Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WAIS - Jan. 7, 2009 - Tim

Name: Tim Bartholomaus

Date: January 7, 2009 (now January 8, after my shift)
Location: WAIS Divide Rec Tent
Time: 3 am
Latitude: 79° 28’ 1.2” S
Longitude: 112° 5’ 6.0” W
Elevation: 1,759 m
Borehole depth: 1080 m
Temperature: -13 °C (it's been warm since the storm a few days ago!)
Wind speed: 5 knots
Visibility: unrestricted
Clouds: mostly cloudy, with the ceiling several thousand feet up, but there's sun off on the horizon!
Wind direction: 20° (NNE)
Precipitation: none (the snow from the last storm stopped a while ago)
Lunch (breakfast for me): A bowl of rice krispies and two scones (I slept in, and missed the official lunch).
Supper (lunch for me): Chicken or tofu curry, Israeli couscous with herbs, tater tots, corn with peppers, seafood chowder, coconut cake.
Midrats (dinner for me): Seared salmon with orzo, mushroom quinoa,
Mediterranean veggies, citrus beurre blanc, Bailey's chocolate surprise

After the storm on Tuesday, the weather is starting to clear up. The winds have died down, the snow has long since stopped, and the clouds, although thick overhead, are starting to break up around the horizon. While, as Logan wrote, the storm was a touch disappointing and certainly fell short of a full-on Antarctic gale, I’m starting to look forward to the return of blue skies and still air. One of the biggest temporary impacts of the storm is flat, even lighting that makes it almost impossible to identify any textures or relief in the ground surface. When you combine that with the long snow drifts that have built up behind each obstacle larger than a 3’ by 3’ by 3’ tri-wall cardboard box, the typical walks between tent city, downtown WAIS, and the arch become something of a small adventure. Everyone in camp has been stumbling around, tripping over the new drifts as they are encountered, then stumbling off of them as one walks off the lee side.

In the arch, it was a fairly typical day for Spruce and I on shift 2.
Since I was up a bit late last night, I skipped lunch and got up a bit before 2 pm. After a quick, cold breakfast in the galley, then a stopover in Rec to wash my face and brush my teeth, I dashed off to the warming Jamesway next to the Arch. The warming Jamesway is actually one of my favorite places around camp. These Korean-War-era, former Army structures have a lot of character and, for one, are actually kind of dark inside, which can be a treat here in the land of the 24-hr sun. We’ve got a small heating stove inside that keeps it nice and toasty, racks and hangers to dry our gloves, boots and Big Reds, some office space at one end, and a bit of a lounge/meeting space in the other end of the 35-foot-long arched building. Altogether, this makes for a pretty cozy environment for we core handlers to drink tea and layer and delayer all of the warm clothing we wear while at work.

The first five and a half hours of our shift were uneventful. The drillers made great progress- we were getting a nice-looking 2.5 meters of ice core (about 15 or 18 years worth of ice at this depth) every 80 minutes or so. This was just enough time for us to keep up with our core logging as I described in my last blog (12/29/08). It was an impromptu 90's night on the iPod, and we were listening to classics by the bands Everclear, Gin Blossom and Oasis—some stuff I hadn't heard since high school. But then, just as the end of our shift was coming into sight, we got warned by one of our drillers that the next run might be "banged up a little."

Spruce and I walked through the door to the drilling arch to find the three drillers we work with, Bill, Tanner and Patrick, gathered around the cutter head at the end of the core barrel (together we five make up the "dude" shift, because we're the only shift without at least two women). Out the bottom of the core barrel stuck several large angular fragments of ice, not the cleanly broken, smooth surface we're accustomed to seeing. Today was the first time this had happened this season, so our handling of the situation was a departure from standard procedures; together, drillers and core handlers collaborated quickly to safely get the ice out of the core barrel without further damage.

After we five talked it over, the drillers took off the cutter head and we removed the largest of the chips by hand, then attempted to push the remaining portion out as we typically would. The core wouldn't budge. Again we conferred and, although we recognized that some of the ice still inside the core barrel was likely damaged, decided that the best way to get the rest of the ice out without further risk would be to disassemble the core barrel around its middle (the core barrel is modular, with about 10 equal lengths screwed together to make the entire 3.15-meter-long barrel). This worked well and we were able to feed two out of the three ice lengths into their protective netting on the cold, processing side of the arch. These two lengths looked only marginally worse than they might under typical circumstances, so we turned our attention to the last, more broken 1-meter-length. When we tried to push it out of the core barrel, some of the broken fragments jammed against the inside of the core barrel, seizing it in place.

Again, we took apart more sections of the core barrel, and then again, until the barrel was in four pieces. Finally, we were able to hand-clear the jams and push several of the largest fragments into netting. Many of the fragments, alas, had lost their absolute position within the ice core, but were placed into one of several zip-lock bags to preserve their position as nearer-the-top, nearer-the-bottom, or closer-to-the-middle. In the end, it was a real shame that one of the 3,500 meters of ice that we have drilled or will drill was badly damaged; some of the analyses planned for the WAIS Divide ice core will not be possible on this length. But through the patience, creative problem solving, and dedication of those involved, we were able to protect 1.5 meters of ice from damage, and salvaged large, intact pieces and nearly all of the mass of the broken core.

I've been impressed at how committed the people I work with are to drilling the best possible ice core. Nobody in camp is simply a hired hand—it's clear that everyone has a stake in this core and goes to great lengths to make sure things go as well as they possibly can. Although today's event was a real shame, our team handled it as best as we could. This kind of attention, in addition to the careful planning and new drill technology behind this project, will reduce the likelihood that other core is damaged and help ensure that the WAIS Divide ice core is one of the best yet.

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