A successful completion of the field season at Taylor Glacier

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.

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Taylor Glacier looks magical on a rare windless evening

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.

Michael enveloped in a blowing cloud of ice chips as he empties them out from the drill barrel

Michael enveloped in a blowing cloud of ice chips as he empties them out from the drill barrel

Jayred and Michael drilling in 40 mph wind. Notice the snow blowing off the ridges and down tributary glaciers

Jayred and Michael drilling in 40 mph wind. Notice the snow blowing off the ridges and down tributary glaciers

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.

Ben happily loading the last core of the season into the large ice melter

Ben happily loading the last core of the season into the large ice melter

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.



Cores down boreholes

Well, here it is, the end of the season. After long days of hard work, we’ve finally made it. Daniel already left for McMurdo to get a jump start on sorting and cutting the ice samples to send back to the states, while the rest of us packed up the science and camp gear. The current plan is to have the science and drill crew leave on Monday (weather permitting) with a team of Carpenters & BFCers arriving to help Chan break down the final bits of camp and prepare an over-winter storage depot with the gear to be used in the following season.

In the meantime, on our last evening on the glacier, we decided to have a little bit of fun. Putting on our of tyvek suits – we went out to the drill site to throw some cores back down boreholes

Mission Accomplished!

Mission Accomplished


Photo by Ben Hmiel

You’ve got to be kidding me…

Well allow me to explain. First off, we’re not throwing any useful cores back down the boreholes. All of the BID cores collected for the large volume 14CH4 extractions were taken from 10-15m depth. This is done to avoid any fractures in the upper ice that are caused by diurnal temperature variations as well as to have a consistent level of cosmic ray exposure in order to better constrain the in-situ cosmogenic 14C. That means that every 15m borehole had ~10m of ice that had to be removed to access the ice we wanted to sample from. We also drilled a few 20m reconnaissance holes earlier in the season to locate the layers of ice we wanted to sample. With all these extra cores littering the clean ice zone, why not throw them back down.

TG2013 - Heads down Boreholes Oh I guess I forgot to mention that when ~75lbs of Ice falls down a hole 15-20m it makes this really awesome sound from the impact – “Shooooomp” as air rushes back out of the hole. The way the sound echoes & resonates in the ice is very unique, especially when you throw the core and then put your head right over the borehole. I won’t be able to upload a video of us throwing cores dow until we’re back in the states with a reliable internet connection, but it made for a really fun way to celebrate our last day on the ice.

Photo by Ben Hmiel

I’m jus chillin