Gifford J Wong
Date: 14 December 2008
Location: WAIS Field Camp (Science Rac Tent)
Wind speed: 9.4 kts
Visibility: 1.5 – 2.0 miles
Wind direction: SE,117°
Relative Humidity: 81%
Animals: Just the rowdies in the Rec Rac Tent
Breakfast: Leftovers (tofu stir fry, an egg roll, and an English muffin with Nutella)
Lunch: Leftovers (Pizza, fish chowder, bratwurst and chili)
Supper: Leftovers (Potatoes au gratin, shepherds pie, baked chicken and green beans)
Happy Sunday, folks! Gifford here - the sometimes-loquacious, California-bred, helicopter-geek turned ice-core handler. As the menu above suggests, Sunday is the day that WAIS camp goes from “full-on” to “time-off”, and deservedly so. As the previous blogs noted, days can be long and grueling (even when recreating), so folks really do enjoy a rest. But don’t let a “day off” fool you – a lot can happen, even out at WAIS!
My day started with the empyting of the water trays that belong to the cooling units in the arch. There are four industrial a/c units designed to keep our work space climate-controlled to a wonderfully chill -25C. Unfortunately, they dump their excess moisture in these metal drip pans that must be manually emptied throughout the day and I pulled the 0600 shift.
After a quick empty, I took advantage of our satellite phone to say “hi” to my parents. As you might imagine, effective communication is essential, and WAIS camp packs such conveniences as a satellite phone. We still have a high-frequency (HF) radio, its glory days only going back a few decades… calls to home used to consist of you, the caller, the receiver (say, my parents), and about a dozen ham radio operators stretching across Antarctica and up through South and North America. My how times have changed!
0930 rolled around and Patrick, one of the Ice Coring and Drilling Services (ICDS) folk, began his “Coffee Corner”. Not only is Patrick an old hand at working in Antarctica, he also managed a Starbucks Coffee back in the US. Today we sampled an extra-bold Sumatran coffee and a medium organic, shade-grown Mexican coffee. I could fill the next couple paragraphs discussing the pros and cons of blade versus burr grinders, or the differences between materials used to make coffee presses – suffice it to say and despite our location, comforts do abound at WAIS!
The “big task” of the day involved me accompanying Bess (the Maine voice) to her snow pit site. Unlike John who is looking at stratigraphy and physical properties, Bess is looking at trace elements. The site and sampling techniques used must have a high level of “clean-ness”, so we placed this site well upwind of the predominant wind direction of the camp. We are in an area aptly called “the clean air sector”. We created a flag-line to her site from the arch as well as set up a tent at her site as equipment storage and emergency shelter. It was a nice way to recall those skills learned in Happy Camper school (and I must say our snow wall looks pretty nice and functional).
If you notice the weather notes, you’ll see that we had complete cloud cover. In a place like WAIS, where it is already expansively flat and incredibly white, an overcast day can turn a mundane drive on a snow mobile into a harrowing rollercoaster ride. The available light, termed “flat light” in aviation parlance, severely diminishes your ability to discern surface features. Not only do you lose the horizon (the sky and ground melt into one continuous backdrop of grey), you lose all of the bumps and dips that are wind-carved into the snow (sastrugi). We made it to her site and back with only a few unseen jumps and side-hills – yes, it was fun!
All in all, a great Sunday! My parents know I’m okay and not too cold, I now know the difference between fully-washed and semi-washed coffee beans, and Bess and I learned the important Antarctic lesson that you should always check behind your snowmobile when racing home to make dinner lest you accidentally leave a sled laden with backpacks and equipment behind.