journal tabs

Michael Lampert's picture

The day began with the phone ringing early.... the phone in the tunnel is really a large electric bell that resonates quite loud. It is the Copenhagen group. They are eight researchers who have traveled here last night from the University at Copenhagen to look at the Svartisen Sub-Glacier laboratory. Dr. Miriam Jackson of NVE wants to promote the use of the lab to interested parties and has invited this group here to view the facilities and the ice. They are an diverse group of researchers, some established, some Post-Doc students looking for new ideas. Their research involves different things, such as drilling ice core samples in Greenland or computer modeling of ice flow. All of them are intensely passionate about what they do, and love the outdoors. We are only allowed to have 8 people in the lab, which is over a mile away up the tunnel, so I stay back as Miriam splits the group in two to give tours. Mark and Denis have been here for the last ten days take off back home. I take some time outside to just kick back in the sun. Slow SundayWhile the Copenhagen group is touring the tunnel I stay out to get some sun and kick back. The view is just amazing. Copenhagen groupEight glacier researchers from Denmark come visit us, we share tea in the tight quarters of the kitchen. DogOne researcher brought his dog along, I neglected to find out the dog's name because I just thought it was so cool to see an animal in the tunnel. This dog did not understand I include a few photos of a slow Sunday, many of you have asked what it is like living here. First, it is dark. You cannot escape that. And the darkness really starts to get on your mind. It does make me wonder what space travelers will do about that. Lights compensate for it but still it is a feeling of constant night. As you enter the tunnel from outside you go up a corrugated pipe for a few hundred feet which opens up to a much bigger twenty foot tunnel. This was carved out by machine that deposited the rock out in the front of the tunnel. About three hundred feet up you come to a larger space where a small building has been erected inside a cave like structure. It is on pedestals above a bunch of machinery and junk. You hear the dripping of water everywhere, the ground is wet and muddy in spots and you smell the aroma of the septic system. Next to it is an identical tank used to store the drinking water that drips from the ceiling. There is a safe room for fire, and there is an ATV for hauling heavy things only. As you walk up the stairs you are in a small building, with four dorm rooms, a kitchen (no oven) a bath and a shower. The mud room/entry way has all the boots and helmets, including a charging station. It has an interesting feature, you do not turn off your helmet light when you charge, it does it for you automatically, if the power goes out to the charger the light on the helmet turns on. There are lots of safety features like this in the tunnel. People take turns cooking. The food is mostly bread and salami, the refrigerator is a table outdoors. The sleeping area has bunk beds which makes it easy to sleep, much nicer than camping!
The living quarters inside the tunnelIt is so difficult to take pictures in the dark here so I apologize if it is blurry. This is the living quarters, the stairs lead up on the left. You can see the safe room on the right. Things are illuminated with this dull yellow light. Night and Day it always looks like this. Charging StationAs you enter the living quarters, you must first take your pudding in a boxThe kitchen is really just a two burner stove, no oven, there are two small tables, and we take turns cooking. The desert is usually chocolate or cookies, although on occasion we this Norwegian SkinkeOstFood comes in tubes, they have bacon-cheese, ham cheese, caviar.... you name it, it is in a tube... Here is a tube of SkinkeOst, or ham-cheese. You spread it on Wasa bread. The Outside the living quarters the air is slightly above freezing so it makes the perfect refrigerator. You just leave the food on the table, there are no bugs or animals in the tunnel to get the food. The water tankWater from the cracks in the walls leak glacier water into the tunnel. This is collected in this tank which then is pressurized for the water to the living quarters. It is great tasting clear, cold water. Oddly, the septic system has a tank that looks just like this and is only a few feet away. When the tunnel door is open the draft is very noticeable. Bunk BedsWe sleep two to a room in bunk beds, no heat, it is very comfortable, hardly If you want to go to the lab, you must check-out and walk the mile or more up the tunnel system. It is uphill! This brings you directly beneath the center of the glacier. There is a large cement wall at the end of the tunnel to prevent water from spilling in. Everywhere you hear the rushing of water from the side tunnels going to the power station. The lab is like a large mobile home. There is running water and power, there is lots of equipment, such as melting hoses, heaters, pressure washers, ladders and more. There is also a lunch room where we break to stay warm and dry and relax a bit. If you want to do research where the glacier is you must cross into the glacier stream, walk through the rocks and up about five stories into the ice cave, it is a tiring walk if you are carrying the heavy stuff. The living and working conditions are very comfortable, you do not feel stressed at all, you really only want to see the sun which is just a twenty minute walk away.
The walk to the labTo get to the lab area, you must walk up this mile long tunnel, it brings you straight through the mountain to a place 600 feet below the center of the Svartisen glacier. It is cool, dark and eerie in the tunnel. Side tunnelsThere are several side tunnels along the way, this one has cool ice formations behind it. The tunnels go to other tunnels that route water to the power station, they also collect sediment before the water is sent downhill. The rushing water in these tunnels is very loud, and I am told it is really unbearable in the Spring when the melt really starts. The Lab areaAt the end of your walk from the living quarters there is a large lab area carved into the rock. It is the size of a small mobile home. It is protected from glacier stream water by a large cement wall. Here the scientists gather to calibrate and test their equipment before heading up into the glacier.

In the evening we all go back to the ice cave one last time. All the sensors are in, everything is the best it can be. Now the time comes to shut the two shafts for good. Everyone pitches in clearing out the small rocks left over this year from the glacier. You do not want to open the door next year to tons of rocks, so by removing them now you hope that the cavity will fill with ice instead of sediment. The work is much easier this time around then when we first opened the door. Hosing off the debris turns the space into a steam bath, it is really difficult to see anything. The door is sealed using steel I-beams. And that is it! No more glacier ice for a whole year! The goal now is to let the glacier flow ice into the cavity and hope the instruments keep working. We plan on heading down the hill to the cabins below to wait it out. I will likely head back to Oregon rather than come back up to evaluate the next stage which is the pump tests, a critical time when water is pumped under high pressure from pipes below to induce slipping of the glacier. Clearing out the glacier debrisKnut and Luke dig out what is left of this years glacier deposit in the chamber. We are preparing to seal it up for a year and hope that next year we might have fewer rocks to deal with. You never really know what the glacier will bring as it slides along. This view is from inside looking out. Steam bathThe hot water from the melting hose makes the small tunnel space fill with steam, it is nearly impossible to see anything, let alone try to take a picture. The door is sealed shutThe horizontal shaft door is sealed shut for the season. Behind the steel I-beams is the large empty cavity. Soon it will fill in with ice from above, and the glacier will continue its slow and steady decline the hill, dragging itself across the instrument panel while accelerometers tick away recording data. Knut installs a seismometerKnut installs an seismometer. He is the next research group working here, he will do a radar survey of the glacier combined with seismic readings. His group is placing sensors below and above the glacier looking at its movement. These instruments are very sensitive so he waits until our group is done before setting up. He is able to see the seismic events associated with the pump tests that are coming up. The long steps backWith the ice cave sealed off for the year there is little to do now except clean and wait for the pump tests. The steps back are long and dark, it is amazing to think at the effort that has gone into making this research possible.