What am I doing here V – MORPH

My work around here is quite diversified but this is the last project worth mentioning, at least in terms of my involvement in it. From a scientific point of view, these five experiments are the ones that use most of my useful working time. There’s a lot more going on here than just work (and more work too), but from “9 to 5”, I’m normally busy with one of these kids.
MORPH is another acronym, as it always is, for Movement of Relative Position of Halley. Its an internal BAS project and the data gathered from it are more relevant for the impact that the movement of the ice shelf may have on the station that in the ice shelf itself.
From the logistic point of view is quite simple: the station is like a giant fiber glass caterpillar with 8 segments. In its extremities and in every connection point there’s an high precision GPS antenna installed, like the ones that we use with Lifetime of Halley.
These antennas are connected to a small metallic black box that receives and processes the incoming signal from them and send it, through the station’s internal network, to a central computer that compiles the data from all receivers and processes all of it into a nice and pretty daily movement list for each module. Since we don’t have any energy issues with these ones (the units operate with just the current that they get from the network connection), the position’s sampling is continuous. This continuous processing allows, among other things, to see how far away from dipping into the ocean we are and how fast we are going to it.
In average, we are moving about 30 or 40 meters per month towards the water’s edge. Considering that we are still about 50 kilometers away from shore, we still have a good 100 years until we are able to see the ocean from the kitchen’s window… literally. If was just for this, it wasn’t necessary to cover the entire base with GPS antennas. We can easily get this information from the dozens of GPS receivers that are spread around the neighborhood. But what happens is that the movement of the ice shelf is not uniform, at all. As I’ve explained in a previous post, the shelf is mostly expanding rather than moving per se. Its like a ball of dough being crushed, sort of. There are points in the ice shelf that move faster than the others and in quite different directions. That’s because the shelf is not a homogeneous sheet of ice but rather an agglomerate of icebergs with packed snow and iced ocean water gluing them together. And when you put a bunch of buildings over this, weird things happen.
The ice beneath our feet is in constant movement. Very slowly but it is. And since it doesn’t move all in the same direction or speed, the station is being stretched, contracted and twisted continuously. From afar you couldn’t tell, but after a few months, in the inside, doors stop closing as they should, drawers open up mysteriously and, the best of them all, the pool table becomes rigged.
The pool table is without doubt the best indicator of this movement. And me, as an occasional member of friendly pool games, can see it easily. We keep a spirit level with the triangle around here. Every 3 months or so, we need to readjust the the table since all the ball doing quite pronounced arcs and tend to go all to the same hole.
From the maintenance perspective, MORPH is peaceful. All daily tasks are automatized and the units are quite sturdy. So far I haven’t had the need to do anything on them. What as been keeping me busy is the data analysis code. I’ve spent a good chunk of my Winter optimizing it and we still need to write a visual tool that allow us to look at the data in a intuitive, and preferably cool, fashion. Like an animation of the base getting moved by the ice shelf through the year for instance. But that’s not my hat for now. The code that I’ve been messing with creates “just” a list with the daily movements of each reference point through the year.
Its a very cool looking list, but I’m guessing you need to be a geek to appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s