We made it to the South Pole!

By Prof James Madsen

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.

Laura and Robert on Observation Hill as captured by the 360 camera.  The left and right side of the picture “connect” like a world map.
Laura and Robert on Observation Hill as captured by the 360 camera. The left and right side of the picture “connect” like a world map.

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.

Vehicles at Willy Field.
Vehicles at Willy Field.

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.

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Scenes from the flight to the South Pole.
Scenes from the flight to the South Pole.

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.

The new station as viewed by the 360 camera.
The new station as viewed by the 360 camera.

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