26 March 2007

Position:  73-13N/145-32W

Temperature:  -20ºF


Greetings from APLIS, adrift in the Arctic Ocean.


Boy, I thought it was cold yesterday but today is even worse.  The difference - winds gusting to 25 knots.  It’s not only made things colder but the blowing snow has kept us in camp.  Visibility is so poor, we can sometimes barely see from one side of the camp to another in the blowing snow.


So, as long as we’re stuck in the camp, I may as well talk about something I’ve wanted to for a while now - the camp itself.  All of the buildings are constructed of sections of plywood 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  That means all of the buildings’ dimensions are in increments of 4 feet.  The largest building - the Command Hut - is 20 ft by 20 ft.  All of the living hootches are 8 ft by 20 ft.


All of the buildings have names.  Before we arrived, the guys from APL/UW stenciled each with the name of a Las Vegas hotel - “Circus Circus” (where I live), “The Sands”, “Luxor”, etc.  The Command Hut is called “MGM Grand”, possibly a nod to the studio that produces Stargate.  And the Mess Hall - the centerpiece of the camp - “Bellagio”.



The “Venetian” with ”New York, New York” in the Background


Each living hootch has up to six residents in three double bunk beds and is warmed by an oil-fired heater.  One trick of living up here is to keep a stock pot on top of the heater.  Filled periodically from our mined ice supply, the water melted in these pots provides each hut with water for bathing and drinking.  In addition, keeping the pot at a slight boil raises the humidity in the huts from near-zero to about 20%.  Avoiding cracked skin is important for the comfort of the residents and to avoid the potential for infection.


All of the residents have customized their hootces to their own tastes.  Most have shelves (to keep supplies and toiletries off the ground where they would freeze) and coat hooks (for parkas).  “New York, New York” used to be our equipment shed but, with the recent population boom, has been taken over by the ladies from Stargate.  It’s rumored to have carpeting, curtains, and other luxuries.  I have no idea where they would have gotten those things up here.

When we first got here, temperatures were warm enough that many people were drilling holes in their walls to improve ventilation.  All that ended today.  People have been scurrying to keep the biting wind out of their hootches.  Ventilation holes have disappeared.  Minor gaps between the plywood sections, overlooked before today, are being hunted down and taped over.


The wind has had other effects on camp life.  Over the past two weeks, normal foot traffic has worn familiar paths between the different hootches and some of our outlying areas like the runway.  The blowing snow has erased these and replaced them with random snow drifts - some almost knee deep.


Just to clarify.  We refer to the fluffy white stuff covering the ground as “snow” only because that’s a familiar term.  Real snow is frozen fresh water that’s fallen from the sky.  Our “snow” is actually tiny pieces of sea ice that have been eroded by the wind.  If you were to taste it, it would be salt.  The Arctic is a desert, receiving very little precipitation.  To complete the comparison between the Arctic and a more traditional desert, what we call “snow” is actually the arctic sand.



Arctic Dunes


The last of the Stargate team was due to arrive late in the day.  To us non-pilots, this was not the kind of weather we’d like to fly in.  But to an experienced bush pilot like Shawn, today was just another day in the Arctic.  To help him out, we had a caravan of snowmobiles go out to the north end of the runway to mark its centerline with their headlights.  Shawn eased his plane down gently for about the 50th time.  On board were John Smith (Executive Producer for Stargate), his wife Lynn, and Actor Richard Dean Anderson.


The Stargate crew is now complete.  All we need is a clear day tomorrow for them to finish their filming.  Besides that, we need the weather to clear before cabin fever sets in.



Jeff Gossett

Arctic Submarine Laboratory