Hello everyone. Apologies on not providing updates to our research blog sooner, but it has been a very busy time here at the UofR Ice core lab. I’m glad to announce that we are leaving for our 2014 season in Greenland this coming Monday, May 12th 2014. But before we get there, let me take you back a bit through the craziness that has occurred here in the past few months in preparation for this season.
I’ve been very busy in the lab testing the performance of our 14C extraction line that we will use to process our field samples that we have started to collect. That was my main objective this semester after returning from the Antarctic in late January – hard to believe that was only three and a half months ago. By mid-march I had finished generating a series of test samples that were sent to our colleague Dr. Andrew Smith to be measured on the ANTARES accelerator at ANSTO. A few weeks later the results were in that our system was exceptionally clean and performing exactly as we had anticipated – I had the green light to go ahead and process the firn air samples we had collected at summit last year.
Taking good notes is important for sound science!
Time was of the essence too, since the 35L electropolished steel cylinders containing our samples from last year needed to be evacuated and shipped to Greenland to contain the samples we are planning on collecting this upcoming season. The rush was on, and I began working as hard as I could to process and extract our 14C samples. Working 10-12 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week became the norm – as deadlines with regards to this season were fast approaching. Likely as a result of long days spent in the lab, I made a critical mistake one Sunday night – I accidentally fractured part of the glass on our sample line!
Luckily this occurred while I was setting up the line rather than during sample collection, so I was very thankful that no sample was lost. As you can see from the photo the damage to the line was minor, and since I was following proper procedure it was isolated to only a single section of the line. Taking a deep breath – I sent an email off to our glassblower who could hopefully patch up the line and after a day or two of flushing clean air through I could be back in business. The first essence of panic came to me when I found out that our glassblower (West Scientific Glass) was on vacation, and would not be returning for about a week. This was troublesome, but manageable, giving me time to catch up on processing cargo and doing other logistics preparation. Time was running short to process all of the samples, but at least I had a few days to catch up on sleep before the final push came through.
The flowing week Joe came in and repaired the line in his usual perfect fashion, however; the following day as I attempted to flush the line with clean air and get it in operational condition again, I came to find out that the high-pitched whine coming from our Turbomolecular pump was signaling its own death – as it failed to spin up to the high vacuum needed in the procedure.
I wonder what Agilent would do if we returned it looking like this
Aaaah, only when I had recovered from one problem another presented itself to me! Spending the better part of a day on the phone with the manufacturer – I found there was another pump on the shelf available in their Delaware location that I was able to rush ship to us. In case that wasn’t going to arrive in time, I also had our colleagues in Boulder, Colorado at INSTAAR ship out a pump that we could use. In the meantime, Phil was driving a Penske truck with the majority of our cargo (Save the sample tanks and a few things we needed to ship last-minute to the Scotia Air National Guard base).
The day that I finally get the line flushed and in operational condition, we received a rather important email from the NSF regarding the C-130 aircraft that we fly to Greenland:
Dear Greenland Researchers:
The LC-130’s NSF uses to support operations in Greenland are experiencing a fleet-wide mechanical issue. The flight period planned for April 22-May 2 is postponed until further notice. NSF is exploring options for continuing science operations in Greenland while the aircraft are repaired. The 109th Airlift Wing is exploring options to make some aircraft available for missions to Greenland starting in May.
The bleed air lines, which are responsible for moving air away from the engine to heat the aircraft and for other purposes, may have corrosion that could cause significant issues in flight. Each aircraft needs to be inspected. Replacement parts are in limited supply given the number of C-130 aircraft nationwide that potentially need replacement bleed air lines and replacement seals and other parts for re-sealing the engine following inspection or repair.
We are looking at options for supporting the planned science. Science has already been delayed but no projects have been cancelled so far.
Wow. This came to us at a time when I’m already working at full capacity to get our prior samples processed. Kind of familiar to last season at Taylor Glacier, where the government shutdown nearly cancelled our season. I guess the nature of our work is a constant battle against Murphy’s Law – “If something can go wrong, it will”
Many discussions were had at that point about what would happen to our season. This came ~3 weeks before our scheduled departure, so our options were as varied from a week delay to cancelling the whole season until next year. It was a very uncomfortable 6 days until we finally got news that the repairs had been made to the planes and the test flights were successful! We got the green light to go as scheduled. Good news for our season – bad news for me in that I had to work like a dog to get the rest of the samples processed before we leave.
This is the most challenging part of extracting samples – one mistake when flamesealing and all that time and effort is wasted!
Well, that was about a week ago and after a series of long days & nights in the lab, I’m proud to say that as of yesterday, I have officially extracted a full suite of 14CH4 & 14CO samples from the firn matrix collected at summit last year. In fact, as I write this, I am processing the final standard extraction on the system to complete our set of 14C samples that will be shipped to ANSTO to be measured in the coming month. This will constitute the first major dataset of my PhD!
Bubble wrapped and ready for shipping across the world
As for the season preparation, some science projects, including the IDDO Intermediate Drill Test were delayed about a week and a half. Hopefully they will still be able to complete their work in their time at summit. Let’s just hope the weather behaves. On our end, the sample tanks were cleaned out and shipped off the ANG base on Tuesday with the last of our cargo. Many thanks to officer Durant at the Rochester airport CBP office for processing the customs registration for us. Now all that is left is for us to pack up our clothes and make the journey over to Scotia for our flight. Next you hear from us we should be up above the Arctic Circle!