Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WAIS - Jan 14, 2009 - Dave

Name: Dave Ferris

Date: Jan 14, 2009
Location: WAIS Divide
Latitude: 79° 28’ 1.2” S
Longitude: 112° 5’ 6.0” W
Elevation: 1,759 m
Borehole depth: deep and getting deeper
Temperature: very warm
Wind speed: calm
Wind Chill: none
Visibility: forever
Clouds: beautiful
Breakfast: Leftover Middle Eastern food (see other blog)
Lunch: Hot chocolate with Bailey’s outside on the cliff overlooking the great WAIS with Natalie and Logan.
Supper: garlic shrimp and scallops over rice; FRESH LETTUCE SALAD!!!!

Hello, I’m Dave. I’m an ice core driller and I’m told, the first driller to post on the WAIS blog. This is my first year as a driller and I guess I come to it from a little different perspective. Last year I was a core handler and I also work with the ice core back in my lab at South Dakota State University. So why did I switch to drilling? Lots of reasons but the big one was to have a chance to work with the group that designed and built this drill. This drill is impressive to see. It’s a monster. The drill sonde (barrel) is 45 ft. long. The cable winch weighs 19,000 lbs. We hope to be drilling 4-meter (12+ ft) cores next season after we get through the brittle ice.

Someone once told me that ice core drillers were the rock stars of Antarctica. I can tell you that these guys are at the top of their profession. One doesn’t often get a chance, if ever, to work with the people at the top (even though it is admittedly a small arena). The drilling group (Ice Core Drilling Services, ICDS) is based out of the University of Wisconsin. There are 5 of them led by Jay along with Bill, Nicolai, Paul and Krissy. The rest of us are contract drillers (6).

Drillers say that ice core drilling is 99% boredom interspersed with 1% sheer panic. I came hoping to observe and learn during the 1% but have learned to long for and treasure the 99%. There’s a lot of pressure on these guys. If the drill shuts down, everything shuts down. Things are always changing. Mechanical things really don’t like to work well in the cold, computers even less. The ice seems to change about every meter. And these guys adapt continuously. They seem prepared for anything. Things happen completely out of the blue. Problems crop up that could never have been dreamt of. And these guys come up with a plan and materials to fix it, quickly. Very quickly. There’s no running to the hardware store or ordering replacement parts. We had a potentially show ending problem the other day. The problem had caused us to burn through a couple instrument sections and motors. We were down to the last ones. It was amazing to watch how they troubleshot the problem in only a few hours. A fix was quickly devised and a day later we are back up and running. Smooth as ever.

So, drillers are the rock stars of Antarctica. If so, I think I might only be a roadie at this point. But as a roadie I get a front row seat every night to the concert.


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