Eric Wolff: the GRIP science trench

Eric Wolff describes the appearance and atmosphere of the science trench during the Greenland Ice-core Project [GRIP] in 1991.

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I’m sure I was taken very early on on a tour of the science trench. So what they had done was to dig a trench into the snow as the working area so everything was below ground, so you have, as you go in from one end you’ve got the drilling area, where you’ve got the drill which when it’s vertical it’s drilling, when you’re taking the ice out of it you tilt it to the horizontal. And then next to the drilling area there’s a kind of storage area where they were storing cores that have already been drilled but not yet analysed. And then a long – how long was it at GRIP? Maybe twenty metres or so trench dug into the snow, so you’ve got the walls on either side are snow but there are tables laid out, wooden tables laid out with equipment on, and with wires going along the – going along the snow sort of hung on nails and so on. Imagine a bit like when you’re in the tube in London and you’re looking at the – if it’s light in the tube for some reason and you’re looking along the walls and you can see lots of wires going along the walls of the tube, that’s kind of how I think of it in Greenland, with lots of wires going along because everyone needed power. As I say with all these different instruments and the idea behind it, I’m probably jumping ahead now a little bit, but the idea is that once – when you’re processing an ice core, so most people in the field in Greenland were processing ice cores, a few people were drilling, most people were processing which means you’re taking a cylinder of ice, you’re taking it from one end of this trench to the other essentially in a production line where the first person is measuring how long the core is, putting pencil marks on it, writing on it to say what number core it is. The second person is measuring the whole core for the electrical proprieties; that was us, measuring the DEP.  The third person is then cutting a piece lengthways off it which is being used to make isotope analyses. The next person is cutting another piece to do chemical analyses, some of which are done in Greenland and some of which are done back in Europe. But it’s a production line where you start off with a core that’s ten centimetre diameter and two metres long and at the end of it what you’ve got is some data and lots of plastic bags with little bits of ice in with numbers on that are going back to Europe and then an archive piece that’s maybe half the core or a quarter of the core that’s going to be stored and taken back to Europe. But stored still as a core but only a half the cross-section or a quarter of the cross-section of the core. But you’re walking along, so you’re walking along seeing what other people are measuring, you’re with some of your scientific heroes who are, you know, on a bandsaw cutting a piece of ice, swearing because the bands' – because the blade’s fallen off the bandsaw. We were first in the line because we were measuring on the whole core and not destroying the core in any way, so we’d be the first people to see that a change had happened so we were the ones who could say, 'I think you’re in the last glacial now', and that would spread along the – along the trench as being – meaning there’s exciting ice coming along. And we – just having the data in real time immediately I think – well I like to think made a difference to the psychology of the trench and certainly in later projects it was important to have that that as you’re – you’re not just mechanically processing the core, you’re getting just enough information out right at the very beginning to get a feeling that there’s something interesting happening.

  • Interviewee Eric Wolff
  • Duration 00:03:41
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 6/8/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/70

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