Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tunnel and IceCube Tours: January 10-11, 2015

Saturday morning I slept in a bit, and then went into the elevated station. After staring a load of laundry, Sean and I went out to the Cargo office to start the process of shipping the SIP back to the LDB facility at McMurdo, where it can be packed for the trip back to Texas. We ran into Dana at this point, and then headed back inside to the warmth of the elevated galley. After lunch, I went to medical to see the doctor. I’d managed to get a sliver from the plywood door of my room in the hypertat stuck in my palm and didn’t have a tweezers, but the doctor was able to get it out easily. I spent more time explaining the plan for SuperTIGER recovery and the science of SuperTIGER than I did getting the splinter out. The afternoon was pretty quiet—nothing particularly exciting happened.

After dinner, Sean and I met up with Mike the plumber, who had been in McMurdo two years ago (and apparently remembered the talk I gave in Crary Lab) and at the Pole last year, where he got to know Thomas and JohnE. Mike took us along on a “plumbing inspection” of the tunnels underneath the station. We started at the bottom of the “Beer Can”, a metal cylinder on the side of the elevated station that has a staircase and an elevator (that is currently under repair) in it. We started walking down the underground passageway from the beer can to the power plant and storage facilities, but about halfway down we ducked under a pipe and entered the tunnels. The tunnels are very cold—it was below -50 F when we were down there. The walls, ceiling, and floors of the tunnel are all made of packed snow, and at random places small holes, or “shrines” are dug out of the side of the wall and random things placed in them. Near the entrance to the tunnels were a series of shrines that apparently used to be located much farther back in the cave, including a frozen sturgeon that has been in Antarctica since 1992 and an ice sculpture of Roald Amundsen. A series of well-insulated pipes runs along the left-hand side of the tunnels (as you’re going in) with the right side just a walkway. The tunnels at the beginning were fairly wide, and a tunnel widening project is underway (they basically just cut away the snow with a chainsaw. Eventually, we got to a part where the tunnel narrowed down and we had to periodically duck around pieces of pipe that were sticking out. We turned down several side tunnels (some of which were lit, some we had to use a flashlight) and got to see where sewage from the station used to be dumped. We also got to see some of the work that Mike had done last year, including the opening where the station’s fresh water used to come from, which is now where the current sewage is being dumped. We made it out to the current Rodwell (the wells used for station water as well. The process for getting water that is used here is really cool—basically, they pipe hot water into the ice and snow at a certain point. This hot water melts the snow and ice around it to create more water, and then this water is pumped out and heated and the cycle continues. The water is piped into the well at about 90F and returns around 40F. The wells get to be about 500 feet deep and around 100ft wide before they’re finished, but a power outage can cause the equipment to freeze up. Once a well is done, a new one is created for water and the large empty hole is filled back up with sewage.

We walked around the tunnels for about an hour. At one point, I could feel my eyelashes sticking together and almost freezing to each other when I blinked. It was cold.

After the tunnels, we returned to the passageway from the Beer Can to the Power Plant, and went in and looked around. In addition to the generators, there’s a room where the fuel is slowly heated up (it’s stored at -55F, but apparently it doesn’t burn so well at -55. The water treatment room is next door, and we got to sample the pure snowmelt water from the current Rodwell. Then we walked back down the underground passage to the cold storage area. This is similar to the freezer building in McMurdo, and there are rows of stacks of boxes of food for the length of a long room. At the end of the cold storage room, there was a cage of extra Extreme Cold Weather gear, helpfully stored in the freezing cold. This also is the future location of the South Pole, thanks to the glacial drift of the ice around the station. We then went into the -55C Fuel Storage room, and saw all of the 9,000-gallon tanks of fuel that the station will burn through the winter. At the back of the Fuel Storage room—about 100 meters back—we went up a staircase and popped out of the “Mario Pipe”, located on the other side of the Geographic Pole from the station. Mike went back inside to turn off the lights, but Sean and I thanked him for the tour and then walked back to the station.

Inside, we warmed up with some Hot Chocolate and talked to Dana for a bit before going to the computer lab for the evening internet. After a while, we went back to our Hypertat. Dana and Sean stayed behind, but I walked over to the Carpentry shop for the Carp shop party for a while.


Sunday, I woke up early and walked to the elevated station for the last half-hour or so of the morning internet. I then went back out to the Hypertat around 8 and went back to sleep. Most people on station have Sundays off, so there are only two hot meals, Brunch and Dinner. I woke up again and went in for Brunch with Dana and Dave from the groom team, and shortly after that Sean came in too. After we had finished eating but were still sitting around the table, the Basler arrived with passengers. Soon, they called for all the outbound passengers to head out to the plane, and we walked out and said goodbye to Dave, who flew back to McMurdo on the Basler.

Around 2 I met up with Dave and Carol, who work on Automated Weather Stations, and who came in on our flight from McMurdo. They wanted to play Frisbee Golf on the course on station, so I said I’d tag along. We walked over to the carpentry office and then behind there met up with Paul Sullivan, the Science Support Manager for the station. Paul took us around the course, which goes around, over, and through berms filled with cargo. At the back end of the course, there are the remains of an arch that used to have work space but was decommissioned and left out in the show. It’s a huge metal structure that looks like some sort of crashed spaceship lying in the snow.

After we went through most of the course, I went back to the Hypertat to get a new battery for my camera, and then went to the galley to warm up. Carol, Dave, and I then went out to the IceCube open house. IceCube is a huge neutrino observatory located about a 15 minute walk from the station. Buried a kilometer and a half underneath the surface is a cubic-kilometer array of detectors. They have 86 strings of 60 photomultiplier tubes each, and they look for the Cherenkov radiation produced by a charged particle created by an extragalactic neutrino passing through their detector. We got to see one of their PMT enclosures close up, and then the server room where a lot of their data processing happens. I ended up asking a lot of obnoxious questions about the hardware, since they basically have a much, much, much, much larger version of the SuperTIGER Cherenkov detectors.

After the IceCube tour, it was time for dinner. We ate and then went to the game room for an hour or so and then got on the evening internet. Tomorrow the Basler should hopefully fly back to the Pole with an eye towards taking Sean, Dana, and I out to SuperTIGER on Tuesday.

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