Antartica: T -5 days

Submitted by anelles on Mon, 10/26/2015 - 12:02

After having shipped most of our equipment already more than a month ago, we are getting ready to leave. We, who is we? We are a team of three scientists, who go down to Antarctica this season to perform maintenance and some environmental studies at the site of ARIANNA. Since I, Anna, am the newbie on the team, who is going "to the ice" for the first time, I have been put in charge to report about our experiences and what three weeks in an isolated field camp feel like. Plus, I am German, which might give me the opportunity to also pick-up on interesting American habits. I have been hearing that McMurdo station on Antarctica is one of the most American places on Earth ...

All three of us are currently working at the University of California, Irvine, which is located in sunny Southern California. This will have the interesting side effect that we will be going from sunny 25 C to temperature of below 0 within a couple of days. To make matters more interesting, the policies of the contractor that is taking us to the ice have changed this year: we are now responsible for our own underwear and socks. Clearly, extra thick woollen socks is what you have in your closet in a region where water never freezes outside. Only closely followed by baselayers in the categories of thin and extra thick. So, preparing to leave for Antartica also means shopping for winter clothes in shorts and flip-flops. And wearing woollen hats underneath of palm trees:

Anyway, back to our trip. We will be leaving on the evening of October 31st, probably because this means extra cheap tickets when the rest of the country is dressed up as monsters and zombies. After, hopefully, having made it safely to LA traffic, we will be up for 15 hours of Quantas Airlines to Sydney. After a "short layover" of a couple of hours, we will then be flying in the opposite direction again to Christchurch, New Zealand. There, we will be equipped with a one year visa, which we will hopefully not need in its full extent, and our polar clothing. Then, a plane will take us to McMurdo station, where we will go trough snow-training and will be reunited with our equipment. From there, a helicopter will take us to our experiment that is located in the middle of a lot of ice and snow on the Ross-Ice Shelf. We will stay there for three weeks, repair and upgrade our hardware and do some measurements.

On of the measurement, for example, will be of the radio-background at 50 MHz. Currently our antennas only measure as low as 100 MHz and we could extend our sensitivity for neutrinos by using lower frequencies. This is of course only true, is there is no human-made noise (think of radios, electric equipment such as generators, converters) at the lower frequencies, which will disturb our measurements. At urban areas, the range of 80-110 MHz is where you would usually find your local FM radio station, so it would not be advisable to go this low. We are, however, not expecting the Ross ice-shelf to have an FM party station, so thing are looking good. But one lesson, that all scientists can confirm, do ever say that there SHOULD not be a problem, unless you have measured it yourself.

After three weeks out on the ice, we will return to McMurdo, and are booked on a flight to return to New Zealand on December 7th. From there, we will see when we can catch a plane back to California.

So far the planning. As it turns out, Antartica is one of the few remaining places on Earth, where flight schedules are not guaranteed and you might be stranded on the ice for a couple of days due to "bad" weather. This is likely to impact our schedule. We are hoping that you won't find a blog at this site saying: "Merry Christmas from Antartica", but we will keep you posted.

PS: The comment functions on the website might not be working perfectly. And since we did not dare to do an update before half the team is on their way out (we need this site for science after all), you might need to use the contact field, if you have questions or would like to comment. I guarantee that questions will be addressed and followed up on.

PPS: For all of you that like to read smaller and more frequent updates: I will try my very best to also keep Twitter updated. @arianna_on_ice