Monday, December 23, 2013

Aurora Basin: December 22

After much preparation, today the project has moved fully into its science phase.

The camp was a hive of activity, with the firn air and main core drilling teams well underway while others put up more tents for incoming personnel, marked out the skiway, attended to mechanical needs and prepared meals.

The most dramatic event of the day was the installation of the main drilling tent over the 1.5m deep "basement" that had been excavated for it. As I mentioned yesterday, the tent was towed over the top of the hole, and the whole thing went very smoothly. The drillers in this tent can now boast of cathedral ceilings! They spent the rest of the day cleaning up the excavation from inside and towing out the remaining snow - some 42 cubic metres was removed in all over a couple of days!

The other big event was the commencement of the first coring - in the firn air tent, we completed the assembly of the drill and sawing out the 2.2 metre deep trench that it swings in with enough time to commence drilling. We did three drill runs each with cores a bit over a metre taking us to 5.85m depth. Jerome and David then installed the firn air pumping device (which consists of a cylindrical bladder a couple of metres long) to seal the hole and pump trapped air from below it. This is largely an initial test of the equipment and went well.

Tomorrow, weather being favourable, we expect more newcomers to fly in - probably six of them. This will provide extra hands for existing tasks, the ability to start setting up new facets of the project, and also bring greater support in the form of our camp chef.

Everyone seems to be settling into camp life in a cold, remote and high altitude location. We all have related stories to tell about the vagaries of getting in and out of our tents, changing and into sleeping bags with the minimum of hassle and exposure. Some of the tents seem to be better designed for these conditions than others. The usually favourite polar pyramid tents have undergone some redesign which includes very heavy fabric that doesn't allow easy entry/exit in these very cold conditions. Consequently those of us who have these tents all find ourselves stumbling and snagging as we go in and out.

Sleeping is actually pretty comfortable with multiple layers of foam and camping mattresses underneath and two nested sleeping bags. If you want water overnight, it is necessary to keep the water bottle in the sleeping bag to avoid freezing. Getting up in the middle of the night, especially with the pyramid entrance snagging, is not at all welcome, and even in the morning, getting up into temperatures around -25C to -30C takes a bit of planning and willpower.

In other respects, we have a nice comfortable living/kitchen area, and now even email. As I write, three of us night owls are clicking away, sitting around our revered kerosene heater, partly out of interest in email, and partly procrastinating over the cold-dash to bed.

Hopefully tomorrow brings more folk to ABN and plenty more metres of ice core.