Straight as an ARO: Antarctic Research Observatory

For those of you who don’t know, the reason I’m at the South Pole frying eggs is to support 100 or so scientists that are down here doing some really incredible experiments/observations. On my one day off a week I get to do really cool stuff, like tour the Antarctic Research Observatory (after I sleep in past 3:00 AM, have someone else cook me breakfast and take one of my 2 weekly showers.) So this past Sunday, that is exactly what I did.

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First I donned my extreme cold weather gear and hoofed it about 1/2 a mile to the ARO: Antarctica Research Observatory. This is where scientists from NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association monitor all sorts of going ons in the atmosphere at the South Pole. One of the things they do is monitor pollutants like CFCs and greenhouse gases with this homemade four channel gas chromatograph (nicknamed Stealth) pictured below.

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Another advantage of being at the South Pole is that we get to breathe the cleanest air on earth. Literally. The ARO is located in what is known as the Clean Air Sector at Pole, meaning no humans or machines are allowed upwind of the lab so that their readings reflect atmoshperic baseline measurements of what is in the air around the world. This is me bottling my very own South Pole air. I’m obviously thrilled.

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On the day that I took this air sample, ARO calculated the amount of carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere to be 395.84 parts per million, which doesn’t seem like a lot but when you look at the graph below, which dates back to the 1970s, you can see that it is rising dramatically. This graph is apparently so controversial (although I’m not quite sure how hard scientific facts can be controversial) that one of George W Bush’s aides took it down from the walls of NOAA’s offices so as not to offend his delicate sensibilities.

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Now this little beauty of a piece of scientific equipment is a Dobson Ozone Spectrophotometer… and luckily it comes with instructions. But basically a NOAA scientist (who is at least 10 times smarter than your average South Pole line cook) aims it at the sun or the moon and measures the amount of ozone in the atmosphere, which, coincidentally at this time of year above Antarctica is exactly zero.

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So basically, I spent my day off learning that I’m lucky to be breathing the cleanest air on earth because humans have MOST DEFINITELY polluted the rest of it with all sorts of crazy chemicals that are having lasting effects on our world. I also learned that the best thing I can do to support these scientists’ efforts is the fry their eggs to perfection in the AM so they can keep up the good work. If you want to learn more about ARO, NOAA and their efforts to monitor the atmosphere you can click here. Stay tuned for more of my South Pole adventures!

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