Monday, January 7, 2008

January 8, 2008
WAIS Divide camp Antarctica

Time: 6 am
Latitude: 79° 28.10’ S
Longitude: 112° 3.56’ W
Elevation: 1820 m (5919’)
Ice core: ~30 m (900’)
Temperature: -13 °C ( 9°F)(warmed to -10 °C/14°F by evening - our warmest day yet)
Wind speed: 9 km/h (5 mp/h)
Wind Chill: -17 °C (0 °F)
Visibility: 1 km (.6 miles)
Clouds: fog
Wind direction: N
Relative Humidity: 67%
Barometric Pressure: steady
Precipitation: flurries but little to no accumulation
Breakfast: French Toast, sausage, hot/cold cereal
Lunch: Chicken, Beef, Vegi fajitas
Supper: Pan-seared Atlantic Salmon, lentil soup, bread, steak fries

I almost feel like I just came up out of the mines. Today we split the
core handler group in two and worked 8 am -5 pm and 4 pm to midnight
shifts. It has not been the first day I spent all day indoors here at WAIS
Divide camp but somehow today seemed different. Half excited to get
some real ice cores and half anxious about getting the data done
correctly. The -20° C temperature in the arch certainly sapped the
energy out of me after my morning shift. Ice core processing is not
extremely difficult but it can be quite tricky as you try and get the
depths of each ice core as precisely as possible. Not every ice core
comes up out of the hole in a perfect 3 m long cylinder and there are
often breaks, cracks, chips missing, weird irregular cuts, and plain
ole’ imperfections. We record every little break and missing ice chip
as we collect the ice cores since they will be boxed and sent to the
National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver Colorado and potentially not
examined again until June 2008. When you open the boxes in six months
atNICL to complete the ice core processing and divide the ice cores
into the appropriate pieces for each science investigation, all the ice
cores might look the same. Without great observations now, along with
excellent records, we might easily lose track of which ice core is
which. If that were to happen then any age dates we establish for the
ice cores could be confused.

The age dates are critical in
helping determine the composition of the atmosphere and the
corresponding climate during each time period. That is basically the
point of collecting ancient natural records of the climate. There are
other ways to investigate ancient climate like deep sea sediment cores,
dendrochronology (tree rings), and pollen from lake sediments. These
records, along with ice cores, are all called proxy records as they
come from natural sources and are chemically analyzed to determine
temperature changes. The other record climate scientists use to
determine climate change is the instrumental record which comes from
“modern” instruments (back to late 1700s) which give measurements of
weather changes. When placed together these records provide a precise
look into what climate has been in the past. Ice core records are the
most detailed of these proxy records and have been dated, depending on
the ice layer conditions, back to 800,000 yearsypb (years before
present). All this information adds up to a more complete understanding
of the past climate and will help to determine what the future climate
change on Earth will be.

All this Antarctica science and camp
life may seem like one big snow party, and to some it is. In fact,
there are a couple folks here in camp who are professional polar
(Antarctic and Arctic) workers. The science here is supported by lots
of skilled staff currently employed byRaytheon Polar Services Company.
Some of these folks use their 4-5 month stints in Antarctica or the
Arctic as their only real employment (some work both poles each year).
After their stint on the ice is over each spring (or fall in the
Arctic) they head for other exotic places in the world to camp, travel,
or just hangout and enjoy the scenery until their next assignment comes
up. Our camp director, Elizabeth, is one of these free spirits that have
no address (maybe a storage locker somewhere) and when she is off the
ice she travels and or maybe picks up other part-time jobs somewhere in
the world. This February she will be working in Alaska for
a few weeks before taking off and traveling somewhere she might not
have been before. Then, in the fall, it is back to Antarctica for her
eighth season. Not just a job, but a career as a dedicated polar
professional. Then again, after skillfully directing a camp of mostly
men in Antarctica for a few months, I am sure that she needs (and
certainly deserves) the long break.

The weather started off
very nice this morning but deteriorated enough to have us cancel a
scheduled C-130 flight. Another is scheduled for tomorrow – so we will
see what happens. We have run out of Ginger tea so I am very hopeful for
tomorrow’s flight and resupply.

Today’s image is of Ursula and group examining and recording information on one of the new ice cores.

1 comment:

scott said...

Hi Zach-

When you make those critical first observations of the ice core do you also take some kind of photographic and/or video record of the core? I imagine that a researcher can only make so many notations on paper, however, if this paper record were combined with some kind of visual record it would be much more useful in identifying ice cores at a later time.