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Parties. On an ice sheet. And, of course, core processing.

Posted August 7th, 2009 by

We had a lovely weekend here at NEEM. The concept of the weekend is a bit abbreviated—Saturday at 4 pm until Sunday at 1 pm—but what it lacks in duration is made up for in enthusiasm! The first few hours of leisure involved card games, running or skiing on the groomed runway, and general lounging around in the pleasant weather. At 7, dinner was served. Saturday evenings are the only meals the cooks are not responsible for, so it is made by volunteers each week. This past Saturday was Swiss National Day, and the Swiss folks here made a traditional meal of dishes whose names I couldn’t even being to pronounce and decorated the dining room with tiny red and white flags taped to toothpicks and an apple shot through by an arrow (apparently emblematic of the Swiss national Hero, William Tell). They did a fine job of serving up 3 courses for a group of 37 hungry scientists, and people lingered long after dinner, drinking and chatting.

Around 9 the dancing began and didn’t stop until clear after 3 am. This is evidently early to call it quits on a Saturday night in these parts (in fact, the list of required field equipment for NEEM includes a fancy dress or a shirt and tie and your favorite music!). The soundtrack ranged from Elvis to Abba to Black Eyed Peas, and there were representatives from every generation boogey-ing down until well after midnight. There was even a miniature disco ball for ambiance. With the shades pulled down, it actually felt like night for the first time since I arrived in Greenland.

Imagine my surprise when I stepped outside to find the bathroom tent, and realized it was still sunny and bright out, and that we were in the middle of an ice sheet, in the middle of nowhere. It was beautifully peaceful, with a quiet wind pushing small streams of snow crystals across the white surface. Also, as the season has progressed, the sun has started to dip ever so slightly in the sky, bathing the western horizon in a yellow-orange glow. I wandered around for a bit, took some photos, and made my way back to the dome to warm up when the Arctic wind had turned my bare knees numb. The feeling of walking up to the door and being greeted by the drum and bass thump of a European disco was by far the oddest sensation I have experienced yet.

Sleeping in on Sunday was a delightful luxury, the joy of which was only surpassed by entering the dome to find a hearty brunch of pancakes, eggs, and bacon waiting. After everyone attempted to buy back the previous night’s lost sleep with copious amounts of coffee and tea, we went back to work. Everyone was exhausted, but ready to focus again after a night of letting loose!

Following my regular work of core processing, I discovered it was my turn to log the core as it came out of the drill. This is done during the day by designated core loggers, but is accomplished during the night drilling shift by a rotating staff of processors. Although it is a relatively simple task—measuring the core and dividing it up into 165 cm subsections—it is extremely important. Precisely measuring and documenting the depth of each piece of ice contributes significantly to the accuracy of the ice core chronology, the depth-age relationship upon which all climatic interpretations rest. For this reason, there are many checks and rechecks built into the protocol to make sure that inaccuracies of even a few millimeters do not slip through.

At the moment, it takes about 2 hours to send the drill down the borehole, drill 3.5 m of new ice, and bring it back to the surface, meaning that we had to go down into the drilling trench every few hours to log. The turnaround time will increase as we get deeper and deeper, and the distance to and from the next piece of ice to be collected gets longer and longer. With drilling only possible a few months of the year, it is easy to see why it takes years to recover a 2500 m ice core!

Since Monday, life has started to assemble itself around a strange kind of routine. The pace in the scientific trench is rapidly accelerating as people become proficient at their jobs. As of yesterday, we were completely caught up with the drillers, so we stopped an hour early due to lack of ice to process. Other aspects of camp life have become more constant as well: delicious food at every meal, good company in the dome, beautiful walks to the end of the runway which seems miles away from camp, and snuggling in my sleeping bag as the chill wind blows through the tent and freezes my water bottle during the bright night. All in all, life is not so bad here in the middle of nowhere, adrift on a sea of ice that often strikes me as being visibly indistinguishable from the ocean

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