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Digging in

Published: at 01:05 PM

We’ve been here for about a week now and have really dug ourselves in, quite literally. The top of the ice sheet is mostly flat in all directions, and the winds can howl at times. Thus, everything must be secured. We, of course, secured our tents and camp first, but over the past days we have moved on to our power generation and scientific infrastructure that will remain here when we go home in 11 days. It needs to stay in place and remain vertical. Some of the instruments require vertical installation so we can properly interpret the measurements. For the power system, the wind turbines must remain vertical to effectively generate power and our solar panels should remain vertical to optimize both their power generation (with lots of sunlight also reflecting off the surface) and to help them shed any frost that builds up.

A view of the camp setup after digging in many anchors for the solar panels

Digging anchors for the solar panels is a massive effort.

To stabilize all this equipment, we have developed an anchoring concept that includes 2x2’ pieces of ½” plywood that are screwed to a 2’ piece of 2x4” wood. In these anchors we drill two holes that allow us to fasten guy lines that run up to our equipment. The anchors must be buried beneath the frozen snow and ice, which is heavy and frozen into place. This, of course, requires a ton of digging. The past few days have included a flurry of digging. We knew Andrew was all about digging. Young and strong, even before we came to the field, we knew he would be a prime digger; indeed, he had an eager smile as we discussed all of the holes that would be needed. Over the past couple of days Cat has also developed a passion for the dig. She has crafted a very nice technique for cutting an underhang in her holes that allows our anchors to fit at the right angle. The rest of us dig as well, but perhaps with not the same big smiles as Andrew and Cat.

A small 10cm hole for passing guy lines through the surface to the anchor

A small hole drilled with the 10cm auger to pass a line to the anchor.

To not disturb the snow and ice that secures our anchors, we drill holes with a long 2” auger at just the right angle down through the ice to meet the anchors below. This process has involved a bit of geometry and has worked out masterfully. The guy line is made of a Kevlar core, to give it minimal stretch and high strength, with an outer sheath of polyester, to give it resistance to the intense sunlight. Plus, it is white to minimize absorption of solar heat that could lead to melting. We include a few metal links, a bowline knot and a trucker’s hitch. These all allow us to really torque on the lines to get everything vertical and stable.

After all of that digging, my back also wants a little time being vertical and stable!

Wind turbine and vertical solar panels anchored to holes in the ice sheetCat digging the final remnants out of her hole while spanning the gap

Left: Stably anchored wind turbine and vertical solar panels. Right: Cat gets creative with her snow removal methodology.