South Pole: At Last

By Lindsay Berkhout (University of Chicago Astronomy and Astrophysics Undergraduate)
Pole day 1
The morning of our last day in McMurdo we decided to venture out again in search of wildlife, and this time were rewarded as we headed to the Observation Hill trail. We could see some open water, and movement in the water, as well as some black dots on the edge of the ice. As we came closer we realized we were watching two whales circling two penguins on the ice. We sat and watched in awe until the penguins slipped back into the water (fortunately, none of them were eaten on our watch).
Penguins vs whales off the Obs’ Hill Trail. The penguins eventually slipped into the water.
Later in the afternoon, we hopped back onto “Ivan” the Terra Bus, and were on our flight to the pole! After a 3 hour flight on the LC-130 with some mixed knitting, reading, and napping, we arrived at the station around 8:00 p.m. Martin, one of the IceCube collaborators at the station, greeted us before our briefing and showed us around so we could get our bearings. The last item of the day, of course, was pictures. We headed out for our first trip into the cold to visit the geographical and ceremonial south poles, as well as the welcome sign for Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, and took in the vast ice around us.
The marker at the geographic South Pole . Each year the new marker is designed and made by the people who “winter over”.
Pole day 2
The morning after we arrived, we got an early start to work. We started the day by meeting with Rob, the winter-over assigned a few ours a week on the neutron monitors, and performing a chip swap on the indoor rack for the neutron monitors. We were tasked with removing the current chip on the master board for the third neutron monitor on the platform, which was swapped a few weeks beforehand, and putting the original chip back in.
Swapping a chip on a “Master” board from the neutron monitor rack at inside the South Pole Station.
Replacing the Master board after chip swap.
Then, we headed out to the platform to swap the remote chip that was inside of the neutron monitor, and get a good look inside the monitors for the first time.
The neutron monitor remotes are on a platform between the South Pole station and the clean air sector. They are proportional counters that respond to neutrons produced in cosmic ray interactions in the atmosphere.
Now, we just had to wait for the remote collaborators to check the data and let us know how it looked. After lunch, we spent the afternoon doing some inventory on the current neutron monitor supplies, which mostly consisted of checking the spare heaters to make sure that they were working. We then spent the evening relaxing and experiencing the station life.
Taking the cover off the remote to access the circuit board.
Pole day 3
Our morning consisted of doing the heater checks out on the neutron monitor platform, so we geared up and walked out again. We brought our some of our spares that we had checked the day before, but thankfully none of the heaters had failed, so we brought our spares back to the lab in the station.
Martin Rongen (IceCube, Aachen Group) helps with closing up a remote after testing the heaters. Three IceCubers came out to see the neutron monitors while we were testing the heaters.
Then, after some lunch, we took a walk out to the IceCube lab to check out the server room and pack up the old IceAct lens that had been removed, which will be used for a student project at River Falls next summer.
Suruj Seunarine inspects the old IceAct lens. We packed it for sending north and it will be used for an REU project in summer 2018.
We also got some great views of the Keck, South Pole Telescope, and BICEP experiments (see featured photo), as well as a look over where the IceCube detector is buried. It was incredible to see the span of the detector that I had spent the summer working on, and the large scale science experiments that are going on at the pole. In the afternoon, I got the opportunity to launch a small meteorology balloon, used to measure how high the cloud ceiling sits. After letting go of the balloon, it is timed to see how long it takes before we can no longer see it, and the cloud height can be extrapolated from this.
Launching a balloon used to determine the height of the clouds.
For the rest of our afternoon, we spent our time in the B2 lab with some of the IceCube collaborators, hanging out and getting some work done. Here are some more photos from the first days at the South Pole.
Suruj, with Pete and Chip at the IceCube Lab.

 

On the roof of the IceCube lab where Martin showed us the IceAct telescope. In the background are SPT, BICEP, and Keck. And, buried 1.5 km below, is IceCube.
The greenhouse, inside the South Pole Station, were you can get away from everything except the 10,000 feet altitude.
Frosty hair.

 

Frosty eyes.

On The Ice, At Last!

By Lindsay Berkhout (University of Chicago Astronomy and Astrophyics Major)

1/26/18

On the LC-130 flight to McMurdo Station.

Per the usual drill, we woke up for a 5:45 AM shuttle to the CDC, hoping today would be the day we flew. We were bumped off our 9:00 am flight, but given seats on the next flight out at 2:00 pm. After an anxious few hours of waiting, we went through security and were finally on a plane to McMurdo! We flew for around 8 hours on the LC-130 plane.  After about five hours blocks of ice could be seen floating in the sea, after about six hours ice flows and icebergs appeared.

After about five hours flying south, icebergs appeared in the sea.

And short while after we were over the Antarctic continent.

Approaching the continent of Antarctica.

During the flight some of us were invited to the flight deck. We landed and loaded up onto “Ivan” the Terra Bus for a half hour ride into town. We were dropped off at the Chalet for an in-brief and then we collected our checked bags at midnight. Then I promptly turned in for the night after a long day of flying.

1/27/18

The next morning we woke up for a meeting and tour of the Crary Lab, where most of the science offices are housed. In the afternoon, we took a walk down to Hut Point Peninsula, to have a look at Discovery Hut.

Discovery Hut, built by Robert Scott’s expedition in 1902.

The hut was build by Scott in 1902, during the Discovery mission, and was used for shelter on a few later missions. We couldn’t go inside, but we got a good view of the items left outside, including a seal carcass that was still there after all the years, and got a look through the windows. Because a shipping vessel was docked in town, we had to take the long way to the hut, so on our way we searched for some wildlife.

At Hut Point on Ross Island at McMurdo Station.

Our search for penguins was in vain, but we did see some skua and skua chicks. Skua are large, aggressive brown birds, and under protection from the Antarctic treaty, you cannot disturb them in any way (even if they disturb you). This happened to us on our walk as 3 different skua managed to block all our paths down to the hut, and we had to try to creep quietly past without disturbing them. We also saw a few seals, one in the far off distance sleeping, and briefly one in the water near Hut Point. 

1/28/18

Today was our last scheduled day in McMurdo, so after a good night’s rest and some breakfast, we decided to summit Observation Hill.

Observation Hill, our destination for today. Volcanic rocks and sand are everywhere around the station.

After a hike up the rocks, we were privy to incredible views over McMurdo and the ice shelf, as well as a look at Mt. Discovery and Mt. Erebus.

McMurdo Station from Obs Hill.

In the afternoon, we took a shuttle over to Scott Base, the Kiwi Antarctic station a few minutes from McMurdo. We spent some time walking around the store there and admiring the seals sleeping on the ice all around Scott Base.