To the coast

(09-12-2019)

Saturday 9 a.m. sharp is when our convoy departed for the trip to the coast, known as ‘the traverse’. The destination is a GPS point before the Frank-Kenny and Tison ice rises 160km from the station. It’s a small convoy when compared to last year. The glaciology team only consists of 3 people and a field guide taking with them; a workshop container (20 feet equipped with a generator, some tools and benches), a 10 feet “cabuz” which is a living quarter and has a small diner table and a basic kitchenette inside and 3 skidoos. All of this is pulled across the ice by a Prinoth tractor. For our project however, we like to be quick and mobile so, our group of 3 including Manu, the field guide, is traveling by Hilux with a small trailer on which all Styrofoam boxes for snow and ice sampling were tied.

The departure for the traverse is always something special as everyone from the station comes by for a hug and to say goodbye. We’ll only be gone for a few days, opposed to the Glaciology team who will stay in the field for little over two weeks! The actual drive was quite uneventful, 14 hours in a Hilux driving on a white snow plane is about as fun as it sounds, furthermore for some reason the mechanics took the radio out of the truck... The next morning the glaciologists packed up their part of the camp, a few hugs and final words were exchanged and off they went! They were going to the Tison ice rise west of our location and soon we lost communication with them. From that moment we were really on our own! Not much later we left our tiny campsite consisting of 3 tents (1 for the toilet and 2 for sleeping) as well, there is lots of work ahead.

To minimize the risk, it is best to keep the total time in the field as short as possible. The planning consisted of visiting 2 sites near to the ocean and drilling a firn/ice core on Sunday and visiting the more southern sites on the way back, Monday. Last year we had 4 days for all this! The bad weather from the morning quickly made place for a clear sky and a burning sunshine. It took three hours of driving to reach the site north on Frank Kenny ice rise were all equipment was like left last year. A new addition for this year is that we’ll drill 2 cores to 3 meters depth in the ice. It was a bit clumsy in the beginning but after a few tries we got the hang of it, until a short moment of inattention shut down the operation. The power cable of the motor got caught on the drive shaft of the drill and it broke the wires. 15 minutes of swearing and fiddling with a Leatherman later I managed to reattach the connector to a good piece of cable. Back in business! Even in a relatively short ice core like this one you can clearly see the layering of the ice and the light shining out of the drill hole is an amazing hue of blue!

As fresh snow gets deposited every year drilling an ice core gives information on the concentration of chemicals in function of time. With this 3-meter core we estimate that there is information from 10 to 15 years back in time! Nothing when compared to the deepest ice core drilled, 2.7 million years! Drilling: done, to the next site! Last year at Breid Bay, only 5km from the ocean, we installed a passive site knowing this location is a risky one as there is lots of ice drift and accumulation. Upon arriving the snow accumulation was 1.5m almost burying the installation! Retrieving the samples and breaking down the site was the only sensible decision. Fun fact though; as the ice layer gets thinner it will move faster. Because of this the poles at Breid Bay (ice thickness of only 70m) were almost 40m from the GPS location of last year.

Monday promised to be another busy day! 2 sites to recover including one on the southern point of the ice rise. As last year there was a lot of snow accumulation as well, we feared it might have been buried in snow by now. But we were lucky! The shelter of the sorbent tubes was barely sticking out of the snow! After recovering the samples Manu and I put a new pole in place with the samplers at 2m height so next year they’ll be easy to find. The final site of the coastal expedition is near Romnoes mountain already quite a bit on the way back to the station. As Stefania measured a lot of background in the samples from this area, a rock sample of the mountain was necessary. This meant crossing a blue ice field filled with crevasses, but the mighty Hilux just sailed right across it. Exhausted we arrived back at the station at midnight where Christine kept 3 plates of pasta carbonara aside for us, a welcome change after eating dry food for 3 days.

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