Cold War Science

Kokanee Glacier Beer and the 1962 “Bomb Horizon”

Posted by William Colgan on August 28, 2015
Cold War Science, Glaciers and Society / No Comments

Dear Kokanee Beer,

I was delighted to hear that, in celebration of Kokanee’s founding in 1962, you’ve decided to sponsor some glaciology research in exchange for the recovery of five liters of glacier ice from 1962. It just so happens that 1962 is also an auspicious year for glaciologists. We glaciologists know 1962 as the “bomb horizon”, due to a worldwide peak in the atmospheric deposition rates of radionuclides derived from thermal weapons testing. Tsar Bomba, the largest thermal-nuclear weapon ever tested, with a yield of over 50 MT, had just been detonated the previous fall (30 October 1961). The USSR conducted about 40 thermal-nuclear weapons tests in 1962, and the US conducted closer to 100! After each test, the radionuclide fallout drifted around the atmosphere for a few weeks before raining down on the landscape, glaciers included.

Fortunately for us glaciologists, the glaciers proved to be really effective in retaining those radionuclides under subsequent snowfall. These days, we can just drill a deep hole in a glacier, lower down a gamma spectrometer, find the peak in radioactivity, and get a quick estimate of the 1962 depth. As you can see from the attached graph of radioactive 137Cs decay with depth, the present-day radioactivity of the 1962 “bomb horizon” is about equivalent to the background radioactivity found today at the glacier surface. So, 1962 melted glacier water is definitely not worse to drink than 2015 melted glacier water, I was just thinking that instead of calling your beer Deja Brew, maybe you should perhaps consider Thermonuclear Haze or even Cesium Peak to really give a fair nod to your 1962 glacier roots?

Yours truly,

William Colgan, Ph.D.

Thermo_Wiki2

Figure 1 – Annual count of world wide thermo-nuclear weapons tests between 1945 and 2013. By far, 1962 was the peak in number of weapons tested. (from Wikipedia)

Thermo_profile

Figure 2 – Profile of radioactive cesium (137Cs) with depth, as well as control profile from a  cadmium (109Cd) source located on the detector, recovered from the Devon Ice Cap in the Canadian Arctic in 2005. The arrow points to the apparent 1962 “bomb horizon”. We talk about using this independent dating technique for ice cores in Colgan and Sharp (2008).

Colgan, W. and M. Sharp. 2008. Combined oceanic and atmospheric influences on net accumulation on Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada. Journal of Glaciology. 54: 28-40.

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Site II “Rabbit Warren”: Overwintering Required

Posted by William Colgan on January 14, 2015
Cold War Science / No Comments

Before giving birth to the first deep ice core during the 1957/1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY), “Site II” in Northwest Greenland was already hosting intensive research activities by the Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Institute (SPIRE) of the US Army. In the summer of 1954, a small team traversed to Site II from Camp TUTO to excavate what would subsequently be referred to in SPIRE reports as the “rabbit warren”. It was a mishmash of rooms, shafts and tunnels, painstakingly excavated up to 30 m deep by chainsaws and shovels, in the porous near-surface firn of the ice sheet. The US Army, which was interested in the load bearing properties of firn and its deformation over time, instrumented the excavations with load plates and deformation grids. All very interesting you may think, but why should anyone care? Well, evidently, in the era before digital data loggers, the only way to collect data from these instruments was to station an engineer at the site throughout the winter.

Enter Mr. Gunther Frankenstein of the 1st Arctic Engineer Task Force, who enjoyed the pleasure of reading analogue gauges, presumably by flashlight, throughout the polar night of 1954/1955. To put winter at Site II in perspective, GC-Net has observed the average air temperature at nearby GITS to be -35°C in January1. In SIPRE reports, the “snow house” built for Mr. Frankenstein is described as being “consistent with modern military standards of comfort”, whatever those might have been. Somehow its 60 cm thick walls also “embod[ied] the best elements of both the native and American art”, a similarly intriguing design criterion. A tip of the hat to Mr. Frankenstein on the 60th anniversary of his ice sheet overwintering; I expect he might have some stories to share! Perhaps also a tip of the hat to the advent of digital data loggers, which have allowed subsequent generations of glaciologists to largely restrict ice sheet field work to a more comfortable summer time activity!

(skimmed from my upcoming Cold War science project.)

1Steffen, K. and J. Box. 2001. Surface climatology of the Greenland ice sheet: Greenland Climate Network 1995-1999. Journal of Geophysical Research. 106: 33,951-33,964.

SiteII_rabbit_warren

A schematic overview of the experimental rooms, tunnels and shafts burrowed into the firn at Site II comprising the “rabbit warren”

SiteII-snow-house

A glancing mention of the snow house used by Mr. Gunther Frankenstein when stationed at Site II, Greenland throughout the 1954/1955 polar night.

Site_II_Traverse

Approximate location of Site II at the end of an overland traverse from Camp TUTO, in Northwest Greenland.

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Sixty Years of Snow Runways

Posted by William Colgan on November 14, 2014
Cold War Science, Glaciology History / 1 Comment

About sixty years ago, in September 1955, the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted the first test landings of wheeled military transport planes on a prepared snow runway at Site II, Greenland. The 3000 meter (10,000 foot) snow runway was prepared by repeatedly pulverizing and compressing the ice sheet’s snow surface with low ground pressure tractors. Driving the tractors from Camp TUTO to Site II, high in the ice sheet interior, took several days.

Eight successful landings with a C-47 Skytrain, led to six successful landings with a C-54 Skymaster, and finally seven successful landings with a C-124 Globemaster. Landing the pug-nosed C-124, which has an empty weight of 45,000 kg (100,000 lbs), on prepared snow runways formed the backbone of ice sheet logistics in both Greenland and Antarctica throughout the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The slightly more nimble ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules, now a symbol of polar research, was not tested in Northwest Greenland for six more years.

So, perhaps a nod to the 60th anniversary of snow runways, without which ice sheet camps and their precious ice cores and other glaciological data would not be possible!

Correction: In an earlier post version I said the first C-124 usage of a snow runway was in September 1954. In fact, the snow runway technique was developed in September 1954, but the first C-124 usage of a snow runway was not until September of 1955. The 59.5th anniversary of transport planes and snow runways?

Polar Ice Coring and IGY 1957-58: An Interview with Dr. Anthony J. “Tony” Gow.

(skimmed from my upcoming Cold War science project.)

 

C124_icecap

A wheeled C-124 Globemaster unloading on a snow runway at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, to deliver a smaller ski-equipped plane in 1956 (photo by Jim Waldron; http://icecores.org)

C130_icecap

A ski-equipped C130 Hercules taxing at Dye-2, Greenland, after dropping of our field party for there weeks in the spring of 2013. (personal photo!)

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Camp TUTO Sixty Year Anniversary

Posted by William Colgan on September 30, 2014
Applied Glaciology, Cold War Science, Glaciology History / 1 Comment

Sixty years ago this month, in September 1954, the US Army Corps of Engineers completed its first summer of construction at Camp TUTO, Greenland. Camp TUTO was tucked against the Greenland ice sheet east of Thule Air Base. The gently sloping ice sheet adjacent to the camp, earmarked for vehicle access to the ice sheet interior, was named Thule Take-Off (or TUTO). Over the summer of 1954, some of the one hundred soldiers stationed at Camp TUTO built a gravel road up the first 1500 meters (4700 feet) of TUTO Ramp. Although that got them above the sometimes bare ice and slush of the lower elevation ice sheet melt zone, it still proved difficult to drive over the soft snow of the higher elevation ice sheet accumulation zone.

In official reports, the US Army Corps of Engineers tested “every off-road military vehicle (probably not excepting Hannibal’s elephants)” in the search for a suitable over-snow vehicle. The M29C Weasel, originally designed as an amphibious vehicle late in the Second World War, had proved disappointing in swampy terrain, but exceptionally nimble on the ice sheet. Although the Weasel was out of production even before construction started at Camp TUTO, it became a beloved backbone of US Army logistics on the Greenland ice sheet for almost two decades.

Constructing TUTO Ramp and adopting the Weasel opened up the interior of the Greenland ice sheet for a wide array of military engineering activities, including the construction of ice sheet runways and under-snow stations, as well as civilian science activities, including recovering the first “deep” ice core and wide-ranging snow and accumulation surveys. An auspicious anniversary of a ground-breaking project in applied glaciology!

(skimmed from my upcoming Cold War science project.)

TUTO_Ramp_in_1954

The view up TUTO Ramp, from the ice margin at Camp TUTO, on to the Greenland ice sheet in 1954. (from Nate Galbreath at thule1954.com)

Weasels_on_the_ice_sheet_in_1954

Modified M29C Weasels in convoy (left) on the Greenland ice sheet in 1954. (from Nate Galbreath at thule1954.com).

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