Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Friday, January 10, 2003

Happy birthday, Jon

Today we finally had to accept the awful reality that we left something back in Sydney - lots of things, actually - our entire kit of electronics spares. Tony even went to the heroic lengths of rummaging through all our old packing material, just in case we'd inadvertently chucked it out. Now, we just have to hope we don't blow anything up.

We also had a crisis of confidence involving our anti-static mat, which covers the AASTINO floor and work benches. Not only is it excessively blue, but it doesn't seem to conduct electricity one jot. We even wondered if we shouldn't turn it upside down so that its black, electrically conducting surface would have the opportunity to do something useful. Fortunately Michael Ashley, back in Sydney, was able to confirm by email that indeed this is the most splendid antistatic mat available, that we didn't install it upside down and yes, it is meant to be that blue.

That little matter out of the way, we were able to get back to installing things in the AASTINO, and thinking about how best to fix Icecam. Thinking is the hardest work, especially at this altitude. Although the physical altitude is only 3200 metres, because we are close to the Pole the air pressure is even less again, typically about two-thirds that at sea-level. This corresponds to a "physiological altitude" of 3800 metres (about 13,000 feet), high enough to make any
mental task unusually challenging. Strangely, the altitude appears to affect our more intelligent instruments, too. Ding-dong is coping fine (all though there is the small matter of the capital "L" on the printer), but our wonderful multilingual multicolour multifunction Tektronix oscilloscope went belly-up yesterday, and refuse to display a signal trace. Fortunately switching it off and then on again brought it to its senses.

The Nice TowerI had promised to describe the tower that the University of Nice have constructed to use for their astronomical work. Karim, who so kindly has lent us his Astrophysics Tent, put the tower together early this summer season. It is a handsome structure, some 6 metres high, and built of laminated timber. To some it is reminiscent of the base of "la Tour Eiffel".

The Nice tower is 250 metres away from the new station, currently under construction. The new station consists of two cylindrical buildings linked by a passageway. Robert hill, future site of the AASTINO, is halfway between the Nice tower and the new station. It will be a very classy neighbourhood. The AASTINO is scheduled to move there on Monday morning.

Everyone on the station takes turns to help with washing the dishes. Today was my rostered turn, so I passed a pleasant few hours in the kitchen. My companion there was a research student called Paolo, who comes from northern Italy but is enrolled jointly at the Universities of Grenoble and Venice for his PhD. Not a bad choice, really. Paolo is part of the EPICA team (European Program for Ice Coring in Antarctica), which is currently the major scientific activity here at Dome C. Talking with Paolo and with some of the other EPICA folk here, notably Karen from Denmark and Piers from England, has been fascinating.

The idea behind ice cores is that as each new layer of ice is deposited each year, it preserves a record of the environmental conditions at the time. So, by drilling down through the ice you can extract a historical record of climate and other influences on the atmosphere. At the surface, each metre of depth corresponds to about 7 years of history. However, the further you go down, the more the ice is compressed. At the bottom of the core, some 3 km down, each metre corresponds to a century or more. Dome C is ideal for this work because there is 3,200 m of ice to drill through. The team are now within about 100 metres of the rock, which is basically at sea level. The Dome C ice cores are providing the longest historical record we have in ice, reliably dated
now for the past 420,000 years, but potentially going back some 800,000 years.

Happy Birthday JonPaolo's particular research is on trace amounts of heavy metals in the atmosphere. He tells me that the Dome C cores show evidence of lead pollution corresponding to the Roman Era, 2,000 years ago!

Today is Jon Lawrence's birthday. His girlfriend sent him a block of chocolate and a bag of "Party Animal" sweets, both thoughtfully large enough that he could share them with us. At dinner time, Jean-Louise made a cake with candles, and some Italian bubbly was cracked so we could celebrate in style. The celebration also farewelled Carlo, head of the logistics team here, who have been so wonderfully helpful to us.

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