Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January 10, 2008
WAIS Divide camp Antarctica

Time: 6 am
Latitude: 79° 28.10’ S
Longitude: 112° 3.56’ W
Elevation: 1820 m (5919’)
Ice core: 218 m Age: 1128 The Vikings extinct in Greenland
Temperature: -10 °C (14°F)
Wind speed: 14 km/h (9 mp/h)
Wind Chill: -8 °C (10 °F)
Visibility: 2 km (1.2 miles) fluctuates
Clouds: clearing, low and high stratus, with breaks
Wind direction: NW
Relative Humidity: 84%
Barometric Pressure: falling
Precipitation: steady flurries

Breakfast: pigs in blankets (hot dogs in dough)
Lunch: tuna melt, fries, green beans, veggie soup
Supper: Flank steak, catfish gumbo, Tofu stir fry, veggies

Today is rather unusual so far for my time in WAIS
Divide camp. We have the wind blowing from the NE/E for the last 24 hrs
and steady flurries. As I have mentioned before it is very difficult to
get a good measure of the snow accumulation because of all the blowing
and drifting snow but we are getting some these last 24+ hrs. The
annual average accumulation is about 85 cm (34 “) and like my home, if
it is too cold it does not snow, so the slightly warmer temperatures
these last few days might be helping.

Things are running at
almost full speed here on the ice coring front and today or tomorrow we
will be adding a third shift on drilling. That means that there will be
3 or 4 of us on each 8-hour shift drilling and processing ice cores.
The pace so far is working well and the quality of the ice cores is
outstanding. By quality I mean that each ~2.5 M (6.5’) core that comes
out of the drill barrel is 99% intact and not broken. When the ice core
moves to the ice core processing room we do a visual inspection and
record notes both on paper and digitally into a computer. We do not
take photos of the ice cores on a regular basis for our records as
there is really not much to see in each ice core and they start to look
similar. Because of the very slight scrap marks that are present on the
outside of the ice core when it comes out of the drill it is virtually
impossible for us to see any layers or other structure in the ice. The
age dates for the ice that I am posting come from Rebecca, Trevor, or Ken as they operate the DEP instrument (Di-electric Properties). The DEP
measures the dielectrical constant of the ice with an electric current.
Chemicals in the ice such as acids and Ammonia change the result. Ammonia is one naturally occurring chemical that
has a seasonal fluctuation (part of the Ammonia cycle) as it increases
in the summer and decreases in the winter.

One of the questions
I often get is if we ever find “anything” like fossils in the ice
cores. Imagine taking a pencil and while blind folded you point your
pencil to the exact center of a piece of paper. A little like pin the
tail on the donkey. So, the chance of finding a fossil in one 4” hole
in the middle of West Antarctica is very close to zero. The chances
even get worse when you remember that the ice here is about 3,400 m
thick (over 10,000 ‘ or ~ 2 miles) and there are no living things her
eon the ice except at the ocean margin where there may be some
penguins, seals, or birds. Basically there no fossils in the ice that
we have found. Not that there are not small organisms like bacteria in
the ice but we are not seeing them.

The 3d quadrat has seen some
accumulation of snow. The snow here, because of the wind never makes a
nice flat surface so the new accumulation has come in drifts, like the
one in the 3dquadrat. I will be anxious to see if the drift stays or is now sculpted by the wind as the wind direction changes. Otherwise, the temperature has warmed by many degrees and the shift in the wind are the most obvious to us here.

The image today is of the last hole on the Winter Olympics mini-golf tournament (courtesy Inger). Laurant, myself, with Ursula putting.b


Anonymous said...


Glad to hear that your work is finally underway. Our class trip to the geology building on PSU campus lead us to find out about the plane. There was also an article in our paper about it. Glad no one was hurt.
The processing of ice sounds rather tedious. What keeps you interested in the work? Is the team interested in a certain period in time for the research or just the comparisons over time?
Happy New Year megan

Anonymous said...

Hi Zach!
Happy New Year and Greetings from Tisch Library, Tufts University!

Finally got around to following this exciting project. In the process of compiling Climate Change bibliography, etc. for the Second Life site.

When you have discovered bacteria in the ice cores, has the team been able to identify it?

Be safe.

zach said...

Hi Megan,
Other than the kidding we do around here about how great it is never to have to commute to work or go to a grocery store, the work is reward in itself. Though near a camp, you can walk where no one has ever walked before and see,collect, analyze ice that came from long before our time. We get to be the people that discover/verify the climate that existed long ago to add to the scientific knowledge of understanding our current climate change concerns. For details about the goals of the project please go to Basically, we are going back in time to the last interglacial age.


Thanks for tuning in. I am sure the climate change educational resources at Tisch Library will be a fantastic resource. Folks on Second Life should look for the Tisch /Wright Center offerings.
Much of the ice core analysis will not be done in the field so no evidence of life yet.