South Pole Diary 2002    

   


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...

John

Friday 11th January

From John Storey.....

Photo by: Jon Lawrence Lunchtime on Thursday saw us out at the International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch. After changing into about 10 kg of Extreme Cold Weather Gear and adding a further few kilos of paperbacks, cameras etc into our parka pockets, we lumbered around to the departure area to check in.

This year the pre-flight briefing included not only the Antarctic safety briefing, but also a C-130 aircraft briefing which detailed all the many things that can go wrong in flight and how little you can actually do about it.

There was also a demonstration of how to put on the EPOS (Emergency Passenger Oxygen System) that is used in case of depressurisation. The EPOS is a plastic bag you stick over your head (with the silver tape to the back - or maybe it was to the front), having first undone it from 25 layers of packaging, identified tab A and pulled the red button (or maybe
it was blue). You then listen for the faint hissing sound (over the roar of four Hercules engines and the screams of the other passengers). If there is no hissing sound there is no oxygen and you will suffocate if you put the bag on your head - maybe you should have pulled tab A and simply admired the blue button.

I much preferred the briefing we were given at McMurdo a few years back, that went something like. "If the plane depressurises you will quickly lose consciousness, because you won't be able to figure out how to use the EPOS. But don't worry, we'll be diving at umpteen thousand feet per minute and you come to again shortly."

There was also a most implausible life jacket that looked for all the world like a horse's bridle. When you pull tab A there are big yellow things that shoot out and keep you afloat. It wasn't clear why you would want to keep afloat, with the water at -2 C.

After the briefing came the usual delay while they tried to find a plane with all four engines working. To fill the time we were shown a video on the NZ Antarctic program, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, when it finished, the TV switched automatically to a local station which was carrying an advertisement explaining how much trouble you save your loved
ones by purchasing a prearranged funeral package. We all wished we'd paid more attention during the EPOS briefing.

Photo by: Jon Lawrence Finally at 7 PM the Hercules headed out onto the runway. Inside some 50 or so passengers were sitting in four rows facing each other, on webbing seats only slightly too narrow, and with knees touching those of the person opposite. Enormous night-lunches - each one enough to feed a family of 4 for about a week - were handed out to everyone and this added to the congestion.

A couple of hours into the flight people had started to rearrange themselves, with elbows resting on other people's faces and big white "bunny" boots pushed against anything soft that wasn't part of your own anatomy. Sleep was clearly impossible and it would have been too dark to read, except that Bob Pernic had a beaut little headband with white
light-emitting diodes on it - sort of a high-tech version of those things coal miners used to wear. This cast enough light not only for Bob to read his book, but for everyone else in the vicinity as well.

About four hours into the flight the crew demonstrated their sense of humour by winding the cabin temperature up to around 30 C. Everyone removed as much clothing as they could while still retaining basic decency, and the compartment became a huge tangled pile of legs, feet, parkas, boots and heads - none of which could be confidently identified as
belonging to anyone in particular. Unfortunately the person sitting next to me had the build and general dimensions of a 200 kg gorilla, reducing my personal space to well below even my modest requirements.

Many people clearly wished they'd listened to their mother's advice and taken up a career in real estate. In fact, the person opposite me was reading a book on how to make a fortune in that very field. His lips were moving as he read - he'll need to learn not to that if he's going to make the big time in property sales (maybe that's in chapter 4 of the book).

After nine hours we landed at McMurdo - this was perhaps the longest and most uncomfortable of the 30 or so Hercules flights I have done to date. At least we didn't have to use the EPOS.

The ordeal was not yet over, as it takes a further 45 minutes to travel via Terrabus (a humungous Canadian snow-bus known locally as "Ivan the Terrabus") to McMurdo itself. There we were treated to a further hour of Arrival Briefing (none of which I can recall) before being allowed finally, at 6 am, to stagger off to our allocated rooms.

There, a pleasant surprise awaited me. "Woof", my roommate, had anticipated our late arrival and had made up my bed for me. Woof is one of the station carpenters, and clearly a very considerate bloke. (Normally you have to make your bed on arrival. This is often complicated by the fact that they've given you three pillowcases but only one sheet,
two sheets and no pillowcases, or all the right things except they look like they've been used to slaughter a couple of seals on the day before.) I collapsed into bed as Woof headed off to do a day's work making boxes for field teams.

Today (Friday) in McMurdo it is beautiful - crystal clear, a temperature of around zero, no wind, and warm sunshine. I'm wearing less than I was when wandering around Christchurch yesterday. In the bay (McMurdo Sound), two large US Coastguard icebreakers are smashing through a passage for the one cargo ship that will arrive later this month. Watching them crash through metre-thick ice while traveling at a fast walking pace is pretty awe-inspiring. Huge, bus-sized pieces of ice are hurled to one side, then satisfyingly crunched by the propellers as the ship passes. One of these things would be useful to clear a path through the four-wheel-drive boofheads in Sydney next time I want to ride my bike.

We're scheduled for "bag-drag" at 7 PM tonight, which probably foreshadows an early morning departure to South Pole.

Our traveling companions include the Brothers Pernic (Ed and Bob - Bob is the site manager at South Pole for the astronomy project; Ed is the last in a long line of people who've tried to get the TEG working, and is busting to see the Stirling engine) and Wilfred Walsh - a PhD graduate from UNSW Astrophysics.

John

Saturday 12th January

From John Storey.....

Photo by: Jon Lawrence Today was not a good day. It began at 6 when I rose for breakfast and had my first cup of so-called coffee, and learned that last night's flight to the South Pole had turned back because of bad weather. Apparently the wind is bad at the Pole, picking up the snow and reducing visibility below the minimum acceptable level for the Hercules pilots. They can approach the South Pole skyway with radar, using the reflection from the fuselage of a crashed Hercules (now conveniently dragged to the end of the skyway) as a target. Then "...ya gotta be able to see at least 3 flags." If not, the plane resumes cruising altitude and circles for up to four hours before returning to McMurdo.

Anyway, it seemed worth a try. Fourteen of us dressed up in ECW gear and clambered into the back of the vehicle that would take us out to the McMurdo airstrip (otherwise known as Williams Field). Unfortunately Ivan the Terrabus was not available, so we were put in a "Delta". A Delta is a very large truck with a sort of a box added to the back like an afterthought - much in the manner of a child's drawing. Steering is by hydraulic rams that bend the whole truck in the middle. With tyres that are nearly 2 metres in diameter and a metre wide, the whole thing looks totally ridiculous. It reminds me of those gadgets that often win prizes on "Inventors" shows on TV - gadgets that clearly captured the judges' rather limited imaginations but which never should have been allowed past the engineering drawing stage.

The Delta has an appallingly rough ride, and the passengers are incarcerated in the "afterthought" box. In the event of injury the surviving passengers can communicate with the driver using a walkie-talkie. This is exactly what happened 3 years ago when a particularly rough bump resulted in one passenger suffering a broken arm. We arrived in McMurdo the day after this incident and were treated to a helicopter ride from Williams Field to McMurdo, the Deltas having been taken out of service while someone thought up a good story for the OH&S people. So, from that point of view I don't consider the Deltas to be all bad. But I digress.

Ably driven by a personable young lass called Casey, the Delta delivered us all to Willy Field unscathed. At that point we had to transfer from the Delta with really knobbly tyres that can go over slushy snow to the Delta with rather smooth tyres that doesn't chew up the runway. (A suggestion that we all stay where we are and simply get someone to change the tyres over was, surprisingly, rejected.) Then we wandered about, admired the Twin Otters, watched the Hercules refuel, wandered about some more, before being told there was "essentially no chance" of our plane landing at South Pole. The weather was expected to remain poor for at least another day. Furthermore, all our equipment had been offloaded to
make way for more fuel (so the Hercules could circle for longer at South Pole), so there's not a lot we could do if we got there anyway.

After a lot of discussion we took the advice of the crew and abandoned the flight. The plane will fly on and attempt the landing with just 4 of our number still aboard, they having decided that they may as well sit and read on the Herc for 10 hours as sit and read in McMurdo. At least the coffee couldn't be any worse.

Returning to McMurdo we were reassigned to our rooms (though I'll have to make my own bed this time) so sit out the rest of the day.

Just before dinner we received the depressing news that the flight did in fact manage to land at South Pole. There are no flights tomorrow (Sunday), so we're stuck here for a while. That's perhaps not too bad. It's still sunny here; 10 C and warm enough to wear a T-shirt. Perhaps that's why it is so cloudy at South Pole, and why Paolo is reporting rotten weather (warm and humid) at Dome C. Meanwhile, the novelty of seeing the sun blazing away, high in the sky at midnight has still not worn off - I suspect it never will.

From the Crary Lab (the science lab with the library and computers, among other things) one can look out across McMurdo Sound and even spy on things with a small telescope. This afternoon three large seals are lolling about on the ice. In wildlife documentaries these things are always fighting or mating or both and there is never a dull moment. However these three haven't moved more than a metre all day and look like lazy, oversized slugs. Don't they realise that the planet is warming up and they should be hard at work evolving into something else?

Photo by: Jon Lawrence As luck would have it, tomorrow is the annual Scott's Hut race. This is a 7.5 km running race, and is the major sporting event on the McMurdo calendar. Two years ago I completed the course in a finite if not particularly competitive time, and have a t-shirt to prove it. Tomorrow I will try to better my previous time, score another t-shirt, and at least show those seals a thing or two. I think I've also persuaded Duane to have a go, although my attempt to persuade him that everyone has to wear ECW gear and bunny boots appears to have failed, so now he'll beat me hollow.

After dinner I was invited by Wilfred to a quick tour of the Polar Sea icebreaker. This is an extraordinarily powerful US Coast Guard ship with 3 propellors, enormous diesel engines, electric drive motors, and then 3 gas turbine engines for when the going gets really tough. It can punch through 3 metre thick ice at a steady pace and looks indestructible. On the other hand it has a really big dent in the left-hand side, so somewhere out there must be something even bigger and tougher. This is profoundly disturbing - I hope it's on our side.

John

Walking with Aircraft

Sunday 13th January
From Paolo Calisse.....

Since my arrival at Dome Concordia Station, I haven't had much time to really enjoy the place like I did last summer. Today, Sunday, was different. After lunch I spent some time outdoors, in a t-shirt, just enjoying the clear sky, looking out to the clear line of the horizon, and chatting with friends. There was no wind for a while and the sun was, well, "hot".

The day started in a pretty unlikely way. Last night we had a party for something like "the first Thursday after last Wednesday" (it was Saturday, but it didn't matter). Karim Agabi, the French astronomer measuring atmospheric turbulence by observations of the Suns border, organized a late night party. The idea was to use a laptop to supply the music, and a VGA projector to project those lysergic-acid like motion pictures generated by Windows Media Player on a big screen, creating a funny disco atmosphere.

But, alas, the enjoyment of any music was jeopardized by the complete Microsoft jingle series. The system was stopping every 30 seconds asking strange questions ending everytime with "ok, cancel, delete?", while the VGA projector was showing menu features like "self-adjusting chromatic balance ON/OFF" or "set dychroic correction level". The people dancing (this year the station features 5 women, 5 versus the usual horde of eager men) stopped time and time again in funny positions, a bit embarrassed, at the sound of that "dang!". The "dang!" that has made generations after generations of stressed windows users crazy.

Karim was working furiously at his laptop trying to restart the techno music. I think his life expectancy was decreased by at least a quarter of an hour by the experience.

In the other tent - I was bored pretty soon, i.e. when the Sangria finished - I could count the number of times he restarted the operating system as the most common music that night was the outrageous Microsoft Windows Me jingle. The "tattattata-tataaaaaaaaaa!" one, to be explicit.

After some time I decided to move away, checking on the Italian arm of the Station to see if the usual late night programming of XXX-rated video was on air.

I immediately realised, while I was still walking in the snow outdoors, that something completely different was happening. As soon as I accessed the galley I understood that the party was turning Italian: no beers but a huge baking pan of Bucatini all'Amatriciana appeared in the middle of a large crowd of people who were discussing (loudly) their views on politics, women, sex and polemics internal to the station that I will not report for pity's sake.

As soon as I stepped into the room, everyone immediately stopped greasing their clothes with blood-like drops of tomato sauce - my fellow countrymen know me extremely well and know I get really, really, upset when something edible is served and I am not informed of it immediately.

They tried to justify the situation by saying "Believe me, I was just going to give you a call" said Luigi, or some other silly excuse like that, but in the end they apologized profusely offering me a huge dish of bucatini, drowning in a heavy sauce of garlic, bacon, and chilli, so big that it was sure to gravitational collapse at any moment. I immediately started to reduce the risk. (I'll send you the original recipe, if you send me a message). This kind of late night party makes the French Chef Jean-Louis crazy, as it leads to ingredients disappearing day after day without any explanation.

After that, one more dish of pasta followed, and, as the pot was empty, I started to clean it up by dipping a huge torpedo of bread into that fatty sauce.

I felt the effect of all that bacon this morning, when I woke in my tent with the feeling similar to that which you would feel asleep on a beach at the tropic, in summer, dressed in Antarctic clothes. Despite the fact I went to sleep at 2 am, after a final interesting discussion about climate and ice core drilling with Mark, a Swedish glaciologist, I realised it was still only 7:30 am. Sunday. The digestion of all that bacon created such an energy surplus that, despite the fact that the temperature in the tent was only 11 C, I was completely covered in sweat.

Well I immediately put the fact that I had awoken early to good use, to take part in the breakfast (croissant, pandoro, orange juice and a cup of coffee) that finishes at 8 o'clock, and took a shower in a quiet bathroom after that. I then felt the common noise of a Twin Otter landing.

I gave a hand loading the aircraft as usual, without gloves, as today is particularly warm and fine (-18 C, so I'm planning to sleep in the igloo we built last year tonight). The aircraft was ready to take-off after about an hour, and all the people moved away from the aircraft to let it move to the skyway after saying their farewells to Augusto, and Jean-Paul Fave, the Head Engineer of the new Concordia station, who were heading back home after 3 months of stay here.

Then something unusual happened.

The pilot was Mark. Mark is pretty famous this year as he was one of the two pilots that went to South Pole this winter to rescue a sick winterover. That flight was pretty risky as so far as I know, nobody has been able, up till now, to land at the South Pole at that time of the year (April) with an aircraft.

To take off, the aircraft usually moves quickly to the skyway and disappears in a cloud of icy snow and the smell of kerosene. But this time we watched as the aircraft turned 180 degree, and began to move towards the station instead of away from it. After passing very close to the main building, it continued its unusual path, passing close to the free time tent and then, out of any track, toward the new station workshop, dangerously tilting over little sastrugi. We ran after it try to find out what was going on, and followed the aircraft in a noisy cloud of skidoos, like paparazzi looking for a movie star in an icy version of the Dolce Vita.

Photo by Paolo CalisseWhen we arrived there, the aircraft turned 90 degrees, stopped, and both the pilots, Augusto and Fave step out with the engines left on. The pilots were running around, full of happiness, taking pictures of the station. That was the reason for the diversion: to take the twin otter closer to the new station instead of walking there. We too got closer to the aircraft to take some pictures of the unlikely situation in a phantasmagoria of cameras, entangled belts and, after some minutes, flat batteries.

 

Then Mark and his human load got back to the aircraft, parked in the middle of Concordia, applied some throttle to detach the skies of the aircraft glued to the snow, and moved ahead. Everyone else jumped on their skidoos and moved quickly away, but I remained to watch that amazing red and white wonder that is that aircraft, hopping over the little sastrugi once more. Then, the aircraft turned 90 degrees again and pointed straight towards me. With the propeller quickly approaching me, I felt like a zucchini before its final dive into the juicemaker. I managed to take one last picture that I really enjoyed, then I jumped quickly to the side to avoid transforming the scene into a cheap horror movie.

The aircraft reached the skyway and disappeared quickly toward the white horizon, leaving the station in its usual silent state. I got back to work on the instrumentation. The station quickly reverted to the silence of an Antarctic Sunday.

paolo

Sunday 13th January

From John Storey.....

Photo by: Jon Lawrence Sunday is definitely the day of rest in McMurdo, and it is very quiet. In fact, when I got up this morning it was -3 C and I was thinking that the place was almost as dead as Canberra on a Sunday. However, this judgment turned out to be too harsh. Breakfast was accompanied by a Janis Joplin album played very loudly, there were waffles and maple syrup, and I realised that there was still life here somewhere.

In truth, most people were either sleeping off the night before (Saturday is party night) or preparing for the great race - the annual 7.5 km Scott's Hut race. This is the major sporting event of the McMurdo calendar - it is to this place what the Melbourne Cup is to Melbourne.

When I arrived at the start line in front of the chapel Duane was already doing his warm-up and stretching exercises. Wilfred Walsh soon arrived and it became clear that the UNSW team was going to be a force to be reckoned with. We pinned our numbers onto our T-shirts and looked extremely professional.

At 11 am the starter read out the course instructions and waved us away. Running on the unmade roads of coarse rocks and gravel was a bit awkward at first, but at least the Terrabus and the Deltas were safely out of the way. Running down hill turns out to be lot easier than running up hill. In the end Wilfred and Duane did us proud by finishing well up the field, in about 34 minutes. I staggered in around 7 minutes later - a personal best and, I'm quite convinced, much faster than the Weddell seals could have done it.

The official results are not yet out, and we'll have to see if there are any protests against the Diamox users, as I see that it is one of the drugs banned from professional sport.

Photo by: Jon Lawrence Diamox is a drug used to counteract glaucoma, epilepsy, and a whole host of other things including altitude sickness. Some people swear by it, and a good fraction of the folk traveling to South Pole are already taking it in anticipation (it takes a little while to act). Other people point to the side effects which, like many drugs, can include death, but more commonly are just an unpleasant tingling sensation in your tingly bits, and a change of taste (for the worse) of carbonated beverages. The effect on the taste of McMurdo coffee has yet to be documented. Today (as you might have guessed) I made the mistake of looking up Diamox on the web. Its actions appear to be extremely complex and varied and the conclusion I came to was that below 5000 m it's a bit of a waste of time. I may have changed my mind by this time tomorrow.

Tonight we did another "bag-drag", and have been told to check in tomorrow (Monday) at 6:45 am for our flight to the Pole.

John

Monday 14th January

From John Storey.....

South Pole at last!

"Great God, what an awesome place..." to paraphrase Robert Falcon Scott, who never seemed to quite get into the spirit of South Pole life. Duane and I arrived around noon, after an uneventful three hour flight from McMurdo. This time there was plenty of room to stretch out, with much of the plane's load capacity taken up by a few very heavy items such as I-beams. Probably if Scott had arrived in an LC130 like we did, he'd have been more cheerful
too.

Tony was very pleased to see us, and came out to meet the plane. It is grey and overcast, that kind of "wrapped in cotton wool" look that South Pole gets when there there is no sun, no shadows, and no contrast. It's also unseasonably warm; around -20 C, hardly cold enough to need a parka. Our welcome orientation was in the form of a video - actually very informative. This year we also had an orientation talk from the doctor, who stressed the importance of drinking lots of water and hardly any coffee, and taking lots of Diamox. The figures he quotes are as follows - last season 10% of people took Diamox, and three people had to go out as a medivacs (medical evacuations) for altitude sickness, one in a pressurised oxygen bag. This year, with 70% of South Pole folk taking Diamox before arriving, there have so far been no medivacs. He then passed around some packets of white tablets, and reminded us we could collect more anytime from his surgery. When I got to my bedroom I found another packet pinned to the wall - there are more people pushing white tablets here than at a rave party.

Once we found our way into the galley I was relieved to find that things haven't changed much in the two years since I was last here. It's clear that South Pole will always be South Pole. It's not just that they play Hendrix and Dylan and serve great food and lots of it, but the whole atmosphere here is extraordinary. Duane was stoked. It is an amazingly egalitarian society. Nothing is locked, everyone takes what they need and contributes what they can to the running of the station. Karl Marx would be stoked, too. Indeed, South Pole Station is probably the purest communist society that has ever existed - a grand socialist experiment that, with delicious irony, is entirely funded by the US government.

Duane and I are sharing a room in the Elevated Dorm, AKA the "Beaker Box". This is extraordinarily luxurious compared to the Jamesways, the Korean-war era tents that offer the very minimum of creature comforts. Tony is sleeping in a Jamesway. The Beaker Box has its own bathroom and laundry facilities, an ethernet, a kitchen and a TV lounge (with a video player, the TV reception not being too good here).

The impending arrival of our Stirling engine has created a surprising amount of interest. Everyone seems to know about it, and wants to know what it is and how it works and why "Stirling" is spelt with an "i". As it turned out, it arrived on the last flight tonight.

In the afternoon we wandered out to the AASTO and re-familiarised ourselves with the various issues. This year, for the first time, there is a Jamesway set up 50 m or so from the AASTO for use as a workshop. There is a fantastic amount of space, and benches and places to put things and life couldn't be better.

 

Tuesday 15th January

From John Storey.....

Woke up Tuesday morning amazed to be here, as always. We (Tony, Duane and I) unpacked the rest of the boxes, convinced each other that all kinds of things were missing, and started making long and pointless lists of things that we eventually found. Have I introduced Tony yet? Tony Travouillon is a UNSW PhD student whose thesis work will mainly concern the SODAR (acoustic sounder). However Tony is amazingly useful at all kinds of things, and has been at South Pole since the New Year. Tony also speaks French, which is bound to come in handy sooner or later.

Next we scoped out the AASTO and tried to work out how to fit the Stirling engine and its various accessories into an already overcrowded space. At various times the bench, the cupboards, the bunks and ANU's video monitors were all under threat - especially from Tony who had the advantage over us of being already acclimatised to the altitude. I think Tony has spent the past week eyeing off the AASTO fixtures with a view to demolition. Duane got into the mood too, and at one stage almost had to be forcibly restrained from heading out to get a chain saw. In the end we figured out exactly where everything could go - the Stirling engine in front of the bench (so you can't miss it when you walk in the door), the dump tank behind it, the batteries under the bench, the heaters in front of the ANU rack, the header tank on the bench in the right-hand corner, and the control panel where the right hand half of the bookshelves are. The only demolition required will be of half the bookshelves - and frankly we don't do much reading in the AASTO anyway.

That was about enough thinking to go on with, so we repaired to lunch. It's about 1 km from the AASTO back to the dome where the galley is. The walk is quite heavy going at first, but good for the appetite. However after lunch Duane was looking a bit green and feeling decidedly queasy, so we packed him off to Tim the station doctor, who measured the amount of oxygen in his blood. This turned out to be not very much, so Tim popped some Diamox into him, put him on oxygen for an hour, and sent him off to bed. By the end of the afternoon Duane was looking as right as rain, and we think he'll live.

Tony spent part of the afternoon removing the old exhaust pipe from the AASTO - a major task because of the way it was bolted and then glued to the roof. The old exhaust pipe was an amazingly complicated freon-heated coaxial tube assembly. The new one will be a simple piece of car exhaust bent up at Tuffy Mufflers just before we came away. Despite Tony's best efforts we ended up with fibreglass everywhere - this being yet another component of the old exhaust system. To complete this orgy of destruction, I sawed up the bookshelves.

After dinner a couple of cargoids (cargo people) arrived out at the AASTO with a Skidoo towing a sled with a big box on it. This turned out to be the batteries for our Stirling engine - four big sealed lead-acid batteries each about half as big again as a car battery. Because they are considered "dangerous", such batteries are packed into a box filled with zeolite or vermiculite or another of those absorbent minerals you grow hydroponic vegies in or sit the cat on. Even with the gracious assistance of the cargoids we ended up with zeolite all over the AASTO carpet, already looking rather shabby on account of the fibreglass. Tomorrow we will get the industrial strength vacuum cleaner from the MAPO building, and the AASTO will be as good as new again.

Not much else happened - Duane and I tried to take things quietly while we got acclimatised. I sorted out my South Pole computer account; the very fact that you are receiving this means I have acquired at least some rudimentary skills in Microsoft Outlook. I think I have at last persuaded the stupid thing to send messages in plain text instead of RTF, Word or HTML format; though the computer and I are still having an ongoing discussion about the finer points of what might reasonably be possible with a
rationally designed email program.

Meanwhile the weather has started to clear a little, with the sun poking through occasionally and producing some dazzling ice halos.

The only other item of note is that the coffee machine, which has been at South Pole for as long as I have been coming here, finally gave up the ghost today. This is very bad news - it used to be possible to get quite decent coffee out of it by filling the filter to double strength when no-one was looking. The new machine is digitally controlled with touch-pad switches and might not be as easy to lead astray. We shall see.

John

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.

 

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.

Friday 18th January

From John Storey.....

The weather is gradually becoming clearer and colder, reaching -26 C this evening. We hope to complete all our major "outdoor" tasks by the end of next week, as it becomes increasingly difficult to work outside once it gets below about -40.

Today we did a major spring clean of the AASTO, chucking out a vast amount of useless junk. Some of it is simply redundant (I found no fewer than 12 rolls of electrical insulating tape - roughly 11 more than we need); some of it bizarre (such as a 1600 watt 240 volt heat gun we have no way of powering); some of it quaint (such as the toaster rack for the camp stove, now corroded to the point where no sane person would ever eat toast off it); and some of it simply rendered obsolete by the passage of time.

The control panel for the Stirling engine is now finished, and looks exceedingly handsome. It holds not only the engine control and display, but also all the electrical switching, the room thermostat, and alarms for smoke and carbon monoxide. In truth we should have installed such alarms years ago. The CO alarm is a very impressive affair that signals a warning by screeching "CO" in Morse code (-.-. ---). It is perhaps curious that Morse, having been officially abandoned as a communication mode about two years ago (to the great relief of an entire generation of would-be radio officers) is now cropping up in the strangest places - notably Nokia's "SMS" and "connecting people" ring tones.

After lunch we embarked on the major exercise of re-routing most of the wiring in the AASTO. This is because the major cable trunk passed under the bench, an area that will now be shared by the very hot Stirling engine exhaust pipe. At first we thought we could just shield the wires from the heat somehow, but recurring nightmare visions of our Ethernet, coax, serial lines and power cables all coalesced into a sticky molten mess was more than we could bear. The job took much longer than expected, as the wiring has grown like topsy over the years. With some of the wires we couldn't even figure out what they were for, but we dutifully re-routed them anyway. I wonder if anyone in the UNSW Antarctic group will admit to being the comic genius who, at some time in the past, carefully threaded a cable through the little holes in both electronics racks, a situation that we could only resolve by cutting off the connectors and remaking the cable!

We also seemed to spend a lot of time just moving things back and forth between the AASTO, the Jamesway and the MAPO building. Fortunately there is a handy sled for the heavy items. It is a rather nice high-tech sled with a slick Kevlar body and smooth polymer runners, and has the word "Antarctica" emblazoned somewhat unnecessarily across the back. Apparently it is one of the sleds that was dragged here by a member of a Japanese "walk to the South Pole" expedition a few years back. Such expeditions are becoming more common, although the tendency nowadays is to do rather more extreme things.

Today a team of marathon runners arrived from Patriot Hills by DC3. They have set up camp 26 miles from here and on Monday they intend to - yes, you've guessed it. The finish line is to be just in front of the Jamesway, and we should have a great view from the top of the G-tower. I wonder if there is any human activity which, if carried out at the South Pole, would be so pointless that there is no-one on earth ready to attempt it.

Tony continues to wrestle with the supervisor computer, and has skuad two possible replacements from the IT department. (In Antarctic parlance, to "skua" something is to retrieve somebody else's piece of unwanted junk and put it to good use. A skua is an aggressive Antarctic bird rather like an overgrown but unsocialised seagull, that takes anything potentially edible if it's not bolted down - hence the term.) The result is that we now have three computers all refusing to do what we want them to. This represents,
in some small sense, a kind of progress because at least we know now that the problem is not just with the hardware.

Michael Whitehead, the very helpful CARA person who, incidentally, will spend the winter here looking after, among other things, our experiments and our Stirling engine, has busied himself making up the exhaust heat shield and other bits for us. It will be great to know that he is here if things start to go wrong later in the year.

Meanwhile the station is extremely crowded, with 226 people scheduled to stay here tonight. This is a new record - and not bad for a station originally designed to cope with a maximum of 35. In fact, two Hercules that were to return to McMurdo this evening are also stranded here because of bad weather at McMurdo. (Well, that's their story. Another possibility is just that the food is so much better here.) So, with two Hercules crews (of about five persons each) sleeping on the floor of the gym, things are
really tight.

Will, the winterover doctor of a couple of years ago, has also just arrived to allow the station doctor, Tim, to spend a week away prior to the start of his winterover. Over dinner Will and Tim were discussing which of them would have to sleep on the x-ray table. Will lost. Tim assured him it was quite comfortable really.

Saturday 19th January

From John Storey.....

This morning was the first really clear day we've had, with a perfect blue sky over the vast, flat white ground. After several days of cloud, blowing ice-crystals and high wind, it's sometimes hard to remember that this is the best site on earth for astronomy. Today it was obvious that a telescope pointed skyward would be able to see forever.

Finally we got the Stirling Engine installation completed. Duane did all the wet bits, like the fuel lines and the cooling system, and I did wires. We also got the plumber to make up a new exhaust pipe, the one we got from Tuffy Mufflers being significantly on the too short side. The new pipe is made of copper and is very handsome. I have pointed the webcamera at it so that the whole world can admire it. Everything is ready to go, so tomorrow will be the big day.

We could switch it all on tonight but I'd like to take it slowly. There's something about wiring up 10 mm diameter welding cable to a pair of 24 volt batteries that is strangely intimidating. We have a 200 Amp fuse in the line so no-one should actually die but, on the other hand, I've never seen a 200 Amp fuse blow and I suspect it is a rather unsettling experience. Sitting just outside the AASTO is 270 gallons (about 1,000 litres) of JP-8 jet fuel, which we are hoping to burn through over a period of a few months, rather than a few seconds...

At 10:30 was the weekly Science Meeting, which brings together the key management people of the station and the scientists. I took the opportunity to raise the question of getting some magnesium perchlorate from McMurdo. Unfortunately the station manager is well tutored in the ways of the world (which, of course, include chemistry) and responded with "Perchlorate, eh? Must be a bit explosive..." Nevertheless, I think we'll have our jar of it soon.

Tony has been locked in a life-and-death struggle all week with the Supervisor computer, and at one stage had 6 candidates lined up for the job. Finally at about 8 pm this evening he arrived breathlessly at the AASTO lugging a computer that can actually read our disk! It looks as if the battle is almost over, and Tony will have truly earned his stripes as an Antarctic Superhero, Grade 1. The new Supervisor computer even has a CD drive in it, and is a joy to behold. It doesn't appear to want to talk to our other computers (via telnet), but it is probably just shy and will settle in after a few days.

Meanwhile Tony's feet have started to decompose, which is unsettling for Duane and me but probably worse for Tony.

A few days before I arrived here a group of Russians appeared at the South Pole in an Antonov 3, a small biplane which appears to be only marginally more sophisticated than a Tiger Moth. Apparently the group included some quite senior officials who, once they got here, decided that they weren't getting back into the Antonov for quids and promptly made an official request to the US to be flown out in a Hercules. This was duly done; the Antonov is sitting forlornly beside the ski-way and the Russians have just received a bill for their Herc flights for US$80,000. The Russians appear not to have been expecting this. The Antonov is "off limits" to us, presumably while some diplomat works out whether it's worth $80k or not.

Tonight, being Saturday, the station is in party mode and people keep drifting through the computer room clutching beverages of various kinds. There is apparently a very good band playing in the Summer Lounge, so I might go check it out...

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
arrive.

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.

Sunday 21st January

From John Storey.....

Well, I've been here a week. I'm fully acclimatised and I've completely recovered from the Scott's Hut Race. Now, if only the Stirling engine would work properly...

The engine needs to keep its glycol coolant at around 60 C. It does this by controlling the speed of some fans that blow air through the radiator. While the engine we had for testing at UNSW did this very well, our present engine - which is brand new - refuses to even recognize that it has a role to play here. The voltage that is supposed to change in appropriate ways remains resolutely fixed at zero. In short, this engine is completely abdicating all responsibility for its coolant temperature - which leaves us
with a bit of a problem.

So first thing this morning Duane and I did a bit of a brainstorm and came up with the following: if we set the fans up at a constant speed, then for a given amount of heat to be removed from the glycol there will be a constant temperature difference between the glycol and the room air. If we now set the room air temperature to a fixed value, then the glycol temperature will be stable too. Now, as it turns out, the amount of heat to be removed varies, which would tend to cast doubt on the feasibility of the above. But, Duane's measurements in the lab show it varies remarkably little, so we're in with a chance. And, keeping the room temperature constant is a snap, because we have a Eurotherm PID temperature controller that is so smart it could probably beat the Stirling engine at chess. However, I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

While I wired up all the fans I could find (I've called the assembly "the fan club"), Duane did what he likes doing best which is to cut another big hole in the AASTO with a motorised device that looked like a prop from Mad Max III. After lunch (you always have to walk back to the Dome and have a meal before you do anything exciting) we fired the system up and it all worked perfectly. Duane positioned ducts and vents to best effect, and took enough notes for at least two chapters of his thesis.

Just when it was all looking so good, the Stirling engine demonstrated another couple of infelicities. First, it seems determined to avoid all the usual niceties of battery management and is ruthlessly attempting to charge our batteries to death. Second, it is running flat out the whole time, as if it has not yet grasped the idea that it has to make that tank of JP-8 last the whole winter. At this point I'm not sure if we're going to be able to sort all this out. The manufacturers in New Zealand are doing all they can - including bringing a new set of electronics to the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch for urgent delivery to us, but flights to McMurdo were canceled today because of bad weather, and we may not be able to get the parts here in time.

Meanwhile Tony was getting ready to depart, and was clearly not happy to go. However despite a frustrating week with the Supervisor computer, he had ended up with a final triumph: - skua-ing a computer to act as an interface between the Stirling engine and the outside world. In the afternoon, after Tony had left, Duane and I hooked it up. Not only do we get a pretty screen that looks like an economist's view of a Stirling engine and has all kinds of useful numbers on it, but with luck we'll be able to relay all the information back to UNSW during the year.

Over lunch had Tony tutored me in the ways of the Supervisor computer, as I reluctantly accepted the stark reality that I was next in line to go toe-to-toe with this brute. I decided to start back at square one. Once the Stirling engine was purring away, I retrieved the original Supervisor computer and fired it up. It immediately complained that the keyboard was missing and suggested I press F1 to continue - completely overlooking the fact that this would be really hard to do without a keyboard. Do I loath PCs! Of course the keyboard was there all along but just wasn't working. No second chances - straight into the "construction debris" bin (a sort of catch-all category for things that can't be recycled or put to good use). That meant heading off to find another keyboard, which I did but it had a different sort of plug on it, leading to a further hunt in which I finally found another one with the right sort of plug stashed behind the liquid nitrogen plant.

Success! This is where we were ten days ago. Next I had to take all the little boards out of the original computer and put them in the new computer, because the old computer isn't compatible with the new Flash disk and the boards in the new computer aren't compatible with the existing software, etc. This is what PCs are all about. The word "compatible" can mean different things in different contexts; to Microsoft it appears to mean "manufactured on the same planet".

So now we were ready for the big test. For some reason it hadn't worked for Tony; I think he is altogether too patient, gentle and charming to face a PC on its own terms. I took a different approach. Something about my demeanor told the computer that it was going to work first time or it would be into the Construction Debris in less time than it takes a G4 to add 2 + 2. Anyway, while I have not the foggiest notion why, it all seemed to work just fine. It even allows us to telnet to it.

Tomorrow morning the marathon will begin. Assuming they can chug along at 10 km/hr or so, the runners should arrive at the finish line outside the AASTO at around midnight Sydney time. For the benefit of our webcam devotees I have steered the webcam around so it is pointing at the finish
line. Personally I wouldn't cross the road to see it, but if I can watch them from the shower it could be fun.

John

Tuesday 22nd January

From John Storey.....

This morning I awoke to find an email had arrived from the good folk who make our Stirling engine. The gist of it was that the symptoms all seemed dreadfully consistent with the control software being in "test" mode, rather than to something more useful. In test mode, the engine just runs flat out all the time in an effort to prove just how tough it really is. The human equivalent is, I imagine, something like running a marathon at the South Pole. Fortunately we had got the computer control of the engine working yesterday, and it was a simple matter to change a parameter from a value of 45 to 2, and after that everything
worked perfectly. Even the circuits that control the speed of the fans, and hence the coolant temperature, sprang into life - as evidenced by a large square-wave on the oscilloscope. Duane was so stoked that he took a photo of the oscilloscope.

Meanwhile the Eurotherm temperature controller is vying with the Stirling engine for the title of smartest thing in the AASTO. (Duane and I aren't even going to enter the contest.) The Eurotherm's job is to monitor the room temperature and adjust the duty cycle of some exhaust fans in order to keep us at a comfy 20C. As air is exhausted from the AASTO, fresh air is sucked in through a vent. This air, being at -25 C (it will drop below -75 C later in the year), cools things down in a big hurry. Meanwhile, the Stirling engine is dumping between 2 and 3 kW of heat in to the room to make sure we don't get too cold.

The clever bit about the Eurotherm is that it not only looks at the current room temperature, it also looks at how fast it's changing and how far it's deviated from the ideal in the past. It then works out all by itself how long to keep the exhaust fans on, and constantly strives to improve its own performance. It's as if you had a graduate student working full-time just on this task. To an engineer such a thing is called an auto-tuning PID controller and, whilst they've been around for a while, it is a still a wondrous thing to see in action.

The morning was also cheered by some blue skies and sunshine, but sadly we were completely overcast again by lunchtime. The weather has been shocking this year.

At lunchtime the station manager handed me a small box with dangerous-looking signs on it saying "Oxidizing Agent" and graphic pictures of a ring of fire like tigers used to jump through at circuses. Yes! It was the magnesium perchlorate, carefully packaged up for us by a kindly soul in McMurdo and put on one of the inbound Hercules. We can now add some of it to Summit, and finally install the instrument on the roof of the AASTO.

Finding something to put the magnesium perchlorate in was not simple, as it attacks just about everything. If it were a person it would wear one of those T-shirts that say "Does not play well with others." In the end we settled for an old glass coffee jar as a container, with some fibreglass stuffed in the top. You can't go far wrong with glass.

After lunch we had a quick look at the Bassler DC3 that had arrived to pick up any of the marathoners who actually finished. These are an extraordinary aircraft, reborn out of an original 1930's airframe and fitted with modern avionics and turbine engines. Oh yes, and skis.

The Twin Otters also have skis, which they keep at more or less the right angle with respect to the snow when landing by means of bungy cords. It is not a system that inspires confidence, and would certainly not win any industrial design awards for styling. The DC3, on the other hand, has a small wing attached to the back of each ski, so that the skis "fly" at the correct angle. The pilot was very proud of his machine, and pointed out that it was better than a Twin Otter because it has a tail wheel rather than a nose skid, the latter having a tendency to punch up into the cabin between the pilots in the event of a hard landing.

Just before dinner the first of the marathoners began to arrive. We would have gone to welcome them except that would have meant missing out on a tour of the new station, so we didn't. The new station is scheduled for part-occupation next year. Already we are using the new generators, three 750 kW Caterpillar diesels that run on JP-8, just like everything else around here. The most impressive thing about the new station is the extraordinary effort that has been made to use all of the possible waste heat to warm the building. Not only the diesels, but even the lights in the greenhouse have glycol cooling loops running through them to feed numerous heat exchangers. As Duane has just completed a Mechanical Engineering degree at UNSW, with an emphasis on thermal design, he was in seventh heaven. (All right, he was stoked.)

All in all this was a very successful day. However, the Supervisor computer has now taken an unfortunate dislike to the keyboard we had teamed it up with, and refuses to talk to it. Although an intermittent fault was apparent from the beginning, the breakdown in the relationship now appears to be irretrievable. So now the Supervisor won't boot past the stage where it says "keyboard missing - press F1 to continue" - a suggestion so asinine it could only have come from the richest man on earth.

John

Wednesday 23rd January

From John Storey.....

Up bright and early this morning to log onto the UNSW computer via satellite, just to check if anything really bad was happening to the School of Physics while I was away. I'd set up an automatic vacation response that says, in effect, "I'm at the South Pole - go away", but it doesn't seem to have deterred people. It took me a few hours to go through the 520 emails
that have accumulated.

We had two big successes today. The first was that, with the arrival of the magnesium perchlorate, we were finally able to assemble the sub-millimetre instrument, SUMMIT, and put it on the roof of the AASTO. SUMMIT is unreasonably heavy, mainly because it has a huge heatsink under it that enables it to be warmed entirely by AASTO interior air. Thermodynamics being what it is, no matter how we burn JP-8, we end up with a lot of a heat and only a little electricity. So, all our instruments are designed to be heated only by heat (if that makes sense), leaving all of the precious electricity available to run the electronics.

Just before lunch we sledded SUMMIT across to the AASTO, towing it behind a Skidoo. With the help of the brothers Pernic and some ropes we hauled it to the roof, where it is now sitting in the end port. It looks remarkably like a US mailbox - Paolo has even put a sticker on it that says "No junk mail please". This evening we will leave SUMMIT hooked up to the Internet, enabling our colleagues back at UNSW to run it and see if we've forgotten to hook anything up.

The second major success was to get the Stirling engine running under its own steam, as it were. It is now controlling its coolant temperature (with admirable success, I might add), and trickle charging the batteries in a most appropriate manner. Best of all we have the monitor computer hooked up to the Internet, so that we can keep an eye on it from anywhere on the planet. I think everyone in the computer room here is now thoroughly sick of me showing them the little screen.

Today's entertainment was to test out the little tilt meter and shock indicator stickers that were attached to the crate the Stirling engine came in. It's childish, I know, but yes the indicators do turn red when you turn the box upside down and drop it on the floor. At South Pole you have to
invent your own amusements...

I have decided not to reward the Supervisor computer any more for its attention-seeking behaviour. It is sitting in the corner and it is not allowed to talk to any of the other computers. Tomorrow, if its behaviour has not improved, I will attack it with a soldering iron.

John

Thursday 24th January

From John Storey.....

Today the weather was truly glorious; the first really clear and calm day we've had since arriving. Even though the temperature dropped to -32 C, the wind is so low (just like at Dome C) that it is not at all unpleasant outside (in appropriate clothing, of course!) When the sky is completely clear it has a dark blue appearance I've never seen anywhere else in the world.

The first thing I did once I got out of bed was to log on to the Stirling engine to see if it was still running. As it turned out, it was loping along with consummate ease.

Just before I walked over to the AASTO this morning, the British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter took off, leaving a white vapour trail along the skiway. The vapour (actually ice crystals) hung in a long, low white cloud for at least thirty minutes, as it gradually drifted across the station. As it passed in front of the sun it created two beautiful sun dogs, making it easy for me to forgive it for placing me in partial shadow for a while.

Speaking of dogs, I have now brought out my trusty Macintosh PowerBook, called "poodle". Poodle is getting a bit old for a computer (5 years), and this is the fourth trip to Antarctica he has accompanied me on. Sadly, it may be the last, as he is a little too old and slow to feel at home in the snazzy new station network at South Pole. Still, he's indispensable for controlling our instruments via telnet, checking on the webcams, and generally keeping me company. Over the next couple of days poodle and I will check the instruments as best we can, and ensure that they are fully remote-controllable from UNSW.

Now that everything is more or less working properly, I decided to waste another couple of hours trying to fix the Supervisor computer. After spraying the keyboard connector with every ozone-destroying chemical I could find and making not the slightest difference, I decided that a cracked solder joint was the only remaining possibility and stripped the stupid machine down to the motherboard. After carefully resoldering all the connector joints and checking their resistance, I was rewarded with a machine that is as sullen and unresponsive as it ever was. Enough pussy-footing around - tomorrow we're talking major surgery (and without an anesthetic).

Duane was able to get enough data for another chapter of his thesis this morning by simply pushing the "Autotune" button on the Eurotherm temperature controller. This invites the controller to force the room temperature up and down in a series of oscillations while it carefully measures what happens and sets its various gain constants and things appropriately. Up until now we have been allowing it to use the constants it set for itself while we were testing it at UNSW. As far as it was aware it was still in the lab at UNSW trying to keep constant the temperature of a small cardboard box with a couple of light bulbs in it. Under the circumstances, I think it was doing a remarkable job.

For the rest of the day it was fiddly, unrewarding little jobs like sorting out what to take back to UNSW and trying to re-learn MS-DOS. I'm also trying to train myself not to put the floppy disk into the Zip drive, as it doesn't fit properly.

We decided that the exhaust from the Stirling engine is too cold by the time it reaches the top of the exhaust pipe (you can comfortably hold the copper pipe with your hand ). Given that the outside temperature may drop another 45 C by mid-winter, we run the risk of freezing the exhaust and choking it off. Duane was able to find some fibreglass pipe covering, and we now have the pipe insulated to within a few centimetres of its tip. It's still surprisingly cool. The exhaust (which is just water vapour and carbon dioxide) leaves the engine at 300 C, but freezes instantly as it hits the cold Antarctic air. Here, it's just the water that freezes. When we move higher up the plateau, it will be cold enough in mid-winter to freeze the carbon dioxide, too.

The bulldozers are being kept busy around the clock here trying to remove the snow drifts that have accumulated over the past couple of months. Webcam devotees will have noticed that the AASTO is slowly disappearing behind a large mound of snow. The AASTO is actually standing on four legs about a metre and a half high, but it doesn't look that way anymore. The path from the Dome (where we eat) to the Dark Sector about a kilometre away (where all the astronomy experiments are, including the AASTO) crosses the ski-way about half-way along its length. To avoid any unfortunate and messy conflicts between people and aircraft, there are two flashing red beacons that are turned on if an aircraft is coming in to land or taxiing for takeoff. I always take these beacons very seriously and, even if they are not flashing, take a careful look up and down just in case. This morning I was halfway across the ski-way and looked up to see a dark shape emerging from a cloud of wind-blown snow and water vapour not 100 metres away. For a moment I was gripped by stark terror, only to be relieved seconds later to see it was merely a bulldozer grooming the ski-way for the benefit of the next few aircraft. While I am confident I can outrun a D4 Caterpillar (especially when it's dragging a 20-tonne groomer), I don't like my chances against a Hercules. They don't stop very well when they're on
skis, either.

John

Friday 25th January

From John Storey.....

Abba? What are they trying to do! This morning's breakfast music was clearly not designed to get the day off to a good start. Fortunately by lunchtime the kitchen staff had moved onto new-wave grunge sung in German - not exactly art but definitely an improvement. By dinner we were back to Hendrix and Joplin - perhaps the station manager had had words with the cooks about the Abba thing.

The Stirling engine is purring sweetly, as we log data every 120 seconds into a file to check everything is OK. While the engine may consider this to be something of an invasion of its privacy, it does remind me of the process I had to go through before I could be declared medically fit for travel to Antarctica. It seems that every one of my bodily functions was subjected to scrutiny in the most exacting detail and written down in a file, in much the same way as we are now doing to the Stirling engine. At least my results were not broadcast all over the world (or so I believe).

Duane left just after lunch. In the end he coped extremely well with the transition from metric measurements to things American, and by the time he left could distinguish between a 4/40 thread and a 6/32 thread from a distance of 10 paces. For me, using American nuts and bolts brings back nostalgic memories of the four happy years I spent as a postdoc in Berkeley in the late seventies. My only problem now is that I can't pick up a handful of 6/32 bolts without thinking of the song "Horror Movie" by the seventies Australian band "Skyhooks". (Remember how it finishes - "Horror movie, right there on my TV; horror movie: it's the six/thirty-twos")

Just after lunch Paolo Calisse called me from the Italian station of Terra Nova Bay via HF SSB radio. This time the signal was loud and clear, and we were able to wrap up the details of this year's campaign. Paolo is on his way home after a very successful couple of weeks at Dome C. Talking on HF radio is also a nostalgic experience for me. You see, once upon a time there was no Internet...

Duane's final task this morning was to find a sheet of Lucite (Perspex to our British readers; Plexiglas to the Americans; polymethyl-methacrylate to our Chemists) to put over Jim Lovell's signature on the wall of the AASTO before it gets damaged. Two years ago, Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame) was visiting the South Pole intending to spend just a few hours here. However bad weather at his return base meant he had to spend several days with us, along with Owen Garriot (of Skylab fame). Fox Television decided to conduct an interview with Lovell via Iridium phone and, since the only web-camera at South Pole was out at the AASTO, it became an impromptu outside-broadcast studio. Lovell was kind enough to autograph our wall before he left, and the signature is now preserved for posterity.

In terms of scientific achievement, today was a "slow" day. The Supervisor computer did not work despite several hours of patient re-soldering of connectors, and was lucky to escape without an ice-axe through its CPU. We have gone back to using our original Supervisor, which unfortunately uses a floppy disk as its one and only storage medium. If I have time after all the other jobs are done I might have another go at finding a machine that can read our Flash disk. The station is definitely starting to wind down, and a lot of time is taken up sorting through junk and getting equipment ready for the winter. I will be leaving on Monday, and there's a lot still to do.

Saturday 26th January

From John Storey.....

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is to go and stand in the shower recess (without the water turned on; I'm only allowed two showers per week), because it offers such a splendid view across the ski-way to our AASTO. I like to see the friendly little cloud of water vapour billowing from the exhaust stack, which tells me all is well with our Stirling engine.

Early this morning I grabbed a shovel and took to the snow engulfing the AASTO. Webcam devotees will have noticed that several tons of snow have now been removed from the surroundings, and the AASTO is no longer in any danger of disappearing. It's amazing how much snow you can shift in a couple of hours once you're properly acclimatised - especially when you've got "JP" and a D6 Caterpillar bulldozer helping.

Shortly after that the station power went off for 45 minutes, taking the heating with it. This was yet another breakdown in the new 750 kW power plant, which has not been spectacularly reliable. In the AASTO, however, the only difference it made was that the computer went off-line and that dreadfully noisy Ethernet switch went suddenly quiet. This was truly a proud moment for our Stirling engine, which continued to purr along sweetly, as it has for several days now. In fact, the engine is becoming a major impediment to making any progress on our instruments. There seems to be a constant stream of visitors knocking on the door of the AASTO to see this latest toy. It is definitely the talk of the Pole!

The big station powerplant had a major "event" a couple of months back when, allegedly as a result of prolonged detonation ("pinging") and/or pre-ignition in the engine, it dropped a couple of valves and thoroughly trashed itself. It is believed that the fuel temperature had been allowed to go to high. Interestingly, computers "ping" each other as a way of saying hello, but this never seems to cause much damage. Stirling engines don't ever "ping". Nor do they suffer from pre-ignition. And, even if they did, it wouldn't matter because they don't have any valves to drop.

Urged on by colleagues back in Sydney, I made one last attempt to get our old Supervisor computer to recognise the flash disk. This involved a lot of huffing and puffing and wrestling the computer in the confined space of the AASTO. From this came only two outcomes: first, the back of both my hands are now torn to shreds by the sharp metalwork of this nastily-built little computer, and second the computer can no longer read even the floppy disk. Now we were in big trouble. While all our software was also on a hard disk and a flash disk, Tony has shown that none of the available computers on the station could recognise either of them. Our single readable copy of the code was on a floppy disk that was now as dead as a dodo. (Retry, Abort, Fail?) I am leaving in two days. How was I going tell my colleagues back home that I didn't even have a backup disk?

I thought up a story that there was this skua, see, and it flew 1600 km from the coast to the South Pole in search of food and it saw the floppy disk and mistook it for a slice of Vegemite on toast, and..., but I couldn't make it sound at all convincing.Then, just when total gloom and despair was all around, Wilfred Walsh, a former PhD student from UNSW who is now about to spend the winter with the AST/RO telescope, mentioned that his new laptop had arrived and so he had a PC he didn't really need. So, we popped our hard disk into his old machine, and bingo! Everything worked first time, no mucking about. We achieved in about 15 minutes what Tony and I had struggled for days over. In retrospect I think Tony was unlucky to find some old computers that were unusually non-compliant even by PC standards. Then, when he finally found the GLI that seemed to work, it was in fact a very troubled beast that must have had a most unhappy childhood.

The new Supervisor is a giant brute manufactured, paradoxically, by Micron Electronics - it is so tall it dwarfs the Stirling engine. In it is a Pentium processor with a heatsink the size of a house brick. It will help keep the AASTO warm. Hopefully this is the end of the Supervisor computer saga. I never want to see an A:> prompt again.

Tonight I will leave all the instruments up and running and connected to the Supervisor computer, which will give my UNSW colleagues the chance to try out the remote observing. Depending on whether they are successful, tomorrow will either be frantically busy or a chance to put some labels on things and write some documentation (and give more guided tours).

 

Sunday 27th January

From John Storey.....

In the western world, Sunday is traditionally a day of rest. So it is, too, at the South Pole. There are no Hercules flights, the building work for the new station stops, and the bulldozers are still. Even the galley is unusually quiet, with breakfast and lunch replaced by a simple brunch. Acid rock gives way to Bach and Brahms. There are no "all-call" announcements over the public address system, and a tranquility descends over the ice. It is possible then to gaze out over the plateau and imagine what this place must have looked like 90 years ago, when Amundsen first arrived.

However today would be my last full day here, and there was still much to do. At 6 am I was already checking the Stirling engine (from the shower recess, of course), and not long after was on the roof of the AASTO adding even more insulation to the exhaust stack. Glueing things at the South Pole is an inexact science. It hit -36 C today, much colder than when we first arrived. At these temperatures paint doesn't dry, solvents don't evaporate, and glues don't harden. In the end I was happy just to "freeze" the insulation onto the exhaust stack with glue - if the glue ever warms up and melts it will also harden, so either way the stack should remain wrapped up - as snug as a bug in a rug, or snugger.

My other big task was to write up some documentation for the winterover people and to put labels on things. I can hardly imagine what it would like to stagger across to the AASTO in -75 C temperatures, in the pitch dark, only to find a mass of cables and connectors and somehow have to identify them. So, the least I can do for the winterover is to properly label things. Now the inside of the AASTO looks like a kindergarten classroom - although instead of having complicated words stuck to things like "window" and "ceiling" and "draught excluder", it's mostly simple phonetic words like "AFOS" and "Webcam". There's also a note on the exhaust fans saying "Warning, fans start automatically", which I added after one of them nearly took the end of my finger off.

I also wanted to take some photos. Rodney Marks, a PhD graduate from UNSW, was spending a second winter at the South pole in 2000 when he suddenly and inexplicably died. This tragedy affected all of us deeply, especially those people who were wintering over with Rodney at the station. On 1 January 2001 a new marker pole was placed at the exact South Pole by a team of surveyors. On it is inscribed a dedication to Rodney, a star-map of the constellation of Scorpio, and the quotation "Not without peril". The Australian flag also flies permanently beside the 2000 marker, as a mark of respect for Rodney.

Tomorrow I leave for McMurdo, and I'm rather looking forward to getting my sea-level brain back again. Although South Pole is only at an elevation of 2850 m, in polar regions the air pressure is actually significantly lower again than the altitude would suggest. The "pressure altitude" (or "physiological altitude") depends slightly on the weather conditions, but at South Pole can approach 3300 m (11,000 feet). This of course is what leads to the headaches, nausea and sleeplessness of the first few days, along with doctors rushing around trying to stuff Diamox into you. After a week or so at altitude all these symptoms go away (apart from the doctors), except for one - your brain no longer works properly. Mostly I find the effects are merely inconvenient: hand writing already poor becomes next to illegible, I can't read the little tiny writing on things like computer chips, and the humour in the diary becomes a bit suspect. But by far the worst effect is forgetfulness. I set out to do a task and before I've gone three steps I've forgotten what it was. I've taken to writing myself copious notes, and have started carrying around a sheet of paper so I've always got something to write on. Before I started doing this, I'd find that, by the time I'd found some paper to write a note on, I'd forgotten what it was I wanted to write.

It's difficult to sleep tonight because I'm sure I've forgotten something important. But I probably won't remember what it is until I get back down to sea level.

Monday 28th January

From John Storey.....

Last morning at the South Pole!

The first part of the morning was taken up with logistics - packing up the equipment that will not be needed over winter, putting out my hold luggage in the snow for collection by the cargoids, making sure all my ECW gear was in my hand-carry, and so on. At 9 am there was "redeployment briefing", which sounds terribly formal but in fact was just an opportunity for the station management to say what a great job we'd all done and to hand out handsome personalised certificates, together with a shoulder patch which says - for reasons I haven't yet got to the bottom of - "South Pole Medical Facility".

I also had to rush around giving back all the stuff we'd borrowed - well most of it. The replacement Supervisor computer (late of keyboard woes) was now in such a sorry state I was too embarrassed to return it, and was last seen in the Construction Debris bin with a pile of snow on it to make it less obvious. The Ethernet hub with the terribly noisy fan was clearly so noisy that no-one would want it back, so it's still in the AASTO. I think Tony signed out for both these items. They'll be after you, Tony...

That left just two hours to do a final check of the equipment and write some last minute notes to Mike Whitehead and Wilfred, who will look after the AASTO and its instruments through the winter. There was one essential aspect to running the equipment remotely that we hadn't yet properly checked - would it be possible to wake-up the instruments via commands over the Internet?

We make provision for this with a piece of electronics aptly named the "wakey-wakey" board. It just sits there listening for any attempt to communicate with the instrument and, when this occurs, shakes it into life. (It also wakes the instrument up every couple of hours anyway, just to keep it on its toes.) What I quickly discovered was that, yes, we could wake Summit up remotely, but that it promptly went back to sleep again 60 seconds later. Clearly this was an instrument that, if it had the choice, would buy an alarm clock with a "snooze" facility.

What I had hoped would be a routine confirmation that everything was OK was quickly assuming the proportions of a major drama. An instrument that won't work for more than 60 seconds at a time is worse than useless. At 11:00 am the incoming Hercules would be approaching, and the flashing beacon would prevent anyone crossing the ski-way. It was now 10:15, and I needed to leave at least 15 minutes to get back to the Dome. At 10:30 I discovered, after a frantic search, that we did not have a spare wakey-wakey board. Five minutes later I confirmed a growing suspicion that we didn't have the necessary parts to fix the old one, either. I turned the soldering iron on to give it time to warm up, though what I was going to solder was not at all clear. Finally, with just a few minutes to go and circuit diagrams spread across the floor of the AASTO, I decided it was better to have the instrument running all the time than not at all - and hot-wired the power supply appropriately. The soldering iron was still cooling down as I rushed for the plane.

I was last on - not a bad position to be in because a) you're first off at the other end, and b) you get one of the very few windows to look out of. (The fact that the window is behind your head normally wouldn't matter, but in ECW gear you turn your head around and all you see is the inside of your parka hood.) I did manage to overcome this little obstacle, however, and my final view of South Pole was of the AASTO, with a cheerful puff of white clouds rising from its exhaust stack.

The flight to McMurdo was uneventful. McMurdo itself is always something of a disappointment after the Pole. For one thing, it's dirty. That's not really McMurdo's fault - it's built on dirt; in fact old volcanic ash from Mt Erebus. Dirt without vegetation is unattractive. South Pole is sitting on nearly 3000 metres of the purest ice on the planet. So, by comparison, McMurdo is drab. It's not nearly as white as the South Pole, either. McMurdo is also frustrating because you can no longer work on the equipment, but neither are you yet reunited with your family. It's a sort of Antarctic limbo.

To cheer me up they have promised to fly us to Christchurch tomorrow night in a C-141 Starlifter. This four engine jet is a lot faster than the Hercules (it can do the trip in 5 hours) and has a proper toilet with a door on it.

 

Tuesday and Wednesday 29 - 30 January

From John Storey.....

Today's diary entry covers two days, because they merged into one anyway.

The day begins in McMurdo which, as has already been noted, makes an unhappy contrast to the South Pole. It is as if, having spent two weeks in the communist fantasyland that is South Pole, McMurdo is required as a kind of an antidote to prepare one for life back in the real world. The hard metallic lump in my pocket is a set of keys - a strange device I now use for locking doors, an action whose sole purpose is to prevent someone else from going through that door and doing whatever it was they were planning to do. In return, as it were, I am continually confronted with doors that have been locked by someone else, with no apparent thought for the inconvenience that might now be causing me.

(Poor Karl, he was not to know that his ideology would not work once the village had more than a couple of hundred people in it. Nor would he have been able to predict that, once the village grew to a city of a few million, a substantial fraction of his comrades would be driving around in 2-tonne four-wheel-drives, purchased in the hope that, should they have the misfortune to collide with someone they don't know, all the property damage, injury and disfigurement would be suffered by the other comrade, not them. But I digress.)

And there are signs, everywhere, telling me that I cannot go here or there. At South Pole there are also areas one cannot go - but always for good reasons. For example, one cannot go to the transmitting antenna farm, or one might get fried. One cannot go to where they collect the snow for drinking water, in case one absently-mindedly does something unmentionable on the snow. And of course one can absolutely never go to Old South Pole Station because, as everyone knows, that's where the aliens live.

In contrast McMurdo has a lot of signs that contain the words "no" or "not" or "forbidden", and no reason is given. Even the shipping containers scattered around the station are labelled: "This is not a refuge", as if to emphasise the fact that you're really stuck here, mate.

The grim reality is underlined by a set of photocopied signs on various doors, put there by an anguished researcher bemoaning the recent theft of his laptop computer from his dorm room and offering a $200 reward for its return - no questions asked. Welcome (back) to the real world. And the coffee - oh dear, the coffee...

Fortunately the breakfast waffles and maple syrup are excellent. As Robert Falcon Scott might have said, but didn't: "Great God, what a waffle place!"

At 10 am we do "bag-drag", effectively the same as check-in for a commercial flight except you get to take your carry-on luggage away again once it (and you) have been weighed. Experienced antarctic adventurers know that it is wise to include in that one retained bag several changes of underwear, toiletries, some good books and a pair of comfortable walking shoes, for you may not be re-united with the rest of your luggage for some days.

Over lunch I struck up a conversation with Gonzales from the University of Washington, who invited me to visit his lab at Arrival Heights, an area in the hills above McMurdo. Arrival Heights is an area reserved by international agreement as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, in this case because it is a "radio quiet zone" where there is minimal radio interference. For this reason, no transmitters and all of the radio experiments for studying the ionosphere are located there. A few years ago, the New Zealanders set up a two-way satellite communications facility at Arrival Heights and thereby created a serious international incident or, to put it another way, injected some life into the otherwise astonishingly dull international SCAR meetings. Unfortunately all the fuss seems to have died down now.

>From Arrival Heights there is a wonderful view of the island - Ross Island - which McMurdo shares with Mount Erebus. This year has been unusually warm, and today was bathed in beautiful sunshine. I enjoyed the walk of a few kilometres back to McMurdo, breathing in the dense sea-level air and appreciating the fact that it was possible to spend more than a few minutes outside without my moustache freezing to my beard, preventing me from opening my mouth.

After working 16-hour days at South Pole for just on two weeks, it was great to relax. I spent the rest of the afternoon asleep. At 9 pm we checked in for our flight and climbed aboard the Terrabus for transport to Pegasus. Pegasus is the sea-ice runway, some 45 minutes drive south of Mc Murdo, which can only be used late in the season when the sun is no longer fiercely melting the ice and causing pot-holes in the surface. The advantage of the runway is that conventional wheeled aircraft can land on it, unlike the ski-way which can only be used by the Hercules and their ilk. Today would be the first flight from Christchurch for this year of a C-141 Starlifter - a larger four-engined transport jet. It carries more people (typically around 90), and flies much faster than the Hercules, making the trip between McMurdo and Christchurch in just 5 hours, rather than 8 or 9.

Clearly sensing that we would be disappointed at spending a mere 5 hours squashed together, knee to knee, cheek to jowl, the transport folk arranged for us to be at Pegasus a good four hours before we were due to leave. Crammed into the only building available, some people dozed and others watched a movie. This was something called, I think, "The Insider" and, despite having been nominated for umpteen Academy Awards was so stupefyingly dull that most people either became stupefied or wandered outside to gaze for one last time at the midnight sun, now dipping low across the southern horizon.

The C-141 landed, and then proceeded to taxi up and down the runway - still fully loaded with its 92 passengers. I discovered that this was because it was the first C-141 flight for the season. Before taking off again, the pilot wanted to be sure that the runway was up to the job and that the plane wasn't going to fall through the ice at any point. Amongst those on board who were contributing their body mass to this proof-loading test was the New Zealand ambassador to the US who - unless he reads this diary - will probably remain blissfully unaware of this most useful task he has performed.

Back in New Zealand I returned all my ECW gear. I then wandered across to the National Science Foundation office complex, talked my way past the security guard and found my way to the bathroom, where I enjoyed the first long, hot shower in nearly three weeks. Human again, I returned to the computer room and logged on via the Internet to our experiments at South Pole. All was running well.

So that brings this season's diary to a close. For the next 12 months we will run our experiments remotely, relying on Michael Whitehead and Wilfred Walsh to fix whatever breaks at the Pole. Be sure to check in next November, to see how it all worked out.

John

Sunday 30th December 2001 - Wednesday 23rd January 2002

From Tony Travouillon.....

Sunday 30th December 2001
The departure time has been set back to 3pm. There were 23 of us in the plane to Mc Murdo, of which three were going to the South Pole. The checking happened similarly to a normal plane, except that we were checked by the army. They gave us a badge as a boarding pass and we waited an hour and a half for the plane to be ready while they showed us a video about the flight. The flight attendant (called the loadmaster in this type of plane) was a young army boy and not the usual blonde and instead of serving us orange juice every hour, he gave us a lunch bag with a couple of sandwiches, a kit-kat and a bottle of orange juice and water. I was lucky to be the first to sit on the left side of the plane (they fill up the right side first) and got enough space to lie on the hand luggage packed next to me. Later I found out you can actually sleep on the pile of boxes and that's what I did from Mc Murdo to SP.

The plane seemed to take off at a very low speed and flew just as slowly. It made the landing the smoothest I have ever experienced. During the flight, the earplugs were very much welcome. The sound made by this type of plane is unbearable after a while. The view of the continent from the dirty windows gave us a good idea of what to expect down there. It looked flat with mountains sticking out and showing that there is indeed a ground under the ice.

When we landed at Mc Murdo, I was quite disappointed about the temperature. I was expecting -15 and a frosting wind but got 2 or 3 degrees and barely any wind. The landscape: flat, white and mountains in the background. We jumped on the bus (slow like hell) and drove for 40 minutes to the station. It didn't seem like the bus was making much progress. After 20 minutes, the surrounding was exactly the same. In fact, it was the trick of the landscape. The mountains, which I thought were close and small, where actually very far and therefore large. I would not try to estimate distances on this continent. We dropped a couple of kiwis at Scott's station and finished at Mc Murdo. The place looks like a construction site. All the buildings are rectangle and look temporary. The station was said to be crowed, but arriving at midnight (and bright day light), we didn't see many people around. The plane is schedule at 7:30 in the morning giving us 5 hour sleep before getting on a plane again.

Monday 31st December 2001
Guess what, I slept in as usual. I got up at 7:35 and ran straight to the meeting point. There, another shuttle took us back to the field and we quickly got on another LC-130, this one having skies instead of wheels. I got myself comfortable on the pile of luggage and slept during the whole 5 hours to the South Pole. This time, no disappointment with the temperature; there is two temperature measured: the still temperature and the wind temperature. There were respectively -25 and -45. The sky was as blue as it gets and brightness (due to the reflection of the ground) was so intense, that I had to squint behind my sunglasses. We had enough layer of cloths not to feel the cold but my ears and fingertips started to burn so from now on, two pairs of gloves and an extra hat under my hood. The shuttle drove us right to entry of the Dome and we all (3 people) got in the "galley" (this is how they call the restaurant). It was pretty busy in there and I found out that this year is the record high in terms of population: 220 people (the 40 I was told of, are the people staying all year long). Out of this 220, most are people building the new station, which should be ready in parts for next season. The building people wear a brown body suit while the scientist and the staff hare in black pants and red Jackets. Today I was told to take it easy. Apparently, altitude sickness (2850m) hits most of the people on their first few days. So far I don't feel anything but when I am outside, my breathing rate doubles because of the pressure. It feels like your lungs believe you are running even though you are walking slowly.

Today I will arrange computing, go around the facilities, and find out where is our equipment. The dorms are used 24 hours a day and far from the hotel I got in Christchurch. The main thing is that inside, the temperature in warm and that's the only thing that matters right now.

Wednesday 2nd January 2002
Ok, I think there is no point counting the time in days here. Well, first it's always daylight of course but also because I can't sleep at regular hours. I sleep 2 hours here, 3 hours there and so far only 1 hour in my bed. I realized the floor of the AASTO is much more comfortable as the temperature is around 22 and the dorms are much to hot. On top of that the satellite connection is only up during the night hours and I need it to communicate with my group. I won't talk about work in this journal.

On the New Year eve, I was expecting a big party, but because the 31st was a Monday, they made the big party on the 30th. So I missed the big New Year party at the Pole. On the 31st they had a small party with the "winter over" band. It was pretty good but nothing special. The next day I spent a lot of time playing around with my camera. It's actually tricky to make the snow look white (and not grey) without over-exposing. I borrowed a tripod to get some steady shots. Then I religiously walked to the geographical Pole. In fact, there is also a commemorative Pole, which is surrounded by the flags of all the countries present in Antarctica and symbolized by a reflective sphere (great for pictures). The actual geographical pole is marked by a poorly looking stick and is moved every year at Christmas. It's not that the continent is moving but the Ice on top of the continent is. In fact they keep mark of the pole's position every year and you can see that it moves about 5 meters every year (and in a straight line). Beside this, there is nothing much to talk about. It's flat and white in all directions.

The AASTO is situated about 10 minutes walk from the station, in the "dark sector". I arranged to visit the construction of the new base on Sunday. Before that it will be working, working and trying to find someone to play Ping-Pong. I forgot to mention that this place works like a small town. There is a gym, a bar, a video room, a souvenir store (can only pay in American dollars) and I heard there is a Sauna somewhere (got to find it quick). John and Duane are now scheduled for the 10th of January so I'll spend most of the time here by myself. Food wise, it's not spectacular (it's an American base after all) but for some reason, I am always hungry. In fact, I show up at all of the 5 daily meals. It's been only two days but the chef already knows me very well.

In terms of human contact, I only get a limited amount of that. The construction people stay amongst themselves and the scientists are like me buried in their labs. I met 5 German scientists but I think that beside them and me the rest are Americans. In the evening, Warren (the man in charge of the construction of the new station) gave me a detailed tour of the future facility. First the new garage, the new fuel storage (2million liters and enough for 2 years). I learned that the water is produced by digging a hole inside which 1 hose sends hot water and another one pumps it back along with the melted ice. This way they can produce 50l/day/person (10,000 liters a day at the moment). The next step of the tour was the new generator. In fact there is three of them. 1 running, the second one starts if the first one has a problem and the last one usually in maintenance. This way is produced from the JP8 fuel about 450kW of energy. A smaller engine will soon be used to bring up the power to 750kw for peak times.
Finally we went to the station itself. In terms of structure, about a third of it is built but the inside is still a few months from completion. It is clear that when it will be all completed, the Pole will be much more comfortable. It will take 50 winter-overs and 250 people in summer. There will even be a basketball court. They are also digging tunnels for the water tanks (100m deep!) and the sewers. When one of the tank is empty (after 5 years, it will become a sewer storage and so on till the end of the station (expected to last 40 years).

Saturday 5th January 2002
Ok now the weather is getting somewhere. It's the end of this Club-Med sunny weather. The wind-chill is now -50 degrees and you can't see more than 10m in front of you. I had to get the full helmet and a second pair of gloves. I can finally claim to have experienced extreme conditions. I can imagine now what the first explorers felt when they crossed the continent (while I only crossed the path between the AASTO and the station). Some people organized a game of soccer but for some reason, I don't think it will go ahead. An important remark is that it doesn't really snow here. It's rather ice powder flowing horizontally. It looks like a sand storm but with ice. After only one day of this condition, the amount of snow pilling up in front of the AASTO is quite impressive. I'll have some shoveling work to do when it stops storming. Yesterday, I saw "the thing" on video. It's about an alien life form that takes control of a scientific base in Antarctica and kills almost everyone. It's the perfect movie for the occasion. There was also a pool competition at which I performed very poorly. I hope they'll organize a ping-pong comp soon. At breakfast today we had some croissant. They came right on time; I was getting sick of eggs and bacon. Strangely enough, they haven't got any fois gras here, so don't count on me to winter over. I was told there is a wreckage of a plane about a mile from the station. I'll try so go and see it tomorrow if the weather gets better.

Tuesday 8th January 2002
I still haven't received my equipment, I am starting to get really frustrated and useless. I see everybody else busy and all I am doing is taking photos, reading books and play pool. John and Duane are also overdue; they should arrive Friday night if there is no more delay. On Tuesday we had the visit of a European team from Patriot Hills. The crew made of 3 French cameramen, a Swiss man, a Swedish and the rest being Russian making up for the total 14. They came in a big biplane called the Antonov 3. They arrived in the afternoon on a courtesy visit and were supposed to leave on the same evening. However, things did not turn out so well for them. Their plane refused to take off and they are now stuck here with us in a full station. They are sleeping in the gym and spend most of their time in the bar. I found out from one of the French guy that the elder Russian (who replied to me in French the first time I talked to him) was apparently a big shot politician. He called the Russian president who organized a military plane to pick them up tomorrow. I really would have liked to find out who he was exactly. Their plane will remain here all winter until they manage to send someone to fix it next year. Beside this unexpected event everything is rather smooth.

I should probably describe a bit what the social life is around here. The main buildings of the station are under the Dome. Before I arrived, I thought that the Dome itself was heated but it is not. It is just a metal structure protecting the inside building from the wind and snow accumulation. When you step into the Dome, you can turn left to the medical building, right toward the garage and the new station construction or straight ahead where the most important building is: the restaurant. It's a two-storey building. The bottom floor is the restaurant itself with the kitchen behind it. The food standard is not European but I think they are doing a great job considering the conditions, the kitchen staff is also very nice and are the guys I am playing pool with all the time. Above, is the bar. I don't go there much. First because you have to pay with American money which I spent all on souvenir, and also because the atmosphere inside is not quite my style. The second building is also cut in two sections. The ground is the "comm." Section. They take care of the radio contact with the outside world and the flight schedule. The top floor is the library that is rather used as a Pool room, the video room, the store (with souvenirs, candies, and personal hygiene stuff) and the office of the station manager. The following building is the science and computer room. There are a lot of computers that anyone can use for email. The meteorology center is also in this building. The other buildings are mainly dorms for winter-overs. The dorms for the summer people like me are located outside the Dome and look like black army tents. The rooms are as basic as it gets: one bed, one small table and you access your room through curtains, no doors. Anyone could steal anything with this sort of security but it never happened, people here haven't been chosen lightly.

The people are quite nice but some are easier to talk to than others. For example the construction people stick together will the science guys are scatters in little groups. I get along best with the kitchen staff, the architects, and the science construction team. People use emails a lot to communicate or to be funny:

"My Dear Fellow Polies,

Embarrassed to say, but I've lost my blow up doll. She's about
3 and a half feet tall, looks like Joan Rivers, has a smile to warm your
heart. Please help me find her. We've developed such a close
relationship over the summer; I can't bear to be parted for long. I
implore you, look deep in your hearts and the plastic recycling bins,
return my dearest love.

Ben "

There is also the telephone everywhere and if you dial "01" you can tell something to everyone through the speakers. Most of the time, the speakers are used for messages like: " Mr X can you call 342"
Two things very annoying here:
1) The static electricity shocks, which happen to me about 20 times a day. It's apparently due to the low humidity. I noticed it as soon as I got here, the hair of my body straitening to any cloths or plastic.
2) The second bad effect of the low humidity is the noise bleed. I get that twice a day and if it continues I am going to need a blood transfusion.

Ok now back to the pool table…

Wednesday 9th January 2002
Well, the Russians are gone but the series of visitor is not quite over yet. Now it's the turn of a few Americans from the NSF (National Science Foundation) and other sorts of white collars. They are here to see the progresses on the new station. They'll be given a tour of the major facilities including the science experiments. Tomorrow we'll have a Time Capsule ceremony. The idea behind this comes from the completion of the first South Pole station in the late 50's, when they buried stuff from that epoch and was meant to be dug out in the year 2000. The problem is that it was so well buried that they still haven't found it. This time, they are being much more clever by burying the box next to one of the new station foot. Unfortunately, I missed out on the explanation of what they will put in the capsule. The only thing I know of is the poster that everyone at the station signed. We were all invited come back at the opening of the capsule in 2050. It's perfect, I'll be 74, just enough to make to the Pole and back in one piece.

Thursday 10th January 2002
John and Duane were supposed to arrive today, but the bad weather has delayed their flight between Mc Murdo and the South Pole. The temperature is now -19 degrees, the hottest day since 1985. Strangely enough, outside it's probably the worst day I have experienced, the wind is now biting very hard. The Time capsule ceremony was very short for this very reason. One guy did a 30sec speech; everybody got their photo taken in front of the box and then, ran back inside.

Friday 11th January 2002
Today again, more delays John and Duane are due tomorrow and the guests will also have to wait one more day to depart as no plane can make it here with this weather. I feel really useless now. No work to do, I wonder if people think I am a lost tourist. I should be really good at pool when I leave this place. I even played a bit of ping-pong with the cat drivers. I finished the day at the bar playing this American card game with 9 other people and drank this hand made whisky from Kentucky.

Saturday 12th January 2002
Another upset today. John and Duane were scheduled in the one and only flight today. I walk to the point of arrival to greet them but to my surprise only 4 people got out of the plane; no John, no Duane. Apparently, the plane was not sure to be able to land so people were given the choice to take this plane and to either get successfully to the Pole or to waste 10 hours in the plane to come back to Mc Murdo. Obviously, John decided not the chance it and to wait for the Monday flight. Monday being the day I am supposed to fly back, I went and ask for an extension of my stay. I might be able to stay until the 18th of January, but I'll get the confirmation tomorrow.

Sunday 13th January 2002
It's Sunday. That gave me a chance to sleep in; no one works here on a Sunday (strange tradition). I think this is my most productive day so far. I started by changing the tip of the best three queues with tips made by a company called "Le professional" and played for 3 hours. The second item on the list was a game of bingo. Maybe 25 people participated. They had prices like bottles of fresh milk and chocolate bars (hard to get at the pole) and more interesting items from Christchurch like tee shirts and caps. I managed to win one of those tee shirts by completing an "S" shape on one of my bingo card (you can see the skills right there). Finally, the day ended with "12 monkeys" and "Rushmore" two movies I strongly recommend.

Tuesday 22nd January 2002
This is it! Unfortunately, they won't let me stay forever. The dreaded moment had finally arrived. After saying everybody goodbye (and tried to hint to John to send me back here next year before Dome C) I embarked on board of yet another Hercules which is now a very familiar piece of appliance (along with fridges and pool tables). I got to ride in the cockpit, but frankly, the view was disappointing. There is 4 people in the cockpit: The pilot, the co-pilot, the radio guy and another man (I don't know what was his job there) who was sitting in the middle, just behind the 2 pilots and much higher than everybody else (A bit like captain Kurk in the Enterprise)


Arriving at Mc Murdo by day time this time, I got the impression of a large transit station, a bit reminiscent of the one in "Men in Black" with people coming from everywhere and having nothing to do with one another. We were lead to an office and we got given a key to our room. Mine was 155/125. You would thing they would nicely tell you what these numbers mean and give you a bit of explanation about the place (maybe even a map). Instead, they give you the key and off you go on an adventure to find out where you are supposed to sleep (and the meaning of life if you find your room too quickly). I got in a sense lucky as I was sharing a room with 3 other guys who came from the Pole on the same flight. So we all knew each over and managed not to get too bored in this ugly town.

Wednesday 23rd January 2002
Luck stroke again the next morning, I was scheduled on the next available flight going to Christchurch but still had to wait 24h for it to happen. Again the pool table came handy (although the table at Mc Murdo is a leftover from the trade center compared to the one at the Pole). I also went around outside in order to find some penguins and seals but saw nothing. This year was particularly bad for the wildlife in Mc Murdo as a huge 200km long Iceberg (Romantically named B-15) got stuck in the bay and kept the ice from melting. All together, Mc Murdo is very forgettable and the food is particularly bad. I was glad to depart from this base and glad to have spent a very minimum time there, as apparently it is normal to spend there almost a week to wait for an available flight.

The flight to Christchurch was packed and as uncomfortable as it can get, with no room to even move your legs. It was 7 hours of a struggle to find a position comfortable enough to sleep in. The other 60 guys were on a same struggle and many gave up and got up all together during a fair bit of the trip. I know I complain a lot about the flights but I'd like to point out that it is a very cheap price to pay to make it to probably the most amazing place on earth and I'd do it again anytime (how does next year sounds?)

Arriving at Christchurch, I felt nothing beside the strong desire to drop all my heavy and hot cloths and jump into a hot bath (my weekly sauna will be well welcomed back too)

That's it for this first "too-good-for-word" adventure at the Pole. From now on I don't want to be called anything less than Tony the explorer, but Antarctic Super Hero Grade-1 will do just fine (I wonder what grade Paolo is)

See you Next Year….

Tony