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Saturday, June 25, 2011


Several people have been asking me about skiing here at the South Pole, so I would like to first let everyone know that I am working on a new blog on Extreme Cold Weather Skiing, which I hope to publish within the next couple of weeks.  Today's blog, however, is on our mid-winter celebration, which we observed here at the South Pole last Saturday, June 18, three days ahead of the actual winter solstice.  This is the darkest of winter for us, with the sun sitting at a constant 23.5 degrees below the horizon, but it is cause for celebration because the sun is now slowly starting its trip back up towards us, even though it will be at least 6 weeks before we can even discern any faint glow at the horizon.  In good South Pole tradition, we celebrated with a sumptuous banquet and with a group photo on the ice.

Summer and winter solstices can easily go unnoticed to people living at medium latitudes, but they are a big deal here in Antarctica.  All the stations that remain open for the winter exchange greetings, typically accompanied by a photo of the winterover group.  Here is the greeting that we sent out.  We took this photo on June 13 under an almost full moon and using a long exposure, which makes the station behind us visible.  I am the fifth from the right, standing.

We shed our work clothes for the party and try to dress up a little.  Some of us have even brought suits and ties for the occasion.  To my right is Jens, one of the two Ice Cube Laboratory scientist, who has been looking all winter long for a single extra-terrestrial neutrino.  To my left are Bill, our electrician, and Kevin, our plumber.  We try to socialize in a more formal way than we usually do, with cocktails and appetizers.

From the cocktail table I particularly enjoyed the Blue Cheese Walnut Tarragon Dip, the Roasted Red Pepper Goat Cheese Pine Nut Dip, and the Crostini, but we also had shrimp and beef pate'.

We set up a very nicely decorated long table, we played some background music, displayed a fireplace on our large LCD monitor, and enjoyed some wine, too, including some from New Zealand and some even from Italy.  Before we started the meal the station manager read a letter that President Obama sent us.  In the letter the President praised our work in furthering our understanding of global warming and closed by saying "As you mark Midwinter's Day in Antarctica, I commend you on your commitment to discovery and innovation.  I encourage you to continue to use your talent and dedication to make the world better for us all, and I thank you for a job well done."

Our midwinter dinner consisted of a Salad fresh from our greenhouse, tossed with walnuts and mmarinated dry cherries, and a main course made of Glazed Duck Breast topped with a blackberry tarragon garnish (Top), Lobster and King Crab sauteed in garlic butter topped with a champagne sauce and served in a pastry shell (Right), Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Artichoke hearts sauteed in olive oil (Bottom), and Polenta Cakes baked with sundried tomatoes, capers, and Rosemary (Left) ... delicious.

It wouldn't have happened without our superbe kitchen staff: John, Bryan, Will (the chef), Jeremy, and Ashley, left to right.  Will and I have several things in common: his last job was in a French restaurant in Denver, Co, and I speak French, and, like me, he worked in the semiconductor industry, as chef at the Sematech cafeteria in Austin, Tx, which I visited several times, so it is likely that I ate some of the food he prepared even before I came here to the South Pole.  We also shared a room, with many others, for 13 days, in McMurdo, waiting for our flight to the Pole back in October - occasionally he saves me a bowl of oat meal if I sleep in and am late for breakfast!  Bryan works dinner.  He always makes sure I get plenty of vegetables, excep on Fridays, when he knows that I turn from vegetarian to carnivore and I like my steak rear.  Jeremy works lunch and makes great tofu dishes and indian food.  He lived in Japan for some time and speaks Japanese.  John was the baker in the summer, and made me panettone for Christmas, but during the winter he is responsible for managing our food supplies.  Ashley has the biggest smile on station and must be the happiest person I have ever met in my life.

I took this photo from the deck of the station, less than 1 hour before we started dinner.  It was two days after the full moon.  On the horizon the Ice Cube Laboratory (left), and the South Pole Telescope (right) are visible in the moonlight.  They are part of my daily ski loop.  The distance to the Ice Cube Laboratory is 0.67 miles (1.1 km).

I went out on June 21, the very midwinter day, and took this photo of me at the very South Pole (temperature -85 F, or -65 C).

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