinter here. The most recent addition is an elevated station that was built in 2003. I have the distinct privilege of being one of the few people to spend a winter at the southernmost point on the globe.
The first impression that most people have of Antarctica is of extreme cold. Although it is currently “summer” here, it is indeed very cold. Typical temperatures are in the neighborhood of -25ºC (-13ºF), which can feel much colder with added wind chill. Fortunately we have very warm clothing to protect us from the subfreezing temperatures.
One curious fact about summer in the Antarctic is that the sun never sets! Over the course of the day, it circles the sky while remaining at essentially the same height. You might expect it to be warmer here with the sun always out, but for one, the sun doesn’t get very high in the sky and secondly it doesn’t come out at all during the other half of the year. Seasons here, like anywhere, are a consequence of the earth’s tilt. However, the solar cycle is experienced differently in the Polar Regions because line-of-sight to the sun is not lost as a result of our planet’s axial rotation; rather it is obscured due to the Earth’s orbital position, which will eventually bring on the winter season. Since winter is still several months away we can get into that later.
Anyway, that’s a quick introduction. I will explain more about the scientific research we conduct and life in the Antarctic next time!