Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Celebrating at Midnight as the new year rolls in...
Well....2009....Here we go....

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Antarrrrrrrrrrctic Pirates....matey!

Some of us decided to have our own little "Multinational Pirate Day" in the Arch today....

2008: The Year of Research, The Run, & The Colorado Trail

Hey Everyone! Happy (almost) New Year!

It's New Years Eve today here at WAIS Divide and everyone is excited about having the night (and tomorrow) off. Since I'm on first shift, I still have to work today, but at 4 pm, I'm off for over an entire day. It will be a nice break....and one that I don't take for granted. After this day off, we don't get another day off until the following Sunday (Jan 10th). We have made it past 900 meters of ice now and it is starting to get a little bit more stable (although still very brittle by normal ice standards). Yesterday, the NSF rep responsible for funding this project flew into camp. Everyone here is a little nervous, but so far everything is going fine.

2008 has been a pretty good year for me. As the title of this entry suggests, I consider it to be the year of Research, the Run, and the Colorado Trail. You're probably wondering where Antarctica is in there....I'm going to consider it part of 2009 :-)

I spent a lot of time this year focusing on obtaining, cleaning up, and interpreting my data for my Master's research. In June I spent three weeks at the National Ice Core Lab creating bubble section samples from WAIS ice drilled last year. Then, using a model that fellow Penn State Alum developed (Matt Spencer), I was able to use the bubble number-densities of those samples and known accumulation rates at WAIS, to determine temperatures. After all the cleaning up, converting, and modeling, the data show a 2-3 degree warming trend over the late Holocene (last 2500 years). This appears to match up well with findings from another fellow Penn State Alum, Sarah Das (using a different method). I am hoping to maybe get 1 or 2 more samples from this year to add to the data set. Once back in State College, I will compare my temperature findings with those found by Eric Steig at U. of Washington that he determined using isotope ratios. Hopefully everything will match up, and I can begin the long process of writing up my thesis. My goal would be to defend at the end of Summer or at the latest late-Fall.

2008 was also the year that I started running...and never really stopped. At Christmas in 2007, I made the decision to train for a marathon. I began a running schedule on Jan 1st. Since then I've run 2 marathons, 1 half-marathon, a couple 5ks, a 5 miler, a 16 mile trail run, two 50 mile ultraruns, and a few others that I'm sure I'm forgetting. More or less though, I've run 5 or more days a week for the entire year. It's been a little harder to run while down here at WAIS, but I am still trying. When I can't, I get out and do some x-country skiing and try to stay active with softball games. I've moved, under my own power this year, over 2000 miles (if you count my Colorado Trail hike as part of that). For 2009, I am setting 5 goals off the bat here:

1. Run the Pocono Marathon in May again and beat my 2008 time of 3hrs 53 minutes.
2. Run the Leadville 100 ultrarun
3. Run the Vermont 50 again and beat my 2008 time of 11hrs 18 minutes
4. Run the Vermont 100
5. "Run" the Peak Races Snowshoe marathon.
possible 6: Maybe consider the Peak Races "Death Race" (but probably not)

The third notable accomplishment of 2008 for me was the completion of the Colorado Trail. Ever since hiking the A.T. in 07, I've had a new love for long distance hiking. As soon as I knew I would be in Colorado in June for research, I began working out a way that I could start a thru-hike of the C.T. right after. The timing ended up working out perfect. The trail itself was a lot more beautiful than the A.T., but also a lot more challenging because of heavy snow packs. The altitude was also something I wasn't used to. The trail towns were few and far between and there were no shelters on the trail (unlike the A.T.). It was truly a wilderness experience. The start of the trail was a bit of a low point when my hiking partner got ill and had to quit. Seth and I finalized our hike while hanging out at Trail Days in May and we were both excited. It took me several days to get into a "solo hiking" mindset after he left the trail, and it was never quite the same. One of these days, we'll get to do a great hike together.

So what about 2009 John....well without going into too much detail here are some of my goals/resolutions:

1. Enjoy myself...and finish up here in Antarctica. Take a ton of pics.
2. Do a ton of Hiking and sightseeing in New Zealand on the way back from Antarctica (3+ weeks)
3. Sign up for and complete road and trail runs listed above.
4. Defend Masters
5. Do a couple of moderate hikes back in the States including either the Vermont Long Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail, or the John Muir Trail.
6. Finalize my plan for when I finish my Masters (ie Job or PhD)
7. Start a montly regular set playing/singing at a local pub in State College.
8. Begin planning my next BIG thru-hike..............

that's it for now.....

I'll write again soon,


Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 almost over....

The front of the drilling arch almost completely buried by snow
In the front of the galley at the official WAI S sign
Not much new to update on here at WAIS. I finished sampling my snow pit yesterday and am wrapping up my drill chip study as well. By next week, I should be done with both projects and be able to focus mostly on making bubble thin sections and core handling (& DEP running). We are now at a depth of about 830 meters and we are starting to notice that the ice is becoming extremely brittle now. Sometimes we don't even touch it, and pieces "pop" and break off. It is very tough to work with when it is so sensitive.
Tomorrow, the project's NSF representative, Julie, will be arriving on the next flight and checking in on our progress here. Julie is responsible for all of our everyone is getting a little nervous. If you do the math for the total cost of the project, it works out that every 1 meter ice core is valued at over 15 thousand dollars. That's pretty valuable ice.
Some of the drillers that went out as part of the CRESIS (Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets) group came back yesterday. This means that my 4 fellow Penn Staters (Don, Sridhar, Leo, and Huw) will also be coming back soon. For their project, that started here at WAIS, and drove out in snowcats and snowmobiles over 140 miles down the ice sheet towards the ocean to do seismic surveys on Thwaites Glacier. In a nutshell, they blow up a lot of explosives in the ice, and monitor the reflection and refraction of the seismic waves. This will help them to differentiate different density layers within the ice and to see the depth to bedrock. (within a few meters). There are looking to see if the current climate is causing the glacier to retreat (or advance). It will be nice to see some familiar faces and share stories when they get back.
Speaking of Penn State....3 days till the Rose Bowl! Woo Hoo!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Back to the Grind....

The Core Handling/Science Crew
(Me, Dr. Taylor, Spruce,Tim, Gifford, Logan, Bess, Marie, Anais, Natalie, Susanne)
Well, it's back to the grind here at Wais Divide. We started up the 24 rotation again christmas night. We've been chugging along at a pretty good clip, hitting 750 meters last night. Christmas ended up being a really nice time down here. One of the camp carpenters dressed up as Santa and we did a big gift exchange. I left most of my gifts in McMurdo, so I ended up donating one of my precious Guinness 4-packs to the cause. Needless to say, it was the first gift chosen :-)

Last night we finally had a successful flight make it to us. It had been delayed 4 times due to weather and mechanical issues. The crazy part, is that after it landed, the weather got bad in McMurdo, so the plane (and her 6 crew members) actually had to stay the night. It was weird waking up this morning and seeing a giant LC-130 Hercules parked near the galley.
LC-130 parked on the ski-way
Everyone here is a little bummed about working this Sunday (to make up for Christmas), but we are also looking forward to New Years Day. It's a little surreal to think that I'll be starting a new year in Antarctica.
I spent a lot of time Christmas day going over my New Zealand tramping guides and found quite a few very incredible sounding tracks. I am starting to get a little antsy to get hiking (and see some trees, mountains, and grass again).

Santa decided to visit us here at WAIS to work....!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas week...part 2

Out for a ski...and getting a little icy...
Dooley, our CAT operator, creating a little Christmas spirit

Yet another Christmas Week update. Yesterday was our first day of 24 hour continuous ice core drilling. We are on three shifts now and luckily I'm still doing 1st. Generally my day is about 50% core handling and 50% independent science studies (ie snow pit, chip studies, thin sections etc.)

We are all looking forward to Christmas and the day off. Everyone gets unlimited access to the satellite phone as well, so we can all make a few calls home.

I've been trying to keep my fitness level up here as well. Obviously it is a bit more difficult to run here (although I've been out a few times), so I've been doing quite a bit of x-country skiing. We get another flight in today, so this also means we get 2 new people and some fresh food! I'll try to update Christmas day,


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Week Is Here

1 meter Ice Core Coming down the tray
Hey everyone....quick update here. It's three days till Christmas and you wouldn't even know it here. Everyone is so busy getting the new ice cores up and catalogued. We have already passed 640 meters (we ended at 580 last year). I have been busy with a few small projects as well. Earlier this week, I helped a fellow scientist, Robert, install a seismic station for the Polenet project and I have also been cutting density and isotope samples from my snow pit.
We been enjoying what little free time we have with some x-country skiing and softball games. There's also a huge collection of DVDs here that we all watch. A few nights ago we watched an episode from the Canadian series "Trailer Park Boys" and our camp medic Phil decided to turn Tent City into Sunnyvale Trailer Park. As you can tell...we get a little crazy being down here for too long :-)
Phil having a little fun with "tent city" :-)
Loading up a sled with seismic equipment
I would love to update more completely but there's always people waiting for the computers here. Long story short for the week:
We all are treated to a Christmas dinner on Wednesday night and we get Christmas off. (although we will then work the following Sunday). There's a camp gift exchange that we all are a part of...usually consisting of a lot of homemade things. We officially go to three shifts today (24 hour coring) and our ice-coring plan is to get approximately 15-18 runs per day (30-36 meters) starting today. Yesterday I was donated an Artic Oven tent and was able to upgrade from my sierra designs mountain tent. It is nice to finally have a roomy tent. (although it is a little colder). I am going to start assisting with taking DEP readings from the ice cores this week. DEP stands for Dielectric Profile and is one of the only scientific measurements made to the core here on site before getting shipped back to denver.
I hope to get a few more pics posted in the next few days as well.
Also...The "official" wais blog is located here:
(I updated it friday and will again this friday)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We Have Ice Core!

Standing a few miles from WAIS Divide in the middle of nowhere....

Standing at Hut Point in McMurdo photographing the sea ice

Coming up on the end of week 2 here and we have our first few meters of ice core. Earlier this week the drilling team successfully pulled up a few meters, picking up where we left off last year at 581 meter depth. The core handling team has been training all week on the processes for properly cataloguing and storing the cores. This year is a bit different than last because no cores are being shipped back to the National Ice Core Lab in Denver. The ice we are drilling this year is considered brittle ice and would most likely cause the cores to break up if the were transported. Because of this, we have to leave them here for an entire year for them to "relax". The reason it's so brittle, is related to how much pressure the ice has been under at such extreme depths. The tiny air bubbles that were trapped in the ice have a tendency to explode after we pull the cores up and that pressure is released. Even putting a warm hand over the ice core can cause it to shatter. Of course this also means that I probably won't get any new samples to work with for my thesis...but I'm not too worried about it.
I am going out with a geophysicist today to help him install a seismic station a few miles from camp. Should be fun! Also, It's my turn to update the official blog tonight at so check it out tomorrow.
I'll write again sunday

Monday, December 15, 2008

Week 2 at WAIS

Looking at my snowpit at WAIS Divide
I survived week 1 here on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Today we should be pulling up our first piece of ice core (roughly 581 meter depth). I spent the last couple of days digging a snow pit in order to look at annual/seasonal layers. I'm also hoping to get density and isotope samples.
There's a line of people waiting for the computer so I can't really update anymore. I'll try to fill in more this weekend. Also, I plan on sending out a detailed email to those of you who got my first one. On another side note, I found out that there is an official blog for our whole team that we are all updating. I think it can be found here:


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quick Update fortune would have it, I have access to very limited internet today. We have a couple of computers here that work only 5 hours a day (due to satellite coverage) and sometimes internet works too (but at 36k speeds). I just wanted to let anyone know who's checking in that things at WAIS are going well. All last week was more or less an orientation week where we all were introduced to the drilling arch and made familiar with the core handling procedures. Starting Monday we will begin our first test drill. The weather has actually been great and I have a lot of pictures to upload once I get home. I will try to update like this again next time internet is working.

take care everyone,


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Final Update from Civilization

It's official. I went up tonight to the departure building and did what they call the "Bag Drag". They weighed all my baggage and tent/sleep kit for a flight scheduled to depart for WAIS tomorrow at 5:30 PM. I will be flying on an LC-130 Hercules plane and the flight is about 4-5 hours long. In other good news, I found out that my science gear is flying out tonight ahead of me and will be waiting for me when I get there tomorrow.

So far I would say that I've had a pretty good time here in McMurdo. The first few days were a bit hectic, but these past few have been great. I've done almost all of the trails offered here, and have met a lot of great people.

This afternoon I went for another hike around the Hut Point Loop trail with fellow Penn State Goesciencer, Marco. In the sun it was easily 40 degrees. It was warmer than PA by a lot. Took some photos of some seals...but still no penguin sightings (although Marco did see one a few days ago and does have a picture of it).

The though of having no internet access for 1 and half months kind of sucks, but I will send out a few email updates when I can. Have a great Christmas and New Years everyone and I update once I'm back in McMurdo.

A lot of scientists use Antarctica as an analogue for Mars.
You can see why from this picture.
Standing near Hut Point with Mt. Discovery in the distance

Talk to you all soon!!!

Camera Update..."Snow Mode"

Just a quick update. I finally found the "Snow Mode" setting on my camera and hopefully it will improve the grey pics I've been taking. Gonna go take it on a test run right now.....


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Leaving McMurdo & a NEW EMAIL ADDRESS

Well I got an official flight and date to leave for WAIS: Tuesday, Dec 9th

This actually works out perfect since I've just about done all the fun things there are to do in this town, and I'm itching to move on. I spent the day today hiking the "Castle Rock Loop". It is a 9 mile hike all over a glacier. It was pretty incredible. I took a lot of pictures, but my camera seems to be having a lot of trouble down here. All of the snow and ice is making my camera think it's too bright. This results dark pictures, where I come out as basically a black shadow. If I adjust the settings so that I come out clear, than the rest of the pic becomes washed out. It's tricky.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Once I leave McMurdo, I will no longer have internet access. This means no blog updates. I will, however, have limited access to a single email address for txt only emails. If you want to get in touch or get updates from me while at WAIS, the email is:

Mt Erebus (Background) and Castle Rock (Right) as seen
from the Castle Rock Loop Hiking Trail
Doing a little glacier disco

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Antarctica Update and Low-Res Photos!

Well...I'm still here in McMurdo and waiting to deploy to WAIS Divide. I've finished all of the mandatory training classes (including snowmobile -which was awesome) and shipped all of my science equipment out ahead of me. Several other scientists, core handlers and drillers have already made there way out there, but there's still a large bulk of people here also waiting to leave. There have been a lot of canceled flights due to weather.

So far I haven't had much free time until this afternoon. I've been so busy running from one building to another trying to get all of my cargo boxed up and sent correctly all while squeezing in multiple training sessions. But...thankfully, it looks like all that is done. I am going to attend an Outdoor Safetly Lecture tomorrow so that I can hike and x-country ski on some of the trails down here. (they won't let you until you attend the course). I was allowed to climb up observation hill, however. It's the one trail that is open to everyone. it's actually a pretty steep and rocky climb...but the views are amazing.

Here are some pics (very dumbed down for upload)

Glacier seen from the window of the C17 flying over Antarctica
"Ivan" the "Terra Bus" bus picking us up at the airstrip
Mt. Erebus off in the distance (southernmost active volcano)
New Zealand Owned Scott Base
Heading off to "Happy Camper" Snow School
building a Quinzee snow hut at snow school
Scott Tents set up at snow school
McMurdo Sign

McMurdo seen from Obseravation Hill
Mt. Erebus (constantly erupting)
Kiwi Scott Base
More to come....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

McMurdo Update

McMurdo Update...

I made it to McMurdo Antarctica on Monday afternoon and have been doing ok since. I had to take a mandatory 2 day "snow school" where I learned all the basics of surviving in extreme temps (ie radio coms, emergency shelters, etc.). I spend the next couple of days taking a bunch of classes for snowmobiles and environmental issues and then get my gear and supplies ready to ship off to WAIS. Tentatively, I'm scheduled to head out Monday or Tuesday. This gives me 4 days to pack up gear and get all my science equipment ready. I'm gonna try to upload some pics, but the internet here is extremely limited, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to.

some things I've learned while down here:

1. The hole in the ozone must be extreme, because even when snowy, you burn in about 10 minutes.

2. 20 degrees is considered a really nice warm day.

3. There's actually times when the white outs are so bad here, they have to tie ropes between buildings for people to find their way.

4. Sleeping in a snow cave is "fun"

5. a C17 is a huge friggin plane

6. people like to drink a lot in antarctica

7. The main dorm room feels (and sounds) like a typical college freshman dorm