The goal of our science expedition is to determine just how much snow has fallen each year for the last 30 to 50 years in this region of Antarctica. One way to do this is to actually look at the snow and ice that is buried beneath the surface. We look at the ice two ways: snow pits and ice cores.
Left: View from the first ice core drilling site.
Right: Landon getting gear ready for drilling.
Snow Pits: We dig our snow pits with shovels and saws. Each pit is over six feet deep - which is much taller than I am. It's hard work and takes a couple of hours, but working hard keeps us nice and warm. Once we've dug the pit, we can look at the snow and ice from the surface down to the bottom. We put some of the snow in bags to bring back and study.
Left: Mike and Dr. Koutnik digging our first snow pit
Right: Completed snow pit with stairs for climbing in and out
Dr. Rupper taking measurements and sampling the snow pit wall
Ice Cores: Once we're done collecting snow from the wall of the snow pit, we cut back one of the walls to make room for the ice core drill. The drill is made of metal barrels, a motor that makes the barrels spin, and a cutter at the bottom. The cutter is a ring of very sharp metal that cuts through the ice. We use the drill to bring up ice deep beneath our feet, much deeper than we can dig with shovels. You can watch Landon and Mike drilling an ice core in the video below.
When we're done drilling, we measure the core and put it in special bags to ship back to our lab at BYU. You can watch a video of the ice core being removed from the drill in the video below. Also, while it looks like it is the middle of the day, it is actually very, very late at night. The sun never goes down - which means we can work late into the night.
Our first day of drilling took us about 14 hours - that's like going to school twice in one day. We loaded the sleds with the gear, drove by snow mobile out to our drilling site, dug and sampled the snow pit, drilled the ice cores, loaded the sled back up and headed back to camp. Upon returning to camp around 11:00 at night (well past my bedtime), after a very long day in temperatures around-30 F, Landon smiled and said "that was really fun".
Over the last week, we really have had a great time digging snow pits and drilling ice cores. We are learning so much, and Antarctica is so beautiful. Just two more weeks of digging and drilling to go!