I am writing this as I sit on the flight back to the US. Six of our team are still in McMurdo, organizing the shipment of our science cargo, re-cutting and repacking ice core samples in the walk-in freezer and cleaning and returning field gear.
This has been an extremely challenging and at the same time a very successful field season for us. The challenges were varied, but the success was always due to the same factor: the team, which was a truly amazing group of people. Everyone gave 100%, worked very long hours when necessary and supported each other completely.
To recap some of the difficulties, we started by losing 2 field team members long before the season began, a product of the federal budget sequestration. We then faced uncertainty in whether our season would proceed at all, a result of the government shutdown. In the end, the shutdown delayed us by slightly over a week, pushing the season further into the window of warmest weather (bad for ice drilling). The combination of some warm days and sharing the Blue Ice Drill with Sarah Aciego’s team pushed us into a complex schedule of shifts, where there were 3 different working schedules within our team, making team bonding and communication quite tricky.
Taylor Glacier is a stunningly beautiful place, but it can also be very harsh. We expect it to be windy; however, this season we saw probably twice as much wind as ever before, both in the number of the windy days and in their intensity. Winds above 20 mph were the norm. Several storms brought gusts of over 50 mph. Throw in some relatively minor but re-occurring mechanical issues, and you have people working 12 hrs a day in 30 – 40 mph winds.
The sampling results, in the end, are quite impressive. Almost 900 m in total drilled by the Blue Ice Drill. 7 large-volume ancient air samples collected for studies of carbon-14 in methane during the last deglaciation. 4 complete procedural test samples on the large melter system. 56 m of large-diameter ice core taken from below 6 meter depth and “planted” into shallow boreholes near the surface to study near-surface production of carbon-14 by cosmic rays. Approximately 180 boreholes drilled to collect samples from 4m or deeper using our smaller ice coring system, the Sidewinder. 75 m of ice sticks cut with chainsaws from ≈ 1 m depth for continuous analyses of trace chemistry and methane concentration. Over 200 ice samples analyzed for methane concentration on our field GC system.
A special thanks is in order to our camp manager, Chandra Llewellyn. She made the camp a fun and welcoming place to be with her constant cheer, patched up our cuts and bruises, kept us going with her amazing cooking and organized a myriad different aspects of camp life, ranging from keeping gear from blowing away in storms to coordinating our helicopter support.