Greetings from the South Pole! by Geoff Sims
Yesterday (2nd January, 2013), two weeks after departing Sydney, we arrived at the South Pole. I am here as part of the USAP (United States Antarctic Program), on a joint Australia/American expedition. Our goal is to service a remote (unmanned) robotic observatory at a site called Ridge A.
Ridge A, approximately 1000 km from the South Pole, is thought to be the driest place on Earth. Here, at a physical altitude of approximately 4050 m, the water vapour content of the atmopshere is so low that far-infrared wavelength (or THz frequency) radiation, that is typically absorbed at almost any other location (even the Atacama desert in Chile), is able to reach the ground. Certain spectral lines in this region will provide important clues concerning the evolution of molecular clouds: the places where stars are born.
Prior to arriving at the South Pole, we spent a few days in Christchurch, New Zealand (the base of USAP operations), and then around a week or so at McMurdo, which is the largest US station, home to approximately 1000 people during summer. At McMurdo we organised all our equipment and camping gear, as well as undertook crucial survival training which included a “night” camping in ice trenches (and igloos!) in front of a smoldering active volcano. I say “night” because during summer in Antarctica, the Sun never sets.
Now that we have made it to the South Pole (or simply “Pole”, as it is affectionately known as around here), we will be acclimatising to the altitude and preparing to be deployed to possibly the more remote place on the planet, where we will camp for 5-7 days in temperatures down to -50 degrees C. If all goes well, the observatory and telescope will then run for a further 12 months, at which time another team will be deployed for the annual service.
There is an interesting article written about the expedition, in which our chief scientist, Dr Craig Kulesa of the University of Arizona, is interviewed. It can be viewed here:
I will try and report in later, but internet access here is sporadic at best (they use decommissioned geostationary satellites, whose orbits have decayed sufficiently to allow them to be seen from the polar regions). For now, you may details of our adventures which are documented in an almost daily blog at: