You Hit *What*?!?

[originally was to have been posted yesterday…]

There are many things buried here in the Antarctic ice. Secrets, yes, but also mangled tractor parts, bedframes, an Encyclopedia Brittanica, and at least one case of WW2-era pork chops.

For me, one of the most entertaining parts of Siple’s “90 Degrees South” is the brief Antarctic spring during the construction of Old Pole. The Air Force was trying to airdrop enough material to build the entire station and provision it with supplies to last its occupants the winter. From the sound of it, the air drops went less frequently “as planned” than one would hope. The initial problems seemed to manifest themselves when the pallets landed gingerly under their parachutes. Then, lacking any sort of natural obstacle on the ground, the chutes often dragged their cargo out of sight across the ice, never to be seen again.

So the Air Force started experimenting with parachutes that released once the cargo hit ground. But there were problems there, too. Maybe it was the cold, but a disturbing number of these airdrops failed when the chute detached prematurely, and the cargo “streamered in” from an altitude of several thousand feet. Full loads of timber hit the ground at terminal velocity and shattered into shrapnel. Cases of food, medical supplies, and an entire Encyclopedia Brittanica embedded themselves irretrievably into the ice. The most graphic demonstration of an airdrop gone wrong is a photo from the bottom of a 30-foot hole created by an airdropped tractor that had streamered in. About halfway up the side of the hole you can see one of the treads that had ripped off during the tractor’s gravity-induced attempt to reach China. 

Looking up from the bottom of 30-foot hole torn by a
 tractor that “streamered in” (photo from 90 Degrees South)

Anyhow – Siple and his team eventually did get enough intact supplies to survive the winter. But in the process, the Antarctic ice around Pole has been seeded with deeply-impacted mementos of what basic life necessities looked like in 1956.

This came up just yesterday, talking with one of the drafters working on Ice Cube. Ice Cube (I’ll write more about it later) is a massive Big Science initiative, embedding a cubic mile of ice with digital sensors to create the world’s largest neutrino detector. Where else can you find a cubic mile of pure, uncontaminated water away from any radio frequency interference?

Well, you see where this is going, right, of course. Somewhere along the umpteenth hole, the drill fouled on something. They’d hit a pork chop.

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