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26 June, 2001

Patience and Perseverance

A day at the University of Arizona shadowing my project’s research team has shown me what incredible patience and perseverance this level of science demands. I arrived here this morning ready to learn how to use the instruments I will be operating while in Greenland. Simple enough, mix some chemicals string up some tubing, fire up the computer and your off! Superficially what it takes to analyze the snow and ice seemed pretty straight forward . But, it’s all in the details. And those details can be substantially more time consuming than one might appreciate until you’ve been there.


The science process is a tedious one. Each chemical needs to be carefully measured in clean conditions. The instruments demand careful calibrations. Everything needs to be checked and rechecked, standardized and scaled. Such is the care that is taken for every snow sample and ice core that is melted here. I come away from today with such an awe and respect for these people who have the patience and preserverance do this type of work day in and day out. For many years.

Today alone we had to mix our own fresh reagents, carefully measuring and stirring them. However, once we began the test procedure we discovered a small clog in the tiny tubes that carry the melt water to the instruments. To locate the plugged section of line we carefully disconnected the tubes, isolating one section at a time. Once the clogged section had been determined we spent close to an hour replacing the little section (five cm) of tube, (the patience part ) From there it was smooth sailing to test our standards and make sure the instruments were calibrated. However, it was getting late so we called it a day. Tomorrow we will melt some of the snow samples that were taken this winter that are being stored here in giant freezers.


I asked at lunch how much ice and snow do they melt here. The reply was they have close to one thousand meters of ice core stored waiting to be melted and analyzed. On a good day they can melt just 15 meters of ice and collect the data. That amounts to about six months of work just melting ice! That is IF all goes well -- which isn’t always the case, (refer to the patience part, above). From the point at which the data, is collected the processing and analysis can begin. When I asked, “what is the ratio of field work to lab and data analysis time?” The answer surprised me. For this project Manuel and Regine replied, “it works out to three months of ice coring and collection to two years of thinking, data crunching and preparing to present the data and conclusions” (the perseverance part). Again, I was impressed by this team. They possess an extraordinary ability to focus and persevere so that they can present information about our atmosphere to the scientific community and world at large.

And I am only at the end of my first day here.

This is the office work and data processing part of the job. It can take many years to make sense of data and publish reports. Dr. Manuel Hutterli and Dr. Regine Rothlisberger are pictured here. Both have worked in this field for over 5 years.

Dr. Dee Belle-Oudry sorts through lab materials in preparation for melting snow.

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