Ellsworth blog 9

29th December and we still experience mainly cloudless skies with winds of varying strength and temperatures around camp rising to about -6 C. We celebrated Stuart’s birthday before Christmas and then the day itself. Christmas Eve was devoted both to science and to moving the communal tent.  Why bother with the latter?  Well, the snow under the tent had melted wherever it was unprotected by boxes.  Thus the boxes were on pedestals of ice and the living spaces had melted to form craters.  So we had lots of headroom in the tent (!) but could not move without sliding down into a hole.  Digging out metres of snow from the extensive valance took all morning and then we had to move the generator tent to nearby.  All is fine now with less headroom but a flat floor.

Imagine our Christmas dinner.  We feasted on shallow-fried marinated duck with a cherry sauce created by John.  Scott and Malcolm dug into our deep freeze in the snow to reveal and then cook treasured freshly -frozen sprouts, stuffing and roast potatoes.  We opened and enjoyed a bottle of Gato Negro red wine. The meal ended with mulled wine and Christmas cake specially cooked for us by Caroline back in the UK.  You must be imagining the white table cloth, the low lights and the tinkle of glasses, as we did.  We managed to forget that the meal was in a plastic cereal bowl, the wine in a plastic mug and that the table was littered with its usual load of partly used containers of treacle, jam, tea, primuses, pots and pans.  Thanks to the many of you that sent greetings to us and helped us feel less remote on the day. But it was sad to hear of the problems of the Lake Ellsworth project on that day and our thoughts are with them and we wish them good luck next year.

Meanwhile, we are close to finishing the main survey of the Patriots.  The radar is producing excellent results and revealing what is happening within the glacier and helping make sense of the features on the surface. Even I (David) have got involved in high precision work by fixing the location of boulders from a particular cliff source with a roving GPS.  For someone who might previously have simply written that limestone boulders show a particular direction of ice flow, I spent two days, along with Andy, measuring the precise location of over two thousand boulders!  All I remember is a disemboweled voice repeating at each boulder: Observation Stored.  The resulting map will certainly show the direction of ice flow at to within cm.

We have begun work in the adjoining Marble and Independence Hills. Stuart is using the laser scanner in the latter to record rates of weathering on some spectacular cliffs and already has great images. Yesterday we all participated in a hard day to the Marble Hills which started at 10 am and didn’t finish till after midnight. It was to help Andy drill a rock core 2m into marble bedrock into what seemed the highest and most exposed hill in the area.  Andy says the exposure is to minimize the possible impact of snow cover. Hmm!  We carried up to the summit the drill motor, bits and extension rods, fuel, 60 litres of water-based lubricant (!), pumps, angle grinder etc.  BUT it was windy and cold on the top with a temperature below -15 C and a strong wind with gusts literally blowing one over as well as removing drilling rods and rucsacs.  The idea is to get cores from different depths which some magic analysis can transform into weathering rates over millions of years.  We battled with icing problems ruefully reminding ourselves that this drill had never been used in sub-zero temperatures before. There was a slushy mud of marble everywhere on clothes, sun goggles and beards.  Hands were tested collecting and recording the extracted core every few cm before the wind blew the samples away.  8 hours later in what seemed like a wind tunnel we got good cores down to 1.6 m and Andy declared himself happy.  The mountain top has one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen and the drill company will be amazed at where we were using their drill for inserting fence posts!  I wonder if we will be able ever clean off the marble dust on our clothes.   

 A Happy New Year to all.

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