WAIS Divide Camp at 79.47° S latitude, 112.06° W longitude – high on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Plateau.
The wind finally abated somewhat during the day on Friday. I took another grid walk in the morning – with similar results. The combination of flat light and drifting obscured my way and made an even pace impossible – what an analogy for life. As the wind died, the crud* built in my nose, so my afternoon was fairly quiet. Around 4pm one of the drill handlers found me to say that a visible layer was in the core at approximately 1580 meters and 8,000 years old. We rushed out to the Core Handling area of the arch to look. Everyone was very excited – they didn’t expect to find visible layers. The Danish scientist has been drilling ice in the field for 6 seasons and has never seen a visible layer. Everyone agreed that it looked like a tephra (volcanic) layer. Chemical analysis in the lab will confirm if it is ash, and what volcanic event it came from. When I first looked at the core on the tray, the layer looked like a fracture line, about a millimeter thick. But up close there is a definite grey ochre cast to the layer. Looking at an angle, I could make out a shadow of the layer deep in the ice. I had heard that Scientists are notoriously understated in their reaction to really cool discoveries and even these young graduate students lived up to that reputation. No one was jumping up and down or high fiving. However, their elation was palpable. The day had been difficult and they were tired, but this thin line of dust came as a gift of energy. I remembered drawing an ash layer at the National Ice Core Lab during my first visit in 2008. It had been from the Newell Glacier near the dry valleys in Antarctica. I found the jpeg of the sketch on my computer, and sure enough, in the notes at the corner of the page was “Newell Glacier, approximately 8000 years old”. It deepened my connection to this place and the core, and yes, I am very excited about it.
*Crud or McMurdo Crud – a low level cold that is a right of passage for almost every newcomer on the ice. It is extremely difficult to avoid, with dry air, and lots of people crowded into small overheated spaces.