Friday, December 29, 2006

Last Updated from WAIS

My final thread from WAIS includes miscellaneous images of camp crew and locations, that impacted on our successful field season at WAIS divide camp.

WAIS camp galley. This is where the cooks regularly topped their previous feasts. Supplied only with frozen goods, the cooks kept us all fat and happy. Ian washes dishes on the left and John and Lucy busy cooking on the right.

Ben Partan, Camp Manager and part time disco ball, flashes from his desk in the communication tent. I had the opportunity to reside in another of Ben's camps (previously on the Juneau Icefield), which are consistently well run and rank high in camaraderie. WAIS will be lucky to get him back in future seasons.

Image of galley entrance with WAIS divide sign. The sun depicted in the sign is a bit misleading. The four-star galley was our eating establishment.

Ian, my favorite General Assistent (GA), shows off frostbitten fingers, consequence of a cross-country skiing encounter with the cold. The good news is his fingernails will survive to see his 19th birthday.

Ian kite-skiing, a favorite camp past time. Look for this Seattle native in the next winter olympics.

The Science tent where Ben and I spent the majority of our camp time, fidgeting with instruments and analyzing data.

Imaging Boreholes

Here we address the bulk of our field agenda, imaging boreholes. With our array of boreholes, we lower a camera with LED lights to a depth, ~15meters. This camera captures video images of the borehole, illuminated by lights similiar to those supported by most bike lights and headlamps. Annual layers, recording accumulation rate from one year to the next are captured in this visible spectrum. Also apparent by eye in snow pits are icy layers from storms, within an accumulation year. It will be important in analysis to differentiate these signals.

Camera attached to cable, running through a pulley attached to a tripod. Borehole is covered by a green plastic cap. Black centralizers on camera reduce swinging of instrument in borehole.

Ben monitoring the camera as the winch raises it out from the borehole. Electronics including computers and batteries, are contained in heated coolers.

Ben with camera and tripod in tent. The borehole has a green cap under the tripod.

The experimental set-up consisted of a camera with LEDs attached to a cable. A winch lowered the cable, routed through a pulley on a tripod. The pulley monitored number of revolutions, which is converted into a depth for the camera.


Sun halo with drill.

Ben, all smiles with ice core from a Sidewinder electric drill used at WAIS camp. (Nice beardcicles!)

This blog is dedicated to the process of drilling boreholes. Ben and I drilled over a dozen 15 meter boreholes to capture the spatial nature of accumulation variation. Any one borehole provides excellent annual accumulation information. By analyzing multiple locations, we gain insight into the variation between sites. We expect to see a prevalent pattern over the divide where camp is located. Imagine snow fall on a mountain. The snow is blown over the windward side of the mountain and deposited on the lee side.

Jess initiating the drilling using a screw driver to torque the core barrel.

The drilling process begins with site selection in an array North of WAIS camp. Ben and I haul the drill gear in a sled via snowmobile and set-up a drilling platform comprised of a wooden platform. We begin drilling by hand, screwing the metal drill head and 2 meter barrel into the soft surface accumulation.

Ben with the drill in the first few meters of snow. A box is necessary to operate the drill in the upper depths.

Jess with electric drill past the initial few meters.

Once we achieve 2 meters depth, we add a 1 meter barrel section and begin using a generator powered electric drill. Drilling occurs 1 meter at a time, that is we collect approximately one meter of core each time we drill down -- plus "chips", the snow that sloughs off the borehole walls as we raise and lower the drill.

To raise the core, we pull off the drill atop muliple meters of core barrel. From here, we attach the drill to a pulley. A cord attaches the pulley to the bottom barrel. With the assistance of the drill, we pull up the bottom barrel and take apart the separate barrel sections as they come out of the borehole. The final 2 meter barrel contains the ice core and chips. These must be coaxed out of the apoxy barrel by tapping on the sides with a hammer and pushing the core out using a long, skinney object (usually a barrel of lesser diameter).

The entire process of drilling a borehole, including set-up, drilling and break-down requires approximately 4 hours.

Ice core battlefield, casualties of drilling.

Ice core drinks: Buzzsaw Charles saws off a piece of ice core to cool the scotch. The reward after a long day of drilling.

Monday, November 27, 2006

WAIS fieldcamp

WAIS fieldcamp

Ben and I arrived at WAIS after three days of weather-cancelled flights. We are now collecting data, imaging boreholes in visible and infrared wavelengths. In addition to logging a few boreholes already drilled, we are drilling several 20m boreholes.

Today we are weathered in camp. The wind is blowing ~30 knots, beyond the capacity of the snowmobiles. Visibility is <300ft, less than the extent of camp. From one building it's difficult to make out the building next door.

I will download images, including Thanksgiving festivities and the flight to WAIS in the front of a C-130, when I have a more reliable connection with the internet.


Sunday, November 19, 2006


So begins the McMurdo weather dance. At 10:15 this morning, we walked up to the flight office with our bags, ready to board our flight to WAIS divide. They were surprised to see us. "Hasn't your flight been canceled?" They asked. I said no. "Oh," they said, "Here's a bag lunch for the flight." Then they made some phone calls. "Your flight has just been canceled," they said.

We did get to keep the bag lunch, though.

Now we're waiting to see if the weather clears up enough for us to fly later today.

"WX delay" means weather delay.

Happy Camper- and farewell to McMurdo

Jessica and I are back from Happy Camper school- a two day, one night trip out to the McMurdo Ice Shelf to learn how to survive in the deep field. The course tells you what you need to know when an airplane drops you alone in the wilds of Antarctica with nothing but your clothes and a survival bag. This is a bit of a worst case scenario, but mishaps are always possible, and even when things are going well it's important to know how to stay warm and healthy in the field. Our instructors, Kevin and Susan, kept the tone light and the pace fast, and our team was a fun bunch. We had a pretty good time.

A few photos:

Our snowschool class rides in a sleigh behind a snowmobile on the way out to Snowmound City, the snowschool camp.

Susan demonstrates how to prime and light a camp stove

The crew builds a quinzee (a snow shelter you make by piling up your bags, covering them with snow, then tunneling in from below and pulling out the bags to leave a hollow shell you can sleep in).

The quinzee I slept in. It was a bit of a cold night, but nothing that a good Antarctic sleeping bag couldn't handle. The quinzee we built was full, so I slept in one left over from a previous class. While I was pretty sure that the roof would hold up for the night, I brought a shovel in with me just to feel safe.

The final exam. We practiced rescuing an injured person during a whiteout in a blizzard. We are all wearing white buckets over our heads to show us what it's like when you can't see through the blowing snow. This was a bit sobering- we didn't find the instructor, who was pretending to be hurt. Blizzards are definitely a place to be cautious.

Tomorrow we're off to the deep field, weather permitting. There's a chance of snow in McMurdo, which might force us to postpone our trip for a day or two. People with experience out here like to say "they haven't canceled our flight... yet," and that's about as good as it gets. We have high hopes that our next post will be from WAIS!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Onward to WAIS

Ben and I have survived happy camper school. We are now certified to build snow trenches, treat hypothermia and re-hydrate sierra chicken with pasta. Ben slept in a pre-fabricated (read made by a previous snow school effort) Quinzee and I found a pre-fabulous trench. A Quinzee--besides an excellent scrabble word--is an above surface dome that resembles an igloo and a trench is a below surface structure with a ceiling consisting of snow blocks.

Today I traveled out to Castle Rock with fellow UW graduate student, John Toner. We traveled on cross country skis outside of McMurdo to a hike/scramble on a large volcanic outcrop. From the top, we had views of Scott Base, the New Zealand base, the Ross Ice Shelf and Ross Island, on which McMurdo base is located.

Image: Castle Rock, Unknown photographer

Map of McMurdo Station

Here is a picture of penguins on the runway at McMurdo:

The only biology I've witnessed-- besides a small humanish population subject to large amounts of UV and not very many razors-- has been scabby skuas and petrifying seals that have long since lost their way to McMurdo Sound. On that note here is another penguin shot:

Tomorrow morning we go to WAIS divide field camp on a C-130. At this time there is no internet access at the seasonal camp. I will blog again when I am able, the lastest possibility is three weeks when we return to McMurdo. I leave you temporarily with a picture of Lora jumping rope at the talent show. Be sure to ask her about training for the Olympics, no joke.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mac Town

Images from top: McMurdo Station (from NSF website), Current weather, Brian waves in front of Erebus after landing on the Ross Iceshelf.

Ben and I have arrived at McMurdo Station!

The last few days at McMurdo have been a blur, rushing around base, heaving equipment, unpacking and repacking cargo and attending training sessions. At this point, everything has gone smoothly and we are optimistic about the field agenda.

Last night we experienced a fire alarm at 12:30am. A grumpy stunned bunch of people in huge red parkas sleepily waiting outside a large corrugated-metal building, while the equally sleepy fire crew checked out the scene. We were back in our dorm bunks within a half hour.

The big news to report is from a fieldcamp close to McMurdo. A group of five is stranded in a tent, consequence of a severe storm with 20ft visibility. The field team has 48 hours of supplies and a rescue is underway. This event comes with a sobering reminder that Antarctica has a harsh climate and there is little room for error in preparedness. The cozy base life--full of laptops, a sauna and softserve ice cream--can lull us into thinking otherwise.

In the issues to come: Ben and I will attend happy camper school, a one night camp-out on the ice with survival skill instruction. Monday we travel to our final destination, WAIS fieldcamp.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tomorrow's the day

Yesterday (loosely speaking) we were in Seattle, today we're in Christchurch, New Zealand, tomorrow we'll be in McMurdo, Antarctica. It's all a lot to take in at once, and the really weird part only starts tomorrow.

To back up a bit- We left Seattle Thursday, November 9. The plane flights took us from Seattle, through Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, and then to Christchurch. The trip was something like 23 1/2 hours, and 9,765 miles. We got off the plane November 11, having crossed the International Date Line from east to west, deleting November 10, 2006 from our lives forever. For that matter, instead of Seattle winter, we're in New Zealand Summer, with warm weather, lots of sun, and flowers everywhere.

Today we picked up our cold weather gear from the Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch and got our final word on the flight south. Tomorrow we'll be at the airport by 8 AM, and will fly out around 11. It will be another week before we see the field site, with field training and cargo issues in between, but even so, I'm pretty excited to get down and see what's waiting for us.

-Ben, Christchurch NZ

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gearing up to go South!

Ben and I are in the final preparations for our trip to Antarctica. Check back for more updates as we travel though Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo, the US Antarctic Base, to reach our destination, the drill site on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).