Over the last few weeks, I read through 90° South by Paul Siple, a book mainly about the first winter people spent at Pole (1957). It’s an interesting look into the beginnings of the USAP, during a period in Antarctic history that doesn’t seem to get very much literary attention. Paul Siple was also the first Station Science Leader, but at that point the title meant he was directly in charge of half the station population.
I get the impression that Siple exaggerated a bit in parts of the book, and he has a weird fascination with beards and with Byrd, but it’s not too bad of a read overall. It was funny to see how some parts of the program haven’t changed since the very beginnings – getting started that first winter they had some of the same problems we had this year: runways melting, possible fuel shortages, federal funding issues, late NPQs, etc. They also observed “Snow Down” that first winter, which sounds like exactly the same phenomenon as the Yukimarimo I discussed a few posts back.
Some of my favourite parts were anecdotes about the airdrops they used to get the original South Pole Station down here. Parachutes only worked about half the time, with most of the rest of the airdrops “streaming in”. At one point though, a D2 bulldozer was dropped, spun in the air and severed the parachute cords, and ended up 30 feet under the surface. I imagine it’s still out there, but would be a serious project to exhume it as it’s got an additional 57 years of snow accumulation on top.
Siple was involved in the invention of wind chill calculations, which he briefly discusses in this book. I like that in Siple’s version of wind chill, the units are not in degrees. It’s never made sense to me that wind chill is expressed in the same units as temperature; wind chill is a measure of heat loss through exposed skin, and when wind chill is relevant, people tend to wear clothes:
At any rate, today we had a good demonstration of wind chill – 25ish knot winds and a relatively warm -50sC/-60sF. Using Siple’s scale, that’s roughly 3000, where pleasant is 200, cold is 800, and exposed flesh freezes at 1400. Using dorky wind-chill-in-degrees units, I can’t quickly find a chart that goes low enough, but it’s something like -82C/-115F.