We have spent a lot of time planning for our trip to Antarctica to ensure everything will work correctly when we get into the field. Unfortunately we will be away from modern life, and if we encounter a failure we don’t have the luxury of a neighborhood hardware store.
For this reason, we have been doing equipment testing in a freezer on campus. The civil engineering department at the University of Utah has been kind enough to allow us both the use of an industrial walk-in freezer, and the ability to adjust it to the temperature we need. We have warmed up the freezer considerably from what it was when we started our work. You can see from the picture at the right that the current temperature is sitting at a balmy -16° C.
We have created artificial sea water, and have frozen it to mimic the sea-ice we will encounter. We had to research to make sure our ice recipe is just right! Real sea ice freezes from the surface down, so we have been wrapping the sides and bottom of our sea-water in insulation to make sure it freezes from the top. We have also been very careful not to disturb the ice once it starts growing, as this will change the type of ice we grow. If ice is disturbed while it is growing, the crystals no longer all line up, which is what we need.
Aside from the important task of creating proper ice, we have been focusing on simulating the tasks we will perform in the cold, so we can find problems we will likely encounter. These problems have so far included things like accidentally breaking ice cores, melting ice by passing too much electricity through it, and failing to keep certain pieces of equipment warm enough to function properly. We are glad for the opportunity to test our methods here, as we want as few surprises as possible when we get into the field!
We need to be confident that our electrical equipment functions properly in the cold, so we have been testing samples in the cold and the warm, and ensuring we are getting the same results. We usually leave our equipment in the freezer for a few hours before we start testing them, just to make sure they are good and cold. You can see at right how big the industrial freezer that we have been using is. Although the picture does not show it, it is about 1.5 times deeper than it is wide. Fortunately the freezer does not lock, but we still have to be careful, because the door actually freezes shut!
I have been leaving a heavy coat at school, along with gloves, and a good beanie. I also have started wearing boots to school, even though the weather hasn’t been that bad. When the freezer is on it blows almost exactly at face level. This makes for a rather unpleasant experience, but the hood helps. I also think that the draft on my face has decreased a bit since I have allowed my beard to grow in. I think I am going to let it get good and shaggy, and just hope it will fill in on my cheeks (but from experience I know it won’t fill in completely.) I also think a balaclava would be a good investment. Perhaps I will pick one up tomorrow. Here is a picture of me getting ready to work in our freezer. This was snapped just moments after I walked in, evidenced by lack of pink in my cheeks and nose.
Apparently I am not the only one training for the cold. We received some pictures of Russell the Ram training for his excursion as well. Russell is the mascot of an elementary school class that is following our progress. He will be traveling with us to Antarctica, so keep an eye out for him in our photos!
A year ago I would have never dreamed of spending hours at a time in a freezer, nor dreamed it would be enjoyable. I do think I am going to have to get some warmer long johns, because a few hours in the freezer and I start worrying about becoming a Popsicle. I honestly don’t mind the cold much, and it has been really fun gearing up for this trip.