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Interview of Charles F. Passel by Raimund E. Goerler

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Title: Interview of Charles F. Passel by Raimund E. Goerler
Creators: Passel, Charles F.
Contributors: Goerler, Raimund E. (Raimund Erhard), 1948-
Keywords: Wind Chill
Issue Date: 2005-07-12
Publisher: Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program
Series/Report no.: Polar Oral History Program
Abstract: Charles Passel, a geologist trained at Miami University of Ohio by F. Alton Wade, was a major participant in the third Antarctic Expedition at Little America [U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-1940] led by Admiral Richard E. Byrd. As an applicant for a position on the Expedition, Passel went to Boston, and ended up staying two weeks as a houseguest of the Admiral, whom he described as "a wonderful, wonderful person." Passel was placed in charge of procurement of all supplies. He planned for an East Base, and a West Base, and -- should there be a fire - a secure, smaller cache beyond each camp. Participants on previous expeditions, including the Admiral himself, advised Passel on proper division of clothing, food, equipment, etc. between the two camps. Passel is generous in his praise of Admiral Byrd, whom he described variously as "popular," "fair," "straight," and "honest." He was not unaware that others had offered less favorable assessments of Byrd. The original intent had been for the Expedition to spend four years in the Antarctic, but the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 forced a decision to cut the stay to two years. There was considerable concern in the United States about possible German interest in Antarctica. Paul Siple was a major figure as leader of the West Base, and he worked closely with Passel in developing "the wind chill formula," one of the most significant scientific outcomes of the Expedition. Passel was given major responsibility for this assignment even though the expedition also included Earnest Lockhart, a physiologist, Jack Perkins, a biologist, and Arnold Court, a meteorologist. As a leader, Siple was "great, very fair." Siple and Passel established a "wind chill factor" through use of a pyrene container which had a thermometer in it to measure the temperature. These results were correlated daily with a wind indicator to measure how long it would take water to freeze under certain conditions, sometimes as long as an hour or two when there was no wind, or as little as 35 seconds when the winds were howling. The danger to humans was that the greater the wind, the faster heat was removed from exposed flesh. Some days the crews could not work outside. Teamwork was indispensable; each man not only had to think of himself in such harsh conditions, but watch for danger signs among others. The innovative research of Siple and Passel was published in 1945, and it was adopted quickly in Alaska and Canada and all northern countries. Practical applications of this research led in part to improved designs of clothing for use in ultra-cold climates. Another responsibility of Passel in Little America was as a dog team driver, a job he describes as "fun." During blizzards, the two-man team would curl up beside the sled and the dogs, sometimes covered with snow, and wait for the weather to change. The men did not ride on the sleds, as was the practice in Alaska, but would ski alongside them. Sometimes the dogs would fall into a crevasse, and the men would rescue them. Passel and other drivers, and indeed most of the dogs, received special training in New Hampshire before departure. Some in Washington felt the dogs should be destroyed at the end of the Expedition, but all were returned home. At the start of the Expedition there were 150 dogs. Passel was also a radio operator, and used the "dot and dash" method to communicate. He also observed the work of the Snow Cruiser, a gigantic piece of machinery that never worked as planned in the field. The Expedition used both civilian and military personnel, and contrary to what might have been reported elsewhere, Passel does not recall any serious tension between them. The medical officer, Russell Frazier, was a military doctor, and first-rate. The Ross Ice Shelf was one of Passel's indelible memories of Antarctica, a "cruel and dangerous continent." The Shelf is 150 feet plus or minus above the water. Near the Shelf was the Bay of Whales, the only place where ships could load or unload their cargo. It was fascinating to observe penguins falling through breaks in the ice into the mouths of killer whales. Temporary tent camps were sometimes located atop the Ross Ice Shelf. On occasion, the ice would break and the tent camps could float off at about ten miles a day. Passel recalls seeing plentiful penguins, including Emperor, Adelie, and Ringneck. One day, 400-500 three-feet tall Emperor penguins were observed at the camp. They could knock a man down with their flippers, although they would usually back off if approached. His most lasting impression was of the vastness of the Antarctic, that man did not stand a chance there without support from the base. There are no animals, nothing but penguins, seals, and whales. Despite the blizzards Antarctica is actually a desert. There is no rain, no snow, just blowing the snow that already been laying around for thousands of years. Details such as these were included in his personal diary of the Expedition, which was published, originally only for family use, as "An Antarctic Journal." Passel never returned again to Antarctica. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II, but kept alive his interest in Antarctica in later years through lectures to organizations and school children. There is a mountain there named in his honor. Major Topics: The Third Antarctic Expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-1940 Development of the "wind chill" scale Challenges of Antarctic exploration Natural conditions and perimeter wildlife of the continent (whales, penguins, whales, seals) Leadership attributes of Admiral Byrd
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1811/6040
Rights: Restrictions: This item is not restricted.
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