Prepping for fieldwork

There are a variety of causes of stress in a PhD student’s life; short notice supervisory meetings, baking for ‘Friday afternoon cake’, finding a slightly too relevant journal article. At the moment though the main source is the fast approaching Glacsweb fieldwork…With only 18 days until we fly to Iceland, and more importantly, only 10 days until the van has to be packed and shipped, time is off the essence.

A stack of dGPS units in stores waiting to be tested.

I use ‘stress’ in a loose way though. I’m not a massive subscriber to ‘argh my PhD is sooo stressful’, I get paid to study glaciers and personally follow the interesting/fulfilling/exciting mantra (I’ll revisit this in my 3rd year…). Whilst my Glacsweb colleagues in ECS are having a moderately stressful time at the moment, as they’ve got to make sure all the probes/geophones/base stations etc. are made and programmed in time to be shipped, I’m just enjoying a slight change of scenery. Rather than spending time at my desk in geography I’ve been drafted in to do a variety of tasks that’ll make life easier for the guys in ECS and help test a few bits of equipment which I’ve generally got minimal experience of. All in all it’s quite fun! So I thought I’d give a quick run down of the jobs I’ve been doing.

Kirk talking to Dirk over a table of probe bits. They promise they’ll be ready in time!

The first job was to produce pyramids to mount our dGPS on. These are survey grade GPS with millimetric accuracy, so a stable mount is very important. The standard procedure on ice caps is often to drill a deep (~3 m) hole in the glacier, stick a pole in, and stick the GPS antenna on top. But because the glacier we’re on is melting fairly rapidly this doesn’t really work. We usually experience a couple of metres of melting over the summer and this results in the pole ending up at a jaunty angle and ruining all the data. Not ideal. So instead we build pyramid structures out of aluminium and pop the antenna on top of those. As a result, last week I found myself in an empty undergrad metal workshop trying to recall those secondary school tech lessons from when I was 12. I’m not quite sure that the pyramids are as impressive as the bridge I made back then, but they should do, and I’m now proficient again with a hacksaw and pillar drill. We’re yet to make any mounts for the solar panels though, so there’s more time in that workshop to come.

Drilling yet another hole in the aluminium.

I was then moved to wiring up boxes of batteries. I have to say this did worry me a little. If I mess up the construction of the pyramids then we might have rubbish GPS data. If I mess up the batteries then we will have no data. The only thing with their own power are the subglacial probes, and they need a battery powered base station on the ice surface to work. To make matters worse I’ve got minimal experience of messing around with wires. In fact I don’t think I’ve even had to wire a plug since my secondary school tech lessons (which clearly had a well thought out syllabus). So I set about wiring up peli cases of lead acid batteries and drilling holes in the side of the case for the various outputs. These batteries weigh a substantial amount. In total we’re taking just over 0.25 tonne of them to power everything. I’m looking forward to shifting that lot onto the ice! I’ve still got about 7 cases of these to do so its a work in progress. So far I think its gone ok. There was one near escape where I nearly wired up output wires to a case before being stopped at the last minute. Apparently they’d have been pretty dangerous wires to have lying around seeing as they would be linked to 8 car batteries. Lesson learnt!

Box 1 of n wired up and ready to go.

As a break from wiring we went and checked out our new several thousand pound Karcher jetwash. It’s a pretty neat bit of kit and can heat water to 150 degrees C. We use it to drill(/melt) holes to the bottom of the glacier which we drop our probes down. So again, it’s fairly important. Thankfully I wasn’t really required to do too much here. Just to lend a hand drilling holes in the frame so we could mount an axle and wheels. This was moderately taxing as it weighs 180 Kgs, but many hands makes light work. Then we took it outside and powered it up and I watched as Kirk wrote ‘GEOG’ on the floor. So apparently it works fine.

Kirk and Phil playing with, I mean testing, the jet wash.

Next up is powering up the six NERC dGPS units we’ve been loaned for the year. I ‘think’ that should be easy, and should be a good chance for me to learn about them. I’ve also got to learn how to use Linux so I can work the software package. That probably isn’t quite as easy, but thankfully Laura will be lending a hand there. Then there’s food shopping, packing, getting my crampon boots resoled, sharpening my crampons and ice axes, bevelling my box section steel sampling boxes…Lots to do! But, importantly, it’s pretty fun.



  1. […] I’ve previously written about, I’m part of a research group called GLACSWEB whose research is currently based on a Skala… in […]

  2. […] I’ve previously written about, I’m part of a research group called GLACSWEB whose research is currently based on a Skala… […]

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