The Final Depth of WAIS's Hole

On the eve of another full circle around the sun the POW (Prisoners of WAIS) drillers reached the final drilling depth in the main borehole: 3405.077 meters. A new record ice drilling depth for the United States of America for the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. The cool thing is that the borehole is just a few hundred yards from my sleeping bag. There is about 50 meters of ice left before the drill would hit bedrock and since no scientist is willing to undertake (yet?) the complications of environmental assessments associated with going deeper the drilling project is declared done.

Friday afternoon I grabbed a polar explorer power bar and completed my shoveling project in tank top and no time flat. Hot enough to sweat and bright enough to get a tan. I seriously thought about putting flip flops on.

Two large trenches and three walls separate the tent from the elements and after Sunday’s winds I found out that the snow walls work.

Later in the day a LC-130 flew into the backyard.

I hiked over.

I was confronted by D and J, DJ. The WAIS boss squad. Word on the ice was that another special package was on its way by KBA twin otter.

The Canadian eagle has landed.

Boxes of ice cores from another drilling site were offloaded and taken to our core holding facility, the Arch freezer.

Don the Science Don oversaw the offload.

The white boxes were put on a pallet, strapped down and hauled over to the Arch freezer by the Mother Tucker.

Time for lunch.

On Saturday, Dec. 31, I was asked if I wanted to see history made in Archland. Sure. I jumped on a sled with Don.

To Archland.

The entrance is 28 meters below the surface and many more miles beneath a sun dog. It was once right near the surface, but you know, like my yellow tent, ice swallows anything and everything here.

The ice cores that were offloaded the day prior by the Canadians.

What’s an ice core? Below is an ice core. A 5-inch diameter hunk of ice that dates back ~60,000 years ago. Why are they important? “This project will provide the best record of how changes in greenhouse gases influence climate, and will be used for decades to test and improve predictions of future climate change.” – Kendrick Taylor, WAIS Chief Scientist.

Ice cores come from the borehole in the Arch that the peeps below are eagerly looking down at.

Eagerly? Why? Because, the next hunk of ice that comes out of the hole (I’m using rough English here because they were making fun of my ‘Honey Glazed Holes’ this morning) is the deepest core that will come ever be brought to the surface here. This project has been thought about since the 80s is now, successfully, done.

Inside the control room there are monitor screens that show the depth of the drill. When this photo was taken the drill was 36.577 meters from the surface and was ascending from the target depth of 3405.077.

The spinning cable spool that raises and lowers the drill unit.

Looking down into the hole.

E, one of the lead drillers, smiling out the control room. I have never seen her so happy. The drillers have come to WAIS for many seasons and for them it’s a swell of relief and bliss to have the main borehole project complete, but another hole has to be dug in the near future eh? ;)

Rad Jayred (whose name is all out of the outhouses) touching the last core for the very first time.

Half the camp came to witness.

Once it is pulled all the way up the core is laid down horizontally on a platform where the casings/cores are split into sections.

A bit of water from the drilling friction pours out.

Two clamps drop down and grasp the encased cores.

The drillers load the canyon. They use a fancy broom handle to push the ice out of the casing and through a hole in the wall where it enters the Arch freezer.

The freezer.

Freezer temp. is held at -10 F.

When the core comes out of the hole in the wall it is handled like an egg.

It is measured.

Lining up the breaks.

Pencil markings mark the measurements.

This is what an ice core looks like without any influence from volcanic activity 10s of thousands of years ago.

And this is what an ice core looks like with volcanic ash. The yellowish-brown layers are volcanic ash layers. One inch of core length is roughly one year. The three big ash layers are separated one year apart and the likely cause of such is not a 3-yr exploding volcano, but seasonal drifting that happens the same each year.

Well, that’s the most science I will gather from WAIS Divide. One month left to go and after two months my Antarctic home has become a real snow castle.

We have another week left of easy times then we have to start the take out of WAIS. Science will trickle out and the carpenters will come back to camp to take down what they put up. Work is steady, life is good, and I’m getting my rest, preparing for what’s next.

For New Years Eve Russ and I pulled something out of our arses and made a feast. Quick and easy, like this sand cake my Aunt Mollie taught me. The Joy of Cooking Cookbook she gave me for 2006 Christmas has been something I’ve traveled the world with. I’ve made almost every recipe in that book.

Russ McRusty tweaking.

The sides.

The family table.

Later that night we did a toast and shortly after that the weather got nasty. We reached CON 2 and I volunteered to put up the emergency hand lines.

It was a lovely night.

Six of us separated into two teams. G, Storm and I took the Tent City hand lines… Twinkle Nuts, Lancealot and Augusto did the center camp lines.

Once the lines were put up we rendezvoused at the tower of power.

Then back to the party.

A few hours later I was up again to make pizza for brunch. A lovely roasted garlic pizza.

And Hawaiin pizza. Can’t wait for Hawaii! But, maybe the Amazon first? Hmm…

Three holidays executed in 6 weeks by a killer cooking crew. America’s deepest ice borehole drilled to near bedrock in Antarctica. May the peak of the summer and start of 2012 arrive in grandiose glory!

The photo above was taken by Sir August Allen in Dec. 2011. Thanks bro.