The Cleanest Air in the World

John Jacobsen
Saturday, February 17, 2007

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Earlier post One more day (?) southpole

Later post Short-timer southpole

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Figure 1: Your intrepid author collects his own air sample from the top floor of the Clean Air Building.

Well, still no confirmation of whether we’re getting pulled out tomorrow. Apparently they want to fly everyone out, even the so-called “soft closers,” because it’s getting colder fast, but the weather forecast for McMurdo calls for snow and poor visibility. So, we’ll see. We might all be stuck until Sunday or later. We can use the time here but I’m getting toasty [Ice slang for Ice burnout] about as quickly as the mercury falls.

But tonight, we had a real treat - a tour of the Clean Air Facility (see photos). South Pole (upwind of the station) has the cleanest air in the world, and there is an entire building devoted to its study. Not surprisingly, two of the most prominent measurements are ozone concentration and CO2 concentration. South Pole is one of five similar clean-air stations spread from north to south, from here to Barrows, Alaska, where CO2 measurements have been taken for several decades and show an inexorable and dramatic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. We saw how they do the measurement. The ozone measurement was also very interesting technically, and the explanation for the ozone hole, while too lengthy to recount here, is fascinating. At the end we got to collect our own sealed samples of The Cleanest Air in the World - a souvenir to put over the fireplace, though seeing the carbon curves does dampen my enthusiasm for lighting any fires.

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Figure 2: Scenery on the way to the Clean Air building.

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Figure 3: Laser for LIDAR measurements of high-altitude cloud formations.

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Figure 4: Seven-, count them, seven-paned windows on the second floor.

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Figure 5: Fifties-era flasks still used for air sampling. Apparently measuring CO2 concentrations back then was considered somewhat silly; now it’s probably the most important measurement done at South Pole (my opinion).

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Figure 6: Guest book for Distinguished Visitors (DVs), including Sen. John McCain, who apparently gets the global warming thing and commented to the other DVs last year, “See? See? I told you,” during their version of the same tour we had today.

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Figure 7: Other, less-distinguished visitors.

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Figure 8: Our home, for a few more hours at least….

More photos

Earlier post One more day (?) southpole

Later post Short-timer southpole

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