An insight of the 1st DEEPICE training school

Article written by Romilly Harris-Stuart and Piers Larkman, on the 25/05/2022

In early March, we – 25 PhD students – travelled to a sunny Copenhagen to join the ICAT training school (Ice Core Analysis Techniques) held at the Niels Bohr Institute. This trip was followed by the first DEEPICE training school in Finse. Here, I (Romilly) will write about our time in Copenhagen, then handover to Piers, another DEEPICE student, to describe our travel between Copenhagen and Finse. In the final part of this blog Piers and I will present a side-by-side day-by-day report on our time in Finse.  


Rom and Piers, the authors of this blog post!

Monday to Wednesday 14th – 16th March

To start with, our 5-day course in Copenhagen included a mixture of lectures from local professors, journal article discussions in small groups, and tours of the laboratories. During the first half of the week we were all brought up to speed on the history of ice core science and the development of techniques since the 1960s, when the first Greenland ice cores were drilled and studied at the Niels Bohr Institute.

Thursday – March 17th

With the intention of reducing our travel carbon footprint, the DEEPICE annual meeting was tactically scheduled to coincide with the ICAT training school. All 15 DEEPICE ESRs were present – minus Daniel who, while in Copenhagen, was trapped in his hotel room by covid – while those supervisors and board members who were unable to join in person were included seamlessly by Marie’s (DEEPICE Project manager) hybridisation skills.

Morning lectures were followed by individual meetings with the training board, giving those of us who required it some time to catch up on emails and to prepare for our presentations on the following day. To finish the day, we were all treated to a delicious meal, which presented a great opportunity to ask any questions that surfaced from the week’s lectures.

 Friday – March 18th

 Friday saw the last DEEPICE meetings with a brief intermission for a statistics lecture being held for the ICAT students not within the DEEPICE network. To finish up a great week, we re-grouped with all the ICAT participants for a farewell meal, happy in the knowledge that we will all meet again at the IPICS conference later in the year.

DEEPICE group in Copenhagen

Saturday – March 19th

Waking up in Copenhagen for the last morning of our stay, we (the DEEPICE students) made our way to the ferry terminal in Oslo station where we met Hans Christian Steen-Larsen, the main organiser of our trip to Norway. Our travel to Finse consisted first of a 17-hour ferry, dubbed the ‘Party Boat’ by Finns (who use the route to access duty free liquor), between Copenhagen and Oslo then a 4-hour train from Oslo to Finse. The purpose of this trip was to attend the DEEPICE Finse winter school where we were to apply and grow our knowledge of how ice science is carried out in the field.

Copenhagen ferry terminal from the top deck of the Copenhagen – Oslo ferry.

Sunday – March 20th

Waking up on the boat, I headed up to the top deck to find people enjoying the morning passing through Oslo Fjord.

DEEPICE ESRs on a boat!

Upon our arrival in Oslo we immediately set off for the Fram museum, a short distance outside of Oslo center. If you are ever in Oslo I can strongly recommend visiting and (re)discovering the stories of polar expedition undertaken by Nansen and the Fram. In lieu of visiting, there is an interactive tour on the museum’s website.

DEEPICE group at the Fram museum

From the museum we headed to Oslo train station to catch the train on the Oslo-Bergen route to Finse.

The train route between Oslo and Bergen, with a convenient stop in Finse. 

Arriving at Finse train station, which comes equipped with a live camera feed, we all piled off the train with our luggage. Some of us jumped in the back of our taxi to the research station while others embarked on the short, but challenging, 2km walk through the snow.

Our taxis – snow mobiles.

Arriving at the research station we were treated to dinner together, the dinners at 19:00 every evening provided a great static point during the day where we could all come together and discuss what we had been doing throughout the day.

After enjoying our first meal, we discovered that the small amount of artificial light nearby the station results in excellent stargazing. As some of us were enjoying the stars, we received news from inside. One of us has tested positive for covid.

Deepice School – Finse

With a total of 21 students attending the school we were split into 3 groups. Each day individual groups followed one of 5 different programmes: Field work, snow pack observations, weather station operation, water isotope analysis and modelling. We’ll now split into two perspectives, with:

Rom’s perspective

Monday – March 21st

Our group started the week with indoor training on an instrument which produces data that is vital for reconstructing temperature records from ice cores. The different isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in water molecules store information about the climate during the time the snow was deposited and exposed at the ice sheet surface.

As is often the case for field courses, the first part of the day was a lesson in patience and perseverance. An issue with a key component of the Picarro instrument – used to measure isotopic composition of water – resulted in an impromptu lesson in fixing instrumentation in the field, with scarce access to tools. Fortunately, with the expertise of Magdalena and Mathieu and the brute force of Jens – our station manager – the issue was solved by the unconventional removal of delicate screws with an ill-fitting screwdriver.

After this minor set-back, we were able to start measuring the water samples which each student had brought from their home institution. We had with us some snow samples from Little Dome C, the site for the Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice Core.

Tuesday – March 22st

Eager to get outside, our group of six had field logistics and safety planning which started with blizzard simulation aptly described by Piers. Unlike Piers’ group however, we managed to rescue Bo with our fan-like strategy. The success was slightly tainted by Niklas, who was at the far end of the rope, walking up the roof of the old research station. Our main learning outcome was to always consider your surroundings.

After lunch we discussed the ups and downs of running an ice coring project, simulating the luck of the draw with breaking/fixing of machinery, personal illness, the weather and plenty more variables, to see how our project may have gone.

Coin flip

With bad weather predicted for the coming days, we made the most of our newly discovered shovelling skills and built an ice bar where we spent the evening listening to field stories from the lecturers. (It turned out the weather forecast was wrong, as expected, and the sun came back the following day).


Wednesday – March 23rd

With the arrival of Hubertus Fischer came the first day of training in snowpack properties. We started inside with some theory and planning of what we want to measure and the equipment that would be needed. Finding an optimal place to dig our snow pit involved probing the snow to determine the depth of the snowpack. Uneven topography, and high winds near the research station causes strong heterogeneity in the snowpack, with some areas of exposed rock/surface and others with 2m snow depth. Having found a goldilocks site with 1.3m snow depth, the pit was dug and measurements were carried out. Two ice layers 10cm apart were identified at a depth of ~1m corresponding to rain events in December 2021.

By the end of the day we had drawn up our snow profile with information about snow properties such as density, hardness, grain size and grain type. The benefit of having three groups making snow profiles at different sites around the station was that we could compare the spatial variability in the deposited snow. Uneven accumulation is common even in remote regions of the ice sheet, highlighting the importance of replicate measurements.


Thursday – March 24th

With the retreat of the sun, we moved inside for day 4 to develop our understanding of the usefulness of climate models and bring our awareness of their limitations in regions, such as Antarctica, where sparse data limits the accuracy of reanalysis data.

Our round-table setup facilitated the sharing of expertise which was beneficial given the range in abilities in both climate modelling and coding in Python.

The living area in the old research station, where we were located for the day, had the perfect setup for the day, with some music on an old record player and unlimited tea and biscuits.

Everyone at Finse

Friday – March 25th

As promised, the wind picked up for our last day which meant we were able to put into practice our field and logistics training to install the weather station at an optimal site, or in other words, we needed to find a spot where there would be no hiding from the wind. Having cheated by doing a test-run inside, the station was set up at (arguably) record speed leaving us the afternoon to download and analyse the weather data from the week.


Pier’s perspective

Monday – March 21st

To start the day, a plan to remove our infected colleague from the center to somewhere comfortable was devised with help from the local health authority. In the meantime we decided to dig, an emerging theme for the week, away the snow drift covering our colleague’s room to give them some light during their confinement.

Once we moved to the task at hand my group were discussing the logistics, and challenges, of ice coring operations in sub-zero and snowy conditions with Bo Vinther and Kerim Nisancioglu. One challenge Kerim faced us with was that Bo had managed to get ‘lost’ in a ‘snowstorm’. Clearly actually getting lost isn’t something someone as experienced in the field as Bo is likely to do, and there wasn’t a snow storm in sight. So, we got creative. We were handed a bucket to put over our heads to simulate a whiteout, and a piece of rope, and told that we had to find Bo somewhere within a 15m radius of the research station.

It’s a harder task than it sounds, and maybe a good exercise for anyone reading this blog to think how they would organise and execute this search and rescue mission, we didn’t manage, I hope Romilly’s team did…

Ailsa, Piers and Geunwoo shifting snow

Bo watching our helpless attempts at saving him

Tuesday – March 22st

Day two at the research station for group 2 involved learning how to set up a weather station. Led by Hans Christian we discussed the components of a simple weather station. In our case we had a station consisting of a thermometer, anemometer and a hygrometer, alongside a supporting structure.

We selected an appropriate spot and, despite the cold and a few mistakes, put the station together and started it off logging data using a script coded for our specific instruments. For those of us who enjoy coding, this was a good sign of things to come!

An almost fully set up weather station!

Wednesday – March 23rd

Day three involved a lot of code, it was modelling day. Climate models simulate drivers of climate, in our case focusing on the atmosphere. Courtesy of one of our fellow PhD students, Quinggang, we had been set up with a great starting point to model various climate systems that have influence over the Antarctic continent.

Evenings in Finse involved various adventures nearby the station. As Rom mentioned an ice bar was dug, also snow-people were made and the surrounding area was explored, with some on foot and others skiing.

Ines skiing

The snowy landscape around Finse

Thursday – March 24th

Thursday was water isotopes day. Thanks to Rom’s teams heroics on day 1 we had a working Piccaro. Stable isotopes have been at the center of ice coring since its inception. The core idea is that the specific isotopic composition of atmospheric water varies based on the temperatures it has experienced during its evaporation and precipitation (and at other stages). This means if you can measure the isotopic composition of water, which you can with e.g. a Piccaro, you can understand the (average) temperature of the location of the water’s source, which we did.

Revisiting the theme of digging, there was an immense amount of snow-shifting and snow-based-creation that went on. Fuelled by the excellent food on offer at the station, here are some pictures illustrating the range of snow pits, snow tunnels, snow drifts, igloos, and snow-people that were dug/made.

Ines and Claudio preparing an ice pit.

Piers not contributing to the construction of an igloo.

Friday – March 25th

Our final day of training activities was concerned with snow pack observations.

Following from Rom’s group on Wednesday, Friday saw my group look at the snowpack. The basic principle of ice coring is that snow builds up in layers, with sequential layers burying those that fell at earlier times. This gives a record looking back in time, providing the ice isn’t badly disrupted below the surface. Using this principle, and skipping the hard work by using the pit that had been dug in the days prior, we recorded information about the properties of the snow and took snow samples from a cross section of the snowpack.

Florian admiring the layers through the snow pit wall.


Saturday March – 26th

Waking up to a lovely and clear final day at the station there was only one item on everyone’s agenda – cleaning. Pooling our resources we packed our bags, cleaned surfaces, floors, emptying bins, and the fridge…

The empty dorm hallway

Our cleaned and tidied classroom

With two reasonable choices of onward journey a number of us headed to Oslo and others to Bergen. At approximately 11:00 the group heading to Oslo, including me, hoisted ourselves into our snow-mobile taxi and waved goodbye to those heading to Bergen, including my co-writer Romilly!