South Pole Diaries 1995/96



South Pole January 19th 1996

From Michael Burton.....

Well I've been at the Pole for a day and a half and its time to report in. Actually I first have more to report from McMurdo following my last report. Rather than to attempt to get any sleep before my 5am assembly time, I decided to chance my luck and see if I could get a tour of the Nathaniel B Palmer, the cruise ship the NSF runs for ocean scientists (this is at midnight, but I'm not going to let that put me off!). The crew member on duty lets me on, and I had free rein to tour a deserted ship. Its certainly an impressive facility; internet connections to all cabins, well-equipped labs and computing systems, games rooms and even a sauna. Makes you think about taking up oceanography instead of astronomy!

I got back to my room to find I now had a room mate, except he wasn't there. However the baggage labels revealed him to be none other than Jack Doolittle, AGO-builder extraordinaire, whom I'd heard was out on the Plateau installing the 5th of the Automated Geophysical Observatories. About an hour later Jack appeared, and I had a briefing, in the wee small hours, on the latest in AGOs. Jack in fact is due to head out again in a few days to install the 6th and last of the AGO's, before installing a couple of experiments in the CARA complex! Apparently AGO6 was waiting at the end of the loading line at the airfield, so Jack gave me the code number to get in and wished me luck to find a spare minute to visit before heading off to the Pole. And that was just about all the time I got, between being dropped off at the airfield and being taken to the plane! But I made the most use I could and clicked away furiously with my camera.

Handy Hint to all Antarctic Explorers: if you just happen to be lost on the Antarctic Plateau and stumble across an AGO they all have the same pass code, which telephone callers and colleagues of Jack Doolittle will be familiar with!

Our Pole flight carried two DV's (distinguished visitors), one being none other than Neil Sullivan, director of NSF's Polar Programs section, and the other Joe Kull, the chief financial officer of NSF. I took advantage later on at the Pole to acquaint them with all we in Oz want to do in Antarctica! Having 2 DV's on board we had a spectacular arrival at Pole, doing 2 loops of the station at low altitude.

My first impression on disembarking was how much things have grown. There were several new buildings in evidence compared to my visit two years ago - the CARA site had grown, a new Clean Building was present and even the Met Tower (scene of our original microthermal experiments) had been moved. I had a new luxury accommodation module - a `hypertat' - with windows in it! The trouble with this is, however, that you cant get the place dark enough when you want to sleep!

Tourism to the South Pole seems to be hitting the big time. Several parties have skied in, and for a mere US$26,000 you can hire the `Adventure Network', a Canadian outfit to fly you to the Pole. They seem to be making regular flights too! Rules are that all visitors are allowed one meal in the Galley.

Handy tip to anyone who just happens to find themselves skiing to the South Pole: if you offer to give a talk you can have multiple meals in the Galley!

I've taken my first day here fairly easily, giving myself time to acclimatise, but the IRPS is now unpacked and on the vacuum, and I am puzzling over the tasks in front of me. Craig has efficiently put MIRAS, his mid-IR spectrometer, together and is now taking data! First impressions are that the sky is very stable!!

So its now time for me to get down to some serious work at the Pole.....

Michael Burton



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