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News From Antarctica: Personal web sites share Ice with world

Press Release From: The Antarctic Sun
Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2004

image By Brien Barnett Antarctic Sun staff

The international traveling sensation Flat Stanley can get no flatter than a bunch of electrons, but at Glen Kinoshita's South Pole Web site, Stanley may be at his coolest.

Flat Stanley is a children's book character who found he could travel the world through the mail if he was as flat as a sheet of paper. The winter season had already started and flights discontinued when Kinoshita heard that a kid had sent him a Flat Stanley. With the original stuck somewhere in the mail, Kinoshita downloaded and printed off Flat Stanley, then created a fun and extensive site about Flat Stanley's adventure at the South Pole.

Image: Memories, at the computer lab at McMurdo Station. Poole hosts a bulletin board on his site and frequently answers questions about life on the Ice for many first-time U.S. Antarctic Program participants.

As a wintering research scientist working with weather and climate monitoring, Kinoshita had access to much of the station. He used his access to create a fun site featuring photos of Flat Stanley working all over the station. Stanley even sported extreme cold weather gear similar to Antarctic participants. It was a Flat Stanley follower's dream come true and showed off some of the station resident's creativity during the long, cold winter. Kinoshita is one of many people who maintain Web sites and online journals dedicated to their experiences in Antarctica. Using the keyword "Antarctica," Google, MSN and other search sites reveal tens of thousands of sites.

The Ice can be explored online. USAP.org is the official United States Antarctic Program Web site. That site and the Office of Polar Programs site at NSF.gov contain useful information about Antarctica, from quick facts to a photo library of images from around the continent. There are dozens of unofficial Web sites spawned each season by Antarctic program participants. These sites typically include journals with daily entries and photo galleries. Some feature poetry and music inspired by their creators' experiences on the Ice.

Like the Flat Stanley page, nearly all the sites have some level of quirky Ice behavior. For example, the opening page of dining attendant Allison Barden's site features a photo of her standing by the McMurdo Station sign during a snowstorm in beach attire. It's a far cry from San Francisco where she lives when not in Antarctica. Her nickname, Sandwich, was earned by her custom of toting a sandwich- shaped lunchbox everywhere she went. It carries over to the name of the site: sandwichgirl.com.

A few strokes of the keyboard will get surfers to computer tech Holly Troy's Web site, southpoledudes.com. There, visitors can review dozens of photos from several seasons spent in Antarctica. "It's basically so people can live vicariously through my pictures," Troy said.

During the week, Troy collects his photographs and creates his Web pages. On Sundays, he spends about 15 minutes at the Coffee House updating his site from his personal laptop.

Troy first came down to the Ice with a friend in 2001 and the two were supposed to work together on the site (hence the "dudes" part of the name) but it quickly became only his site. Since then, he's added photos from his time at Palmer Station as well. As a father of three children, Troy keeps the photos on his site PG, leaving off some of the most outrageous moments from Halloween and other celebrations. His site also has helped reconnect old friends. One of Troy's co-workers appeared in several photos last season. Sometime during the year, a man back in the United States was surfing the Web and came across Troy's site. There he recognized one of Troy's co-workers and sent him an e-mail. Troy forwarded it and surprised his co-worker.

"He said he hadn't seen the guy since he was seven," Troy said. "It's amazing that they're finding me, because I haven't made any effort to make southpoledudes known to the world."

Zondra.org is home to Montana resident Zondra Skertich's site. She has written extensively about her 2003-2004 season and has started again this season. She considers herself a better photographer than writer and features many photos from the Ice. She's also tried to head off the inevitable questions from people at home about how cold it is and what time it is by including clocks that also show the temperature for major stations in Antarctica.

Beth Bartel is a GPS specialist at McMurdo. When friends heard she was coming to the Ice, they insisted she keep a Web journal, often called a blog. They were so insistent, they set it up for her. "I started doing it because friends at home were curious about what Antarctica would be like and they established it for me and made me do it," Bartel said. "Now, I get feedback from people I know and don't know."

Bartel, now in her second season on the Ice, cited a sense of personal satisfaction as the primary reason she's kept it up. As one of the few on station able to visit special science sites, such as the volcano Mount Erebus, Bartel takes photos and writes stories about her trips. Her writings often reveal a comedic side of her work and life in McMurdo.

"It's an outlet for me to share experiences, make fun of what I think is funny, make fun of myself," Bartel said. That said, Bartel probably can't be found surfing for Antarctic sites. "I'm not a surfer and don't like reading off the computer. I like reading books and turning pages," she said. "But I do read my own site."

Stefan Pashov, McMurdo's resident philosopher, no longer spends his precious Web surfing time viewing Antarcticarelated Web sites. Like others who have returned to McMurdo for many seasons, Pashov said the novelty he once felt about most Antarctic Web sites has worn off. Instead he reads up on world affairs and has other interests including poetry. That latter interest, though, may someday spur him to build a Web site dedicated to Antarctic poetry.

If Pashov has moved on to other things, many others are just beginning to learn about Antarctica. They often start at one of the most-visited personal Antarctic Web sites, nicknamed Antarctic Memories. The site is maintained by Mike Poole, who works in supply at McMurdo. Poole set up his site as an MSN.com group. It was free, easy to update and is now chock full of information about the program and life at McMurdo Station.

Many of the visitors are people who want to work in Antarctica or who have been hired and now need a calm, guiding hand through the blizzard of paperwork, medical checks and gear preparation. One of the central features is a message board, which is a repository for a lot of good advice. Poole often replies to questions within hours. Current and former U.S. A participants, both on and off the Ice, help him answer questions. "Myself and a small cadre of helpers keep it going," Poole said. "There's no such thing as a stupid question, assuming they have a genuine interest in coming down."

And come they will, many with Web sites blank and ready to be filled. There are many Antarctica-related personal sites on the Web. Here are a few from this story. Visit them for links to others or use a search site to find more.

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