Ice Stories
Exploratorium Home

We’ve Landed in the Middle of an Ice Sheet!

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!

Tags: , , , , ,

3 Responses »

  1. Crazyness that the ice core facility is colder than the outside!

    Can’t wait to hear about tent sleeping on the ice.. I imagine you need more than just a thermarest to stay warm?


  2. Loved the pictures and the fact that you can lots of good food when it is soooooo cold out there.It is pretty where I live here too.
    Have a great day.
    Ann Mishmash

  3. I always thought we girls would be a lot slimmer if we could heat ourselves. Maybe if I wore two down jackets to work every day, I wouldn’t have this “hangover” around my belt line! Somehow, I don’t think it will work. Peter has always been a candy eater. He better be flossing! Enjoy the candy now while you can!