Christmas Greetings from Taylor Glacier

Merry Christmas everyone!  Our camp has shrunk significantly now that most of I-184, Avery and Josh have left our camp.  We’re down to a crew of seven, as opposed to the 13 we once had on the glacier.  Our spirits are still high despite being exceptionally tired, dirty and smelly.  We’ve been out of Raro for days, but at least there are still oreos and peanut better left.

Work has been progressing steadily out here.  Since the last update, some jobs have shifted.  Jayred & Michael are now operating the BID while I have joined Vas on the melter shift.  The rest of the team is enrolled in labor camp – (Digging trenches as well as operating the Jiffy & Sidewinder drills).  I kid about the term labor camp, but that has been how we’ve referred to the shift since the sampling work to be done is indeed pretty physical.

Christmas sure was a unique experience here.  We were originally not planning on taking Christmas off, as our calendar had put Sundays as our day off. However, one of our team fell ill with a stomach bug (Don’t worry, he’s since made full recovery) so Vas made the call to have Christmas off.  Other than sleeping in (some of us for over 12 hours) we made the best of our Christmas out here.  I took a hike over to the meltwater channel about a mile away from camp.

From the middle of the channel looking upglacier

From the middle of the channel looking upglacier

This is a natural feature in the glacier where during the summer a small river forms that carries sediment and rocks downglacier.  Unfortunately, due to the melting, this area is not useful for the gases we are sampling for, however it does look pretty rad.

The water was barely flowing when I went.  I wonder what it would be like on a hotter day

The water was barely flowing when I went. I wonder what it would be like on a hotter day

I returned from the hike to find the endurance tent overflowing with Christmas cheer.  Chan was hard at work on making one heck of a Christmas dinner.  It was on par with Thanksgiving with its magical quality.  Avery even managed to call our iridium phone right as dinner was starting.  We were all sad she wasn’t there to join us, but it was nice to hear from her!  On our helo flights preceding Christmas, we received a large present from the hardworking bakers at the galley back in town full of delicious breads, cookies and some chocolate fudge.

Following dinner, we had a white elephant gift exchange.  Each of us brought a present from home and wrapped it.  We took turns drawing numbers and in order got to choose which present we wanted – one of the wrapped ones in the middle or even one of the ones already opened by someone else.  That’s right, we got to steal gifts from each other.  Many of us had never done a white elephant exchange so this was a fun way to spread holiday cheer among everyone.

Chandra wearing the silly glasses I brought

Chandra wearing the silly glasses I brought

Thomas & Daniel checking out the T-Rex with a present strapped to its back

Thomas & Daniel checking out the T-Rex with a present strapped to its back

Me acting as an Oregon beaver with my gift

Me acting as an Oregon beaver with my gift

The day after Christmas, we had a bit of a milestone to celebrate.  The extraction run that day was the final needed for a complete set of samples from the Oldest Dryas – Bølling CH4 transition.  We had them measured by Thomas on the GC and all had CH4 concentration values within the expected range.  This means that provided all goes well in sample processing, we will have a complete set of samples to publish!  All the reason to uncork the champagne and have a glass in the trench.

TG2013 - Cheers!

-Ben

Advertisements

Hi there it’s me Melvin.

It's me Melvin

It’s me Melvin

Yes you read that right, it’s M-e-l-v-i-n and this is totally not Michael at all. For those of you who don’t know me, my full name is Melvin the Melter and I’m not a living person. I’m actually an inanimate object (or a system comprised of many inanimate objects to be exact) invented by Vas who specializes in extracting 14CH4 from ice cores. I’m the second most experienced team member here after Vas – I’ve had five Greenland seasons and this is my third Antarctic season. I understand that many of you might be skeptical of the existence of an inanimate scientific 14CH4 extraction system that is capable of having sentient thoughts and able to write a blog post on its own. Many of you now might started to think “hmm I wonder who might be behind this… it’s definitely not Michael for sure though. It’s probably Ben or Avery.” For all intents and purposes of this post, don’t worry too much about it.

Maybe we don’t need you any longer Christo.

Maybe we don’t need you any longer Christo.

As I mentioned before, I was designed to extract 14CH4 from ice cores. The need to retrieve and analyze 14CH4 from past atmospheres comes from an underlying scientific question of how the global methane budget reacted to climate change in the past. We know (from ice core records) that in the past there were several episodes of incredibly fast global temperature rise coinciding with sharp rise of atmospheric CH4. However, dataset of past CH4 concentration by itself cannot tell us the source of CH4 emission. One way to estimate the CH4 sources during past climate change is by analyzing the carbon isotope of the ancient CH4 that are trapped in ice core bubbles. 14C of CH4 is especially good at distinguishing between past “modern” (e.g. wetlands, termites, ruminants) and fossil (e.g. clathrates, permafrost, thermokarst lakes) emission.

To extract enough 14C of CH4 necessary for AMS measurement (e.g. one data point in Vas’ figure), I need about 1000kg of ice. This means about 30m worth of 9.5 inch diameter Blue Ice Drill (BID) cores. The BID by the way is a one of a kind ice core drill system that was initially designed specifically to produce ice cores with the ideal geometry so that they can be packed inside me as efficiently as possible (and for the entire drill system to fit inside a 212 helicopter). Even with the unusually large (by ice core standard) diameter cores from the BID, it still takes three days for my mere mortal minions colleagues to drill, load, melt and extract enough air from the cores to make just one sample.

Josh and Ben start working very early in the morning

Josh and Ben start working very early in the morning

For the past two weeks or so, everyday at 12:30am my two minions distinguished driller colleagues Josh and Ben would start using the BID to pre-drill my two sample holes to 10m and six of I-184’s holes. This season, our team (I-159) has to share the BID with another group (I-184) and because of that the BID is run continuously on two working shifts. The first group of drillers (Josh and Ben) had to pre-drill all the holes during the cold period at “night” because the BID was having troubles drilling a brand new hole when it’s sunny and warm out there (by Antarctic standards of course).

I don’t like black carbon slush, but chainsaw is pretty necessary. I wish we have lightsabers next season.

I don’t like black carbon slush, but chainsaw is pretty necessary. I wish we have lightsabers next season.

The drill team usually starts producing cores for me at 1:00pm; this means that my second set of minions  the core processing team (Vas and Michael) would usually start working around 2:00pm to allow the ice cores to relax. Vas would usually chainsaw the end of each ice cores so that they can be stacked nicely inside me. Michael would then scrape off about 1mm of cores from the chainsawed surface because chainsaw produces snow slush with black carbon in it. I only accept clean ice cores with the finest quality. It’s only fair because at the end I gave them extracted ancient air with very low 14CH4 blank. After the ice cores are loaded, the remaining modern air is pumped out via a series of air pumps. Unlike the previous couple of seasons, this season the ice core loading step is done in the afternoon; because of this, we’re experiencing a little bit more melting – which means we lost a tiny amount of the sample. However, all is good though because Vas and Michael built a makeshift shade wall out of plywood to minimize the melting.

The ice cores are loaded via 4 to 1 pulley system hanging off a trebuchet

The ice cores are loaded via 4 to 1 pulley system hanging off a trebuchet

The final part of the procedure is my favorite. The ice cores inside the tank are melted via propane burner. To accomplish this task, I had a set of six very powerful propane torches in circle that burns about 3 million Btu’s worth of propane per extraction. At this step, usually Michael has to run around me and squirt some spray bottles around the tank body so it doesn’t overheat. If the aluminum in the tank overheats, it can degass more CH4 and CO, which increases the overall blank of the system. After the melting step is done, the ancient air that is now released in my headspace is recirculated through a bubbler system. This step is necessary so that the ancient CH4 gas can equilibrate with the melted water from ice cores that is free of dissolved CH4. Finally the sample air is transferred to a 35 L steel tank from Essex cryogenics (we simply called them “Essex tanks”) and is ready to be shipped back for measurement.

-Melvin the Melter

-definitely not Michael

Updates from the PI

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been on Taylor Glacier for almost a full month and our field season is more than halfway done. Time flies when you’re staying busy!

Sarah Aciego’s team left for their upglacier drilling site two days ago and the camp has been a lot quieter. Josh and Jayred were supposed to fly with the Blue Ice Drill to the upglacier site yesterday, to join Sarah for drilling two more holes in the younger ice exposed on that part of the glacier. The drill made it, Josh and Jayred did not, as the weather went down just as the helo made its first trip (carrying the drill). As far as we can tell looking around from our site, it should be much better today.

We are finally all working on the same schedule (night shift), which is a big relief. The complex staggered shifts we were running for the last couple of weeks (to accomplish drilling for both teams while still maximizing the coldest night drilling hours) made communication tricky and took away the opportunity to hang out together as a team at the end of the day.

The entire team has been working very hard. 12-hr days have been the norm for most of us, partly because some tasks (like the big ice melter extractions) require that much time, and partly because of various complications (high winds, minor equipment problems). Chandra’s great food and good cheer have helped a ton to keep us all going strong.

Considering the sequester-caused cutbacks in our field team and delays associated with the government shutdown, we are doing pretty well as far as our science goals for this season. Assuming things go reasonably smoothly from here, we would collect 7 out of 8 planned large melter samples, and most or all of the small-drill samples. We have also already collected all the high priority samples from the continuous chainsaw transects. Go team!

All the best from Taylor Glacier,

Vas

PS – We miss you Avery!

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Friis Hills in the night sun at 3 am.

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Michael using spray bottles to keep the walls of the ice melter cool at the beginning of the ice melting step

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Vas enjoying the ice wonderland at the glacier’s edge

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Avery trenching a couple of days before her departure

Photo by Vas Petrenko

“Happy Birthday” sign for Chandra that we carved out of ice

Week 3 on Taylor Glacier

The time has come for me to finally say goodbye to the group of people that have been my family for the past month.  Yesterday (Wednesday), the AStar came to pick me up in order to take me back to Mactown to start my long journey back to Rochester. I teared up as we took off the ground and I waved goodbye to those beneath me.  I did not realize how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to those who were strangers to me not too long ago.  Spending time with people 24/7 makes a bond that is indescribable.  It was because of this team that this trip will be an unforgettable experience, an escape from reality to a world of science that is impossible to imagine without having experienced it yourself.  Despite being the youngest, I never felt the difference in age. We were all there for a common goal which brought us together and drove us to work that much harder.  Leaving half way through the season was probably the most difficult part of this trip because knowing that everyone else will continue on does not give much closure. We took a family portrait before I headed out though, which was great.

I-159 Family

I-159 Family

These past three weeks in the field have flown by. Every day was a new challenge and learning experience.  There was not a single day that went by that I was not testing my ability to persevere through long days of work.  Most of my time was spent with a chainsaw or drill (the sidewinder, jiffy, or Blue Ice Drill).  Vas had described some of the things that I would be doing in the field, but each day was nothing like I could have imagined.

Daniel and I using the Jiffy drill

Daniel and I using the Jiffy drill

For the first week that I was in the field, I spent my days with Daniel, learning how to do small ice core sampling in order to do a reconnaissance of the desired sampling area to ensure that we would be taking larger samples from the correct locations. Once this was done we moved on to what Michael loved to call “Labor Camp” while everyone else was away at “Nerd Camp”-running the GC and the melter.  Basically, the next couple of weeks were spent constructing two trenches, a 30m and a 40m trench. In order to do this, the outline of the trench was created by chain sawing the area, then using a breaker bar to smash the ice on the inside and then having the ice shoveled out. The desired samples were taken from a 6cm wide line that ran down the center of the trench.  In order to remove the samples, a wedge shaped ice block was created using the chainsaw.   Despite the labor intensive work, I loved every moment of it.  The time flew by.

Small sample collecting

Small sample collecting

The Sidewinder

The Sidewinder

For about four days during these couple of weeks, I was sent over to be the assistant on the Blue Ice Drill.  I worked with Josh in order to get some of the larger ice cores that would be melted on site.  We had a couple electronical issues during my shifts, which were a bit frustrating and took a lot of patience to get through, but now the drill is running smoothly. Unfortunately, I was a klutz and tripped over the V-threads on our mess tent. I ended up smashing my knee on the ice, so I found it too painful to keep kneeling and moving around for the Blue Ice Drill. Ben thankfully took over my position there, and I switched back to helping out Daniel.

One thing that was very interesting about this adventure was the diet of chocolate bars, bumper bars, and numerous cookies that were the best during snack time.  Along with Raro-a sugary powder mix- that seemed to have magical powers while we were at work. The one thing that I will not miss is the undesirable temperatures for all meals; breakfast with hot steaming cereal, cold lunch meals-with some frozen turkey, and dinner meals that become extremely cold in a matter of minutes. Do not get me wrong, we were very well fed, thanks to Chandra, and we ate way better than I could have ever imagined but the temperatures of each meal were sometimes disheartening.

Other than the warmth while sleeping, working through the night was really enjoyable because for about five hours the sun would disappear behind the mountains, so that the glacier would be in the shade. This provided a great temperature for collecting samples and for drilling since we didn’t have to worry about melting. The weather had been much more manageable for these past couple of weeks than during the first week that we were there.  Other than a small snow storm, which is uncommon for the Dry Valleys- the weather was pretty much consistent. There were also a couple extremely warm days where we were down to our base layers, which were quite amazing but not the best for getting work done.

The night of the snow storm

The night of the snow storm

As the last week of my journey approached, I was determined to see as much of Taylor Glacier as possible in my free time. After work, Daniel thankfully took the time and energy to fulfill my desires to see and do as much as time allowed. He took me to see the preserved penguin and seal that were located about ten minutes away from camp. It is absolutely phenomenal to see how the cold helps to keep animals so well preserved. Despite Taylor Glacier being a good distance from the oceans, a penguin and seal somehow ended up where they currently remain today. Also, after our snow storm we hiked up-glacier to where there is a trough with a steep slope in order to go sledding. Sledding is absolutely amazing when the ice is covered with a small layer of snow. Another highlight of my last week was the chainsaw sculpting that we attempted, which was quite interesting.

Chainsaw Sculpting

Chainsaw Sculpting

Preserved Penguin

Preserved Penguin

Preserved Seal

Preserved Seal

Every time that I looked around me I was always in awe at the world that surrounded me. It is hard to believe that this is over. I have pushed myself more than I could have imagined and am grateful for this amazing opportunity that I have experienced.  Hopefully, the rest of the team that I left behind will finish all their science goals and make it home safely. They have made great progress so far, despite a couple of issues along the way, and are on their way to a successful season.  Sorry for rambling so much, but so much has happened in the past couple weeks that I will never be able to capture it fully in a simple blog post.

View from the AStar of our camp

View from the AStar of our camp

Farewell Taylor Glacier,

Avery

Week 2 on Taylor Glacier

Hey everybody, we’ve been having a great time here on the glacier.  Being Sunday, it’s our much needed day off.  Some members of the team have gone on a Skidoo ride to check out the sights up glacier, while myself and Michael stuck around to catch up on sleep and relax, as we haven’t had much time to do so since being here.  Both teams are busy.

The first thing to mention is the severe unpredictability of Antarctic weather, which at our site is more dependent on wind than anything else.  In the beginning of the week, we had a 3 day stretch with consistent winds of 30-40mph, gusting as high as 50mph.  Getting work done is rather difficult in that environment, since we need to take care that everything around camp is severely strapped down or else it will blow down the glacier!  Walking to the worksite felt like gliding with the wind at our back, while walking back to camp was nearly impossible to accomplish without falling over on the slippery Ice.

Luckily, the winds calmed down mid-week for calmer working conditions.  Josh & Jayred were able to master the Blue Ice Drill by the end of the week to the point of being able to work independently in two separate shifts, each with a drill helper.  This will make our work more efficient being able to run the drill at all time as we are sharing it with I-184 for the next few weeks (They have a blog too, check it out: giglinthefield.wordpress.com) Thomas trained me on the field ice core methane extraction system that we are using to understand the age of the various Ice layers.

TG2013 - GCMichael and Vas have finished setting up the large volume 14CH4 extraction system and have essentially completed their procedural tests.

TG2013 - Melvin the melter TG2013 - Melter internal connectionsOnce the stratigraphy of the ice layers is fully understood, they’ll be ready to start extraction of 14CH4 samples.  Daniel and Avery dug a 30m trench with electric chainsaws along the main glacier transect to extract samples for continuous chemistry analysis.

TG2013 - TrenchScientifically we’re making progress, although perhaps a bit behind our original timeframe due to unpredicted stratigraphy from our reconnaissance samples.

This past Thursday, we had a Thanksgiving celebration with both teams all in one endurance tent.  Our science implementer Jessie Jenkins cooked us a Turkey in McMurdo and flew it out via helicopter with some of our cargo earlier in the day.  A great time was shared by everyone!

Thanksgiving dinnerOur camp manager Chandra even made me a menorah to celebrate Chanukah simultaneously!

MenorahTowards the end of the week the winds really calmed down to the point that it got too warm.  Our thermometer in the kitchen was reading 40-45F, although the thermometer was likely reading an elevated value from solar heating.  The surface of the glacier began melting slightly from the sun causing the surface to become extremely slick.  Walking without stabilizers or crampons became nearly impossible, though that was a fair trade off for shedding several layers.  By midday it eventually got so hot that the drill got too warm to operate.  Unfortunately this put our work on hold until the night shift.  Hopefully the wind picks up (slightly) so that the drill can operate around the clock.

Driller Mike Jayred catching a midday nap

Driller Mike Jayred catching a midday nap

Until then, greetings from the sunny glacier!

-Ben