South Pole Diaries 1998/99



Friday 22nd January

From Michael Burton.....

What a difference a day makes in the weather. From a series of beautiful sunny days we have now changed to about the worst that the weather brings at Pole. As usual it is due the incursion of coastal weather patterns, bringing 'warm' moist air inland. In fact its only -23C now, but with a wind speed of upto 30 knots, the wind chill brings it below -50C! Visibility is minimal and you have to keep sight of the flags as you struggle the km between the Dome and the Dark Sector on the way to and from work. Several flights were scheduled today, 2 even made it off the ice at McMurdo, but got to Pole, flew around overhead for an hour hoping there might be a break in the clouds for a minute to land, and then just had to turn around and make the 3 hour trek back to McMurdo. In the second flight were a bunch of ASA admin-types who were here to conduct a meeting about redeployment back to civilisation at the end of the season. The meetings now cancelled, and, I guess, so is redeployment!

However bad weather doesn't stop us Polies making progress on our experiments! The AGO crew (Ron Rainbow and Joe) were hard at it in our AASTO giving it its annual service. They found what they think is the source of the dreaded freon leak, a cracked swage-lock fitting for the inlet pipe, and replaced it. They hooked up the external propane tanks, fired them up, and it is now nice and toasty inside the AASTO - perhaps too toasty indeed! A glitch with the recording of the health and safety data has some erroneous figures coming out of the Argos satellite into the www site at Augsburg where you can see how all the AGO's are doing across the plateau ( but our local expert on wiring, Mark Tomah, reckons he can fix it once the AGO crew are gone!

The trench Matt & Daniel dug yesterday has, unfortunately, filled in before they got around to putting the cable in, so they will have to re-dig tomorrow. The webcam, now its been sheathed in aluminium foil to stop it getting too hot, seems to have settled down to the thermostatted temperature of +15C now the Sun is invisible! Even some frost started appearing inside the plexi-dome, though equally quickly had disappeared when I looked again a few hours later. The great webcam movie continues to grow apace, though I felt the need to remove the sunglasses from the eyepiece given the conditions, though anyone looking in over the web will barely see anything right now! One benefit of the weather is that the size of the image files produced is reduced quite considerably, as there is now barely any dynamic range in the pictures!

Matt, Al H and myself talked some science tonight, going over a couple of the many (!) papers we have / are going to write about the various data sets we are assembling. Andre we might now want some more input on the IRPS paper, by the way! Then I discovered I had made a subtle error in the various sensitivity calculations I'd been doing, so now have to restart them again! I dont think the difference will be huge, but its always annoying when this happens!

The bad news is with Abu. The PZT still isn't here, coming within a (vertical) kilometre of the Pole before heading back to McMurdo. And Abu really isn't cooling down the way its expected, though is slowly grinding down to cryogenic temperatures. Its really too early to say whether we will actually have a useable instrument for the season, I'm afraid, though we all have our fingers crossed. Some of the other telescopes make progress. AST/RO (the sub-mm one) has opened its covers to have a peak at the clouds. SPARO, a sub-mm polarimeter, has been placed at the focus of the Viper telescope, after some drastic redesign of the telescope optics when it was found that the secondary mirror was vignetting half the field of view of the instrument (woops!). However Liquid Helium supplies are low at the moment, and unless some more arrives in the next 3 days both AST/RO and SPARO are going to warm up!

The station so far is 60 flights short of getting enough fuel to last the winter. The program is way behind schedule due to the delay in opening, mainly due to bad weather. Tomorrow 7 flights are scheduled in, mostly fuel tankers, and will make it #200 for the season. But there are of order 100 more flights needed before station close in just over a month. The French adventurers are still with us after 12 days! Apparantly a Herc flight with fuel finally reached Patriot Hills, so that a Twin Otter will now be able to slowly make its way from there to the Pole if the weather clears up. And the Kiwi "Ice-trek" team (with Peter Hillary, son of the famous Sir Edmund) still remains about a week away from Pole. They were about a week away when I left Christchurch, so they are making *very* slow progress! As for the Dutch paragliders who left a week ago, no word. We're presuming they'll be calling for "help" soon and wait around to be picked up by the Adventure Network people, once they find enough fuel to pick up the French.......

So its all go at the moment on the Antarctic Plateau!




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