A Chronicle from Carlos Pobes, a Spanish scientist, resident in the Amundsen-Scott’s base. January 31st of 2012.
There is certainly no shortage of scientists—and I count myself among them—who are passionate about everything to do with Nature and Adventure; and, vice versa, there are many adventurers who take a keen interest in scientific matters. I expect it’s no coincidence; I suppose that, ultimately, it’s all about looking for and enjoying beauty, all the beauty of the world around us, using science to discover the underlying order of apparent chaos, or by discovering the previously uncharted corners of our planet. In either case, it’s all about exploration. It’s about exploring not only our world but also our own limits, both physical and intellectual.
If there is one place one Earth that combines these things in a unique way, it has to be the Antarctic, the continent of Adventure and Science par excellence. The Antarctic’s extreme conditions are a magnet for adventurers from all over the globe and it has been the setting for some of the most awe-inspiring episodes in the history of exploration. But the fact that it is almost virgin territory and that it is in a very special part of the planet makes it the ideal place for scientific research into a number of matters such as climate change or the lesser-known field of neutrino physics.
And precisely in this latter field, in the world of neutrinos, is where I was given the opportunity of a lifetime as a scientist at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory where I spent a year at the USA’s Amundsen Scott station located at the South Pole itself. I recall having joked on occasions about being able to land a job there. And I say “joking” because I was convinced that I’d never be able to work there. Needless to say, both the place and the work have far exceeded my expectations; but what had never even crossed my mind was the fact that thanks to the Station I was going to be able to meet some really exceptional people. In particular, just after New Year I got a totally unexpected visit from the ACCIONA expedition team made up of Ramón Larramendi, Ignacio Oficialdegui, Juan Pablo Albar and Javier Selva.
You can imagine how delighted and honored I was to be their host, to show them around the Station and tell them all about our experiments with neutrinos, which have been in the limelight recently as they appear to challenge Einstein’s theories. But, above all, I felt privileged to receive first-hand information and details of this expedition and its goals and philosophy. I was amazed by the concept of the polar catamaran and its potential as a tool for conducting scientific enquiry. If ever there was an expedition that combined science and adventure seamlessly, it has to be this one. Everyone at the Station was amazed by how simple and efficient the vehicle was.
The day after their visit was not the best of days for our friends as it turned out to be windless; but it gave us a chance to enjoy their company for a bit longer and to share the passion with which they described their journey. Incredible though it seems, their simple, affordable and eco-friendly system is pulverizing existing polar mobility records—and all this despite stopping to take snow samples for scientific research and carrying an additional payload to show that the vehicle is capable of transporting heavy equipment. In a word: marvelous. Next day I got up early to send via satellite some of the video footage shot during the expedition.
Looking through the window, I was saddened to see that the sled had gone and a few minutes later I spotted a dot moving in the distance led by a kite. It was them! I stopped a while to watch them as they made headway across the frozen ocean that shone in a special way at that particular time of the day. After breakfast I went back to our terrace and continued to observe their progress. And then I saw something really spectacular: the catamaran’s kite was dancing in the wind, yet the vehicle that it was pulling along was completely out of sight, hidden by the earth’s curvature! It was a memorable image, one that will stay with me forever.
And now that the polar catamaran has returned home, I think it’s quite clear that the ACCIONA expedition has been an all-round success.
So I’d like to take this opportunity, on behalf of myself and everyone at the Amundsen Scott Station, to congratulate not only this incredible team of exceptional people, but also ACCIONA for supporting this project.
Ramón, Ignacio, Juan Pablo, Javier…many thanks for enabling us to share this historic moment with you. But, above all, thank you for unassuming nature and boundless passion. They’ve left a mark on all of us, a mark which unlike the tracks you left behind on the polar snows, will never, ever fade away.