Archive for the ‘Glaciers’ Category

Creation & Destruction

Monday, December 31st, 2007

For Christmas, we made an amazing array of sugar cookies, and a very large gingerbread house.

2007_12_24: Christmas

Before Christmas, we did a series of exciting salt tracer experiments to measure the amount of surface flow and to see the storage of water in cryolakes. Part of that experiment required ‘channel maintenance’ – destruction of an ice dam on the stream.

Weird Science

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Today I got the opportunity to execute one of my clever science experiments. I’m not sure if it is going to work, but it was sure fun to install. Rae accompanied me today, and at different times I punched each of my legs through the ice and got both of my boots filled with water. I probably should have learned to always lead with the same leg over the sketchy bits. Still not as bad as Rae’s story of going in over her head one year.

Luckily my boots keep my feet plenty warm, even when filled with water. And it allowed me to not worry about getting my feet wet while splashing around in one of the streams flowing on the glacier. We chipped out a slot with ice axes and a drill with an 18″ long bit and installed a weir I had sawed out of plywood. The height of the water flowing through the notch in the weir can be related directly to the quantity of water flowing through, which is the quantity I am interested in. The finished job is a true engineering marvel, with a spillway, sandbags, and tie-downs. Working in ice was difficult and there still appeared to be some water flowing around the sides and under the bottom of the weir. It will be interesting to see what shape it is in after a few days. Filling sandbags with sand from the bottom of the stream channel taught me that I should bring some rubber gloves next time, rather than just my polypro liner gloves. Luckily it was an overcast day, and there wasn’t too much water in the stream. I can’t wait to see if this idea works. Even if it didn’t, it sure was fun putting in.

2007_12_31: Weir installation

Back in Antarctica

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Today it finally felt like we are really in Antarctica.  It was colder and cloudy, and I was truly cold for the first time this year.  The bad weather kept us from flying to Commonwealth Glacier for the 3rd time in the last week, but it wasn’t too bad to take a day trip up to Canada Glacier to see how our salt tracer works on a day without much flow.  The streams were much smaller (about 10% as much flow as last time), hardly more than trickles.  Still it was amazing there was water at all when the temperature was -4 C and the sky was totally overcast.  Our tracer experiments took much longer – 30 to 40 minutes for each run as opposed to the to 3-4 minutes last time.  We only got two runs in, but it was a useful exercise to see what it is going on up there on days like this.  I’d post some pictures, but they would just look like the other pictures but with everything looking flat and gray, and us looking colder with more clothes on.

The upside to this weather is that it is great for sleeping.  It actually feels like it is going to get dark tonight.  The tent will also be cool enough for me to sleep inside my sleeping bag. Speaking of which, I am going to go do.

Almost famous, pt. 2

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

One of the more exciting events of late, other than Christmas, was the visit to Lake Hoare of one of the artists via the Antarctic Artist & Writers Program. Andrea Polli is a sound artist who made recordings of a whole variety of Antarctic noises while she was here, from the sounds of waterfalls off Canada Glacier to the noise of a gas-powered ice auger. One thing that was great about Andrea, as opposed to some of the other artists who have come through, is that she was genuinely interested in the details of all of our science projects. Another great thing was that she took a lot of nice hero shots of me using my FieldSpec 3 with my new hat on.

me and my toy me and my drill

She also worked with Hassan a lot recording, photographing, and videotaping various met. stations, and I believe her intent is to ’sonify’ that actual met. data – making wind speed one tone that varies as it’s windier or calmer, air temperature another tone, etc., something she has done with data from the Arctic.

While her work is not exactly front page news, it is still exciting to have her take an interest in our work. She has examples of her recordings on her blog at So for those of you not content in just seeing what Antarctica looks like, now you can find out what it sounds like. Apparently there is a recording of our cries of excitement as a helo flies away. Our internet connection is too slow to check it out, so let me know if I say anything stupid.

To everyone back home, have a wonderful Christmas!  Today was our recovery from a long day of cookie decorating, gingerbread house construction, ham eating, secret santa-ing, and general mayhem.  Though it’s hard to be away from family, this a very welcoming place to spend a holiday – and without the obnoxious ads and never ending holiday songs.  It was also probably warmer and sunnier than wherever you are.  I hope the big midwestern storms I read about have been manageable!

Research roundup!

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

Well, a lot has happened since we last spoke, both at home and here, so I haven’t had the chance to post much. Conditions stayed warm and wet for quite awhile before becoming very cloudy the last 2 days. Helos didn’t fly yesterday, and we are on weather hold still today, giving me time to write a post!

Before the weather turned we got to install 3 conductivity probes on supraglacial streams on Canada Glacier. The conductivity between liquid water and frozen ice is different so theoretically we should be able to see when the water flow starts and stops. Additionally, we have environmental clearance to use table salt as a chemical tracer to add to the streams. We can use it to measure the amount of streamflow flowing in these streams (which I can compare my model against), and also to explore the connectivity of subsurface passages between cryoconite holes. We plan to do that work after Christmas, but the probes are installed and ready to go. We found an extremely beautiful little basin with a pretty little pond we have dubbed the “Blue Lagoon.” Photos of the installation are here:

2007_12_17:Canada Glacier – conductivity install

and here:

2007_12_18: Canada Conductivity Install 2

Following this, we flew up to Taylor Glacier, which was a lot of fun to revisit, since I spent my first season there and I have been running my model for Taylor this last year. What was neat about our visit there was how much water was even at that location. I’d had the impression that you don’t find much water on Taylor except down in the lower channels. We saw a lot of soft, wet ice and running streams way up by the met. station. The photos aren’t as interesting as some of the other albums, but they are scientifically intriguing!

2007_12_19: Taylor Glacier water and ice

The last thing I have been up to is playing with my big fancy FieldSpec 3 that I received the opportunity to use through the Alexander Goetz Instrument Support Program that the manufacturer, ASDI, conducts. It’s basically an $80,000 instrument that measures the energy distribution of light across all the different colors and into the infrared. I’ve annotated some samples of my measurements explaining how I am trying to use it here:

Glacier radiation measurements with FieldSpec 3

I don’t have any photos of the instrument in action yet, because I am always the one operating it, but I’ll be sure to get some at some point. It looks a lot like the Ghostbusters’ getup, and we alternatively refer to it as the ‘proton pack’ or the ‘raygun.’

I’ve accomplished a lot so far, but so much still left to do. The Christmas festivities will be starting soon, but once they are complete I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Blue Lagoon with the salt tracer experiments and measuring streamflow on top of the glacier. I’ve got some thermistors to calibrate, so I’d better get on.

In search of wet holes

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Yesterday was my first day on a glacier in a year. The warm weather has continued – we know it was 4 deg. C at one point, plus there was constant sunshine and not much of a wind. All together these made for conditions unlike any I have experienced down here. You could say it was almost too hot at times – like hiking uphill in Colorado when it’s 40 degrees and sunny. The effect of all this warmth was to make the entire glacier surface turn into wet ice, mushy ice, streams, ponds, and waterfalls. This, too, was unlike anything I have seen down here. It was amazingly pretty to see the variety of blues, whites, and greys and to see so much movement of water, bubbles, and slush on an otherwise static landscape.

Contemplating a swim
Our purpose for traversing Canada Glacier was to scout out locations for a series of experiments having to do with the heating of the ice and the formation and movement of meltwater, as well as collect some cryoconite hole samples for Liz. She had sampled dozens of holes for chemical analysis early in the season, and is not in search of wet holes to determine how the chemistry changes once liquid water is introduced to the system.
Today is a rest day, but since we just got to the field 2 days ago, we will be using it as an instrument prep day and to get organized for a busy week It’s been odd with all this warmth and wetness – though everything feels familiar, I feel like I am in a totally different place – a bizarro Taylor Valley, if you will. Even sleeping in the tent seems off when I am using less blankets and feel hotter than I do sleeping in our bed at home. Best enjoy it – I could be whining about the cold in a few days.

More photos here:

2007-12-15: Canada Glacier

They haven’t got us yet

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

So we saw our first polar bear tracks yesterday. I am a little shook up about it, but no harm came to us. We were travelling on Canada Glacier when I came across this track in the snow. None have been spotted so far this year, but this track confirms that they are still around, waiting for unsuspecting glaciologists to believe in their Antarctic existence.
Polar bear tracks

BFF (Blood Falls Forever!)

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Today we are heading up to Blood Falls to clean up the mess last year’s project made. That project ended, but the seismic stations and some other equipment have still been collecting data all winter. With the help of Thomas and CeCe we are going to remove about 4000 pounds of equipment spread across the glacier and valley around it. Hopefully most stuff has already melted out of the ice so we don’t have to chip it out. Over the next few days we will make bundles of like items so they can be slung out and sent back to town. It will be fun to be back at Blood Falls, but it will also be a lot of work.

There is a decent katabatic wind coming down valley today (the strongest yet since I’ve been here), so it will be interesting to see how windy it is upvalley at Taylor Glacier (it is often stronger there). The katabatics bring strong winds but warm temperatures so we’ll either be really cold or really hot. It’s always hard to know how to dress on these days. Ahh, the fashion dilemnas of Antarctica.

Core dog tired

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

Now that the excitement of mass balance season has ended, we’ve been doing some miscellaneous projects and recovering from all the walking. I’ve spent a great deal of time getting intimate with some core dogs. These are 2 ‘teeth’ on the inside of the core barrel that grab the core and keep it from sliding out as you pull it out of the hole. An instruction manual for the Kovacs coring kit does not exist (that I am aware of), so in order to make adjustments to the way the corer works you either have to find someone who really knows how to use it, or spend an evening with the core barrel and a set of hex wrenches. I chose the latter.

I am starting to feel like I could successfully run a coring campaign. Luckily I am only interested in pulling 50 cm cores, so it isn’t particularly complicated. I managed 2 this week on Canada Glacier near the met station, and have been perfecting analysis techniques in camp. At this point I am only aiming for elementary core processing, so again, it isn’t particularly complicated. That said, it has taken a number of attempts with different equipment to get it right. A hacksaw has teeth that are too small and gum up with shavings, so you need a more dangerous looking saw; an MSR stove burns too hot and melts the sample too quickly, melting the sample on the stove in the hut subjects it to high air temps – a hotplate plugged in outside works perfectly. The goal is to melt the sample thin enough so that you are only looking through a single crystal (which you need cross-polarizers to see). I’ve started to get decent photos and hope to process the rest of the cores I already have this weekend. My goal is to measure grain size and bubble content only at this point and look for large differences within the upper 50 cm of ice, between glaciers, and over the course of the summer.

Besides this, we’ve installed Sensit (measures the quantity of windblown particles) at 2 met stations, changed the antifreeze out of a precipitation gage, photographed a cliff for terrestrial photogrammetry, and developed our design for conducting subsurface solar radiation measurements (this will be really cool if we get it to work).

I’ve seen the future, and it involves drilling a horizontal 10″ hole about 1 m deep in the side of a terrace on the glacier, about 10-50 cm below the flat top of the terrace. We can feed a pyranometer mounted on a met arm into the hole and measure how much solar radiation penetrates through the ice to the subsurface (both with and without snow on the surface). After we remove the pyranometer we can core down to its previous location. We will measure grain size and bubble content at various depths of the core. Then I can calibrate the model with direct measurements of grain size and subsurface radiation at the same location. If we can pull this off close to a met station, I will also have data on meteorological conditions and ice temperatures at the time. The coup de grace would be to pop into a cryoconite hole from the side and repeat the measurements from inside of an undisturbed cryoconite hole in situ. This plan sounds ambitious, but after dinking around this week, I don’t think it’s unreasonable.

If you’re still with me at this point, peruse some photos from the last few days – ice core drilling, Sensit install, cliff photography, ice core analysis.

My personal photographer

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

Wow, Hassan has way better photos than I do. (His photo site has the larger photos, plus some cool ones of Hassan’s love affair with a pyranometer.)
For example, here is me with a white nose.
me with a white nose

Here is me eating Taylor Glacier (I’m on the right):

Here is me eating a Lasagnwich (leftover lasagna sandwich):

This next one is a tricky one. It looks like I am taking scientific measurements. But really I am freezing my balls off.


And lastly, Hassan’s greatest work: Me with a board on my head, surrounded by a bunch of sticks. This post-modern work of genius should hang in the Centre Pompidou.