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 …


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.



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!


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


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

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.

Murphy’s Law Still Prevails on the Ice

As I write this blog post, I’m sitting on the comfortable futon of summit station, enjoying our first day off since we’ve gotten here. Its been a long and stressful start to our season, so allow me to catch everyone up to speed on the details of what has happened thus far.

Our team arrived at summit on Wednesday May 14th, happy to be on the ice and in the presence of many familiar faces from last year. We were welcomed into the station by the station manager, Ken, and urged to take a breather, relax, and get used to the altitude. Shortly after arriving, I began to feel the altitude very strongly (Headache, exhaustion, slow breathing, body aches) – not a pleasant beginning to the season as we were all eager to get out to our field site and begin working. I was not the only one in fact, many members of our team weren’t feeling great regarding the altitude or sleeping the first night in tents in the brutal cold (I think it got down close to -40 – quite different than the warm summer temps everyone is experiencing stateside nowadays)

The following day, some members were feeling better and started walking around station to locate cargo and begin getting it transferred out to our field site 10Km NNW of station. Others (myself included) rested on the couches at summit, giving our bodies time to acclimate to the dramatic change in altitude & cold temps. By Friday 5/16, I finally had gotten a good night sleep and was feeling good enough to get to work, though I couldn’t say the same for other members of our team. We took a poll in the morning, and half of us (Vas, Michael Josh & Myself) were feeling good enough to make the move out to our camp, while the others decided to hang back at station, resting and trying to allow their bodies to acclimatize.

The move went smoothly for us, working hard to get our camp established so that we could begin setting up the drill and scientific equipment the following day. By the end of the day, as we all gathered for a dinner that our camp manager, Jamie, had prepared for us – we heard that summit station had an urgent message for us. One member of our team, Isaac, had come down with HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and was being medically evacuated to a hospital in Illulisat (a larger city than Kanger along the Greenland coast). This was a shock to us all, overwhelmed with worry, but apparently in good hands as one member of the station was also trained as a nurse and flew with him to ensure his safety. Meanwhile, Phil & Jayred were also not doing so well physically and kept under close watch of the station medic. Melisa, on the other hand had acclimatized and was to be coming out to camp the next day.

Short-staffed but still with enough to do, we plodded forward with setting up the lab and drill with as many hands were available – while Vas took a ride back to summit to discuss options regarding our staffing for the remainder of the season. When Vas returned that night, he asked us if we wanted to hear the good news, the bad news, or the REALLY bad news. The good news was that Isaac had made it to Illulisat and was recovering in the hospital there (As I write this he is back home in colorado and doing better). The bad news was that Phil and Jayred were both to be sent home the following day (the last day of the flight period) as their conditions (Vertigo and difficulty breathing) were not improving. The even worse news was that Melisa was to be sent home as well, although she had acclimatized well, she had also lost a filling on her tooth and with no dentist around the concerns of an infection developing was enough to have her sent back home.

Disappointing news all around – in that only a few days into the the first half of our season , we were reduced to half of our originally planned team size. I guess Murphy’s law still continues afflicting us even up on the icecap. Needless to say, this has put a negative impact on our plans for the season. We’ve all been working very long days, but been receiving help all around for everyone who can. Between our camp and summit station, there is another camp of drillers testing the intermediate drill for the South Pole Ice core to be deployed in Antarctica the next two seasons. They have been immensely helpful by sending us a drill assistant for the past several days to work with Josh so that Michael Vas & I could set up the lab and begin our 14C extractions. They have also helped us out by inviting us over to dinner at their camp – enabling us to focus as much on the science as we can. This is amazing on their end, considering that their season was even cut short by a week and a half as a result of the issues with the C130 planes I mentioned a few posts ago. They have just transitioned to working 2 shifts, so we will have to manage with just the four of us for now.

Luckily, I’m proud to say that we haven’t really fallen behind yet – largely as a result of cooperation on behalf of the weather (let’s hope is stays that way ;P) and everyone around summit being exceptionally helpful. Vas drafted out a plan for the remainder of the season, and provided that we’re able to get up to a full team of 8 + Jamie on the next flight period (Jun 4th), we may still be able to complete our sampling goals. All of our focus now is in acquiring the samples we came here for. Hopefully when things get simpler we will be able to share more stories & photos of our work here. But until then – we’re working hard up here at summit