South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Sunday 20th January

From John Storey.....

It's kind of difficult to dance the night away when there isn't one. However as I headed off to bed in the early hours of this morning, a substantial group of people were packed into the Summer Lounge having a darned good attempt. I had arrived at the party at about 10 pm to find Tony and Duane already fully immersed. Duane was propping up the bar, Tony was unsuccessfully fighting off a group of women who were trying to remove his shirt. I dumped my parka behind the bar where I thought it would be safe but it wasn't because someone accidentally emptied a can of beer into it.

The Summer Lounge is another Jamesway, demonstrating yet again the enormous versatility of these double-walled tents. A small cloud hung permanently outside the doorway, where water vapour from the sweaty bodies inside was mixing with the -25 degree air outside and instantly freezing. Inside, the
highly acclaimed band "Thunderjug" were belting it out. As happens here each summer, people arriving at the South Pole with an interest in music form a spontaneous band. This year it is Thunderjug, with an outstanding drummer, a pretty good bass guitarist and a couple of lead/rhythm guitarists who will
probably be fine with a bit of practice.

This is what rock music should be - live, highly interactive with the audience, and rather loud. The singer was occasionally the bass guitarist (regrettably), occasionally the drummer or one of the other guitarists, but more often than not just some random person from the crowd who succeeded in taking possession of the microphone for long enough. Serious good fun.

The scene looked for all the world like an out-take from the ABC series "Long Way to the Top". This was just like a classic Australian pub band of the type now endangered by the relentless march of the poker machine. Why anyone would want to spend the evening stuffing their own money into a machine when they could be screaming their heads off to some rock and roll is beyond me, but then, a lot of things puzzle me..

The audience were having a great time - some were dancing, some were grabbing the microphone from the band, and some were just leaning back enjoying the music. Others, apparently, were sitting around pouring beer into my parka. After I left things apparently got even wilder, as the band
moved onto early Angels material and some Kurt Cobain.

Today Tony continued his man-against-machine battle with the Supervisor computer, but didn't appear to get very far. For light relief he took Summit (our sub-millimetre instrument) out of its box so we could all admire it while we wait for the calcium hydride and/or magnesium perchlorate to

This morning Duane and I did the final installation of the Stirling engine, which included bleeding the coolant lines (this is done by getting glycol all over the floor) and the fuel lines (a similar process to bleeding the coolant, except you end up with jet fuel all over the floor). I was also able to get enough jet fuel on my parka to drown out the smell of the beer, which I considered to be a step forward. The remainder of the preparation consisted of checking for the 25th time that all the red wires were
connected to positive and all the black to negative, and then having lunch.

After lunch came the big moment when Duane pushed the "start" button. Thirty seconds before that, Bob Pernic (station manager for CARA) had arrived to witness the momentous event. The AASTO was standing room only, and the tension was mounting. Starting the Stirling engine is great fun because it is such an intelligent beast. The whole process takes about ten minutes; it's completely automatic and the engine has a little display to keep you informed about what it's up to. It begins by having a bit of look around to check everything is OK, then turns on the glow plug. After a bit it blows air through itself and then turns on the fuel, which immediately catches alight. At this stage the engine starts making a fabulous noise like a camping stove on a windy night - all pops and splutters and coughs - while it attempts to get the fuel/air ratio right. Since this was the first time it had ever been at an elevation of 10,300 feet (these things are designed to go in yachts) it wasn't quite sure what to do, and promptly did the wrong thing. The flame went out.

Now these engines are so clever they actually learn from their mistakes. So Duane pushed "start" again and away it went, this time getting so far as to sound like a blowtorch on a windy night. We all cheered it on and gave it what encouragement we could. Sadly, it lost the plot again and again the
flame snuffed out. Adjusting to this altitude was clearly going to be a major intellectual challenge for it. Tony suggested lobbing a handful of Diamox into the fuel tank.

Prior to the third attempt it had a good hard think about stochiometric ratios, the gas equation and atmospheric lapse rates before taking another stab at the mixture - and this time it got it right. Within a few minutes it was producing over 500 watts of electricity and bringing a toasty warmth to the AASTO. Duane was stoked. Actually we all were. I think these engines are going to be the bee's knees in Antarctica. Each time we re-start it the Stirling engine remembers what it had to do last time, and gradually will become acclimatised, just like we do.

Unfortunately we seem to have a bit of a problem with the cooling fan circuits. This is completely unexpected and may prove to be a major setback. After dinner I set up the oscilloscope, for the first time since arriving, in the hope that it would cast a more optimistic light on things. It didn't.

Since its now 2 am, I have set an urgent email to the manufacturer for their advice and will stagger off to bed.


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