It took six planes and 24 hours to travel from Northern Michigan to New Zealand, where Lea underwent training in how to dress and prepare for the frigid climate. The last six hours of the trip was in a military-style cargo plane from the U.S. McMurdo Station on the edge of Antarctica to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
“It was quite a shock when I got off that warm plane and into the air. It was minus 58 degrees, I never felt air that cold!“ Lea explained.
LIFE IN A DOME
For the next two months, Lea‘s “home“ was a 4‘x8‘ space inside an underground aluminum geodesic dome. It was originally a 3-story structure built in 1975 for communications and science and weather research. The extremely arid environment limits annual snowfall; however, a relatively constant wind speed of 5-15 knots accounts for heavy snow drifting common to inland Antarctica stations. Because of this, the present dome has become buried and is being replaced by a 60,000 square foot elevated station.
“It wasn‘t like snow that we‘re used to, it was more like dust, ice crystals, you couldn‘t hardly see it in your hand. And it was strange because there were no clouds, there was sunshine all the time. There was really no night, the sun moved around the sky during the day, rather than across it like we‘re used to.“ Lea was lucky enough to get a window in his bunk, which he would have to darken to sleep.
For someone who likes to run, Lea found the isolation a challenge. “There wasn‘t a lot of personal space, and a limited number of things to do besides work,“ he offered, “there was a small gym and I did run some indoors. I tried to run outdoors but it was almost impossible with the thin air, extreme cold and heavy clothes.“
Lea also missed daily contact with the outside world. “There was not much daily news from home, and that was hard, especially during these uncertain times. There was no live TV or radio; it came from the Internet and because the pole is so low in the sky, the satellite hook-up was available only during daytime hours. But it was an adventure I wanted to try, I learned a lot about the area and it was inspiring to be able to stand at the bottom of the Earth.“
The company is five years into a nine-year project to complete the new research station by 2005. Lea worked 9 hours a day, 6 days a week. Average pay is about 50% more for most jobs than in the states. The company supplies all the cold weather gear as well as round-trip air transportation, food and living quarters.
The company is always looking for eligible candidates that want to try an adventure. Lea recommends someone in good physical shape that can handle the extreme weather and isolation. For more information, call the Raytheon Company at 800-688-6606. For information on Antarctica, check out the National Science Foundation website at www.nsf.gov.
‘129 degrees below zero‘
National Geographic Antarctica Facts:
a. Since 1959, the terms of a multinational treaty have dedicated the continent to peaceful use and free exchange of scientific information. Some countries make territorial claims, but military activities and mineral exploration have been prohibited indefinitely.
b. The South Pole, elevation 9,031 feet, is unlike any other place on Earth. The sun rises once each year, around September 21 and sets once each year, around March 21. Thermometer readings drop below minus 50 degrees on more than 250 days. Precipitation falls from a clear sky almost daily; ice crystals drop from the clouds, too diffuse to be seen.
c. The ice sheet smoothes out where it flows over the surface of liquid Lake Vostok, buried deep below the ice, it is suspected of being as large as Lake Superior and may contain life. Located at the lake‘s south end, Russia‘s Vostock Station in 1983 recorded the lowest temperature ever measured on Earth: 129 degrees below zero.
d. Able to survive months of dry, frigid darkness, lichens and mosses are Antarctica‘s dominant plants. The largest land animal is a windless midge about 1/2 inch long.
e. Antarctica is a mapmaker‘s nightmare - by the time it is drawn, it is likely to have changed significantly. Floating ice shelves and advancing and retreating glaciers make up nearly 60% of the coast. Massive icebergs regularly calve from the ice shelves, knocking divots the size of small U.S. states from the outline of the continent.
f. The Antarctic peninsula, a mountain range welded to clusters of islands by a relatively thin coat of ice, this 800-mile long peninsula is populated with penguins, and other seabirds including gulls, skuas and petrels and provides important habitat for several seal species.
g. Almost a century ago iron men named Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott raced exhaustion, starvation, frostbite and each other to the South Pole. Planting Norway‘s flag, Amundsen won. Today, satellite and ground-based observations help scientists understand the continent and its global impact.
h. When winter comes, the ocean surface around Antarctica begins to freeze. Spreading over an average of 30,000 square miles a day, the ring of sea ice eventually covers more than seven million square miles, an area larger than the continent itself. Reducing the ocean‘s absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide and blocking ocean-atmospheric heat exchange, sea ice plays a role in shaping regional climate that in turn has impacts over much of the globe.