South Pole Greenhouse

Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
Trip End Feb 17, 2009

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Amundsen-Scott South Pole Statation

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Sunday, January 18, 2009

I've been at Pole nearly a month now, and still no new freshies.  When I was reading through contracts, I believe they promised freshies every two weeks, which simply isn't a reality.  If there is one thing I have learned at Pole, however, it is that we really are in a remote place, and nothing operates like a normal job environment.  Because there is nowhere to go, work and free time are separated only by current activity, and when something needs to be accomplished, it is up to all inhabitants to pitch in and get it done.  When not working, many staffers volunteer in other deparments, and all fun to be had besides the regular alcohol, games and movies comes from someone's energy and planning.  I have learned not to expect anything to go as planned, and in fact am pleasently surprised when it does.

We have an entire Greenhouse room dedicated to growing food for the station, but for a while food production has haulted as Craig the Greenhouse Tech (a very lucky student from Arizona University) is fixing the system for the upcoming winter season, when the Greenhouse will provide all the station's fresh vegetables for the 8 months in which there are no planes.  According to Craig, the former Greenhouse tech screwed things up quite a bit, and he spends most of his time messing with the 

Though not in full swing, the greenhouse is always producing.  It is made up of a vestibule with a couch and sunflowers, and an inner room with rows of shelf where the plants are grown.  The project kicked off around 2004 and was pioneered by Arizona University's Controlled EnvironmentAgriculture Center (CEAC.)  Besides the friendly sunflowers, there is a massive clump of cucumbers inside the main chamber whose foliage rises from the grow shelves like a furl of smoke.  On other shelves, lettuce leaves and small green sprouts I can't identify rise from some sort of inert material.  
South Pole's Grow Chamber is a work of hydroponic agriculture.  Hydroponic literally means "water-labor" and refers to plants grown without soil, but with either suspended in nutrient solution, or innervated with it while anchored in some material such as diahydro, vermiculite, or rock wool.  I forget exactly what south pole currently uses... but it is something like this.  

The Grow Chamber fascinates me in its utter dissidence to its surroundings.  The only plants in Antarctica are located on the coast, and those are represented by a ragtag collection of mosses, lichens on land algae and phytoplankton residing under the ice.  That plants can grow out of rock in the middle of the Antarctic winter in the midst of a six-month night is simply astounding.  

Of course, besides the delicious factor, and the much needed nutrients added to the Polie diet, The Greenhouse is a bit of a social hub.  It is hard to find a time when someone having a chat, eating dinner, or taking a nap in the humid comfortable outter chamber of the grow room.  I think people must like plants.

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