Waiting

Submitted by anelles on Thu, 11/12/2015 - 19:54

The things with anything that flies in Antarctica is that it relies heavier on weather than anything else. It turns out that a helicopter needs a relatively windless day with a clear sight of the horizon in order to land on the ice. And while the weather has been good so far, the wind really does not feel like cooperating.

After an amazing sprint through the McMurdo bureaucracy and all our training, we are now in "stand-by mode". The helicopter schedule is posted in the evening, your cargo that is supposed to go in front of you is on there. So far so good. For the past two days, this has been the case. What also has been the case, is that by 11 the next day, you have been give the information that the flight is pushed back to the following day, due to weather. This does, however, not mean that you get your equipment back in the mean time. So all our science cargo is nicely packed at the helicopter terminal waiting for us to show up. So, what do you do in the mean-time, if you cannot prepare further? As mentioned earlier, the internet is so slow that random surfing is totally out of the question. So, mostly you eat. While McMurdo is essentially only a dirty industry town in a very pretty environment, you will not starve here. (For people on a day-schedule) It starts with breakfast from (if you want to) 4:30-7:30, lunch from 11:00-13:00 (or 1 pm) and dinner from 5 -7 pm (17:00-19:00). For people on the night-shift there is also lunch at 12 am. Should you be hungry outside of these hours, you can always go the galley and get cereal, cookies or pizza, 24-7.

After I had my fair share of German student cafeterias, Dutch university cafeterias and American fast-food places, I was not looking forward to eating cafeteria food for a long. However, one can be positively surprised. The food tends to be heavy on the meat and colesterol side, but what do you expect in an area where people do outdoor work that raises your need for calories to about 5000 a day. Nobody can eat that many vegetables. Especially since fresh vegetables are a luxury in a place where all of this has to come by plane. Due to the Antarctic treaty, no foreign lifeforms are allowed. So now growing of mushrooms in the basement (or brewing beer for that matter) and no salad in the back-yard (even though one probably had to genetically manufacture salade that could survive the temperatures). There are only small exceptions, as we have heard during our environmental training. The kitchen is allowed to make yogurt. From frozen milk, I assume, but it turns out to be pretty tasty.

If I have to point out the best quality of the kitchen, then it has to be the bread. Yes, I admit, Germans are picky about their bread. There is nothing to defend about it. We like it with a lot of substance, a hard(er) crust and not sweet. And somehow, it seems to be pretty impossible for US supermarkets to have anything resembling good German bread. Usually, 90% are sweet or contain more preservatives than I can count, 5% are too dry and 5% are in principle good but contain extra fancy ingredients like olives or cranberries. Okay, I won't complain further about horrible bread, because I am still planning to kidnap the baker(s) here and take him/her/them back to California. The freshly baked bread here in McMurdo is delicious. That's it. No more words needed.

What else do we do while waiting? For example, you can join the lab tour. All scientists (or also called "beekers" by the non-scientist here, you will figure this our by yourselves, right?) are given an office in "crary". This building named after Alber Crary (a famous glaciologists, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_P._Crary) is home to all sorts of labs, from chemistry to biology. Here -- where I am sitting right now -- you will find wifi, a phone and everything you need for your research. Which is in our boring case, currently only a desk.

The by far coolest thing during the lab tour is certainly the aquarium. Because it has a touch tank. So you get to stick your fingers in pretty cold sea water to touch all sorts of strange animals. By far the strangest animals currently in the aquarium are the sea spiders. No fear, all of you with arachnophobia: "Taxonomically sea spiders are as related to spiders on land, as sea horses to horses."

With 8 - 12 legs, they live on the bottom of the ocean, move very slowly and suck the live juices out of slower moving soft body creatures. And it turns out that the ones in Antarctica are significantly larger than those found anywhere else, which has probably to do with the high oxygen content of the water. But, since it is science, this is still under study. And for this study, divers pick up these slow moving creatures and place them in the aquarium in caray. And on Sundays we get to watch.

I admit that neutrinos are not as tangible as sea spiders. Okay. Otherwise I would have totally posted a picture of one right here. So this only leaves me to close with a different picture from McMurdo.

You find this funny, great. Stop reading here, you are probably a scientist or otherwise very nerdy.

You don't find this funny? Let me explain.
ARIANNA is using radio antennas to search for neutrinos. So, if radio frequencies were something you should warn about, we certainly should be carrying such a sign at all times. Why should you not warn about radio frequencies? There are two reasons. One is more semantically. We can debate whether strong radio emission might be harmful, but the "radio frequency" itself is only a number used to describe the nature of the radio emission. So, a number is rarely harmful.

The second reason is that the sign does not provide enough information to draw conclusions to what to do, if you wanted to follow the warning sign and to protect yourself from the radio emission. Radio waves come in different frequencies of wavelengths. One wave can be as small as a millimeter or as long as 100 kilometers. Even if you believe that radio waves are harmful, clearly, something that is 20 meters long, will not affect a tiny little human. However, if it was microwave emission (like the one in your microwave at home), blasted out with a lot of power, you would want to be further away than just taking a couple of steps back. So, the bottom-line is that this sign is clearly not useful -- but entertaining.