|PETER CALAMAI PHOTO|
|Heidelberg researcher Denis Poehler gets an atmospheric gas detector ready for moving day on the Amundsen.|
DOAS stands for Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy, a technique for measuring atmospheric gases at levels as low as tenths of parts per billion. Heidelberg boasts the world’s most sensitive long-path DOAS apparatus, which has been churning away for weeks from an upper level of this icebreaker.
More importantly, Denis is taking valuable data home as well, those ultra-precise measurements of the atmospheric levels of ozone, bromine oxide and – just possibly – iodine oxide as well. These may reveal just what causes the concentrations of ground-level ozone to plunge precipitously during the spring here.
“The quality of the data exceeded my expectations,” Denis confided this afternoon as he was packing DOAS up for moving day Thursday.
The German PhD student isn’t alone. Seven other researchers (and three journalists) are scheduled to leave the icebreaker Thursday. It’s called a mid-leg change because it falls half-way through one of the six-week legs into which this 10-month expedition is divided.
A better name might be the “has-anyone-seen” change.
The laboratories in research institutions on land have long been communal affairs, with researchers borrowing equipment and reagents from the next bench or the lab down the hall. This spirit operates even more in a floating research set-up, because there isn’t a central store to call on and courier delivery isn’t really an option.
But that means everything has to find its way back to the original owner when a charter aircraft is due to land on the ice in less than two days time. Often one of the biggest hassles here is finding the original packing cases, which have been squirreled away in the most unlikely parts of the ship.
(Although it’s not widely recognized, even among the British scientists on board, the Amundsen is actually the latest manifestation of the TARDIS, the time-travelling machine of Dr. Who which is much larger inside than out.)
Another danger of moving days is that vital apparatus which should stay on the Amundsen mistakenly gets packed up and shipped off. That’s what happened to a minicomputer which was supposed to automatically adjust a sophisticated mercury detector out on the ice.
For now the researcher is coping by making regular excursions to manually flip switches. But you can bet that one pair of hands will be eagerly pawing through the boxes when they’re unloaded from the aircraft Thursday.