South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Wednesday 16th January

From John Storey.....

Today was a day of action! With all the hard "thinking work" done about where we are going to put things, it was time to do some real damage. For me this mostly involved sawing up old wooden pallets to make bases on which to sit our heaters and the Stirling engine. For Duane it meant sawing 6-inch diameter holes in the plywood panel at the back of the AASTO to fit our cooling fans. (Duane is getting quite good at feet and inches now. Tomorrow we'll introduce him to pints and gallons and, if he copes with that all right, we'll move onto US thread sizes and nuts and bolts.)

Meanwhile Tony was making huge progress with the AFOS (Antarctic Fibre-Optic Spectrometer), and even has it taking data (basically reflected sunlight at the moment). Unfortunately our "Supervisor" computer is decidedly crook. This computer is supposed to control all our instruments and act as a
communications gateway back to Sydney. This heavy responsibility has clearly taken its toll, and now it not only refuses to boot up properly but also claims to have misplaced various important things including its own hard disk. Tony has threatened it with a forced redundancy - one which includes a not particularly attractive package.

Today we got our first blue skies and sunshine. This transforms the South Pole into a sparkling wonderland, with strong contrast between the old, packed snow and the fluffy fresh snow drifts. In fact it's not actually snow - just tiny particles of ice. The wind whips up these ice particles, and fills the sky with tiny, flashing crystals known as "diamond dust". When conditions are just right, as they were today, a spectacular light show of halos, sun-dogs, arcs and rings fills the sky. It's not only beautiful
but also quite extraordinary - a rainbow is a simple and static thing by comparison. We are indeed fortunate that ice chooses to form hexagonal crystals, that these occur mainly in one of two forms ("rods" and "plates"), and that for aerodynamic reasons these crystals have preferred orientations
as they tumble through the sky. Otherwise, we'd be stuck with something as dull as a rainbow - which is what you get when sunlight has only simple, spherical water droplets to play with.

I'm sure this also helped lift our spirits. Duane is 100% well again, and I'm feeling fine except for a bit of trouble sleeping. After a few days at this altitude everything works fine again except for the intellect, which never quite seems to come up to speed - hence the typos. Fortunately our crew back at UNSW (the Michaels, the Jons and the Jessica) are only an email away and put their sea-level brain power to good effect solving our various problems.

Duane and I now have a third room-mate, whom I'm yet to meet (he works nightshift, to the extent that such a concept has any meaning here). I'm sure he is a fine fellow but, even within 24 hours I have noted he has at least two personal habits that would make him difficult to share a room with on a long-term basis. One, he has his clock permanently set 15 minutes fast. I have heard of people who do this but I have yet to hear a rational explanation as to why. Two, he uses his "snooze" alarm. I've always
thought clock manufacturers only included these things as a kind of a joke. Being woken up by an alarm clock is one of life's less pleasant experiences - why one would want to repeat the sensation several times in the same morning is completely beyond me.

Towards the end of lunch a cry went out over the all-call for "Freshies!" This means that the pallet of fresh fruit and vegetables has just arrived by Hercules, and must quickly be unloaded into the (heated) refrigerator before it freezes. To do this we all formed a human chain from the pallet to the fridge, passing sacks of onions and potatoes, boxes of lettuces and avocados, and crates of apples along the line. It was enjoyable work - now I can say I know what it's like to be part of the food chain.

Meanwhile Mike Whitehead, a CARA technician, has taken on the task of making bits and pieces for us for the AASTO. His first job is a set of adapter bracket things so our Stirling Engine control panel can go where the bookshelves were.

After lunch a Bassler DC3 came and went. These are reborn DC3s with turbine engines and skis, and are flown as a tourist operation from a camp at Patriot Hills. I'm not sure what kind of an impression people get when they visit the Pole for just a few hours - at least today they would have seen a super ice-halo display. I celebrated the end of my third day at South Pole with the first of my two allotted weekly showers. Although each shower is rationed to 2 minutes (total elapsed water flow), it is a luxury greatly enjoyed and one no doubt one also appreciated the next day by one's colleagues. Whoever designed the Beaker Box had style - the shower recesses look out over the vast, empty Antarctic plateau, surely one of the most amazing views in the world.



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