South Pole Diaries 1998/99



Saturday 16th January

From Michael Burton.....

About the hardest thing about writing a diary entry is remembering the day of the week - there is no reference point down here with which to hang your outlook of life upon!

We've had some mixed weather, going from miserable to gorgeous. A couple of days ago it got as bad as it can get at Pole. Bad weather always means its warm (Around -20C) but it results from 'moist' air entering the Antarctic continent from the coast, bringing winds from the wrong direction, fog, and a stiff breeze. Its the latter which makes moving around somewhat difficult - and indeed I took the shuttle bus out to the Dark Sector a couple of times instead of walking.

The SODAR (our acoustic radar) didn't like the comditions either and couldn't tell us anything about the boundary layer turbulence, presumably because there was so much of it that it scattered the signal every which way but back to the detector. I've also found that the local computers are *very* much slower than my pet machine back at UNSW. Its taking about 10 times as long to do the same data reductions with it as it takes me at home, making me wonder whether, even with 24 hours a day to work in, I'll manage to actually reduce the data I have with me from last year!

We had an interesting Science Talk the other night, on the Greenhouse Effect. The Pole is ground zero for establishing the baseline for global change, and is showing clear and accelerating upward trends in CO2 content of the atmosphere. Its quite clear there is going to be a temperature rise over the next few hundred years for us, its just a matter of how much it will be and whether we can slow it down.

I had some trouble sleeping last night, so I got up at 4am, which is when I can catch the fast satellite, for transferring data back and forth from Pole to UNSW, and then went to be and fortunately fell asleep immediately.

Today the bad weather finally cleared, bringing in a beautiful blue sky with little wind. Its only -25 still and it actually feels quite hot walking out across the runway to the Dark Sector.

Ice haloes are caused by ice, not water, and it is on the high plateau where the best displays are seen. In fact its all got to do with the refraction of light off hexagonal plates and pillars of ice, and its quite amazing the variety of patterns that two simple shapes can make.

Several of the computers at the Pole are named after well known horses, for no particular reason. The first winterover to use this particular computer was an Aussie and he just liked the name!


Saturday 16th January - The End

From John Storey.....

The subject title alludes both to this being my final email report for the season and is also an apt description of McMurdo. Even after just a week at South Pole, McMurdo is a grim return to reality. I hope to be here no more than 36 hours. Within 15 minutes of getting off the bus, one is confronted by:

1. Dirt, which is not as nice, and not nearly as white, as snow.
2. Keys, which are an extraordinarily anti-social invention.
3. An absence of keys, to useful things like the computer room.
4. A dining room with no food in it (seriously!) until midnight.
5. Computers that require a user name and password, which one does not
have. (Although hacking around the security is very satisfying.)

Nevertheless, today was a good day at the Pole. By noon the sky was completely cloudless and there was zero wind. Although it was -28C, it was very pleasant. By 1 am last night Al Fowler had installed the new cryo-head in Abu, and was pumping it down. He seemed happy.

The sodar continues to sing its merry song, and Daniel is exploring ways of improving the signal to noise. These include better grounding systems and worrying about flags and things. Matt has packed up all the parts associated with the old experiments (NISM, MISM etc.) ready for sending them to Sydney.

I gave a guided tour of the AASTO to Charlie Kaminski, who will be the winter-over looking after both the AASTO and the Abu/SPIREX experiment. I think this was the only useful thing I did today.

The webcam was at +52C today, a stunning demonstration of the Greenhouse Effect.* Andre has suggested a solution involving drilling holes and sticking corks in them. Could I propose a less invasive solution: Matt or Daniel, please go to the kitchen and chat up the cooks. Relieve them of approx one square foot of aluminum foil. Cut a hole in the middle for the camera to peer through, then wrap it around the webcam bubble. Cut another little hole so you can read what the temperature is!

(*Of course greenhouses don't work because of the greenhouse effect. Rather, they supress convection. Likewise the webcam housing.)

By the way, have you ever wondered what happens if you stick a CD in a microwave oven? The result is very pretty and probably has a lot to do with standing waves and mode structure. A fine example of this modern artform is hanging up in the control room for SPIREX. One can't help speculating about the result of the *opposite* experiment - namely what will happen if I shove a frozen chook into the CD drive? This experiment was in fact nearly conducted on a McMurdo computer an hour or so ago, until I found a way around the login security.

I will close down my "" account within a week or so, so please send all future mail to UNSW. Thanks to everyone who's helped this season, thanks to the patient readers who have waded through these diaries to the bitter end, and good luck Michael, Matt and Daniel who have to bring the experiments to a satisfactory conclusion.




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