30 December, 2002
It sure looks like a Circus around here.
Latitude: 88° 22’ 01.13” S
Longitude: 108° 32’ 11.15” W
Time of Observations: 11:00 PM local time
Temperature: -24 C / -11 F
Wind speed: 0 knot
Wind Chill: -24 C/ -11 F
Wind direction: Southerly
Meters of ice collected: 584 m
By Betsy Youngman
One of the unique features of the ITASE expedition is the fact that it is a combination of many science disciplines working in a coordinated effort to understand the dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet and climate patterns, both past and present. Among this team of 15 individuals there are four distinct disciplines of science. These disciplines include deep and shallow radar, atmospheric chemistry, ice core drilling and analysis and precise GPS mapping. The data collected by each group helps to complete the “bigger picture” of the history and future of the ice on the Antarctic continent. Thus, on any given day, one can look around camp and see the drilling team securing ice cores containing greater than 200 years of historical data, the radar and GPS teams preparing their sleds to survey the ice and bedrock around the area, or the atmospheric chemistry team collecting samples of the air and snow for real time analysis of the recent atmosphere.
It is a fascinating sight to see the science equipment emerge from the train to be set up on the snow surface like the three rings of a circus. The sight of people walking about in colorful (and funny looking) clothing and hats, helium balloons, yellow snowmobiles, giant drills on sleds, large boxes, colorful flags, and even a kitchen with wonderful smells wafting from the roof vent give our camp the look and feel of a small traveling circus. But behind this colorful facade, serious science is taking place at an intense pace.
The large helium balloon that is attached to the atmospheric chemistry tent is an example of one of the fascinating and fun looking implements of science. By carrying small instruments called sondes, this balloon allows us to sample atmosphere as high at 20 kilometers above the surface of the earth. From the information gathered by the sonde and sent back to our computers by radio transmission we are able to know the temperature, air pressure, relative humidity and ozone concentrations throughout a vertical profile from the ground level to the stratosphere (at approximately 20 kilometers). The ozone sonde, a small pump contained in a small protective Styrofoam package, samples the air for ozone. When running, this pump makes the sound of a little cat purring. The purring pump draws air into a cylinder filled with a salt solution of Potassium Iodide. Once inside the cylinder the ozone in the air reacts with the salt solution creating a current. The amount of current created by the reaction is recorded and transmitted by a small computer chip attached to the pump. This information is passed through a set of wires to the Viasala weather sonde taped onto the outside of the ozone pump package. The weather sonde, exactly like those used at McMurdo and other weather observing stations worldwide, collects the temperature, relative humidity and air pressure data. This instrument, in a small box the size of a one-liter milk container, also contains a radio transmitter. Without the radio transmission scientists would have to chase down and find the sondes, which often travel hundreds of miles in their two-hour data collection flights (a near-impossible task). However, we have the luxury of receiving our data by an antennae and receiver located just outside our atmospheric chemistry tent. These radio signals are translated by a modem and computer into a graphical (visual) format allowing us to monitor the data on a computer screen as it is being received. Each flight of the weather and ozone-monitoring balloon brings us an enhanced understanding of the atmosphere. Without the balloon one could only sample the atmosphere close to the earth’s surface, with the balloon a much larger area becomes within our reach.
So, while Betsy and Markus looked up into the sky today, following the flight of the weather balloon to 18,000 meters, the drilling team pushed down into the ice another 9 meters for a total depth of 54 meters. Meanwhile, in the Blue room, Brian and Jim prepared their radar to seek out the ice layers all the way from the surface to the bedrock some 3000 meters below us. In all, on any given day, this traveling science team can look at a profile of the Earth from bedrock to the stratosphere. And, like the circus, we are having fun while doing our work and traveling from site to site.
We are now traveling again and are within one hundred miles of our final stop on this tour, the South Pole. We hope to arrive in time to celebrate the New Year and to complete our work at the last science site. Looking back at our struggles to get started, it is incredible to be this far in our journey. With five sites now completed, we are all very excited to finally be nearing our destination.
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