South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Thursday 10th January

From John Storey.....

The story so far:

Duane and I are in Christchurch en route to the South Pole. Duane is a final-year undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering, and will work mainly on commissioning the Stirling engine.

The Stirling engine is a wondrous device invented by the Reverend Robert Stirling in the early 19th century. (These days such a circumstance would probably give birth to a new religion - in the Reverend Robert's day it simply helped launch the Industrial Revolution.) A Stirling engine burns fuel (in our case, JP-8 jet fuel) and shuffles a quantity of gas (in our case nitrogen) around via a bunch of pistons and displacers and things to produce heat and electricity.

Also back in the 19th century, a French military engineer, Sadi Carnot, posited Carnot's theorem thus: "No engine can be more efficient than a Carnot engine." Wouldn't you love to have a theorem like that named after you? It turns out that the theorem is not an example of insufferable Gallic arrogance, but rather a true and very clever statement of the
Second Law of Thermodynamics.

A Stirling engine *is* an example of a Carnot engine and, as Carnot himself said, you can't do better than that. Our Stirling engine will power our instruments and keep them (and itself) warm.

Jon E. and Jon L. have already visited South Pole before Christmas to do some preliminary work and to return two of our instruments (AFOS and SUMMIT) to UNSW, where they've been "fixed". The instruments are in boxes returning to the South Pole on the same flights as us, as is the Stirling engine, a cylinder of compressed nitrogen, some very big batteries, and various odds and ends.

Photo by: Jon Lawrence Meanwhile, Tony T. arrived at South Pole a week ago and is getting the AASTO - our laboratory away from home - tidied up. Paolo is at Dome C (another Antarctic base), refurbishing one instrument (ICECAM), and installing a second (COBBER). Michael A. is ostensibly at UNSW but in reality on a farm near Bordertown, from where he is providing invaluable technical support via email.

Christchurch is - at present - cold, wet, windy and miserable. On Monday Duane and I arrived from Sydney, where it had been over 40 C just a couple of days previously. On Tuesday we were kitted out with our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing, and we await the arrival of some good weather in McMurdo so we can begin the first leg of our journey. In the meantime we have paid a couple of visits to WhisperTech (who manufacture the Stirling engine), and to the Dux Deluxe (a restaurant/microbrewery who manufacture really good beer).

Tony reports this morning (from South Pole) that there is concern over whether the imperial-thread pipe fittings on our Stirling engine are compatible with the US fuel-line fittings. Paolo reports (from Dome C) that the "h" has stopped working on his computer keyboard. It's going to be a challenging and exciting couple of weeks...


This is the first entry!11th January 2002


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