South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Thursday 17th January

From John Storey.....

The day got off to a bit of a bad start when I arrived at breakfast to find the music had taken a turn for the worse. As far as I could tell it was Bruce Springsteen massacaring Waltzing Matilda, but I chose not to enquire. I hope this phase will pass rapidly.

Fortunately, that was about the only bad thing that happened today. Well, that's not quite true: today we discovered that something good that should've happened didn't, which is really the same as something bad happening. Basically, our cannister of calcium hydride, which was sent from Sydney before Christmas, has not arrived and in fact is still in Sydney.

Calcium hydride is a very aggressive drying agent, and we use it in all our optical instruments to keep out water vapour. We use it because it is really, really good at absorbing water. The problem is that it is so good, it's dangerous. If it accidentally comes into contact with something wet (water, for example) all hell breaks use. Not only that, but even when it is quietly going about its job of chewing up water vapour, it's doing it by turning it into hydrogen - which is very explosive. For this reason it is classed as "hazardous" by airfreight companies (Well, I'm assuming this. They may have other reasons of their own, but these two sound pretty convincing). The net result of this "hazardous" classification is not only big boxes with lots of kitty-litter, but also an uncertain delievery schedule.

Last week in McMurdo we realised that, for various complicated reasons, Paolo was not going to get *his* calcium hydride at Dome C, so we sent him off some magnesium perchlorate. This stuff comes in third in the list of things-that-are-really-good-at-sucking-up-water, the silver medal being taken by phosphorous pentoxide. Now, despite the fact that it is, in its own way, a rather exciting substance (it can be used to make bombs, for example), it is not classed as "hazardous". This should greatly improve our chances of getting hold of some - in fact I know there's heaps of it already in McMurdo.

So, apart from that, we're looking good. I set myself up in the Jamesway and spent the day wiring up the Stirling engine control panel. Duane finished fixing the heaters in place and did lots of other construction jobs - mostly with the help of lethal-looking power tools. Tony borrowed a replacement "Supervisor" computer from the IT people here, and is loading our software onto it. He also got us another ethernet hub, so hopefully we can keep both web cameras running at the same time (though webcam devotees should note that the satellite link is only up from about midnight to 8 am (Eastern Australian Summer Time). Unfortunately the hub has a fan in it that makes a noise like an airconditioning plant, so it may end up out in the snow.

Today is the 90th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott's arrival at South Pole. The occasion was marked by a small ceremony around the Pole at noon; there will be a second ceremony at midnight tonight. It's sobering to imagine what it would be like to be just arriving today, knowing you had to walk all the way back to McMurdo before it got too cold and dark.

A British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter also arrived this morning. Over the next couple of days it will ferry some automated equipment out to remote locations, where the equipment will operate for the next 12 months. The instruments were designed and built by Mike Rose, who spent a sabbatical at UNSW working on our instrumentation. Mike arrived here yesterday - it's great to see him again.

Just before dinner Mike Whitehead arrived out at the AASTO towing a sled behind a Skidoo. We loaded SUMMIT (our submillimetre instrument) onto it and took it across to the Jamesway, where we'll have plenty of room to work on it. We also took the Stirling engine from the Jamesway across to the AASTO and uncrated it ready for installation, so now things are really getting serious.


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