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Mike Penn's picture

Flat White and Leafy Green!

Flat white 1Flat white is a condition where it is impossible to tell the ground from the sky and the horizon is not distinguishable. Today the weather is not suitable for flying. There is a 35 mile per hour wind and we have a condition called "Flat White". Everything looks the same flat white color and it is very hard to tell the difference between the sky and the ground and you can not see the horizon. It can be very disorienting! Flay White 2This is the view of the supply yard and the Twin Otter airplane in flat white conditions at the South Pole Station.

Click the media tab (if the embedded link doesn't work) to see a short YouTube video of the "flat white" and a quick look at the South Pole Station hydroponic greenhouse!

There is a hydroponic greenhouse here in the station that is used to grow mostly leafy greens and herbs for use in the kitchen. It was nice to see plants for the first time in a month! It was 77 degrees and very humid in the greenhouse. There is a chair in there for people to go just so that they can be close to plants and breathe some humid air. It was really nice and I'll be going back in there! Hydroponic green house SPSThe South Pole Station has a hydroponic green house where they grow leafy greens and herbs for use in the kitchen.

These are the last of the questions that were unanswered at the PolarConnect event.

You said it was very cold there and in the videos we see on TNN you weren’t wearing a coat, you were wearing short sleeves. Why weren’t you wearing a coat?

Staying dryWhile it was cold, we were working hard and getting sweaty. It is important not to get sweaty (wet) so it is a constant process of putting on and taking off hats, gloves and layers of clothing in order to stay dry, even in very cold temperatures. It was relatively cold...about 15 ˚F. BUT, it was really sunny and there wasn't much wind. Since we were working hard digging that hole we were getting pretty warm. It is really important to avoid getting sweaty, so it is a constant process of putting on and taking off coats, hats, mittens, and gloves trying to stay dry and comfortable. Being wet from sweat can be a very bad thing when it is really cold.

If ice freezes on your face, can it melt or do you get frostbite? Justisha A. 6th grade

Justisha, Water on your face is a very bad thing here. That’s why is it such an advantage to have a beard and mustache, it keeps the water off of your skin. As cold as it is here, keeping water off of your face is a really good idea (and yes, it can definitely freeze), but if it is warm enough you might not get frostbite.

How do you eat meals without them freezing? Kaysia C. 6th grade

Kaysia, It hasn’t been a problem…so far. It really hasn’t been that cold out when I’ve had to eat outside. The coldest it has been when I’ve eaten outside is about -15˚F and while cold, isn’t cold enough to make the food freeze as I’m taking it to my mouth. Later this week, when I’m out near one of the coldest places on earth, it could be about -40˚F (without a windchill). Then eating will be a problem! One of the ways that we avoid the issue altogether is that when we DO eat outside we tend to eat dry foods like crackers and granola bars. Since they don’t have much moisture (water) they don’t solidify in the extreme cold temperatures.

What is your favorite thing you've seen/done so far? Haley M. 5th grade

That is a tough question, I’m not sure that I can narrow it down to just one. “Walking around the world” and stepping from today into yesterday and then from yesterday back into tomorrow at the Geographic South Pole was probably the coolest thing so far. I wrote a journal about that. But there have been lots of other awesome things, like stepping foot on Antarctica for the first time, stepping foot at the South Pole, coming within 25 feet of a sleeping seal, being left by a helicopter 100 miles from anywhere, are all on the “most fun and exciting” list!

What have you been eating? Zach L. 5th grade

Zach, That depends on where we are. When we are in the station there is a cafeteria. Here at the South Pole, the food is excellent! There aren’t many choices, but what there is, is really good. The difference is that there is no fresh food. They call them “Freshies.” Everything has been previously frozen or is made from scratch. The chef is really good and everyone really looks forward to the next meal. It is a matter of morale when you are stuck in such a small, enclosed station so far from the rest of the world. The food is usually very rich and full of carbohydrates and calories so that people’s bodies have plenty of fuel to keep them warm in such a cold and harsh place.

What are your sleeping arrangements like? Dylan M. 5th Grade

Dylan, I was pleasantly surprised that here at the South Pole I have my own (all to myself) little room! Out in the field, if/when we have to stay for a while, we have tents and special sleeping bags. We expected to be in tents called “Jamesways” but the population is small enough now that there is room for everyone inside the station. I’m VERY happy about that!

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Gary's picture

Gary said:

I am LOVING these journals!! I never would have expected that simply sitting by plants in somewhat humid air would be much of a special experience—it was great to hear about. How does it feel, after having spent so much time in an arid, white, and cold environment? Also, what else can you tell us about Jamesways? The mere thought of a tent at the South Pole gives me nightmares.
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Gary, A Jamesway is something between "better than a tent" and "definitely not a building". They are tall enough to stand up in and a have a floor, but they have canvas roof and sides and are cold, noisy and drafty. We were originally prepared to be in actual tents (Arctic Oven), then the rumor changed to Jamesways and here I am in a mostly warm building! I didn't realize how much I missed plants and humidity until I went into the greenhouse. Now I'm drawn to the greenhouse!
Yves Robinet's picture

Yves Robinet replied:

Mike, It's great to read your blog, it's fascinating! Reading your account make me feel like you are on another planet! Few more questions: - What are the average temperature in the living quarters of McMurdo and South Pole stations? And is the temperature lowered during the night, or when most people sleep? - Do all people sleep at the same time or are there people on watch for sudden severe weather change or other possible hazard? - Where does the electric power come from at most antarctic stations? Diesel generators? Seems like wind power could be great but hard to maintain, what about solar or other renewable sources? Thank you for sharing you work and experience!
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Yves, The living quarters are generally warm, but it varies by location. Since many people are dressed for extreme cold weather it is hard to tell how warm or cold it was in the buildings. I think the temperature remains constant throughout the day and night. The Antarctic stations run on 24-hour schedules, so there are people up and working 24 hours per day. There are weather forecasters on duty 24 hours per day also. Interestingly, they use our Automatic Weather Stations to gather their data. South Pole is completely on generators, although it isn't diesel, it is jet fuel. The reason for that is that diesel gels at a higher temperature than the jet fuel (JP-8). There are three wind turbines between McMurdo and the New Zealand Scott base. I was told that seven more turbines would be required to provide all of the power needs for both stations. One problem with the wind turbines is that there is often too much wind. Solar works during the Austral summer, but obviously not during the winter in six months of darkness. The international treaty prohibits much of the new battery technology that would be needed to store any of the renewable sources. So, unfortunately, JP-8 (jet fuel) contains the most reliable and efficient (per unit volume) means of producing power at this time.
chloe's picture

chloe said:

Hi,this is Chloe from Dansville Middle school and i was wondering why at the polar station is there a greenhouse and what does it do to help the flat white?
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Chloe, There is a greenhouse at the South Pole Station for several reasons! The main reason is to provide a little bit of fresh food for special meals. The greens that you saw in my journal was for the Christmas meal. That is especially important since fresh food so rarely gets to the south pole. Another is that it is a nice place to visit for people who live there. It is a nice warm, humid and green place for people to visit in a cold and desolate place! It had nothing to do with the Flat White. I just thought the contrast between the warm green of the greenhouse and the cold white of the weather made a nice journal. I can see how that would be confusing!
ethan's picture

ethan said:

how can there be a green house in the south pole
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Ethan, If you take a look at the video, you'll see that the greenhouse in the South Pole Station doesn't use real sunlight, but uses artificial lighting. It isn't very big either, just big enough to grow enough salad fixings for Christmas dinner. It was a GREAT place to visit! It was about 77 degrees and very humid, especially when compared to the frigid outside conditions!
Parker woodard's picture

Parker woodard said:

Was there any cucumbers or grapes I'm wondering cuz it's always very cold down there
Mike Penn's picture

Mike Penn replied:

Parker, Nope I didn't see a single grape or cucumber for the entire time I was there. Since everything had to be flown in, including any fresh fruits and vegetables, very little could make it all of the way to the South Pole without freezing on the way down. Since there are often weather delays (I was delayed for eight days trying to get to the South Pole) it is very risky and expensive to get "Freshies" to the Pole since if it gets delayed it will be frozen and ruined.