Ice Stories: Dispatches From Polar Scientists » Zoe Courville Mon, 15 Nov 2010 20:40:36 +0000 en hourly 1 First UAV Flight in East Antarctica Fri, 25 Sep 2009 17:59:06 +0000 Zoe Courville Norut (Northern Research Institute) in Norway, was in charge of flying the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) we had along with us on the traverse. The UAV carried a payload of...]]> HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE– Andreas Tollefsen of Norut (Northern Research Institute) in Norway, was in charge of flying the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) we had along with us on the traverse. The UAV carried a payload of several instruments, a radar and camera, that we used to help image a large area surrounding our traverse route. Flying the UAV is tricky up on the plateau, the high altitude, strong winds, and cold temperatures make almost everything difficult. But Andreas did have the first UAV flight in East Antarctica, not a small feat, and we all got the thrill of watching it.

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Visitors on the Antarctic Plateau Wed, 16 Sep 2009 17:54:22 +0000 Zoe Courville HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE– In the middle of our traverse, we had the rather surreal experience of being visited by a French film crew making a documentary about research work in Antarctica. The crew flew in on a Basler, the somewhat debatable name of the converted DC-3 aircraft commonly used in Antarctica. Not only were these the only “new” people we’d seen in a long time, but the arrival of a plane, with it’s promise of transport back to the “real” world was enticing. A quick head count assured that none of our group had snuck on board, and meant we were all in it for the long, long haul back to Troll. Even better, the Basler pilot left us with a bit of a treat.

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Meet Ole, Our Doctor Mon, 14 Sep 2009 19:04:04 +0000 Zoe Courville HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE– Our traverse doctor, Ole Tveiten (I had a hard time getting the “ooo” right in Ole), luckily did not have much to do as a doctor, so he was put to work logging the cores, measuring and weighing them.

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Meet Lou, Our Driller Fri, 11 Sep 2009 16:43:43 +0000 Zoe Courville HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE– Lou is our amazing driller for the traverse. Luckily for us, she is one of the best drillers in the business, having worked both in Greenland and Antarctica on some incredible projects. In addition to drilling over 800 m (over 2500 ft!) of core, Lou helped keep the camp running, the heaters full of fuel (key), got the vehicles going in the morning, made us baked goodies and made sure no one’s birthday was forgotten. Lou was always the first one of us up in the morning and often one of the last one of us to go to bed, and was always everywhere making sure things got done. She basically helped everyone else out…whether it was me with my deficient culinary (and Berco driving) skills, Kirsty with changing out her radar antennas, Einar with the constant reorganization of food, Svein when he needed help with the vehicles, Tom with the hand coring, or all of us with unpacking or repacking our cargo on the sleds. At the end of the day, Lou made the rest of us amazed at how much she could get done.

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Meet Svein, Our Mechanic Wed, 09 Sep 2009 20:10:21 +0000 Zoe Courville HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE– On a 4 month trip across Antarctica with 12 people, everyone has a pretty crucial job to perform. But some of us are more essential. One of these key people is Svein, our mechanic. Luckily this year Svein has not been as busy fixing differentials and gear boxes as Kjetil, last year’s mechanic was. The vehicles, thanks to nearly a month of work upgrading at Camp Winter, have worked out wonderfully. This does not mean the Svein is not busy…there are countless other mechanical tasks that he keeps up with, with the added job of helping all of us scientists out when our stuff is not working so well… and when we break pieces of crucial equipment, like the glass carafe for the French press (which in all honesty was bound to happen).

Carafe for the French press. Is that a Nalgene bottle? Why yes it is! Spout and all.

When the cable for the drill broke, Svein immediately started making a hook to retrieve the drill…that worked!

The ingenious hook Svein made to recover the drill

Svein has stayed busy making our lives just that much more comfortable…fixing the floor heating system when it’s broken, making a step for the “littlest module,” the outhouse we are toting along, saving me from having to jump the 3 ft to the ground.

The sky light above the table dripped constantly due to condensation (warm in the kitchen module, cold outside), which is a big bummer if you are eating dinner underneath. Svein stopped the dripping once and for all with this handy gadget.

The glycol system for the floor heaters would leak, causing the whole system to shut down and our heat to turn off…not good when it’s -20 deg C outside.

The step for the littlest module

And maybe nearly as important, Svein has made all of our lives a little bit better by being always ready with a joke, a laugh, or even just a good tackle to the snowy ground when we start taking things a little too seriously. At the end of the traverse, I asked Svein a little bit about his take on the trip (filmed at Troll Station, Antarctica).

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A Rare Greenlandic Snow Penguin Sighting Fri, 04 Sep 2009 18:20:55 +0000 Zoe Courville NEEM CAMP, GREENLAND– The question that I probably get asked most often (besides “did you see any penguins?”) about my trips to the poles is what evidence I’ve seen for climate change. This is always a little hard to answer, because I’m usually going to the coldest places in Greenland and Antarctica, and there isn’t any huge, forehead-slapping-worthy, eureka-exclaiming sign that says “look at me, I’m melting.” If there were, we would all be in serious trouble since these ice sheets are huge–if they melted entirely many of the world’s cities would end up under water. On the periphery of both ice sheets, yes, there is considerable melting, and signs that climate change is occurring, and rapidly, even more so than predicted just a few years ago. But until we get all our cores back to the lab, and spend hours and weeks and months collecting data and then figuring out what those data mean, I haven’t anything as shocking as the Jacksovben glacier hurtling towards the ocean (and again, this is good for everyone!). This is not very exciting, but it’s the way most science works…lots of time spent in the lab, hundreds and hundreds of measurements, to come to one conclusion. That conclusion, together with work on other ice cores from all over the world, is what will really help to start piecing the climate puzzle together. What has it done in the past and what might it do in the future? The NEEM ice core, especially, aims at answering the question of what the earth’s climate was like the last time it got as warm as it is predicted to get (115,000 years ago during the Eemian period).

Current assessments of the past and present climate and predictions of future climate change are based on observations spanning several decades, centuries and millennium, from instrument records, ice cores, tree rings, lake and ocean sediment cores, and geologic records from all over the globe. No one single weather event or season or year is enough evidence to point either way. But having said that, I have at last seen something I never thought I would see in the middle of an ice sheet.

Temperatures have been so warm up at camp that it is actually possible to make snowballs. Usually the snow is too dry and cold to come even close to having something you can satisfactorily pelt at someone, and if you do want to throw something at someone, you have to get down to where the snow has compacted a bit and throw a big snow chunk. The stuff on the surface is usually fluffy or wind-packed and hard and dry. No snowballs. But up at NEEM the temperature got close to and above freezing for a bit, which is unheard of. It makes working and drilling out on the surface difficult…the snow tends to melt and refreeze when you don’t want it to. But it also meant we could have a snowball fight, and Aksel, the ace electrician up at camp from Denmark, started in immediately with building a rather ambitious snow man…

Askel and Adrian start out big with the bottom snowball of a snow ball.

…which turned into a snow penguin after the base snowball for the man proved to be just a little too big. (Sverrir, the Icelandic mechanic in camp, helped Aksel by pushing a load of snow using the machine used to groom the skiway).

Zoe and Kaitlin with the snow penguin.
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In the Trenches Tue, 25 Aug 2009 23:23:41 +0000 Zoe Courville NEEM CAMP, GREENLAND– Over at the deep drilling site, work continues day and night. There are two shifts of drillers and core handlers who work around the clock (day shift and night shift) to ensure that as much core can be drilled in a single season as possible. Right now, the NEEM drillers are on pace to break the record for the most core drilled in a single season!

Ice core just coming out of drill.

All of this work is completed in an 8 m (26 ft) deep trench that was painstakingly dug out last year (but with snow blowers…at least not with shovels!). This trench has been covered with a wooden roof (complete with sky lights), and makes for a fairly comfortable, albeit cold for the sake of the ice cores, working environment.

Kaitlin in the science trench.

Descending the steep stairway from the surface into the system of trenches (one trench is for the drilling operation and one is for the science operation) is otherworldly. It really looks like a civilization of trolls has dug themselves a snow palace. Think Lord of the Rings meets North Pole. Connecting the drill trench and the science trench is a wide passageway through the snow, on the other end of which is a marvel of a laboratory. Several stations are set up where different measurements are being made—each station is manned by some of the best and the brightest graduate students around. Unlike most US drilling programs, for this program, a lot of the ice core measurements are being done on site. This eliminates the risk of something happening to the precious cores before the measurements can be made and helps reduce contamination from handling the core. Basically this hole in the snow in the middle of nowhere has been turned into one of the most advanced ice core laboratories in the world.

The well-tuned processing line. We’re jammn,’ mon.

The trenches are cold, yes, but the group working keeps up morale by listening to music (lots of Bob Marley and Jack Johnson…fairly tropical selections) and taking frequent, mandatory tea and coffee breaks. There are too many nationalities (German, French, Japanese, Greek, Danish, Australian, American) in the trench to keep track of, and everyone pitches in to help everyone out, so that no one falls behind and the work continues seamlessly.

The Stations

Atsushi works the Swiss Saw, which cuts the top of the core off to leave a flat surface for measurements.

The Swiss Saw is run by Atsushi from the Low Temperature Institute in Hokkaido, Japan, who happens to be a whiz at the thing, very fast and precise. He is hard to keep up with. The Swiss saw cuts the top of the ice core off, as it is lying down horizontally. This allows for several of the next measurements to be made, as it leaves a nice flat surface to work on.

The line scan. Bubbles in the ice are visible as the line scanner moves over the core.

Vasileois carefully preparing the ice core for the line scan.

The line scan is run by Vasileios from Denmark. The line scanner is a video camera set on a track that records an image of the cores after Vas, and his helper Kaitlin (Kaitlin agreed to help out for a bit in the science trench after we had most of our work done), have carefully shaved the top of the ice core so that it becomes perfectly clear. The line scan records the visual stratigraphy, or layering, in the ice core. The ice core is photographed against a dark background using indirect light, which allows for clear and cloudy bands in the ice to be imaged. The cloudy bands contain more impurities, especially dust, than the clear bands of ice, and show up white while the clear bands show up as black against the background. The bands are indications of seasonal cycles, with dustier ice with higher impurities originating in summer months.

Lars sets up a core in the DEP.

The DEP (Dielectric Profile) is run by Lars from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. The DEP is essentially two curved electrodes that are scraped down the top of the ice core (the cut that Atusushi made!) and record the conductivity and the permittivity of the ice which are sensitive to the acidity and the amount of sea salt in the ice. These, in turn, vary with the seasons, and so the DEP can be used to date the ice on a very fine scale.

Aslak runs the ECM.

The ECM (Electrical Conductivity Measurements) is run by Aslak, also from Denmark. The ECM consists of two electrodes, much like the DEP, which are drug down the ice core and record the electrical conductivity of the ice core. The electrical conductivity is sensitive, among other things, to peaks in acidity in the ice core due to volcanic eruptions. Where the electrodes record a peak in conductance is a layer where volcanic material has been deposited. Knowing when the volcano erupted helps then with dating the ice core. Together using the line scan, the DEP and the ECM together is a really powerful way of ensuring that the dating is done in the most accurate way possible…basically there are three independent measures of the annual and sub-annual layers in the ice.

Celebrating 500 m of cores processed in the CFA lab

The CFA (Continuous Flow Analysis) is run by 6 researchers in two shifts, and is really an amazing set up. The CFA essentially melts one section of the core (a “stick” or a rectangular section that has been cut out of the middle of the core by yet another army of science trenchers who man the saws), sucks the flow from the center of the melting ice, discards the waste water from the edges, and feeds the center flow to a series of analyzers which measure the melted ice core water for different chemicals. The concentration of people, instruments, and computers in the DFA lab is enough to produce a lot of heat, so the CFA has been housed in it’s own little insulated space to keep the rest of the science trench cold. The CFA lab reaches temperature of 30 deg C (around 85 deg F)! It’s a funny scene in there, with the 3 researchers in t-shirts while everyone else is bundled up in the science trench.

Physical Properties. Back in her own little room off of the science trench, Daphne of the LGGE in Grenoble, France, measures the size and the orientation of the crystals in the ice.

In addition to the different science stations, a bevy of other researchers works to cut and package the cores. When everyone is down there working together, it resembles an ice core ballet (just well-insulated and heavily clothed)! It really is amazing to watch.

Anaïs prepares sections of core to be shipped to various labs all over the world.
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Hello from NEEM! Thu, 20 Aug 2009 16:48:12 +0000 Zoe Courville NEEM CAMP, GREENLAND– Hello from NEEM! After yesterday’s Herc (Herc’s are the ski-equipped C-130 aircraft that we fly on in Greenland and in Antarctica. They are flown by members of the 109th division of the Air National Guard.) flight from Kangerlussuaq on the coast to the NEEM drilling camp on the Greenland ice sheet in which we circled camp several times but were not able to land due to thick ground fog (and diminishing fuel!), today we were able to land today at camp. Finally. It did mean that we were woken up rather abruptly and unexpectedly early this morning since the weather up at camp was good, and they wanted to try to give us the best possible chance of landing this time. I was woken up with a knock on the door at 7am and told that they wanted us at the runway in 15 minutes. Such is fieldwork in remote locations! It’s always best to just roll with the punches.

We are getting up to camp in the middle of a very successful season, so far, for the deep drilling campaign being lead by Danish researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. The project I am working on is a side project, really. We’ll be working 2 km (1.2 miles) away from the main drilling camp on a “shallow” drilling project. Shallow in this case is to the transition from snow to ice, which we expect to happen around 80 m (260 ft) here. At this depth, the weight of the snow layers above is enough to compress the snow, which is open to air flow with large spaces between snow particles, into ice, in which air pockets become isolated from one another. As we drill, several groups will be sampling the air in the borehole at different depths. My main job in this group is to log the core that we are drilling, which will later be shipped back to the lab for measurements of permeability (how easily air can be pumped through the snow) and grain size. Luckily, I won’t be making these measurements! Kaitlin Keegan, a new PhD student at Dartmouth College, will. She’s up with me at NEEM to get a first-hand view of how this all works. My other main job is to dig and sample a 2 m (6.5 ft) deep snow pit. Pits are dug in the top 2 m because usually cores from the surface are too fragile to make it back to the lab intact. Below that though, the cores are usually surprising robust…a bit like Styrofoam.

NEEM is a mini, frozen United Nations on the ice cap. Flags are flown for every country represented at camp, and they are many. One of the first orders of business is to fly the Greek flag, in honor of Vasileois Gnikos, a Greek native working in Denmark on his PhD thesis who arrived on the same plane that I did.

Askel and Vasileois arrange the flags to make room for the Greek flag.

Askel and Vasileois raise the Greek flag.
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Welcome to Greenland! Wed, 15 Jul 2009 22:17:21 +0000 Zoe Courville NEEM...]]> KANGERLUSSUAQ, GREENLAND– Today Kaitlin Keegan, a first year PhD student at Dartmouth College, and my field assistant, and I flew from Scotia, NY, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, our first stop on the way up to the Danish deep drilling camp, NEEM. This is my sixth time to Greenland, and Kaitlin’s first. Along the way, we met up with Vas Petrenko and Anais Orsi, who are also heading up to NEEM. Vas will be working with us on the shallow core we are helping with, and Anais will be helping with the core processing at the deep drilling site. This is my first time to NEEM, so I am excited right along with Kaitlin.

In Kanger, Kaitlin got an excellent introduction to Greenland—we caught a ride with the NEEM camp manager up to the edge of the ice sheet. The area we went to was Russell Glacier, one of my favorite spots. There, a 40 foot wall of ice calves off into the Watson River below. Volkswagen-sized ice chunks churn in the silty water and are carried down the river. Since it is July, the glacier is calving all the time, and the river is flowing fast.

Vas Petrenko hikes near Russell Glacier.

Tunnel of ice near Russell Glacier.

On the way back into town from the glacier, we saw two musk oxen close to the road. The flowers are in bloom, and Greenland really is green for a bit. It’s a great introduction to Greenland for Kaitlin’s first day.

Musk ox near ice edge.

It seems we will now be delayed in Kanger for a bit before we can fly up to camp…not due to storms, but due to the temperatures being too warm! When the snow gets warm enough (it’s -5 deg C or 23 deg F up at camp…really, really warm for polar work) the Hercules aircraft (ski-equipped LC-130’s) we fly in have a hard time getting enough speed to take off on the skiway, or snow runway, up at camp. Sometimes, this means the pilots have to use JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off), which is basically rockets attached to the side of the plane which are fired to give the plane extra lift. We’ll see if that’s what it takes for the plane to take off at NEEM!

Greenland is green! Flowers near Lake Ferguson in Kangerlussuaq.
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The Stuck Drill Story Fri, 06 Feb 2009 20:01:45 +0000 Zoe Courville January 24, 2009


Today we are finally on the move again, after a prolonged stay at our science stop at site 5 in the middle of the Recovery Lakes area. We were delayed after our ice core drill was stuck 90m down in the hole Lou was drilling.

Drills do get stuck– every once and a while the chips, or the small pieces of ice that are generated as the drill spins around, get packed and the drill can become wedged in the ice. Sometimes the anti-torques, the metal fins that keep the drill from spinning in the hole as the inner barrel turns, get stuck. It happens. By pouring alcohol or glycol in the hole, drillers can sometimes turn enough of the ice around the drill into slush to pull the drill out again.

Drills have been successfully recovered that way. In our case, however, the cable had snapped, at the top of the pulley that lowers the drill into the hole, while the drill was at the bottom—exactly 92m below the surface. With the cable snapped and the drill that far down, we were in a bad position. Drills stuck closer to the surface have to be dug out by sheer manual labor, but 92m is too deep to dig, even for our team.

I was out at the drill site when it happened, picking up a couple of things for my own shallow, hand coring operation. I heard an ominous snap, and turned around to see the snarled end of the cable up near the pulley, with no drill in site, and the rest of the cable gone. “Oh @#!&!” was the only cohesive thought I had.

Sometimes when things like this happen (and they happen all the time out here), you think to yourself, “Oh, we can fix that, it will be ok.” But in this case, I knew right away that this was really, really bad, and that we probably wouldn’t be able to fix it. No drill meant that we would be essentially done with most of the science part of the trip, with the exception of the radar surveys that were being done as we drove. Lou was understandably upset, and we all started right away figuring out what we could do.

Lou knew that there was another similar drill that had been at South Pole being used in a separate project. We had no flights from the US Antarctic Program budgeted for our project after leaving South Pole, but this was an exceptional situation. Lou and Tom started working on figuring out where the second drill was (unfortunately already back in McMurdo, and not in the best of shape!) and if we might possibly get a flight, while Svein, our super mechanic, started on his own project, building a hook that might be able to catch the cable.

Our secret weapon in our quest to extract to the drill was the Borehole Optical Stratigraphy System (BOSS) that we had brought along. The BOSS is a borehole camera that I had been using to log the holes we had been drilling along the traverse. It was designed by Dr. Bob Hawley, currently a professor at Dartmouth College, who uses the reflectance from the borehole wall recorded by the images in the camera to map the varying layers in the hole. The variations in reflectance down the hole are due to variation in grain size and density of the different layers in the snow and ice. It’s a really neat piece of science equipment that was about to come in very handy as we tried to retrieve the drill.

We sent Bob’s camera down the hole to see where the end of the cable was, and what it looked like. 60m down in the hole, we found the end of the cable, a twisted mess of the metal strands, and could see a few meters down further that it continued to twist on it’s way down. The force of the break had twisted the cable, and it lay snarled in the last 30 m of hole down to the drill.

The image from the borehole camera, showing the broken end of the cable stuck in the hole 60 meters below the surface.

Not pretty, but perfect for the hook that Svein was working on, as the tangled cable provided places to hook onto. Svien’s hook consisted of four barbs, each with a sharp edge on the inside of the hook. Have I mentioned Svein is an avid fisherman back in Norway? Knowing now the exact depth of the cable end, and how it was lying in the hole, we went about fishing. At this point, no one, except for maybe Svein, thought that this was going to really work, but we were basically stuck out in the middle of nowhere, with months already invested in this part of the project, years invested in the traverse, with nothing else to do without the drill. So fishing we went, including a ceremonial spit on the hook which is apparently what you do for good luck in Norway. Lou lowered the hook down into the hole most of the way with the mechanical winch, and Svein and Ole lowered the last meter to the end of the cable by hand, with Svein, gloveless in the -26 deg C weather, seeing if he could feel the extra weight of the hooked cable. This was a bit tricky as 60 m of cable, plus the hook, is heavy enough as it is.

Lou started to pull up the winch, not sure if we had anything. There is a load cell on the top of the pulley for the cable which tells her if she has ice in the barrel or not, and we all watched to see if the load on the hook was increasing. A few meters from our fishing attempt, the load started to increase steadily– amazingly. It kept increasing as Lou slowly pulled the hook up with the winch, and we all watched, hardly being able to contain our excitement. Was this really working after all? Then, 11 meters from the surface, the load on the pulley suddenly decreased — we had lost the cable.

So, we went down the hole with the camera again. This time the cable was 5m lower than it had been. Svein went fishing again, and again the load started increasing as we pulled up the tangled cable wound at the bottom of the hole. A couple of times, the pulley snapped up and down and the load increased a great deal, only to release. We were pulling up and straightening bits of cable that had been tangled and stuck into the walls of the borehole. The snaps brought gasps from the field team gathered anxiously around Lou– all of us afraid that the cable would snap, and we would loose our drill for good.

Lou managed to pull the cable up to 7m from the surface next time before we lost it once again. Down went the camera once more, to find the end of the cable closer to the surface, meaning we had untangled more cable. Again Svein did the fishing, and Lou pulled the cable up 6m from the surface before we again lost the cable. Once more we lowered the camera, and saw that the end of the cable was now even more snarled and twisted from all the pulling– a perfect knot had formed that Svein might be able to catch, and Lou might be able to pull all the way to the surface. This was going to be the best shot we had at getting the cable back up to the surface, then hopefully being able to pull the drill up with it.

We had perfected finding the cable with the BOSS, fishing for the end, grabbing it, and getting it agonizingly close to the surface. Svein had been wanting to send the camera down with the hook so that he could see what he was doing, and I had been reluctant to do so with Bob’s camera. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to send two things down a borehole—it you have two separate cables, as we did with the camera and drill, they can wrap around each other, and you can end up with one or both things down the hole. None of us wanted to lost both the drill and Bob’s camera. We called Bob on the Iridium phone, and he very willingly told us to go ahead and give it a try, even risking his camera (which we offered to replace if we did).

Lou lowered the hook again, and then I lowered the camera. Five different people were shouting directions to me as I maneuvered the camera into place– watching carefully on the way down to make sure that the camera cable was not twisting around the winch cable– while everyone huddled around the small LCD screen that the camera projected on to. I got to the hook, and was reluctant to get too close to it for fear of getting stuck in the mess of the cable and the hook. But I was able to get the camera down to where we had a good view of the cable, and Svein watched on the screen as he told Lou where to lower the hook.

We watched the camera as Lou was able to grab onto the mess of the cable end. I pulled the camera up 8 m, and waited for Lou to pull the hook up to see if we had the cable, and if it was slipping. When Lou got the hook up to the camera, the cable was still there, stuck even more onto the hook from the weight below. I pulled the camera out of the hole, relieved to have that done with, and the camera safe and sound back in its box. Lou pulled up the cable, and again we watched the load on the pulley increase as she pulled it closer and closer to the surface. We lowered the camera down into the hole two more times to make sure we had the cable (each time as stressful as the first for me for fear of losing Bob’s camera) then we got 7m, then 6m, then 5m, 4m and 3m from the surface, with more load on the pulley than we had seen before.

Another picture from the borehole camera, showing the hook that our mechanic Svein made snagging the broken end of the cable.

Here Lou stopped– we had come so close to getting it up before only to lose the cable in the end, and 3 m wasn’t all that far to dig. So we dug. The entire field team pitched in to dig a huge 3m deep trench while Lou kept the hole covered so that we wouldn’t knock snow down over the hook. When she cut away the last block covering the hole, there was the hook, with the cable attached. Svein and Andreas secured the bottom cable with clamps to prevent losing it again, and Lou pulled it the rest of the way up.

We all gathered around the hook with the broken end attached, amazed that it had worked, and happy.

Svein’s hook. The drill cable snagged on the end is the piece he was able to catch.

This was just the beginning however.

Now we had to get the drill, still stuck 92m below the surface, up and out of the hole. And it was really stuck. Lou had already had some problems freeing the bottom of the cores she had drilled (the core break) so that she could pull them up. The ice was brittle and strange here, much harder than anything Lou had experienced before. The drill had also spent a couple of days down at the bottom of the hole by the time we got the cable up to the surface, allowing the chips to sinter (solidify) and the drill to get stuck fast.

Lou went about pulling the drill up with the winch. She had to apply a lot of force to the cable, and we all stood well back in case the cable should snap again. A few jerks managed some terrific pops as more of the tangled cable was pulled free from the bottom of the hole. At one point, Lou thought one of the tangles coming loose was the drill, and we all cheered triumphantly. We realized it wasn’t the drill after the load on the pulley decreased again however. The drill was stuck, extremely, extremely stuck.

We didn’t have any ethanol with us, but Lou really felt like if we had some, we could get the drill out. Meanwhile, the second drill was being put back into working order and shipped back to South Pole, in the case that we would get an unplanned flight after all. Flight requests were made, and after a couple of days of waiting anxiously, we heard that we would get the flight, with the ethanol and the second drill in case we didn’t get the stuck drill out.

Weather delayed the first scheduled flight, and we had to wait another day before we finally got the ethanol and could try again. The flight came just before midnight our time, and Lou, Svein, Andreas, Stein and Tom got to work on pouring the ethanol down the cable into the hole. Svein made a special “ethanol delivery system” consisting of a bottle, rope, and small covered hole that he could open right over the drill so that the ethanol was getting right to the drill and not sloshing all over the hole. The group worked through the early hours of the morning, pouring ethanol into the hole, waiting, and pulling on the cable, until 7 hours later, just after 7am, the drill started coming up, slushy and half frozen still, but up and out of the hole. To our amazement.

A picture I drew for Lou after we got the drill up.

This is the traverse that will not quit. Already, we are attempting one of the longest science traverses ever made in Antarctica, through some of the coldest, highest, most remote locations. Vehicle problems? No problem. Radar problems? No problem. And then this, the problem of all problems with the drill stuck 90m down and no cable to pull it up, seemingly impossible to solve, threatening to end our science. But together, even when not sure we will succeed, we set out, step by step, meter by meter, kilometer by kilometer, undaunted, until we get across this continent. Our motto: science happens, all the time.

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