South Pole

Antarctica 2013--2014 Part 8: Ice Tunneling

Photo of Ice Tunnels

A few weeks ago I went on a tour of the South Pole ice tunnels. These run underneath the station, connecting it to the power plant, food storage, water treatment plant, and water supply. Probably the most interesting part was understanding how the water supply works. Fresh water comes from a Rodrigues well ("rodwell"), a hole in the ice we slowly expand by melting and pumping water out of it. To do so, we have to pump in hot water. Part of the heat is excess from the power plant, but the water needs to be heated again to 120 F immediately before being pumped into the rodwell.

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Antarctica 2013--2014 Part 7: Science with Keck Array at the South Pole

Photo of Keck Array

The main science goal of our experiment is to measure faint microwave signals to help us better understand the Big Bang. Because the signals are so faint (equivalent to temperature fluctuations of less than 0.000001 degrees), we need incredibly sensitive detectors to find them. Furthermore, there are lots of stronger signals (e.g. from our own Galaxy) we have to reject in order to see the tiny ones from the beginning of the Universe. Therefore, most of our work here comes in two parts: upgrading our telescopes and characterizing how they respond to different types of signals.

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Antarctica 2013--2014 Part 6: Antarctic Stations

Photo of map of Antarctic stations

Several people have asked me about the different stations in Antarctica. This time I'll provide some facts based on a table of the Antarctic stations displayed in the galley. Note that the version here was updated March 2009. More recent information can be found at First the permanent U.S. stations are Amundsen--Scott (South Pole), McMurdo, and Palmer. Their peak populations are respectively 250, 1000, and 43. The total peak population of all stations listed is 4460.

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Antarctica 2013--2014 Part 5: Home Sweet Pole

Photo of my room at South Pole

The flight was canceled before lunch. The next day (December 13) we were scheduled for another 6:45 AM transport. Third time turned out to be the charm. There were only 3 passengers to Pole so we rode out in a van to the "passenger terminal" (a heated building with no bathroom). There we stayed until around 9. Then we went to board the LC-130, which left pretty much on schedule.

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Antarctica 2013--2014 Part 1: Preparation and PQ

South Pole

As some of you know, I'm going back to the South Pole later this year in December/January. Preparing to go to Antarctica is an intensive process. Most of it relates to preparing the measurements and instrument upgrades we plan to make there. However, there's also a medical component. Antarctica is a "harsh continent" with high altitude (the effective pressure altitude at the South Pole is around 10,500 ft.), freezing cold, extreme aridity, and limited medical facilities.

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Antarctica 2012--2013 Part 9/9

[Note: This is the last in a series of posts adapted from emails I wrote while traveling to the South Pole for research in 2012--2013.]

This is the last entry from the South Pole. I just bag dropped for the flight back to McMurdo tomorrow (Jan. 4). The procedure here is even simpler than at McMurdo. The bag drop is at "Destination Zulu," the rear entrance of the station, so there's no need to drag bags outside. The cargo crew takes care of weighing so all you have to do is put a tag with your name on your bags and leave them there.

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Antarctica 2012--2013 Part 8

The Race Around the World was difficult. It was only -10 or so so full ECW wasn't required. I wore my big red but only long underwear underneath and fleece pants instead of snowpants. Even like that I was too hot with the big red all zipped up. I think just a normal jacket would have been better. Some kind of mask is required because breathing cold, dry air too fast can damage your lungs.

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Antarctica 2012--2013 Part 7

There's not much time for recreation when you're working 12+ hours per day.

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Antarctica 2012--2013 Part 6

Photo of me by BICEP2

Sundays has brunch instead of breakfast or lunch--just like old times in college. I got a made-to-order omelet with olives! People tend to be a bit more relaxed on Sunday or so I am told.

To get to work we had to put our ECW back on and walk 1 km from the Elevated Station to the "dark sector," where the CMB experiments are. The first time was quite difficult, partly because I was still acclimating to the altitude, and partly because I was carrying the box of scientific equipment. I didn't feel too cold, but the temperature was only -10 F and there was no wind.

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Antarctica 2012--2013 Part 5

Photo from Channukah party

I was already getting cold standing outside the station so I was happy to head inside. First they showed us a 10 minute briefing video, and then they sent us to lunch. It was cafeteria style with a few options including vegetarian. So far quality has been good, but not amazing.

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