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Topic: Greenland Science Expedition, a Trip Report, "Arctic Circle Traverse 2013"< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 1:23 pm  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

ACT-13



A couple months ago I posted this thread just before leaving for Greenland.  It explains the premise.  This wasn't a backpacking trip at all, it was a science expedition, but folks might find it interesting.

A colleague of ours (sort of) ran a small blog while we were out ("ACT-13" on Blogspot), although this thread should give more detail.  I have 3-400 pictures posted on Smugmug if you want to see more, or view it in a slideshow and peruse with your arrow keys.  We were on the ice a month (gone from home for 6 weeks), I'll make this an abbreviated report.


April 18-22, 2013: Preparations
"Preparations" involve nearly all of the 6 months leading up to this.  An international team of young scientists on a snowmobile traverse across the southern Greenland Ice Sheet, measuring changes in the surface layers of the ice, and how they affect melt and runoff across the accumulation zone.  As temperatures rise and more of Greenland disappears into the sea, the implications of our work will have global scope.  But for now, it's all about details.  This was a lot of work coming.

An uneventful flight from Denver lands me at the Clifton Park Hilton outside Albany.  Various groups gather in the hotel, drabbed in fleece and gore-tex with mountains of duffels, cardboard boxes, pelican cases aplenty.  It's easy to tell who's prepping for Greenland, and conversations start accordingly.  The NY Air Nat'l Guard 109th uses this hotel as one of two "staging" areas for Greenland science expeditions, before shuttling us to Stratton AFB in the morning.  I walk to the nearby stores for a bit of groceries and an expensive bottle of whiskey (you're allowed to import up to 1L of alcohol into the country, I'm the 6th or 7th scientist in the liquor shop that night picking something good "to go").

4:30 in the morning, duffels and boxes get loaded onto a truck and we file aboard the bus, checking passports against the passenger list.  Conversations criss-cross about the science we all plan to do (there are at least 4 separate projects represented here, along with various construction crews) and the excitement of anticipation fills the bus as we drive in the dark morning hours.

It's just a bus.  But it's an Air Force bus taking us to Greenland, so we take pictures anyway. :)


The hangar is full of pallets and we pass through "security": a loose term describing the brief scan we had entering our vaguely-defined "terminal"... for the most part if you're already supposed to be here, they're not worried about us doing anything bad.  Various folks peer around and point toward their cargo, boxed and packaged and ready to go.  My own shipment (approximately 2000 lbs worth) flew up two weeks prior so I'm not worried, but I check anyway to see whether any of my gear was left behind.  It isn't.

Gear.  A bit more than most backpacking trips, but it all has its uses.




We wait a few boring hours as the planes are prepped and pallets loaded.  The television provides live news feeds about the manhunt for the Boston marathon bombers.  Some pay close attention, but most are content to leave that crazy world behind.  Our minds are already in Greenland.



Continued shortly...


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 1:30 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Oooh.  Oooh.  A Greenland TR. Nice pictures.  Waiting for the field stuff.  

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 2:58 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The 109th Airborne Polar C-130 fleet, at Stratton AFB.  These planes are decades old, but are still the staple of U.S.-supported field expeditions in both Greenland and Antarctica, spending March-Sept in Greenland and heading south for the austral summer in Antarctica.  Three planes fly today, all passengers going on the last one.  They never operate without at least 2-3 planes at either pole, in case one has issues in the field (which they occasionally do).  The other two planes are loaded with gear, fuel and logistic supplies of all varieties.


Our bird, one of the largest ski-planes in the world.


We get a safety briefing on the bus, pretty much the exact same thing they do on commercial airlines except with a different uniform.  The parallel is amusing. :D



I eagerly jump off the bus for boarding, quick to pick one of the few window seats on the plane.  After a delay for a bit of maintenance, we're in the air killing time in whatever way we can.  The beverage cart never did come and my in-flight movies didn't work, but maybe next time I'll spring for a business-class ticket.

Killing time in flight.  Every passenger is offered ear plugs which prove useful; the engines are loud in there.  Next time I'll take a cue from the folks on the right of the picture and bring more comfortable earphones.


We touch down briefly in Goose Bay, Newfoundland for more fuel and a bit of ice cream.  45 minutes later we're back in the air.





Endless boreal forests, ascending from Goose Bay.  These were the last trees I'd see for 6 weeks.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 3:05 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Around 6pm I peek outside and catch the first glimpses through intermittent clouds at the islands of Greenland's southwest coast.  Within 20 minutes the windows become popular by demand, and I occasionally relinquish my seat for the others. :)









As the plane descends into Kangerlussuaq (formerly "Sondre Stromfjord" in the obsolete Danish nomenclature), the sea-ice is still thick and hard-packed in the fjord, not atypical for this time of year.



After stamping our passports and ferrying us over to the KISS station (Kangerlussuaq Int'l Science Support), I meet up with the GEUS guys (my compatriots from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) who flew from Copenhagen earlier that morning.  Hugs all around, and after a few beers at the local pub it's quickly off to bed tonight.  Lots of work to be done in the morning.

If the "North Pole" is the closest arrow on your destinations post, odds are you've found your way northward from home.  And we're only in south Greenland.

Photo by Babis Charalampidis, 2013.

KISS, housed in an old Air Force bunker. (picture from 2012)


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 3:52 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Food is foremost on the list for preparations.  I shipped up three boxes of food to Greenland; the GEUS guys rely on buying most of it in town.  Having planned long expeditions before I'm fairly good at eyeballing food needs (even better at judging it by weight), and I take the task of inventorying our food and making shopping lists in my field book.

Horst and I reviewing food.
"We're gonna need to double this, at least.  Maybe triple.  Plus the meat."



Dirk tests electronic instruments while we sort out food.


Another group maintaining a Nansen sled, prepping for the field.


A couple hefty trips to the Pilersuisoq grocery round out the food.  Prices are high and the goods are often expired (or close to it), but everything will be in a permanent freezer once we're on the ice, so it worries us little.

Goods in Kanger.  We found SPAM (presumably) on sale at the Pilersuisoq, the cans all in Greek.  Greek?  Go figure.  Babis (our Greek teammate) insisted we buy several. :D


Our remaining three days in Kanger are busy... testing instruments, packing boxes, tracking down random supplies.  Three of the guys take a truck for the day to maintain a GEUS weather station near the ice margin while Horst & I track supplies and buy musk-ox meat from a local hunter, 10kg of the stuff for random meals on the ice (best red meat you're gonna get in Greenland; the beef is imported from Denmark).  I lament a bit not being able to go to the ice margin, but being in charge has its drawbacks.  Another day, perhaps.

Horst testing radar in the NSF warehouse.


Setting up the MHW Stronghold, our mess-tent dome fortress.  It proves to be in good shape and all the poles are there.


Liam (our last teammate) flies in the night before we head to the ice.  Weather is iffy on the ice now, we may fly tomorrow or we may not.  Flights up to Summit camp this morning were already cancelled until tomorrow; such is life on polar research.  Having our last meal "on the town", we discuss our plans and logistics over beers and laughs at the "Polar Bear Inn", an odd little Thai/Pizza joint on the first floor of what may-or-may-not actually be a hotel.

From left to right: Babis (facing away), Dirk, Mark, Horst, Liam.  Posters of American pop stars line the walls.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 5:35 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Tues, April 23rd

The morning Met report says all flights are a "go."  Weather is stable, although a cold front moved in overnight and it's -39° right now at Dye-2.  We look at each other.  Jesus-****, that's cold.  We're all experienced and prepared, but that's colder than anticipated.

Our morning flight is delayed until 1pm.  No worries, "hurry up and wait" is a common theme in polar research.  We stash "town clothes" in storage boxes and prep for the ice.  Two thermoses are filled with hot water in the kitchen.  We drink the last of our beers in the kitchen, awaiting final word.

Horst writing postcards.  Letters home are curious... we're equipped and prepared, but family still worries about us until we're safely off the ice.  Letters stay happy and lighthearted.


Mark in his "down Disco" pants and felt boot liners.  We made fun of those pants incessantly, but honestly they're nice pants for this kind of work.  Any of us would've been happy to have an extra pair ourselves.


At 1:30, Kevin (of the Polarfield support staff) pops his head into the kitchen.  "Dye-2, you guys are a go!"  Within minutes we're driving to the airport, duffels in hand.  A C-130 awaits us, loaded with four snowmobiles and two giant pallets of our gear, the ANG crew ushering us aboard.

Ready to go!  (The first time.)


We taxi to the end of the runway, wait several minutes, and then ferry back to the hangar.  The loadmaster motions me over the door.  They've got a small maintenance delay, we've gotta wait outside for the repairs.  "Over there, in front of the station is a good place.  We'll let you know when we're ready."  We take bets over the next two hours about our odds of actually flying out today.  I put my wager on an even 50/50.

Hurry up and wait.


Finally they let us back on board (our odds just increased to 80% now, lol), and we strap in for the ride.  The mood is great when we finally take off. :)

Myself, Horst, Dirk.


Half our gear, and one of the four Skidoos.  This flight is chartered specifically for our campaign, and costs us $7500 an hour to fly.  But we can do it all in one flight, which saves us tens of thousands over a smaller Twin Otter that'd require half-a-dozen separate flights.


The ice margin, out the window.


Almost immediately after touchdown, our gear is "combat off-loaded" out the back of the plane, and as soon as we come to a stop we're (somewhat rudely) ushered out the door, still zipping up our parkas.

-30F doesn't feel so cold right at first, in the bright afternoon sun.  Drew (one of two seasonal residents of the Raven station at Dye-2, maintaining the runway) greets us, ferries our gear off the runway and lets us know where to camp.  It's early evening and temps will drop soon, so the guys get busy setting up the personal tents to sleep.  No mess tent tonight, I start up the stove outside and we eat Mountain House in the open.  As temps drop towards -40, we have to be careful eating with the metal spoons, which nearly freeze to our lips as we shovel food from the hot MH bag up to our faces.  After a few cigarettes and conversation, we prepare some hot water bottles and sack off to bed.

This is only a temporary camp.  In the morning we'll pack the sleds and head for "KAN_U", 70 km away, our first semi-permanent camp of the trip, and home to most our operations.  But tonight, we just work on staying warm.

Horst at -39°.  Moist breath freezes quickly to any available surface, especially hair.  The abandoned Dye-2 radar station sits perched in the background a couple kilometers away. (More on that later.)


Dirk being chilly.


Sunset over Dye-2, April 23rd.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 5:52 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Great pictures, although the receding glacier ice is disturbing.  I swear one of them is familiar from Chasing Ice.  

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 6:15 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(ol-zeke @ Jun. 06 2013, 3:52 pm)
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I swear one of them is familiar from Chasing Ice.  

Maybe, maybe not.  There are hundreds of outlet glaciers on the margins of Greenland.  The EIS (Extreme Ice Survey) monitors a few, I'd have to look if they have anything stationed in that area.  At least one of them (the Jakobshavn Isbrae, the really big one at the end of that movie) is several hundred km northward up the coast from where we were.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 06 2013, 7:29 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Wed April 24th -- Moving camp

The sun's up by 2:30 am on a calm crisp morning, but the air remains cold for at least the next 24 hours of the day. :p  It was -39° when we went to bed, it likely dipped below -40 last night.

Frost sculptures in the tent.  The tiniest hint of wind showers our faces with snow from above.


It's ****ing cold out there this morning.  Just 5 more minutes, man.


Liam: "This is my whiskey.  Frozen... solid... whiskey.  W.T.F."


The tasks today are clear.  Pack camp, load 5 sleds, fuel-up 4 snowmobiles, strap down leftover gear in a well-marked cache at Dye-2, move camp 70 km Northwest to KAN_U.  Sounds easy, but after a quick MH breakfast the tasks (especially strapping down the sleds) take us well past noon.  By 2:00 we're ready to finally traverse.  Luckily with the long days it really doesn't matter how late we arrive at KAN_U.  We can sleep when we're dead anyway.

Mark drives the heavily-laden double-sled around camp, testing the cargo straps and preparing for the traverse.


Pausing on our way to KAN_U.  The start of the traverse requires frequent stops to restrap the gear that keeps working loose from the sleds while banging on a Skidoo ride.  Eventually the pace picks up as the last of the gear is effectively secured.


There are no land features this high on the ice, and GPS is our only way to navigate.  Horst leads the initial traverse, but we mistakenly leave it totally up to him with no one double-checking, and he acidentally overshoots camp by nearly 5km before realizing his mistake.  A quick backtrack leads us to the KAN_U location and we quickly find the instruments and towers stationed there, setting up our camp a few hundred meters away.

Arranging the Skidoos.  We always point them facing into the wind in camp, which helps keep snow from piling too deep in the engine compartments.  Sort of.  The SPA (Snow Pack Analyzer) instrument we installed last year sits faintly in the background.


Camp, as winds move in.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 1:08 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

AWESOME! More please!

I'd love to send you some money for trail food next time you travel... Bring me back some foreign goodies?


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 1:35 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(Dicentra @ Jun. 07 2013, 11:08 am)
QUOTE
AWESOME! More please!

I'd love to send you some money for trail food next time you travel... Bring me back some foreign goodies?

T,

I have just the trip in mind.  I'll PM you.

As for goodies... hey, I'll PM you. :)  Depends what "goodies" you speak of though, fresh foods are difficult through customs, but that's prolly not what you mean.

More to come soon here.

- Mike


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 1:48 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Not fresh. Hiker food. Weird foreign trail bars, frail mix in foreign languages, Greek Spam... whatever you find. You know what I do. :)   Love the food pics. You have my email. We can chat.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 2:18 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Aw heck, if I'd known I coulda shipped home a random assortment from our leftover food stash.  We had two full metal Zarges boxes of leftovers when we got off the ice (we'd packed enough for at least a full extra week or two, normal contingency planning), most of it unopened, mostly random foreign stuff (well, not foreign there, but ya get the point).  We left it all in a GEUS container up in Kanger for future expeditions to pilfer.  Bumming leftovers from past expeditions is a bit of a tradition there.  Next time I'll keep you in mind and swipe a selection of boxes to bring home, no sweat. :)  Truly random stuff.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 2:51 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

No worries.   I'm always up for weird new food!

I don't have any shortage of things to blog about right now... I have a backlog of weird stuff I brought back from Canada!


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 5:06 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Work at KAN-U and thereabouts, a sidebar...
(Feel free to skip this post if you don't care about the science and just want to see more frozen food.)

To get an idea of what we're trying to do here (besides driving snowmobiles and thawing whiskey), I need a moment to explain.  If I may...

"KAN_U" is shorthand for the Upper station of the "Kanger Transect", a glacier system in southwest Greenland flowing through the Watson River by Kangerlussuaq.  Weather stations were first installed along this transect four decades ago by the GGU (Greenalnd Geological Survey in Denmark, now GEUS), and it boasts the longest-running mass balance measurements anywhere in Greenland.  We visited this site last year and greatly expanded the suite of measurements here... this year we revisit, download data, maintain existing instruments and install some more.  At least four different institutions affiliated with five governments are represented here, and our team is responsible for keeping much of it going.

But more than the instruments, what happened here last summer drives our campaign.  [Begin glaciology lesson.]  Situated 1850m (~6000') above sea level, KAN_U is squarely in Greenland's "accumulation zone", where more snow accumulates each year than melts, causing the snow to pile up year after year.  This apparent "gain" is offset by 2 km of glacial ice underfoot that slowly thins as it creeps toward the coast... in an average year the surface elevation stays constant, despite the accumulation.  But warmer melt summers--more frequent and more intense than they used to be--have accelerated melt here.  No worries for awhile... meltwater near the lowland coast flows off to sea, but here in the vast zone of high flat snow, it just percolates down and refreezes in the cold porous snow beneath.  Any water that melts stays put (at least here, it does).  This is why the grand majority of mass loss across Greenland is concentrated only narrowly along the coasts.  Or so we thought until last July...

Mid-July 2012 saw the largest melt event in the satellite record across Greenland.  Here at KAN_U, an average 10-30 cm of melt was blown out by a huge 1.2 meter thaw.  That water didn't stay put, it found a way to run off.  Don't take my word for it, I'll let satellites do the talking:

Thumbnail from a segment of a Landsat-7 ETM+ image, 16 July 2012.
The stripes are a satellite artifact... ignore them.  What you should pay attention to are the slush ponds, melt channels and lakes forming on the surface of the snow.  Those rivers run off westward, down slope.  Water didn't percolate here like it's expected to.  We're here to quantify why.



We have reason to believe this "added" runoff contributed nearly an additional 25% to the mass loss that otherwise melted off the K-Transect last summer, contributing to massive flooding in Kanger and washing out a bridge that'd been there since the 60's.  Greenland lost nearly 600 Gigatonnes of mass last year[1], blowing out all previous observations, and this is part of why.  Why did this runoff happen (why didn't it percolate like "usual"?), and where will it happen more in the future when another big melt occurs?  That's what we're here to find out.  Problem is, the answers to "why" lie under the surface... satellite instruments can't readily see it.  So here we are.  Anyone have a shovel?  We brought six.  And two coring drills.  And a radar.  [/glaciology lesson]

We have a lot of work we plan to do this month.



[1] Tedesco, M., Fettweis, X., Mote, T., Wahr, J., Alexander, P., Box, J. E., and Wouters, B.: Evidence and analysis of 2012 Greenland records from spaceborne observations, a regional climate model and reanalysis data, The Cryosphere, 7, 615-630, doi:10.5194/tc-7-615-2013, 2013.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 7:01 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

April 25 -- May 1, first week at KAN_U, and the three truths of polar research.

Glad we moved camp yesterday.  Temps rise (to -20°C [-4°F] now) and storms roll in our first full day in camp.  The 3-day forecast from Kanger (we get Met updates daily on the sat-phone) calls for stiff winds and blowing snow through tomorrow.  But we're here already, so we'll work nonetheless.  "There's no crying in polar research" anyway.

Liam squeezes solid vegetable oil to start breakfast.  Breakfast often proves the most difficult meal of the day, requiring more deliberate thawing than other times of the day.


Pancakes!  I got the 12# bag at CostCo with a massive bottle of syrup, everyone appreciates it.  The gumbo pot on the left melts snow... water for six requires that burner to run a good portion of every day.  We leave enough hot water in the pot each night to stay mostly-liquid 'till morning, even on the coldest nights.  It's handy for starting breakfast.


We have electrical issues on & off throughout the first week.  We blow through two sets of fuses and fry a 12V charger dead before realizing that each of our four-stroke generators (nearly identical in appearance) operate on entirely different voltages (120V/60Hz and 220V/50Hz, respectively), and while most chargers handle both equally well, a few don't. :p  C'est la vie, we have the first of our "requests" for fresh supplies when flights resume to Dye-2 in two weeks.  They're looking for fuses right now in Kanger.

Hooking up the Geni.  The engine runs outside, we charge stuff inside, mostly in the evenings.


"It ain't polar research if you're not digging!"  Liam preps a snowpit before drilling the first core.


Dirk and Horst survey and log the first core at KAN_U, drilled to 19 meters' depth (~62 feet).  A small snow wall shields them from the bite of prevailing katabatic winds.


Collecting snow (or rather, leftover portions of ice cores in the red bucket) for melting.
Dirk's saying something like: "Looks cold out there.  Sucks to be you."



Setting up a differential GPS receiver inside the workshop tent, preparing for radar surveys.


Massive Ice.  Formed by previous years' big melt summers, these thick non-porous ice layers buried under the surface eventually blocked percolation at KAN_U in 2012.  (For comparison, a small section of more-porous firn sits to the upper-left.)  Where these layers formed and how they're evolving are among our primary questions on this campaign.  Much more work needs doing before we can tell this story right.



One morning I sit in the workshop tent, assembling one of my twelve firn compaction instruments.  Almost ready to install, I extend a small metal wire out from a $400 spring-loaded potentiometer, carefully measuring out a prescribed length to fit down a drilled borehole.  Clipping off some excess cord, my cold fingers slip and the wire snaps violently back into the unit.  I cringe.  I reluctantly pull the wire again, only to find it has no more give; the transducer is damaged.  I try several hours to open and fix it, with no luck.  Four-letter-words abound.

Careful as we may be, sometimes it's inevitable to break things out here.  It just happens, and outlines the third of our oft-quoted sayings this campaign.  "It's not polar research until you break something really expensive."  I have eleven more of these (albeit no spares), so I swap it out for another and decide which piece of the dataset I can most afford to leave missing.  Such is life.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 07 2013, 9:46 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Brr.

This is great!  Keep it up.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 09 2013, 12:41 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Oddly enough, I think I like the science nearly as much as the pictures of life on the ice.  

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 09 2013, 11:48 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(ol-zeke @ Jun. 08 2013, 9:41 pm)
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Oddly enough, I think I like the science nearly as much as the pictures of life on the ice.  

Ditto.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 09 2013, 3:22 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Had nice visit with Mike yesterday, we did talk a little science

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 12 2013, 4:36 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

One of our jobs at KAN_U is to update and maintain a small garrison of scientific stations.  The science has a hard time keeping up without data, and it's the job of field crews like us to keep that data coming.  Batteries fail, electronics crap out, towers get buried, towers melt out, devices snap in the wind... you name it and a field tech has spent a lot cold fingers fixing it somewhere on the ice.  Four new sets of stations were installed last year to measure an array of variables, in addition to the three stations already here, and much of our first week is spent focusing solely on that.

Liam digging down to a battery box, buried over a meter deep under last year's accumulation.


Inside said box: six 12V batteries, four dataloggers and a multiplexer which control a small instrument tower and a series of buried thermistors we drilled into the ice last year.  The batteries in this box are completely dead, requiring some effort on Babis' part to find a temporary fix and get the station running again.


Babis reading data off the SPA [Snow Pack Analyzer] in mild weather.  Behind, Dirk and Horst try to re-drill a hole with a hot steam drill at the KAN_U weather station, while Mark slowly disassembles and packs up the snowdrift setup in the background.  Mark's assembly proves especially troublesome... they anchored a half-dozen metal boxes to the poles last year so the boxes would be available when it was time to remove the station this Spring.  The unusually high accumulation this winter after last summer's huge melt requires a full day of digging and ice-chipping to get the boxes out and ready to go.


Babis drags a sled over his pit in the evening while a snow squall howls just outside.  Any pit left more than a few hours needs to be covered entirely 'ere it fills with spindrift and needs to be dug out repeatedly.


On April 28th, Dirk and Mark set out 90km downslope to maintain the "KAN_M" weather and "S6" GPS stations away from camp.  The route is tricky... there are known crevasses around the KAN_M station which could be of concern, but crevasse fields tend to stay in one spot (governed by the bedrock topography underneath, even as the ice moves on top the crevassed areas stay fairly constant in space) and Dirk has visited this station before, and he and Mark make the trip by GPS without incident.  (They have crevasse rescue equipment along just in case, but that's a piece of gear you hope you never have to use.)  While at KAN_M, they eye two distant groups of ski-tourers, including one group of three men passing from afar.  This latitude follows a popular route every year for ski and kite expeditions crossing the ice sheet W-E from Kangerlussuaq to Taliisaq, and the guys don't think much of the sightings, for now.

Dirk maintaining the KAN_M weather station, which appears in pretty good shape since his previous visit last Spring.


Mark showing up to the S6 GPS station, which has obviously seen better days.


Mark, "righting" the GPS station and working well into the evening.


Mark & Dirk check in with me at base camp with their Iridium phones at the designated times, and make it back to camp about 11pm.  Storms and winds pick up into the evening but we have a hot dinner waiting when they arrive back in camp, safe and sound.  It makes for a long day on the ice, but such risks are a part of life out here.  Their return from KAN_M marks the end of a very productive first week on the ice, and despite some intermittently stormy weather, we're feeling optimistic about our progress so far.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 12 2013, 6:41 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

A careful survey of camp makes obvious a reluctant truth.  We have too much stuff (the sleds were full when we traversed from Dye-2; the 8 new boxes of equipment from Mark's disassembled station will be hard to pull out with everything else) and not enough fuel.  Of the two barrels with which we started, we only have one left full and there's a lot of GPR transects still to drive before we return to Dye-2.

We decide two team members must spend a day driving back to Dye-2 with an empty barrel and all of the "unneeded" gear boxes possible, returning with two fresh barrels of fuel.  Everyone is reluctant, but Liam and Mark are chosen for the task (for which I applaud them... Skidoo traversing is pounding work and Mark is still tired from the previous long day to KAN_M), and they spend the next day traversing away from camp while I build my instruments and the rest of the team maintains stations and processes core samples.

Mark replacing spark plugs.  The weather causes intermittent issues with the snowmobiles including frozen carburetors and locked transmissions.  Mark was a Suzuki mechanic in a previous career; his skills prove invaluable throughout the first half of the campaign.


Mark and Liam, ready to go.


Finally!  This is my data-logger and battery box hooked to the instruments I installed last year at KAN_U.  I had the location pretty-well pegged, but since the camp moves about 50m a year with the flow of the ice, locating it again with no relative tower is an exercise in careful guessing.  It took me most of a day dragging radar and poking with an avalanche probe to finally find the box and dig it out, happy with the results but frustrated with the wasted time.


A new station of my own creation, installed and working.  This time I have a transmission and solar tower which, in addition to giving me daily streamed data, should ease the job of finding it in subsequent years.  Live and learn.


Liam successfully saws off a massive steak from a 10-lb frozen block of musk-ox.  It took a bit of time to prepare, but the musk-ox (bought from a local Inuit hunter in town) proved a popular addition to our food supply.  It's tasty meat BTW, I highly recommend it.


On the 30th of May, Dirk and I start the GPR (Ground-Penetrating Radar) traverses.  These massive ice layers are obvious in the core samples, but cores are few and far between.  Radar signals (in this case, 800 MHz repeat-stacked bursts) bounce off "reflection boundaries" within the snow and ice, making thick icy layers relatively easy to pick out in the snow and firn below.  We can survey GPR for many continuous kilometers, mapping these layers across a much wider area than drilling alone.

After dialing in the GPR to get the needed penetration depth and resolution (which took some doing, the system kept having connection problems), we quickly run into issues.  The antenna batteries aren't lasting.  This system is old, and the batteries (which worked great on tests in Colorado and Kanger, and on previous missions) are crapping out within a half-hour and require the generator to recharge.  After one frustrating 3 km transect away from camp that burns through 2 lithium battery packs and gives questionable returns, I tell Dirk "we need a plan to fix this.  We can't work like this."  We get back on the Skidoo and retreat for camp, feeling momentarily defeated and frustrated.

By the time we make it back to camp I'm grinning ear-to-ear with a fresh idea.  Within an hour (and some finger-crossing) I've taped together a voltage converter (meant originally for the controller unit but fashioned to fit with our antennas) to run our RADAR from a large external 12V car-style battery, providing enough juice to run all day on a single charge.  I surprise Dirk in the mess tent (who expected it to take much longer to find a workable solution) and within another hour we're traversing with our GPR again, from KAN_U to 30 km upslope.  By the time we make it back to camp I'm beaming with pride, having our first RADAR traces successfully in hand.

Dirk and I prepping some dinner back in the mess tent.


We continue the GPR downslope from camp the next day... as expected, the ice lenses increase in thickness until eventually we reach the "saturation zone" around 1690 meters, an area where the entire snowpack is dominated by ice and the melt each "average" year fully saturates the underlying snow.  It's the lower boundary of anything that will prove useful in our GPR measurements, so we pack up and return to camp in deteriorating conditions.  We also drag a dense grid around camp in an unfolding storm, surveying (in detail) the layers in a 1-km transect near KAN_U.  This grid is a precise repeat of an identical grid surveyed last year, which will provide (after a lot of processing at home) a precise measurement of how much the stratigraphy changed in one large melt summer such as 2012.

Checking (and backing up) data in camp over dinner.  Remembering a somber lesson learned last year (when a colleague of ours accidentally deleted two-days' GPR data with a single mouse-click), we religiously back up all our data daily to the laptop tablet and two separate USB sticks.  Of all the things that could possibly go wrong, we want to ensure accidental data-loss isn't one of them.


Mark and Babis debating music over MP3s and a several drinks in fading light at KAN_U.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 12 2013, 6:53 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks.  I read the previous installment, and was hoping for this last one to appear also today.  This is good reading, even if we didn't know who you were.  Maybe there is something positive to say about that education after all.  

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 12 2013, 7:03 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Maybe. :p  We'll see.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 12 2013, 8:54 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks Mike,

I've been talking to some guys about the density measurement device we talked about, we'll see what comes out of it.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 13 2013, 10:45 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(Chuck D @ Jun. 12 2013, 6:54 pm)
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Thanks Mike,

I've been talking to some guys about the density measurement device we talked about, we'll see what comes out of it.

Chuck,

I'm definitely still interested. :)  Considering how much your industry as a whole has invested in such technologies, it seems like a shame there isn't more crossover than there currently is to fields like ours.

Anyway, if something like what you were describing over lunch is feasible and (relatively) affordable, I'm interesting in talking about it, for sure.  It could boost our productivity significantly.  Let me know.

- Mike


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 13 2013, 4:49 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Every morning at 8:45 sharp I make an Iridium call to the Polarfield office for a daily check-in.  We chat plans and supplies, but the talk is mostly about weather.  Daily from the Met(eorological) office in Kanger we get a three-day forecast for the Raven/Dye-2 station, which is close enough for our purposes.  I've learned to write it down in my field notebook every single morning.

"Hey Mike, what's the weather forecast today?" Horst asks as he comes into the mess tent.  Severe winds and blowing snow hammer our camp right now at breakfast, and everyone is interested whether we have any chance of working today.  Having just hung up with Polarfield, I read the notes from the book in my lap.

I can only chuckle.  "Crap today."

He looks at me, understanding, but obviously wanting more.

"Cloudy with snow and blowing snow.  25-40 knot sustained winds, gusts higher.  -2-12°C."
"Tomorrow cloudy & overcast, 20-30 knot winds.  Blowing snow.  -5-15°C."
"Saturday Clear and Fine, 10-20 knot winds, decreasing to less than 8 knots.  Colder temps."


"Huh," he says.  It's all he needs to say.  Storms bring in warmer temps, but the unceasing blowing snow creates dangerous frostbite conditions and no visibility.  In our experience the forecasts are typically optimistic anyway, especially with wind speeds.  Conditions often prove worse than predicted.

Dirk in camp, during a relatively-calm window before an all-day storm.


On days like today, traveling away from camp is dangerous.  No one leaves.  We double-up bamboo posts every ~10-ft between tents and the latrine pit; without them we'd lose our way walking around camp, to potentially fatal ends.  Even then, anyone going to the restroom carries a GPS, no exceptions.

So what's a camp to do?  The day quickly fills with excessively large pancakes, sudoku puzzles, hot chocolate (at this point half our camp is secretly in love with The Swiss Miss), sat-calls to family at home, good whiskey and an afternoon of highly-competitive UNO games.  A couple of us bundle up every so often to dig out drifts piling around the sides of the tent.  We're equal parts frustrated with the lack of work we can do right now, and relieved to have a needed break.  Weekends here are defined entirely by the weather.

Most the GEUS guys had never played UNO before, but it's a simple game and they pick it up quickly.  Laughs abound inside today as winds howl furiously outside.


Panorama of the mess tent.  Everyone's playing "guess the flavor" with a 10-lb jar of Jelly Bellies, Mark hoarding the jar to the right.  Horst complains all the flavors should just be labeled "sugar."  He hasn't developed an American taste for sweets just yet.

(Photo by Babis Charalampidis.  2013)

About mid-afternoon Liam returns to the mess tent after a private phone call with his wife in Copenhagen.  While shedding his layers he tells us various news from home, including a report online that a ski expeditioner in Greenland (one of a British team of three skiers) apparently died yesterday on their trip across the ice sheet.  Details are scarce, but something about exposure and a vague story about his tent.  The mood changes, we look at each other without saying much.  Eventually one of us says what we all already know, "that was probably one of the guys passing KAN_M a couple days ago."  Yup.  Most likely.

We have experience here and backups of every vital piece of gear you could imagine.  We're prepared.  But this is serious weather; fatal weather.  The air of the tent is a bit more tense and quiet into the evening as the storm continues to pound our equipment outside.  If we catch a break in the weather tomorrow, we intend to get some more RADAR and drilling done.  Here's hoping.  If not, it'll be more whiskey and cards.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On a side note, I don't share the news of the fatal ski expedition with family and friends at home until well after we're off the ice.  The last thing family wants to hear over a spotty sat-phone connection is "really bad storms today!  Someone on another team died out here yesterday.  Gotta go, I love you!"

Nope.  Those conversations can wait.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jun. 16 2013, 10:34 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Great stuff, Mike!  And I agree about keeping the bad news to yourself.  I guess you've learned a thing or two in those decades of school--or of living!

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PostIcon Posted on: Nov. 25 2013, 3:16 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Great pictures and story. Greenland is a fantastic country.

I was just browsing the internet and came across these pictures of Greenland, Enjoy :D

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PostIcon Posted on: Nov. 27 2013, 6:07 am Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks for the great post, man. Excellent stuff, save for the message we can gather from it.

I remember about a year ago, if I'm not mistaken, you were seeking out advice on building a device that would accurately measure melt or density, or something...

So, GBH, what's the downshot, here? Are we drowning in our juice? And if so, is there a way out?

Personally, I'm done trying anymore. But I'm glad there are younguns like you to go out there and brave the wilds to help explain how we're paddling the boat ever quicker towards the drain.


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