Ice Core Drilling in West Antarctica 2010


All the PolarConnect events with Heidi Roop and the Ice Core Drilling team in Antarctica are now archived here.

What Are They Doing?

Using a large hollow drill, the WAIS Divide Ice Core Drilling team aimed to collect a 3,500-meter-long ice core, or sample of ice, from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Because of the weight of the overlying snowpack, snow that falls and accumulates on ice sheets re-crystallizes and forms annual layers over time. The ice core recovered during the project had annual resolution, or distinct yearly markings, for the past 40,000 years.

In ice sheets, the compression of snow traps small bubbles of air in the layers of ice. By measuring concentrations of greenhouse gasses and non-greenhouse gasses and their isotopes trapped within bubbles in the ice, the team aimed to develop climate records dating back to 100,000 years before present.

This ice core provided the first Southern Hemisphere climate and greenhouse gas records of comparable time, resolution, and duration to ice cores previously recovered in Greenland. The ice core enabled scientists to make detailed comparisons of greenhouse gas concentrations and environmental conditions between the Northern and Southern hemispheres with a greater level of detail than previously possible. The biology of the ice collected was also investigated.

Where Are They?

The research team was based at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) drill site, in western Antarctica. The WAIS divide sits on top of 3,485 meters of ice, thicker than nine Empire State Buildings stacked on top of one another! The WAIS is classified as a marine-based ice sheet, meaning that its bed lies well below sea level and its edges flow into floating ice shelves. The WAIS is bounded by the Ross Ice Shelf, the Ronne Ice Shelf, and outlet glaciers that drain into the Amundsen Sea.


Mystery Photo 11-Solved
Did you guess that the image was of the inside of an airplane? The airplane, or C-17, that takes passengers back from the ice to New Zealand is pretty neat inside. All of the vents, cables, and wires are exposed so you can really see the 'innards' of the airplane. It is fascinating to see how many wires it takes to keep a plane operating! This is an image of the inside of a C-17 airplane. All of these wires, vents, and cables allow the plane to operate properly. It was a sad day as we left Antarctica. It is always so surprising when the season so rapidly comes to an end. Just a few days...
Mystery Photo 11
Can you guess what this is a picture of? Hint: I needed it to get home. What is in this picture?
Emperor Penguins
My first Antarctic penguins! I arrived in McMurdo after an uneventful cold deck flight from WAIS Divide. The last ice collected this season is now in McMurdo, safely in the SafeCore refrigeration units. It was a magical moment as we broke through the clouds and I saw mountains for the first time in two months. Clear skies and breathtaking views of Mt. Erebus were a fabulous "welcome back!". To top off the excitement of being back in McMurdo, there were Emperor Penguins near the runway! I hadn't seen any penguins in Antarctica yet. It was a real treat to end the season with some beautiful...
The Ice Family
Many aspects of life change when you move to an ice sheet to camp for over two months. Some of these changes, like sleeping in a tent outside or working in a freezer at -30 C all day, are difficult to adjust to, but soon they become normal. Being in a relatively small camp with the same ~35 people also fosters great friendships. As I prepare to leave WAIS Divide, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the season and what I'll miss about my life on the ice. Here are the top five: 1) My ice family. The drillers and science crew celebrating the last ice core of the season. Francie...
Out goes the ice!
Today I leave WAIS Divide. In a matter of hours I will be on Ross Island at McMurdo Station. I am leaving before the rest of the crew as I have been selected to travel with the last pallets of ice cores. I will fly on a cold deck, where the plane will be cooled to at least -10 C. This season, we have people monitoring the temperatures during cold decks. On today's flight, it will be my duty to get temperature readings ever thirty minutes during the 3.5 hour flight. Even though I am sad to leave WAIS, I know that I am doing an important job by going early with the last cold deck of the...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

15 November 2010 to 15 February 2011
Location: West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide Ice Core Drilling Project

Meet the Team

Heidi Roop's picture
University of New Hampshire/ Desert Research Institute
Seattle, WA
United States

Heidi Roop grew up exploring the formerly glaciated landscape of Wisconsin, and today continues her love for studying glaciers and climate variability through research in Antarctica and alpine regions around the world. Spending the austral summer of 2010-2011 in Antarctica, it will be her second season working as a part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide project. When she is not in Antarctica, she works throughout the Sierra Nevada studying climate variability and hydrology for the United States Geological Survey.