Sunday, December 30, 2007

December 31, 2007
WAIS Divide camp Antarctica

Time: 6 am
Latitude: 79° 28.10’ S
Longitude: 112° 3.56’ W
Elevation: 1820 m (5919’)
Temperature: -10 °C ( 13°F)
Wind speed: calm
Wind Chill:
Visibility: slightly overcast
Clouds: stratus
Wind direction: NE
Relative Humidity: 82%
Barometric Pressure: falling
Precipitation: 0
Breakfast: leftovers (pizza for me)
Lunch: leftovers (pizza for me)
Supper: leftovers ((pizza and shrimp/beef for me)

being Sunday, was a rest day. Our Internet satellite connection occurs
in the early morning from about 5 am until about 10 am. The bandwidth
is very narrow so I try to get in and upload my blog entries by 5 am so
as not to interfere with the rest of the 50+ people in camp that might
want to access their e-mail. The whole e-mail-phone connection thing
here is very strange. Since it is West Antarctica and it is a long way
from home, I resigned myself to little or no communications with home.
There are a couple reasons for this, firstly because though I love to
hear that all is well at home, if things are not well there is nothing
I can do about it and it makes everything harder on both ends of the
phone. Another reason is that one of the reasons some of us come here
is to do the science and be removed from some forms of modern life back
home. If you can still make a phone call or send and e-mail and hold a
cross-global conversation with someone at home then we have not really
gotten away. With e-mail, we don’t only get to talk with friends and
family but we also get the same junk e-mail solicitations. It is a
tough choice to be able to retain the communications needed for
science, safety, and doing our work here but not it make it feel like
we are accessible to all the other “junk” that we are bombarded with at
home and trying to get away from. Possibly even West Antarctica is
becoming just another spot on Earth.

My 3d quadrat is up and
still in place after days. The accumulation of falling and drifting
snow has not yet covered the bottom brackets but we have not had the
real wind storms in a couple days. As I mentioned in a previous blog
entry, the movement of the snow/ice grains blowing across the ground is
a truly fascinating event to watch. Eroding grains upwind of a dune and
deposited grains downwind continually building and breaking down
surface structures. This is the same process that has created much of
the surface structure of the Earth for millennium. Big mountains form
by a number of Earth process and then are eroded back into the sea,
then rebuilt and broken down. The Appalachian Mountains in the Eastern
US were once as large and majestic as the Rocky Mountains. Over long
periods of time, after they were built from various Earth movements,
they were eroded to their present form one grain at a time. There are a
number of metaphors for trying to visualize the geologic history of the
Earth over the last couple hundred millions of years but no simple
“Earth history as a 24 hour clock or clothes-line time line example”
can possible give you the “experience” with Earth history as just
watching grains of snow/sand build into dunes and erode into blowing
snow/sand. A couple minutes of watching grains move with the wind and
then comparing the amount of change that has taken place to the
impressive size of any mountain range will give you a better
appreciation of geologic history than any grade school metaphor.
Another task for those of you with 3dquadrats, or just keen observers, is to take a few minutes just to watch the Earth change, one grain at a time.

days ago I also got to play an erosional force as a D-1 operator. The
“D” refers to the designation of the size of bulldozers built by the
Caterpillar company. A D-10 is a huge, gigantic bulldozer that could
level your home with one push and used in large mining operations.
Thus, a D-1 is the smallest of Earth movers. In Antarctica lingo, a D-1
is a shovel and I got to spend the entire morning digging out the berm
around our fuel bladders. We use 10 m x 10 m “bubbles” or bladders to
hold the fuel we need for camp operations. The bladders are easier to
use, more reliable, and easier to store/ship than 50 gallon fuel drums.
We need to keep the bladders free of drifting snow to make sure they
can be accessed easily and are not “flattened” by drifting snow. So, I
got to be a D-1 operator and remove snow one shovel full at a time for
an entire morning to keep our fuel reserves safe. The other work here
is great but a morning working by yourself on such a mindless job being
able to look out over miles and miles of West Antarctica with little
distraction is truly one of the good jobs I get to do here. The pay is
low but the view is priceless. Of course a D-1 operator in Antarctica
is relaxing as opposed to a D-1 operator at home trying to remove snow
from my driveway just to get my car in and out – not always fun.

images are - what I see of the horizon and down the runway from my
perch on the fuel bladders (taken by Inger), and Jeff and Nicole from the National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) working in the arch (Inger).