Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Life with The Core

The Core Arrives!
We have been really busy since the core started arriving from the drill rig. Really busy.
The night the first core arrived we had a spectacular sunset (well, it was more of a sundown, the sun was low on the horizon behind some clouds, and the outline of the Royal Society Range made it quite dramatic). You can see the helo - they call helicopters 'helos' here (pronounced 'hee-lows') - it is the dark blob on the right.

If the weather cooperates, the core gets transported from the drill rig by helicopter at 10 pm each evening. I took pictures from just behind the church, which gave me a wonderful view of the helicopter coming in and of the helo pad - if you look at the picture you can see all the Andrill scientists just standing outside near the lab watching it arrive - people don't usually hang round outside doing nothing here - it was a really exciting moment.

Waiting for the core (see the people standing around)

The core arrives at the helo pad

Waiting for the core

The core then got loaded into a truck, and driven up to the place where we split it and scan it. The Doctor from the drill site also came back on the helo. She had chipped a tooth and was going to see the dentist at McMurdo.

This is the first box of core - the core is carefully wrapped in plastic bags, and the drilling log is in the box.

Daily Schedule
It is really hard to remember which day it is when we work every day, and the schedule is pretty much the same each day - with special events like Bob's Birthday party last night, or Happy Camper School (coming up at the end of this week). There are also talks by scientists on Wednesdays and Sundays. I got an email from Mrs. Rotto's class (Room 133) at Talahi Community School in St. Cloud yesterday, as well as one from my son Josh, but before I answer your questions, I think I'll tell you what my daily schedule is:

I get up so I can get to breakfast in the Galley. Breakfast is served from 5:30 am - 7:30 am. If I get there earlier (about 6am) I will probably get to see the scientists that are on night shift - they 'log the core' which means they describe it in great detail, centimeter by centimeter, paying attention to (and taking notes on) all the changes that they see.

Morning at Crary Lab
So, after seeing the nightshift scientists (who are eating breakfast for their dinner) at breakfast, I head over to the Lab area where I work. In this picture it is the building on the right. The domed tent-like structure is called the Rak Tent, and it is where some of the core scanning and geochemistry is done. See how it is held down with large concrete blocks. Crary Lab is built on a slope, and has a series of floors that are linked by a ramp and stairs. The doors are just like freezer doors - only they keep the cold OUTSIDE the building! It is a great place to work - you have already seen the view from our window.

The 'Freezer Doors' to Crary Lab

I do some geology reading, answer emails, and answer questions on the Science Museum of Minnesota's "Science Buzz" website until 9:30 am, when the entire Andrill team meets in the library. We get an update from the Co-Chief Scientist, David Harwood. He tells us how far down the drill has penetrated into the sea floor, and whether more core was delivered from the drillsite by helicopter the previous evening (you will note that this is usually updated every day on the top right of the blog page), and any other general information we all need to know. Then Chris Fielding gives a brief summary of the key aspects of the core that the night team just finished logging. We all take turns making brief presentations on the work we are doing. Straight after the team meeting there is a core tour at about 10 am. This is when the non-nightshift people get given a 'trip through the core' - we see what Chris just summarized for us in the meeting. This is also the time when the scientists select what areas they want to collect samples from. They do this by placing a toothpick with a 'flag' on it next to the spot they want a sample from. They have until 11:00 am to do this. From about 10:30 until 12:30 I meet with the ARISE team, and we either discuss how to teach certain aspects of geology - or we have a speaker give a presentation. Sometimes we work on our own projects.

The core !

At 12:30 I walk over to the Galley, have lunch, and get anything I need from the station store (it is basically only open during mealtimes). If there is mail waiting for me I walk over to the Post Office to get it. Then I walk back to the Lab, so I can start working on the core at 1:30.

I have been working with the core curation team. One of my responsibilities is scanning the core to get a picture of it, and also getting a series of readings on how magnetic it is. But I have mostly been sampling. This takes a long time, and requires being very meticulous. First we have to enter all the information on where each sample will be taken from into the computer log. One person enters it in to the computer, and another person calls out the depths, runs, and box numbers etc., as well as marking where the sample should be collected from on the core itself, with a white wax pencil. I usually stop doing this at about 6pm, and go to dinner. The curators usually keep going until sometime between 8 and 10 pm. They have to leave the room clean so the nightshift people can use it to log the next set of core.

Exercise and Dinner
I need to start getting some exercise in what people call the 'Gerbil Gym' where they have a bunch of treadmills and other exercise machines - I don't seem to have found time to do that yet. I will try to do that between 6 and 7 pm. The galley stops serving dinner at 7:30pm, so that gives me just enought time to get to dinner.

After dinner I generally go back to the Lab and try to finish up my Science Buzz answers, do some reading, or talk with the other scientists. On my way back to the dorm I often stop by the Coffee House. I still need to tell you more about the volcanic rocks and volcanoes, and about how to get to maps of Antarctica online. I'll do that next time, it is 10:15 pm now, and I am tired.

Answers to the questions from Mrs. Rotto's Class:
Sierra was wondering WHY you are studying rocks?
In general, I study rocks because I like to use them to tell the story of earth history. We humans use all sorts of earth materials in our everyday life, and by understanding the history of how the rocks came to be in our area, we know more about what is there, and what we should protect, and what we can safely use. Did you know that rocks and minerals get used for many household materials? See if you can figure out what rocks and minerals are used in the St. Cloud area. We are studying the sedimentary rock layers on the bottom of McMurdo Sound because they will tell us about how climate has changed in the past, and that information will help us understand how it is likely to behave in the future.

We wonder if you have learned any new things about rocks?
Yes, I have learned about the volcanic rocks on Ross Island, where McMurdo Station is - I have also learned what the sediments under the ice shelf look like - from studying the core. When I look at them with other scientists, we discuss what we see, and we interpret them. I am learning how to use what I see in the rock layers to understand what the climate was like.

Porter wants to know if you will be bringing rocks back to St. Cloud?
I will probably be able to bring some of the volcanic rock that makes up Ross Island back to St. Cloud with me to show all of you - you will be able to touch a pice of Antarctica! We have to ship the rocks back, so it will take a while to get there. I will probably be back before the rock arrives.

Alexis wants to know how you get the rocks out of the sea?
How do we get the rock core up from the bottom of McMurdo Sound? We have a special Drill Rig. Basically it is just like poking a straw into a milkshake, putting your thumb on the top of the straw, and lifting the straw out of the milkshake - only instead of it being milkshake and straw, it is rock layers and metal straws.

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