It’s been a relatively quiet few days here at the South Pole.
Earlier this week we had DVs (Distinguished Visitors) that toured the facilities here at the Pole. What Distinguishes DVs from other visitors? Usually, money or power over money. In the case of the DVs that we had this week, they were members of the House Science and Technology committee. A trip to the South Pole is apparently one of the perks of serving on that committee. None of the DVs were anyone you might have heard of, unless you follow science funding or politics unnecessarily closely. The people on that committe have plenty of say in how much money the NSF is granted so it’s in the NSF’s best interests to see that they have an easy and enjoyable time of it at the Pole.
Most DVs don’t spend the night here because trying to sleep might cause them undue hardship. The Herc crews who spent one night here all said that they couldn’t wait to leave because they were quite uncomfortable in the altitude. One pilot said to me, “I don’t know how you people do it.” He’d been coming here for 17 years, but always on supplemental oxygen in the cockpit, and had never experienced the altitude before.
To avoid potential overnight stays, the itinerary for DVs usually is a Herc flight to the Pole in the morning, a guided tour of the station and science buildings, so-called hero shots at the Pole marker, some free ballcaps from the station store, coffee and cookies in the galley, and then a flight out on another Herc in the afternoon. It should go without saying that the DVs are driven everywhere in the station’s shuttle van so that they can avoid the hardship of walking in the cold, thin air. That doesn’t stop them from wearing every piece of Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear they were issued in Christchurch, however. At least they’re easy to spot because they travel in a tight wheezing group and they all look like the Michelin Man dressed up in red parkas. To put the icing on the cake, DVs are assigned a trauma team that accompanies them during their time at the Pole, just in case all these precautions to avoid exposing them to actual living and working conditions here fail and they still fall ill.
As you can probably read into my writing, DVs tend to cause polarizing feelings here. We recognize the need for what DVs have (money) but we have little patience for all the hassle and disruption they cause to our routines.
The dedication of the new station is coming up this week and we’ll have boatloads of DVs for the next week as a result. So, IceCubers here at the Pole spent some time cleaning up our workspaces this week. As part of that push, myself and a co-worker spent no small amount of time cleaning up in and around the IceCube Lab (ICL). We swept floors, tidied workspaces, and tried to organize the items we’re storing outside the building. The picture below is me (with an improvised broom handle made out of a bamboo flag pole) sweeping up the data center on the second floor of the ICL. Of course, the DVs spent maybe ten minutes in the building during their three hours on station.
We also had a Chilean traverse roll into the station this week. They intended to spend one night on station and roll out for the Pole of Inaccessibility. However, those folks didn’t exactly exude confidence. One member of the traverse was hoping they would call off their traverse sooner rather than later because he had his own plans to kite-ski back to Patriot Hills and he wanted to start earlier, rather than later.
IceCube recently had a management switch-over here on the ice as the previous on-ice lead was displaced by the arrival of an individual higher up the management food chain. The new manager is a senior scientist on the project, and he tends to over-manage situations and individuals. Unfortunately, we don’t need meddling scientists here right now. We need people who understand engineering, logistics, data communications, and the like. People who understand nut and bolts and how people who work with nuts and bolts think and work. It’s great that this new guy understands quantum and particle physics, but that doesn’t make him qualified to judge HVAC systems or how to move a 40-ton hose reel using a bulldozer. In addition, it’s clear from his attitude that we’re the just the hired help and he’s not much interested in getting his hands dirty. His attitude is quietly tolerated in his presence due to his position, but he’s not making any friends here.
I’ve been up on the roof of the ICL a fair amount the last couple of days working in and around our antenna box. The photo below was taken as I serviced a camera bubble that’s attached to our antenna box. Since I’m working over three stories above the ground, I’m wearing a fall-protection harness which would theoretically keep me firmly tethered to the roof if a sudden gust of wind were to come up. Those gusts of wind are rare at the Pole (we tend to have steady breezes rather than strong winds), but the roof is slippery and I suppose anything is possible.
Today I worked a connection with the BICEP project to get a tour of DSL (the Dark Sector Lab). As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re not supposed to enter buildings in which other science projects are housed unless we’re there by invitation. I met my connection last year while I was down here and he was nice enough to agree to give me a tour this afternoon. BICEP and the South Pole Telescope (SPT), also known as the 10-meter telescope, are both microwave telescopes that are looking at the background radiation of the universe. Neither project has the population on station that IceCube does, but SPT certainly is noticeable on the horizon so it’s a popular stopping point for DV tours. The focusing dish of SPT in its resting position can be seen in the photo below with the IceCube drill camp in the background to the left.