We are “pro-fessionals”, look it up in the book

The deity of success is a woman, and she insists on being won, not courted. You’ve got to seize her and bear her off, instead of standing under her window with a mandolin.”

– Rex Beach

DSC_0224Dear loyal reader,

‘Tis my honor to bring you good news from the top of Greenland’s ice sheet. Despite the hardships that had hitherto plagued our expedition, we have successfully completed all of our initial scientific objectives and plus some more. Let us briefly sum up the work accomplished between May 16th to June 25th: (1) a successful testing of the Blue Ice Drill Deep mode up to 187m deep – from this test we managed to obtain four boxes worth of ice specimen for carbon monoxide isotope and position dependent nitrous oxide isotope measurements, (2) a successful collection of four air extractions from firn ice with the big ice melter, (3) successful collection of four procedural blanks from the big ice melter – two wet water blanks, one dry inject – recirculate blank and one hot dry blank. During this period we drilled a total of 687.77 fathoms (1 meter = 0.547 fathom) worth of ice cores from 58 holes.

We managed to achieve all this despite losing half of our team members during the first half of the expedition, three abandoned sample/blank extractions, a couple of abandoned boreholes due to dropping several items (gloves, allen wrenches, etc) into them, and multitudes of problems with the Blue Ice Drill; for example by the end of the season, the Blue Ice Drill has gone through almost all of its spare parts – drill barrels, anti-torques, electrical connections, etc. Through the difficulties, each men and women in our expedition worked gallantly without any complain. Deservedly, most of us took it easy in the last couple of days during camp packup. In our spare time, some of us made a very artistic sculpture out of ice cores and a couple days ago we even had a very gay (in ye Olde English kind of way, obviously) evening playing a game of soccer football in the snow.

Overall, I would say that the expedition went splendidly. For a closing note of this post I have a quote from Sir Ernest Shackleton – a man of indomitable will and boundless courage lest any future polar fieldwork encountered similar hardship to us: “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”

Yours truly

Michael N. Dyonisius

Grad student

Our gallant drillers - Josh and Grant playing football in the snow

Our gallant drillers – Josh and Grant playing football in the snow

BID core sculpture 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare - Percy Bysshe Shelley

BID core sculpture
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
– Percy Bysshe Shelley


Obligatory Update

Things are running rather smoothly at camp now that we have a full team of 8 to work on the drilling and science operations. We have made our full transition to shifts as of last Saturday, with work starting ~5am for the morning crew and ~530pm for the evening crew. Shift work up here is a great way to boost productivity with our limited time since we get 24 hours of daylight. There are advantages about working night shift – namely that falling asleep is easy as it is quite warm in our Arctic oven tents during the day – a bit of a trade off for having slightly colder working hours. Also, some people seem to mind having dinner for breakfast, but I LOVE it, breakfast is supposed to be a big important meal anyway – why not eat curries and pasta to get energy for the day?

Vas left our camp to head back to the states on Wednesday morning – passing over responsibilities of field leader to myself.  Its been fun being the big cheese up here, but it is certainly more work in keeping things organized and overseeing all of our operations.  At least I have Jamie, our camp manager helping out on the day to day camp operations so that I can focus on leading the science.

A few days ago, we completed collection of our sample from the 10m depth level. We were able to get by with 6 melter extractions rather than the original 7 because the density was slightly higher than anticipated – allowing us to get more mass into the melter with each extraction. The trend may hold for the 20m sample as well – but we will not know until we measure the water level at the end of the day. The current plan is to collect a series of procedural blank samples (which aim to characterize the extraneous 14C added as a result of sample processing) over the next few days while the drillers extend our maze of boreholes down to ~19m in preparation for collecting samples at 20m.

Today was a much needed rest day to come into summit for showers, laundry, internet and companionship. With the flight that took Vas back to the states, station is left relatively vacant with only 9 people left on station most of the time, except for when the twin otter crew that is doing seismic studies over the ice sheet stops in for a night. Today was also exceptionally warm up here – the thermometer is reading 11F, as I write this. The only challenge left for me today is to stay awake long enough so that I can stay on my night shift of sleeping from ~7am to 3pm.


A Brief Summit Survival Guide

After traveling twice to Summit, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a list of tips I’ve picked up along the way. Here it goes!

Tip 1: Check your packing list several times before travel. You may have done the trip several times before and just trust that you have everything you need. FALSE! Always triple check and make sure you have everything you need.

Tip 2: For your own sake, don’t party the night before. Take the time to relax and spend some quality time with your friends and family. It’s tough not talking to them everyday.

Tip 3: Do what works for you. I had a very difficult time sleeping in the tent due to the cold. I currently sleep on the floor of my tent with 2 ridge rest pads and a thermarest air pad below me, a thin sleeping bag wrapped around my mummy bag, a bag liner outside a small fleece sleeping bag inside the mummy bag, and then my parka on top of all of that. It’s quite the fortress and gets a few chuckles, but that’s what works for me.

Tip 4: Just because you’re in the field does not mean that you have to be gross. There are plenty of resources to help you stay clean and hygienic. Use them! If you feel sick and gross, you will be miserable.

Tip 5: Listen to your body. If you start feeling sick or very tired, don’t ignore it. Take a breath and slow down. There are buffer days built into every schedule, so don’t feel like you’re letting anyone down by taking it easy. Your health and safety is always the number one concern.

Tip 6: Always have a camera ready. Greenland is a truly amazing place and has absolutely beautiful landscapes. Documenting your adventure will help you relive the experience.

Sum14 - Sun Sum14 - Big House

Now some tips from the Summit crew!

Tips from Ward: Blacking out your windows or covering your eyes at night can really help you sleep. Stick to a schedule and your days will go by a lot smoother. Eat lots of candy to keep energized. A pillow is a critical part of survival gear.

Louisa: Always keep a pair of socks in bottom of your sleeping bag. In the morning they’ll be nice and warm.

Andy: Empty your pee bottle everyday! You’ll be really unhappy in the middle of the night if you don’t. All the dumb things that happen are for your enjoyment, otherwise you won’t make it.

Fake Ken: Watch what you eat. Wash your hands regardless of how tired you are before you eat. Drink lots of water. Eat greens if they’re available. You don’t know when you’ll have the opportunity to again. Bring wet wipes to keep tidy in between showers. Having at least 2 pee bottles is a good idea.

Jaime: Sleep with your clothes for the next day so they’re already in your bag when you need to change. Keep electronics next to your body so they don’t get cold and die. Wear layers not just heavy clothes in case you start getting warm. Sweating in the cold just feels plain gross.

From all crew: A positive attitude will take you a long way.


Good progress at C-14 Camp

We’ve had considerably better luck the past couple of weeks and have made excellent progress despite being at only ½ of the team. We’ve been quite efficient and have worked rather long hours. As a result, the deep drill test with the Blue Ice Drill (BID) has been overall successfully completed. The drill performed flawlessly until about 130 m. Below 130 m, the first fractures in the cores began to appear, and below 150 m the ice core became mostly unusable. With Josh as well as Tanner and Jay from the IDDO camp putting their heads together, they concluded that different types of cutters should be able to solve the problem with core quality the next time the BID is in the field.

We have also made very good progress with collecting the large-volume samples for 14C studies. We now have a complete surface (0.25 – 1.00 m depth) sample collected (this took 7 full days of work), and we have performed more than half of the extractions for our first procedural blank sample. Both Ben and Michael are getting up to speed with all aspects of the large ice melter system, in preparation for leading their own shifts on this system.

After several days of uncertainty, last-minute changes, and many hours spent trying to talk to many people over Irridium phones, we also finally have a good plan in place to restore the team to the full 8 people for the 2nd half of the season. Sadly, one of our original team members (Mike Jayred) is not able to return as the respiratory symptoms that have forced his evacuation from Summit have not completely gone away. At the last minute, one of the ice drillers (Grant) at the Intermediate Drill test camp changed his mind and decided that he would like to stay at Summit beyond the end of his project and help us out. This is fantastic, as it allows us to have two IDDO drillers leading the BID drill shifts. Grant will be joining us in a few days. Also on their way are Melisa, Phil, Mike and Andy – they are flying to Kangerlussuaq as I write this.

We can also tell that June is here – temps rose as high as -15˚C today! With very little wind, our stove-heated weatherport has been way too warm (thermometer reading into the 90s with doors closed the other day!).

Best wishes,


Sundogs and sunbows



BID Firn core art


Ice melter tucked in for the cold night

Ice melter tucked in for the cold night




Michael cutting surface firn blocks for 14C samples


Ice melter full of near-surface firn


Fractured BID ice core from below 150 m depth


Ben separating the BID core barrels.


Drill ye Tarriers Drill

So drill, ye tarriers, drill
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
Oh it’s work all day for the sugar in your tay

– 19th century American folk song “Drill ye Tarriers Drill”-

There is one thing that separates men and beasts – men have always dreamed to achieve greatness while beasts just follow their instinct to survive (Disclaimer: “men” here refer to the entire Homo sapiens species, including female Homo sapiens  – I think “men and beasts” just sounds more poetic than “human and beasts”). Anyway, as evidenced by Lord Byron’s and many of his contemporaries’ poems, we’re always striving to climb the highest mountain peak, sail across the most dangerous oceans, and conquer all the harshest places on Earth. I personally would put another bullet point in the bucket list of absurd things that men always strive to do: to drill the deepest hole on earth and to have the biggest drill in their possession. For this particular obsession I blame Sigmund Freud.

Top: List of big drills in popular fictiom (left to right): Drilpod-GI Joe, Drillman-Megaman, Big Daddy - Bioshock Infinite, Graf Eisen - Magical Girl Nanoha, Gurren Lagann Mecha,  King Mogura drill Bottom: Big drills in real life (left to right): Generic oil rig drill, Jiffy ice drill for ice fishing, giant tunnel drill, sediment core drill from JOIDES resolution research cruise, Blue Ice Drill & Tanner Kuhl

Top: Big drills in popular fiction (left to right): Drilpod-GI Joe, Drillman-Megaman, Big Daddy – Bioshock Infinite, Graf Eisen – Magical Girl Nanoha, Gurren Lagann Mecha, King Mogura drill
Bottom: Big drills in real life (left to right): Generic oil rig drill, Jiffy ice drill for ice fishing, giant tunnel drill, sediment core drill from JOIDES resolution research cruise, Blue Ice Drill & Tanner Kuhl

Fortunately, ice core drilling is more than just a Scott or Shackleton style of testosterone filled cold weather endurance bonanza or a Freudian insecurity wish fulfilment (although at first glance it kinda does look like it). To appreciate ice core research one first needs to understand its history. It all begins here, in the year 1954, in the geochemistry journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta with an article titled “The O-18 abundance in freshwater” [1] by a pipe smoking bearded Danish scientist named Willi Dansgaard:

In certain areas on the Greenland Ice Cap is a distinct layer formation caused by melting in the summer season… in the opinion of this author, offers the possibility by measurements of the af (i.e. the amount of the heavy oxygen isotope) in these layers of ice to determine climatic changes over a period of time of several hundred years of the past. …  An investigation will be undertaken as soon as the opportunity offers.

basically Dansgaard was studying the variation & global distribution of the rarer O-18 (oxygen atom with 10 neutrons and 8 protons) with respect to the more common O-16 (oxygen atom with 8 neutrons and 8 protons) in freshwaters and he found out that the ratio between O-18 and O-16 correlates well with the temperature in which the precipitation occurs (among many other things). He then hypothesizes that if one were to analyze the O-18 to O-16 ratio in Greenland snow as a function of depth, one will be able to go back in time and figure out Greenland’s past temperature.

Picture of Wili Dansgaard holding an ice core

Picture of Wili Dansgaard holding an ice core

On the other side of the Atlantic, fueled by a good ol’ Cold War paranoia the US military started a project called “Project Iceworm.” The true purpose of this project, as uncovered by the Danish Foreign Policy Institute’s investigation in 1997 is to set up a network of 2,500 miles long tunnels underneath the Greenland ice sheet and load them with nuclear missiles that can be remotely launched in case of nuclear war with the Soviet [2],[3] – a truly genius and groundbreaking idea that might be worthy of Darwin Award. To ensure the secrecy of it, both the Danish and Greenlandic governments were kept in the dark regarding the true goal of this project. The US need a cover program – hence the highly publicized Camp Century. A video of it can be found here. The Department of Defense told the Danish government that the official purpose of Camp Century was to: “to test various construction techniques under Arctic conditions, explore practical problems with a semi-mobile nuclear reactor, as well as supporting scientific experiments on the icecap.” While some might say that it was a classic half-truth statement, at least they weren’t lying about it, especially regarding the scientific experiment part. The entire project turned out to be a failure anyway, because the US military quickly realized that Greenland ice sheet is very dynamic and their tunnels would be crushed in no time due to ice flow. One great silver lining from this disastrous project is the retrieval of a valuable Camp Century Ice core – “the world’s first ice core ever” that would later be analyzed by Willi Dansgaard to prove his hypothesis.

Our driller Josh Gotez and guest star driller from Bear Camp Elizabeth running the BID-Deep

Our driller Josh Gotez and guest star driller from Bear Camp Elizabeth running the BID-Deep

Fast forward to 2014, ice cores have become one of the best sources for paleoclimate archives and ice core drilling technique has improved significantly (certainly no more smoking pipe next to the ice core!). Modern ice core drilling can be separated into two general categories: “dry drilling” which means drilling ice core without drill fluid and “wet drilling” which requires a drill fluid. For the really deep ice core projects (on the order of kilometers deep), drill fluid is necessary to keep the hole from collapsing due to pressure. For this project at Summit, we used a big diameter dry drill called the “Blue Ice Drill” or BID for short. It was designed by our colleagues at IDDO (Ice Drilling Designs and Operation) – University of Wisconsin. One of the main goals of this season is the testing of BID-Deep on firn ice down to 200m depth. Before the implementation of the “deep-mode”, the BID was only able to drill down to about 20-30m depth. The major difference between the deep-mode and shallow mode is the addition of a winch system that allows the BID to drill deeper but also makes it significantly heavier and less mobile than the shallow mode. On the shallow mode, instead of using a steel winch cable the BID used a fairly straightforward rope system that according to Tanner – one of the main engineers for the drill: “an awkward cross between climbing wall and a sailboat.” Anyway, we are proud to announce that in the last week or so, we managed to drill down to 187m with the BID-Deep and obtain many subsamples for both CO isotopes and N2O isotopes. However, at depth more than 140m we unfortunately encountered many fracturing in the ice cores and had to reduce our subsampling intervals. Anyway all is not lost, because we’ll be back next season to do the proper drilling with the BID-Deep and hopefully our colleagues at Madison, Wisconsin can figure out a solution to reduce the fracturing on the deep cores.



[1] Dansgaard, Willi. “The O18-abundance in fresh water.”Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 6.5 (1954): 241-260.

[2] Weiss, Erik D. (Fall 2001). “Cold War Under the Ice: The Army’s Bid for a Long-Range Nuclear Role, 1959-1963”. Journal of Cold War Studies 3 (3): 31–58. doi:10.1162/152039701750419501

[3] Petersen, Nikolaj (March 2008). “The Iceman That Never Came: ‘Project Iceworm’, the search for a NATO deterrent, and Denmark, 1960–1962”. Scandinavian Journal of History 33.