On the ice-shelf -- in a tent

Submitted by anelles on Tue, 11/17/2015 - 22:02

Three days ago, we finally made it. Boarded a helicopter with all our gear and flew over Black Island and Minna Bluff to Moore's Bay, where the ARIANNA stations have been waiting for us all year long.

Admittedly, it was windy and quite a bumpy ride in the helicopter. When the pilot tells the Helitec "Hey, we are only making 20 knots with respect to the ground at 50 knots headwinds, let's go to 3000 ft to see, if things get better", you already get the idea. It was very pretty though. Unfortunately, the weather has been getting worse ever since. This is also the reason, why there will be less pictures with this blog today. My tent is only about 15 meters from the science/kitchen tent, but in-between is a snow mount of a meter high (getting larger and larger) and outside it is about -10 degrees with wind speeds of probably 30-40 knots. Getting my camera to get pictures would currently turn into a mountaineering expedition and is therefore of lower priority. However, since we have luxuriously internet now, I might be able to upload some tomorrow. Oh no, wait. McMurdo weather said this morning via satellite phone that they expect it to be worse tomorrow. Well, the day after tomorrow it is then.

Thankfully, we are still over-motivated, which is part of the reason why we are in this situation right now. Our flights kept getting cancelled due to weather. This also meant that the BFCers (support staff from McMurdo) could not go out to set up our tent. So, on Saturday they went out in the morning and we were scheduled for the evening. During lunch time, they called and said that they were not as far as expected and maybe we should consider waiting until Monday and they would keep working in the field. There we were in our over-motivated state, thinking: "How bad can this be, we will just help. And otherwise we will get delayed further, if the weather is bad on Monday." So, there we were with an incompletely set up camp in -- what a surprise -- shitty weather.

Still, we are somewhat on schedule, if you don't count the day that we have spent digging up the equipment that had been left last year. Speaking about digging: Digging is extremely great, if the wind blows half the snow, you had just dug out, back into the hole. In any case, we have been able to excavate stations 14 and 17. 17, today, maybe with a little bit of too much self-confidence. While out there, at one point we had trouble seeing our way back in all the snow. Thankfully that was only for five minutes and we made it back safely.

So, what are we actually doing here, digging up stations? Foremost, it turns out that batteries do not like the cold. My laptop for example has just decided that 97% full is full and that I should not bother with charging further. For our stations this means that they cannot store power from the solar panels during the period in which you observe sun-sets here. Currently, the sun never sets. Finding neutrinos is all about looking for as long as possible at as much ice as possible. Therefore, we would like to also be online during the "spring" and "autumn" season. After a long search, involving hours in front of the freezer in the institute at it, it seems that we have managed to find some batteries that are good at these cold temperatures. So, we came with a box of new Lithium batteries (Hazardous cargo, don't ask how much fun this is) and they want to go into the ice now. In addition, we would like to upgrade some of the older stations to the newer data-acquisition board and make some measurements. So currently, we are done with station 14 and station 17 is here on the table. That sounds like we will be done after 8 days? That is what you think. 17 and 14 are only a year old and were therefore only about a meter deep. The real fun will start, once we get to the deeper stations. We will keep you posted ...

What else happened? There is nothing much else. You get up, you eat, you go the bathroom tent (or to the snow trench) and then you work and eat and sleep. Very exciting, right? Or as Corey likes to quote from "Das Boot", "Aufregend, ne?". *We are not sure, whether this is the actual German quote, as Corey tried to ask me for several options and decided that this probably was the one.
So, science is all about the comfort and glory. Or about getting to go places that maybe only 10 people see in a year, who knows.

The daily live is only slower than at home and less comfortable. If you ever thought about getting yourself a house without running water. Don't! We get up, get our "H2O only" bucket, go to a flagged area behind the kitchen tent, get snow and get back into the tent. After an hour and a lot of propane, we have enough water for the day. Thankfully, we cannot shower here, so we don't need that much water. With the downside of course that you don't shower for three weeks. We have already established a "no-mirror" policy so that we do not need to see our own increasingly greasy hair. And wet-wipes turn into your friend at all times. Also, changing clothes too often is out of the question. Part one, nobody owns long under-wear for 3 weeks and part two, you need to get undressed to change and that is cold. As far as I know, no one ever died of bad smell yet, so we will probably be fine. On top of that, running noses can be incredibly handy at times. Let me finish here for today, before I get into more details about bathroom stories. I need to keep something for the next blog, just in case we get really snowed in.

PS: You wonder, why we have internet in a camp in the deep field? It is actually pretty fascinating. Our stations use it to send data home, so we can leach onto it. So the data goes via a long-range wifi to a mountain (Mount Discovery, 40km away), from there to McMurdo station. From there, it gets sent to a satellite and from there to somewhere in the US and then it hits the internet. If we call someone with our satellites phone (Luxury, right), they see a number in Hawaii. So, that really makes a round-the-world trip then. Technology is great.