It’s been nearly three months since I left the South Pole. When I am asked about the trip I recite my final conclusion about the Pole, “If I could go back tomorrow, I would.” Going to the South Pole and being a part of the IceCube Neutrino telescope team was phenomenal. I only hope that my blogs and communications back to America captured the vibrant spirit of the station, the fond camaraderie of the South Pole team, and the pride that I felt in being involved with IceCube’s completion.
Katey on the top of the ICL
At this point I’m scarfing up anything that says, IceCube, Antarctic, Neutrino, or South Pole. I hung on to the edge of my seat during newscasts about drilling in Vostock, Antarctica, and quizzed a Physics friend from MIT about how his dark matter collector is similar to...
After one night in McMurdo it was time to leave. (It was actually November 9th when I left McMurdo.) I spent the evening walking around with some new friends in McMurdo and I was amazed by how much the scenery had changed in three weeks--almost all of the ice and snow in town had melted completely. I met some new people who had just arrived to stay a month in McMurdo and felt bad that they had missed the Antarctic experience. The temperature hovered around 32 F which felt like a sauna for me. I walked around in just a fleece jacket and tennis shoes instead of bunny boots convinced that it wasn't even cold there.
The Ross Ice Shelf is still frozen, but the airfield is about to move off of it.
McMurdo with it's melt on.
The Ob Tube is now off limits because the ice is melting too...
I returned to McMurdo Station from the South Pole and got my new room assignment, a shared 5 bed berth in the main station building. I arranged to meet up with my new friend Julie Katch whom I'd met on the way through the first time. Julie works in Antarctica every year (four years running) as a draftsman. I have heard of contract workers like dining assistants, general assistants, carpenters, "fuelies", and "wasties", but it never occurred to me that you'd need architects in residence down on the ice. I guess I figured that all of the technical design stuff would happen in building the stations and then those individuals would leave.
Well it turns out that all the drawings for all the buildings built by the NSF on Antartica are housed in McMurdo. They're all right there. And it...
The team in the lab gave me a nice tour of the IceCube Lab. This is the location of all the IceCube and IceTop computers, and where more than 5,000 DOMs have to link in. The room is heated by the servers and it even has to be cooled so it doesn't overheat--at the South Pole! In the whole project, including 86 cables, surface cables, and all the wiring in the ICL there are 11,648 miles of copper wire that all meets at the ICL. The ICL collects a terabyte of data everyday making it the largest data collection center in Antarctica. For more good pictures and info please see: http://www.expeditions.udel.edu/antarctica/blog-dec-2-2010.html
The information gathered here is processed and within half an hour can show muon events in IceCube and IceTop...
Well, it's been a great visit, but it's time to go. With tears in my eyes I bid farewell to the South Pole. It has been a wonderful, curious, exciting, and rewarding time. I have enjoyed everything from the constant daylight to the cold, cold ice tunnels. I adored the friends I've made at the pole, they are all special, unique, smart, and uplifting. I understand completely why they choose to return to the "harsh continent"--it's as much for the glory of surviving South Pole as it is for enjoying time with a second polar family and then again its about being part of science at the Pole.
IceCube's whole gang.
I am sorry to leave my IceTop team especially. To James, Tom, Chris and Bakhtiyar, thank you guys so much for your help, support, and laughter. I hope you get some Kazak/...
We are nearing completion on the installation of the IceTop tanks. Let's review the steps necessary to complete this year's IceTop goals:
Prepare tanks for fill. James Roth serviced and double-checked all the freeze control units, their pumps and their electronics. Tom Gaisser, Chris Elliott, Bakhtiyar Ruzybayev, and I prepped the doors for the freeze control units, then installed the units. We cleaned out the tanks and attached a contactor to the inside of the tank.
Installing the FCU
Cleaning a tank. We dumped snow in the tank to scrub with, a big chunk of icy snow works great as a scrubber, a little like a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
Prepare DOMs for fill. We mounted the DOMs on sturdy hardware so we could hang them above the tank safely.
Opening a new DOM box for mounting...
The last few days have presented the worst weather I've seen at the South Pole so far. It hasn't been too cold (-28 C) but it has been windy (25 knots!) with windchill in the -40s C. Brrr!!!
That's -29 Celsius.
Bakhtiyar explores wind drifts in the trench.
Chris Elliott braves the wind. He won't sacrifice clear communication for comfort.
James Roth makes a snow angel.
Snow drifts and overhangs accumulated in our trenches.
Overhangs can be unstable if disturbed.
Even from inside the ice was impressive.
Snow crystals on the window of the lounge
In the winter do all the windows get covered eventually?
Well, even though I never got the solar oven package I sent to the South Pole, I still managed to have some fun with solar ovens at the coldest place on earth. My goal was to make partial s'mores: chocolate and graham cracker without the marshmallows.
The first oven I made and the second one I purchased commercially.
The solar oven I made.
The solar oven I purchased.
Here's what happened when I headed outside:
TOS 1 connected to the drill hose
The drillers have made their first hole in the ice for this season. They started on hole 80 Friday morning. On Saturday I headed out to check out the system. The tower operations site (TOS) is where the drilling and deployment happen. There are actually two TOSes so that when one is in use they can maneuver the second to the next drill site.
Actually, it's only 30 breakouts, one for every two DOMs...
I mentioned in a previous journal that I've been monitoring the oxygen in my blood with a pulse oximeter. It's a quick way to find out how my oxygen has changed over time.
Chart of my percent oxygen saturation levels over time.
I interviewed Dr. Mark Klinker here to find out more about what these numbers mean.
Since last weekend we've been busy prepping our IceTop tanks for a first fill on Wednesday morning. To finish them up we need to make sure they're all connected from digital optical modules (DOMs) to surface junctions boxes (SJBs) to the surface cables and then all the way over to the IceCube Lab (ICL). Here are some photos to catch you up:
We were trained to drive the IceCube van
The van has snow treads instead of wheels!
Drill camp really got going:
Afterward there was ice on the Palace!
I saw the trencher making the last cable trenches of the project. It was a big chainsaw and it just cut through the fern layer...
This has been a busy week of work out at IceTop, we're very close to filling all our tanks, but more on that later. One of my inside jobs this week was to write a blog about working with IceCube for the University of Deleware Extreme 2010 An Antarctic Adventure program http://www.expeditions.udel.edu/antarctica/. Instead of making you wait for my blog to post, I thought I'd post it here too. Spoiler alert! I'm going to give it all away.
Working with IceCube: Surprises from the South Pole
By Katey Shirey
I know that the first sign of frostbite is pain. So I’m looking out for pain above all in the other cold feelings I’m feeling as I crawl around on the plywood cover of a 600-gallon tank at the South Pole station in Antarctica. Oh, it’s cold, oh, my knees! Oh, it’s...
I first heard about the Ice Tunnels in Werner Herzog's movie, Encounters at the End of the World. I was intrigued. There are thousands of feet of tunnels carved out under the ice below the South Pole? Were they made by winter-overs crazy from isolation? Were they secret passages? Was there really a sturgeon down there and why?
I was thrilled when Andy Martinez, station manager here, volunteered to take a few of us down into the ice tunnels on his day off, no less.
Andy Martinez gives us the talk.
He cleared up a few of my misconceptions right away. The tunnels are used to service the rodwells that provide water to the station and once melted to a less than efficient to use volume they are pumped dry and then filled up with waste. A rodwell is an onion-shaped melted volume in the...
I've been monitoring my blood oxygen saturation since before I left Washington, DC. In the weeks prior to my departure it was a steady 98% oxygen saturation. The literature that came with my little clinicalguard.com fingertip pulse oximeter said that normal randes are between 95-100% although measurements above 90% are also normal. My blood oxygen percent saturation took a dip when I arrived at pole and has since returned to somewhat normal ranges. I'm going to continue to monitor this progress and see if it improves more.
I still have some questions, however and will meet with the medical staff later today to ask them my questions. Do you have any you'd like me to ask? Please post them in the Ask The Team section if you do. Thanks!
A chart of my O2 percents measured since I left...
Here at the South Pole we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday instead of Thursday so that we could have two days off in a row: Saturday and our usual day, Sunday. There were three seatings for a formal Thanksgiving dinner: 4 PM 5:30 PM and 7 PM each one preceded by hors d' oeuvres and live entertainment. The kitchen staff, and volunteer helpers, flipped the entire galley twice and made everyone feel like it was the most special night of the season.
(Note- In this Journal many of the pictures you see aren't mine but instead were posted to a common drive for everyone to use. I'm not sure who they belong to but if they're yours and you'd like the photo credit, please let me know!)
A three-piece band serenaded us for appetizers.
Katey and Tom Gaisser talk about DOMs.
The galley at its...
A few students have asked me about the various vehicles down here at the pole. The main vehicle I use around here is the snow mobile, sometimes called the Ski-Doo.
Snowmobiles lie in wait.
The Polar Roller
I was trained on how to drive these, some minimal maintenance, and how to refuel them. I have yet to ride one though. There are lots of places in the world where these are the primary winter vehicle, but I've never been on one before. They really remind me of Jet Skis.
We use them for transport and as heavy-duty haulers.
People getting a ride to work on a
Matthias Danninger and Jim Haugen pull on the zipper tube end of a surface cable during the cable pull. Using the snowmobile saved us time and backaches.
When not in use the snowmobiles may be left on or plugged in to keep...
There are so many cool little things here and thy just won't all fit into other blog posts. So here's a journal dedicated to awesome pole stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else.
Spoolhenge is where the IceCube cable spools go to rest until they are taken off the ice. It's on the far side of the berms. Spoolhenge has looked more and less disorderly over the years depending on the time people have taken with organizing it, and depending on the availability of identical spools. Right now it's a beautiful, symmetrical totem to the progress we've made. Many people love Spoolhenge and I love it too. Each spool is about 6 feet tall when stood up on its end.
Ol' Duke is the can out in the IceCube drill camp. It's perfectly pleasant in there, warmer than outside, and it...
Friday Funday? Not so much. Yesterday I helped with two projects: the IceCube Cable Shove and The Surface Junction Boxes. First, the cables. The goal was to get five surface cables, these are the ones connect the hole to the IceCube Lab (ICL), from a trench in the ice up a big culvert tower and over a bridge into the ICL's top floor. Each hole has a cable, so that's 80 cables that have to be shoved up the tower and we're down to the last seven. this mission was to finish five of those.
Those cables are so heavy, so stiff, and so cold. They are difficult to move, even with three or four people. It gets easier to move them when you have five or so people, but even easier with a snow mobile to drag them around.
Our team of about 20 was split up around the ICL: five of us were on...
So I finally got out to the proper South Pole and took some pictures. Here they go:
The current South Pole marker is of the 10m South Pole Telescope. A new marker is added every year.
There it is, the Geographic South Pole Sign.
This one's for you, W-L
This one's for Sasha!
At the ceremonial south pole, the barber shop pole really makes you feel like you feel like you made it.
The back of the station from the Ceremonial South Pole.
I met Phillip Marzette at lunch the other day and found out that he's a meteorologist here who is primarily responsible for collecting the atmospheric data to guide our most excellent (and accurate) forecasts. He agreed to show me around their facility and even let me launch a weather balloon. I was expecting a really large balloon, like the ones in the gigantic crates on my flight from Christchurch, but Phil told me that they do those from McMurdo and only about three or four times a season.
Here's the balloon that I helped to launch.
It inspired me to expand.
First the balloon is warmed in a little oven to make sure it's not brittle from the extreme cold around here as it expands in the lab. Phil ties it to a 50 g mass and fills it with helium gas. When it just barely lifts the...
Here's a little video shout out to all you celebrating Thanksgiving today. We are having our turkey with many, many fixings tomorrow, Saturday, to take advantage of a special two-day weekend. I'm thankful for a lot, but today I'm especially thankful for my Gore-tex liners and my thick leather mittens.
The ceremonial south pole behind the station.
Let me try to run through a little of why I'm here. The project I'm here to work on is called IceCube. IceCube is an array of about 80 vertical sets of 60 photo collectors buried in the ice here at the South Pole. Each photo collector is like a sophisticated digital camera--it detects photons (light) in the ice and tells us up on the surface about it. These are called Digital optical Modules (DOMs). The array is a cubic kilometer and is buried between 1.5 km and 2.5 km down under the ice. At those depths the ice is nearly perfectly clear from having so much pressure pushing down on it from above. On top of each vertical string of 60 DOMs there are four more DOMs buried in a tank of ice. This set of DOMs in tanks on top is called IceTop, and that's really the part of IceCube that...
Don't worry, I'm fine. I worked the second half of the day and feel pretty good. This morning was a different story-- I felt totally wiped out. Unable to move much with really heavy limbs, a headache, short of breath, the whole thing. I wasn't having any altitude symptoms before but this morning really felt like altitude sickness. In McMurdo they gave me steroids for altitude in place of diamox because they were out of diamox at McMurdo. Anyway, I was on them for three and a half days. I had no symptoms of altitude sickness except just general exhaustion which is very very common and well accepted. I've been feeling fine though, working, sleeping, eating normally, and drinking lots of water.
So today when I suddenly felt really lousy, a little faint, tired, muscle aches, short of...
Sunday is the day off for most people around here which may just make you wonder, what are people doing at the South Pole on their day off? Here's what I did:
1) Scoped out the station store and bought postcards to send home. They also have lots of clothing and tons of movies to rent.
2) Played James Brown Bingo (James Brown is the head chef) in the galley with almost the whole station present.
Head Pole Chef James Brown shows us what a winning H card looks like.
Mike, Bakhtiyar, and I get ready for some serious Bingo.
3) Ate a wonderful, gigantic brunch: eggs, waffles, fruit, hash browns.
4) Watched two episodes of a science fiction series with about 10 people who are really into science fiction.
5) Listened to a lecture on modern cosmology and the 10-meter South Pole...
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