Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let the Science Begin

Sunday dawned warm and sunny; the clouds disappeared during the night, and the mountain tents got hot – probably in the 70’s, enough that I opened the door while dressing. Visibility is excellent; we can clearly see Minna Bluff to the South (above), and the Antarctic Coastline to the East (below), stretching away to the South (if these directions seem strange, remember that we’re about 15 miles out to sea, sitting on the ice shelf), and, with the direct sunlight, there is way more contrast than yesterday.

Breakfast was Muesli with milk, plus hot tea. We did a last few housekeeping functions – unpacking the solar chargers for the VHF radio(like you see used in war movies) and the Iridium (satellite) phone. Then, it was time to get started on science – unpacking and assembling the station ‘tower’, a 6 ‘ high metal-pipe assembly that will hold 4 solar panels, a wind turbine, and 3 GPS and 1 Iridium antennae. It should be robust enough to do this throughout the Antarctic winter.

The four tower legs sit on foot-square pieces of plywood, anchored via good sized wood screws. These go in easier with a power drill, so we needed to charge its batteries. Which meant setting up a generator. Which required opening one of the 5-gallon Jerry cans of “Mogas.” Unfortunately, someone did an extremely good job of tightening their caps; they defeated the best efforts of our hands, plus two improvised strap wrenches, one using Martha’s belt. Finally, we were able to open one can; this should be enough to hold us until Monday.

Lunch was gardenburgers with provolone cheese (the Swiss cheese preferred by some residents is still frozen) on bagels, plus curried lentil soup (from a package). The soup was OK (Martha and Thorsten would call it good), but the gardenburgers are great.

We used the Iridium phone for our 1 pm daily check-in with MacOpps. It is quick and easy, but the VHF radio might be cooler – we need to find time to set it up.

After lunch, the station tower came together, with its complement of equipment. It seems ricketier than it did back in Berkeley, but most of the strength should come from the guy ropes.

A word about snow, since we heard a variety of predictions. The snow here is quite fluffy, with a bit of a crust. Usually, boot sink in 4-6 inches. However, sometimes the crust holds, and you don’t sink in. This does not make walking easy. So, generally, putting the "deadman" anchors in was fairly easy. However, we have compacted the snow around the tower (by trampling on it), and so the digging is a bit harder. We also want these to be deeper –18 inches to 2 feet. So, they take some time.

Also after lunch, I called Ruth (my wife). The first try was one-way only; the 2nd worked well. For a guy who doesn’t even own a cell phone, it was strange standing on the ice in the middle of nowhere, talking to someone 2 continents away. They are celebrating Channukah. I brought a menorah and candles, and will celebrate once we’re a bit better established. Being away from my family is definitely the worst thing about this trip.

In the afternoon, we continued with the station setup. By dinner (rice and bean burritos, with cheese, green chili and salsa), most of the station was set up, but not yet connected:

We also worked on assembling the five dipole antennae. These are essentially TV antennae, with "some assembly required." Assembly is a bit painful. They have many screws, and not every box has everything that we need. There is considerable play in some of the joints, so there will be some antenna-to-antenna variation.

It's a good start.

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