The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was a world wide investigation of the earth, ranging from the solid earth, through the atmosphere, and all the way out to space. The research was conducted by many nations cooperating in an unprecedented way. Crucial to the success of the IGY was gathering data in the polar regions, and to this end bases were set up in Antarctica. Working in Antarctica presents logistical hurdles not normally encountered in science, and many nations looked to their defense forces to provide logistical support, and in the case of the US, the navy was the obvious choice with their icebreakers and experience in polar regions.
One of the key sciences during the IGY was glaciology, and to this end the Wilkes winter crew included a team of three glaciologists, Olav Loken, John Molholm, and led by Richard Cameron. One of their key objectives was setting up a glaciology research sub-base on the polar ice cap. While Wilkes was being constructed, a short excursion onto the plateau was undertaken, and the trail was marked and nicknamed the Sullivan Trail. On February 22 the glaciologist followed the Sullivan Trail about 10km from Wilkes up onto the edge of the plateau and set up a meteorological shelter, called Site-1. On March 11 Operation Crampon (Cameron, Loken, Molholm, Eklund, Honkala, and Noonan) set out along the Sullivan trail,past Site-1, with the goal of setting up the glaciology sub-base. The location was to be "well above the equilibrium line where we could expect to find the annual firn layers preserved in the stratigraphy" and for safety and logistical reasons within a days travel for a heavily loaded Weasel.
After 11 hours of travel from Wilkes, during which time the slope had been gradually leveling off, until the terrain was close to flat, Dick Cameron announcing "This is the place". The new sub-base called Site-2 (S2 for short) was located 85km from Wilkes and 1300m above sea level. Straight away the team set up a Jamesway hut, a weather station, a large grid of surface stakes to measure snow accumulation and horizontal ice deformation, and they started a pit which would eventually extend hundreds of years back in the ice record. However for now it was just a start and the team headed back to Wilkes.
The glaciology team was back at S2 on April 25, and Dick Cameron and John Molholm continued the excavation of a deep pit to investigate the accumulation of snow on the ice cap. Over the next few months, with members of the Wilkes crew regularly relieving the S2 crew, a pit 2m square was dug down 115 feet, back through 175 years of accumulated snow, to snow laid down in the year 1783. The pit was excavated by hand with pick ax, with snow and ice hauled out with a wooden box named the Berk. Olav Loken recalls "After we no longer were able to throw out by hand the 'debris' we picked out from the bottom of the pit, we turned to the 'Berk' until that was filled and then pulled it to the surface with a weasel and emptied it before starting over again. I don't remember how the plywood box got its name, but it stems from Berkely - the easygoing and popular geomagnetism member of our crew. The digging at the bottom was accomplishd by using a regular pick ax to break out the firn and than a showel to fill the 'Berk'. The space at the bottom was restricted to the 2x2m cross section of the pit, so there was not much 'elbove room'. But we managed. At least we were out of the cold winds! I recall we typically worked in a t-shirts. Every now and then, we got a break, when we stopped so that Dick C. could complete his stratigraphic recordings." "Near the bottom of the shaft, we dug a short horizontal 'stall' for the installation of dials, that we - or our successors - could measure deformation over time. This complemented a large polygon of ablation stakes on the surface, with S2 at one corner that measured horizontal strain rates." A 85 foot deep bore hole was later drilled at the bottom of the pit, reaching a total depth of 200 feet.
On January 22nd, 1958 S2 was closed down for crew change-over at Wilkes after being continuously manned since April, producing along with the glaciological results, and an unbroken meteorological record for this period. Site-2 would be soon re-occupied by the 1958 crew, and studies would continue there for many years.
Information about Site-2 from Gil Dewart's "Journey to the Ice Age" and correspondence with Olav Loken.
S-2 during the 1957 winter. Winter 1957, by Olav Loken.
Olav has provided an interesting yarn from his time at S2:
"In addition to the glaciological observations we were trying to maintain a met program at S-2 as well. This involved reading the thermometer in a Stevensens screen and to climb a ten meter tall mast and read an anemometer at the top of the mast, and for a fixed period of time record the number of revolutions . In this way we determined the wind speed (as you see we had rather crude instruments by today's standard.) It was easy to take the meteorological observations when we were working at the station. To maintain weather records continuously someone had to stay at the station. This task often fell to me and I spent a couple of periods of 2-3 weeks alone at the station to maintain the met program. This was all right most of the time, but in the dark nights and stormy weather one had to make sure one could get from the mast and back into the hut. A rope between the mast and the door of the hut guided me".
A crew went up to S2 in 1964 to assess its overall safety for access into the tunnels. Here are a few photos supplied by Peter Morgan from that trip.
The second Wilkes station fatality occured at S2 in 1968, when a radio operator, Reg Sullivan, who chose to sleep on his own in the little caravan, was asphyxiated presumably by fumes from the gas heater when the exhaust flue became blocked with snow. The hand written log book at S2 records the tragedy. It reads in part:
22nd July 1968
It is with deep regret that I write
these words. On this day Reg Sullivan our
Radio Operator on the S2 Glaciology Trip passed
away in his sleep. He was found dead at 7.10
pm in the small fibreglass caravan of our train.
His body was taken back to Wilkes.