Cronkite 's television report was wide – eyed in front of the scale and daring of the base: there were mess rooms, a church and even the services of a hairdresser named Jordon. When Cronkite interviewed Camp Century Commander Tom Evans about his objectives, he said three: "The first is to test the number of promising new concepts in polar construction, and the second is to provide a truly ground test. We are building Camp Century to provide a good base here in Greenland, where scientists can continue their R & D activities. "
When Evans spoke to Cronkite, some researchers and soldiers working at the Century realized that his answer was not entirely straightforward. Evans did not discuss another project at the camp. In trenches under the ice about a quarter mile from the main camp, an Army Corps engineer secretly carried huge masses of cast iron on a flat-bottomed wagon, thousands of pounds of raw metal supposed to match the weight of an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
Several years later, the US military was proposing a system called Iceworm: a nuclear arsenal of 600 ballistic missiles, driven to the Soviet Union, which would be constantly moving. rail under the ice cap of Greenland. The ice worm has never been built. The military quickly realized that Camp Century was doomed. At best, it would take 10 years, they admitted, how much snow cover would cover the roof, squeeze the walls and destroy it.
Camp Century was a perfect example of paranoia and eccentricity of the Cold War: an unlikely outpost, expensive to build, difficult to maintain and unpleasant. The irony was that Camp Century was also the site of an inspired and historical engineering experience. It was simply an experiment the US military did not care about. In fact, the importance of the research project at Camp Century would not really be understood for decades.
It was there, in a cave located tens of meters under the snow and the ice, that the scientists perfected a new method allowing them to read the history of the Earth. A small number of glaciologists had already realized that the ice sheet probably contained a frozen archive of events and temperatures from a long time ago – that it was encrypted, in a way that would not Had not been deciphered yet, with a code of the past.
This code was locked in the ice among the snow crystals that had failed thousands of years ago. The working hypothesis was that by digging in the ice, you could take a sample of an ice cylinder that became known as a core and use laboratory tools to solve mysteries of the past. The deeper you go, the more you go back in time.
"The army has allowed us to stay with them," recalls Chet Langway, the geologist responsible for cataloging and analyzing ice cores at Camp Century. And as the military maintained that the camp was for scientific research rather than for nuclear missiles, Camp Century officials welcomed the prospect of showing what was being done. the drillers. Cronkite visited the early stages of the drilling project. "We were sort of a blanket, if you will," Langway said, even though his team's goal – to reach bedrock – was deeply serious.
The brain of The experience of Camp Century was a dapper and sometimes irritable former teacher, named Henri Bader. Since the mid-1950s, Bader worked as Chief Scientist at the Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Center of the Army Corps, known as SIPRE. Like Camp Century, this small organization is a product of the Cold War.
In a new world order where the United States was competing with the Soviet Union, the geographic area separating the two superpowers included a vast, frozen wasteland at the top of the world. SIPRE was created to help the military manage its troops in this frozen waste, to research the properties of snow and ice so that men and women deployed in the Far North can better fight, move and operate. better.
A medium-sized man, wearing a goatee and styling combed-back hair, Bader smoked heavily and wore an intimidating air that bordered on urgency. He was a genius by mixing the practical needs of the army with his own curiosity and goals. For Bader, the layered ice sheet promised to capture year-round climate and atmospheric history, which means that if one could understand how to read the precise temperatures in these layers, one would find (as Bader said) "a treasure trove."
Just as importantly, the layers were in deposit: everything in the atmosphere of the Earth was deposited there as well as the snow which turned into ice. In theory, this meant that an ice core located at the bottom of the ice cap would contain remnants of the early industrial revolution, for example, and would include evidence of how atmospheric gases and pollution are occurring. Intensified with time.
An ice core may also contain traces of ash that have covered the earth after the volcanic explosions of Krakatoa in Indonesia (in 1883) or perhaps even in Vesuvius, near Pompeii (in 79 AD). And judging by the thickness of the center of the ice cream in Greenland seems to be, the disc could go back a lot, much further.
In addition, air bubbles were trapped in the ice layer. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Bader worked on the bubbles of some ice cores collected early in drilling in Alaska. "I could see the bubbles were under pressure," recalls SIPRE colleague Carl Benson. "Now the bubble saves the atmosphere as the bubble is sealed, and in other words, those little bubbles in the ice have a history of what the climate was like back then I knew it We knew it, but it was a question of: how do you measure it? "
Bader did not expect to find answers quickly. But he understood that extracting what he called "deep nuclei" from the ice sheet would be the first step to unlock these secrets. The drilling group conducted surveys with mixed results in 1961 and 1962. The effort to go from top to bottom began in earnest in October 1963. Bader estimated that the distance was about one kilometer. I was expecting the drill team to reach near the bedrock in four months.
Drilling platforms that are customized to recover ice cores are incredibly complicated contractions. To work properly, these machines have to travel distances of up to two or three kilometers to dig a hole, digging a notch in the ice. During this process, an ice cylinder core length of 3 to 10 feet must be safely removed from the ice sheet, grabbed, cut, and brought to the surface by a winch. Then the drill should go down and dig deeper. For Camp Century drilling, Henri Bader suggested creating a new type of drill, which would use a hollow-point "heat" drill – a hot metal ring that would melt the ice and produce long cylinders of the core. .
Keeping the ice in a rigorous order would be as important as a good exercise. If a team lost track of the carrot release sequence, scientists could track climate history and jeopardize their entire experience. For this reason, most of the summer days, in the early 1960s, the carrots reaching the surface in the Camp Century drill ditch were carefully bagged and logged, then stored in cardboard tubes placed on trays. brackets against the wall.
However, before putting them away, Chet Langway examined them more closely on a light table. Carrots coming from near the surface showed seasonal streaks and sometimes pockets of frozen dust, suggesting remains of an old volcanic eruption or dust storm. But as the drill descended, the carrots were less clearly marked with annual layers.
In addition, Langway could see that some nuclei were rising to the surface, full of bubbles, resembling cylinders of frozen milk, and that the deeper ice was emerging like glass, and then blurred, a few weeks later, into submerged gases. at intense pressure. in the ice sheet merged into the bubbles. Part of the cloudy and frothy ice could be as fragile as crystal stemware. A few minutes after recovering from the core drilling, Langway could see him fracture and hear him crack, while the air inside "was relaxing" in response to changes in pressure on the surface.
Herb Ueda was usually the technician in charge of the daily drilling work. I would normally go to Camp Century in April and stay until September. According to his own assessment, his family was extremely poor. He grew up in the Northwest and often worked as a laborer with his parents in fields and orchards. After the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, Ueda and his family were forced by the US government to move from the Tacoma area in Washington State to Idaho in a Internment camp for Americans of Japanese descent. For three years, his family lived in what was a camp, surrounded by barbed wire, with about 9,000 other Americans of Japanese descent.
Ueda nonetheless graduated from high school, was recruited and served in the US Army. Subsequently, I pursued studies in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois. He was 29 and was looking for a job in Chicago. When, as part of a job interview, I received a call from "some kind of snow and ice lab". It was SIPRE. The following summer, Ueda flew to Greenland and learned to drill holes in the ice.
Ueda was much less focused on what hearts could say about the history of the Earth than on how to get them out of the ice cap. He soon knew all the oddities and problems of the rig. It was a slow and difficult job, and Ueda was increasingly frustrated with thermal exercise. On average, it melted through the ice layer at about 1 inch per minute.
In 1964, during a field visit to Oklahoma, several Corps engineers discovered an old oil platform. "They found it abandoned, in a cornfield somewhere," recalls Ueda. "The owner offered to sell us $ 10,000, so we bought it and changed it so it worked in the ice." This electrodetector was airlifted to Camp Century in the spring of 1965.
It was an unsightly machine – 83 feet long and weighing 2650 pounds, not including the drill tower and 8,000 feet of thick cable that provided the stability and power of the drill. At the tip, the solenoid valve featured a hollow hollow circular diamond drill bit that ran at a speed of 225 rpm. "We were getting carrots 20 feet long with this drill," recalls Ueda in the summer of 1965. "So you can cover such a depth in a good day, we could do more than 100 feet."
Now, Ueda was going fast. It was a bit need of encouragement because by the end of the summer, Camp Century was starting to collapse around him. Inside the trenches, the heat of buildings, men and machines softened and destabilized floors and walls. The main street – the wide trench that ran through the center of the camp – was matched by Langway's reminiscence of quicksand white sands.
At the same time, the snow falling to the surface, at a height of 10 meters, piled up and lowered on the ceilings. To live in Camp Century, residents still needed to control their fear of a catastrophic collapse. But things were getting worse. About 50 men were on duty and had the task of shaving and trimming the walls and ceilings – usually with chain saws – to maintain the viability of the camp. It was a battle lost in advance.
In the late spring of 1966, the team returned to Trench 12 and started electrolytic drilling. Their coring work was always the same: cut, grasp, cut; pull the kernel for capture and analysis; repeat. On July 4, 1966, they struck the bedrock at 4,450 feet. A photo taken of the day that has reached the bottom: dressed in military fatigues and an isolated hat, I stand next to a long cylinder of ice and rock that has been slipped from one drill sleeve in a trough for observation. I seemed pretty surprised and relieved. Ueda will remember later that this was the most satisfying moment of his career. It had taken six years to get there.
To celebrate this achievement, some men took a small piece of ice in a nucleus dated from the birth of Christ and grilled the occasion by putting it in a glass of Drambuie.
The summer of 1966 marked the last season of Camp Century as a military base. The nuclear reactor would eventually be moved, but it was taken by the Thule military base, 140 km away, with the wanigans, tractors and trucks of Camp Century. But most of the rest had remained in the trenches of Camp Century: prefabricated cabins used as dormitories and mess rooms, tables, chairs, sinks, mattresses, bunks, urinals, pool table. Camp waste – sewage, diesel fuel, toxic chemicals such as PCBs and reactor radioactive coolant – were also left behind.
The working hypothesis was that anyway everything would be crushed by the overburden of snow. And after that, he would be locked up forever in the pack ice.
Chet Langway, the scientific ranking, left Camp Century with more than a thousand ice cores. With time, they would prove to be the only thing of persistent value resulting from the Camp Century 's strange experience led by the military. I used the army transportation plans to ship to the freezer near Hanover, New Hampshire, where he was now working.
Langway has traveled the world looking for help interpreting the gas traces and evidence fragments found in Camp Century cores. One of his potential scientific partners was already fascinated by the work in Greenland. In 1964, a Danish scientist, Willi Dansgaard, went to Camp Century with colleagues from Copenhagen to conduct a study on ice cap chemistry. Dansgaard never reached the trench during his trip. I did not have the opportunity to meet Langway or Herb Ueda at that time either. One of the camp's army officers informed him that he was not allowed to observe the coring experiment.
But the mere fact of hearing about it has accentuated his obsession with his potential. Dansgaard writes Dansgaard in his diary: "What a pity … what the Americans are going to do with the ice core is unknown." Later, back in Denmark, meditating again on the drilling experience, I concluded that Camp Century ice would be a scientific gold mine for all those who have access to it. "
In 1966, when I heard about the completion of the coring, he wrote a letter to Chet Langway and offered him an ice analysis. One of Dansgaard's students will say later: "This letter is the birth record of ice carrot climate research."
Ice scientists are detectives at the heart. Dansgaard was then one of the pioneers in the measurement of isotopes of oxygen. These are the natural variations that indicate whether an atom has eight or eight neutrons in its nucleus. The differences are expressed by comparing the prevalence in a water sample of the heavier isotope and the rarest isotope (18O) to the lighter and more common isotope (16O)
Dansgaard started part of this work in 1952, when he collected rainwater in his garden with a bottle of beer and a funnel. What he began to understand, is that warm weather storms produce moisture with a higher percentage of "strong" 18Or that cold weather storms. I made another leap forward and I quickly concluded that the temperature of a cloud can determine the amount of 18Or in the snow or the rain that it produces. Essentially:
Higher temperature = higher concentration of 18O in H2O
Lower temperature = a lower concentration of 18O in H2O
Dansgaard supposed that it allowed to connect the oxygen of the water of the old ice to the climate. In other words, if I had a sample of a deep core that could be dated about a year, I could probably measure the concentrations of 18Or in the ice. Then he could look at the results and discern the temperature of the surface the day the snowflakes fell to the ground, even 10,000 or 15,000 years ago.
The tool that I had used to do was known as the mass spectrometer. Dansgaard prepared an ice sample by treating it with carbon dioxide in a sealed container and then introducing a portion of the mixture into a small vacuum chamber. The instrument – the mass specification, as they called it in the lab – then bombarded the sample with electricity in order to charge its oxygen molecules; Once charged, the sample can then be separated into heavier and lighter components through a magnetic field.
The physics was complex but the result was simple: in the machine, the heavy and light oxygen isotopes of the ice sample could be detected and their concentrations measured.
"I proposed measuring the entire ice core from top to bottom," Dansgaard recalled about his 1966 offer to Langway, who immediately agreed. Dansgaard and several associates flew from Copenhagen to New Hampshire. The men cut 7,500 samples of the Camp Century ice core and brought them back to Denmark, where technicians worked long hours in the Dansgaard Mass Specification Lab.
On this big ice cream, I formulated his first study. On October 17, 1969, the Dansgaard and Langway team published the results in the newspaper Science"Thousand Centuries of Climatic Record of Camp Century on the Greenland Ice Cap". Dansgaard created a graph plotting isotopes of oxygen and, in fact, the climate about 100,000 years ago.
Langway recalls, "When Willi did that, I shocked the world, because one of the hardest things to look at is the temperature of the past." How do you get that information? It does not work, but it can happen with gas in the ice, if you have a label on their age. "
In the Science Dansgaard writes in an article: "It seems that data on ice cores provide much more important and direct climatological details than any known method up to now." It was nevertheless clear to him that his study was not perfect. Many parts of the ice core were difficult to read, and it seemed that chaotic temperature changes characterized the Earth's climate at different times in the period from 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
It was about the time the Earth emerged from the last ice age. The period of unstable wild indicators could have been a noise in the climate signal, wandering impulses of information that we must take to the letter because they could come from an ice that would have sank and bent on bumps in the bedrock of Greenland.
Here again, it might suggest something else that is of pressing importance in our time: this climate can change quickly and dramatically.
Extracted with permission from the new book Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland's Buried Past and Our Perilous Future, by Jon Gertner. Posted by Random House, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, Copyright © 2019 by Jon Gertner. All rights reserved.
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