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Michael DuVernois | Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center | USA

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IceCube (and other) Winter-Overs at the South Pole

One of the questions that gets asked to most often is about the folks who run the IceCube experiment over the winter. Who are these folks? What does it take to spend fourteen months at the South Pole? Six of those months in darkness with the sun set below the horizon. So I’ll try to answer some of these questions, mostly by linking to what the winterovers themselves say. (And to their amazing aurora photos.)

Each year, the IceCube project advertises for the two IceCube winterover positions:

Winter Over Positions
Winter-overs deploy to Antarctica continuously for 14 months, mid-October to mid-November. Individuals participate in a wide range of activities and must pass physical and psychological evaluations of their ability to live and work in remote and high altitude locations. Degree requirements: M.S. in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, or a related field; B.S. with substantial related field experience (equivalent to a Master’s Degree) will be considered.

Sometimes the person is already a collaborator, or affiliated with IceCube, perhaps a recently-completed graduate student, but most often the person is from a different science field. The winterover is responsible for keeping the detector running through the winter with some help/supervision from the Northern Hemisphere, but mostly independently. The laboratory is about two kilometers away from the South Pole Elevated Station, so it’s a good cold walk out to the experiment…

But the views are astonishing!

And you can see some of Sven’s aurora shots here. Sven and Carlos are this past year’s winterovers for IceCube, their reports can be seen at the IceCube website news listings. There’s a good “What is a Winterover” there as well.

At Pole there are two seasons, Summer and Winter. In the Summer, there is sunshine and a population of at least a 150 people at the station. The weather is relatively warm, from -40C (= -40F) up to an all-time record high temperature of +10F last Christmas. This is when the work is done building new experiments, when most of the scientists and engineers who work down there visit for a few weeks, or six weeks, or eight weeks. During IceCube construction, the drill teams would core down a mile in the ice for each of IceCube’s 86 strings during the Summer. The Winter is defined by the departure of the last aircrafts (jet fuel starts to gel as it gets too cold), the setting of the sun, and truly cold (-70C, -100F) temperatures. In the Winter, the South Pole Station is down to about fifty hardy souls.

I recently found this interesting Winterover Statistics page that gives some insight into the folks who have wintered for a record number of South Pole winters (five in a row! nine total times!). Not for me! Though had I known about it, perhaps back when I was twenty and single…


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