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Stauchy Blog » Blog Archive » THE Hatch (SPRESSO) - Nov. 22 (JRS)

THE Hatch (SPRESSO) - Nov. 22 (JRS)

This morning we got up a bit earlier than usual and met up with Glenn Grant, the Aurora Tech, for a trip out to the SPRESSO vault, a buried vault about 5 miles off-station that contains electronics that support 4 seismometers.  Fore more, higher-res pictures, see our gallery: The SPRESSO Vault.

After breakfast, I headed for the Lab where I saw Glenn. He was understandably upset because what he originally thought was going to be a two person outing had jumped to 6 people without his knowledge. It’s his project, so he rightfully felt like he should have been at least informed about the additional passengers. Plus, the electricians wanted to shut the power down briefly to do some checks, which would require permission from the PI’s, which Glenn hadn’t gotten. To add to it, the Piston Bully (PB) was nowhere to be found at 7:30 when he went to pick it up. It was a rocky start, but in the end, it all worked out.
By ten-after-eight, Al had found the PB and we all met up at DZ. After throwing the survival packs (big orange duffel bags full of about 50 pounds of survival gear) on top of the PB, we all piled in, and Glenn started driving us away from the station. We followed a mostly-buried flag line that went off into nowhere. On a couple of occasions, only about the top 6 inches of the flag pole was sticking up, which made the navigation a bit tricky. Lynette and I rode in back with Mike Goddeeris, the electrician and fellow Team-2 member, and two IT guys (I don’t remember their names). The area around the station is groomed fairly often, but once you get slightly away from station, the terrain gets rough with built-up susstruggi (sp?), which makes for a seriously bumpy ride. After a while of being jostled around in the back, none of us were feeling too good, especially Lynette.
About 30 minutes into the ride, we came to a stop and Al and Glenn (who were up front) took a closer look at the GPS. Apparently we had gotten off course because we were following the wrong flag line. Good thing we had the GPS unit! We all got out to stretch our legs and get our stomachs back. We jumped back in and took off, this time without any flags to guide us. The station could still be seen out on the horizon, but it was awfully small. We were true explorers at this point, and we all laughed about it. In all likeliness, we were truly the only people who had ever been on that particular area.
Turns out that we weren’t all that far off course. After about five minutes of “off-roading”, we saw a large group of flags and made our way towards it. The large group of flags represented the SPRESSO vault (South Pole Remote Earth Science and Seismological Observatory). Buried under the snow there is a vault, which is just a room full of electronic equipment and high voltage boxes. There are also two surface mounted (though now buried) seismometers and two seismometers that were placed almost 900 feet below the surface. These seismometers are so sensitive that they can detect an earthquake anywhere in the world. There is a computer in the Lab that I work in that makes a sound anytime that there’s an earthquake detected in the world and plots it on a map. Last week, there was a 8.3 somewhere northwest of Japan that caused a minor tsunami along the Western coast (only 10-100 cm in height once it hit land).
At any rate, Al dug around a little in the snow trying to find the top of the vault. He eventually found it, buried about a foot under the surface and we all took turns digging out the top. We uncovered the hatch and found ourselves looking down a square shaft that went about 15 feet down. It reminded me of “The Hatch” from Lost, both when I looked down and later when I looked back up. It was a little bit eerie.


Glenn turned on the circulation system and after about 10 minutes, Lynette when down with an air monitor, just to make sure it was a breathable environment. Sure enough, there was 20.8% oxygen, which is just right. Glenn and Al went below at this point to check out the equipment. Lynette came out and Mike and I headed down. The room is fairly small and due to size constraints and the limitations of the circulating device, only 3-4 people could be in the vault at a time. I, like those who had come before me, marked my presence on the wall with a sharpie (name and date). The reason I was there was to familiarize myself with it’s location and what it looks like because I would likely be going back with the Glenn’s winter replacement, Neil. I took a look at the equipment and took some pictures.


It was a cozy little room that was kept heated in order to keep the electronics working. It had kind of a homey feel and seemed like a pretty cool place to hang out if you wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the “Big City” 5 miles away. I was again reminded of “The Hatch”.
Mike did his thing by checking out the breaker panel and making sure all the electrical connections were good. After about five minutes, we headed back up and let the IT guys do their thing. Lynette and I hung out with Mike while the others were below. That’s when I discovered that Lynette didn’t “mark her presence” and she gave me crap for not adding her. I took some pictures from the top of the Pisten Bully to get a sense of what it was like out there.


They were down there for a long time, it felt like at least an hour. We got pretty cold and decided to go sit in the PB to warm up. Sure enough, about five minutes later, they were done. We sat in the PB and let them cover the shaft back up. After another half hour, we drove back into civilization ending our jaunt of exploration. Later that afternoon, Al made a printout of the seismometer readings and there was a very clear signal from our activities. It picked up our drive out there, our uncovering of the vault, and even our footsteps on the surface. Pretty sensitive stuff!


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