Saturday, May 3, 2014

On a magic carpet ride

Twilight colors at Arrival Heights, with Erebus in the background
Starting off with something pretty. The sun set last week, leaving us in twilight, and it has definitely gotten darker through out the week, as night continues to fall. But before we get to 24-hour darkness, we've been getting some lovely colors, at least when the weather cooperates.

This week was very eventful, hopefully the most eventful of the winter. Most of the excitement was related to CTBT. On Tuesday morning I got an email from the grantees that one of the vaults out at Windless Bight had gone down and they weren't receiving data from it. I spent most of the rest of the day organizing transportation out to the site and getting everything together. Since this is one of the few opportunities to get off station during the winter, the folks in admin also organized for a couple of stewards to along with David and I as a boondoggle.

The drive out to Windless Bight is about two hours and we started out in the dark, and we were able to watch the colors change as we got to the brightest part of the day. It was about -40 when we got to the site and started working.
The vault that stopped transmitting data out at Windless Bight

Marci and Will, our two boondogglers, hanging out in the cold

Getting out of the PB at Windless Bight
Once we got the vault open, it didn't take long to figure out what was wrong. The digitizer was off and wouldn't turn back on. So the solution was obviously to replace it with the spare, which was sitting back at McMurdo, since I didn't bring it out with me. I brought everything else, but not that. So we ate a quick lunch and headed back to the rock.

Wednesday night was trivia night, so I hung out at Gallagher's with the Flaming Mangos and ate a burger somewhere other than the galley.
Teams getting ready to play trivia
We were able to get the PB again on Thursday and the weather was clear, David and I headed out again the next morning, along with Kristy from Supply, and Jason from Fleet Ops. Another beautiful day, but colder than Wednesday.
Computers still work at -40, but not very well.
Jason and Kristy at the vault.
The digitizer was pretty easy to swap out and I got my computer hooked up and talking with the new one to make sure it was working. At below -40, my computer was still working, but it was slow and the screen started fading pretty quickly. The ethernet cable was tough to get out, since it kind of froze into the port. I ended up using a hand warmer to get it unstuck. Once we got the vault closed up and the door sealed, we got back into the PB and started for home. We got about a half mile and the Engine Control Error light came on. We called into the VMF and were told to turn the PB off and on again. We did that and the light turned off, so we started driving again. We made it about 30 seconds and the light turned on again and we figured out that we were able to get a top speed of about 5 mph. At that point, the VMF told us to sit tight and wait for a Challenger to come drag us back to town.
David frowning at the error light.

Looking back towards town. That is a lot of wide open space between us and them.

Looking out the PB window. You can see the lights of the Challenger in the distance.
We waited about three hours for the Challenger to come get us, spending our time talking, playing "Name that Tune", and napping. The Challenger got in position and we drove the PB onto the magic carpet, which is two long rubber sheets that get dragged behind the Challenger, so that it can tow things. Definitely the smoothest PB ride I've ever taken.
Jay and Kevin came and rescued us with the Challenger.
The magic carpet behind the Challenger
The PB in position for a magic carpet ride.
Getting ready to go.
Nap time on the ride home
Of course, once we got back to the transition at Scott Base, the engine light turned off and the PB started working normally. We think that it was probably just to cold out at Windless Bight for it to work right, and since it was warmer close to town, things started working again.

After all that, Friday was pretty quiet, and lead into our two-day weekend for May, which I'm celebrating by playing guitar and watching Game of Thrones with friends.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Night Falls

The water is still open around McMurdo, so we get all kinds of steam rising off the water as is cools.
We said goodbye to the sun this week here in McMurdo. We won’t see it again until August. Still, it’s not completely dark. We’ve got a couple of weeks of twilight to look forward to before that, and even then, between the moon and the lights in town, it won’t ever get really dark unless I’m up at Arrival Heights during a new moon. With the sunset and failing light, I’ve gotten some pretty cool pictures of town, though. The last couple of weeks have probably been the prettiest, even in crappy weather.
Low sun at Arrival Heights on a windy day

Sun behind the ridge

David saying goodbye to the sun at Arrival Heights
Night outside Crary

Ob Hill at night

 In celebration of sunset, about 30 of us took a field trip out to the plane crash site near Pegasus. The trip out and bad was about an hour each way and we spent about an hour hanging out by the crash. The plane crashed back around 1970 and the military never cleaned it up. So now the plane is mostly buried in the snow and makes for a good little jungle gym, and a good place to take photos from and on. The weather was beautiful, clear and calm and only a little chilly (chilly being about 0F, with not much of a wind chill).

Sunset through Ivan the Terrabus' window

David escaping from the wreckage

August and Ildi on the plane tail

Carolyn in the sunset

David devouring the sun for the winter

Jared modeling
 The field trip actually happened the day before final sunset, but SAR headed out for a training day during sunset. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the peninsula to see it, although we did get some good colors. It was probably one of our longer days outside, and one of our colder ones, too. We were out for about four hours (either actually outside or in the vehicles for a break between “rescues”), and it was about -20F, with about a -40F windchill. We recovered Mandy (our wooden dummy) twice, putting in main and belay line ice anchors to raise and lower the litter over the pressure ridges between her and the Hagglund.

We ran onto some mechanical difficulties and Luke from the VMF got us fixed up quick

Carolyn all bundled up

Brian (Kiwi), Rebekah, and Gavin marking the route and hauling our dummy out to be rescued

Sunset on the ice

Rebekah ready to go out. This one, and the rest of the pictures are from our previous SAR excursion. The temps were warmer and I was able to get more pictures.

Jonathan and Gavin

"Let's move"
Work has been variable lately. Some weeks it is very quiet, other weeks it seems like there is something going wrong with every project. So far this winter I’ve learned to do some linux programming, set up a new computer and weather station, started up the all-sky IR camera for the winter, set up a computer to talk to a new server State-side, and started getting ready to take down three of the UV sensors for the winter, along with my more regular duties. Outside of work, things have settled into a bit of a routine. Mondays evenings are photo club or barista-ing at Southern Exposure, which serving as the lounge/coffee house for the winter, and then music over at the firehouse with Patrick. Tuesdays are SAR classroom training and two-step. Wednesdays are trivia at Gallagher’s or just hanging out. Thursdays are soccer and Fridays are guitar lessons with Patrick again. Saturday night is Game of Thrones and the bar, sometime with a dance party, since it is our one weekend night a week. And Sunday is usually just a chill night in.
The all-sky IR camera is  up and running for the winter

Two of the three UV sensors that will be put to bed for the winter in the next couple of weeks.

Fireman Todd doing a fire inspection up at Arrival Heights

Rebekah helping with instrument inspections up at Arrival Heights

Arrival Heights at night
With the sunset, the temperatures have definitely turned. The last few days have been about the coldest so far this season. I've started wearing two jackets, rather than just my Carhartt jacket. Haven't broken out Big Red yet, but like full darkness, I'm sure it's coming.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Science Post: CTBT and AFTAC

Time for another science installment. This time I’ll be talking a little bit about CTBT and AFTAC. Both projects have the goal of detecting nuclear detonations around the world. The CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) project is funded by an international organization, and is part of a network of hundreds of stations comprised of seismic, hydrophonic, and infrasound detectors. They are used to look for detonations on the ground, in the water, and in the atmosphere, respectively. The project here is an infrasound system maintained by the University of Alaska - Fairbanks. It is located about 20 miles off station in an area know as Windless Bight because while it isn’t actually windless, it is much less windy than places closer to town.
The grantees for CTBT were in town in November and December and I was able to get out to Windless Bight twice in that time. The first time was as part of a fuel delivery for BOB (Big Orange Box), the orange building that houses the generator and computer systems for the infrasound array. The second time I came out was to learn about the generators and to learn how the onsite system works, just in case I have to go out there in the middle of the winter to troubleshoot. We’ll see if BOB behaves itself this winter.

Flag lines marking the route out to one of the sensors

A sensor vault in the distance

An ice fall in the distance.
AFTAC is the US Air Force’s version of CTBT and uses seismic monitors out in the Dry Valleys. I wrote earlier about my visit out to Mt. Newell and Bull Pass to help them work on their generators.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Science Post: CosRay

It's time for another post about some of the science I look after down here at McMurdo. CosRay is probably one of the coolest projects I work with. It doesn't actually require much in the way of support from me, but between the actual science that it does, the building that it is in, and the history behind it, it is very cool.
Anyways, CosRay is one of the longest running projects in Antarctica, having run continuously since 1960, with another very short run in 1958-59 during the International Geophysical Year. The CosRay Observatory is a cosmic ray detector. Cosmic rays are basically high energy subatomic particles that are produced by processes in the sun, or by further away things, like supernovas. So, these cosmic rays cruise towards Earth at nearly the speed of light, and when they hit the atmosphere, they are destroyed, producing a cascade of secondary subatomic particles. CosRay detects the neutron portion of these cascades.

A cosmic ray interacts with Earth's atmosphere on the wall of the CosRay building.
 By counting the number of neutrons that hit the detectors, the group is able to determine how many cosmic rays arrive at the Earth's atmosphere in a corresponding location.
McMurdo CosRay is part of a network of twelve observatories that make up an international monitoring network called Spaceship Earth. By studying solar activity, scientist are able to predict when major disturbances from the Sun might occur. The longevity of the study gives information about the solar cycle, which is 22 years long. The Sun switches polarity every 11 years, and at the middle of each 11 years reaches a solar maximum, which is when many sunspots and solar flares are observed. At these times, solar "storms" are most likely to cause problems here on Earth. For example, in 2003 a large magnetic storm affected 47 satellites, including one scientific satellite costing several hundred million dollars, and which was written off as a total loss.
A detector bank

One end of one of the detectors
The neutron counter at McMurdo consists of 18 tubes, arranged in three banks of six detectors each. Each detectors case is a 7-inch stainless steel case seven feet long and maintained at -2800V. The tubes contain boron triflouride (BF3) gas doped with boron-10, which is good at capturing low energy neutrons. Each tube is surrounded by a polyethylene sleeve surrounded by lead rings. The lead rings act as 'producers' because they will emit neutrons in response to a neutron hit. As the neutrons make their way into the detector, they will get close to a boron-10 nucleus and be absorbed. The boron nucleus then undergoes fission, producing electrons, which are accelerated by the voltage differential in the tube towards the counter.

Once upon a time CosRay required a lot more support than it does today, and there was a time when people more or less lived at the CosRay building. All that time spent there shows, since the interior has been elaborately decorated.
A rainbow ceiling

The New Cos-Ray

The reason the project exists


More rainbows
 Between the decoration and some of the old equipment, this building is one of the coolest on station.
An old "computer" counter. There is a corresponding "bit" bucket in the corner, holding all the paper punches this machine produced.

With all the advances in computers, CosRay doesn't need that much support anymore. I check on things once a week, and run out there whenever the router that controls data transmission goes out (which seems to happen at least once a week).

At this point, the plan for the project is to move it from McMurdo to the Korean base located at the same latitude, but about 300 miles down the coast. The initial move had been planned for this year, but the shutdown caused that to be delayed, so next year, two of the detector banks will move out, while the third remains here at McMurdo to collect data. Once the other two are set up at the Korean base, the third will leave here, and the CosRay building will be torn down. Kind of sad, but the program wants to start consolidating buildings, and tearing down older outlaying buildings is an easy start to that.

In other new, penguins are starting to arrive on station. The other night I went for a ski with Beth on the road to Pegasus and we ran into this fellow at Mile 2:

That is a molting Emperor penguin, so it will probably hang around the area for a couple of week. Hopefully the Adelies will start making their way toward McMurdo soon, because those guys are supposed to be funny to watch.

And New Years was great. The tradition at McMurdo is a chili cook-off and IceStock, a music fest of bands made on the Ice.

The line-up for the night

Watching one of the bands
 It is really amazing how talented the people down here are, and the music was amazing, as was the night. And the next day we had beautiful weather and a group of us hike out to Castle Rock for a picnic and nap. Great way to start 2014.