Life at the Lake Whillans Field Camp

Life at the Lake Whillans Field Camp


I am still in McMurdo, waiting to fly to the field camp.  Currently all aircraft in McMurdo are helping with a search and rescue operation in the mountains, and all resources are focused on that emergency.  We are hoping for a good outcome for those involved.  Meanwhile we are staying busy in McMurdo, getting news from the SLW field camp as much as we can. 

I’ve gotten some great information today from WISSARD’s who are at the camp.  Read some of their comments.

From Jill:  Right now we have tents - lots of them!  It’s called Tent City and they are set up in rows - Jessie and Meagan are our camp support staff and they have a map that shows who is in what tent.  I'm in E1 (so row 5 tent 1!). 

tent city

(Sorry the photo is small, but they have little band width at the SLW field camp.  Photo above:  by Reed Scherer)

Yesterday the wind blew lots of snow and some of us had to shovel out our door to get into our tent!  There were also big drifts in camp and the traverse guys plowed and shoveled all the labs and drill units out - they keep the place looking great.  There are meals at 7AM, 12 PM, 7 PM and 12 AM since we are on all sorts of shifts out here.  The food is mostly microwaved...but there is a sandwich press and today we had grilled cheese and instant tomato soup.  Hit the spot!  There are toasters and snacks and of course PLENTY of hot water. Today I got up to the breakfast bell (Jessie and Meagan ring a bell for every meal). 

There are also 'cargo lines' all over the place with our science gear, another one of camp gear, Slawek has his own of GPS/Seismic gear- that is sort of how things are set up. 


(Photo above:  JT Thomas)

Photo below shows the rack tent…where the people in the camp have their meals, work on their computer, or hang out.  (Photo:  Reed Scherer)

rack tent arrival briefing

From Doug:  We arrived about 1pm Wed at SLW, and a short time after that I was recruited to skidoo out 10-15 km
from camp with Slawek, Grace, and Matt on skidoos, in order to do some maintenance on GPS units that were
placed in previous years. These are precision GPS's that are used monitor movement of the Whillans Ice
Stream - not just horizontal movement, but also the rising and lowering of the ice over periods of days/
weeks/months as Lake Whillans fills with water and then empties again. 

The GPS can pick up changes of ~1-2 cm, but vertical changes of probably ~1-5 meters happen as the lake
fills and empties... The ice moves up and down because it's essentially floating on this water.  Our work
consisted mainly of shoveling holes in the snow. The GPS boxes were all under 2 feet of snow - having
been buried by a year's worth of snowfall. Our job was to dig them out and then lift them back onto the
surface of the snow - a job that wasn't so simple when you consider that each box (the size of a small
refrigerator) contained 4 car batteries each weighing 65 lbs. (the units are solar powered - which
re-charges the batteries). Sometimes we removed the batteries to move them - other times the 4 of us
just hefted them. (they also collected data from 1 or 2 of the 3 stations we visited).  

It was a strange homecoming for me - one of those GPS stations was 1 that we actually installed when
I was here on the Whillans Ice Stream with Slawek in 2007. At the time I never, ever would have imagined
that I would ever stand in that place again. The place has a very different feel this time than it did
in 2007. The snow itself is different: much softer, boots sinking in with every step (hard to walk) - 
less wind-packed and the sastrugi (snow/ice dunes) are fewer and smaller - so it's smoother skidoo
riding. And of course the camp is way different. 

In 2007 it was just 4 of us, a very small camp. This time it is... I don't even know how many of us -
there are rows and rows of Arctic Oven tents and during the day huge Challenger tractors (from the
traverse) drive around grooming/re-flattening the snow that is continually being whipped into drifts
by a steady breeze out of the south.  

Jeremy Jeff melter

Jeff (driller) and Jeremy (marine tech) are shoveling snow into the melter.


Dan is checking out the seismic data.  (Photo: Reed Scherer)

Mark Skidmore
(Photo and information from Reed): 
Dr. Mark Skidmore with the first water sample recovered from the borehole. This is not lake water,
but a sample recovered from the borehole prior to entry into the lake. The sample was recovered using
full clean-access methods. Amanda and Tristy are at the chemical hood where they drew the sample from
the GoFlo sampler, which is a round, plastic, spring-loaded water sampling device that went down into
the borehole on a wire using Robins winch.  Again, not lake water yet. 

The photo below shows a person wearing a coverall and mask that is worn when cleaning tools/instruments to ensure clean access sampling in the borehole once scientists deploy those instruments.  I think this is a really cool photograph!

clean access outfit

(Photo:  Reed Scherer)

We are anxious for news about the drilling, which has been going very well.  Here’s some news on that:

From Doug:  They reached 700 meters at 1:00 am last night and sent the "doctor" (camera & whiskers) 
down and confirmed that they were correct about the depth, and that the hole is generally wider than
20 inches or so the vast majority of the way down. While the drill was up out of the hole, they 
changed nozzles so one that would spray wider (rather than concentrated jet), so they can drill the 
last 100 meters and break through more gently into the lake itself, to make a wide/funnel shape in 
the bottom of the hole and avoid gushing drill water into the hole and stirring up sediment, etc. 

They're waiting right now to start dropping the drill back down (it has been sitting at ~100 meters 
depth for a couple of hours... as they work on other things, they are widening the hole at 100-110 
meters more, so they can make sure that the main hole is well connected to the "keyhole" with the 
water-return pump in it... so that they can do a good job of controlling the depth/height of water 
in the borehole - they want slightly less water pressure in the borehole than in the lake when they 
break in, so that a little lake water comes into the hole.

Stay tuned for more of an update tomorrow….we are close to reaching Lake Whillans!  Go WISSARD’s!

10 responses to “Life at the Lake Whillans Field Camp

  1. Thank you so much for the updates! My boyfriend, Mike Osment from DOER, is out there with your team 🙂 and it’s nice to know that everything is going well.

    • Hi Morgan,
      Great to hear from you. Yes, things have been going well out there. I just wish we were able to get there, too. Flights are all backed up and we have to be patient. Antarctica is a challenging place to work. I’ve really enjoyed working with Mike so far on the project. 🙂

  2. Hi Mrs.Trummel! How is antarctica? Today I saw a penguin on ABC and it was from Antarctica! Stay warm!

    • The penguin was actually from Sea World and they were talking about Antarctica. Didn’t they give you a camera to take pictures for them? Is that the exhibit they were talking about?

  3. Pingback: Weekend Update | tongue in chic·

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