Supporting Science

Why are we all out here? We are “supporting science”. The United States Antarctic Program (known here as USAP, we pronounce it as “you-sap”) is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Most of the employees here are hired by different contracted companies to provide services down here. I was hired by UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch) to provide medical services as needed.

This summer at WAIS there are many science programs researching many things. Generally the science is studying the effects of climate change and since we here at WAIS are sitting on this massive ice sheet, there’s a lot of interest about it’s history and how it is currently behaving.

John Stone of Univ of Washington (yay Seattle) is here with his crew of two grad students and a couple drilling experts to drill down through the snow and ice out in an area called Pirrit Hills where there is already some exposed granite.  This is a beautiful spot that he picked with just the very top of a granite mountain sticking out of the snow.  Here they will get samples of the rock that is currently exposed to the sun, and the rock a few hundred meters down to compare and see when that rock beneath the snow was last exposed to sun, or even if it was ever exposed to sun. They were a super nice bunch that I met in Mc Murdo before I came out, but they were only out at WAIS for a short while before the smaller plane (the Twin Otter) flew them out to their site. This is where our traverse guys come in. There were about five guys who took several large heavy tractors with multiple long sleds behind them, loaded up with all the gear this group needed including the drill and equipment, and drove (or we call it “traversed”) it out to their site.

The Anita Group consisted of two guys who flew in to calibrate a weather balloon that was forecasted to fly over WAIS. They were up 24 hours a day as they got hourly calls about how far away this balloon was then they were sending “pulses” out to the balloon as long as it was still up in the sky before it went over the horizon. Since we can basically see 5 miles in every direction (on a clear day), they had lots of pulses to send out. They really didn’t need to be here more than a couple days but since we haven’t had a flight in or out for about 11 days now, they have been stuck here.


Erin Pettit and her crew came out a few weeks ago, a crew of 6 women who are “logging” the previous borehole that was drilled about 10 or so years ago. This site was picked to do a drilling project that would drill a borehole down and take ice core samples of the layers upon layers of ice. This “borehole” is still there, an arch building was built over it, previously at ground level now buried from the years of snow and drift. So her team is here to do some mapping of the bore hole, taking measurements looking at how the ice deforms under pressure. Basically how it is behaving, moving and changing with time and pressure. Erin had done some graduate work as well at the Univ. of Washington so it’s been nice talking about Seattle with her. She is also an amazing artist and has down some fabulous watercolors of camp.

The last group is called Polenet. They fly out to multiple sites and dig up GPS and seismic equipment to get data backed up and to update stuff. Only 2 of like 6 people came out since it’s been a bad season for weather which means we didn’t get much fuel out here and therefore…can’t fly out to so many sites.

Well folks, that’s what it is all about…the science.

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