Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
Ideas Tools Place Live Field Notes
  © Per Olof Hulth
  At a depth of about 160 m, the walls become glossy and the water is clearer.

A literary essay about AMANDA by Francis Halzen
page 7

Once in Antarctica, the operation is orchestrated by Bruce R. Koci, our mechanical engineer and drillmeister. Much of the project is entirely novel, making improvisation the rule, and Koci is a genius at it. Early on, for instance, we found that our hot-water drill was inadequate: it needed eleven days to drill to a depth of 800 meters. So Koci and his colleagues designed a new one. As sleek as a rocket, it dives into the ice gushing 190-degree water from its nose. In its first incarnation, it traveled a thousand meters in four days. These days it goes twice that fast. Mapping AMANDA’s geometry is like manufacturing an optical telescope in a dark room. Yet Koci’s drill, guided by gravity alone, deviates from the vertical by less than a meter over a depth of two kilometers.

As the drill descends, it leaves a hole about fifty centimeters in diameter, filled with hot water. (Because the hot water is continuously circulated in the hole, and because the ice around it acts like a giant thermos bottle, the water remains liquid for a few days.) Once the drill is removed, the AMANDA crew, often assisted by drillers and volunteers from other scientific missions, attaches a 600-pound weight to a fiber-optic master cable and then drops it into the hole. For the next ten to twenty hours, photomultipliers are attached to the sinking cable with carabiners of the kind used by rock climbers and plugged in at predetermined positions like beads on a rosary. Pressure and temperature meters, lasers, radio receivers, pulsing or steady light-emitting devices and other devices are also attached. (On one occasion a pair of television cameras was sent into the hole; their images can be viewed on our home page at <>.)

THEN THE WAITING BEGINS. It takes three to four days for the hole to refreeze completely. Just before the ice turns solid, the pressure spikes dramatically—at a depth of a kilometer, for instance, it rises suddenly from 100 to more than 500 atmospheres. So far, the crib death rate, when the holes refreeze, has hovered around 2 percent. The survivors, encased within their half-inch-thick glass spheres, should live forever—or at least until I die.

As one of the superfluous theorists mentioned above, I have never been invited to Antarctica. But even now, on the nights when drilling goes on there, I can never sleep. To have your career on the line half a world away is hard enough. But to know that you have embroiled so many others in the same improbable adventure, that your funders and colleagues expect results, and that you are totally powerless to affect the outcome, is a form of exquisite torture. And so I keep a laptop at my bedside and check it all through the night for E-mail dispatches.

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