- National Science Foundation


December 10, 2008, South Pole Station -- Hermann Kolanoski

First Time Working at South Pole

On the Way to the South Pole

The deployment to South Pole starts at Christchurch, New Zeeland, where the US Antarctic Program (USAP) maintains offices and facilities for polar outfit. Seen from Berlin, Germany, where I departed, New Zeeland is just on the other side of the Globe, so it does not matter if you go to the East or West to reach New Zeeland. Actually I went to the West to meet my colleague Tom Gaisser from UDEL with whom I continued the journey after some preparatory discussions of my work at the South Pole.

3700 km from Christchurch to the South Pole

From Christchurch it is ”˜only' 3700 km to the South Pole
From spring in Christchurch to an antarctic summer at the pole.

Checking out extreme cold weather equipment in Christchurch

Checking out ECW (”˜extreme cold weather') equipment in Christchurch (photos H.K.).

I saw Antarctica for the first time from a military transport plane approaching McMurdo Station from Christchurch.

Views from plane over Antarctica

First view of Antarctica: Approach to McMurdo Station at the Antarctic coast. (photos H.K.).

Amongst other cargo and people there was a helicopter in the middle of the cargo space on the flight to McMurdo (left picture below). At the Pole jet planes cannot land, so we continued in a smaller turboprop machine (right picture below).

Flight from Christchurch to McMurdo, cargo space on plane
Flight from McMurdo to South Pole station, cargo space on plane

Flight from Christchurch to McMurdo Station (top) and from McMurdo to South Pole Station (bottom). Photos Jim Haugens.

Arriving at the South Pole

When arriving at the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole my first impression was that it must have looked very differently when the Amundsen and Scott expeditions reached the South Pole in 1911 and 1912. Around the station there is bursting activity, with heavy machines carrying cargo, moving snow, digging holes and burning fuel.

Activity at the station
Heavy machines roaming the area

Activity in the station and the typical heavy machines roaming around in the area (photos H.K.).

The real South Pole feeling with the experience to be surrounded by an endless white desert you get if you go away from the station, for example on the recreational ski loop. Or you have to look out of the window of the dining hall ('galley') where you see the symbols for the geographic South Pole.

James Roth at Geographical South Pole
Hermann Kolanoski at the Geographical South Pole

James Roth (top) and Hermann Kolanoski (bottom) from the IceTop team as "heros" at the geographical South Pole (photos H.K.)

The South Pole is a cold, dry desert with extreme conditions which do not allow for any fauna and flora to develop: very low temperatures, essentially no humidity and high altitude (nearly 3000 m). The combination of these three factors requires taking special care of your body, in particular at the beginning: "Take it easy, drink a lot and pay attention to signs of freezing" are some of the rules you hear again and again. During my stay since mid November the temperatures varied between -40° C and about -30° C. When you work outside you have to protect every part of your body, which turns out to be most difficult for the face and fingers, the latter in particular if you have to do delicate work in the outside. In the outside it is difficult to recognize people because everybody keeps the face covered:

Face and head protection for South Pole extreme temperatures

Faces at the South Pole: James, Hermann, Tom and Perry (photos H.K. and Jim Haugens (upper right)).

The reasoning for maintaining a station in such a harsh environment is scientific research: meteorology, astronomy, research of the electromagnetic properties of the atmosphere, environmental studies such as the ozon and properties of glasshouse gases. The South Pole offers for all these projects special conditions which allow for research which could not be done otherwise. It is a nice tradition of the South Pole community that you can learn about these activities in special science lectures on Sunday evenings.

Jeff Cherwinka gives a Sunday evening lecture on the IceCube project and its scientific goals
Telescope set to detect the cosmic microwave background.

Jeff Cherwinka giving a Sunday evening lecture on the IceCube project and its scientific goals (top). A telescope to detect the cosmic microwave background. (bottom) Photos H.K.

For example, our project, the IceCube Observatory, exploits the fact that the South Pole has the world thickest glacier and we are deploying detectors for astronomical observations into the deep ice (see the blog by Tom Gaisser 2 days ago). Added to the deep-ice detector is the IceTop surface array on which I participate with my group of the Humboldt University in Berlin cooperating in a fruitful cooperation with the group of Tom Gaisser at UDEL.

Transport of IceTop tanks from cargo area to deployment site

Transport of IceTop tanks from the cargo area to the deployment site (photo H.K.).

Getting Started

Before coming to the Pole, I was mainly engaged in looking at the data of IceTop which we had taken with the still growing IceTop detectorsearching for physics results (about the physics goals and the methods to reach them I will write in a forthcoming blog). Although I had seen prototypes of our detector modules in UDEL before, this was the first time that I could really put my hands on the detector and help in the installation of the IceTop tanks (see yesterday's blog by James Roth). Being experimental physicist who likes to develop and build detectors, but being distracted from it by administrative and organizational work, I enjoy very much to be engaged in nearly all steps and procedures of preparing and installing the detectors. By the way, having seen the real detector and having understood its functionalities is a basic pre-condition to understand and analyze the data obtained with such a detector.

The work on the IceTop installation turned out to be harder and more demanding than I had expected. The notion that you should take a lot of books to the Pole to get not bored was, at least for me, far from reality.

IceTop team with DOM's

The IceTop team Tom Gaisser, James Roth and Hermann Kolanoski with the DOM's (in the boxes) named after Amundsen and Scott (the unpacked Scott DOM in the right picture). Photo Jim Haugens (left) and Hermann Kolanoski (right).

Currently we are a team of three people at the pole working on the IceTop installation: Tom Gaisser and James Roth from UDEL and me. My two colleagues are experienced both with working on the detector as well as with the conditions at the Pole. They introduced me patiently into my work and I had the chance to go essentially through all the installation steps described in the blog by James Roth: preparing the tanks, improving insulation, mounting and installing the 'Digital Optical Moduls' (DOM, the heart of the detectors and technically most demanding), installing "freeze control units" and filling the tanks with water.

The water filling became my special responsibility. I had to run a filter system ("Reverse Osmosis" principle), perform chemical tests of the filter output for each tank filling, fill our "water buffalo" transport tank and fill the water in the tanks. The tank filling proceeds with communicating via radio with James who is running the computer control in our laboratory tent. All of that may be easy at reasonable temperature, at Antarctic temperatures it is a pain to take care that no hose or valve freezes.

The water filtration system, kit used for chemical tests and transport tank

The water filter system, the kit used for the chemical tests and the "water buffalo" transport tank awaiting filling via the yellow hose (electrically heated). Photos H.K.