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16 December, 2000

Automated Geophysical Observatory (AGO)

Occasionally, we get people passing though the South Pole Station on their way to remote sites in Antarctica. Today 6 such people were in town; the AGO folks (pronounced EH-go). There are 6 Automated Geophysical Observatory (AGO) sites around Antarctica (see map). The sites are located long a straight line, from the geomagnetic south pole: the point where the field lines appear to gather from space. This is a slightly different location from the magnetic south pole, and is important for the solar wind observations in the upper atmosphere.

Each AGO site has a small 8x8x16 building which houses everything the observatory needs to run for the next year. Outside of the building are antennae that receive the signals that will be collected and analyzed. Each station collects meteorological data (temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction) in addition to seismic data, and information about the solar wind and magnetic field. One main goal of these sites is to observe the interaction between the solar wind and the Earths magnetic field. The AGO sites are uninhabited, with the exception of a few weeks in the summer when a few people go to these sites to collect the data that the observatory has been gathering in the last year, and do any maintenance on the facility.

The site is reached by a modified DC3, that is equipped with skis and can land on unprepared snow. The sites are small, and are difficult to see before the plane gets to the building. The site locations are known precisely, and a global positioning system (GPS) is necessary to find them. Once the DC3 has dropped off the AGO crew, they make camp. They live in small tents, since the AGO buildings arent big enough for living quarters. During the time that the crew is at an AGO site, they prepare a landing strip for an LC-130. The large cargo planes will come in to drop off large amounts of fuel that will keep the observatory running for the next year, and pick up the crew. The fuel is too heavy to be brought in by the DC3. The fuel is offloaded from the back of the LC-130 while the plane is moving. The plane slows down and opens the door at the back of the cargo bay as it taxis down the skiway, and then suddenly speeds up when it reaches the place where the fuel needs to be. The inertia of the fuel results in it sliding out the back of the plane. The fuel is put in the proper location for the next year, and then the AGO crew says goodbye to the station for another year and moves to the next site.

Map of the AGO sites in Antarctica

This is one of the AGO buildings. Image from the AGO web page, space.augsburg.edu/ago

This is the modified DC3 that lands at smaller camps throughout Antarctica.

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