Sunrise in Three Weeks

Dave replies to Invercargill South School

Date: Tue, 30 Jul 1996

Hi my name is Rauna. I am nine years old. I am writing to ask you some questions about Antarctica. What kind of weather have you had lately? Did you go to Antarctica when it was dark or light? Has there been any blizzards while you have been in Antarctica? Thanks for answering my questions.

Yours sincerely,

Hi Rauna,

Lately it has been windy and cold, but that appears to be the norm. The temperatures have been averaging -20F to -30F. The wind-chill has been commonly getting down to -70F, and sometimes as low as -100F. I have to dress very well to prevent frostbite. We are getting a little light near noon every day. The next sunrise will be in three weeks.

It was light when I arrived here in January. I flew from Christchurch on a plane with skis, and landed on the Ross Ice Shelf. There are no planes in or out from February until August. The next flight is in about three weeks. People here are getting ready for the planes by building runways and getting buildings and equipment ready.

I always thought of blizzards as being heavy snow storms. We do not get a lot of snow here. Technically this area is a desert because it is so dry. We do get snow, but it is very fine and dry. Sometimes the wind starts blowing the snow around causing whiteouts. This is when visibility is very low due to the blowing snow. I have seen these conditions a few times, and it is very strange to have white everywhere. When the sun is up, I wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the reflections from the snow. The light is so bright, it can cause snow blindness.

Thanks for writing,


My name is Victoria Curry. I am ten years old and a standard 3. My school is studying Antarctica. Would you please answer some questions? What is dangerous about skiing in the summer time? How long are you staying in Antarctica for? Could you tell me about the first person to go to Antarctica? Thank you for your time and help.

Yours sincerely,
Victoria Curry

Hi Victoria,

Skiing or any travel can be dangerous any time of year. The glaciers are all around us, and are moving very slowly. As the ice moves, it can create crevasses which are difficult to see. People have died by falling into the crevasses. There are people here trained in looking for crevasses, and they mark routes for travel. Whenever anyone ventures out, they must stay on the marked routes.

I arrived here in McMurdo in January, and will be here until November. In October, there will be a few people coming in from our group, which will take over the operations. We will spend a few weeks with them, until they are familiar with the system. I work here tracking satellites gathering scientific data.

I am not sure if anyone can say with any certainty, who the first person to come to Antarctica. I imagine it was some early whalers or fisherman. The first famous explorer is Robert Scott. He built a hut about one half mile from here that served many early exploration groups. The hut still stand today in very good condition. I am sure you could find more information on the early explorers in your library. Have you ever seen the Scott statue in Christchurch?

Thanks for writing,


My name is Alisha Anderson. I am ten years old and in room 12. Has there been any blizzards in Antarctica while you have been there? What does your job involve in Antarctica? Have any of your snow mobiles crashed while you've been there? Is it true if it gets too cold your hair starts to fall out?

Yours sincerely,
Alisha Anderson
P.S I hope you can answer my questions.

Hi Alisha,

We have had some bad storms, where the visibility is very low. They call these conditions whiteouts because everything is white. The snow here is very fine and dry due to the temperature. The snow blows into drifts that pack down.

I work for a contractor to NASA, which is the space agency for the USA. I work at a satellite tracking station gathering science data for scientists in the USA. The satellites we have been tracking are being used to track the ice movement in Antarctica. Most of Antarctica is covered by ice that is constantly and slowly moving.

We have snowmobiles here, but I do not know of any crashes. We also have trucks, and track vehicles for snow. There have been two fires this winter with track vehicles. The NZAP Scott Base lost a Haglund on the ice shelf due to fire. The USAP lost a Sprite on the Castle Rock route to fire. Both vehicles are similar, but made by different companies. Nobody was hurt in either incident. Whenever we travel out of town, we have radios and emergency supplies in case of problems.

I have never heard of loosing hair due to cold weather. I do not know if you have seen my picture on the Internet pages, but I do not have a lot to lose! We have had some cold weather, but I have not noticed any more hair loss. Frostbite and hypothermia are the greatest dangers from the cold. Another problem here is the low humidity. This area is technically a desert, and most people think that deserts are always hot sandy places. The humidity here is commonly 5-10%. I need to drink several liters of water daily to maintain my health.

Thanks for writing,


My name is Christopher Manson and I go to South School in Invercargill.I am a standard 4 and I am ten years old. I was wondering if you would like to answer some of my questions on Antarctica? What is the weather like there? How do you cope with the weather? How long does it take to get to Antarctica?

Yours sincerely,
Christopher Manson

Hi Christopher,

The weather here is cold, windy and dry. The temperatures this time of year are about -20F to -30F. The wind can drive the wind-chill to colder than -100F. At that temperature, your skin can freeze in less than 30 seconds. You are probably used to centigrade readings, so you will have to do a little conversion to see how cold it is here. The winds can get to hurricane strength and stay here for days. Last spring some friends of mine were stranded about 20 miles from here on Black Island. The winds were over 100 miles per hour for several days. I have not seen the sun in several months, but it will rise in 3 weeks. The moon is full now, and is going in a big circle in the sky. You can see it 24 hours a day as it goes in a big circle.

It is very important to have proper clothes to cope with the weather. There is a clothing center in the Antarctic Center in Christchurch where they give us clothes for our trip. We return the clothes on our return, so others can use them. I dress in layers so that I can remove clothes if I get too warm, and put them back on when I get chilled. Most of the clothes have gone to synthetic fibers in the past few years, replacing the traditional wool. Both the synthetics and wool will keep their insulation when damp. If I am going out to work in the cold, I wear three layers of pants, three or four layers on my upper body, one pair of wool socks with special boots on my feet, a warm hat, and two layers of gloves or mittens. I have a very warm down parka with a fur trimmed hood that keeps me very warm. I usually pull the fur down against my face. I have a face cover and goggles if it is really cold.

I live on the east coast of the USA in a town called Snow Hill in the state of Maryland. It takes about 26 hours of planes and airports just to get to Christchurch. There I spend a few days to get ready to go to the ice. I get all my clothes, and the schedule for the trip to the ice. Many times the planes get canceled or turn back due to weather, so the average stay in Christchurch is three days. The plane ride to the ice depends upon the type of plane. I have always traveled on the LC-130 planes, which take about eight hours to fly to the ice.

Thanks for writing,

Dear Mr Hess,

My nane is Nicki Shields and I am a standard three.(9 years old) Do you like it in Antarctica now? What kind of fish do you have in Antarctica? How long does it take to get to Antarctica and to get back? Iam looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely.

Hi Nicki,

I like it here, but I also miss my family. This is a very pretty time of year in McMurdo. In the summer there is 24 hours of sunlight for about 4 months. In the winter there is 24 hours of darkness for about 4 months. There are 2 months in the spring, and 2 months in the fall where there are sunsets and sunrises. Our first sunrise of the season is in about 2 weeks. The sun is getting closer to the horizon, so it is getting lighter every day. The sky is very pretty with pinks and blues this time of year.

In the summer, there is some research on the marine animals here. There is an aquarium here where the scientists catch and keep animals for the summer. I went to the aquarium last summer, and saw many fish, but I do not know all their names. I did see star fish, and Antarctic cod. The cod were very big.

The trip from Christchurch to the ice take about 8 hours on an LC-130. The USAP LC-130s have skis for landing on snow. There are usually a few days spent in Christchurch on the way in, because we have to check out all our clothes. The flights to and from the ice are many times canceled due to weather. It is also not uncommon for the planes going to the ice to have to turn around due to weather. I could tell you how long it takes to get from my home in the USA to Christchurch, but I think it would be more fun to see if you can figure it out. Below is a list of my itinerary when I came this time. It actually took longer because I missed my connection in Auckland, and did not arrive in Christchurch until late afternoon.

Leave Salisbury Maryland 10 January 2:50 PM
Arrive Baltimore Maryland 10 January 3:25 PM

Leave Baltimore Maryland 10 January 4:25 PM
Arrive Denver Colorado 10 January 6:31 PM

Leave Denver Colorado 10 January 7:55 PM
Arrive Los Angeles California 10 January 9:15 PM

Leave Los Angeles California 10 January 10:00 PM
Arrive Auckland New Zealand 12 January 7:40 AM

Leave Auckland New Zealand 12 January 9:50 AM
Arrive Christchurch New Zealand 12 January 11:10 AM

Thanks for writing,

Dear Mr Hess

My name is Tessa Scobie . I am eleven years old and a standard 4. I would like to know if it snows all the time? Is it cold in the tents when you go out in the snow? Do you like the food there? is it the same as the Invercargill food? Why do you lie in the ice?(The children have some photos that show people doing this.) I would like to know what sort of work you do there? Thank you for your time

Yours sincerely,

Hi Tessa,

It does not snow all the time. The snow is very dry and fine, which makes it difficult at times to tell if it is snowing. Sometimes when it is windy, the snow blows, and it is hard to tell if it is new snow, or just the wind blowing the snow around that was on the ground. In the summer, the ground near McMurdo is mostly black volcanic rock.

Maybe you saw the picture of me with the tent. This was taken when I attended the Snow Craft school in the summer. This is a requirement for winter over people, to teach them how to use the emergency equipment. The tent was cold, and the night was very windy, so it was hard to sleep. The wind made too much noise as it pounded the walls of the tent. The sleeping bad was warm, so although it was cold in the tent, I was warm and toasty. In the morning came some problems. I had to get out of my warm sleeping bag and get dressed. My boots had become damp the day before from the snow, and in the morning they were very hard because they were frozen with ice. I had to pound on them to loosen them up so I could get my feet in them.

The food service people do an excellent job of making the food. Keep in mind that we have not received any fresh food since February, so the food choices are limited. I am not sure if it is the same as Invercargill food, because I have never been to Invercargill. I have had pavlova a few times here, which I understand is a New Zealand dessert. I had never seen it before I came here.

Sorry, but I do not know why people lie in the ice.

I work here at a satellite tracking station, that gathers data for scientists in the USA. Most of my work is inside working on computers and the other station equipment. At times, I have to do work outside on some of our equipment. Last week I spent one day outside in -30F temperatures working on a tower, making repairs on an antenna.

Thanks for writing,

Hi Mr Hess

My name is Nekko Wells and I am a standard 3. How can you live in the environment? What do all your friends do there? Can you please tell me about Scott base? Thank you for giving your time and effort to answer these questions.

Yours sincerely,
Nekko Wells

Hi Nekko,

It is not hard living in this environment with the equipment here. The building are well insulated and heated, so most are very comfortable. Sometimes the buildings are too warm. The clothes they give us to use here are very warm, so going outside is not a problem. The waste program is very good here, and most all waste is recycled. All waste is crated and taken by ship to the USA for proper disposal. All activities are done with trying to minimize adverse impact to the environment.

McMurdo is like a small town. There are 233 people here at this time, and we have people of all occupations. We have fireman, a banker, store clerks, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, supply clerks, cooks, janitors, technicians, and many more.

Scott Base is about 2 miles from McMurdo, and is part of NZAP, the New Zealand Antarctic Program. It is smaller than McMurdo, there are only 10 people there this winter, 8 men and 2 women. Most of the buildings at Scott Base are connected by hallways, so one rarely would have to go outside. In McMurdo, I have to go outside every day from building to building. Scott base has a very nice store, with souvenirs and even has Cadbury chocolate. Once a week the folks at Scott Base allow some visitors to come to dinner. I went there a few months ago, and it was a wonderful evening. There are several science experiments going on at Scott Base even in the winter. In the summer, many more people go to Scott Base. I believe the maximum is somewhere near 35 people. Several times during the year they have a polar plunge at Scott Base. This is when they chop a hole in the ice and jump in the water. I have not, and do not plan to try this, although many people do.

Thanks for writing,

Dear David

I am writing to say thank you for answering my questions about Antarctica. My teacher told the class that you did not know what a standard 4 is. When children first come to school in New Zealand they are five and that is called New entrants. When they have been at school one year they are called J1's. When they have been at school two years they are J2's. When they have been here 3 years they are called Standard one's or J3's. Standard 2's have been at school for four years and standard 3's have been at school for five years and standard 4's like me have been here for six years. Having said all that we have just changed this whole system and the classes are now known by what year they have been at school for. I have some more questions to ask. Have you had frost bite on your body? How long do you have frostbite for if it is little? Thankyou for your time. If you have any more questions for us we would like to answer them.

Yours sincerely,
Christopher Manson

Hi Christopher,

Thank you very much for explaining the meaning of standard 4. In the USA they have kindergarten for the 5 year old children. Then the classes are grade 1 through grade 12, which may be the same as your new system. I have a son named Zach, that just finished the sixth grade, and is presently on summer break. The students in his school take a summer break for most of June, July, and August. Zach spends most of his time riding his bicycle and playing games. He has been very busy lately playing a card game named Magic.

I have been very careful about exposure, and have not had any frostbite here. When I was young, I had a morning paper route, and folded the papers as I walked. I hated to wear gloves, because I could not fold as I walked. One cold morning, I got frostbite on my fingers. It was only mild frostbite, and there was no permanent damage. Frostbite can be a very dangerous condition. People have lost limbs due to frostbite.

Thanks for writing,

Dear Dave

Hi my name is Cazna Te Amo. I am a standard three and I am ten years old. I'm am writing to ask you some questions about Antarctica. What is it like being so far away from your family? Do you have contact with your family? What job are you involved with over there? Thank you for your time

Yours sincerely,
Cazna Te Amo

Hi Cazna,

I have a wife and son back home. I miss them very much. It is difficult being away from home for such a long time. When I finish here, I will have been away from home almost one year. My family has email, and we also talk once a week by telephone. I also miss our dog and cat. The last time I was away for only a month, the dog did not recognize me at first. She is a big dog, with a big bark, and I am glad she finally remembered. I also miss flowers, rain, and the raspberries from our yard.

I am working for a company that contracts to NASA, which is the USA space agency. I operate and maintain satellite tracking equipment that gathers science data. Most of my work is inside, working with computers and electronics. On occasion, I need to work outside on some equipment we use for tracking satellites.

We have had some strange weather the last few days. Over the weekend the temperatures started rising, and finally got above 0F. Then yesterday, a storm called a Herbie blew in and lasted for over a day. The Herbies are bad storms that usually come in from the south. In a few minutes time, the wind grew to 40 mph in McMurdo, and the snow that was blowing made visibility very poor. At Black Island, about 24 miles to the south over the ice shelf, the winds were 70-80 mph. At this time of year, there is a lot of preparation work being done on the ice shelf getting the runways ready for the planes. In McMurdo, the hills shield us from the winds, but there is no protection on the ice shelf. There were several people stranded there during the storm.

Thanks for writing,
David Hess NK3T
Presently living in beautiful downtown McMurdo, Antarctica.

Search The Global Classroom
Patricia A. Weeg
Return to Global Classroom