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28 June, 2000

Simple Questions

There are two simple questions that are frequently asked at Summit that no one seems to come to a consensus with an answer. These questions are: Which way is north? and How much does it snow in 1 year? Simple, right? We might as well be asking a question like whose going to win the 2000 presidential election in the US? Nick and I know the true answer to these questions but every other research group here will argue against this claim.

The question about north is very controversial. Using a compass, the needle will point to magnetic north. This is not true north, however. Because we are so far north, we have to adjust our compass by 40.8 degrees west to find true north. This is called declination. This is the controversial part. Everyone has a different number for the declination. Back home in Connecticut, declination is approximately 14 degrees west. Each year is changes slightly so depending how updated your map is, will depend on how accurate your calculations. We all have compasses that point to magnetic north but when it comes to declination, forget it. We have heated arguments about this situation but Nick and I know we're right.

The other simple question involves measuring. Snow, similar to rock and soil, will deposit in layers with the youngest layer on top. Each research group has dug at least 2 snow pits more than 2 meters deep (approximately 6.5 feet). There are beautifully structured layers within the pit. You can easily (or maybe not) see each layer because of the texture of the layer. Usually, a yearly accumulation of snow is delineated by a layer of coarse, corn snow or a hardened wind packed layer. Since Nick and I are both trained in geology and we have taken several snow samples and done stratigraphy in the pits (identifying the layers), we are convinced that the annual snow accumulation at Summit is 73 cm (we also have sonar equipment that supports our hypothesis). Each group has a different rate for snow accumulation which range from 50 cm to 73 cm. It is important to know the exact amount of accumulation because it is when snow samples are taken for the current year, you do not want to contaminate your samples with old snow. Again, a point of constant controversy but Nick and I know we're right on this one too.

The excitement here at Summit is a research group yesterday buried a drill into the snow 14 meters (45.5 feet) and cannot recover it. It is really stuck. The drilling took place about 2 miles off camp so getting any big machinery out there to recover it is useless. They have been trying different methods to get the drill out of the snow. The drill is approximately 4 inches in diameter and made of fiber glass. It appears to be frozen into the ground. Their next attempt in the morning is to drain 200 gallons of warm water down the hole and try to loosen the drill. My feeling is that the water will freeze in the hole before they will be able to turn it to loosen it. It will be interesting anyway. We lead such a simple life here that problems like this are our only kind of entertainment. I'm sure the research group doesn't view this as entertaining but the rest of us do. Between this problem and the construction of the 50 meter Swiss tower, we are totally entertained. This is what happens when there is no television or radio. You have to learn how to entertain yourself.

Ciao, Cathi

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