Week 8 January 21 2007 Finishing the Major Tasking
Unlike my emails, a summer season at Pole has structure, a beginning, a middle, and an end. A sure sign that the end has been reached is the job of retroing cargo. We had 2 major tasks for the end of this season, the decommission of the temporary building we have used these past 2 years, and the retro of equipment from this building, along with the usual pieces of equipment that fail during the year.
Someone pointed out that IceCube's cargo is always heavy, fragile, and expensive. The computers we are sending out are certainly all of these things. The first hurdle was that the temporary building is small, and we can only pack a few computers into cases and then have to move them somewhere else. Luckily we had a Jamesway not more than 20 yards away. But right out side the door of the temporary building was a deep trench for cables entering the new building. Once a computer is put inside it's case it weights about 120 pounds. The racks, which we are also sending back, weight about 200 pounds, and the UPSs about 120 pounds. By the time we struggled out with about 40 computer cases and 5 racks we were exhausted. But it doesn't finish there. Now they all have to be packed into large wooden shipping crates. But the crates don't fit into the Jamesway. This becomes a dance. A cargo person uses a forklift to put a crate at the end of the Jamesway. We then pack it as quickly as possible. This one get moved out of the way and a knew empty one replaces it. While we pack this one, the full one is loaded on to a sled. After a few hours the sled is full and cargo takes it away to their DNF storage. After lunch it happens all over again.
It took about 3 solid days to finish emptying the temporary building and getting the cargo off. Luckily it wasn't longer because everyone was looking tired. At this point all of my major tasks for the season were complete. There was one thing that I had to do before I could leave - get the new lab into shape. It looked like a disaster zone. I hate messy work spaces, and there was no way I was going to leave it like it was. But motivating people to clean up after themselves is always difficult. I got lucky. On Friday a DV (Distinguished Visitor) delegation was to arrive which included the director of the National Science Foundation and the Prime Minister of New Zealand. So with the cry of "we have to clean up for the DV visit", the ICL was organized to within an inch of it's life. We even mopped, something I'd been wanting to do for ages to try and get rid of some of the dry wall dust that all new buildings have.
We've had a couple of important DV visits this year, including a congressional delegation, and an international Antarctic treaty inspection, but this one made me a bit nervous. I've never given a tour of IceCube to a Prime Minister before, and it was the first time a director of the NSF has visited the South Pole. It took me awhile to realize that my performance when giving tours depends on the feed back that I get from the group I'm showing around. The congressional staffers are usually young and energetic and ask very informed questions. I gave a good performance to them this year. This group was slightly older, and this usually means the altitude will slow them down more. They looked slightly overwhelmed and soon after I started talking I could see glazed stares coming back at me. I tried to adjust on the fly and this caused me to loose track of what I was trying to say, and forgot to mention some important points I'd wanted to make. In general it wasn't one of my greatest performances. Afterward when we chatting informally Dr Bement made some nice comments about how impressed he was and likened us to a NASA mission launch. He also mentioned he had got very good feedback from the congressional delegation. The group was quite large and some of the other DVs were very interesting to talk to. I chatted to Helen Clark a bit, but she looked very tired. A DV visit must be an exhausting experience for the members of the group. Even when they are being chauffeured and their stuff carried for them, there is always someone trying to make an impression on them, and every minute is scheduled.
Something I get a lot of questions about, and should briefly talk about, is what I wear. Of course the main thing to dress for is the temperature. During my time this season the temperature has been between about 0degF and -35degF. This is typical summer weather for South Pole. Layers are always a good idea. But because we are always going from inside to out, it can be a pain in the neck. Typically I wear 3 layers. Often 2 would do, but you never know when you might need to walk back to the station, or stand around outside, in which case that third layers is going to be missed. The 3 layers are typical of anywhere that gets cold, thermals, a fleece top and pants, and then an outer layer. The outer layer is probably the most interesting. The inclination might be to wear the lightest clothing possible. Trouble is I have worn the same clothes fairly much solid for the last 7 weeks, and I'm often doing heavy work. So the clothes need to be durable. Also if you're doing something outside and you have to sit around for awhile, you don't want insulation that crushes like down will. So I wear typical cold weather gear for an outdoor worker in the Mid West, Carhart insulated overall bib, and a insulated Carhart jacket. As a scientist I also get issued the typical heavy down filled red jacket, and wind pants. The red jacket is great, but too hot and bulky for the summer, and the wind pants are too light weight.
The most vulnerable pieces of your body are your extremities, hands, feet, and head. Everyone develops their own system. In the summer I bring my own gear for these. On my feet I can get by with heavy hiking boots, my favorites being Scarpa SL leather boots. For my hands I have Black Diamond guide gloves, the most durable and warm gloves made, but they come at a price. When I wintered and the temperature got below -50 I swapped to Black Diamond sub zero mitts. These kept my hand warm to -100! I might have to do the old trick of balling my fingers into my palms every so often, but they are amazing mitts. Finally head gear has by far the biggest variation. I've known people who wore a snorkel, and others that have had a device that Darth Vader would be proud of. I wear a thing called a Head Sock, which is a wind proof fleece balaclava with an long extension of non wind block fleece which you fold back into it. The inside part you can pull up over your face and breath through, while the rest keeps the wind out. For a bit of final insulation I have a fleece hat I put over the top. There's nothing too special about our gear except it's fairly heavy weight.
There was one small task I had to finish this week to feel like everything on the official schedule was done. We had been waiting for some conduit to be installed so we could run antenna cables for GPS clocks and an Iridium modem to a heated box on the roof of the ICL. This had been finished on Friday, and on Saturday we finished installing the antennas.
With all tasks completed and the place looking ship shape and Bristol fashion, I decided we need to have an official transition from construction to operation ceremony. I sent out an email to the entire station inviting them to come to the ICL for the tour of the building, and for the ceremony. We had about 2 dozen people show up. At 5:19pm, as noted on the commemorative rack blanking panel, the South Pole Area Director and Senior NSF Representative cut a ribbon to mark the occasion. Even tough I still have work I want to finish, there isn't anything critical or that someone else can't do. When that ribbon was cut I suddenly felt like almost 2 months of tension was lifted. A task that had at times felt like we were never going to finish, was finally done. It felt good.
To be continued....