skip page navigationOregon State University
  • Recent Posts

  • Photo Gallery

    This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Transmissions from the Ice Sheet. Make your own badge here.
  • Archives

  • Links

  • Geosciences Ph.D. student Thomas Bauska will spend the next three months at the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) research station, helping an international team collect a 3 kilometer core. This blog is not only a chronicle of his day-to-day life, but a means young people interested in science to communicate with a researcher who is working actively on one of the most important issues we face - climate change.

    Wrapping up at WAIS

    Posted February 3rd, 2009 by

    Name: Logan Mitchell
    Date: January 27, 2009
    Location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica
    Time: 10pm
    Latitude: 77°50′46.42″S
    Longitude: 166°39′59.78″E
    Elevation: 34m (112’)
    Borehole depth: 1511.951 m! <- Final depth for the season!
    Temperature: -3°C
    Wind speed: 5-10knots
    Wind Chill: -8°C
    Visibility: Unrestricted
    Precipitation: None
    Animals: 3 Skua and many seals
    Breakfast: Eggs, pancakes, plum.
    Lunch: hummus wrap with ***lettuce, green peppers, onions!!!*** and a plum.
    Supper: A huge salad w/ all the fixins!!! Blueberry cheesecake for
    dessert! And a plum!

    The WAIS crew with the final ice core of the season

    The WAIS crew with the final ice core of the season

    The past few days have been incredibly busy! On Thursday night we finished drilling the last meter of ice core for the season, and most of camp came down to the drilling arch for the event. It was the most photographed ice core this season! Once the core was safely pushed out of the drill into a core handling tray, we all congratulated each other with a well deserved glass of whiskey. We all had a lot to be happy about: the two main goals for this season were to get through the brittle ice and also to get past 1500m. Not only did we accomplish both of these, but we finished a day early!

    On Friday we started cleaning up which included lowering the final racks of ice core trays down into the basement, securing the trays on the carts for the winter, turning off the AC units (which was cause for more celebration!), packing all of our tools and office supplies up for the season, and general tidying up of the arch. With everyone working, things went pretty fast and we were finished by Saturday afternoon. In the evening I began to collect everyone’s pictures on my external hard drive to facilitate everyone sharing their photos with everyone else. This was kind of like herding cats, but by Sunday morning I had finally done it. On Sunday morning we helped take down the Jamesway that we had used all season and packing up the last few things. It was amazing to me that in the span of two and a half days, we went from production drilling to being completely done with packing and disassembling the Jamesway…the transition was very abrupt. A positive side of all of this was that since production drilling was over, we all transitioned to a single shift and were working the normal 8 am to 6 pm hours that the rest of camp was working. This was great because it was the first time since we started production drilling on December 22, 2008 that I was able to work with and hang out with my fellow core handlers whom I had become such good friends with.

    The weather on Sunday began to improve and since our work was done, we were all scheduled to fly out on Monday. This was my last chance to take care of things at WAIS that I had put off, or didn’t have time to do. One of these things was setting up a slackline which is like tight rope walking, but using tubular webbing that stretches when you walk on it. This turned out to be really easy: we attached one end to a Tucker (large tracked vehicle) and attached the other end to the large 953 bulldozer, and drove the 953 a little bit away to tighten it! This was a lot of fun and I kind of wish that I had thought of this earlier in the season. Another thing that I had always wanted to do but didn’t have the time/energy was to go on a run away from camp until I couldn’t see camp anymore and was just out in the middle of nowhere. So, I told someone in camp exactly where I was going and when I was coming back (in case something went awry) and then headed out. After jogging for an hour with nothing but the sun and the horizon in view and the sound of snow squeaking under my feet, I turned around and saw that camp was just a speck on the horizon, barely visible. All around me, in all directions all I could see was flat white ice sheet, the sun in the sky, and a few scattered clouds. This was a great moment for me filled with so many emotions: happiness, accomplishment, extreme aloneness (but not loneliness), and isolation. And I was cold. I took some photos and headed back. I am pretty sure that where I was jogging, no human being had ever stepped before.

    On Monday the flight arrived right on schedule, right after lunchtime. We all spent the morning taking down our tents, taking the last few pictures, and saying our last goodbyes to the people who were staying behind. The camp population was at ~45 people and 23 are leaving on our flight, and another 9 will be leaving on the next flight scheduled for Tuesday. The remaining people will take down the rest of the buildings in camp and should be leaving around February 7th.

    The flight was pretty uneventful except that as we were taking off the pilots buzzed camp which scared the bejesus out of me because we were flying so low. Getting back to McMurdo has been very interesting and is making me wonder what it will be like to get back to New Zealand. There are so many people here that I don’t know! And there is fresh fruit & vegetables available at every meal! Holy moly! Even though the plums are as hard as a rock and are extremely sour, I eat one at every meal. The temperature here is very mild compared to WAIS, it is barely freezing. There is flowing water along all of the streets. The main ship that resupplies McMurdo with food and equipment will be here in a few days and an icebreaker vessel has cleared a channel through the McMurdo Sound, so I can see ocean water! I walked down to the icy water and looked in and saw some algae growing in it: the first living plant that I’ve seen in 9 weeks. There are lots of seals and skua around, and I am hoping to see a penguin, but I think my chances are pretty small. If I see one, this blog will be the first to know about it.

    Well, that’s all for now. We have a few errands to do here in McMurdo, but mostly I’m spending my time catching up on email, reading
    about what our new President has been up to, planning my trip to New Zealand, and resting. I’m scheduled to fly back to New Zealand on January 30.

    In the ice coring shack

    Posted January 23rd, 2009 by

    The WAIS group

    Posted January 23rd, 2009 by


    Last shift at WAIS

    Posted January 23rd, 2009 by

    Name: Logan Mitchell
    Date: Jan 21, 2009
    Location: WAIS Divide
    Time: 10pm
    Latitude: 79° 28’ 1.2” S
    Longitude: 112° 5’ 6.0” W
    Elevation: 1,759 m
    Borehole depth: ~1490 m

    Well, I hate to say it, but the end of the 2008-2009 drilling epoch here at WAIS Divide is drawing to a close.  Tonight will be my last shift, and as long as everything continues to go well, we will finish by tomorrow evening.  With that in mind I’ve been trying to wrap a few things up before we leave.

    Tonight before my shift I finished construction of the WAIS Pole.  I got the idea from pictures that I have seen of the pole at South Pole and decided that WAIS Divide needed a similar pole.  The pole itself is a ~1.5m long silver cardboard tube that is used for transporting the ice cores.  I put some green netting (the same stuff we put around out ice cores) on the tube to give it some color.  Then, to top it off, I filled up a weather balloon with water and blue food coloring to give a neat pattern, then stuck the balloon outside and froze it.  Once it froze I peeled off the balloon, stuck it on top of the tubing and viola, the WAIS Pole was born!

    The other major task that I had tonight before starting work was to break down the 3 walled backlit snowpit.  This was basically a lot of digging.  Since not many people have gone out there recently, the plywood that was covering the snowpit was covered with about a meter of snow!  This wasn’t that big of a deal though…I really like digging in the snow.  Since we were breaking it down, I had the pleasure of punching through one of the walls.  Lots of fun.

    That’s all for now…I’m off to start my last shift!

    Clouds Over Camp

    Posted January 16th, 2009 by
    A wide view of WAIS

    A wide view of WAIS

    Taking on Two Challenges

    Posted January 16th, 2009 by

    Name: Logan Mitchell
    Date: Jan 13, 2009
    Location: WAIS Divide
    Time: 10:30 pm
    Latitude: 79° 28’ 1.2” S
    Longitude: 112° 5’ 6.0” W
    Elevation: 1,759 m
    Borehole depth: 1,230 m
    Temperature: -22.5°C
    Wind speed: 2.7 knots
    Visibility: Unrestricted
    Wind direction: 317° Grid
    Relative Humidity: 72%
    Barometric Pressure: 28.85mm Hg
    Precipitation: None
    Animals: None

    Logan at breakfast

    Logan at breakfast

    Today was a day of seeing my vision become reality, of reaching goals that I had set out for myself. No, we haven’t finished drilling, and I haven’t finished editing the journal article that I’m working on (almost done with draft 2 though!). The two breakthroughs I accomplished today are as follows:

    1.) There are two options for going to the bathroom here at WAIS: You can go to one of the outhouses if you need to sit down, or you can pee at the pee flag. The pee flag is very convenient for guys and since all of the urine is concentrated in one spot, it keeps camp clean. Now, as you can imagine, if lots of people pee in the same spot in snow, you can make quite a hole. (People here joke that this is called “hot water drilling”) The one closest to the Galley that sees the most traffic was about 6” in diameter and a maybe a couple of feet deep. During the last “storm” a few days ago, a lot of snow was blown around and the pee flag hole was covered up. So someone started a new hole about a foot away from the original hole. After a few days, the original hole was also re-opened and now we had two holes! Well, I got to thinking that it would be a fun project to connect these two holes and, with the help of lots of tea, got right to work. This is quite a delicate task since the area around the pee holes is solid ice and if you pee on flat ice you will splash all over the place (including your shoes) which is not cool. You have to hit right at the rim of the hole – too far inside it and you don’t make any progress, too far outside it and you are splashing your shoes. It took me a couple of days, but at long last I finally created a channel connecting the two holes!! The channel even had a neat “S” shape to it! Well, I figured this was big news for camp and I went right into the Galley and started telling everyone. This was right at the beginning of my shift, so only a few people were up. I had to wait until morning when the rest of camp got up for breakfast to tell more people. The reactions I got were priceless. When I told Gifford, his face lit up with a huge grin and he said with a laugh “Oh that was you? That’s awesome!” Ben, the camp manager, gave me a huge heartfelt congratulations after he saw it. In general, all the guys were excited to hear about it couldn’t wait to go check it out and help deepen the channel. The girls in camp just laughed politely, at times being fascinated and at times being baffled by what entertains the men in camp. My shift partner, Susanna, (bless her heart) had to listen to me tell the story of how it happened about a thousand times and by this evening she was telling it for me. She even humored me enough to go check out the pee flag herself. At the time of writing, the channel is getting deeper quickly, its already a few inches deep!

    2.) One of the disadvantages of working on the night shift is that all of my meals are out of order. I wake up and eat dinner for breakfast, eat leftovers from yesterday’s lunch at 3am, and eat breakfast for dinner. I never make it to lunch since that is the middle of the night for me. So, I thought it would be fun to make it to every meal that camp offers for 24 hours at least once. Here is how it went:

    1:00 am Meal # 1: “Midrats” – French toast with real maple syrup (thanks Spruce!).
    3:00 am Meal #2: “Leftover lunch from yesterday” – Cheesy scalloped potatoes (yay!), honey baked ham, vegetables.
    7:30 am Meal #3: “ Breakfast” – Egg bake with roasted red peppers, baked potato squares, and bacon.
    10:00 am – Went to bed at my “typical” bedtime.
    12:30 pm Meal #4: “Lunch” – Grilled turkey and cheese sandwich, mashed
    potatoes, and tomato soup. It was really hard to get up at this time…my body is used to sleeping for 6 more hours.
    2:00pm – Went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. My body is going berserk trying to digest all of that food, so I just laid there and rested.
    5:30 pm – Finally fell asleep.
    6:30 pm Meal #5: “Dinner” – Leftover Middle Eastern Food from last Sunday: Stuffed grape leaves, green beans & lamb over rice, lentil soup, and kibbe. It was really hard to wake up after I FINALLY fell asleep. My stomach is starting to hurt now.
    8:00 pm – I went back to my tent to try to get some more sleep. Again it took me a long time to go to sleep. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this…but there is only one meal left…I can do it…
    10:30 pm Meal #6: “Night Shift Breakfast” – Eggs, bacon, toast, and a fresh nectarine (!). I finally made it! Wahoo!! I am soooo stuffed…at least I know I’m not going to get cold at work tonight.

    Notice that the largest amount of time between meals was only 6 hours between lunch & dinner, and this is when I was supposed to be sleeping! Well, needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep! In the end it was worth it because I got to hang out with a lot of people who I usually don’t get to see (since I’m usually asleep) and I got to eat lots of good food. But, I don’t think I’d do it again anytime soon.

    In other news, a plane came today. It brought freshies and it took away some people. One of the three people that left was Anaïs, and I am very sad to see her go. She has been such an integral part of life here at WAIS that I’m not sure what its going to be like now that she is gone. She has been the inspiration behind so many fun events in camp: the Olympics, she oversaw the construction of the three walled snowpit and the igloo, and she was always there if anyone was having a bad day or needed help with anything. She is a fantastic story teller, could get anyone to laugh, and knew a ton about the science that is being done at WAIS and could explain it in a way that anyone could understand. Anaïs, we miss you already and wish you safe travels on your way back home!

    The ice core reaches 1,000 meters!

    Posted January 7th, 2009 by

    Name: Logan Mitchell
    Date: January 5, 2009
    Location: WAIS Divide
    Time: 9:20 pm
    Latitude: 79° 28’ 1.2” S
    Longitude: 112° 5’ 6.0” W
    Elevation: 1,759 m
    Borehole depth: ~1030 m
    Temperature: -13.8°C
    Wind speed:  22.5 knots
    Visibility: ~50m
    Wind direction: 321° Grid
    Relative Humidity: 90%
    Barometric Pressure:  28.78 mm Hg
    Precipitation: light snow
    Animals: None
    Breakfast: French toast (my favorite breakfast here)
    Lunch: (Asleep)
    Supper: Asian rice noodles, stirfried pork and veggies, Thai coconut
    lime chicken soup, veggie egg rolls and 1000m celebration cake!

    Yesterday we reached a huge milestone, or more precisely, a kilometer-stone.  That’s right, we have now drilled down past 1,000 meters!  The age of the ice at that depth is ~4,550 years old.  Can you imagine that?  An ice core, 12cm in diameter, 1000 meters long, and containing a unique record of climate history over the past 4,550 years?  That is so cool!  (and also the most over-used pun in Antarctica!)

    We have known for a couple of days that a storm would come, but it wasn’t forecast to be a huge storm, and it has lived up to its lack of expectations.  But, it’s our first real “weather” in a long time, so I thought I’d write a little about it.  Our first “storm” was on Dec 16th, but it only lasted ~12 hours and didn’t give us very much snow.  Since then we have had extremely stable weather: mostly sunny skies with sparse clouds of all types and hardly a breath of wind.

    After finishing my shift last night, I went to bed around 11am.  By then the wind had started picking up, but there was still no snow and I could still see some blue in the sky.  Susanne and I are night shift partners, so since the storm was forecast to be strongest this evening, we decided to “carpool” (walk together) from tent city to the Galley when we woke up at dinnertime (which is our breakfast).  When I woke up at 6pm, I noticed that a lot of snow had blown in between my tent fly and tent body and was piling up quick.  Also, the type of tent that we are using (Arctic Oven) has a hole in the top of it for a stove flue, (the fly also has a hole, but the hole in the fly has a flap covering it…I have no idea why they don’t have a flap for the tent body hole!) and this hole was allowing snow to blow in my tent!  Luckily for me, my sleeping bag was not right under the hole, so the small pile of snow was next to me instead of on top of me.  I scooped up the snow and put it outside, then plugged the hole with a pair of cotton socks that I’m not using.  Hopefully that problem is solved.  Next, I got all of my gear on (long underwear, fleece jacket, insulated Carhartt overalls, Big Red down jacket, baklava, goggles, beanie, and gloves) & stepped outside of my tent and what did I see?  Tent city is about 75 m long, and its another 100m beyond the edge of tent city before you get to the first Jamesway of camp.  Well, it was windy and snowing lightly, but I could still see a good portion of tent city which means visibility is about 50m.  Humph.  I know you aren’t supposed to wish for bad weather, but I feel like a good storm is part of the Antarctic experience.  This one just doesn’t quite have enough umph to qualify.  I looked over my tent and found that the snow covering up the corners of my fly had been blown off.  This tiny gap was allowing fresh snow to blow under the fly and accumulate between the fly and body.  I got a shovel and covered them up…hopefully that’ll solve that problem.  We’ll see how it looks in 8 hours when I get off my shift!

    With all this good weather here, I have been very curious about what the rest of the climate system has been up to this season.  It could be that this summer here is just an anomalous year, but I wonder if it is part of a larger trend?  If anyone out there in internet land has been keeping up with ENSO or other climate parameters and feels like sending me some general info, I’d love to hear it.  Also, while you are at it, it would be really neat to find out about significant cultural events that happened around 4,000-5,000 years ago (2,000-3,000 B.C.) and let me know about those also.  Since we have limited internet access its hard for us to find this kind of stuff out, and it is really neat to think about what was happening in the rest of the world at the same time it was snowing in Antarctica and making what would eventually be a part of our ice core.  You can email me at logan.mitchell “at”

    We have limited internet access here, so please keep the email size below 25kb and don’t send any pictures.  Thanks!

    In the galley – a typical dinner at WAIS

    Posted January 2nd, 2009 by

    Logan in his tent during his first Antarctic storm

    Posted January 2nd, 2009 by

    Ice Crystals on Core Handling Tray

    Posted January 1st, 2009 by
    Logan took this picture of ice crystals on a core handling tray.

    Logan took this picture of ice crystals on a core handling tray.