Greetings from the Ice!

This is Sarah Shackleton reporting from the depths of Crary Lab, McMurdo Station – Antarctica (S77.85/E166.67). A lot has happened since we left our respective institutions, and we still have a lot to do before we make it to our final destination of Taylor Glacier. Some highlights include several lengthy flights to Christchurch, NZ, a trip to the clothing distribution center (CDC) to get all of our extreme cold weather (ECW) gear, some jogs around Hadley Park in Christchurch, and an ‘Ice flight’ to our current destination. It’s hard keep track of all of the acronyms and fancy lingo people down here use, but it seems like pretty much everything has it’s own 3 letter acronym. Anyways, we made it down this Monday and in between trainings have been running around trying to locate all of our cargo to send to Taylor Glacier by helicopter (or helo).

Stepping off of the C17 and onto the ice!

Stepping off of the C17 and onto the ice!

I think we’ve been to about a dozen trainings so far, and learned everything from how to properly prepare a helo sling load, to how to sort our trash at the station. On Wednesday, we had snowmobile training at the SSC (Science Support Center), where we learned how to identify and fix some common problems with the machines. Those of us who are new (or haven’t been to McMurdo in a while) got to stay afterwards to try them out. I wish I had taken photos, because it was pretty epic. It was a beautiful day and we got to ride around on the sea ice and over a bumpy course to learn how to balance when the terrain is rough. Taylor Glacier is going to be a much different experience because we’re working on blue ice, which is much more difficult to get traction on and can be pretty rough on the snowmobiles, so operating them there will have its own set of challenges.

On Thursday Rachel, Kathy and I did the ‘food pull’ for the food that we’ll be bringing out to the glacier. It was in an upstairs room of the Science Cargo building that was set up like a grocery store, so it pretty much felt like a normal trip to get groceries except on a much huger scale. I was glad to see that there was a significant stock of coffee and hot chocolate. If/when we run out of things in the field, McMurdo will send a load out to replenish our stock.

One of the aisle's of food in the food store.

One of the aisle’s of food in the food store.

Our group's 'food pull' - definitely a lot of snack food...

Our group’s ‘food pull’ – definitely a lot of snack food…

When we’re not in trainings or prepping, we’ve had some time in the evenings to explore the station and relax. The first night Michael, Thomas, Andy, Jake and I hiked up to the top of Observation Hill (or ‘Ob Hill’). We were treated to an incredible view of the station and Mount Erebus, an active volcano 40 km (or 25 miles) away. The last few nights, we’ve had time to hang out at the Coffee House to relax before getting some sleep and preparing for the next day’s adventures. It’s been great getting to know everyone over the last few days and I’m really looking forward to working with them over the next few weeks at Taylor Glacier!

Learning from Thomas about the sidewinder drill set up: we'll be teaming up to collect cores using this drill once we get out to Taylor Glacier.

Learning from Thomas about the sidewinder drill set up: we’ll be teaming up to collect cores using this drill once we get out to Taylor Glacier.

Michael, Andy, Thomas, and Jake at the top of Ob Hill

Michael, Andy, Thomas, and Jake at the top of Ob Hill

View of McMurdo from the top of Ob Hill. This is around 10 pm - the constant daylight will take some getting used to.

View of McMurdo from the top of Ob Hill. This is around 10 pm – the constant daylight will take some getting used to.

Scott Hut

Scott Hut

Taylor Glacier Put-In

It’s been over ten days since our much anticipated put-in to Taylor Glacier, and we are only now beginning to settle in to a regular daily routine here at camp. As things are going well now and it’s been some time since our last blog entry, I thought I’d write a bit about put-in and all the work, collaboration and (best of all) helicopter flights that took place to make it happen.

Taylor Glacier camp, looking down-glacier, on the first night. The first two days on the glacier were cold and cloudy.

Taylor Glacier camp, looking down-glacier, on the first night. The first two days on the glacier were cold and cloudy.

Put-in of the I-159 team occurred over a two day period, with helicopters dropping off our priority cargo at the campsite up to five days in advance. The first day people were dropped at the camp was Monday, November 17th. That morning, helicopters began shuttling both people and cargo to Taylor Glacier at 9am. The first group of people to go in was a team of five carpenters, or “carps” as they are commonly referred to here. They were tasked with the difficult job of building our fixed structures for the kitchen and dining tent, the lab “Rac Tent” and the enclosure for the large melter, all of which would take until Thursday to complete. I imagine that there are few other carpenters who commute to work on helicopters and level floors on blue ice.

Sorting cargo on Taylor Glacier

Sorting cargo on Taylor Glacier

Next to fly in were Kathy and Michael, along with Nicky and Kerry from the BFC. They arrived at 2:30pm and spent the afternoon hauling and sorting cargo, getting the Polar Haven operational and setting up camp. The last people to arrive on Monday were Andy, Jayred and Jake, departing McMurdo on a 7:45pm flight and arriving to Taylor Glacier at 8:30pm. Stepping off the helicopter, the first thing that struck me (aside from the realization that the stabil-icers I was wearing had already fallen off) was the incredible cliff face towering into the clouds above the camp. The rock in the hill was layered, with a dark dolorite intrusion contrasting sharply with two light-colored granite layers above and below. There wasn’t much time to admire the scenery however… there was much to do. Activities on the glacier that first evening included setting up mountain tents and drilling lots of “V-Threads” to anchor down tents into the ice. All the while, helicopters announced their approach with a reverberation booming up the valley, and we’d all pause our work to help unload cargo from the helicopters.

A 212 Helicopter dropping off a sling load at camp

A 212 Helicopter dropping off a sling load at camp

The next morning the work continued. After breakfast the endurance tent was raised and the floor to the Rac Tent began to be constructed. Around midday, Vas, Ed, Rachel, Sarah and Thomas arrived on a 212 helicopter and the Taylor Glacier population grew to a bustling 17 people. More tents were constructed and more cargo was delivered, hauled, sorted and tied down. Looking up the glacier, the clouds still remained low in the sky and those of us who were here for the first time could only guess at the true magnificence this place; we caught occasional glimpses of distant snow-swept peaks and immense glaciers pouring down through endless valleys. It would be another day before the wind and clouds lifted and the sky cleared.

Mountain tents setup on the first day of put-in

Mountain tents setup on the first day of put-in

In the following days the Rac Tent was completed and the lab began to be setup and equipment carried in. The two drilling teams – Thomas and Sarah on the Sidewinder and Jayred and Jake on the Blue Ice Drill – were able to begin pulling up ice cores near camp, and semblance of what our days might begin to look like took shape. More helicopters arrived, carrying everything from fuel and generators to lab equipment and sleds. Unloading gear from helicopters as their rotors and engines roared above our heads studded the calmness of working on the beautiful glacier with bursts of excitement and adrenaline.

The Blue Ice Drill (BID) setup outside the Rac Tent on a clear day

The Blue Ice Drill (BID) setup outside the Rac Tent on a clear day

Things have reached equilibrium at camp now and everyone has settled into their daily routines, whether it is drilling ice, analyzing samples or managing camp. Three times a day we all get together and pack into the Polar Haven to escape the wind and cold, warm up and eat a hearty meal. The peculiarities of living here have become normal – walking on sun-cupped ice, waking up extra early to allow ample time to get dressed and put on boots without standing up, dealing with everything left in a tent freezing solid, etc. It is an amazing place and these little things all add to the allure and unusualness of living and working in an Antarctic field camp.

Mike Jayred turning on a generator for BID drilling

Mike Jayred turning on a generator for BID drilling

Ed and Rachel successfully cutting large BID cores on their band saw

Ed and Rachel successfully cutting large BID cores on their band saw

Jake

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

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

Camp pull out diaries: Icestock and Two Smoking Drill Barrels

Hi all, again sorry for the late update. I wrote the majority post in MCM, and the reason for the late update is that I was procrastinating until the last night in MCM (more like last couple hours before the off-ice flight) to upload the post and for some reason (probably a combination of dying hard drive on my laptop, wonky internet in MCM, and maybe even wordpress server being finnicky) I couldn’t upload the pictures to wordpress. I guess that’s what I got from procrastinating. Then my luggage got stuck in LAX on the way back and my camera was in the check in luggage so I couldn’t upload the post. So initially this post was supposed to be a quick status updates and bunch of picture galleries. However because it’s late, it’s not a status update anymore and more like a journal for our pull out both from the field and McMurdo.

Chrismas dinner in Taylor Glacier.

Christmas dinner in Taylor Glacier.

Basically we had a great and chill Christmas in the field; Kathy cooked a great Christmas meal of cooked game hens, mashed potatoes, stuffings, and some carrot dish thing – it’s all fancy and we sang Christmas song together and exchanged white elephant gifts. I got a box of Cheez-it for my white elephant gift and it was great until Peter spilled the water jug all over my Cheez it two days later.

IMG_4090

Sarah and Kathy (and Peter) watching a dramatic Christmas movie

 

Work on the glacier went really smoothly after Christmas, weather really died down and there were no major hiccups. On the melter side we finished our blank extractions, and the OSU and SIO folks managed to finally get their hand on the BID drill and drill on MIS5/4 area and down at the 130,000 years old Eemian site before New Year. Since there were no helicopter flights on the 2nd and 3rd of January – we decided to not have any day off after Christmas and try to push so that we can get some folks out on the 1st.

IMG_4107

McMurdo station Icestock music festival stage

 

Isaac, Andy and I managed to get out on the 1st January. Pack up was fine and everything went smoothly. Since none of the workstation in McMurdo were open on the 2nd or the 3rd all three of us practically have 3 days off from work – more than enough to switch back from our night shift schedule to MCM schedule. On January 2nd McMurdo was having its Icestock music festival. The main stage setup was really charming – it was half a Rac tent on a moveable gigantic platform truck. Everyone in town were having a good time.

IMG_4109

Chili contest during Icestock

Jeff, Sarah, Jayred and Peter joined us in McMurdo on the 5th. Helo Ops were really overwhelmed by the amount of slingloads we had, so I basically spent two days being on call and unpacking the slings on the helopad. In McMurdo we also had to crawl back into the melter to take pictures of the yellowish mystery matter that froze on the bottom of the melter and send the pictures to Vas. Initally Vas decided to COMAIR the melter back to Rochester for testing to make sure that the yellow residue didn’t affect anything – so there were some emergency scramble and meeting with NSF rep about it. However, we finally decided that the melter will just go on vessel but with priority unloading.

Kathy joined us on the 8th and she did an amazing job with cataloging the depot inventory lists and organizing the entire pull out. By then we were practically finished with cargo, I helped Jayred to dry the BID drill barrels indoor. Jeff, Andy, Isaac and Peter left the ice on the 10th. The rest of us spent almost a full day on the 10th to return our BFC (Berg Field Center) gears and wash all of our kitchen utensils from the BFC. After the BFC gear returns we practically had nothing else to do, so we spent the rest of our time in McMurdo just chilling, watching Kathy’s Bollywood movies, and hanging out in the galley.

IMG_4121

Isaac crawling into the melter to take pictures and scrape off the yellow residue on the bottom of the melter

The rest of the team – Kathy, Jayred, Sarah and I left the ice on the 12th. It was a pretty uneventful return to civilization. Kathy and Jayred stayed in Sudima hotel near the airport while Sarah and I stayed at the Pavillions hotel near the botanical garden. I still don’t understand why people who aren’t leaving on the next available flight back to the States stayed at the airport hotel – there were nothing to eat besides the overpriced room service and airport food. Anyway I stayed for one extra night in Christchurch, while Sarah, Jayred and Kathy all moved to YMCA hostel near downtown because they’re traveling in New Zealand (or in Jayred’s case Tasmania) afterwards. We all had a nice dinner at Pegasus Arm’s restaurant near the botanical garden and I bid farewell to the three of them afterwards.

In all, it was a really smooth pull out. Due to the circumstances, we had a lot of time in McMurdo (except Kathy) and it was really nice to have a non hectic pull out schedule. Compared to last season, it was also really nice that at least the four of us got an extra day in Christchurch just to hang out and re-adapted ourselves back to the civilized world. It’s been a wonderful season and I’ll miss everyone once I got back to Rochester. Thank you all!

– Michael

Note on the successful completion of Taylor Glacier field season 2014/2015: Amundsen, Bill Wilson, and Shackleton would be proud.

wilson

Edward A. Wilson’s (Scott’s Chief Scientific Staff) illustration of the Royal Society range. Taylor Glacier located is slightly to the right off this picture, between the Kukri Hills (cannot be seen from Hut Point) and the Asgard ranges

Hi all. Apologies for the late updates. I had two blog posts ready (one after Christmas & New Year and one while we’re in MCM) but never got the chance to really post it due to various reasons. There’s another blogpost right below this post about our Christmas in the field, New Year, camp pull out and Icestock music festival in MCM, so please read that one too. Anyway, the purpose of this particular post is to celebrate our successful completion of Taylor Glacier field season. I think the I-159 Taylor Glacier 2014/2015 field team managed to ran a logistically smooth and successful Antarctic field campaign in the manner that would make Amundsen proud, completed so much scientific sampling and on field measurements that would make Edward A. Wilson proud, and displayed so much human endurance and hard work that would make Shackleton proud. Well, the Shackleton comment might be a bit hyperbolic – our field condition wasn’t as dire as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and we weren’t eating pemmicans and frozen solid butter, but the first two remarks I honestly think weren’t hyperbolic at all – especially the Wilson one.

With a team of only 13 people (10 people during the first half of the season, and 8 people during the second half of the season) we drilled about 800m – 80,000 lbs worth of Taylor Glacier ice with the IDDO Blue Ice Drill and some hundred meter or so with the Sidewinder drill. The age of the ice that we drilled ranges from 8,200 years to 130,000 years old. From those ice we melted roughly 20,000 lbs worth of ice with the big ice melter for the 14CH4 measurements on site and shipped about 4,000 lbs worth of ice (both from BID, sidewinder drill, and chainsaw samples) back to the US for further analysis. The ice that we shipped back to the US will be analyzed by six different institutions: University of Rochester, Oregon State University, Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Desert Reseach Institute – Nevada, Harvard University and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. To quote Daniel Baggenstos – one of the pioneer of the Taylor Glacier horizontal ice coring work and a former team member of our project: “It’s gud.”

With the risk of sounding like an actress who have just won an Academy Award for best actress, I want to personally thank every team members who are involved – especially because the majority of the logistics, ice drilling, and on-site gas measurements are there to support the big melter operation which is my own Ph.D project.  First off I want to thank our awesome camp manager Kathy Schroeder (pronounced: Schra-der) for her impeccable work in supporting our camp logistics, arranging helicopter flights, making the depot inventory list for next season and providing us with some of the best field meals in Antarctica that would make Scott roll in his icy grave underneath the Ross Ice Shelf. Also thank you for introducing me to a whole new dimension of greatness in cinema art that is Bollywood movies. Then I want to thank Mike Jayred and his two drill assistants Jake Ward and Peter Sperlich for their tireless work day in and day out drilling with the BID and doing repetitive and tedious work drill run after drill run out in the wind – I calculated that for the reccee and main melter work combined they must’ve done more than 600 drill runs total. I also want to thank the OSU folks, Ed, Andy, Thomas, and Rachel – especially Andy who stayed for a full season for setting up the field GC system, helping with the reccee work for the big ice melter and measuring our Essex tanks. Then I want to thank Isaac Vimont for coming down and helping me with the melter, thanks for lifting all those heavy BID cores, powering through those damp and cold Tyvek suits and rubber gloves in the morning, and Scott-ing up through potential carpal tunnel when spraying the melter. Thank you for putting up your own Ph.D work on hold and coming down here to help me in the field. I also want to thank you Sarah and Jeff for helping with the melter reccee and their knowledge of the stratigraphy. Special thanks for Sarah and Andy for putting up with my insane troll logic arguments throughout the entire season. Finally last but not least I want to thank Vas – my advisor for everything – almost literally everything. If I mention all the stuff from Vas that I’m thankful with it’ll take an entire blog post or maybe two so I’ll just save those to pad out the acknowledgement section in my Ph.D thesis (if it ever happened).

Anyway it’s been a great season and it’s my honor to work with this team. These people are really awesome.

– Michael