Friday, April 29, 2016

April 25-29: Preparations in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Early morning last Monday we woke up in Scotia, NY and drove to the 109th Air National Guard for our flight to Kangerlussuaq. We had all our gear and food loaded in air force pallets in the back of C-130 airplanes while we were crammed into the waiting room before the flight. After a few maintenance delays (it's not United Airlines but there are still delays) we were able to load onto the plane and squish in-between the cargo. Everyone managed to nap and relax during the 3 hour flight to Goose Bay, Canada, where we quickly refueled the plane and took off for the remaining 3 hour flight to Greenland. There are very few windows on the C-130 and the temperature seemed to fluctuate between wishing we were able to crawl into a sleeping bag and wishing we were wearing shorts.

Inside the plane all the pipes, wires, and metal was exposed so that the Air National Guard could inspect everything before and during the flight. It was a bit eerie to be able to see all the working parts of the plane, with loose pieces of insulation dangling off the ceiling and wires that appeared to date from the 1970's.

Tate and Erich alternate between sleeping and working inside the C-130

A C-130 sits on the runway in Kangerlussuaq below a large rocky hill slope

We landed in Kangerlussuaq and were greeted by our logistics friends at with Polar Field Services, who drove us to the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) building for some warm pizza and our beds to sleep in. We met many other scientists and logistics support personnel coming to and from Greenland to conduct research and keep the research operations humming. Lots of new friends!

We spent the next several days organizing and testing all our gear before loading it onto a different plane to send to the ice sheet. We set up our kitchen and science Arctic Oven tents as well as our personal sleep tents, tested the kitchen stove and emergency back-up Whisperlite stoves, had a lesson from the snowmobile mechanics on how to properly drive and fix the machines, and even got out to test our rifles in case a hungry polar bear tries to get too close. We spent several hours figuring out a mounting system for a downward mounted laser to measure surface roughness, and some of the CPS mechanics were able to build a snow density cutter for us on short notice since one of ours was accidentally left behind in Boise, Idaho.  Everyone with CPS here in Kanger has been working hard to help us have a successful and safe expedition. Thank you everyone!!

The group admiring our gear upon arriving at the warehouse in Kangerlussuaq

Thomas setting up his personal Trango tent to make sure we have all the parts.
Communal kitchen tent is yellow in the background
Erich modeling our snowmobile helmets
Carpenter Erich cutting wood to fit under the tables in the kitchen tent.
Tate admiring his new snow density cutter made with scraps in Kangerlussuaq

Erich ponders the structural stability of our surface roughness laser attached to the Nansen sled

In total, we have 1000 lbs of food and roughly 3000 lbs of science and support gear. We'll be towing four 55 gallon drums of gasoline (another 1750 lbs) with us from the start and each cache site and will be collecting ice cores along the way that we'll have to keep transporting to the next cache location. 

We have five snowmobiles and we figure each machine can tow ~1500 lbs, so our we're bringing about as much gear as possible for these machines. We started to load everything into plastic Siglin sleds and tried to divided the sleds so that they were loaded with approximately equal weights and sized boxes. Most of the sleds come with built in covers to keep drifting snow out of the gear, but we'll have to be careful to keep everything covered when storms start dumping snow on us.

Next, we unloaded all the sleds and reloaded everything onto large air force pallets for the Air National Guard to fly us up to our first camp, called Raven or Dye-2, nearly 200 km (125 miles) onto the ice sheet from Kangerlussuaq. When we get to Raven we'll have to unload the pallets and figure out how we want to distribute all the gear for traversing across the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Thomas loading the final box of gear onto a snowmobile.
Food boxes are in yellow and the large communal tents are green.

Some of us even had enough time to visit the edge of the ice sheet with Rebecca Finger and Melissa DeSiervo (Dartmouth ecologists monitoring Arctic flora and fauna) and spend a night at their camp. Point 660 is the end of the longest road in Greenland and provided some spectacular views of the ice sheet, plus we got to see four arctic hares and several herds of caribou on our drive out there.

A view of the ice sheet from the end of the road - Point 660.
Wow that's a lot of ice!

Camping near the edge of the ice sheet with the Dartmouth Ecologists

Sunday, April 24, 2016

April 24: Joint Expedition to Measure Historic Snowfall in Greenland

Original story by Becca Burke at Boise State University

Tate starting to snowmobile in Idaho
While some on the Boise State campus are preparing for hot summer days and barbecues, graduate student Tate Meehan is preparing for frigid temperatures and hard work. 

Meehan, who is in the first year of his master’s program in geophysics, is headed to a research expedition on Greenland. He’ll be joined by Forrest McCarthy, a mountaineering guide from the Wilderness Wildland Alliance and National Science Foundation Polar Programs, Dartmouth polar geoscientist Erich Osterberg, and Dartmouth doctoral students Gabe Lewis and Thomas Overly. 

The combined Boise State and Dartmouth research team will study and measure snowfall amounts over the past 50 years in an area that contains some of the largest snowfall variances on the Greenland ice sheet. This expedition comes at a precarious time; in recent weeks Greenland’s early melting season, brought on by unseasonably warm weather, has some global researchers concerned.

“This trip is especially critical this year as Greenland has experienced the warmest first four months on average in its recorded history, which dates back to the 1870s. It’s the onset of melting that has happened about two months ahead of schedule that makes our job a lot more challenging,” Meehan said. 

The view from our test site in Idaho
The research team begins their expedition in Greenland at the NSF deep field station Camp Raven in southwest Greenland and will travel 1,700 kilometers from Southwest Greenland to the summit of the ice cap. The team will use a variety of Boise State radar systems to track the subsurface snow layers, and will continuously measure the journey to the summit. The age of the layers will then be determined by a geochemistry analysis of 60-foot core sample sections of ice and snow. The research data gathered from each sample site allows for estimation on annual snowfall amounts dating back over 50 years. 

During the seven-week expedition, the research team will travel by snowmobile and live in tents. In addition to mapping new areas for measurement, they will also revisit multiple Program for Artic Regional Climate Assessment (PARCA) sites. PARCA was launched by NASA in 1993 with the primary goal of measuring and understanding the mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet.
Towing radar equipment with a snowmobile
The Greenland field expedition is funded by a collaborative NSF Office of Polar Programs grant between Boise State and Dartmouth. The principal investigators from Boise State are geoscientists H.P. Marshall and John Bradford, and for Dartmouth, they are Osterberg and Bob Hawley. This trip to Greenland will include detailed core sample analysis and radar observations completing half the full traverse; a second trip will be completed next year. 

This research continues previous work in Greenland conducted by Marshall and Bradford. Bradford’s radar inversion work completed with Boise State doctorate student Joel Brown and University of Montana glaciologist Joel Harper will be applied to the radar data collected during this research trip. Marshall conducted radar measurements in 2010 and built a radar system used for a traverse from the summit to Thule Air Base. 

The research being conducted during this trip and the subsequent trip next year holds significant relevance for the future of the planet and research into climate change. 

“This project is important, because we don’t know much about the snowfall amounts in this area,” Marshall explained. “The snowfall in this area is changing and controls the behavior of a large part of the ice sheet. The behavior of the ice sheet is important because it is the major contribution to global sea level rise, and affects global climate.”

Thursday, April 14, 2016

April 12: Food and Gear Packing!

While Thomas and Gabe were out in Idaho testing the radar equipment, Erich and Karina purchased 1000 lbs of food to prepare for the traverse. While snowmobiling across Greenland, we cannot have any food with us that spoil during the 6-7 weeks, which limits our selection to pretty much just instant oatmeal and Snickers bars. We all spent most of last week packaging and sorting the food into freezer Ziploc bags that will still work with gloves in the cold.

1000 lbs of food before sorting and packing
We had several undergraduates in Erich and Bob's research groups help with the food packing, which allowed the rest of us to pack the 1600 lbs of research gear into various cases. We were able to pack a few boxes of food (mostly candy) that will be dropped at a fuel cache site halfway through our traverse. This will allow us to carry less weight and will re-energize us when we find several boxes of York Peppermint Patties in the middle of the ice sheet.
Scotty helping pack some delicious soup into a Ziploc

We finished packing a total of 2600 lbs of food and gear late Sunday night before dropping it off at the Air National Guard in Scotia, New York, who will fly it to the start of our traverse in Greenland next week.  We even had some spare time to let a five-year old try on some of our equipment. Hope it fits us better that it fit him!

A five-year old child tries on a jacket during the recent Dartmouth Science Day outreach program