Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Tip of the Iceberg

I’d like to give you some idea of the huge amount of effort that it takes to make a scientific endeavor like this a success. Our time in Antarctica is just the tip of the iceberg; a large number of scientists and engineers have contributed to ARIANNA. Equally importantly, many, many people have been working behind the scenes to provide the logistical support. Without enough food, fuel, clothing, equipment, power and transportation, this would be an uncomfortable and unproductive trip.

Although we will only be in Antarctica for a few weeks, preparations began many months ago. Special mention goes to Steve Barwick (UC Irvine), who is the ‘father’ of ARIANNA. He and Dave Saltzberg (UCLA) visited Moore’s Bay in 2007 and made initial measurements of the how radio waves propagated through the ice and reflected from the ice-water interface. Steve described ARIANNA in preprint arXiv:astro-ph/0610631.

Steve arranged this trip with the National Science Foundation (they run the U.S. bases in Antarctica) and with Raytheon Polar Services Corporation (RPSC; they operate the bases). RPSC provides everything from laboratory space to food and fuel to transportation and internet access. The US Air Force chips in with flights to/from Antarctica.

At LBNL, we have focused on getting the prototype station hardware ready to go. The picture (above) shows Thorsten with the electronics box. It uses electronics from the ANITA balloon experiment, converted by Steve and his collaborators for use in ARIANNA. Steve provided new antennae, and we added new RF preamplifiers and lower powered GPS receivers and updated the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) firmware. Lisa Gerhardt (LBNL) and Ryan Nichol(University College, London) wrote new software. Steve and his student, Jordan Hanson, even brought the solar panel, wind generator and associated tower up to LBNL and guided us through assembling it.

We also spent much time trying to think of everything that we will need in the field, since what we take is what we’ll have. There are no equipment piles, useful junk, or next-door labs to borrow an oscilloscope (or even a screwdriver).

We also had to undergo thorough medical and dental checkups, including many, many blood tests, and an EKG. There were also on-line courses on Antarctic ecology and adhering to the Antarctic treaty, and on computer security.

These preparations are the building blocks for a successful season; hopefully all of this work will pay off.

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