Week 1: Maintenance & Marathon

The first full week in January was busy, although the detector itself was well-behaved with no issues to speak of. I was on dishpit duty on Monday, January 4th. The next day, the second of the South Pole Overland Traverses (SPoT) arrived, bringing more fuel and station supplies for the upcoming winter. We had another community cook day give the galley staff time off for Christmas on Saturday, January 9th. The science crew made grilled cheese toasties.

Maintenance work on the roof of the ICL

Our main task was to perform some maintenance on the IceACT camera on the roof of the ICL. IceACT is an Air Cherenkov Telescope that is normally operational over the winter - we installed a new power connector and swapped some of the trigger cabling. The camera is an array of silicon photomultipliers (SiPMs), each with a Winston Cone on top. What is a Winston Cone, you ask? It’s an optical element in the form of a revolved parabola which collects light from a larger area than an individual sensor can; each SiPM has a cone glued to it. Our job involved flipping the camera upside down to access the control system underneath, and we discovered after righting the camera that one of the cones had fallen out. Fortunately, the IceACT team had shipped us some optical resin and spare cones, so we were able to install a replacement. All being well, we will re-install the telescope on the roof next week.

On Tuesday, January 5th, we had our first emergency on station. During routine maintenance of the power plant, there was a carbon dioxide leak. There were fortunately no injuries and two fire brigade members were on-site to supervise, so they were able to immediately respond. The rest of the Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) were activated (first response, fire, medical and logistics) and worked to search the area around the power plant, monitor oxygen levels and begin ventilating the area. The logistics team is responsible for providing things like fans, and medical was on standby in case anyone was suffering from CO2 inhalation (again, fortunately nobody did). Martin is on the medical team (ERT4) this year, and Josh is in the fire brigade (ERT2). This was a somewhat awkward problem to respond to, until the atmosphere was safe to re-enter.

The South Pole Marathon

The weekend was host to the South Pole Marathon! The course was a full-length marathon that wound around the station and was a good way to see all the sights that South Pole has to offer. Around half the entrants ran and half walked. The men’s full marathon was won by Brendan from BICEP, clocking in at an impressive 4.5 hours. The prize? Extra shower time; well worth it. While a 4,5-hour marathon might normally be considered “good”, bear in mind that running on snow is very draining (like running on sand), the temperature is 20 below and we’re at a physiological altitude of around 3000 meter - that’s a fast time! Whereas Josh and John walked (and partially ran) the half marathon, I photographed the event, ending up with 240 out of 2000 photos. One thing’s for sure: Compared to a marathon, the way out to the ICL is very short.