Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 8, 1998

Long nights for Winsted resident in Antarctica


It is winter in Antarctica. Perpetual darkness blends the days into nights, and any temperature above zero is considered shirtsleeve weather.

Richard Segler of Winsted lives in Antarctica from February to October.

He is one of about 250 "winterover" people who keep McMurdo Station operational during the some of the world's coldest and darkest days.

Segler was profiled in the Journal in December 1994. At that time, mail and supplies came from the outside world only in June, during the full moon. It was called the "air smash," because a military C-140 would drop supplies from 1,000 feet. Boxes hit the ground at 70 miles an hour.

News and pre-programmed television was received through Armed Forces Radio and Television, CNN, and the government computers. By the time it reached the station, the news was three days old.

In 1996, the "air smash" was discontinued due to cost and all residents were given access to e-mail. The e-mail and television programs are picked up from a satellite and the delay has been reduced to 17 hours.

This year, Segler has offered to send weather reports from McMurdo station to the Journal and other tidbits of information.

Segler has worked in Antarctica since 1991 and is a maintenance engineer, employed by Antarctic Support Associates of Denver, Colo.

McMurdo Station, is operated by the National Science Foundation. The 80-acre station is located on Ross Island, which is attached to the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest in Antarctica at 2,300 feet thick at the inner edge and 600 feet thick at its outer edge.

Winter ambient temperatures stay below zero and the windchill can be greater than 90 degrees below zero.

In the summer about 1,000 people live and work in this self-contained city which purifies its own water and is powered by diesel generators.

Also in summer, penguins, seals, mink, and a type of seagull, called scua, populate the island. Killer whales can be seen in the Ross Sea.

In winter, the wildlife heads to warmer climates, as do most of the station's inhabitants. Segler said the only animals seen in winter are a few seals where the ice has cracked and they can gnaw a hole through the ice.

The station is closed from about March 1 until the end of August and there is no way to get off the ice.

Those who choose this type of employment are subject to physiological testing before they leave.

The darkness does get to some of the staff by August and September. "They call themselves toast," Segler said.

The darkness does not bother him until the last month before the sun comes back.

"Then we are only a few weeks away from the sun returning so it is easy to look forward to that," Segler said.

As for being around the same people for months on end, he said it does help to have a place to get away, "but generally most of us down here get along."

The majority of Segler's job is making sure everything in the station's many buildings is operating properly, most importantly the furnace.

"If it is one of the better insulated buildings, we have a two or three hour margin. If people live in it, we have to get right on it because the wind is blowing all the time and things cool down quickly," he said.

Equipment frequently breaks down because of the cold and Mount Erebus, an active volcano that continually spews smoke and steam.

Segler chooses the cold climate because "I don't like hot, sweaty summers. Antarctica is a good place to stay cool," he said.

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