Michael Ashley receives funding from the ARC and other government funding agencies for his research on astrophysics. Professor Michael Ashley recently returned from Antarctica where he was deploying a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, 850km from the South Pole. The sky was crystal-clear this morning, and we were rewarded with a nice view of the waning moon.
As the sun’s altitude decreases during late January and February, so does the average daily temperature – at a rate of about 1?C every day. It was time today for our team to take stock of progress and ensure we were on schedule for a possible deployment at Ridge A this week.
Fortunately, [Craig Kulesa, University of Arizona] reports that our HEAT [High Elevation Antarctic Telescope] is in rather good shape.
We find ourselves in possession of the most sensitive 55 Kelvin (-220?C) 810 gigahertz heterodyne receiver on the planet. Remarkably, Henry arrived at the South Pole just last week after having retraced Amundsen’s route. So Henry has essentially retraced the two most famous journeys to the South Pole: Amundsen’s and Scott’s. Henry also showed side-by-side comparisons of photographs taken in 1912 with those of today – there is essentially no visible difference. Gazing out over the plateau from the galley at breakfast time I notice a group of five newly-arrived expeditioners taking “hero photos” of themselves out by the Ceremonial Pole. Nothing unusual there, except these folks had taken the Australian flag and raised it a metre into a position of prominence.
They turned out to be fellow Sydney residents who had skied the last degree of latitude (111km) to the Pole, raising money for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation – an Australian charity that provides equipment to children’s hospitals. Meanwhile, I learned from Andrew – a kiwi diesel mechanic at the Pole – that one of the station’s three one megawatt diesel engines is currently stripped-down for maintenance. There is an supplementary engine to cope with peaks in demand, and there is an entirely separate backup power plant in the elevated building, just 20 metres from my bedroom, to cope with a catastrophic loss of the main engines.
There we plan to turn the experiment on and conduct a full-scale test of the remote operation of PLATO-R. Prior to moving PLATO-R we attend a ceremony at the Geographical South Pole to mark the 100th anniversary of Scott’s triumph in reaching the Pole, and the tragedy of his death.
At the conclusion of each of the half-dozen speeches, the audience of almost 100 applauded, making an unusual sound with everyone wearing thick gloves. The ceremony at the Geographical South Pole to mark the 100th anniversary of Scott’s arrival. Campbell and Luke completed packing PLATO-R at 10:40pm, and it was then moved by tractor to the flight line. We have now assembled all the equipment and people we need for the snow-grooming flight to Ridge A. I suggest to Loomy that, given Ridge A is only 30 metres or so lower in altitude than Dome A, if he could make a sufficiently large hill of snow he could claim the highest point on the Antarctic plateau!
Testing PLATO-R near the flight-line has uncovered one problem: the observatory doesn’t automatically make Iridium satellite contact as expected.
Also, typing on a keyboard at -30?C requires using the lightest mittens, which means I have only a few minutes before I have to retreat to a nearby aircraft maintenance shack to warm up.
At 7am, Loomy and Shawntel learn that conditions are perfect for the camp “put-in” at Ridge A. The flight information displayed on the “galley scroll” showing our first flight (KBC heading to AGAP-Ridge A, third from the bottom). With the snow-grooming machine, skidoo, the minimal safety equipment for a camp, and passengers, the flight weighs almost exactly one tonne. The flight is uneventful, and by early afternoon Shawntel is busy making a kilometre-long skiway, while Loomy is digging out a camp kitchen and setting up tents.
Fortunately, enough of the skiway preparation was complete by then, since the following morning they were unable to restart the skidoo, which had cooled down to -40?C overnight.
Meanwhile, back at the Pole, we’re all busy with final packing and checks of the instrumentation to be ready for our first flight, which could be as early as tomorrow morning. At the 7am briefing we hear that weather conditions are perfect today, both at Pole and Ridge A, which means our flight is on!
I have decided to stay at the Pole so that I can handle the remote communication with the observatory once it’s set up.
So this means Craig, Campbell (UNSW) and Luke (UNSW) will be the deployment team at Ridge A, assisted by Loomy. The Instrument Module fits in the Twin Otter with only centimetres of clearance, as designed. At 6pm the Twin Otter returns to the Pole and I meet the pilot and co-pilot where they refuel on the side of the skiway. Two hours later I receive the tell-tale signal that PLATO-R is alive and communicating on the internet.
Another perfect flying day today, and after the usual 7am weather briefing, I head out to the aircraft to assist the pilot and co-pilot load the cargo.
In my hurry to race out to help with the loading, I left my normal gloves behind, and the only ones I now have are thin leather mittens.
Our pilot, Gary, climbing out over the 350kg Engine Module after having loaded it into the Twin Otter. After watching the Twin Otter take off, I trudge out to the MAPO building and begin the process of preparing the Polar Haven tent for disassembly and tidy up the huge mess we had made over the past few weeks.
It is frustrating to be isolated from the rest of the team and not know what is happening at Ridge A. I later learn that the cold temperatures meant the Iridium phones were almost impossible to use, and that Craig was in fact replying to my emails but a confusion in the naming convention meant I didn’t see them. Later in the day I can see that the PLATO-R batteries are connected and being charged by the solar panels. If we lose the ability to monitor even one cell – which can easily happen through static electricity damage – it severely compromises the performance of the experiment. Another exciting development is that we now have seven webcams running at Ridge A, as well as an all-sky fisheye camera called HRCAM3 (High Resolution Camera number 3).


While webcams are not directly related to the science, they provide useful diagnostic information such as: is the HEAT telescope covered in snow?
An image from one of the seven web cameras on the roof of the Instrument Module, showing the HEAT telescope.
The cyclists turn out to be Helen Skelton and her travelling companion Niklas Norman who have just completed a 500-mile journey to the Pole using bikes, skies, and kite-skis.
I hurriedly put on my ECW gear and race down to the Ceremonial Pole to meet the adventurers and take some photos.
Helen Skelton and Niklas having just skied, biked, and kite-skied 500 miles (800km) to reach the Pole. While Helen and Niklas were cycling in, three Toyota Hiluxes from “Extreme World Races” turned up.
To avoid crevasses the lead truck used a ground-penetrating radar on a boom about five metres ahead of it. The trucks are mainly support vehicles for the race itself, which features seven groups of three skiers covering about 800km to reach the Pole. Craig is only able to type for ten minutes at a time on his Macbook Air before having to put it away to warm up. Craig working on his laptop computer in his tent, connected by a 50 metre spool of cable to PLATO-R. The final instalment in Michael Ashley’s Antarctica Diaries will appear on The Conversation in the next week. Where the ice meets the sea: Antarctica’s ice shelves play a key role in how fast ice sheets melt. St Vincent’s scandal: what is cancer chemotherapy and why is correct dosing important? Iconic Battersea Power Station has for many, many years concealed it's internal secrets, whilst cheekily occupying the south-western London Horizon and imaginations of many bored commuters (not to mention Pink Floyd fans). Much like New Years Eve with warnings of big queues and waiting times, we decided to get there on Saturday morning pretty early, armed with something to read, many things to discuss, a bite to eat (in this case brekkie) and a few cups of tea. Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned coal-fired power station located on the south bank of the River Thames. The inflatable pig was tethered to one of the power station's southern chimneys, but broke loose from its moorings and, to the astonishment of pilots in approaching planes, rose into the flight path of  Heathrow airpot.
Apparently the queues stretched for over a mile, from the park to Albert Bridge and Vauxhall Station. Long-term expat and explorer, foodie, perma-tourist, photographer, restaurant lover, bookworm, brunch queen, flat white addict, geek and wanderlusting wanderer. PowerNet chief executive Jason Franklin and service delivery and integration manager Justin Peterson are looking pleased with the resource base PowerNet has after amalgamating with Otago Power Services Ltd (OPSL). PowerNet's senior management staff are facing a restructure as the company amalgamates with Otago Power Services Ltd (OPSL).
The Southland electricity management company finalised its amalgamation with OPSL on March 31, taking its staff numbers from 170 to 265. He said bringing the teams together put the company in a better position to use their own resources, rather than having to externally outsource work, and deliver higher customer satisfaction. Former OPSL staff would continue to work on their respective sites, as per before the amalgamation.
The company has been focussing on standardising all processes and practices through lean manufacturing across its areas of business.
Each year PowerNet spends $50 million in capital expenditure across the Southland and Otago regions on keeping its assets current. The upgrading of lines and substations was a key part of that asset management and other projects were also ongoing, Franklin said. We use a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence, so you can republish our articles for free, online or in print. At the South Pole, the moon is up for two weeks continuously, and then down for two weeks, and so on. It is very slowly spiralling towards the horizon, which it will meet at the equinox on March 20. As soon as the runway at Ridge A has been groomed – which could be as early as two days from now – our experiment could be on the next plane out. The gamble we took in disassembling and reassembling the detector from the working prototype instrument a mere two to three weeks before the Twin Otter flight has paid off. The performance improvement will make our experiment ten times faster at mapping the sky than it would otherwise have been. He compared the two journeys, with excerpts from the diaries of Scott and Amundsen, and illustrated with photos from his own trips.
At least climate change hasn’t yet had an obviously discernible influence on the interior of the Antarctic continent. Our “groomer” – the person who will operate the grooming machine – is Shawntel, and she is currently at the AGO-1 field camp. Suspecting they might be fellow Aussies, I clambered in to my Extreme Cold Weather gear and went to say “g'day”. They were all obviously excited to have arrived at the Pole, and were none the worse for wear. Each can pump out 1.2MW of power at sea level, which has to be de-rated to 750 kilowatts at altitude. I will be running it from a computer in my bedroom, using two Iridium satellite links (one from the Pole to UNSW, the other from UNSW to PLATO-R) to make contact. The ceremony lasted about half-an-hour, and included a particularly memorable and moving speech by Lt. Loomy (our mountaineer guide) and Shawntel are ready and eager to be dropped in to prepare the skiway. I’m sure this wouldn’t overly please the Chinese who are establishing a permanent base 150km away at Dome A. All in all, it takes me two hours, with painfully cold fingers, to fix a problem that would have taken ten minutes or less under normal conditions. This is 10-20% heavier than the normal conservative take-off weight limit for a Twin Otter from the Pole, but still possible.


Shawntel works for eight hours straight, and is reluctantly convinced to stop by Loomy’s entreaties to join him for a warm evening meal. Another complicating factor leading to this decision is that my Chinese colleagues at Dome A are leaving on January 24, a few days earlier than planned. Our top priority is to take the solar panels and the PLATO-R Instrument Module so we can have the experiment powered up and communicating via Iridium as soon as possible. With three passengers and the cargo, we are once again nudging the maximum allowed take-off weight. To communicate we have a simple email-like system using the PLATO-R computer, and Iridium phones. This allows me to log in to the Instrument Module computer and run some tests – everything is looking good. This is a strenuous process, despite having a forklift to raise the boxes roughly 1.4 metres to the height of the Twin Otter deck. This makes the 45-minute process quite an ordeal, and I keep my fingers from frostbite by occasionally grabbing hold of the exhaust pipe of the diesel engine being used to warm the aircraft engines. One school of thought was that the pilots wouldn’t want to get involved in man-handling the cargo. We were told there was a special off-loading ramp for the Twin Otters but, try as we might, we could get no technical data on the ramp. I also work on Gattini-SPUV – an ultraviolet imaging camera experiment on the roof of MAPO that I am involved with. I download some images and eagerly pore over them, looking for clues as to how the installation is going. The device on the pole in the foreground is a flashlight that can be used to illuminate HEAT when it is dark. In COMMS I look out the windows that give a panoramic view of the plateau and see a couple of people on bicycles approaching the Ceremonial Pole. They were both clearly very tired from the enormous physical effort they have put in over the last month. Despite this, she surprised me by jumping off her bike and almost sprinting across to the Geographical Pole for photos. According to their website they are “pioneers of ultra-endurance, multi-disciplinary and extreme adventure sports in the most hostile environments of sea, land and air on the planet”. I was chatting to one of the drivers, and he told me they had a lot of trouble with crevasses the first year they drove from the coast, but since then they have found an essentially crevasse-free route.
Having resolved the email communication problem, I am now able to exchange emails with Craig and have a better feeling for what is going on. The sleek metal exterior of the laptop is definitely a hindrance when the temperature is nudging -40?C! The large flat mirror reflects light into a second and third mirror before reaching the detector in the cryostat (to the left of Craig). Because we set out so early we were very lucky to be in the first 100 or so people to get inside. It comprises two individual power stations, built in two stages in the form of a single building. Over 18,000 people viewed the station on the Saturday alone and took advantage oppurtunity, which isn't to be repeated because of the development works.
At the Pole the sun takes a day or two to finally disappear below the horizon, after which it won’t reappear for six months. A highlight was when he climbed Mount Betty to find a cairn and a container of paraffin that Amundsen had placed there 100 years ago. If the weather co-operates she could be flown to Pole tomorrow, and have the skiway ready at Ridge A by Wednesday. If the power plant went down, life here would become very difficult within a matter of days. Pomerantz Observatory] over to the “flight line” where cargo is staged, ready to be loaded on to the Twin Otters. Due to radio noise restrictions that apply near MAPO, this is the first time we have been able to conduct such a test.
It was cold (-38?C), but with a low wind (5 knots), so conditions were quite reasonable for outside work. Of course, at Ridge A my colleagues won’t have the luxury of a forklift, but at least they have gravity to help them. Fortunately this was far from the case, and our pilots could easily have held down summer jobs as piano movers.
But on many parts of the plateau, and near the South Pole in particular, the snow is dry and powdery – it you pick it up in your gloved hands it just flows through your fingers like fine sand. If something goes wrong with the software and we lose contact with the observatory, all our efforts will have been in vain. Battersea A Power Station was built in the 1930s, with Battersea B Power Station to its east in the 1950s. I absolutely love Battersea Power Station- I'm always drawn in by the facade and the juxtaposition between the dark brick and white chimneys.
Henry was the leader of the 2008-2009 Shackleton Centenary Expedition recreating Shackleton’s Nimrod journey that came within 180km of the South Pole – the furthest south until Amundsen’s expedition.
This gave Henry (and us, his audience) a tremendous feeling of connection with the great explorer.
We have a small computer monitor in the Instrument Module, but it is hard to see in the dazzling polar sunlight. The two stations were built to an identical design, providing the well known four-chimney layout.
Shackleton’s route was essentially the same as the one that Scott took when he reached the Pole on January 17, 1912.



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