Tuesday, December 23, 2008

WAIS - Dec 23, 2008 - Gifford

Name: Gifford J Wong

Date: 23 December 2008
Location: WAIS Field Camp (Science Rac Tent)
Time: 11:15pm
Latitude: 79°28’1.2”S
Longitude: 112°5’6.0”W
Elevation: 1,759m
Temperature: -20.2°C
Wind speed: 4.8 kts
Visibility: Seems like miles and miles!
Wind direction: 20°
Relative Humidity: 70%
Precipitation: None
Altimeter: 28.93
Animals: Just the freshly decorated Christmas cookies in the Galley Rac Tent
Breakfast: “special” French toast with Nutella and melon balls (frozen) @ 0600
Lunch: Curry day – I had the one with chicken!! With fresh naan, dal and rice.
Supper: re-heated mahi mahi, rice noodles and peas’n’carrots @ 2045

Gifford here… another California shout-out to the lovely folks that read this blog!
I’ve noticed a lot of folks have shared some wonderful stories about WAIS Camp, in particular, and Antarctica in general. This IS a fascinating place, without a doubt… but there are times when things can become (incredibly) challenging. Yes, even life at a remote camp with swing dancing, Christmas cookie decorating, and a shower can be difficult.

Today I’ll take a look at how Antarctic science is not as easy as one might think. For example, our foray into 24-hour drilling started a few days (blogs) ago… we have been getting fantastic-looking ice core since. Unfortunately, the complexity in processing and adequately logging this ice core is quite high, and our computer system is finding it challenging. Remember, we’re doing things that, at least for the US Antarctic Program, have never been done before. This said, every one of us has put in quite a few “extra” hours to help the process along. Without meaning to sound melodramatic, a beaker’s life is not all fun and games (“beaker” is an affectionate McMurdo term for scientist), and sleep can be something of a luxury.

Indeed, a friend of mine who is working in the Dry Valley (Antarctic) LTER just wrote me about how she spent 24 hours watching an experiment only to go to sleep for 4 hours and then wake up for another 12 hours of sampling! We don’t have it nearly as rough – we’ve been blessed with pleasingly-short 8-hour shifts. Still, most of us have put in at least one 10, 12 or 14-hour day since arriving to WAIS (with one or two folks putting in even longer days!). Today, for me, was a 15-hour affair… (and it was so worth it!)

The regular 8-hour shift began and ended with no excess drama… we arrived a few ticks before our start looking for a smooth transition between shifts, and we ran a bit long as we needed to help out with ice core movement. We have these “wheeled shelves” (carts) that we use to store the ice cores on, and there were storage carts laden with ice that were ready to be moved from the “ground” floor (the Arch is actually somewhat buried by two years of cumulative snowfall) of the Drilling Arch to the basement. This procedure of shuffling carts to and fro between floors requires a minimum of 4 people, and each shift has 2 core handlers. The process is simple enough, and after a few lifts (and lowers) of the elevator, the Drilling Arch’s ground floor was prepped for another day or so of drilling.

After this quick dance with very old ice, Bess (my colleague and shift-partner) and I then hopped on a snowmobile and headed out to her snow pit to help make it deeper. She had already sampled down to 1.3 meters, and we were aiming to get to 3 meters today. I believe she’s chatted a bit about what she is looking at, and I feel lucky to be a part of this process. After much difficulty (we were using shovels and hand saws due to the nature of her sampling), we made it to a sampling depth of 3.1 meters! I’m sure I will sleep very well tonight!

But in reality, this camp and the science that is going on here is phenomenal. Sure, it may be a little tough getting to Antarctica, and doing science here may be a touch challenging now and again, but we have it so much easier than our predecessors from, say, the Heroic Age (of Antarctic exploration). Many folks in camp are reading books or articles from this period that outline truly difficult and challenging experiences, some of which do indeed lead to lost lives.

Thankfully, we’re not THAT challenged out here! And with that I see that it is 11:15… I think I hear a sleeping bag calling out my name. With that, I just want to say (while I can), Happy Holidaze to everyone out there (with some special love going to my family in Cali and my friends ALL over!!). Oh, and “Go Bears” – my Cal Bears are going bowling this football post-season!

No comments: