Similar to a ship at sea, operations at the South Pole are 24 hours a day. As perhaps the most isolated spot on the face of the earth, we have to be entirely self-sufficient. Even satellite communication with the outside world is only available for a few hours a day. Bandwidth is limited, so Skype or streaming movies are not possible. We have shortwave radio, but that is easily disrupted by solar flare activity.
The typical work week consists of nine hour work days, six days a week. Every day is very similar to the previous day…and the one that will follow. There is some slight variation as a result of weekly meetings or station-wide activities, but monotony could certainly become a real problem. Fortunately, there are a number of diversions with which one can occupy free time. When the sun was up, outdoor activities were more popular. Exploring the outbuildings, science laboratories, just going for walks, or cross-country skiing were common diversions. With the setting sun and cooler weather, indoor pastimes predominate.
Exercise is essential for both physical and mental health. We have a fitness room, as well as a gymnasium. Treadmills, bicycles, elliptical machines, and rowing machines provide for well rounded aerobic activity. Weights are also available for strength training. My daily routine consists of running 3 to 4 miles every morning before work. Since we are effectively at 10,500 to 11,000 feet above sea level, depending upon the barometric pressure, I find my athletic performance somewhat diminished. It is well established that with increasing altitude there is a decrease in maximal exercise capacity and maximal heart rate. I can bear witness this is true from my personal experience.
There are usually weekly games of some sort occurring in the gymnasium. These always make me a little nervous from a professional standpoint because of the potential for injury.
There are many non-athletic activities available as well. We have an extensive library and video collection that certainly rivals that of any cruise ship.
We have a craft room with supplies for sewing, knitting, painting, or model building. There is an extensive collection of wigs and costumes for special South Pole occasions stored in this room as well.
In a remote part of the station, there is a music room filled with assorted instruments. This provides the opportunity for solo practice or a jam session without disturbing the rest of the inhabitants.
A computer room is available for those who did not bring personal computers or want access to programs they do not own.
There are also several lounges with extensive audiovisual equipment for movie nights which occur at least twice a week. For large gatherings, such as the traditional watching of all three versions of “The Thing” at station closing or “The Shining” at mid-winter, a projector and screen are set up in the gymnasium.
We are fortunate to have many talented people in our winter over group to provide activities which serve to enrich the social and educational milieu of the station. On Monday nights we have astronomy lectures from our German Astrophysicist, Robert Schwarz. These cover all areas of astronomy and include the solar system, stars, and auroras. Robert has spent many winters in Antarctica, makes a hobby of astrophotography, and was responsible for arranging our RMS Titanic commemoration/video marathon.
In the spirit of international scientific achievement, we recently had Yuri (Gagarin) night to celebrate the anniversary of the first manned space flight…complete with homemade spacesuits, aliens, and a cardboard space shuttle.
In addition to making great food, our highly innovative galley (kitchen) staff will often make unusual gastronomic creations…such as the miniature “cheeseburger” desserts. One never knows quite what delights to expect upon entering the galley and this provides amusement as well as good eating.
On Easter morning we all awoke to a tiny handmade Easter basket outside our stateroom doors filled with candy and a temporary tattoo of the continent of Antarctica. The identity of the South Pole Easter Bunny remains a mystery.
The winter may be cold and dark, but inside Amundsen-Scott Station, the atmosphere remains warm and friendly!