Last day in the tunnel

29.11 2012 15:37


Journalist Paul starts his trek down from the tunnel.

Our last full day in the tunnel. As usual, the days seem go by quicker and quicker as we get closer to the end of our stay. Pim and Thomas head up to the lab after breakfast to do some measurements. Paul, the journalist from the Dutch scientific magazine Quest, is leaving today and I need to organise his boat across the fjord as well as ring the Statkraft station manager to arrange pick-up of some equipment. Two quick phone calls, then I can head up to the lab, too, but neither person answers. Paul begins to look a little nervous, as the boat is the only way he can get to the bus that will take him to Bodø airport for his flight to Oslo, and then Amsterdam. However, I know that the boat has at least one other booking today, as a journalist from a local newspaper in Nordland is coming up to the tunnel today, so I’m not too worried.

After a few more attempts the boat crossing is arranged, as well as the equipment collection on Saturday. By now it’s 10:30 and I accompany Paul to the tunnel entrance. It’s always pleasant to see the outside world and the weather is fairly reasonable with a good view out to sea. I explain to Paul the route down and he sets off cheerfully, following the remains of our footprints from four days ago in the wet snow.

Up in the lab, the measurements are going well. Not only are there continuous readings from the pressure sensors embedded in the rock, but Pim and Thomas continue their measurements using the kinect, a camera and also simple tape measurements of the width of the tunnel as it gradually closes in.

The calm of the tunnel is shattered by a loud noise – it’s the telephone, which has a loud, scary ‘ringing’ tone to make sure that we hear it when we are working. The call is from the journalist, who is already at the tunnel entrance. I hop on our vehicle, the ATV, to save time and race down to pick him up. By the time we get back to the lab, it’s lunchtime so we can sit and explain to the journalist about the work we are doing while we eat. He’s brought us a resupply – fresh bread, cheese and sliced meat, as our fresh food supply was getting low and we were rationing the bread and supplementing it with stale crispbread (of which there seems to be an endless amount here) so the lunch is better than we expected for our last day!

Pim’s doctoral studies are funded by a Nordic Top-level research initiative called SVALI (http://ncoe-svali.org/) so we explain how Pim’s work fits in with the other research in SVALI and with glaciological research in general. Once we have finished lunch, we head up to the research shaft and the ice tunnel. Johan, the journalist, is just as awestruck as all other visitors to the ice tunnel. He takes some photographs, and then we show him some other parts of the tunnel system, as the focus of his article is hydropower, and that’s why the vast majority of the tunnel system (apart from the extra few metres leading up to our ice cave) exists. I thought Johan was staying in the tunnel until the next day and leaving at the same time as us, but it turns out that this was just a day trip. We drive down to the entrance in the ATV to save time and so that he can get down the mountain from the tunnel in the remaining daylight.

After Johan’s departure there’s just the three of us in the tunnel and our work is almost finished. I make sure I have downloaded the data from the work over these past few days and Pim does his last measurements. We run into a slight problem when we realise there is  a metal bar stuck up one of the boreholes that are used for the pump experiments, but can’t get it out and don’t have time if we still hope to get to bed by midnight and leave the tunnel the next day. Thomas and I start to put back the heavy metal bars that close the ice cave. He does it by standing on the ‘wrong’ side – if he puts back all the bars like that, he’ll be trapped there! However, to get as many measurements as possible, we put back just the lowest bars, then can clean up the rest of the research shaft area while still having access to the ice cave and continuing the measurements.

Eventually the few remaining bars are put back, and it’s time for the traditional clean up of the research area, which mainly consists of spraying all the floor area with the high pressure water to get the last few rocks and gravel down the chute beside the staircase. Over the years, so much of this has accumulated at the bottom of the staircase that it’s starting to encroach on the lowermost stairs, and is now a total volume of several cubic metres. When we are finished in the research shaft we head to the laboratory buildings, and do a quick clean up here and put equipment back where it belongs, including the sump pump that supplies water for the melting, and the heavy hose that leads from the sump pump to our high pressure pumps. Thomas is looking very tired and is eager to get back to the living quarters and finally relax, but Pim seems reluctant to leave. Thomas heads down to cook dinner, while Pim takes some last photos. Soon he, too, is finished and we walk back to the living quarters, reflecting over what’s been accomplished this week.

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