South Pole Ice Core

Max and I got a tour of the SPICE(South Pole Ice Core) drilling sight. For the first time in my life I felt like a reporter. I never realized how much work this blog thing is! I wrote down all the facts to make sure I got it perfect for the readers… but then procrastinated for two weeks and so here it is, two weeks late.  I know the pictures are the best part, so I decided to give the facts and post lots of photos. I would like to thank Max, he was my photographer for this blog. Camera batteries and fingers freeze very fast in these conditions so it was very nice of him to take one for the team.


  • They drill 5-6 cores (2 meters each) per shift.
  • Grantees work 24 hours a day with 3 different shifts (there are a lot of SPICE people!).
  •  This is a two year project that started last season.
  • At the end of last season they had reached 736 meters deep in the ice.
  • Estisol is used as a lubricant when drilling the ice.
  • It takes one hour and 20 minutes to get down to where they are drilling, and only 15 minutes to drill a 2 meter section.
  • They are cut into one meter sections before shipping them out.
  • The scientists have to be very careful to make sure they have the correct side and everything is properly labeled so they can keep track of the exact age of each piece.
  • They can see volcanoes that happened all around the world in the ice, and compare this drilling with similar drillings that are happening in Greenland to see events that impacted the whole planet.
  • When we viewed the drilling process they were at 1,355 meters deep in the ice which equals 33,000 years old(VERY OLD ICE!!!)
  • Since then they have completed their goal of drilling 40,000 years (1,500 meters) of Antarctic ice history, but that wont stop them. They are going to continue until the end of the cable which can go 1,900 meters.
  • The ice cores are not safe above -20 degrees Celsius.
  • The process of getting the ice back to Denver: Once grantees fill up many boxes of ice, Cargo goes about 2 miles to the ice core site with forklifts. They load up the ice and put it on a giant sled where it is stored under a cover until the cold deck (a very cold cargo flight) airplane comes to pick them up. Then, they get loaded on the flight with an escort for the ice to make sure nothing happens to it on the plane. After the flight to McMurdo, they sit in a frozen milvan(-35 degrees Celsius) until the vessel comes to deliver cargo. The milvan gets put on the vessel and takes it all the way back to Port Hueneme in California. From there, they get driven to Denver,Colorado to the Ice core lab where they are  divided by 14 universities( I think that is right, but didn’t write that number down) who work together and study each piece.

There are lots of things I am sure I missed, but it was my first reporting job so go easy on me. Overall, it was a very interesting experience. They are doing a lot of different drilling in West Antarctica as well. Places like Byrd camp, Wais Divide, and other field camps. Scientists do a variety of different lengths based on what they are trying to study.


The skinny long pole in the middle is the drill.


A view from the other side of the hut once the drill was lowered with the 2 meter section of ice.


The bottom of the drill before they took out the ice core.


They move part of the drill with the core over to the side before carefully removing it. Then they immediately vacuum the ice.


A 2 meter ice core that is 33,000 years old.


the drilling hole


the top of the drill before raising it up


the tubes and boxes they store the ice in


me outside the hut


We then went in a man made cave to see the ice layers. The thin light layers are summer seasons and the thicker dark ones are winters. This is a foot thick wall with a hole behind it to show how light travels through the ice (it was a very cloudy day as you can see from the photo above).


standing in front of the wall



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