Back in McMurdo, we finished up the final tasks we had with the troubled tube of the neutron monitor and then we got one more exploration opportunity. We were able to visit Discovery Hut which is a structure just a short walk from “downtown” McMurdo that was built in 1902 as a rest stop of sorts for early Antarctic explorers. They take the preservation of original artifacts very seriously and so you are not allowed to touch anything. No, not even the rotting seals that have been in there for decades! Once you got over the smell though, it was very interesting to have a look around. There were old crates that had Scott’s name on them. He was one of the early explorers in Antarctica and leader of the second group to reach the South Pole. There were pans on the kitchen stove with bits of seal meat still in them and there were places where they had started to rip the ceiling down to use for firewood. It was a veryintriguing and very well preserved site to see.
Well, here we are, waiting a few more hours for our flight to take us back to New Zealand. It has been an intense experience down here, but I am also happy to be leaving as well. Spending a month in New Zealand is scary and exciting at the same time, but I look forward to seeing what the country has to offer me. I’ve met many people down here who are also spending time in NZ and a few of us many hopefully cross paths at some point. I will most definitely never forget my time here on the ice and I can’t wait to get home and brag about all these adventures and more!
It’s so hard to write this blog post because it’s impossible to describe the feeling you get being at the Pole. The South Pole has been one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. Even with it being -40 wind-chill! Everyone is so nice and has the same adventurous attitude! There are only about 150 people, which is max capacity for the station. Just passing people walking down the hall everyone has a smile on their face and is so friendly. Because of the small space that we work in there is always people to talk to. Everyone hangs out at the end of the day in the game room lounge. Doesn’t matter what your job title is, firefighter, scientist/grantee, mechanical engineer, cook, etc, all hang out together. You get to meet some amazing people!
We actually arrived to the pole on the day we were scheduled to!! With it being above 9000 feet the sudden altitude change made things difficult. Just walking up the stairs made you winded. So the first day we took it easy and just wandered around the station getting acclimated. This station is newer than McMurdo and has so many accommodations. There’s a gym and a workout center, two movie rooms (so full of movies I don’t think I could watch them all even if I wintered over), a music room, game room (with a pool table, dart board, and foosball table), a greenhouse, quite reading room (with a ton of books!), a science lab, and a sauna!
The food at the Pole is so much better than the food at McMurdo! The first day we arrived there were raspberry blondie brownies made by a lady who owners her own bakery back in the states. Another day we got filet mignon and crab legs! They even have fresh apples and oranges. I never thought I would eat so well in a cafeteria.
We were only scheduled to be at the South Pole for 5 days, so the next day we got to work! We wandered out to the IceCube lab (ICL) to set up the muon tagger equipment. We also checked out the neutron monitors, some bare inside the science lab, others fully covered and insulated sitting outside.
After getting most of our work done we changed gears a bit. We helped with the artists and writers program. Two artists want to recreate some historic photos from Antarctica, but because room space in limited at the Pole they were unable to come. So we got a GoPro camera from them and a Scott tent from the station. The tent was just a little too tall so we had to dig a trench and bury it about 3 feet. Part of the reenactment of the photos was to do interviews of the people participating. While Dr. Madsen and Robert were outside in the cold filming people, I was inside in the warmth of the station doing the interviews. This gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of people very fast.
Before we knew it the five days were up. Our flight was scheduled to leave on Monday. Normally we need to check in our bags the day before (called “bag drag” because you literally have to drag your bag to the check in spot). But because we were leaving on Monday we had to bag drag on Saturday because on Sunday they weren’t working. We are allowed one carry-on bag to keep with us, but it has size restrictions. So the key is to try and balance how many clothes to bring but still keeping in light. The problem is you never really know when you’re leaving.
At the Pole the flights are done a little differently. First a flight will come in and drop off people and cargo. They won’t even shut of the engines before they start loading it with new cargo and people leaving the pole. They’re only on the ground for maybe an hour if everything goes as planned. So our flight came in at 11:30 pm and we all got on the plane at 12:30 am. We flew for about 45 min before they decided the weather was too bad in McMurdo so we had to turn around (what was surprising to me was that the weather was hardly ever bad at the south pole, always sunny and very little wind). We got back to the pole and had a 2 hour window were, if the weather cleared, we would still take off. So we waited around till 3:30 am before they finally decide to call it a day. They shut off the plane’s engines… This could be bad… very very bad…! Once you shut off the engines it’s very hard to get them started again. It’s just too cold at the Pole. Also once they shut down the plane their navigation systems start to act funny and they can’t fly unless they have perfect weather conditions.
Needless to say we were stuck at the Pole until Friday. With weather delays and problems with the skyway our 5 day trip turned into 10 days. Before the boomerang flight I was ready to go. Five days were long enough for me and I was starting to get home sick. But by the end of the five extra days at the pole I didn’t want to leave!!! After we boomeranged and got back to the station our rooms were already given away. And now the station was over max capacity with 177 people. They had no more rooms for us. So they set up 10 beds in the gym. The flight crew slept in one of the movie rooms on the couches while other people found couches in the other lounges. I had the time of my life! Couch surfing pro!!!
With this extra time we got to tour a few things. We went and saw SpiceCore. We were lucky enough to show up right as they were bringing up a core. The ice was 50,000 years ago! We also got to launch a weather balloon. We got pretty friendly with the weather man Oregano who brought us frequent weather updates. We got a tour of the South Pole Telescope and also got to see the ice tunnels were the piping for the station is ran. The tunnels were really cold, about -50. At the end of that tour we got to climb a 30 foot ladder to get out of the tunnels. That was a little scary considering we just spend an hour in freezing temperatures and my hands were starting to go numb.
We got back to McMurdo and spent a few more days doing some work at Cos-Ray. We got to go inside discovery hut, which you’re only allowed to do with a guide.
We made it to the South Pole! After all the troubles we’ve had up to this point with flights getting down here, it was a relief to make it to the Pole successfully on the first try (see featured photo by Delia Tosi, IceCube, UW-Madison). Upon our arrival, there were some very excited IceCubers waiting for us outside on the skiway to welcome us to the station. It was nice to know that we had friends there waiting for us! We then sat through an orientation video in one of the lounges to familiarize ourselves with the station. The main difference between the South Pole and McMurdo is that it takes significantly more resources to make water at the pole. For this reason they are stricter about things like showering. You are only allowed to take two showers per week and they can’t be more than two minutes long.
Another big difference about being at the pole is that with the exception of the experimental facilities such as IceCube, everything is located in one building. Labs, lounges, bedrooms, the galley and the gym are located in what is called the “elevated station.” It makes sense that everything is one place there because it was typically -20 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chills of less than -40 while we were there. You don’t want to go very far without gearing up in your ECW!*
Getting around to the different sites at the South Pole can be done by taking a “sled.” This is what they call their snowmobiles. There are also a variety of trailers so that you can haul equipment or more
people to the site you are visiting. Since we were not staying at the pole for very long, none of us opted to take the snowmobile training session so that we could drive, but we often found ourselves getting a ride from one of the IceCubers.
After getting acquainted with the technician who has been taking care of the neutron monitors, we went out to see the sites where they were located. There were three large and heavily insulated enclosures for the three tubes that were kept outside, identifiable by their distinctive smiley faces. There were also some bare tubes inside the station that contained helium 3, though they lacked the smiley face trademark.
The IceCube building is referred to as ICL, and we went there to set up our muon tagger and see it in action at the South Pole. There were some hiccups in the process of getting it to run smoothly and take data how we wanted it to, but after working with the electronics and consulting with Joe back at River Falls, we got it to work almost how we wanted it to. There are still a few kinks to work out. We also opted to bring back two other DAQ’s with us so that those can be upgraded before next season.
While at the South Pole, everybody was extremely friendly and nice. We got to go on some tours of other people’s projects including the South Pole Telescope group who studies the microwave cosmic background and SPICE Core who drills down into the ice and takes samples back up in order to be studied.
The final tour we did was rather interesting as well. One of the plumbers took us down below the station into what they call the “ice tunnels” where all the water and plumbing lines are located. It was about -60 degrees Fahrenheit down there, brrrrrrrr!! Every so often they have to go down with a chainsaw and widen the halls because the ice moves in and shrinks the passageways.
Trying to leave the South Pole, we again ran into troubles with the flights. We were supposed to leave for McMurdo on a Monday and we didn’t end up getting back finally until Friday because there were weather delays and an incident with another plane getting stuck on the South Pole skiway for several days. On our first attempt, a plane come picked us up and dropped off more people at the same time. We ended up boomeranging back to the pole after a short flight because it was apparent that the weather in McMurdo would not provide for a safe landing. The problem was that they had already given away our rooms to the newcomers and the station was at maximum capacity. So Laura and I became South Pole couch-surfing bums while Dr. Madsen opted to sleep in the gym where they had brought in some spare mattresses from storage. This lasted for three nights until finally another plane came to pick us up and bring us back to McMurdo. Due to the kindness and hospitality of everybody there, it was actually not a bad experience. We hung out with the stranded flight crew, the firefighters, the IceCube winter-overs, and various other people every night. Good times were had by all in the lounge playing pool and darts, listening to music and just having good conversations. The South Pole station is a very special place and I feel extremely lucky to have had the experience of spending time with all the amazing and interesting people there.
A lot has happened since the last post. We met up with IceCube team members who were on their way to the Pole. Matt Kauer, Morten Medici, Tomasz Palczewski and Jacob van Santen arrived along with a Ricoh Theta 360 camera from teacher Juan Botella. This is an extremely compact, thin camera with fish-eye lenses opposite each other front and back. It takes pictures and videos that capture a full spherical view. An app is available to allow the viewer to scroll around and “look” in all directions. It is really neat.
Everything takes a lot of planning and time to execute, all done at the mercy of nature. The weather at McMurdo station has been fine, but there have been many days where flights have been cancelled because of low visibility including one period of condition one (number one bad!) weather at Williams Field. We were fortunate to get out on our first try, but air travel here is a little different than on a commercial airline.
First, you have to keep an eye on the monitors or look at the intranet to see if you are listed on the flight manifest (=passenger list). If so, then your name also appears on the “bag drag” list, giving the time and day to report in full cold weather gear (CWG) with all your luggage. After weighing all items—checked baggage (no charge!) and hand carry which must total less than 85 pounds—the passenger also gets weighed. This is a bit of a shock as the CWG adds another 20 to 25 pounds. At least that’s my story.
another 20 to 25 pounds. At least that’s my story.
We had a 6:15 am shuttle time but I had a test run for a webcast with a museum in Mexico at 4:00 am followed by an actually webcasts starting at 5:15 am. There were some issues connected with the IceCube group at the South Pole so Laura, Robert and I told about our projects, and travel experience until the group at the Pole could join. We got to our shuttle on-time, got out to the airfield, and then waited for about 2 hours while final loading and fueling took place.
The scenery on the way to the Pole is spectacular. This is my third trip, and I still am awed by the desolation and simple beauty of the continent. Our greeting on deplaning was really heartwarming. IceCuber Delia Tosi, who has been at the Pole for about a month, along with most of the IceCube team we had met in McMurdo, were there to greet us. It was really special with Delia jumping up and down like we were long lost relatives, and providing hugs all around. After a short briefing, we had lunch, and then settled into our rooms.
The “new station”, which is now about a decade old, is very nice, with small individual rooms with communal bathrooms at the end of the hall. All visitors pitch in to keep the common areas clean, with “house mouse” duties assigned once per week with the day depending on your room number. Laura lucked out, and got to help clean the bathroom her first day! The rest of the afternoon was spent getting used to our new environment, meeting the support people, and eating a wonderful evening meal in the galley.
Well, it’s about time for me to get a post on here so here it is!
It has been a very long, exciting and nerve-wrecking trip for me. When I left O’Hare airport in Chicago, they made me check my carry-on bag at the last minute because they ran out of overhead space on the airplane. Although the flight attendant assured me that this bag would only go to LAX, I arrived there to find that it did not come down the carousel and after waiting to talk to a baggage personnel, I found that they had sent the bag all the way to Christchurch. This would have been no big deal, except for the fact that my visa paperwork for New Zealand was in there! So I then proceeded to scour the whole airport trying to find someone who would let me use a printer to print out new copies of my papers. When I was unsuccessful in that mission, it was recommended to me that I should leave the airport to find a FedEx print and ship location, so that is what I did. The taxi cab driver told me that I could take the free Mariott shuttle since the FedEx was right next door. So after getting off the shuttle and discovering that the FedEx was closed for the holiday and that the next nearest one was also closed, I proceeded to panic. However, after going door to door I found a hotel with a computer and printer I could use in the lobby. What a relief! After printing my papers and power-walking back to the airport to go through security for the third time that day, I could finally relax and have a drink and vent the day’s troubles to the very kind bartender from New York. From here on out it would a much smoother ride.
Arriving in Sydney on the most massive plane I have ever been on, I was relieved to see Dr. Madsen waiting for me outside baggage claim. Laura had already gone down to the harbor to get her sight-seeing started. So we hopped on a train down to Circular Quay (pronounced like ‘key’) so that we could walk up the Sydney Harbour Bridge and get a bird’s eye view of the Opera House. The roof was not, however, a pure white color as depicted in the movie “Finding Nemo.” It was actually made of a mix of white and beige ceramic tiling which looked predominantly beige from the bridge. We then met Laura at the oldest bar in Sydney where I had my first kangaroo steak of my life which was delicious. After checking out some of the local vendors, we then separated again so that Dr. Madsen and I could go to the Botanical Gardens while Laura checked out the bridge. Unfortunately it began to downpour on our way so we took shelter in the Museum of Modern Art. After the rain stopped, we had enough time to go get up close and personal with the Opera House before getting back on the train to the airport and heading to New Zealand.
Upon arriving in New Zealand at night, I was happy to leave the interpreting to Dr. Madsen as the many flights had really taken it out of me. After fitting our ECW in the morning it was interesting to walk around Christchurch and see the remaining damage from the earthquakes. It gave the town a very eerie feel to it. The graffiti art around town was very interesting and visually appealing for the most part. The next day when our flight got cancelled, I was not very upset to have to go down to Sumner beach at the recommendation of Suruj. I was the only one out of the four of us (we met up with James, an IceCube technician on his way back home from the ice) to be brave enough to jump in the water and take a swim, which was extremely refreshing. I had never been in the Pacific Ocean before that. Walking back along the beach we ventured into Cave Rock which was about what the name implies. The scenery was very beautiful. And all the Kiwis (people of New Zealand) are all so nice! It is definitely not like the States. After a very long walk and a bus ride we eventually made it to a place called The Brewers Arms where I had pork, ostrich, kangaroo, and venison served raw on a 400 degree stone for the customer to cut up and cook themselves to their liking. That was my first ostrich and first venison as well. I’ve already had several firsts on this trip and we haven’t even made it to the ice yet!
Finally stepping off the LC-130 onto Antarctica was like stepping onto a different planet. There was white in every direction as far as you could see. It felt surreal. As with the whole trip up to this point, I had to fight the urge to constantly take pictures so that I could just take it all in. We hopped on Ivan the Terra Bus and took about a 20 minute ride to drop the Kiwis off at Scott Base and then another 10 minutes to McMurdo. We had a little debriefing session with the station manager and NSF representative before we got our room keys and key cards for the lab. We stopped at the coffee house for a bottle of wine before heading to sleep for the night. It is a very strange thing to walk outside at 11pm to go to your room when it is still completely bright out! I’m not sure I will get used to that, though it is actually kind of cool. There is a window in our room (I am bunking with Dr. Madsen) but they make it so that you can block out the light completely which is nice.
We had some tough work to do on one of the tubes of the neutron monitor that was acting up and the work was made even tougher by the cold, but Dr. Madsen, Laura and I made a good team to get the job done. Now we are working on figuring out the logistics and planning for next year which hopefully will involve moving two neutron monitor set-ups so that they can get shipped over to the Korean base and get set up again there. We took the scenic route back from Cos-Ray one day and got to see some skuas and some seals as well. It is really amazing to see wildlife in such a remote place.
If all goes to plan we will be headed down to the South Pole on Wednesday (1/13/16). I am so excited about that! I still can hardly believe that I am going to get to travel to geographical bottom of the earth! It is really amazing and I can’t thank the people involved enough for making this opportunity happen for me. I have also decided that on the way back home I will stay in New Zealand for a while and check out the south island as much as I can before heading home. I have to take the spring semester off because even if I came back right away I would be missing a good portion of the beginning of the semester anyway. I would like to point out that this decision was not made in haste and my home institutions support my decision and are willing to work with me to make this happen. I am already planning on doing some student outreach when I return, especially to “non-traditional” students like myself. I know it is going to be hard to leave New Zealand when the time comes, but I am sure I will be missing home very much by that point as well.
Well, stay tuned until next time and I’ll have an update from the South Pole!
By Laura Moon Parmeter (UWRF Undergraduate in Physics)
Wow, what an amazing trip so far! The flight over to Sydney was 17 hours, but I slept through most of it so it flew by. Once in Sydney I changed into some summer clothes and sandals and headed out to Circular Quay to see the Opera House and the botanical gardens. The idea of walking around all day after a long flight didn’t sound too bad… but my feet thought differently. My feet were not used to wearing sandals so I arrived back to the airport with four blisters on my feet…. Well worth it if you ask me. Sydney is beautiful! Then I was off to New Zealand.
I didn’t know too much about New Zealand before arriving but a few things surprised me. The country is so clean and the people are so polite! Although Christchurch is a big city it has a small-town feel. We were able to go to the Sumner beach one day when our flight to the Ice was cancelled. It wasn’t the warmest of days so we tried to stay in the sun as much as possible to keep warm. Silly me, I forgot it was summer and the New Zealand sun is harsh! My face got so sun burnt it was swollen for the next two days. But the beach was gorgeous! This is definitely a country I would like to come back to, I didn’t even get to see the mountains!
We were first scheduled to fly to the ice on Tuesday but that flight got cancelled due to bad weather (that was the day we went to the beach). Wednesday we got on the plane and flew halfway there and had to come back (boomeranged). Thursday we got on the plane for 5 min and then had to get off for maintenance issues. Luckily they got it fixed and we were up in the air in no time. We actually made it to the ice that day! So we got the full experience of cancelled flight, boomeranged, and maintenance issues. Wouldn’t change a thing about this experience.
We finally made it to the ice! And no I have not seen any penguins yet :(. The ice breaker ship is coming in though, so the marine life will have a path to McMurdo station.
McMurdo station feels a lot bigger than I expected it to be. To be honest I feel like I’m up in a small town in Wisconsin in the middle of winter. Everyone knows everyone. The only difference is there’s no snow. The ground is mostly black rock from the volcano that’s close by. We should be able to see it from the top of Observation Hill. So far we’ve only taken a hike around the hill and haven’t gone up. We’re waiting for a clear day, hopefully tomorrow.
Cos-Ray Lab is about a 25 min walk from McMurdo. Dr Madsen thought it would be good for Robert and me to hike it, “so we can get the full Antarctic experience.” He forgot to tell us that it’s all mostly up hill! It wouldn’t be that bad if we were in normal hiking weather conditions… but it’s super cold here and super windy, so we have to wear our big parkas, wind pants, and these 20 lbs boots. Ok I might be exaggerating, but every step up hill they feel heavier and heavier. Dr Madsen does have a point though, the views on top of the hill are breathtaking.
At Cos-Ray we were able to get our more urgent work done. One of the neutron monitor tubes was acting up and we fix that. We were then able to move that bare tube to a different location so we could collect as much data as we can while we are here. Then we will move it back when we get ready to leave.
Cos-Ray is the longest continuously running experiment in Antarctica. People used to have to winter over in that building so there are some interesting items left over from them.
We are supposed to leave for the Pole on Wednesday. The weather is always unpredictable so we’ll see what happens and we’ll let you know.
The sense of time passing completely disappears down here for me. From the moment we stepped off the plane at Williams Field, the sun has been shining. The net effect for me is that there is never a reset that one experiences by going through a period of darkness. Each time I step outside, it feels like the resumption of one long, continuous day. But somehow, three and a half days have passed already. So what have we been doing?
Like any good organization, the USAP realizes that new people need to be brought up to speed when they join a community. So after a 45 minute or so ride on the massive people mover Ivan the Terra Bus, we reached McMurdo station and had our first briefing. We were told a lot of important information, most of which vaguely registered. My approach was to listen carefully to hear if there was a next thing we needed to do, and if we had any meetings scheduled for the next day. My mind rallied, and I was able to store three things. Pick up bedding at the laundry outside building 155, get our bags after 9:30 pm, and we will have a 7:30 am briefing the next day.
Once we got through the briefings, which included discussions of being a good citizen, sorting trash, safety, and how to drive in McMurdo, followed by a quick checkout in case we needed to use a truck, we were free to go to work. Our Location, the Cosray building, is about a 30 minute walk from McMurdo Station. It gets easier each trip, but the first time up the hill out of McMurdo can be quite taxing. The winds have also been blowing so it takes some clever clothing to keep warm without sweating during the trek.
We are working on the neutron monitors, which have tubes that detect the neutrons. The tubes, shown in the picture here, are about 80 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. One of the tubes was misbehaving, and would only work in one orientation without producing electrical arcing. We took off the outer polyethylene sleeve, then removed an aluminum shield, and didn’t see anything loose or otherwise troubling. When we investigated at the end with the electronics, we identified the likely issue. There was a suspect soldered joint.