Sterling School alumnus Chris Hawkins ‘72 is becoming well acquainted with the South Pole. On October 30th of this year he took a five hour flight on a US Air Force C-17 from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo station in Antarctica. After a one-day layover at McMurdo he boarded an LC-130, or a ski-equipped US Air Force variant of the Hercules that took him to his station in the South Pole.
The high elevation at the South Pole, coupled with clean air and a dry climate makes it an ideal place for glaciology, seismology, astrophysics, geosciences and climatology. Chris is in the South Pole on a three-month contract with PAE, a subcontractor with Leidos, a firm holding the Antarctic Support Contract with the National Science Foundation. He noted, “it’s all about science on the ice.” Chris is one of four Maintenance Specialists, better known as “UT’s” on the base. His work focuses on computer-issued Preventive Maintenance and repair orders. According to Chris, there is “never a lack of things to repair and tinker on. In the big picture it is getting the station ready for the nine months of winter season.” His work week is a grueling six days long, working nine hours per day, but he mentioned the station has a “summer camp for adults” feel to it in the off hours– there is basketball, a fitness room, skiing, and dancing.
The population of the station averages 150 people (Chris broke that down into two groups: 100 support and 50 scientists, aka “beakers”), but this season is off to a slow start, with only three flights out of ten arriving. Many of the winter-overs are still waiting to get out.
The high elevation at the South Pole coupled with clean air and a dry climate makes it an ideal place for glaciology, seismology, astrophysics, geosciences and climatology. Chris mentioned that the Earth’s atmosphere is thinner at the Pole, therefore the recorded elevation of 9,306′ at the Pole results in an average physiological altitude of 10,576ft.
As we begin to feel the blistering cold of winter settle upon the Common and envelop Sterling, we need only be reminded that temperatures were holding steady at -40 Fahrenheit the last time we heard word from Chris in the South Pole. This makes Sterling’s approaching four-day winter Expedition into the backcountry of Vermont seem far more manageable.