The first winter-over at Concordia

Part 4 — January

"Luigi, tu peux m'amener de la neige ?"    — Sylvain, most overheard sentence on the VHF radio of Dome C, about getting fresh snow for the melter.
Dome C pages:


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3 generations of accommodation at Dome C: the Rebusco container, originally brought here in 1993 and used during the first Traverses; the 4 sleeping tents with their tanks of heating fuel used since the first summer campaign in 1996; and the brand new Concordia station opening in 2005.

New Year 2005 in Dome C

Right: 3 generations of accommodation at Dome C: the Rebusco container, originally brought here in 1993 and used during the first Traverses; the 4 sleeping tents with their tanks of heating fuel used since the first summer campaign in 1996; and the brand new Concordia station opening in 2005.

For New Year's we repeat the same dinner process as for Xmas: a cocktail party followed by a large dinner and dancing on the Eve, and another large lunch the next day for those who are already out of bed. Soon after midnight we receive a message that doesn't bring good news: there's been an error at Prud'homme (the starting base of the Traverses) and a container of walls and equipment for Concordia stayed there. Looks like more Twin Otter flights are in order...

Around the lengthy dinner we share many Antarctic stories, including some that don't normally make it outside of Antarctica, because they are either too shameful, too localized or to funny to be shared with any outsider. Here's one anyway: it happened that a few years ago a bunch of rich people paid 65 thousand dollars (each !) to have a private company (ANI) fly them to south pole for the year 2000 eve. While they were waiting at the precise location of the South Pole in their super-warm outfits for the clock to turn to 00:00, a bunch of drunks came out of the Amundsen-Scott american station. One in particular spoiled their fun: he danced stark naked around the pole for half an hour, wearing only his bunny boots, his abundant body hair and bottle of Scotch... Things like this happen, I guess the Antarctic Experience has changed somewhat since Scott and Amundsen, but you know, if you read between the lines of their historic reports I sometimes think that the same kind of things did happen.


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That's me driving the Merlo crane to give a hand to Antonio as he's disassembling the chains off a snowcat (Photo courtesy of Sergio Tugnoli).

Left: That's me driving the Merlo crane to give a hand to Antonio as he's disassembling the chains off a snowcat (Photo courtesy of Sergio Tugnoli).

Jan 2nd — it's sunday so it's supposedly rest day again today. I'm at the experimental container, in parts doing my job looking at instrumental data, and in parts doing my first attempt at carving a block of hard snow. For this purpose I kidnapped Waddles, the stuffed penguin of Rich, to use as a model. After a while I have to stop due to whiteout conditions as I can't tell the difference between my 'sculpture', the ground and the sky. I finish the next day and it vaguely looks like a very fat penguin.

End of Epica

Jan 3rd — Epica is over, they all left this morning, except Ingar who will leave with the Traverse in a few days. Their ice will soon follow them on a special unheated flight. The Twin Otter came from McMurdo and left for Talos Dome so we are turning into a mainstream international airport (in the past there's also been flights to South Pole, Vostok and maybe Casey). There was only one incoming passenger, the doctor of the previous winter-over at DdU, who just performed a medical evacuation. Three workers fell from a raised container at D10, while preparing equipment for the Traverse: one crushed two cervical vertebraes badly and was evacuated towards McMurdo with a Twin Otter where he was taken care of by a very professional american team of medics and a quick C-130 off to New Zealand. The doctor is now also waiting for the arrival of the traverse to head back to DdU.




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Unloading a container off a sled after the arrival of the Traverse.

Service day

Right: Unloading a container off a sled after the arrival of the Traverse.

Jan 4th — Today is Service Day for Gian Piero and me. Every day two people taken among the entire station population clean the dishes. Nothing too fancy or strenuous, it lasts about one hour at lunch and dinner, we just stuff the dishes into the washing machine after a quick rinse. The trick is to try to use as little water as possible. What surprises many visiting scientists, after being themselves subjected to the dishwashing sessions, is that everybody does it, even the station leader. According to them, there's a fat chance of that happening at McMurdo. At DdU we also clean up the buildings and pick and process the trash, but here there's Aldo for that. He's supposed to be the nurse, but with his very peculiar sense of humor I'd rather see him with a trash bag in his (gloved) hand than with a syringe.

Arrival of the Traverse


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A Challenger tractor pulling an empty trailer bed.

Left: A Challenger tractor pulling an empty trailer bed.

Jan 5th — I type this with fingers still numb from the ride. This morning the Traverse arrived. Gabrielle Walker, a journalist present here to write scientific papers and a book about the science and people in Antarctica, author of Buy at Amazon.comThe Snowball Earth, decided to ride out to meet them as far away from Concordia as possible. I rode out with her as taxi driver but she soon decided that I wasn't going fast enough: after 5 minutes she took over and we finished the trip at the top speed of the snowmachine, not that I had time to watch the speed, busy as I was with just holding on. We rode for 16km before we saw the snowcat plowing the road ahead of the Traverse, which was still far behind. The traverse arrived in 3 trains, each having 2 or 3 Challenger tractors and 10 or so sleds. We were pretty frozen by the time we got there, and I had to ride back. There are only 3 traverses each year, so it's a pretty exciting event, all the station's vehicles rode out to meet them and everybody else was waiting on the north side of the summer camp, with a few waving from the roof of Concordia. They parked in the prepared flat area between the summer camp and Concordia in what looked like a choreography of engines and sleds.


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Icicles off one of the sleds of the Traverse.

Right: Icicles off one of the sleds of the Traverse.

Also today we received the official (and final ?) list of the winter-over people, it's changed somewhat since the meeting in Paris in september: a couple italians decided that either the pay wasn't enough or they couldn't stand a french chef for a year. Since it's only the first time and the station is not finished yet, there's a lot more logistics people than scientists: 10 to 3. Here's the final list on the below.

Munoz MichelIpev/PermanentStation leader/plumber
Le Calvez ClaireIpev/PermanentTechnical manager Concordia
Beausire StéphaneIpev/CtrlConstruction/welding
Bordais PascalIpev/CtrlRadio electronics/computers
Duraffourg Jean-LouisIpev/CtrlCook
Elegoet JeanIpev/CtrlVehicles mechanics
Galland MichelIpev/CtrlElectromechanics
Jurvilliers Jean-FrançoisIpev/CtrlConstruction
Mozer ChristopheIpev/CtrlMechanics power plant
Agabi KarimCNRSAstronomy
Dargaud GuillaumePnraAtmosphere physics
Dicasilati RobertoPnraMedic
Salvietti EmanuelePnraGlaciology

With the arrival of the Traverse, there was a small 'private' party in the Epica workshop. Now that the Epica glaciologists are gone, we use some of their facilities. I've been using their lab for a month, and sometimes we gather around the stove of their workshop tent to party a bit: cans of beers and a couple private bottles brought as personal survival gear or stashed as 'solvent' with scientific equipment. Someone comes out with a large ham and everybody starts laughing thinking about Jean-Louis who couldn't find the ham in the Twin Otter a couple days ago and who looked all over for it... Also bread and eggs fried directly on the fuel stove, a PC playing background music.

2005/01/07 — The Traverse came, unloaded their containers, packed up and left, all within 36 hours. They left at 6 this morning in a deep rumbling seismic noise, waking everybody on the station. The logistics personnel is going to spend the next few days organizing and sorting through what they brought us. Ingra, of the finished Epica project, and Fred, a medic who just came back from a medevac, are joining the Traverse back to DdU while two of the incoming drivers stay with us to help the Concordia construction. Apparently Fred is cursed: after just a day one of the italians on the Traverse develops a strong pain in the back and can't drive the Challengers anymore. One more medical evacuation, this time having the Twin Otter land along the path of the Traverse.

Architecture

Antarctic architecture is quite particular. The two main problems architects and construction teams face generally in Antarctica are the wind and the accumulating snow. The cold itself is not a big issue, since nicely isolated walls without thermal transmission between inner and outer walls or multiple windows are things that have been practiced for a long time in many countries. The wind is prevalent in coastal stations, such as Dumont d'Urville and the buildings need to be strong, tethered and relatively aerodynamical. Here in Dome C there's hardly any wind but we still have problems with snow drifts. There's only about 10cm of snow accumulation each year, but the heat leaking through a building leads to its gradual burial by melting the snow around it. The early plateau stations disappeared quickly under the snow: Charcot station lasted barely two years, the poor thermal insulation of the walls causing it to sink quickly in the ice back in 1951-52; ditto for Byrd I; even the great architectural dome structure at South Pole got gradually covered and was abandoned in 2004, before the pressure of the snow could make it dangerous.

So building directly on the surface is not a good idea. It's been tried to build directly under the snow, thus preventing the collapse risks. The 2nd Byrd station was designed this way, but you get airflow problems and people tend to turn claustrophobic, even in the dark winter nights. Only the Russian base of Vostok still use this system with underground tunnels connecting the 'buildings'. At the Dome C summer camp all the buildings (tents, containers or joined containers) are mounted on sleds, and every few years you only need to pull them a couple meters to bring them back on top of the new snow: a simple and efficient method, but it can't apply to large buildings.

The new trend is to raise the building up stilts. The new South Pole building is designed this way and knowing the average yearly snow accumulation it's possible to plan for the duration of the building.

For Concordia a new high-tech concept was invented: putting each building on 6 large hydraulic feet, with the possibility of raising the feet and either rebuilding the supporting ground or adding metal extensions to them to keep the body of the buildings above snow level. For the first years the hydraulics won't be operational (nor won't they be needed) as they haven't even brought the fluid and pumps to operate them yet. But within 10 to 15 years we'll need to operate them to keep the buildings from the slowly accumulating snow. The feet are connected to the ceiling of the first floor through the ground floor in order to avoid too much heat transmission to the ground, avoiding the unwanted consequence of melting the supporting snow. The tunnels bridging the buildings and the power plant are mobile and can stand a certain amount of extension.

Even more advanced is the design of the future Halley VI british station. It combines stilts and sleds allowing the entire station to be dragged on the ground while still avoiding the formation of snow drifts. The main difficulty with the Halley stations is that they are built on a moving ice shelf, so periodically they fall in the sea ! If this design proves successful, the 6th one of the name will be the last one to perish this way.

The architect of Concordia is Italian and performed most of his work away in Europe, coming only briefly (one afternoon !) to check on his work on site. The true soul of the Concordia construction is Jean-Paul Fave, a metal structure designer experienced in building airport control towers. His first Antarctic contract was to build the small control tower at the DdU airstrip back in 91. Then in 93 he was tasked with designing the metal structure of Concordia when the project of a permanent station here started to surface. Several years later he was 'ordered' here when the construction started and has since been coming every summer to oversee the construction.


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My frozen face melting off slowly after a few hours working outside. There's enough to drink in the mustache to last for a while.

Right: My frozen face melting off slowly after a few hours working outside. There's enough to drink in the mustache to last for a while.

In the meanwhile before the construction of Concordia finishes we all live in the summer camp. There's too much people anyway as Concordia will house only 34 in summer and 18 in winter (and only one room has been completed so far). Most people stay in 5 identical tents, shaped like half-tubes with 6 to 8 beds inside, a fuel stove, a ceiling fan to circulate the air, some storage and, very important, cardboard on the windows so we can sleep at 'night'. Our full body suits hanging from the ceiling, leading to some frights when you wake up at night and it seems that someone is standing on your bed. The tents are on a platform mounted on sleds and the fabric itself is made of several layers or plastic, bubble wrap and aluminum foil. They are quiet and fairly comfortable but we only go there to sleep. Radio operators, women, the doctor and station leaders sleep in the main building of the summer camp, a ragged mix of containers tied together which house the food storage, bathroom, kitchen, cleaning room, mess hall, italian TV and coffee room, and about 10 small dual sleeping rooms. There are a few other buildings spread about the camp, in particular the original Dome C accommodation: the Rebusco container, left here by one of the early traverses in 1995, before the summer campaigns started. The Rebusco is an all-integrated container, with melter, kitchen, generator, shower/bathroom, and some bunk beds. A few old-timers still sleep in it.



Telling details

If you were to arrive at Dome C, what would you notice ? A lot of small but telling details like: all the french have the same slippers, there's pizza for breakfast and cheese at every meal, naked women calendars above a coffee machine that doesn't deliver more than 5 drops of dark concentrate paste at the time, piles of stamped envelopes in the corners sent by totally unknown people, plastic bottles of beverages that have changed shape due to the freezing and subsequent thawing process, stacks of huge white Sorel boots in the entrance of the dinning hall, quadruple windows (often open), slippery ice forming on the ground at the joints between the containers and freezing our feet while we eat, piles of laptops with external drives in the office tent, stacks of DivX CDs in preparation for the winter...


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The operating room and communication center of the summer camp and two of its operators: Sergio (from whom I've borrowed many photographs you see here) and Sandro. Only Rita is missing but you can see her small photograph on the closet !.

Email problems

Left: The operating room and communication center of the summer camp and two of its operators: Sergio (from whom I've borrowed many photographs you see here) and Sandro. Only Rita is missing but you can see her small photograph on the closet !.

Jan 9th — It's our 5th day without email and I feel the weight of this lack of communication. I have 3 experiments with minor problems and I can't get outside advice easily. But also I can't get news from Jenny who is skiing, climbing ice, climbing rock, seeing friends and sometimes working. With email you can just pretend you are in the office getting in touch with friends; without it you are just left cold in the middle of nowhere. Which, I discover now, is exactly where we are ! The system here connects to the Internet, but the mail server in Italy apparently got hosed on wednesday. Thursday was a day off in Italy. Out of the 3 people in charge, one had his birthday on Friday and refused to come to work. The other couldn't be found and the third was incompetent. It's nice to know that our communications, whether for work or for fun, are highly valued. Maybe monday someone will figure it out. Anybody got any satellite hacks to send me ?

Jan 11th — The email is back after almost a week. Apparently many messages got lost, how nice ! I had another surprise at lunch, trying to open a brand new tube of mustard. A bunch of freezing/thawing processes combined with the low pressure and I ended up soaked with all the oil that had separated from the mustard. And I still have only one pair of pants, until the rest of my equipment arrives in a few days. Yup, the risks involved with Antarctic exploration are not what they used to be... I also broke my watch brace which probably froze when I spent several hours outside this morning to try to get the Lidar to start again in the proper mode. Not my day.

Arrivals

Last night a Twin Otter brought 4 more of the winter-over people, 4 french technicians who all looked identical: wearing the same standard issue clothing, in their forties, dark haired and all looking the same outside. Now only the doctor and another technician are still missing, scheduled to arrive in a few days. In the afternoon I pay a visit to the Concordia kitchen with Jean-Louis, the chef, who planned the minute details of the equipment. Everything seems to be to his liking, although he's not quite sure yet how to reorganize the restaurant between the summer where up to 60 persons can eat at the same time as a self-service, and winter where it will be a lot more like a cozy restaurant for us 13.

Jan 12th — After a few days of poor weather (winds up to 8m/s with temperature around -30°C) the sun was back this morning. I started to take apart a large ST radar installed a couple years ago. After barely half an hour a cloudy front overshadowed us and turned into whiteout conditions. After removing half of the bolts, I gave up for the rest of the morning. Later a Twin Otter flight arrived from Terra Nova Bay; I was hoping for my box of equipment, instead I got lots of mail: even a piece of Xmas cake from my mother in law ! I also spent some time looking for a CR10 datalogger sent by BTN before finding it in the kitchen stock; it was in a wine case so naturally the chef put it in his fridge !


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The Traverse after a stormy night (Photo Katell).

Left: The Traverse after a stormy night (Photo Katell).

Jan 20th — more than a week that I haven't found time to write. We are all beginning to feel the rush of the end of summer campaign. The Traverse reached DdU after some time stopped in a storm and the inside of Concordia is taking shaped: they are building one room a day and the word is that as soon as 13 rooms are completed we will move in so we can have a better idea of what is necessary, what is urgent and what needs to be done yesterday. The kitchen has also been completed.

Rita came back after 10 days working in Terra Nova but unfortunately my equipment wasn't with her in the Twin Otter. But plenty of salad and fresh fruit was. After 2 weeks on the Italica wrapped tightly in plastic bags the salad doesn't look all that good but it's still plenty good to eat something that hasn't been kept frozen for years. We have some packs of Nutella and the limit date on it is 1996 ! Well, no one has died of eating old Nutella before. If it wasn't enough the chefs make a waffle night and I nearly explode eating my last one.

Some time before yesterday's flight from Terra Nova, there was another flight coming from McMurdo carrying some VIPs. There was a inspector from the Ministry of Finance ! Sometimes I do wonder how they choose the places they go inspect, probably get a list of all the possible places and then gather in a circle: "I'll go inspect the new beach constructions in Tahiti", "I'll inspect the security of the cable cars in the Alps this winter"... Well, we got the one who chose Antarctica. There was also the owner of the australian company which builds the sleds for the traverse, come to accompany his works on the next Traverse. Their stay was short and apparently they had the time to visit most of the station, including the scientific equipments.


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Snow climbing on the garage walls (Photo Laurent).

One of the visitors was Alain Pierre, the scientific adviser on the French side who spent some time checking on the various scientific experiments and then doing some spherical panorama pictures of the various labs. He also gave me a hand finishing the dismantlement of the ST Radar installed 4 years ago and now needed in France for reassessment and replacement. There are 16 antennas organized in a large square, screwed to a frame that is itself built of various parts. Some snow shoveling and a couple hundred bolts later we are done. now we only need to put all those heavy metal parts in their crates, but those, after 4 years outside, are in pretty bad shape: rotten wood, holes punched in during transportation, rusted nails... I patch them up as best as I can and pile them up in the middle of the arrival path of the Traverse with a big return address written on them. Done.

Climbing attempt

Left: Snow climbing on the garage walls (Photo Laurent).


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Trying to climb back to ground level (Photo Laurent).

On sunday afternoon instinct and bad habits took over: I grabbed my axes and started looking for a place to climb. It's not like there's all that much choice... Dripping water from the roof of Concordia looks like a good idea but, besides the fact that we are very short on water, I'm sure Jean-Paul and his other construction colleagues would shoot me down quickly. The drilling hole is more than 3km deep but way too narrow to squeeze in. There's a small snow sampling hole next to my experimental container, but it's barely 4 meters deep. The winter garage is a better choice. This place serves a double purpose: in the back of it are stored for safekeeping one third lengthwise of all the ice cores pulled up by the Epica drilling project; and in the front are stored the large vehicles in winter. This garage is dug underground and the entrance walls are about 6 meters high, as high as it gets around here.

Right: Trying to climb back to ground level (Photo Laurent).


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Ice deposit on the garage walls (Photo Laurent).

Left: Ice deposit on the garage walls (Photo Laurent).

But first we go visit the back of the cave where ice crystals have been forming for the last 10 years, growing off the walls and ceiling, reaching impressive dimensions of more than 40 cm. Extremely fragile to the touch, they collapse in powdery snow if you barely touch them. We take some pictures for a while until the call of the axes sounds off. I clip my crampons and start off. The first two meters are in compact snow, pretty solid, but above that the snow turns increasingly powdery. Using cornice technique I dig a trench and manage to put my arms on the top (which is technically the ground since I started underground), but my feet dig and dig without finding a solid stance. After a while I give up afraid of having the whole thing collapse. The next 10 minutes I only do some traverses at the lowest level. In the afternoon I go do the only other kind of climbing possible here: BASE climbing ! I put on gloves with good friction and go climb the outside of the 35m american tower located just next to my container. One pitch of easy 5.0 climbing with escape possible every 2 meters...


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Ice crystal on the ceiling illuminated in red.

Right: Ice crystal on the ceiling illuminated in red.

In a more scientific nature things are going well with a few minor issues. One issue is that the ground thermometers of the CR10 oscillate exactly 0.5°C around the proper temperature. Not qualified enough to diagnose them (and besides the fact that they are now covered by a healthy amount of snow), I think I'll just write a Matlab script to filter out the noise. The Sodar has been operating properly ever since I removed the power saving options from the acquisition PC. Then comes the news that the Lidar data files I sent some time ago are poor quality. I bring the Lidar back inside, open it up and start running checks, the main one consists in turning it to near-sighted and putting it back outside for the same kind of measurements. Having no means to analyze the data I just run it for 2 hours, send the files to Italy and put it back to its original mode.


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Building the passageways for the various water and fuel tanks (Photo Hubert Sinardet).

Wiring up

Left: Building the passageways for the various water and fuel tanks (Photo Hubert Sinardet).

On friday morning all hands are called to help wire up Concordia. Most wires are for Karim's astronomy experiments. He has 2 twin-ethernet optical fiber lines (one of which he'll let me use, if I receive the proper conversion equipment in time), 2 twin-KVM optical fiber lines, a bunch of video cables from his astro-cameras, a couple CAT5 ethernet cables, some serial cables, power cables and some more unidentified cabling. We were supposed to work inside so I didn't dress up particularly warmly but the cables are all outside on rolls, about 100m from Concordia and we need to pass them through an underground tube. I'm just waiting while they pass the lead line, freezing my butts off under the roof of the first floor of Concordia, suspended 5 meters off the ground by its mighty hydraulic pillars. Between there and the containers of the power plant the wind creates a nice acceleration Venturi and I feel my jeans like solid ice against the skin. After an hour, we've pulled all the cables through the tunnel and we put their wrapped up end all together through a hole in the wall of the power station. Now we can go inside. We are about 15 people, spread through the entire trip of the cable, also a nice way to visit the station: it enters at the power plant workshop and goes vertically next to the water recycling system which Claire has just begun installing; then it goes through the junction corridor to the noisy building where I stand taping all the cables together every 50cm so they won't catch; it then disappears through the double ceiling and crosses the building like this, only to come out in the next junction tunnel to again disappear vertically up to the radio room and the labs on the 3rd floor of the quiet building. During this process us scientists also discover some of the healthy traditions of the Concordia workers, like the 10 o'clock pause where it's really crowded that morning.


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Introducing the water recycling plant inside its container above the power plant (Photo Hubert Sinardet).

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Introducing the water recycling plant inside its container above the power plant (Photo Hubert Sinardet).

Left: Introducing the water recycling plant inside its container above the power plant (Photo Hubert Sinardet).

All the people working here are very qualified in their own jobs, having no one else to rely upon in case of trouble, but somewhat more surprising they are also sometimes incredibly qualified in other fields. Where else could you find a plumber who runs BeOS on his laptop and knows how to configure a router ? Or a structural engineer who decides that it's more fun to be an electrician in Antarctica. The most interesting personality type are like this, although there are always a few "I'm only here for the money so leave me alone" types. Those don't usually come back for a second campaign. At the same time this leads to a lot of pretty strong personalities: at lunchtime I listen amused to a mild argument from one future winteroverer who asks the technical manager to move the sauna close to Concordia. The answer is refreshing to say the least: "Sure we can spend two days to dig it out of the ice, move it and connect it but then we won't have time to install the toilets for the winter. You okay with that ?"


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Jean Paul Fave, construction manager of Concordia, in good company with a tray of snails.

Evenings

Left: Jean Paul Fave, construction manager of Concordia, in good company with a tray of snails.

On thursday I do another digital slide show, this time with pictures of New Zealand where many an antarctician goes on vacation once his bane is lifted. The same evening I also show some of the data manipulation I've been working with, combining Antarctic elevation data and radar reflectometry, all in a nice OGL 3D animation program (soon to be freeware). There seems to be many presentations lately: on friday Donato, the summer campaign doctor who is about to leave, does his own slide show of the 'search for the real killers of the 950 000 year old ice core' that ended up in our glasses at the Epica celebration. And then on saturday Luca and Giacomo pull out several bottles of grappa and fruit in liquor as an after-dinner celebration. We are all sniffing it cautiously and trying it slowly while 'Papy' is still at the table, alone, eating his umpteenth tray of snails, just delivered by the chef. A few minutes later he's all surprised when he's presented with a beautiful reduced model of Concordia.


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Concordia and its reduced model (Photo Sergio).

Right: Concordia and its reduced model (Photo Sergio).

The rumor is that we'll move to Concordia on sunday the 30th. They are still welding water pipes, laying down flooring and wiring various connections inside, but I guess we have to take the plunge sometimes. Better face the problems while there is still plenty of people around to help solve them !

Equipment

Sunday January 23rd — A Twin Otter arrived shortly before lunch and my box of equipment is in it. After lunch I grab 3 other pairs of strong arms and we load it onto a showmachine sled. No wonder Jenny and I had trouble getting it down the two flights of stairs at our apartment: it weight 171kg ! I start unpacking: finally I'll be able to change sweater, pants and have more than 4 underwears to choose from. I check that the bottles of (good) wine have not exploded with the cold. Then I start unpacking my computer in the lab after wondering for a while whether I should move it directly to Concordia. I want to verify it first. After checking that things are in order inside, I switch the power on. Immediately I hear the dreaded click-of-death and the grub bootloader comes up with error 21 and won't proceed further. Already my main hard drive had failed just a week before shipping this equipment; I had to purchase a new drive and reinstalled from scratch both Windows and Linux in a hurry just before shipping; and now this ? The disk clicks so much it's not hard to find which one it is: one of the secondary drives, a 250Gb Maxtor which contains mostly pictures and scientific data. I remove the drive, but apparently I still can't boot. Here we go with a Windows boot disk, get into the recovery console, FIXMBR and I have a running windows. I'll fix the Linux bootloader later. Now time to robocopy all over the place to update from the backup I've been using in the last 3 months. I order a new HD in a hurry before the station closes for the winter, fingers crossed. In the evening I mount my telescope to check it and look at the sun for a while: two nice sunspots.


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Carlo Malagoli, the technical manager (Photo Tatiana).

Left: Carlo Malagoli, the technical manager (Photo Tatiana).

On monday we are supposed to have two airplanes at the same time at Dome C 'International Airport', with a flight from Terra Nova bringing supplies and 2 weather forecast colleagues, and another flight from the australian station of Casey, coming to pick a spare part for an airplane. Halfway during the flight, icing problems on the wings force the australians to turn around, but they'll be back a few days later. I spend several hours looking for the proper focus of the Lidar. On tuesday I help Giacomo install a wireless system in my experimental container: just a few screws to place, but the opening through the container is too small, we have to go back to Concordia get a drill. Then the battery of the drill dies before the hole is done, and it's back to Concordia for a spare. Finally we get the antenna installed on the roof and properly pointing towards Concordia, the adapter box connected inside and I can access the lab from the container. Back in the container where I launch a script to backup the last months of data, which will take a few days to run on a 11kbps wireless ! Then I access the various acquisition machines with VNC. After 2 seconds I loose connection with the Meteoflux. Damn, it's midnight and I still have plenty to do. I take a snowmachine and head to the lab, trying not to wake everybody up. I meet Tom as he gets out of his container, ready to climb the tower for the Nth time tonight to perform his night measurements. I kick the old WinNT box back into submission and take the opportunity to reboot all the other machines. I spend some time outside in the wind taking pictures of the midnight sun and as I ride back I notice that my nose is freezing. Barely arrived I figure out I forgot my glasses at the container and head back. When I finally make it back to camp I take the decision to upgrade my clothing from now on: the jeans, wool sweater and small cap don't cut it anymore with the night temperature now below -40°C. But for the next few days I'll have a sensitive nose. As long as it doesn't fall off...


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The view on the american mast from the window of my container, during a summer night..

Social interactions

Right: The view on the american mast from the window of my container, during a summer night..

It takes some motivation to get out of bed the morning. When I get in at night the tent is cold (inside temperature is currently around 8°C and we have normal beds), the blanket is too short (either my feet are out or my shoulders) and there's always someone who snores. So it takes a while to warm up a spot under the blanket and fall asleep; I also add my down jacket to cover my shoulders. In the morning the tent is warmed by the sun so it's hard to get out of a now comfortable bed. Part of the motivation is that due to the time zones I find Jenny's messages in the morning when I get to the lab, so it's usually the first thing I think about in the morning. Another part of the motivation is that all my other tentmates work at Concordia and leave at 8am sharp; they usually wait for the 'bus' in the tent until either the pickup truck, the snowcat or some other vehicle comes by and picks them up. So I don't want to appear lazy by staying in bed past this time. Workers already tend to considers that scientists don't do much, even if like in the last two weeks I've been working past one in the morning every night while they watch movies or drink the night away. They consider that we just come to them when we need something done. Many of them spend time to visit the laboratories to know what we are doing, but a few can't be bothered to know what happens past their screwdriver. It's from this little group that we hear things like: "Hey, look, a scientist working !" when we are in their field of vision pulling a cable or installing equipment. Another contributing factor is that we eat in two shifts: the Concordia workers first, then the scientists and other logistics people, so that doesn't contribute to mixing the groups.

Okay, so I spend some time each day updating this blog and that can hardly be counted as work, but letting the rest of the world know what's going on down south is an important part of the 'official' public relation activity of the various expeditions. I'm just doing my part ! Another reason of why I get up in the morning is to try not to get out of sync; with the 24-hour daylight it's easy to work whenever you want, having breakfast at lunch or later, but then you begin to miss some people and isolate yourself like I did during my first winterover.


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'My' container after Karim and Tatiana installed some more equipment: 2 PCs on the ledge above mine, several acquisition wires running from outside and a whole new mess of tangled cables to deal with. Fortunately they operate everything remotely (thanks VNC !). My equipment is also visible, from left to right: the meteoflux acquisition PC in the grey box mounted on the wall, with its tiny monitor underneath, the electronics of the Sodar and its acquisition PC, the radiometer PC.

Left: 'My' container after Karim and Tatiana installed some more equipment: 2 PCs on the ledge above mine, several acquisition wires running from outside and a whole new mess of tangled cables to deal with. Fortunately they operate everything remotely (thanks VNC !). My equipment is also visible, from left to right: the meteoflux acquisition PC in the grey box mounted on the wall, with its tiny monitor underneath, the electronics of the Sodar and its acquisition PC, the radiometer PC.

Troubleshooting

In the normal world, when I have technical problems I go to Google, and if I don't find a solution immediately I post on the appropriate Usenet newsgroup. Here I can access the web in very limited ways: either go to the radio room during the mail downloads and browse directly from the server, trying to be fast, unobnoxious and to limit the throughput. Otherwise I can use an email-to-web portal: I send an email with a query for a webpage and I get the page, converted to text, in a return message. Not particularly fast considering there are 2 or 3 connections a day. Otherwise for technical questions I rely on friends I write to, like yesterday when Max confirmed a bug in TightVNC under WinNT4 and gave me a workaround. Also Jon gave me indications on how to extract rsync from cygwin to use it from a USB key, so I can just go update my site directly from the radio room, without having to first email the patches to Jenny. Thank those two geeky brothers for what you are reading right now.

On wednesday morning I take a shower after breakfast and I'm still in it when Carlo, the technical manager, calls me up to come carry some cases of (my) equipment to Concordia. 10 minutes later I'm outside, with my still wet hair freezing solid to the hat. Two colleagues from the Italian weather forecast service arrived yesterday and they have only a few days to install a new real-time weather station, a replacement for the two summer stations that will be shut down, and the acquisition system for the balloon probes. So they have several cases of equipment that need to be taken to the 3rd floor of Concordia, or even on the roof. To reach the 3rd floor, we use the Merlo, put the cases in a box and Serge, a better Merlo driver than me, takes it up to the door opening through the outside wall, right at the max extension. I just pull the boxes in, my colleagues will take care of installing the equipment while I go back to the lab. Particularly since there's a huge mess in the lab: boxes of construction equipment strewn all around, an emergency evacuation 'sock' ready to fit on through the wall (which they obviously will have to cut open), cables dangling from the ceiling and more. I wanted to wait till the construction was even more advanced before settling in. I'm supposed to be getting the largest lab by pure chance: Karim wanted the lab with view on his installation, Emanuele needs the only lab with running water and the two others are taken by the radio room and the computer room. Not that I complain, but I'm going to feel lonely with only 4 computers for company in that much space. Well, provided they free the space of all the stuff taking it up right now.


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My little penguin ice sculpture, covered with ice deposited in less than a month via reverse sublimation.

Right: My little penguin ice sculpture, covered with ice deposited in less than a month via reverse sublimation. Image available as a free wallpaper

The second morning they are here, they finish the installation of the weather station. I go join them for a few minutes to see the installation. They've been outside all morning, one wears an ice mustache that must weight a good 100 grams. They complain that their snowmachine has gotten cold and won't start anymore. With a bit more experience (or so I think !), I manage to get it started after a few minutes and continue on my way to the container where I fix various things. On the way back the snowmachine keeps loosing power, and shutting down if I don't prime it continuously. I manage to get one hundred meters from the workshop before it finally dies. I walk the last bit to the workshop where the good natured Antonio looks tired of this happening continuously (not only to me !). We go get the snowmachine and, as I had a nagging suspicion, it was out of fuel. So I just got the blame for others. No big deal. In the evening I pull one of my only 5 bottles of wine for a pre-dinner drink. The coming days are going to be much harder on us all as the summer campaign is drawing to an end and it's a transition period before the winter-over really starts.

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