South Pole Diaries 1995/96



South Pole Diary January 31th, 7:30am

From Michael Burton.....

Its getting towards end of season now at Pole, and people are starting to pull out. Not that it hasn't stopped some more astronomers arriving to finish setting up SPIRAC, but slowly, gradually, there seems to be more space in the MAPO building. Though no word from our winter-overer, Chris Bero, in CHC to see the dentist. This is starting to become a real worry because a lot of us need to see him before we depart to tell him how to run our experiments!

I'm nearly done, and only really have a few small things to do, as well as watching the experiment run itself for a few days and see it can do so without intervention. This means I cant really head out today, and the downside of this is it looks like I'll be stranded in MacTown for about a week!

I'm not looking forward to that, but it has to do with the boat coming in, and all other work stopping. Not that I really understand why - there is none of this manual unloading anymore, just a few navy guys running around in trucks and forklifts. I guess its another of these Antarctic `traditions' which the navy brought in. In fact I'll probably hang around Pole an extra couple of days as that is preferable to enduring McMurdo food.

I managed my radio interview with ABC Canberra yesterday. After numerous email correspondence with Jeremy Lee, the programme producer, regarding possible times and dates, we finally managed the link up. To my surprise the reception was pretty good - when I called my parents in the UK a few days ago I could barely hear them. I expect the reception sounded suitably distant, hopefully reflecting where I was for the listeners!

I'm now back on a day schedule! Just like that. I was getting so tired that I didn't manage to keep awake all last night yesterday, but just had to go to bed. Only got about 4 hours sleep, but it put me on a day schedule. Maybe I'll try and stick to it now - it felt rather unusual having brekky at breakfast time!

I took yesterday morning off and went skiing. I did a grand tour of the runway, which must be about 10 km in total. When you reach the end of the runway, and the base is a small blur seen through the murk of the surface inversion layer, and you realise there is no sign of human presence for over 1000 km in front of you, you start to feel something of the immensity of Antarctica. While it was pleasant skiing out with the breeze at my back, coming back I started to get cold, and it certainly makes you appreciate what the adventurers who ski here have to endure when warmth isn't just a half hour ski ride away. It also drives home the importance of wearing exactly the right gear for the occasion - I was only slightly inadequately dressed yet, and the cold inexorably crept up on me! For reasons I couldn't fathom I'd run into odd flags and markers at various places on my tour. Presumably the remains of some scientific experiment in years past, but now just presenting an archaeological mystery to the modern explorer!

I now have the IRPS up on the roof and running apparently quite happily. I constructed a giant container, which I call the `Biggest Blue Board Box' (BBBB) to house the storage dewar for the liquid nitrogen. The dewar doesn't like getting too cold on the outside (despite holding liquid that is -200 on the inside!) and likes to be pampered and kept warm. So we have wrapped heating tape around it, and I constructed a box our of blue Styrofoam (`blue-board' - hence the name), which is nearly as tall as me. The BBBB is very much a heath-robinson-ish kind of construction - all these pieces of Styrofoam glued to together with silicon paste and bound with aluminium tape and holes cut out for cable to pass through. I'm thinking of offering it to the winter- overs as a `head' - certainly better than the toilet facilities that ASA are deigning to supply them!

I managed to break the very last of the cables I had to connect up to IRPS in the installation process! I guess I got pretty cold on the roof yesterday - I had to spend a fair amount of time up there dragging things around and connecting things together, much of it in only light gloves, and needed to run indoors frequently to thaw out. The IRPS is now rather a confusing looking beast sitting on top of the MAPO building, and cables hanging out of every orifice you can see. It had better work, as there is no way Chris Bero is going to be able to work out what's wrong if anything breaks!

Craig has now taken his experiment down. Just 10 minutes after doing so we had some `diamond dust', a phenomenon whereby tiny ice crystals fill the air, reflecting sunlight off them as they spin. Craig actually very much wanted to measure this phenomenon as it's one of the negatives that hearsay says will affect mid-infrared astronomy, but which no-one really knows for sure. Unfortunately we missed it! Craig takes off on todays flight and has been promised fast passage through McMurdo! Me, I'm marooned for another week or so.

Michael Burton



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