Your questions answered
Thank you to everyone who sent us their questions for the Ice Team last weekend. We now have the answers for you; but rather than give them all in one long burst, we’re going to roll them out five at a time for the next few days. So if you’re question doesn’t appear below, it will soon.
Q: What are the plans to get the Cat’s thawed out and re-started? Any expected issues? (by Daniel Raube)
A: The Cat D6N’s haven’t been run since 6th June and are now well covered with snow drifts. Our first task will be to clear as much snow as possible and that will have to be done by hand. It’s important to clear as much as we can so that when we start warming them we are melting as little snow as possible, which would otherwise just refreeze elsewhere on the vehicle. After we have cleared the snow we will start warming the coolant system with the Webasto heaters and at the same time various electric heat pads will start warming oils, transmission and hydraulics. A few hours later they should be ready to start and the excellent Odyssey batteries have already proved how good they are in these low temperatures. As the engines and components warm up it’s possible we may have small fluid leaks as the various materials expand at different rates affecting tolerances and clearances but once warm this should stop. It will be important to warm everything slowly and not to try and move too soon. It’s likely we will have a couple of days around camp working them reasonably hard and ensuring we have thoroughly thawed and cleared any lingering ice before we commit ourselves to moving north.
Q: Right now (still a little before the Spring Solstice), what time does the sun rise and set? How high (how many degrees) is the sun at noon? (by Julie Wilkinson)
A: The daylight hours are increasing rapidly at the moment – 13 minutes a day. On 15 Aug the times are as follows ; Sunrise 07.46 (GMT) Sunset 13.13 (GMT) Sun altitude (local noon) = 3.44 degrees (this is the theoretical altitude but since the ground is dipping to the north of us the altitude above the visible horizon will be slightly more). As a further point of interest we are operating on time zone GMT + 2hrs which, given our longitude, makes our local noon at 12.26 local time.
Q: Why did you decide to use D6N Cats instead of something more like a Tucker Snocat? (by Donald Cochran)
A: Many people don’t realise that you need a permit to operate in Antarctica. In the UK that permit is issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The requirements to obtain that permit were considerable, given that this was a winter attempt, both in terms of what we took with us and in terms of contingency planning. These requirements resulted in a very heavy payload and that was a major factor in our vehicle selection whilst the ability to withstand winter conditions was also crucial. The Tucker Snocat simply would not be able to pull the very heavy loads and many of the other alternatives suffered the same problem. In terms of the winter conditions we also wanted to go for something with metal tracks as the plastic/rubber tracks of many other machines are known to suffer in extremely low temperatures.
Q: Do you ever get used to being cold? (by Pam Knipe)
A: You definitely get used to working in a cold environment but most importantly you need to learn how to look after yourself. You need to adjust your clothing to the conditions and you need to make sure you eat properly. It’s not the place for macho attitudes and if you start getting really cold it means something is not right and you need to do something about it.
Q: Does the constant darkness affect your moods? Do you disagree more than usual when you’re in your cocoon? (by Pam Knipe)
A: Lack of daylight is well known to affect moods and it also disrupts the bodies natural rhythm. It makes it hard to maintain a normal sleep/wake cycle. Part of our medical research programme is looking at this effect. The confines of the caboose, particularly since we stopped pushing south, have created a very confined living space and it’s inevitable that this has put pressure on us as a group. Another part of our research programme is looking at the stresses we are under and interestingly one of the analogies is to that of being in space – there are very few instances on earth where it’s possible to be quite as isolated and confined as we are.