Today- was a fabulous day. It started off very rocky though. Word to the wise- if you have to jump start your helicopter, it is best not to play the music and run the blower on the same trip. Yeah, little red “low battery” warning lights mid-flight are no fun.
Anywho, we made it to the top of the Taylor Glacier to visit a team of scientists who are analyzing methane trapped in ice that is 30,000-60,000 years old to learn about climate change.
Did I mention that this is a field camp atop a glacier where truly ancient ice comes to the surface? So that means it is freaking cold and very, very windy!
The drillers on this project are no joke. Studying methane requires massive amounts of ice. To get 20 is milligrams of methane, they must melt 800 kilograms of ice! They have drilled 60 or so holes up to 70 meters deep- 1 meter at a time. The camp manager says they were out drilling in 40 knot winds.
While still inside the glacier, the ice is under a lot of pressure and is very compressed. Because the scientists are interested in the gasses trapped in the ice, cracked cores are no good. When the ice cracks, it becomes contaminated with modern air. They must let the fragile ice relax and expand for about an hour before they prep it for analysis. As the ice melts in the boiler, it releases trapped gasses which are sucked up through the black hose. The gasses are recompressed and packaged into something like a propane cylinder so that the scientists can take them back to their home lab for further analyses. Some of the gas is siphoned off to determine the age of the ice that was melted while still in the field.
For the flight back to McMurdo I got to sit in the front seat of the helicopter. I had some amazing views as we flew over the Taylor glacier and out over the sea ice. Of course, the polarized and dusty helo windows did not make it easy to take photos.
It was a freaking fantastic day- even better because the helicopter took off and landed safely (and only where we had planned to land)