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Friday, December 10, 2010


I am not blogging about the super dark and small Italian coffee, but about the South Pole Remote Earth Science and Seismic Observatory (SPRESSO).  It is the most sensitive seismometer in the world.  With advances in technology, seismometers these days have become so sensitive that even the waves of the oceans breaking against the coastlines of the continents can be recorded.  But a seismometer needs to measure the movements of the earth, not the action of waves, so the South Pole, located nearly 1,000 miles from the closest body of water, and away from vibrations produced by human civilization, provides the quietest location on earth and allows us to sense the most subtle movements of the earth.
To isolate the seismometer from the activities of the station, it had to be located 5 miles away, and it is one of the farthest scientific instruments from the station.
A couple of days ago I was called to go service the instrument.  5 miles is far enough that we have to take some precautions before going, and we have to go in pairs.  So, I hopped on a snowmobile with Tim, our surveyor, and off we went bumping up and down the sastrugi, like riding a boat on a rough sea, out in the middle of nowhere.  There are no groomed tracks that far out on the ice, so we have to follow a flag line to our destination.  After the 30 min ride we were far enough that the station was barely visible as a dot in the distance, and we could enjoy the view that the first explorers had when they first arrived at the South Pole, 99 years ago.  It took us about 1 hr to do our work, document it, and enjoy the vast expanse of white nothingness in -25 F (-32 C) temperature and 15-knot (17 mph) winds.

Field work at SPRESSO.

Tim, our surveyor, is a veteran of the ice, having spent 9 seasons at the South Pole, and a true lover of the outdoors.  He drove the 5 miles to the SPRESSO site and back.


  1. What is the principle of operation of the seismometer?

  2. see
    Probably not exactly what you are looking for, but should be a good starting point.