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Alum Talks Life in the South Pole

Ever wondered what it’s like to live and work in the South Pole? Millersville alum Mark Dellandre shares about his experiences.

Living in the South Pole certainly isn’t for everyone. In many ways, it’s nearly inhospitable for humans. That didn’t stop Mark Dellandre. This 2019 graduate of the meteorology program recently spent 10 months living and working in one of the coldest and most remote parts of the Earth. In the summertime, the highest temperatures reach around -20 degrees Fahrenheit. “The lowest I experienced was -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Triple-digit cold!” says Dellandre. So how did he end up at the South Pole? “About a month after graduation, I saw a link to Antarctic contracts in a Facebook group,” says Dellandre. He explains that getting to Antarctica was time-consuming, but “After 3 years, I finally got the call that I would be spending a winter at the South Pole.”

Dellandre’s role at the station was to record weather observations and other meteorological services, like weather balloon launches. The balloon launches would collect temperature, dew point, wind direction and speed, and pressure. This would make a vertical profile of the atmosphere or sounding, which is useful for forecasting, climatology and modeling. “Observing requires a person going out and looking at visibility and clouds,” he explains. “This isn’t difficult when the sun is up, but when it’s dark out, vision is much more difficult, as you can imagine.” The South Pole is dark for six months out of the year. “To counter this, we’d have to wait in a vestibule and let our eyes adjust to the dark for about 10 minutes,” explains Dellandre. “It was a little easier to see the markers then.”

Views from the South Pole.

In order to go outside, you must wear extreme cold weather gear. “Every month I would be out in the cold for more than an hour, but the ECW Gear protected me. However, if there’s a bit of exposed skin somewhere, like the neck or chest, you run the risk of frostbite after 5 minutes.” As long as you’re cautious, Dellandre notes, it’s perfectly safe to go outside.

Dellandre shows his off his extreme cold weather gear.

Life at the South Pole comes with other challenges aside from the cold and the long months of darkness. Water is limited. “That means we only get two 2-minute showers a week,” he says. “As you can imagine, there are challenges that grow from this scenario, but you get used to it.” There are other tasks they have to tend to, like sorting their garbage into different bins, including food waste, metals, and biological refuse. Getting online isn’t always possible. “The internet is sporadic, and days could go by without access to it. Many of our personal comforts are stripped away down there, but it’s amazing how quickly a person can adapt to these changes,” he shares.

Despite the extreme temperatures and remote location, Dellandre says that the Pole is a very active community. “We had events every weekend as well as routine everyday meetups. For instance, every Tuesday, a group would get together to practice speaking French, and every month we meet for a trivia match.” There are always events happening to help stave off any feelings of stir-craziness, he shares. There are typically around 40 to 100 people living at the station at any given time.

Dellandre has plans to return to the South Pole for 14 months this September and says that he’s grateful for the experiences at Millersville. “This was an amazing experience, and it wouldn’t have been possible without my degree from MU. Plus, a lot of the tools and skills necessary for my job I had already learned from our great staff of professors.” He also encourages students to seek opportunities like this. “There are hundreds of memories I forged from the Pole, and I stress to new graduates that an opportunity like this may seem strange, but it’s worth keeping an open mind.”

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