Inside the station - Copyright: Nighat Amin / IPF - © International Polar Foundation

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Live from Antarctica: Living with Engineers

There are certain truths to which even chronic unbelievers can only comply. For example, the legend according to which engineers know (sometimes) how to talk to machines... I would like to take this opportunity to thank the person who had the excellent idea of affectionately wrapping the coffee machine in a warm down jacket last night: he has just saved everyone a half an hour's work on the building site this morning and, seeing how happy those who have just woken up look, a few anti-depressors from our pharmacy supply.

If engineers know how to talk to machines, Johan Berte knows how to speak to engineers. This "industrial designer" who started out in the spatial sector integrated the IPF team four years ago and has been following the station's project closely ever since. He has been keeping a very close eye on the station, indeed. The reason for returning to Utsteinen a fourth time this year is not only to take account of the satisfactory work progression, it is also (and especially?) a trip that will allow him to plan the rest of the adventure with those in charge. Planning seems to be the most appropriate word: the big challenge ahead involves calculations, modelling and integration of both the energy and resource flows which will feed the station.

To develop the integrated system (innovative by several means) which will allow us to meet this ambitious "zero emission" project, several companies have accepted to participate in the challenge which was launched by the project's initiators. Johan is coordinating. Next year's mission will, for the most part, be devoted to the strategic aspects of the project. The agenda for the next coming days has thus overflowed. Johan and Alain will first have to control the efficiency of the station's thermal insulation with an X-ray camera that will be able to track any focal points. They will also have to move, improve and reprogram the elements of the meteorological station in order to compare its data results with those gathered from the computer models which were used in the wind-tunnel simulations and tests. The wind turbines also need to be adjusted and the new prototype to protect from overvoltage problems will have to be installed and tested. The only thing left then will be to study and test the thermal solar panels, very fragile to install, and to go over and complete the finishing aspects associated with configuring all these technical components inside the limited space of the station. But that's not all you find in their agenda. You should just see their hungry looks when they flip through the documentation on new scientific research equipment. Over the coming days, they also intend on studying the feasible deployment of this equipment to the station.

While one engineer grows to be quite close to the coffee machine, and while Johan calls upon foreign engineering correspondents, Gérard Bianchi moves resolutely from the exterior to the interior of the station. His team has started tackling the huge puzzle associated with the interior insulation. They will install no less than 16 m3 and 4.8 tons of foam blocks, which have been pre-cut following ingenuously complex geometry, before the interior flooring is tackled. If you take into account the insulation which was added into the station's outer shell, a total of 75 cm lies between your feet and the exterior layer of stainless steel. This is most reassuring given that, as I am writing these lines, a strong katabatic wind has risen and is flapping tents and flags, and lifting a tide of white waves from the ridge all the way to the horizon. As we sit inside the (relative) comfort of the station, we murmur a "thank you" to the engineers.

Author: IPF

Picture: Inside the station - Copyright: Nighat Amin / IPF - © International Polar Foundation

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