First of all none of my statements represent or are intended to represent the National Science Foundation, United States Antarctic Program, or ASC. I spent 12 months working at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station and also got to spend time at McMurdo and Scott Base. I was there for the double medevac/first true winter flight this past year. Most of the AMAs I've seen have been from people on the coastal stations like McMurdo so I thought it might be interesting to do one from someone at an interior station.

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/mT1Qm

Also pictures I've posted on reddit over the past year from the Pole:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Astronomy/comments/4hfbu4/aurora_australis_lit_the_sky_on_fire_today_at_the/

https://www.reddit.com/r/travel/comments/4bqehd/sun_just_set_at_the_south_pole_and_i_managed_to/

https://www.reddit.com/r/lego/comments/3wrn79/imperial_troops_have_entered_the_south_pole/

EDIT: Heading to bed now but please continue to ask questions. I will answer all of them in the morning :)

Comments: 123 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

RangersCrusader13 karma

I JUST watched a documentary on Antarctica on neflix about McMurdo and Scott base yesterday. Super interesting. As I understand it during the winter you get no supply shipments for several months with the only communication to the outside world being internet. How fast was the internet? Could one reliably play online gaming in Antarctica? Did you experience T3 syndrome? Would you do it again? What was your favorite thing about it?

AStrangerWCandy11 karma

I was the network engineer. There is no online gaming at the South Pole. We have three different satellites that provide Internet access for about 11-12 hours a day. Each satellite provides a different speed ranging from 1.5 Mb to 30 Mb for the entire station. The satellites also shift their uptime by about 4 minutes per day so part of the year it's up during normal working hours and part of the year its up while most people are sleeping.

It's true that from mid February to mid October no planes come or go from the South Pole so we have to make due with what we have on hand. We do have limited ability for 24/7 communication via phone and e-mail by utilizing some Iridium modems.

RangersCrusader7 karma

Time to bust out the smash bros then.

AStrangerWCandy12 karma

Yes we did do a lot of multiplayer gaming like Mario Kart, Smash Bros etc... there :)

adkiene3 karma

Oh man, who should I talk to if I want to do some Smashing while I'm there?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

There's a Wii in one of the lounges and Smash Bros there too. Gotta organize events yourself ;)

Inditmentplz2 karma

Be honest. Is there a ice wall?

AStrangerWCandy3 karma

I mean theoretically yes. The station sits on a giant ice wall. But it's not circling the Earth like the flat earthers say :P

Inditmentplz0 karma

Why is there a lack of photos from the area?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

From what area? We all take tons of pics including aerial pics every year.

atarifan26001 karma

Why a Wii, and nit a WiiU, ps4, xbox, etc?

Particular reasoning, or just cheap and small and nobody's donated anything else yet?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

There are PS3's and XBox 360s as well. People played Call of Duty and Halo also.

iambluest11 karma

What are the relationships like there? Are there married couples? Are the support staff and scientists in the same social groupings? Is it like high school, or is everybody professional, mature, and responsible? Gossip!

I'd there active monitoring of individuals mental health? What happens if someone is struggling to fit in, or whatever? Any examples of a toxic personality?

AStrangerWCandy14 karma

There were couples during my winter and summer. I'm not familiar with any that were actually married but I'm sure it has happened. At least for the winter at Pole it's pretty hard for the scientists and support staff to not be in the same social groupings. We had 46 people total on the station for the polar winter so you see almost everyone every day. Some of the best friends I made on ice were scientists.

As far as struggling to fit in it does happen. As far as the community's response to that it varies from winter to winter and person to person so it's hard to give a blanket answer to that. Both the Dr and Physician's Assistant will give pastoral care to anyone on the station though so you have someone you can speak to privately and trust that it will remain so.

MisterWonka5 karma

So...how often did you hook up?

AStrangerWCandy9 karma

At Pole during my winter there were only 8-9 women with the rest being men and most of the women had significant others. So you can do the math from there :P

MemoryLossIssues11 karma

Have you met Tom Cruise? He seems crazy but super likable. Am I right?

AStrangerWCandy12 karma

No I haven't met Tom Cruise lol Is this a reference to something?

Knobble10 karma

Is T3 a real phenomenon when wintering over at the South Pole? T3 meaning brain fog, sleepiness, and other hypothyroid symptoms. Do human bodies require sunlight to generate thyroid hormones?

AStrangerWCandy11 karma

Absolutely it's a real thing IMO. Especially as the winter went on I definitely experienced memory issues, insomnia etc... and I know many others did as well.

Knobble4 karma

Thanks for your reply. Is it commonly treated there with synthroid or left untreated? Is the cause something to do with the lack of sunlight?

AStrangerWCandy10 karma

Lack of sunlight is part of it. The pole is just hard on your body in general. Aside from the cold and no sun there is 0% humidity and you are at altitude which can change wildly. It's not uncommon to go from an equivalent pressure of 10,000 feet to 11,000 feet over the course of 24 hours. So you're dealing with pressure changes often without even realizing it's happening. Because of all of this it compounds your ability to get good sleep.

You're also not getting any fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything is frozen and often over the course of the winter we run out of various things. So there's that component as well.

enigma8010 karma

What are your thoughts on the rumors of Nazis having a hidden base there and that Antarctica is actually Atlantis before it froze over?

Thanks!

AStrangerWCandy11 karma

We did watch the Ancient Aliens episode on Pyramids in Antarctica while we were there. It's mostly just chuckle worthy stuff. It's a little surreal listen to these conspiracy theorists talk about where you are right now and spout off stuff that isn't event remotely accurate. It IS however interesting to think about what is hidden bellow the glacial abyss but none of these people that spout this stuff off have any idea.

IAmTheChez9 karma

What is the most interesting research being done in Antarctica right now in your opinion?

AStrangerWCandy11 karma

The South Pole Telescope is a super impressive structure and is trippy to be at in the polar winter when it is moving. It's not an optical telescope though. One of the awesome things the scientists do is give science lectures about their experiments to the support staff and their explanation about discovering B-Mode distortions in the cosmic microwave background was really cool.

ActualGiles6 karma

Do you have a film library at the station, and is John Carpenter's The Thing in that library?

AStrangerWCandy20 karma

It is a tradition amongst south pole winter-overs to watch The Thing together after the last plane leaves at the start of winter. So yes we have it :) We also have a very large film library of movies, documentaries and TV shows.

Huge_in_Japants5 karma

What is something unexpected about living at the south pole?

AStrangerWCandy9 karma

Just how close you get with your winter over crew. Not just in a mushy emotional way but in the sense that we all share bathrooms, do each other's dishes, clean each other's toilets sort of way.

OgGorrilaKing4 karma

What's your opinion on countries potentially launching mining operations or similar in Antarctica?

AStrangerWCandy8 karma

Probably not a great idea on the continent proper from an employee safety standpoint. I am not super familiar with the Antarctic peninsula where it is a lot less frozen so I honestly can't speak intelligently there. Plus like most people I much prefer to see the continent as pristine as possible.

adkiene4 karma

I am a new postdoc working on the SuperDARN radars. Gonna be heading down to McMurdo and then South Pole at the end of the month. Are there any cool things to do/see down there that I might miss if I didn't know about them?

AStrangerWCandy5 karma

Hrm, if there's an opportunity you could go to SPRESO. It's 5 miles from the station and you have to dig out the hatch into a room down a 40 foot ladder. The people who make it there sign their name on the walls. Not many people get to go out there though so it might be a longshot.

Also get someone to give you a tour of the ice tunnels. There are a lot of shrines down there that are pretty cool to see.

Lastly IMO it's worth it to take a walk out to "the end of the world". It's a spot far from the station where the heavy equipment operators stop grooming the snow. We built a snowman out there last year but it's pretty cool.

Most of the rest of the stuff like ARO, SPT etc... will be pretty well publicized.

adkiene2 karma

Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks! I will definitely try and do that.

AStrangerWCandy5 karma

Also just as an aside. Understand that the Internet in the summer there will be super slow and sometimes unusable. There's nothing the support staff can do about it so don't get upset with them :P

ababyleopardprobably3 karma

What an amazing experience. During you stay, were you able to travel around the continent? Did you get to do any outdoor adventuring? I have a bit of a fascination with the Pole of Inacessibility... does anyone ever get go there?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

You don't travel around a lot at Pole because of limited air traffic. There were a few boondoggles to AGAP and some other remote sites in January but I didn't get to go on them.

EDIT: However when I was going to McMurdo for a week of R&R before the station closed I got to ride the Basler (an old twin prop DC-3) and we got to fly really low through the Transantarctic Mountains. THAT was super cool. Getting to see an area of the world that even by Antarctic standards hardly anyone gets to see and certainly no one has ever walked on fairly up close.

stockybloke3 karma

How is the internet down there?

AStrangerWCandy6 karma

In the summer it sucks. No getting around that. At best it's a 30 Mb connection shared by 150 people and that's only for 3 hours. Most of the rest of the time it's 1.5-4.5 Mb for 150 people. It's a little better in the winter when there are far fewer people but don't expect gig like Internet down there :P It's also only for 11-12 hours a day and it shifts by 4 minutes a day so it's often up at inconvenient times.

Hourglass-Dolphin3 karma

Did you ever see any hourglass dolphins on the way there? Because that would be amazing!!!

AStrangerWCandy6 karma

Unfortunately not. The main animals in Antarctica I saw in McMurdo were Weddell Seals, Southern Skua, and one Adele Penguin. I didn't spend that much time in McMurdo though and there are no animals at the South Pole.

EDIT: However on my way out I did drive to Akaroa from Christchurch and got to see Hector's Dolphin which was really cool and also a really rare dolphin.

The_Alpacapocalypse3 karma

What's the best way to be selected to work there? I'm currently studying applied math, but it's always been of mine to do research there. Are most of the workers engineers? biologists? environmental scientists?

AStrangerWCandy3 karma

Hard to classify "most". In the winter there are about 9 grantees that work on research. We also had two research assistants that were Leidos contractors. So that's 11 "science" positions plus two meteorologists that were also contractors out of 46 people. We had 5 IT staff members, 4 galley staff and the rest is pretty hard to classify as it is power plant mechanics, carpenters, facilities engineers etc... so I guess trades.

The best way is persistence in applying. I have no experience in coming down as a grantee so I can't speak to that but I applied for 5 years before getting selected. Some people get selected the first year but IMO if you have a decent resume if you just keep applying you'll get a callback eventually.

Birdwatchingyou3 karma

What is your favorite species of bird?

AStrangerWCandy7 karma

Definitely the Kea from New Zealand!

thirdsaul1 karma

I've been in NZ my whole life and they're definitely in my top three. Cheeky buggers with big personalities - one stole my Dad's keys and they're notorious for doing things alike. You should check out the Moa, my school has a sculpture of one... freaky big.

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

Yeah I saw two in Arthur's Pass and they were flat out mugging people without fear or remorse. They're the closest things I've seen to velociraptors.

linux19703 karma

How do you manage six months of darkness? How do you avoid an extreme version of seasonal affective disorder?

How does your body know what time it is?

AStrangerWCandy12 karma

Not only is it six months of darkness but during the polar winter the windows are covered so you don't even see outside. It's kinda like living on a submarine where you just have artificial light all of the time inside the station.

Winter-over syndrome is a real thing that IMO most people are affected with on some level every winter. Memory issues are frequent and I know I had some issues with that.

This is literally a place on Earth where time has no meaning. All time zones converge here so honestly time is a fairly arbitrary thing here. Many many people worked all sorts of weird schedules during the winter for various reasons so I'd say often your body doesn't really know what time it is.

snorlax29913 karma

which sort of animals there were around the settlement?

AStrangerWCandy7 karma

There are no animals at the South Pole. We humans are the only things crazy enough to live there! At McMurdo I saw plenty of seals and skua as well as an Adele penguin.

prenton013 karma

What one thing did you miss while living out there and how did you cope? I don't mean things like products I mean feelings or things you done everyday in a everyday situation

AStrangerWCandy5 karma

Fresh fruits and vegetables for sure

zigzagman10313 karma

How many people stay at the base through the winter?

AStrangerWCandy4 karma

Usually between 40-50

sethju3 karma

How did you get the opportunity to go to Antarctica for work?

AStrangerWCandy8 karma

I kept applying. I applied for 5 seasons before getting a callback. The current primary contract holder is Leidos. For Pole positions like the winter site manager and research assistants are Leidos jobs. The bulk of the positions though are hired by PAE. IT positions are hired by GHG and galley positions are hired by GSC. Check out their various websites from between January and March which is when jobs for the following season typically get posted.

Eckstrom3 karma

Is it anything like The Thing on a day to day basis?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

No lol we do not have flamethrowers in every closet.

IrnRoo2 karma

What's the scariest or most un-nerving experience you've had down there? I'd imagine it could get a bit west in a remote location far from civillization.

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

We had a twin otter crash into the runway. That was pretty scary. Everyone was fine though and I hear they even salvaged the plane

--Squidoo--2 karma

Have you read "The Worst Journey in the World"? It's a memoir of the disastrous Scott expedition to the pole and it's absolutely riveting. Free on Amazon: http://a.co/8rLlFTQ

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

I have not, however the legend of Amundsen and Scott is shared often down here :)

Mahimah2 karma

Did you ever get to eat anything fresh? Or was it all non perishable reconstituted stuff?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

No "freshies" except during the summer when they bring some stuff in from New Zealand. During the winter we don't have any. Our food stays on berms outside until we order it and bring it in. So it's all perishable deeply frozen stuff that we have to thaw out.

FingerIsMySafety2 karma

Isn't it always winter in the south pole?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

It is demonstrably warmer in the summer and the sun is always up instead of down so yes there is a "summer"

_rustlemejimmies1 karma

Please excuse me if this is an inappropriate question but how do people go to the bathroom in such extreme cold weather? Also, if you peed outside would it freeze mid-stream?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

I don't know of anyone who tried but I don't think it would freeze mid stream. As far as going to the bathroom you do that in the heated indoors lol

h54h1 karma

How entertaining is it to you that flat earth theorists believe Antarctica is actually a wall that keeps the water in the frisbee model of the earth?

AStrangerWCandy3 karma

I mean we ARE kind of sitting on top of a giant ice wall :P There's 9300 feet of ice between us and the ground. We did have several discussions about this and it was kinda a running gag.

tr_supradeep1 karma

How do you travel in and out of Antarctica?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

By plane. Pole to McMurdo is via LC-130. Remote sites are usually via Twin Otter

atarifan26001 karma

What's the vibe between McMurdo, Scott, and Palmer?

I understand they're wildly different from a size and scope standpoint, but is Palmer the stepchild because it's not in the circle? McMurdo feels like a metropolis in comparison.

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

Metropolis is probably generous for McMurdo :P It's more like a small coastal town in Alaska. I've never been to Palmer so I can't speak to that but Pole is a very small close knit community where you get to know everyone. Whereas McMurdo to me seems more like you get to know the people you work with and a few others.

mellotronworker1 karma

Fascinating AMA.

Obvious question: how seriously cold is it down there? I mean, we heard numbers quoted, but how cold is it really, in practical terms?

AStrangerWCandy3 karma

I think our winter the low temperature was around -107-108 F. It is the coldest you will ever feel. To put it in perspective when we got to leave and landed in McMurdo it was +10 F outside and we were all walking around in short sleeve shirts like it was the tropics. The wind absolutely KILLS you at Pole also. A calm -100 is way way better than -50 with 20 knot winds.

LeapingLupine1 karma

Are you monitoring UFO activity in the region? Whatchagot?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

No UFOs :P It's high and clear though so we see a lot of satellites and shooting stars.

tsaven1 karma

You think you'll ever come back? I know I'd like to do the pole thing at some point but I really like the seasonality of mac town.

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

I probably will come back if they have me. Probably do Pole again too as I like the smaller community.

spectre891 karma

Are there any suitable jobs in Antactica for a science teacher looking for a career change?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

If you have a STEM bachelors degree then Research Assistant might be up your alley. Otherwise you could try generic trades like carpenter's assistant or come as a steward.

youngcopk1lla1 karma

Hello /u/AStrangerWCandy great AMA, I'm curious, hypothetically if something would go wrong, and there was need for police intervention down there, who would intervene? How is law applied down there? Thanks :)

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

I believe there is a marshal in McMurdo. Also the law of whatever country owns the station you are at applies.

Sburban_Shitposter1 karma

Are you mei?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

no?

ooo-ooo-oooyea1 karma

Do you ever interact with the other bases, and do you have amusing rivalries like people who go to different high-schools? If there was an Antarctic brawl for dominance who would win?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

McMurdo would probably win based on sheer numbers. They have more people than anyone else by a large margin. We do have some interactions with the other US stations and Rothera (the UK station on the other side). We also have a Film Festival every year where every station on the continent makes a 5 minute film and each also votes on the winner. I believe Arctowksi (the Polish station) won this past year.

Liskarialeman1 karma

What's the most amazing wildlife encounter you've had?

AStrangerWCandy3 karma

On our last day on the continent as we are on Pegasus Field getting ready to board the C-17 someone shouts "Look a penguin!". We had not seen a penguin the entire year but sure enough a single Adele penguin was sprinting across the runway and came and stopped next to us to hang out for a while. Was really cool.

koalas_arent_bears1 karma

A few late questions, you mentioned that you pretty much get no fresh fruit or veggies down there and it got me wondering... how come you guys don't have a small indoor vegetable "garden" - (if you know) is it because of the extra strain on people & resources? I'm assuming most of the solid waste (food waste, general trash, etc) is bagged & shipped out when the planes come back, but what about sewerage, what happens with that shit (if you'll pardon the pun)?

Lastly, have you gotten to see any of the other nations bases down there, or no chance because it's just so damned huge?

I've been wanting to get some summer work on the Aussie base, but unsuccessful so far in my 1 application, so I appreciate your advice of keep applying. Thanks for doing the ama, even if you don't reply there's enough motivation here for me to keep trying. Cheers mate :)

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

Yes the waste is boxed up and shipped off continent on LC-130s in summer.

We do have a greenhouse but at best it gives us a salad a week. Not really anything other than some lettuce/kale.

The only international station I've been to is Scott Base, the New Zealand station on Ross Island. Very cool place.

AssWaffles690 karma

Have you seen any of these guys down there?

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

No...?

h54h2 karma

The joke is from the movie elf starring will ferrell as an "elf" from the north pole. He encounters Peter dinklage in a business meeting with his father and makes a faux pas by calling him an elf, as he grew up around other vertically challenged toy makers in the north pole, and Peter dinklage responds by kicking will Ferrell's ass in a comical manner, to which ferrell responds by exclaiming "you must be from the south pole!".

AStrangerWCandy1 karma

Ahh got it, thanks :P

Diggoobuoxum0 karma

How many scientists believe that global warming is a fact?

AStrangerWCandy2 karma

None that I'm aware of!