Friday, January 29, 2010

South Pole Summer Camping

I made it to the pole at about noon on the 27th. The flight was really smooth, and I spent about 5 minutes total outside that day (long enough to come to this shocking conclusion -- it's cold). After attending some briefings for people who've never been the SP before, I had lunch (veggie sloppy joes and cole slaw) and met all the IceCube people who are all being really nice.

The altitude has a really strong effect on you at first. All you want to do is sit like a lump on a log (my blood oxygen level was 80%, normal is around 90%). Walking around (especially with 20 lbs. of cold weather gear on) is really hard. The elevation here is only about 9,000 ft, but the effective elevation is above 10,000 ft because the Earth's rotation squeezes the air away from the poles. In addition to making you feel lumpish, the altitude also causes sleep apnea. The thing that controls when you body wants to take another breath is actually the CO2 level in your body. The doctor said the CO2 level in your body can be low enough that your body will stop breathing while you're sleeping. Of course then your oxygen levels drop down and you wake up gasping for air. They give you altitude medication that is supposed to help prevent the waking up gasping part. I think this is just because it makes you wake up all the time to pee.

On my first day I hung out with the IceCube people. One of my collaborators was even nice enough to give us newbies a ride out the Jamesways, so we didn't have to carry all our crap out there on the first day.

Since there's been some curiosity about my lodgings, I'll devote most of the picture-age to it. I'm staying in something call a Jamesway. It's also know as Summer Camp (a mis-nomer if ever I heard one, there's nothing summery about it). It's a fifteen minute walk from the main station building where I do most of my work. Here's a shot of the Jamesways from just outside the main building. They're the round blue things above the boxes. They are basically silo-like half circle buildings which are subdivided into rooms, so the roof and outside walls are curved. My outside wall is made of heavy green canvas. Yes, the only thing between me and the South Pole is a canvas wall. Here's some shots of the one I'm staying in (mine is the one in the middle).

I believe as many as 10 people can sleep inside them. Here's the hallway.

It's so dark because people have all different sleep shifts and I didn't want to use the flash in case anyone was sleeping. The Jamesway rooms are very small. There's only a single bed and a wooden cabinet. Here's my enclosure.

The green canvas on the left is the outside wall. Behind me there's a hanging curtain which you can pull for privacy. There's a heating unit in the center of each Jamesway, so it's warmer than outside. Basically everything that's under the blankets is okay, though I spread Big Red over my bed for a little additional warmth. I'm told that if you leave a glass of water on the floor, it will freeze by morning. I'll have to try that at some point. The canvas is mostly light-tight. There are a few leaks, but I avoid them by sleeping with a shirt over my eyes, which also has the benefit of keeping my head warm.

The best part about the Jamesways is that the bathrooms are closed because of a sewer pipe leak, so we have to use external, unheated port-a-potties instead of the heated, lit bathrooms with nice showers and washing machines. While I understand the importance of not leaking raw sewage into the Antarctic ice, I still wish I had a heated bathroom to use. Especially since the altitude medicine makes you pee a lot. My first night I got up to use the bathroom five times. I am now intimately familiar with exactly how little cold weather gear you need for the dash to the bathroom. Shaded goggles are the most important item, so the sunlight doesn't wake you up.

It's now the fourth day and I'm feeling a lot better. Still not much energy but that's because I got to go outside all day yesterday and visit IceCube. The weather was a little bad and it was pretty white outside. Here's a picture looking back at the main station from the IceCube Drill Camp.

The station is the dark blot in the middle. It looks worse on camera then it was. I walked around the surface above IceCube for a bit, then looked inside the big computer lab

where all the IceCube signals from the strings are brought together and processed. There were bundles and bundles of cables three inches thick coming into the computers. There were banks and banks of computers. There were so many computers that the building doesn't have to be heated, it has to be cooled. Then I helped pack up the IceTop camp for the winter (IceTop is the surface array above IceCube, it detects cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are a background for most IceCube analyses, except for mine where it is the signal). The shades that cover the IceTop tanks while they freeze had to be folded up nicely and put away in the right order so people next season can grab them and go. We were able to work inside something called the "Purple Palace" which was heated. Here's a picture of my collaborator mending a rip in the shade.
The shades that still need to be folded are against the far "wall" and the folded shades are to the left. Here's what it looked like after we finished, man, there were a lot of them, but it only took a few hours.

After that a bunch of other bits and ends had to be sorted (into those that can be left out to freeze and those which cannot).

All-in-all it was pretty awesome.

No comments:

Post a Comment