Siple Dome is about 510 nautical miles from McMurdo, about 2/3rds the distance to the pole. And from the descriptions I've heard of the pole, does not look much different. It's flat and white. The camp is at about 2,400 feet elevation. I'm here the last week of November, and this is now the third largest United States station on Antarctica. There are about 60 people here, more than the permanent station at Palmer. McMurdo was over 1,200 when I left, the pole should be about 200, Siple Dome with 60, and Palmer with slightly less than 50.
Just before I left the Bob's digital camera broke, so I wasn't able to take any photos from up here.
This camp consists of several large 'Jamesways'. These are quanset type huts, only they are cloth tops. Built for the military in the 50's, one of the concerns now is replacements and upkeep of them. They were made of high quality wood, and could be adjusted to several sizes by adding more of the 5' sections to them. The largest one here, is the SOAR Jamesway, which is 100' long. The tent type portion consists of thick insulated 'blankets' that provide the roof, and ends.
Most Jamesways are heated with 'prewave' stoves. It burns AN8 (JP8) the fuel of choice around Antarctica. With most of the C-130 flights into the camp, they off load fuel from the aircraft to large bladders that are set up. The camp also serves as an alternate airstrip for flights passing by, and can fuel aircraft that have traveled to areas beyond a single tank of gas. The bladders supply both the camp and aircraft needs.
The food is quite good in the camps. I've made the observation, but haven't decided yet, if the pre-occupation with the quality of food is a good thing or bad thing. But it has become obvious that everyone looks forward to the meals, I guess I took that a little more for granted at home.
The first or second evening I was here, I walked outside, after dinner, and noticed a couple of the pilot types golfing in the snow. Not sure what the rules are, but it looked to be a challenge. Cross Country Skiing is also popular with some of the folks here.
Our other refuge is the recreation Jamesway. We have a TV and VCR, and the field center, sends out new movies and tapes from time to time. I've caught up on a lot of more obscure movies I'd never seen (repo man, Tank Girl, etc). The Jamesway is also shared with the only shower at the camp. Everyone is allowed a short shower every four days. We also have a washer and dryer, and everyone is allowed a load of laundry once a week (cold water only). All of the water here has to be melted. We're lucky being a large camp, that they have a tractor that they use for filling the snowmelter for our water. The snowmelter is strategically located between the galley jamesway, and the recreation jamesway.
About half of the people here are out in tents. A combination of the large yellow Scott tents, and the smaller mountaineering tents. The rest use the remaining 4 jamesways for berthing. Since I was supposed to be here only for a short visit, I got a cot in one of the berthing jamesways.
There are two major science groups here, and a couple of smaller ones. The first is SOAR - Support Office for Aerogeophysical Research. They outfit a twin otter aircraft with special equipment, that allows them to see through the ice, and map the actual earth which is several thousand feet below (almost 10,000 at the pole!).
The other is a drilling project called PICO - Polar Ice Coring Office. They drill through the ice, and remove several inch diameter cores of ice. The PICO people are responsible for the drilling, and another group - WAISCORES coordinates the project, and operates the storage in a freezer at the drill site, and then the transportation to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Lakewood, Colorado. They are able to actually see what the air was like thousands of years ago when they examine these ice cores. As time went on, the local air became trapped in the layers of snow and ice. By looking down through the layers and keeping track of the ice as it is brought out, they can date things back thousands years.
I was out at the camp to fix a satellite station, and install a new satellite station that uses the GOES 3 satellite to pass data to the camp. The fix to the ATS-3 Satellite equipment went quite well, and I had that up shortly after arriving. The GOES system took a while longer, and I was not successful in the initial attempt. After waiting for some additional test equipment, I got things set up, but still was not communicating to to Malibar Florida (the ground station at the other end of the Satellite). The person that normally ran the Malibar station was gone for Thanksgiving, so I was waiting for his return to verify what the problem was. I was going to be staying for our Saturday celebration of Thanksgiving.