Greetings from the land of raging tempest

Kite aerial photography of Taylor Glacier.

Kite aerial photography of Taylor Glacier. Even during a “calm” day, the wind here is strong enough to lift a kite with a camera attached to it.

Hi everyone,

Just a quick update from Taylor Glacier field camp. This season the weather here has been excellent so far (unlike our previous season where sustained 30-40 knot winds were a daily routine). Going along with the beautiful weather that we are enjoying, everything else science-wise also went pretty smoothly. The Blue Ice Drill (BID) seems to be working smoothly with neither mechanical nor electrical problem at all. The big ice melter system is behaving well after the initial slow start and seems to be producing reasonable CH4 concentration on all of its samples so far. The OSU field GC (gas chromatograph) system is enjoying one of its highest precision in the field in terms of measurement reproducibility. Finally, even the usually finicky shallow PICO hand auger drill with sidewinder attachment (we usually just call this the sidewinder drill) seems to be picking cores consistently even on a really warm day as long as we let the drill head cool down in a hole between drill runs. As a result of this amazing streak of luck, all of us are filling our science goals quickly and …

JUST KIDDING !

On December 17th we got our first real bad weather of the season. The wind was blowing at around 30 knots with gusts up to 40 knots. In addition to the high winds, we also got a lot of blowing snow probably directly from the plateau, which resulted in almost everything in our camp getting snowdrifted.

Sarah Shackleton trenching

Our team member Sarah Shackleton trenching a 3 ft deep, soon to be 15 m long trench, alone in the middle of blowing snow and 30 knots wind. The Shackleton clan throughout the history of this continent has shown peerless willpower and determination, and our Shackleton is no different.

 

On that morning the BID has its first hiccup of the season. The drill motor won’t spin after the first drill run of the day, although it did still make a squeaky noise. Jayred thought that the motor on the drill got jammed by something (probably from blowing snow?) and tried to replace the drill motor with the spare unit, but the spare one also wouldn’t fire up (and no squeaky noise). Jayred with the help of Isaac and Peter were forced to do field surgery on both BID drill motors.

Taking apart the BID drill motor

Jayred and Peter taking apart the BID drill motor in the Rac tent. Dire times!

As a result of the BID mechanical problem, the big ice melter also lost a work day because we had already drained the melter water from the previous day before realizing that the BID wasn’t going to produce any core that day. Luckily after several hours of tinkering with the drill, Jayred, Peter and Isaac managed to figure out what went wrong with the BID. It wasn’t the drill motors at all, and the problem was also not weather related like we all thought initially. Apparently one of the electrical solder connections was loose, so it wasn’t delivering enough amps to the motor. The main drill motor actually has a looser gearbox than the spare drill motor and that’s why the main motor was “squeaking” while the spare just wouldn’t turn at all. The main drill motor and the spare one were reacting differently to the same electrical problem. By the time we figured out the problem with the electrical connection, the drill motor had been fully taken apart and it took Jayred and Peter a good amount of the latter half of the day to re-assemble it. However, all is not lost because the BID is back up and running and has been producing really fine cores in the last two days.

Currently, we are planning to work this upcoming Sunday to make up for the lost work day so that the BID drilling for the MIS 5-4 transition still could happen because the GC data from the MIS 5/4 sidewinder recce looked really promising. Unfortunately the high wind here still won’t let up, although we did have some short windless lulls here and there in the last three days or so. The good ol’ windy 2013-14 Taylor Glacier seemed to be back, but we’ll make do and so far all is well.

If nothing else, Taylor Glacier clear.

-Michael

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December 4, 2014

We have now been on the glacier for over 2 weeks, and the work is going in full swing. Weather has been kind (knock on wood), with much less wind so far than last season.

Once again, we are lucky to have a fantastic team – the most important single factor that determines the success or failure of a season. Returning Taylor Glacier veterans include Ed Brook (OSU faculty and co-PI on the project), Thomas Bauska (OSU post-doc), Mike Jayred (IDDO driller), Michael Dyonisius (UR PhD student) and myself. New to the glacier are Kathy Schroeder (our camp manager), Andy Menking (OSU PhD student), Rachael Rhodes (OSU postdoc), Sarah Shackleton (SIO PhD student) and Jake Ward (recent UR graduate). Sarah and Jake are completely new to polar fieldwork, and both have adjusted extremely well to life on the glacier with all its particulars, such as sleeping in the cold and 24-hr daylight.

 

Jayred (in back) brings the drill sonde up to the surface as Jake prepares to help.

Jayred (in back) brings the drill sonde up to the surface as Jake prepares to help.

Michael (wearing Tyvek suit) crawls inside the large ice melter to install the bubbler manifold.

Michael (wearing Tyvek suit) crawls inside the large ice melter to install the bubbler manifold.

Vas trims the ends of large ice cores prior to loading in the ice melter.

Vas trims the ends of large ice cores prior to loading in the ice melter.

Overall, progress has been good. We were off to a good start with the BID drill, our smaller ice drill system (Sidewinder), as well as making methane measurements on small ice samples for reconnaissance purposes with the gas chromatograph system (GC). The large ice melter system we use to collect samples for carbon-14 analyses of ancient methane was slower to get going because of a persistent leak. The large ice melter has to be extremely leak tight and hold a good vacuum in order to avoid contaminating our ancient air samples with modern air that contains a higher level of carbon-14 and methane. After extensive testing, the leak was finally traced to a poor seal on our viewport, and both the o-ring and the viewport glass were replaced, which solved the problem. Work on the leaks and the test run pushed us into some very long hours, which included I think a new record for this system – a 20-hr work day! We have by now collected our first full sample, extracting approximately 12,500 year old air from about 1100 kg of ice and also collected a full procedural test sample, which helps us to determine the effects of any non-sample (“extraneous”) carbon that is added during the many stages of sample processing and preparation.

Ed, Thomas and Rachael removing a heating element from the spare GC.

Ed, Thomas and Rachael removing a heating element from the spare GC.

Ed and Thomas cutting the ice sticks for the continuous melter system on a bandsaw.

Ed and Thomas cutting the ice sticks for the continuous melter system on a bandsaw.

Stick of ice being melted on a clean gold-plated warm plate.

Stick of ice being melted on a clean gold-plated warm plate.

Ed and Rachael have worked stoically to get the continuous methane measurement system going. This is a new system for us at Taylor Glacier, and is designed to allow for methane measurements on a stick cut from the ice core. The stick is melted slowly on a warm plate, and part of the meltwater (and with it the ancient air) is siphoned off through a small orifice in the middle of the warm plate. The gases are then separated from the water and the methane concentration is analyzed using a laser spectrometer. When this system works well, it can produce a very high resolution methane record extremely fast, and would be a very powerful tool for our methane-based studies of the ice layer stratigraphy and identification of ice that we want to sample for carbon-14 analyses. Unfortunately, some of the heating elements used in the warm plate were damaged during the initial system setup. Ed and Rachael have been extremely resourceful in trying to solve this problem and were able to adapt the warm plate to take a different-size heating element from the spare GC system. The system is now working well and producing excellent-quality continuous data for methane concentration.

Andy with the methane GC system

Andy with the methane GC system

The methane GC system has been working very well from the start and Andy has produced excellent data on ice samples that Thomas and Sarah recovered with the Sidewinder system. So far these measurements have allowed us to very clearly identify the ≈18,000 year old ice section that contains the very start of the atmospheric methane increase from the low concentrations of the Last Glacial Maximum. The GC data have also identified the large rapid atmospheric methane oscillation (decline and subsequent increase) that happened at around 8,200 years ago, when a large burst of water from the melting North American ice sheet slowed down the warm water circulation in the North Atlantic and caused widespread cooling. Both of these time intervals contain important clues to how the natural atmospheric methane cycle works and are targets for our large-volume carbon-14 sampling.

Kathy has been working tirelessly on setting up and maintaining our camp, and keeping us all fueled with her amazing cooking. Thanksgiving dinner (which we had last Sunday) was outstanding!

-Vas