Antarctica

Week 9 AMANDA String Deployment - Life Beyond Work?

12th December - 19th December 1999

This week has been a blur. It's difficult to put an order on when things happened. I know they happened this week, but which day or what time, no idea. I woke up a few hours ago wondering where I was. Why is our room in Richmond so dark - no I'm at SP. Why is someone making an All Call at 6:30am - hmmm maybe pm? This is work here at its worst. It doesn't have to be like this, and with some care it isn't. Work is always around you and it takes some effort not to sit down at the computer and work rather than sending some emails home.

I'm often asked about getting bored - what I do with my spare time. Well excess spare time is something I do not have a lot of. Presently I'm lucky to have the time to answer a few emails, write Helen, and write my weekly email. But I try and make it a habit to do something else. Otherwise when I do find a bit of free time I have to put considerable effort in to deciding what to do. This week I was lucky in that I received a book in the mail from Tony. So half an hour a day I knew I would be doing something other than work - something to look forward to that isn't work. Even in the winter I don't expect to get bored. I'm fairly good at finding interesting things for myself to do.

The temporal displacement is intensified by being on night shift. It can get very confusing to be eating breakfast when most of the people are having dinner. The only time it really seems sort of normal is at the mid-night meal called mid rats. But not only am I working nights, I'm sort of a swing shift - nights. Start soon after mid-day and go through to about 6am. Soon you start wondering if it is am or pm, which day, and even what date.

This week was different. We were expecting to deploy the first of six new detector strings for the season. The first step of deploying a string involves drilling a hole about 2km deep in the ice. This isn't done by AMANDA, but a group called PICO (Polar Ice Coring Office). They like the nickname red neck beakers. They use a huge hot water drill to melt a hole about 60cm in diameter straight down, using gravity to guide the drill. A huge amount of water is used in this processes, so they have their own Rod-Well. The water in the hole is re-circulated and re-heated in two stages - first to 4degC and then the 90degC at which it comes out of the drill. The drill is very high tech with bendy pieces of metal (like a Chinese lantern) that keep it centered and measures the diameter of the hole. It also measures things like the direction it's pointing, temperature, and pressure. The hole is filled with water up to the firn layer. The firn layer is where the ice is still compacted snow and full of air bubbles, down to about 60m.

At some point the drill is removed from the hole, and the hole is handed over to AMANDA. Then we have to set up all our equipment and deploy the string of 42 OMs (Optical Modules) within 24 hours - before the hole starts to re-freeze. This gives us around 30 minutes per OM as a minimum speed.

The OMs are mounted on a cable about 4cm thick. At every second mount point there are two electrical cables that connect to the OM at that point, and the one above. There is also a thiner cable (2 actually) which is for the optical connections. Above the hole is a tower with 3 arches over which the cables feed down into the hole. The cables come off 3 large spools controlled by a winch operator near the hole.

To start the fiber cable and main cable are hauled over the tower arches and some heavy weights are attached to the main cable. The fiber is then connected to the main cable with heaps of duct tape. The cables are then lowered to the first break out and mount point by the winch operator. Someone uses a small electric winch on the tower to lift the OM up and over to the hole. There are three people working at the hole. One person attaches the OM at the bottom mount point, I put an chain at the top mount point, and the the module is lifted and then attached at the top by the chain. The idea is to have all the weight on the cables that the module is mounted on, so that the modules are in line with the cable. I then make the optical connection and the other two people make the electrical connections. A final check is made at the end of the cable to make sure that the connections are good, and then the winch operator lowers the main cable down to the next mount point and the process is started again.

It was expected that a good average time per OM would be 20 minutes. The hole was handed over at around 5pm. I arrived soon after to start the night shift. We were mounting OMs by 7pm and even with a break to eat some time after mid-night, we finished the last OM around 4:30am! This was really quick!! The OMs occupy around 500m of cable, and then the cable is lowered another 1500m. As the cables are lowered (there are three at this point) they are duct taped together every 5m or so. This is the phase I like to think of as competition duct taping - or maybe roadie training. It was all finished by 7am, with very little for the day shift to do but some cleaning up.

We had some more tourists arrive for a short visit to the pole. However their was a change of plans for them when the weather deteriorated in Partriot Hills. As there was quite a few of them - they came in a DC-3 - they had no chance of station accommodation, so they had to set tents up on the other side of the runway. I think they arrived on Tuesday, and after a few days of living in tents in temperatures below -30degC, they seemed ready to go home - now! On Friday night I was in the galley when they were and I started talking to one of them. I thought they needed a distraction and invited them for a tour of AMANDA. In return I got to find out what it was like to be a tourist, which I found very interesting. They finally got to leave on Sunday morning just as we were finishing our deployment.

Also out of the blue Tim Jarvis and Peter Treseder passed through SP. Their homepage hasn't been updated in ages, so I hadn't realised how well they were going. They obviously saw no need to hang around at SP. Rodney, the other Aussie wintering, heard they were going through and went out and gave them moral support on their way through.

If anyone is interested in another view of life down here, the doctor, Robo, is writing for CBS. I'm not sure what the exact web address is, but go to ht

tp://cbs.com/

click on Science and Technology, and there should be something about Dr Robert Thompson. Some of the photos are taken by me using Robo digital camera. This was a favour to Robo, not CBS. After the fuss over the film crews coming in I don't think I'll do it again.

To be continued .......

p.s. 21st December : I was walking back from Mapo with another amanderite, in the wee hours of the morning, when we noticed something strange at the Ceremonial Pole. It was two sleds, with Arnots, Commonwealth Bank, and Australian Geographic logos on them. I went in to the galley to find Tim sitting at one of the tables with ice still in his beard. I said hello and asked what had happened. They had got 100km from SP and found that two of their fuel containers had leaked. Not only were they short on fuel, but a large amount of food was contaminated. So they had no choice but to come back to SP to minimise the cost of their retrieval. They looked in amazingly great shape and there is no doubt they would have made it. Tim was also extremely friendly and patient with everyone wanting to know what happened. They were deservedly proud of their achievements and records, especially the fastest trip to the pole at a blinding pace.

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