Thursday, December 29, 2011

Work images from the last few days

Christian doing some antenna testing in the IceCube Lab. That's a bird-cage looking biconical antenna for our downhole vertical polarization measurements.

WiFi propagation testing out in the middle of what will be the ARA37 array. Beautiful solar effects here many days.

Drill camp coming down. Everything needs to be stored for next year, shipped back to the States, or disposed of. We made quite a mess in just a few weeks...

Testing of the downhole receiver strings...

...all of whose parts are sitting out on the IceCube Lab porch to cool off.

Coming up on New Years

We have a few more instrument strings to deploy and more cargo to ship back to the States. Over the New Years weekend there's the official move of the Pole (the ice sheet is moving about an inch per day) and music & dancing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Instrument deployment

We're in a dash against time (the ARA crew leaving Pole on the 3rd of January) to install all of the instrumentation in the ice. Should be doable, but it'll be a busy few days. More from me when we finish...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Windy weekend leads to drifting


US Antarctic Program flag flapping in the breeze.

All points are North from here.

Antarctic map flagstaff head.

Christma Dinner

Appetizers served in the hallway before the meal, excellent scallops and smoked trout, along with baked brie. Yum!
Festive Christmas cheer with tablecloths, a DVD of a (gas) fireplace, and everyone dressed up as well as they could. Clean Carhartts...

Beef Wellington, Lobster Tail, potatoes, and rolls. Good desserts too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Images of drilling

Drill running, this is the "backside" of the drill, snow melter at right, heaters in middle, and power unit and hot water tank (former dairy tank...) at left.

Advanced level winding hardware, a.k.a. chief driller Dennis Duling.

Snapshot of atmospheric phenomena during drilling. Just had a pocket camera with me and could see anything on its LCD display.

A peek over the wind break.

Kara the driller. "Why are driller helmets so small?"

Race around the world

For Christmas each year there is a scheduled race, it goes all the way around the world in about 2 miles. You can run it, walk it, ski it, or take a vehicle around, potentially with a float, and costumes are always apropos. The IceCube and ARA group took the IceCube chariot (looks like a Roman chariot) around for the race. It was built by IceCubers a couple of years ago and is darned impressive!

The pirate flag was a nice touch... The large orange flag is a marker flag from IceCube, marks the locations of the 86 IceCube holes, and is sort of a symbol for the project.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wrapping up the drilling

Today is Friday at the Pole, and we have a two day weekend for Christmas! Saturday features the legendary Race Around the World and the big Christmas dinner. Sunday is quiet & rest for Christmas Day proper.

We're aiming to finish up the last ARA1 drilling late this evening. It's been a busy day here...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best early comment on proliferation (Not Antarctica-related)

The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb 'ought to be put under international control.' But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us namely: 'How difficult are these things to manufacture?'...

Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralized police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a 'peace that is no peace.'

-- George Orwell, "You and the Atomic Bomb," October 19, 1945

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Near white-out conditions

On the way to and from the ARA1 site to pick up some equipment, this was the view out the window of the pisten bully. Navigating via one flag at a time and dead reckoning.

Wind gusts ripping through our deployment sled tent. Drifting as well around the buildings.

Went and checked on the wind turbines. All are working as designed.

Christian Miki in his natural environment, snow and ice/


Well, it's the shortest day of the year back in the North. Around here, it's light twenty four hours per day. Today it's quite windy, gusts up to thirty knots. No airplanes. No drilling. Indoor work only really. Some of our packing material flew away during the night it was so windy.

Anyway, recently we've been doing some RF pulsing, see the horn antenna in use at the top, and taking the pisten bully out most days. It rides on quite considerable tracks and is comfortable on both roads/paths and on ungroomed snow.

Apropos to our drillers...

A paragraph composed of sentences from Thomas L. Friedman editorials in the NYT, compiled by freelance writer Tamar Adler.

"And now for a wild prediction. Real men drill wells. Don't know if they're right, but you gotta root for them. Deep down they all know it and they admit it to each other in private. You have to admire it. Because they are anything but crazy. Normally I wouldn't mind. But perfect isn't on the menu anymore. Think about it. This is dangerous. No really. It's pathetic when you think about it but also sad. Yes, yes, yes. No, no, no. Woo, woo, woo. That's embarrassing. Gotta tell you, it's the darndest thing I've ever seen. But you have to love this figure. It's kind of a two-for-one deal. A plus B equals C, but what will C be? Or does he know that I know that he knows? Say what? You guessed it. Not a bad deal. But guess what? There is a wall. Several actually. And that's the drama. But hopeless? Stay tuned. This is going to get interesting."

Today's Latin Lesson

From "Life of Brian"

[Brian is writing graffiti on the palace wall. The Centurion catches him in the act]
Centurion: What's this, then? "Romanes eunt domus"? People called Romanes, they go, the house?
Brian: It says, "Romans go home. "
Centurion: No it doesn't ! What's the latin for "Roman"? Come on, come on !
Brian: Er, "Romanus" !
Centurion: Vocative plural of "Romanus" is?
Brian: Er, er, "Romani" !
Centurion: [Writes "Romani" over Brian's graffiti] "Eunt"? What is "eunt"? Conjugate the verb, "to go" !
Brian: Er, "Ire". Er, "eo", "is", "it", "imus", "itis", "eunt".
Centurion: So, "eunt" is... ?
Brian: Third person plural present indicative, "they go".
Centurion: But, "Romans, go home" is an order. So you must use... ?
[He twists Brian's ear]
Brian: Aaagh ! The imperative !
Centurion: Which is... ?
Brian: Aaaagh ! Er, er, "i" !
Centurion: How many Romans?
Brian: Aaaaagh ! Plural, plural, er, "ite" !
Centurion: [Writes "ite"] "Domus"? Nominative? "Go home" is motion towards, isn't it?
Brian: Dative !
[the Centurion holds a sword to his throat]
Brian: Aaagh ! Not the dative, not the dative ! Er, er, accusative, "Domum" !
Centurion: But "Domus" takes the locative, which is... ?
Brian: Er, "Domum" !
Centurion: [Writes "Domum"] Understand? Now, write it out a hundred times.
Brian: Yes sir. Thank you, sir. Hail Caesar, sir.
Centurion: Hail Caesar ! And if it's not done by sunrise, I'll cut your balls off.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My colleague John Grunsfeld (Congrats!!!)

Physicist and Former Astronaut John Grunsfeld To Head NASA Science Directorate

WASHINGTON -- NASA has named physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Grunsfeld will take the reins of the office effective Jan. 4, 2012. He succeeds Ed Weiler, who retired from NASA on Sept. 30.

Grunsfeld currently serves as the deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which manages the science program for the Hubble Space Telescope and is a partner in the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope. His background includes research in high energy astrophysics, cosmic ray physics and in the emerging field of exoplanet studies with specific interest in future astronomical instrumentation.

A veteran of five space shuttle flights, Grunsfeld visited Hubble three times as an astronaut, performing a total of eight spacewalks to service and upgrade the observatory.

"John's understanding of the critical connection between scientific research and the human exploration of space makes him an ideal choice for this job," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "I look forward to working with him to take the agency's science programs to even greater heights and make more of the ground-breaking discoveries about Earth and our universe for which NASA is known."

Grunsfeld graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in physics. Returning to his native Chicago, he earned a master's degree and, in 1988, a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago using a cosmic ray experiment on space shuttle Challenger for his doctoral thesis. From Chicago, he joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology as a Senior Research Fellow in Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.

Grunsfeld joined NASA's Astronaut Office in 1992. He logged over 58 days in space on five shuttle missions, including 58 hours and 30 minutes of spacewalk time. He first flew to space aboard Endeavour in March 1995 on a mission that studied the far ultraviolet spectra of faint astronomical objects using the Astro Observatory. His second flight was aboard Atlantis in January 1997. The mission docked with the Russian space station Mir and exchanged U.S. astronauts living aboard the outpost. Grunsfeld then flew three shuttle missions - aboard Discovery in December 1999, Columbia in March 2002 and Atlantis in May 2009 -- that successfully serviced and upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope. He served as the payload commander on the 2002 mission and lead spacewalker in charge of Hubble activities on the 2009 flight. In 2004 and 2005, he served as the commander and science officer on the backup crew for Expedition 13 to the International Space Station.

"It is an honor and a privilege to be offered the opportunity to lead NASA's Science Mission Directorate during this exciting time in the agency's history," Grunsfeld said. "Science at NASA is all about exploring the endless frontier of the Earth and space. I look forward to working with the NASA team to help enable new discoveries in our quest to understand our home planet and unravel the mysteries of the universe."

For Grunsfeld's NASA astronaut biography, visit:

For more information about NASA's Science Mission Directorate, visit:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ice Tunnels

Deep under the Station grounds, there are the mysterious and sometimes smelly ice tunnels. They're quite cold, being sort of the average year-round temperature down there. About -50 to -60C in fact. Tours are given of the tunnels on occasion. I'm using a mix of photos from last year and this year.

There are escape hatches up to the surface here and there. Only from the surface, seeing these hatches can you figure out how extensive the tunnels are. They reach across a good deal of the station operating area mostly carrying utilities.

Down in the tunnels, there are some shrines carved into the ice. A firefighter shrine.

The famous sturgeon shrine. It's a long story, but the fish came from a Russian team and was traded and ... and no one felt like eating it so it ended up frozen for all time in the tunnel.

It's so cold that bottles of alcohol freeze up as in this shrine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Around the station...

Snow machines. A good way of getting around to the ARA stations, drill camp, and out to the IceCube lab.

Power plant. Station runs with about 640kW power generation. Some of the science is electrically hungry. Waste heat from the power plant keeps the station warm.

Storage in one of the (semi-buried) arches.

The IceCube Chariot. Built from leftover bits of the cable reels and pallets. (This photo was from last year. Who knows if the chariot will appear this year...)

Quiet lounge/lending library in the Station.

Antarctica Quotes

"Great God, this is an aweful place." - Robert Scott

"Great God, this is a waffle place." - McMurdo waffle breakfasts slogan

"We had discovered an accursed country." - Douglas Mawson

"Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has yet been devised." - Aspley Cherry-Garrard

"If there is a hell, this is the place, and the sleeping bags are worse than hell." - Ernest Joyce, member of Shackleton's expedition

"Countries condemned to everlasting rigidity by Nature, never to yield to the warmth of the sun, for whose wild and desolate aspect I find no words; such are the countries we have discovered; what then may those resemble which lie still further to the south? ... To judge the bulk by the sample it would not be worth the discovery ... Should anyone possess the resolution and fortitude to elucidate this point by pushing yet further south than I have done, I shall not envy him the fame of his discovery, but I make bold to declare that the world will derive no benefit from it." - Captain James Cook

"The whole scene looked like the wreck of a shattered world, or as the poets describe some regions of hell; an idea which struck us the more forcibly as execrations, oaths and curses re-echoed about us on all sides." - Forster, member of Cook's crew, 1774

"Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!" - Arthur Gordon Pym, Edgar Allan Poe, & H. P. Lovecraft

Questions (and Answers): Part 2

7. What do penguins eat? What other animals do you see?

At McMurdo which is close to the ocean, once the ice breaks up, it is on the ocean, there are multiple types of penguins, primarily Adele Penguins, and Wendell Seals. There are also skuas which are sort of like large seagulls. They are extremely good at stealing food from people. If you are carrying open food, they could swing in and grab it. A popular McMurdo joke is to put some bread in someone else's hood. Hilarity ensues.

Penguins eat at sea, not on land. They eat small fish and crustaceans. One of their fish hunting strategies is to dive deep under floating ice and look for fish silhouetted against the ice above them.

At the South Pole, the only animals are people. Bringing any animal onto the continent is a violation of the Antarctic Treaty.

8. What is your tent like? How do you stay warm?

We stay in the South Pole Elevated Station. It's a large complex of labs, a galley, medical facility, private (very small) berths, and the previously mentioned recreation facilities. It's warm indoors, though my work is often located outside. We stay warm with the heavy gear mentioned in a previous answer. With all of the outdoor, cold activity the body can burn (a very accurate term in this case) a lot of food calories. The galley serves up four hearty meals each day. (In addition to the usual meals there's "midrats," midnight rations, for folks working night shift.

Camping out at the South Pole requires heavy gear, or some knowledge of how to use the snow and ice to your advantage as insulation. A class is taught, both at Pole and McMurdo, known to all as "Happy Camper School" in which you learn to use the long distance (HF) radios, start the cooking stoves to melt snow, cut trenches in the snow in which to sleep, and to build snow-block construction shelters.

9. What are neutrinos and why are they important?

Neutrinos are subatomic particles. Basically the universe is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Nuclear reactions are when a neutron turns to a proton or vice versa. In those reactions, scientists noted about 70 years ago that there had to be something else emitted in order for energy and momentum to be conserved (conservation laws are among the most important handles we have on the universe, e.g., no matter what you do, the total amount of energy, charge, and other properties stay the same) there had to be another particle, not seen at the time, coming out of the reaction. That's the neutrino.

Since that time the neutrino has been observed, it reacts very rarely, meaning that detectors need to be large in order to have a good chance of seeing the particle. That makes it hard to do neutrino astronomy, but it also means that neutrinos get to us from anywhere in the universe. Light or other particles only reach us from relatively close by, farther away and the universe turns black, turns opaque, to the particles. But not to neutrinos, so we can look farther, and at higher energies at the whole universe with neutrinos. That's why they're important.

10. How many people are at the South Pole? What do they all do?

It's summertime now, the warmest time of the year, there are between 200 and 250 people at the US South Pole Station. There are flights in and out every few days and the population changes depending on what projects are ongoing. For the Amundsen Centennial, there were almost 100 visitors to the South Pole. There's no other permanent base here. During the winter, about 50 people stay at the South Pole Station. After the last flight in February those 50 people are stuck here until October. Six months of that in the dark! Not something I'd opt to do.

At McMurdo, during the summer there are up to 1100-1200 people there, and in the winter about 200 folks.

There are all sorts of work going on both at Pole and McMurdo, people work on the fuel systems (fuelies), haul, sort and manage cargo, cook the food, clean the dishes ("dining assistants"), drive the vehicles, staff the fire house and medical, do science, keep the heating working, shovel snow, etc. The vast majority of people in the Antarctic Program are in support roles, keeping the science going.

11. What are the differences between Icecube and ARA?

IceCube is fully built, completed last Antarctic Summer, uses the light emitted from neutrino interactions in the very clear, cold ice to observe the neutrinos. The science goals are focused on neutrinos from supernovae, from active galactic nuclei, and cosmic ray anisotropy. ARA is a new project, we're just starting construction, and will take advantage of the radio (rather than optical) emission from neutrino-induced showers (cascades) in the radio-transparent cold ice. The science focus is at higher energies than IceCube and looking at the close connection between very high energy cosmic rays and the neutrinos.

IceCube is an instrumented kilometer-cubed of ice with modules spaced 17m (60ft) apart vertically and strings spaced 125m (400ft) apart. ARA will cover an area of over 100 square kilometers and observe interactions down to the bottom of the 3000m (10,000ft) thick ice sheet.

12. What other projects and experiments are at the Pole?

There is a large microwave band telescope (SPT, South Pole Telescope) here that takes advantage of the lack of water vapor in the atmosphere above the Pole. Other telescopes at the Pole are a couple of different efforts to look at the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB); experiments called SPUD, BICEP, and VIPER. In different fields, there's a clean air lab that looks at some of the most pristine air on earth. (You can visit them and get a little jar of the cleanest air anywhere that you could use as a gift.) There's also a seismic sensor (SPRESSO) a few miles from the station, magnetometers monitoring the Earth's field, neutron monitors looking at charged particles from the Sun and the changing solar cycles, aurora cameras (for the winter dark sky), a meteorological observatory, and ice-coring and meteorite-hunting expeditions out in the field away from Pole.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Questions (and Answers): Part 1

Here are answers to some of the questions I've received from back in the States. More forthcoming soon...

1. I know there are no polar bears in Antarctica. Why not though?

There are no large, land-based predators in Antarctica at all. I'm not an expert, but believe that it's basically because there are no land-based animals at all. The penguins do nest on shore, but must go into the water to feed, and there there are seals and killer whales (orcas) that fill the top level predator niche that the polar bear fills in northern lands. The Antarctic waters (Southern Ocean) are filled with sea life.

2. What do you wear outside? What did Amundsen wear?

If I'm only going to be outside for a short time, I wear wool socks, hiking boots, pants that are somewhat windproof, shirt, fleece jacket, gloves, sunglasses, and hat. Not too different from what I might wear outside in the winter back in the States. If I'm going to be outside longer, then one starts to think about three layers: an inner layer that allows moisture to escape (important if I'm working hard and sweating), insulation layer, and an outer, windproof, layer. So for a full day working outside, I wear polypropylene sock liners, wool socks, extreme cold weather (ECW) boots, polypropylene underwear, insulated & windproof overalls, fleece jacket, fleece neck gaiter, fleece hat, googles, two layers of gloves, and a big, heavy down coat. And we take little chemical heat packets to put in our gloves and boots if needed.

Amundsen studied what the Inuits, the folks who live in the far northern Arctic regions, wore. He went with reindeer skins as an outer layer, and then multiple woolen inner layers. He had felt boots that were stuffed with straw to absorb moisture. He understood those same three layers from outside to inside: windproof, insulation, and water-repelling.

3. How does your drill work?

We drill by using hot water to melt a column of the Antarctic ice down to the depth we're interested in. We have a large, insulated hot water tank, a snow melter, and a series of six diesel-fired water heaters to heat water. There's a long hose on a hose reel that feeds down the hole as it melts and at the end of the hose there is a set of nozzles that spray the hot water.

4. What do you do for fun at the Pole?

Well, in the station there is a gym with popular volleyball and basketball games. There is also a weight room, exercise room, musical practice room, arts and crafts room, movie room, game room, and some limited outdoor running and skiing. I brought a guitar with me, but I haven't had much time to practice or play with others. Been keeping busy with work. The work week here is six days per week, maybe nine or ten hours per day. At the moment our drillers are working twelve hour days with no days off.

There's an arts and crafts fair tomorrow, also I'm giving a science talk to everyone on the station tomorrow, and maybe people are keeping blogs or photo journals while they're here. Also, there are lots of interesting people to chat with here...

5. What is the military plane like? How did you get in the cockpit?

Loud. Earplugs are required or hearing damage could take place. I take big earmuffs so that I can slide my earphone from my mp3 player in under the earmuffs during the flight. The plane can also be cold, especially the smaller LC-130 (ski-equiped) Hercules planes we fly between McMurdo and the Pole. It's a cargo plane, so a lot of the space is taken up with pallets of cargo. That cargo could be food, vehicles, scientific equipment, or most anything else that is needed on Antarctica. I flew one time on a plane with a helicopter in the back. There are rows of paratrooper jump seats along the walls of the plane, you sit on strapping, and stick your carry-on bag under your seat. Sometimes on the larger C-17 (and the older C-141 and C-5 transport planes) they load pallets with old airline seats on them.

Often the pilots will announce that at some point in the flight, anyone can come up and take a look, but just a couple of people at a time. It used to be that commercial airliners would do that too, especially for children to let them take a look at the cockpit and out the windows. That isn't done any longer due to security concerns. On the military flights it's especially nice because the windows in back are few and pretty small. (See previous post for some photos.)

6. Why do you travel through New Zealand?

The main US base in Antarctica is McMurdo Base on Ross Island and that's more or less straight south of New Zealand. So it makes sense to fly (commercial airlines) down to Christchurch on the southern island of New Zealand, and then take the military flights south. All of the cargo and people (who often feel like they're treated as cargo also) for the US Antarctic Program travels that way for McMurdo and South Pole. There's also a US station called Palmer Base which is on the opposite side of the continent and there the logistics are done through Chile instead.

South Pole Station runs on New Zealand time while Palmer, and the tourists down here, run on Chilean time since that's where they came from back in the "civilized" world. At the South Pole, it doesn't matter much which time zone you pick, just need to be consistent.

In the cockpit

This is in the cockpit of the C-17 (Globemaster) enroute from Christchurch to McMurdo. They let the passengers up to the cockpit one or two folks at a time. The US Air Force flight crews don't have to follow civil aviation rules, and are quite friendly in general.

The cockpit is a mix of modern, glass instrumentation and big olive drab levers and buttons.

View out of the side of the cockpit window, broken sea ice on the approach to McMurdo. This was probably 30-40 minutes, maybe 200-300 miles, out of arrival.

The overhead panels was a solid wall of olive drab and black buttons and indicators.

Open water channel quite a ways from McMurdo still.