Shipping 800,000 Years of History…

USGS SP

Shot by Megan Geuss

Shipping temperature sensitive items has always proven to be a tough thing to perfect.  There are so many variables: ambient temperature, shipping lanes, travel conditions, delays, and much more.  Now, imagine having to ship samples of ice cores drilled from the South Pole that can date back 800,000 years.  Those are the kinds of challenges faced by the scientists at the USGS National Ice Core Lab in Antarctica.

In a recent article highlighting the process & shipment of these cores, Scott K. Johnson of WIRED writes, “how does ice buried by more than a kilometer of other ice at the South Pole end up in a lab 15,000 kilometers away in order to become scientific insight?”  With a little bit of help from the Air Force and ThermoSafe’s PUR insulated shippers, that’s how!  These ice cores “give us this opportunity to see changes in the climate on a year-by-year basis, going back for thousands of years, and there’s really no other natural archive that’s like that.  Tree rings can do that for hundreds of years, and these layers that we see in the ice are just like the tree rings.”

Scott K. Johnson

Ice core after being cut | Scott K. Johnson

It’s not just as easy as cutting into the ice and taking some measurements though, “ice cores that come off the drill get inspected, logged, split into meter-long sections, and packed into special insulated boxes.  There they await transport to the US – no small logistical feat.”

Packing ice cores into ThermoSafe PUR Shippers | TJ Fudge

Packing ice cores into ThermoSafe PUR Shippers | TJ Fudge

“When the ice is ready to transport, the boxes get stacked onto large pallets that get loaded onto an LC-130 cargo plane (which lands on skis rather than wheels) and flown to McMurdo Station on the east coast.  There, the ice is loaded into special freezer containers that will head north on the next ship.  Just outside Los Angeles, the containers meet up with trucks that carry them the rest of the way to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver.  Given the value of this hard-won ice, it should come as no surprise that it rides with babysitters all along the way.  ‘Every one of those boxes, we put a temperature logger in, we have somebody actually sit on the plane and ride with it back to the station, to make sure they keep the plane cold enough.  And then we ship it all back in refrigerated storage units on a boat, and there are redundant coolers on it, someone checks it every day – it’s pretty crazy.  But if you think about how much time and effort and money went into these projects, it’s absolutely necessary.”

Scott K. Johnson

Scott K. Johnson

Click here to read the full article.

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