Monday, November 5, 2007

November 4th, 2007
York County Maine

Time: 2pm
Latitude: 43.08 N
Longitude: 70.73 W
Temperature: 4°C(40°F)
Wind speed: 0-3 knots
Wind Chill:
Clouds: clear
Wind direction: South
Relative Humidity:
Barometric Pressure: rising


Hi, my name is Zach Smith. I am the program coordinator for the Wright Center for Science Education at Tufts University. I am still at home in Maine on another beautiful sunny, clear, and mild day and starting to accumulate gear in the corner of the bedroom for my deployment to Antarctica in early December on the WAIS Divide ice coring project http://www.waisdivide.unh.edu/. This ice coring program is directed by Dr Ken Taylor at the Desert Research Institute, managed by Mr Mark Twickler and Mr Joe Souney at the University of New Hampshire, and supported by the National Science Foundation's office of Polar Programs. This will be my second time in Antarctica and my excitement is definitely starting to build as some team members have already hit the field and the camp is being prepared for this season. As they setup camp, I am preparing myself and along with my team members, the outreach component of the WAIS Divide ice coring program. WAIS Divide stands for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide which is a physical place in Antarctica. It is at about the middle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet at 112.085W longitude and 79.467 S latitude and represents a divide between two glacial ice masses, one flowing towards the north and one flowing towards the south (as you look at the site map of Antarctica). The WAIS Divide ice coring program will collect and analyze a 3,465m ice core from the top surface to the bedrock below that is comprised of layers of snow (compressed to ice) from each year from the present back to ~100,000 years old at the bottom. This ice core will provide the first Southern Hemisphere climate and greenhouse gas records of comparable time resolution and duration to ice cores that have been collected in Greenland enabling detailed comparison of environmental conditions between the northern and southern hemispheres, and the study of greenhouse gas concentrations in the paleo(ancient)-atmosphere, with a greater level of detail than previously possible. The most significant and unique characteristic of the WAIS Divide project will be the development of climate records with an absolute, annual-layer-counted chronology for the most recent ~40,000 years. Which means that each annual layer can be identified and counted from the present back to 40,000 years before the present. So, though this project will drill through the ice to the bedrock and collect ice cores for the entire length, the real target is the top 40,000 years worth of time. That length of time extends from the present back to the coldest part of the last ice age.

Glacier are very dynamic and not all layers are represented everywhere throughout Antarctica. Ice coring programs are very expensive and drilling in the wrong place and can be a huge waste of time, effort, and money if the ice layers at that location are jumbled and contorted below the surface and do not contain snow from each year. Before this location was chosen there were test ice cores and lots of ice penetrating radar studies done to confirm that the layers at the WAIS Divide site represented the best "well behaved stratigraphy" from the top towards the bottom for at least the last ~80,000 years. The layers of snow/ice are important because they contain chemicals from the atmosphere that represent the conditions present at the time that snow fell. By collecting and analyzing ice cores scientists can "read" back through time and determine what ancient atmospheres were like and how they have changed.
Time for more packing........

1 comment:

CHRHS Sophie said...

Hey, My name is Sophie, and I'm a ninth grade student at CHRHS in Maine. My science teacher told me about what you're doing in Antarctica, and that you were also from Maine. I found your studies with greenhouse gases and climate change very intriguing. I was wondering if you could tell me more about your project and what goals you're trying to reach. I'd love to find out more. Thanks!