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The tower base starting to come out of the ice.

Disassembling the Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) Drill at WAIS Divide, Antarctica


This year in Antarctica, I worked at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide Ice Core Field Camp for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) Ice Drill Design and Operations (IDDO) Group as a Field and Drill Specialist. I was on a team of four, with our primary mission being to disassemble, catalog, and package the Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) drill and related equipment. The drill had operated for the past 7 or so years, and had completed its job and been decommissioned, so that we could pack it up and ship it back to Wisconsin for refurbishment and redeployment to a new site at some point in the future. Everybody had responsibility for multiple aspects of the mission. My specific responsibility, in addition to general mechanical and team duties, photographing and cataloging all gear and equipment that was disassembled and packed, as well as generally documenting our entire season – as catalogued in this blog.

In addition to the four of us, we were joined by two master carpenters from McMurdo, who constructed custom crates and shipping containers for us, as well as organized and packed much of the equiptment in the National Ice Core Laboratory’s (NICL) ice core processing arch, adjacent to the DISC Drill Arch.

We were at WAIS Divide for a little over two weeks, and during that (shortened) timeframe, we accomplished a huge amount of work. Here’s a brief timelapse video of the drill equiptment being disassembled and packaged.

Below is a short collection of photos, focusing specifically on DISC Drill disassembly and packing operations.

Walking back to WAIS Divide Field Camp after a day working in the drill arch. On days of low visibility, flags are the only way to tell which way to walk - and where the ground is.
Walking back to WAIS Divide Field Camp after a day working in the drill arch. On days of low visibility, flags are the only way to tell which way to walk – and where the ground is.
Walking to work every day through the snow was an experience in itself. We got along great as a team, and always had fun down-time hanging out.
Walking to work every day through the snow was an experience in itself. We got along great as a team, and always had fun down-time hanging out.
Walking down the ramp to our drill arch during stormy ways was a bit like entering a frozen polar base. The ramp leading from the surface down to the arch door frequently got drifted in, requiring digging out by our bulldozer support crew.
Walking down the ramp to our drill arch during stormy ways was a bit like entering a frozen polar base. The ramp leading from the surface down to the arch door frequently got drifted in, requiring digging out by our bulldozer support crew.
The inside of the main drill arch. Overhead you can see the blue heavy crane. The yellow safety fences are surrounding the Winch Pit, which housed the main winch, level wind, and related machinery. This winch pit leads into the borehole slot, which is about 40 feet deep, 40 feet long, 5 feet wide. Although the borehole is only a few inches in diameter, the slot must be long and wide to accomodate the swing room for the drill tower - it must pivot from vertical to horizontal in one motion.
The inside of the main drill arch. Overhead you can see the blue heavy crane. The yellow safety fences are surrounding the Winch Pit, which housed the main winch, level wind, and related machinery. This winch pit leads into the borehole slot, which is about 40 feet deep, 40 feet long, 5 feet wide. Although the borehole is only a few inches in diameter, the slot must be long and wide to accomodate the swing room for the drill tower – it must pivot from vertical to horizontal in one motion.
Looking from the back of the drill arch to the front, the optical table, yellow "light" crane, and heated control room are visible. Also notable is the heaving of the floor. As the ice shifts, the floor and overall structure of the arch shifts, buckling everything.
Looking from the back of the drill arch to the front, the optical table, yellow “light” crane, and heated control room are visible. Also notable is the heaving of the floor. As the ice shifts, the floor and overall structure of the arch shifts, buckling everything.
The WAIS Divide, Antarctica DISC Drill crew in January, 2015. From left Rick Smouse (ASC), Otto Neumuth (ASC), Jim Koehler (IDDO), Mike Waszkiewics (IDDO), Jeffrey Donenfeld (IDDO), and Don Kirkpatrick (IDDO).
The WAIS Divide, Antarctica DISC Drill crew in January, 2015. From left Rick Smouse (ASC), Otto Neumuth (ASC), Jim Koehler (IDDO), Mike Waszkiewics (IDDO), Jeffrey Donenfeld (IDDO), and Don Kirkpatrick (IDDO).
This is the core handling arch, connected to the drill arch. Notably, this arch is heavily insulated, to keep it extra cold.
This is the core handling arch, connected to the drill arch. Notably, this arch is heavily insulated, to keep it extra cold.
Reverse angle of the core handling arch.
Reverse angle of the core handling arch.
The storage space beneath the ice core processing arch, showing buckled floorboards.
The storage space beneath the ice core processing arch, showing buckled floorboards.
Extreme cold for long periods of time causes frost to grow everywhere. These large ice crystals had grown on the window separating the drill arch from the core handling arch.
Extreme cold for long periods of time causes frost to grow everywhere. These large ice crystals had grown on the window separating the drill arch from the core handling arch.
I did a bit of chainsawing too!
I did a bit of chainsawing too!
Lots of coordination and teamwork go into each move of the heavy equiptment.
Lots of coordination and teamwork go into each move of the heavy equiptment.
Rigging the levelwind for extraction from the winch pit. Each piece of gear was meticulously secured to be moved carefully.
Rigging the levelwind for extraction from the winch pit. Each piece of gear was meticulously secured to be moved carefully.
Finally, the large winch reel is hoisted out of the pit - next step is to drag it up the ramp to the surface, where it gets staged for air transport.
Finally, the large winch reel is hoisted out of the pit – next step is to drag it up the ramp to the surface, where it gets staged for air transport.
It takes two tractors to drag the massive winch reel up the ramp. Although the reel looks small, it's wound with over 10,000 feet of heavy steel-encased fiberoptic and power cable.
It takes two tractors to drag the massive winch reel up the ramp. Although the reel looks small, it’s wound with over 10,000 feet of heavy steel-encased fiberoptic and power cable.
The shipping container was located on the surface a short ways from the drill arch, and was packed with a variety of loose gear.
The shipping container was located on the surface a short ways from the drill arch, and was packed with a variety of loose gear.
Every piece of gear we disassembled and packed up was carefully labeled and catalogued.
Every piece of gear we disassembled and packed up was carefully labeled and catalogued.
I used a dry erase slate to note technical information about each container of gear we packed up. This custom-built palate is for the sections of the drill tower, and is designated Palate 05, Crate 04.
I used a dry erase slate to note technical information about each container of gear we packed up. This custom-built palate is for the sections of the drill tower, and is designated Palate 05, Crate 04.
Another one of the crates, as it's being packed and inventoried.
Another one of the crates, as it’s being packed and inventoried.
The tower base starting to come out of the ice.
The tower base starting to come out of the ice.
Jim staying safe while chainsawing ice to extract venting.
Jim staying safe while chainsawing ice to extract venting.
Moving large blocks of ice out of the way, in order to extract the heavy tower base feet, which were embedded in the ice under the floor.
Moving large blocks of ice out of the way, in order to extract the heavy tower base feet, which were embedded in the ice under the floor.
Now that the winch pit has been emptied, it's filled in with snow and compacted down.
Now that the winch pit has been emptied, it’s filled in with snow and compacted down.
Filling in the winch pit. Blocks cut to extract the tower base feet are re-used to construct a protective wall around the borehole slot, so snow only fills the winch pit, and leaves the slot clear.
Filling in the winch pit. Blocks cut to extract the tower base feet are re-used to construct a protective wall around the borehole slot, so snow only fills the winch pit, and leaves the slot clear.
Mike descending into the borehole slot, tethered by a steel cable.
Mike descending into the borehole slot, tethered by a steel cable.
Don took this pick lying on his back, looking up from the bottom of the slot.
Don took this pick lying on his back, looking up from the bottom of the slot.
The top of the borehole - with protective foam cap in place, and plastic cover lifted up. It's over 4000m down.
The top of the borehole – with protective foam cap in place, and plastic cover lifted up. It’s over 4000m down.
To get around WAIS, we used a number of snow mobiles, with attached sleds.
To get around WAIS, we used a number of snow mobiles, with attached sleds.
This is the improvised mount I used for my GoPro to take the timelapse video. The's a slot cutout for the camera, as well as holster for the power cable. Since the camera cooled down to sub-freezing levels while in operation, it had to be supplied externally - the battery just doesn't work in those temperatures.
This is the improvised mount I used for my GoPro to take the timelapse video. The’s a slot cutout for the camera, as well as holster for the power cable. Since the camera cooled down to sub-freezing levels while in operation, it had to be supplied externally – the battery just doesn’t work in those temperatures.
Representing UW!
Representing UW!
Smouse posing on one of our snowmobiles.
Smouse posing on one of our snowmobiles.
Although it's cold at WAIS, we try to keep a warm, tropical attitude. Don does a great job!
Although it’s cold at WAIS, we try to keep a warm, tropical attitude. Don does a great job!

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