Ice Stories: Dispatches From Polar Scientists » Heidi Roop Mon, 15 Nov 2010 20:40:36 +0000 en hourly 1 A Day in the Life of the DISC Drill Thu, 04 Feb 2010 18:41:46 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– Here is a short video that summarizes all of the steps in collecting an ice core using the Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) drill. Thomas Bauska, of Oregon State University helped me put together this video. Enjoy!

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Ash Deposits and Ice Wed, 13 Jan 2010 20:21:17 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– Our primary goal here at WAIS Divide is to drill and collect ice cores and get it shipped back to the United States. My job, along with several other core handlers, is to document and inspect the ice for anything interesting and document it so we know at what depth and quality (the presence of cracks, fractures or breaks in the ice) the ice is in when it is collected. Rarely do we see anything other than clear ice with some scratches and cracks but around 1600 m deep we retrieved a core with a visible dark band in it! We think that this layer is a tephra layer, or a volcanic ash deposit!

We think that the dark band in this ice core is a tephra layer, or a volcanic ash deposit.

It is very rare to see such layers with the naked eye in ice cores so we all feel very lucky. Enjoy this video with our ice chemistry expert Dr. Ryan Banta as he explains more about this layer and ice core chemistry.

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Up, Up, and Away: Weather at WAIS Divide Tue, 05 Jan 2010 01:04:10 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– With flights constantly coming and going with cargo, fuel and passengers, monitoring the weather conditions here at WAIS Divide is a critical and ongoing task. The weather here augments conditions reported from the South Pole Station and is used as an indicator of general conditions on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. We have two personnel who usually complete the weather reports but our primary weatherman is Mike.

While we have a weather station that records variables including temperature, wind speed, wind direction, visibility, and the height of the ceiling, we often have back-ups and different methodologies for crosschecking the output of the weather station. The video in this post summarizes one such check.

Often measuring the height of the ceiling, or clouds, can be difficult and the instrumentation can record improper information if snow is blowing or if there are high winds. Since the height of the ceiling is vital information for pilots, we often check our weather station readings against that of a weather balloon. Enjoy this video of me launching one of these balloons that we used to measure the height of the ceiling! I am now an honorary weatherwoman at WAIS Divide.

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Get That Heart Rate Up! Sun, 27 Dec 2009 18:21:25 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– In Antarctica, as I constantly work in this cold environment, I can sense my body working really hard. Staying warm is a primary challenge and keeping enough energy to complete my daily tasks is a tough. However, as with anywhere in the world, it is still important to get exercise to stay healthy and strong. So, how do you exercise at a remote field camp when the temperatures are typically well below zero?

Well, many of us here at camp are use to very active lifestyles back at home and therefore planned ahead for some fun recreational activities that would help us to stay healthy. I personally enjoying running so I brought some warm, waterproof running shoes and some nice warm running clothing! Many of us also have cross-country skis that we can use out on the runway that is groomed for the C-130 airplanes. The primary challenges to exercise here are a) finding time b) braving the bitter winds and c) getting motivated to go outside and freeze! Once you have finally prepared yourself, the running and skiing are excellent!

This last week was our first week working 24 hours a day. Our crew and the drillers are all split into three different shifts. I am on shift 2 and am responsible for helping to receive and document the ice cores from 3:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. After work I typically do not get to sleep until about 3:00 a.m. The primary reason for my late bedtime is because I have discovered that the weather tends to be the best in the middle of the night and I have turned the middle of the night into my exercise time. It is a good thing the sun doesn’t set around here! Most people aren’t silly enough to be out skiing or running in the middle of the night, but I do have a few skiing buddies who are willing to recreate with me. With the camp well marked with flags for safety and to guide the airplanes, you can go over 3 miles out of camp in every direction! Within a mile, the landscape becomes even more overwhelming as the camp disappears into the horizon and there is nothing but white and an incredible silence. The silence is really amazing. Imagine no sounds around you. We have no ambient sound from the everyday things we are used to at home. There are no noises from cars, insects, sirens, blowing leaves, honking horns etc. It is truly a unique experience!

Enjoy this photo of what you can look like after a good run here at WAIS Divide.

Peter Neff, my running buddy, always manages to look like Santa Claus by the end of our runs! All of the moisture from his breath freezes and accumulates on his beard!
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Happy Holidays from West Antarctica Thu, 24 Dec 2009 19:02:12 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– We are certainly guaranteed a white holiday celebration here at WAIS Divide. The driller and core handlers will continue to work and collect ice cores so that we can reach our goal of coring to a depth of ~2500 m by the end of the season. However, we will take a break long enough so that all of camp can celebrate together with a nice dinner on the 25th (Friday here in Antarctica). Rumor has it that we will be having lots of cookies and treats in addition to a wonderful meal prepared by our star chef, John.

This is a hard time of year to be away from family and friends but our WAIS community is certainly like a second family. We will have a gift exchange and lots of mail has been pouring over the past few days so there will be some presents from home to open too!

We are singing carols and getting into the holiday spirit with a few decorations and our special wooden Christmas tree outside of our galley. Will there be presents under the tree? I hope that Santa can find his way to the South Pole!

Happy Holidays to you all! We are all sending many well wishes from chilly Antarctica!

The Christmas tree at WAIS Divide.
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Tent Time Mon, 14 Dec 2009 22:47:10 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA: As I am learning first-hand, there is quite an adjustment period to life in the field in Antarctica. Overall, we have lots of luxuries here at WAIS Divide. Our camp is equipped with warm buildings, hot showers, laundry, and arguably the best chefs on the continent! However, learning the ropes and getting comfortable is certainly a challenge at first. I think the biggest challenge in the beginning was getting used to and being comfortable sleeping outside in an unheated tent. However, with one week under my belt, I am feeling confident and comfortable in my little yellow home!

We sleep in tents called Arctic Ovens. These tents are made in Alaska and could be considered Antarctic Ovens…especially in the morning! The tents are incredible at heating up with just the one’s body heat and the sun. In the morning, I have had temperatures as high as 65°F! That is roasting considering outside it is around 5°F (on a warm day)!

Our WAIS Divide Tent City. The tents are outside of “town” so that the noise of the generators and movement around camp doesn’t keep people awake.

The Arctic Ovens in Tent City.

Many of the people at camp sleep in a tent, but there are some communal heated sleeping areas. The tents are really one’s only private space so almost all of the members of the camp community have opted for a space in “tent city”. I have decorated my tent with photos of my family and friends and right now, I have a few holiday decorations up. I also have some rope strung around my tent for drying my socks and hats.

Even though the tents can get warm when you are in them, going to bed usually starts in a cold tent, which means you get into a COLD sleeping bag. One trick for getting the cold out of your sleeping bag is bringing a hot water bottle to bed. A hot water bottle is really helpful and can keep you warm throughout the night. I brought my sleeping bag from home in addition to the cold weather sleeping bag that was provided to us so I am staying plenty warm and comfortable. I sleep with the clothes I plan to wear the next day so I can get into warm clothes when I wake up. I am growing to love my little yellow tent and find that no matter what the temperature is I am always ready to go to sleep when I finally make it to my tent!

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You’ve Got Mail and a Birthday! Fri, 11 Dec 2009 00:20:37 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– Many of our crew will be celebrating birthdays while down on the ice so I thought I’d share what an ice sheet birthday looks like! Not so different from home but everyone misses family and friends so we try to make it a special day here in camp. Last week we celebrated the birthdays of Ryan Banta and Peter Neff. Despite being busy and working all day, everyone, including the camp staff, went out of their way to make sure they had memorable birthdays! Both Ryan and Peter had special birthday cakes and birthday cards. Ryan got a delicious chocolate cake and Peter had a cake made of cinnamon rolls! Both were delicious!

Peter Neff and his birthday cake of cinnamon rolls.

Ryan was even lucky enough to have about 10 letters arrive on a flight the day before his birthday! That is quite impressive because all of our mail comes on airplanes from McMurdo and both weather and the mail sorting can prevent letters and packages from arriving in a timely manner. Based on the mail that people are receiving in camp, it takes about 2 weeks for a letter to arrive at WAIS Divide from the United States. That is quite incredible considering each letter travels thousands of miles and takes several airplane rides! It may not be FedEx but it is still impressive!

Ryan Banta with his pile of mail including a great birthday card from his son. It was certainly a highlight for Ryan!
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Packing Cores: A Critical Piece of the Puzzle Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:07:14 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA: Before we start drilling again this season, we are shipping out about 1,000 meters of ice that overwintered here are WAIS Divide. So far, all of our time has been dedicated to this effort and although it is relatively straightforward it is quite an involved process. This is an incredibly critical step because how well the cores are packed on this end often determines how well they survive the 10,000+ mile trip back to the United States.

Enjoy this video about the process, including the take-off of a C-130 full of ice from WAIS Divide.

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In all, we are having no trouble staying busy! Next up, getting the core processing line set-up for the new ice cores that we will begin drilling next week!

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The Question Everyone Wants to Ask but Doesn’t…. Sun, 06 Dec 2009 17:49:00 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– I know that I was curious before I got here about many of the in’s and out’s of Antarctic life. One basic aspect of life is using the restroom and I wasn’t exactly sure how that worked down south. So, how do you go to the bathroom in the middle of a frozen desert and in an environment that is protected? Well, there are several answers to that question depending on where you are in Antarctica and the facilities available to you.

For example, at McMurdo Station, where the buildings are heated and it is like any small city in the U.S., there are just regular flush toilets. There is a wastewater treatment plant that deals with all of the waste and keeps the environment healthy. In the field life is different and there isn’t a flushing toilet for about 1,000 miles! At WAIS Divide we have 6 outhouses for the ~40 people at camp. The outhouses sit over large holes in the snow and ice. The main “town” has four outhouses and “tent city”, where everyone sleeps, has one outhouse. Out by the ice core drill we also have one outhouse.

The outhouse near the ice core drill. The view is quite nice!

The set-up is pretty basic, kind of like camping back in the States. The biggest difference in Antarctic restrooms is that sometimes you can’t get to them because blowing snow and horrible weather prevent you from being able to even seen the outhouse! Also, when you are sleeping and you have the urge the last thing you want to do is put on a million layers and your boots to go to the bathroom. To remedy these two issues, everyone has “pee bottles”. These are just a typical one liter water bottles that are marked very clearly with the letter P. These are used in your tent or in a storm. It is actually quite convenient! At smaller camps, like those in the Dry Valleys, all of the waste gets flown out so that there is a very small human footprint.

So, if you wanted to ask, now you know! For the record, I do miss a warm bathroom with running water and flush toilet!

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We’ve Landed in the Middle of an Ice Sheet! Wed, 02 Dec 2009 06:21:13 +0000 Heidi Roop WAIS DIVIDE, ANTARCTICA– We finally arrived at WAIS Divide. Our flight departed as planned and now the crew is here learning the ropes and getting used to how to survive constantly cold temperatures. Our team of 11 is now complete and we are spending the days packing up ice cores that spent the winter at WAIS Divide. Last season many of the ice cores were characterized as brittle ice and were too fragile to make the long journey back to the United States. So, now that the ice has “relaxed” and is more stable, we are packing up about 1,000 meters of ice and getting it on airplanes back to McMurdo.

An ice core.

We work in shifts for the packaging because it is easy to get tired and cold in our working environment. Part of ensuring the ice cores do not get damaged, and that they maintain their utility for different chemical and physical analyses, is making sure that the ice cores get no warmer than -20°C. So, the building where the cores are stored and packaged is cooled to -25 °C! It is hard to believe but often the air temperature outside is around 10°C warmer than where we work!

The drilling and ice core handling facility at the start of the 2008/2009 field season.

As we learn the packing process (I will go into more detail in another blog), we are also learning all of the nuances of staying warm for extended periods of time at -25°C. My technique, that I learned from the veteran ice core handlers, is to keep the core of your body really warm and that way your fingers and toes get enough warm blood to not get too cold. On top I wear 2 wool tops, a wool sweater and two down jackets. On the bottom, I wear two pairs of wool longer underwear and insulated bib overalls. Thick socks and boot liners with my sturdy blue boots keep my toes warm. Surprisingly, with all of the layers keeping the core of my body warm, I can get by with some light gloves on my hands!

Heidi covered in frost after work in a -25ºC environment.

Another trick, and one that I like the best, is eating LOTS of food. Both the galley where we eat and the warming hut where we can take breaks are stocked with cookies, crackers, and candy bars! It is not uncommon to eat 3 candy bars a day! I rarely eat candy at home so it is quite a nice treat to eat so much candy and know that my body is using all of the calories just to stay warm!

I am off to work now but I hope to get more posted soon! There is so much to share! Stay tuned for how to sleep in a tent in Antarctica, the ins and outs of a hot shower at WAIS Divide and much, much more about ice cores and they story they can tell! I will do my best to get photos posted too but internet is a real luxury here and we only have 5 hours of satellite internet a day! Sending photos is against the rules but I will try to figure something out!

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