Snow Drifts and Lab Burials

Dec. 6, 2012

Snow drifts are a significant concern on the Antarctic plateau because it is a very large area of the continent without any trees, mountains, or other windbreaks. What this means is that because the wind can travel such long distances without stopping, any obstruction in its path would quickly accumulate very deep snow drifts and completely bury anything not ‘flat’ on the plateau. This problem actually completely covered the original South Pole station by burying it 1.2 meters each year until it was covered by drifts. Concordia, which is at a colder and windier location than the South Pole, has been designed on ‘stilts’ that allow wind to pass under the station, thereby preventing snow drifts from building up on its sides.

concordiaConcordia station’s two elevated circular towers

DSC_0070The stilts that raise the station, allowing wind to pass underneath

Similar to my first season in Antarctica, where my lab was ‘built’ within a shipping container and placed on the icebreaker, this year again I’ll be working out of a shipping container that we design to contain our lab, but this time it’ll be buried within the East Antarctic Ice Sheet of the Antarctic high plateau, about 20 minutes’ walk from the main base at Concordia. Our station  rigged a series of electrical outlets waay out to our fieldsite, then we dig a hole, put our ‘container lab’ in it, connected the wiring, and reburied it beneath the snow. It was much better to bury our lab than to ‘raise’ it to protect it from snow drifts, because burying the lab helps to preserve the natural environment that our lab itself is studying– we didn’t want any shadows, drifts, or disturbances that might interfere with the gas exchange measurements we are collecting at various depths beneath the flat plains surrounding our field lab. Here’s a video I took of our lab being reburied by machines.

DSCN0556Starting the lab burial…

DSCN0564…almost done…

DSCN0573The ‘hatch’ for climbing down to the lab will stay slightly above the surface so we can still climb down

DSCF0581View down the hatch to our lab

DSCN0571Our fieldsite on the Antarctic Plateau. The pegs in the snow represent locations where we are measuring gases at different depths beneath the snow surface.


Posted on 2012, in -Season 2: Life on the High Plateau, 2012 (12/06) Snow Drifts and Lab Burials. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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