Ross Builds Some Igloos

One of the things I didn’t get to do is Happy Camper training. If you have any reason to go out into the field — where you might end up having to spend the night if there’s a vehicle failure, or a heater failure, or a tent failure — you get training in cold-weather survival. My understanding is that one person has failed in the history of the program, and it’s supposed to be fun. You learn how to build a shelter, and learn how to deal with white-out conditions. I, on the other hand, would die.

Ross, pausing in building his igloo. Tools include the shovel and the ice saw, in his hand.

Ross, pausing in building his igloo. Tools include the shovel and the ice saw, in his hand.

Ross, on the other other hand, would be just fine. He’s the winter-over NOAA tech working to keep all the clean air experiments running along with Lt JG Kel (who we will meet in another posting I need to get around to) out in the ARO (Atmospheric Research Observatory) building in the clean-air sector, “home to the cleanest air in the world”. Most of the air here is pretty darn clean, but over in that part of the world — upwind from everything see — vehicles are highly restricted. But as I was saying …

Ross took this gig after several years in Alaska, and so is no stranger to he cold. A fair number of people come here from Alaska; there’s a big demand for the same sort of skills we need over there in construction and the oil fields. Not much science as far as I know, but if you can fix a two-stroke engine or work on heavy equipment or operate the same, you’d be at home in either place. The last couple-five years the USAP has also been recruiting contractors who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan and similar places. The winter-over heavy equipment mechanic, Ken, is ex-Army and keeps insisting that he knows about turbine engines, but can’t do more than change an oil filter on a bulldozer. But as I was saying …

It's a good idea to build stuff elevated off the snow because the wind will blow the snow under it, not drift snow against it.

It’s a good idea to build stuff elevated off the snow because the wind will blow the snow under it, not drift snow against it.

But no matter how you try, the snow wins. It's easier to dig out when the wind can blow under the building, but that just means it sits in a bowl, and eventually there's a tipping-point where this trick down't work and

But no matter how you try, the snow wins. It’s easier to dig out when the wind can blow under the building, but that just means it sits in a bowl, and eventually there’s a tipping-point where this trick down’t work and

Ross’s igloos will get plowed under as hazards to navigation in the next few weeks. He had been hoping to spend some time in them in the winter, but that probably won’t come to pass. In some past winter, someone built an igloo which is now lost over on what’s known to a few people as “Igloo Point” out by the End of the World, where we dump our extra snow. And by “lost” I mean that it probably didn’t cave in, but has been buried under by a couple of feet of snow each year for eight or ten years. People study and model the drifts over the winter, but come spring there’s a continuing battle to keep buildings form vanishing under the snow. Actually, ARO is a good example of what can happen. It was built in 1996-97, and is on stilts to let the wind and snow blow under it. But it’s losing out to wind and snow anyway, bulldozers be damned. Wait, this is about igloos and Ross …

So here are some other pictures of Ross’s igloos:

Ice is very blue.

Ice is very blue.

The entrance is a crawlway.

The entrance is a crawlway.

The blocks are carved out of the surface. They tend to weld themselves back together over a couple of hours.

The blocks are carved out of the surface. They tend to weld themselves back together over a couple of hours.

Under construction. The stick in the middle is for reference to keep things more or less round.

Under construction. The stick in the middle is for reference to keep things more or less round.

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