Antarctica: November 2008

15-November-2008 -- 16-November-2008

I'm back in Christchurch for my fourth (and possibly final) trip to the ice. After about 20 hours of flying, it's time to wake up with a long black.

Steffen's coffee has a fancy swirly fern. Amy's coffee definitely took the prize though: it had a chocolate spoon.

The view from the coffee shop. Quite a pleasant sight to see while trying to wake up.

Steffen, Shaun, Amy, and me. They were kind enough to let me join the winterover huddle for one day.

We left the coffee shop but had to turn around and drive back because someone left their ipod on the table. Some things never change. :-) Fortunately, the ipod recovery mission was successful.

The drive between Christchurch and Diamond Harbour is very pretty, with lots of green and hills. A couple of birds happened to be hanging out here as we drove by.

A carload of crazy Polies. We all look ridiculous except for Captain America, who is very serious.

This is what happens to your home if you spend a year at the South Pole.

Time to go inside and see if the place is still in one piece...

Steffen's home is like a tree house, and we're all outside admiring the view. That's the bike that Steffen is going to use for his road trip.

Between the trees, you can see the harbor in the distance.

A lazy, fluffy, floppy cat that hung out with us.

Dana is ready to cook some pasta! Whoo!

Shaun and Steffen, the toasty A-Team!

After dinner, a short walk down to the wharf. The city lights are beautiful at night.

The moon over the water at 6am. Same thoughts, different place and different time.

This friendly moose was my sleepover buddy.

Time to head back to Christchurch for ECW clothing issue. After walking down to the wharf, a quick look back towards the starting point...

...and the final destination in the distance.

After only a short wait, the ferry arrives and starts taking us across the water. I made a mental note not to stand too far back on the boat.

Back at the CDC, where we're herded into the lobby to watch the ECW instruction video.

It's quite a crowd for tomorrow's flight, and the lobby is pretty packed.

We report back to the CDC at 6am tomorrow morning, and our flight is supposed to take off at 9am. That's the long list of passengers posted on the board.

After returning from clothing issue, it's time to absorb some final green from the gardens.

Happiness is green.

The rose garden looks spectacular at this time of the year.

Here are some very pink roses...

...and some red spikeys.

The garden is full of secret winding paths that are surrounded by massive green trees.

Although I've walked through the gardens every time I've been in Christchurch, somehow my random walk has never taken me past this fountain until today.

It's a particularly nice fountain, I think.

On my way out of the gardens, this little flower caught my eye.

And now for something completely different: a goofy bird in a hard hat.


We woke up bright and early and arrived at the CDC at 6am to check in for our ice flight.

The first few folks are getting themselves and their luggage weighed.

Since this might be my last trip, it's time to get all those hero shots that I've avoided doing in previous years...

...and taking pictures of anything else, no matter how small or insignificant. That's my boarding pass.

The waiting area is overflowing with orange bags and parkas for this flight.

Finally, it's time to go through the security checkpoint and board the plane.

We got on the C-17 around 10am (after a weather delay), and I fell asleep almost immediately. After what felt like at least an hour or two, I woke up again and was so groggy that I couldn't tell if we were in the air or not. Then I realized that everyone was still buckled into their seats...and soon afterwards, the flight crew announced that the plane had mechanical problems and couldn't take off today. So we were all taken off the plane...

...and directed into the NZ customs holding area. On the bright side, free coffee and hot chocolate!

Evan and Patrick found additional entertainment in the lounge area. Fortunately, we weren't held for too long before the flight crew confirmed the cancelled flight.

Back in Christchurch for one more night. Shaun just had a large cup of coffee and is very happy, but I think everyone else is in a food coma.

Steffen is modelling Shaun's new hat. I think he's trying to look like Denis.

Shaun's leaving Christchurch late tonight, so one last goofy photo.


Another day, and another attempt at the ice flight. We returned to the CDC in the early afternoon and were transported to the plane again.

There's the C-17, waiting for us.

Sack lunches are handed out, and we quickly board the plane.

I was the last person to board, and I got a seat in the very front. From where I was sitting, I could peek up into the flight deck.

The crew's getting ready to close up the plane...

Luck is on our side today, and we left Christchurch without any problems. The huge white box takes up most of the interior space, so this flight feels a bit crowded.

The white box is fairly long, so there aren't many rows of squishy seats in the front.

The sack lunches always contain something strange, and this year is no exception. These bags of cookies contain "two units."

After a few hours of flying, people start looking for interesting sights out the window. Detlef and Robin, who work on AGAP, are hanging out with me at the front of the plane.

I think Robin sees something interesting outside.

We were allowed to pop up to the flight deck for a quick look around at the shiny buttons...

...and the stunning scenery.

Detlef and the blinding light from one of the windows.

Here are some of the pictures of the snow, mountains, and glaciers below.

These are some of the guys who were working the flight. The navigator, on the left, was flying to the ice for the first time, and he had the silliest excited grin on his face for most of the trip. It was priceless. :-)

Lots of antsy passengers milling around the plane as we approach McMurdo...

We're here!

The gateway to wonderland.

It's a beautiful day in McMurdo, and I'm thrilled to be back on the ice.

We're quickly stuffed into the Terrabus and slowly start making our way to the station, following the road that's marked with a long line of flags.

The view outside the Terrabus...

...and the people, parkas, and orange bags that are crammed inside.

We finally arrive at the station...

...and we're subjected to yet another arrival briefing. At this point, it's nearly 10pm, and we still have to check out our rooms and bag drag for the Pole flight. No time for exploring or penguin hunting this time. :-(


Transport for the Pole flight is bright and early at 7am. The distinguished visitors (who are bidding for the NSF Antarctic support contract) were directed into the airporter, while the riffraff was herded into this classy delta vehicle.

The delta is basically a giant I guess it's kind of like a hay rack ride. The interior is covered with stickers and graffiti, some of which dates back to 1990.

There's our ride.

The flight crew wanted us in the plane quickly, so there was only enough time to take a couple of pictures.

Once again, I was the last person on the plane, so I'm sitting right next to the exit.

With all the distinguished visitors, it's a pretty packed flight. Bad luck hit us again and the plane had some maintenance problems that delayed our departure...but fortunately, the flight crew made repairs within half an hour.

There was no room for my orange bags except on these posts, where they're hanging from some hooks.

Yet another hero shot.

Another view of the cramped interior. It was nearly impossible to get up and walk around, so I'm glad that this flight is a short one.

After a few hours, we arrive safely at Pole. It's early in the summer season, and it's still a bit nippy outside.


John, Kiwon, and Jeff are leaving today. Tomo's at the front of the crowd, ready to take pictures.

I think Yuki is planning on skiing behind the plane.

Time to board the plane!

There are still some leftover signs of winter on the walk to the lab. ASTRO is nearly completely buried by snow drifts.

Three years ago, the stairs on the end of the building were still visible.

Over at MAPO, a wave of snow is crashing into the VIPER ground shield.

The walk between MAPO and DSL is almost hilly, and there are some sastrugi along the way. There's a nicely compacted foot path on the left that's lined with flags.

I'm staying in the A1 wing for the first time, which has somewhat bigger and fancier rooms (generally reserved for Alpha Beakers or people with massive amounts of ice time).

Another remnant of winter.


I really like walking past these snow formations every day...

What's the singular form of sastrugi anyway?

The foot path and the flag line.

The other side of the VIPER snow drift.

Some things on our whiteboard haven't changed over the past nine months. I like the new sticker though ("you are leaving the American sector").

We're starting to sort the lab equipment into the stuff that goes home by plane (orange tape), stuff that gets hand carried by Hien (green), and the stuff that stays (red). Yuki suggested that I stick some red tape on myself. :-)


For the past day or two, we've been thawing out a couple loaves of bread that have been frozen on the roof of our lab for over a year. We finally brought one back to the station for dinner today, and it was surprisingly moist and tasty. Remarkably dense too -- between Yuki, Evan, Tomo, Robert, and me, we only managed to finish half a loaf.


Team BICEP received a surprise letter yesterday. A random guy in Korea wants us to reply to his letter so he can get an Antarctic postmark.

This is the reply that Tomo composed. Things to note: the CMB is polarized, there's a box of frozen bread next to the BICEP ground shield, and the Polie's name tag says David Hasselhoff.

Later in the evening, a visit to the music room. Yuki and Tomo are trying to get the theremin to work, but none of us could figure it out.

Leath is playing keyboard...

...while Tomo plays guitar.

Tomo gave Yuki and me a quick lesson in the basics of drums. Yuki is going for an action shot here.

After the drums, time to try out the keyboard...and the upright bass guitar...and every other available instrument. :-)


We're preparing for this weekend's Thanksgiving celebration, and tonight's activity is potato peeling. James, fortified by his glass of wine, is ready to go!

We're just barely starting to fill the potato bucket...

Meanwhile, Flint and Shelby host pub trivia on the other side of the galley. Damien insisted that we play and peel at the same time.

While most of us are peeling, Keith is in charge of chopping. He gets to wear a fancy slice-proof Kevlar glove.

The potato bin is starting to fill up...

Leslie and one of several boxes of potato peels.

James Brown emerges to crack the whip cheer us on.

After the potatoes are done, time to move on to carrots, cucumbers, and (pain-in-the-arse) kumara.

The bucket of peels is getting pretty full. All of that stuff will be boiled and turned into vegetable stock.


While passing through the hallway today, we got volunteered to help with beverage unloading and storage. All the boxes of wine are for Thanksgiving. :-)

Delivery complete! Beth takes over from here, and the rest of us prepare for a field trip out to the cryo barn with Flint as our tour guide.

The first thing I noticed in the cryo barn is this trophy. (Flint claims that it doesn't belong to him...)

Flint changes into his official beaker suit (which says "cryo boy"), and we're ready to begin the tour!

The first stop is these massive wessington dewars, which store the station's supply of liquid helium. Cold heads at the top of the tanks recondense the helium boiloff and help keep loss to a minimum.

To help monitor the helium supply, each dewar sits on top of massive load cells. Yuki insisted that I be in the picture to give a sense of scale, although I refused to stand on the dewar to add my weight to the readout.

Another view of the wessingtons.

The next tour stop is the storage tanks that are used to transport liquid helium on the planes. The complicated plumbing on the end is used for some combination of filling, venting, etc...

The storage tanks are huge, long cylinders. This time it's Yuki's job to provide a sense of scale.

There are two tanks, side by side, and it's the perfect place to take a superhero photo.

The other ends of the storage tanks...

...and Yuki, Tomo, me, and Flint, enjoying good times in cryo.

Finally, it's time to get to work. Today Flint is filling one of the "small" dewars for BICEP, and it may be the last helium transfer for this season. :-(

The first step is getting the weight of the dewar.

Next, we climb up to the top of the wessingtons, and Flint prepares to insert a stinger into the middle tank.

After the stinger is inserted...

...time to attach the transfer line between the wessington and the small dewar.

Some older, unused dewars sit in a corner of the lab. We used these during BICEP's first year of operation.

Before attaching the transfer line to the small dewar, Yuki opens the valve to precool the line.

After liquid helium is spraying out the end, it's time to quickly insert the transfer line into the dewar.

...and that's it! Now Flint is just reattaching the the dewar to the scale so we can monitor the weight during the fill.

While we're waiting for the dewar to fill, there's plenty of entertainment. Yuki and Flint are admiring the helium plume coming out of the vent port.

Yuki inflated a rubber glove and placed it in front of the venting gas.

The glove quickly shrank and collapsed. One of my favorite physics demos of all time. :-)

After the rubber glove, time for another o-ring experiment. This one shattered spectacularly when Flint gave it a squeeze with the pliers.

After awhile, solid air starts to build up on the vent port. Usually, Flint breaks off the ice so that it doesn't restrict the gas flow, but this time we were excitedly taking pictures. Liquid air is also dripping from the port.

The next round of entertainment: standing in front of the plume, inhaling the cold helium gas, and talking like a chipmunk.

Meanwhile, Tomo is still lounging on top the wessingtons and taking pictures of us acting silly.

All good things come to an end. The plume from the vent port changes appearance, so the dewar is full and it's time to stop the transfer.

But before we leave the cryo barn for the day, one last bit of fun: transferring a tiny bit of liquid helium into Flint's thermos. The bit of clear plastic prevents cloudy vapor from obscuring the view.

It's impossible to see the liquid line in this photo because the index of refraction is so tiny. But if you aim the flashlight in the right place, you can see boiloff and where the bubbles hit the surface. The ice buildup at the bottom is all solid air.

Later in the evening, it's time to make pies for Saturday's Thanksgiving party. John the baker brings out a massive pile of ingredients for us.

Robert's breaking open the huge bag of brown sugar.

Dan's ready to add condensed milk to the pumpkin goo.

Flint and Dan are having a little too much fun shaking the cans of milk (like a polaroid picture).

Instead of real eggs for the pies, we're using these cartons of "egg product."

I think Flint is making fun of Robert's tight gloves again.

Flint is clearly intimidated by Dan's large pitcher of milk.

Robert, having been the target of Flint's insults one too many times, accuses him of stirring like a girl and grabs the whisk away.

Meanwhile, at the other table, people are cutting up bread to make a large pile of stuffing.

Lots of food in preparation...pumpkin pies, apple pies, pecan pies, stuffing, and wrapped brie.

Anthony and Kricket are in charge of the brie wrapping and decorations.

We're finally finished making three batches of pie mix, and the last crusts are being filled. Saturday's dinner is going to be awesome. :-)


Happy Thanksgiving! Appetizers for the second dinner seating started at 5pm, and people are starting to gather in the hallway.

The food was amazing, as usual.

It's a bit hard to socialize in the narrow corridor, and most people are standing against the walls.

A lot of people dressed up for the occasion, including this guy with a homemade foil suit.

Curtis is looking sharp with his spiked hair.

Lots of people hanging out near Club Med, where there's a little more space.

Curtis really sticks out of the crowd, literally.

Pete asked me to get a photo of his tie, since this is the only place on earth he can wear it.

Yuki also joined us for the BICEP photo.

Meanwhile, Mark, Tomo, and Chris are providing live music entertainment.

Finally, it's time to go into the galley for dinner. As usual for holidays, the tables are beautifully set.

Pete's ready to eat (and drink some white wine).

Second seating is the most popular of the three, and the galley is packed with Polies.

Yuki and Pete are listening to a couple of short speeches and toasts.

On my side of the table, Flint (the chipmunk)...

...and Tomo are my dinner buddies.

It's foilman's turn to get some food. Yes, that's a turkey coming out of his shorts.

Yuki sat on the correct side of the table and got his food before me. Good thing too, since he's apparently hungry enough to eat his plate.

By some bad stroke of luck, Flint and I were the last two people to get food.

However, the food is well worth the wait. I helped peel those potatoes, carrots, and kumara! :-)

We're still struggling to finish our dinner by the time the galley is getting cleared out for the third seating.

The music is still going in the hallway, and this time Leath has jumped in to play keyboard.

While waiting for the third seating to end, I got dragged into a game of pool. Yuki is about to demonstrate his pool shark skills, but he has some stiff competition from Robert.

After a few rounds of pool, we wandered back into the galley, where a handful of people were waiting for the party to start.

Some more onlookers on the other side of the room.

I actually don't know who this guy is...Robert stole my camera and took a bunch of random pictures.

Some more pictures of the evening's festivities that don't need accompanying descriptions...


After a sleepy Sunday brunch, a few of us went outside to go sledding. Yuki's trying to decide whether or not he can squeeze onto the cargo sled.

He can squeeze in, but there's certainly no room for me, so I'm the designated photographer for the first round.

The sled actually picks up a fair amount of speed going down the hill, and it goes for a long way even on the flat ground.

Yuki, Amy, Craig, and Flint are slowly making their way back up to the top of the hill.

For round two, we split into two teams and raced down. My team won, so I'm still far from the bottom of the hill while the other team is already back at the top. ;-)

Sledding in -30 degree weather gets painful quickly, so we (Yuki, Amy, Flint, me, Craig) ducked into the cryo barn to warm up.

Amy hadn't seen Flint's superhero costume yet, so he brought out the official cryo boy outfit.

After playing, time to get back to work. This is BICEP's LAST HELIUM FILL EVER!! :-( Next week, we warm up the telescope and begin taking it apart...

Yuki, our unofficial summer-over, is handling the helium transfer.

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