Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 14 Update: Summit to Core 8!

Greetings from the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet! This is our first deep field post for the 2017 traverse.

On May 6th, 2017 the GreenTrACS team finally departed Summit Station, beginning the science of the second field season of the Greenland Traverse for Accumulation and Climate Studies.  Years of preparation, a week in Kangerlussuaq, and nearly a week at Summit, and we were finally on our way!
Five snowmobiles, 10 sleds, 2 pods, 4 radar systems, gear for 8 weeks of camping, cooking, crevasse rescue, and fixing everything that breaks.  The team was excited to finally have everything packed and get on the road (photo: Grey Davis).
GreenTrACS team before departing Summit Station, Greenland.  From right to left: Karina Graeter, Gabe Lewis, Tate Meehan, Forrest McCarthy, and Hans-Peter Marshall (photo:Grey Davis).
Over the next five days, we travelled 440 km to Core Site 8, the first ice core location this year. We designed our course to follow a few IceBridge lines, and we took radar measurements the whole way. Because we were moving camp every day, we only set up one 12x12 ft Arctic Oven to use as a cook/science/sleep/charging tent. Things were a bit crowded, to say the least. Packing up and moving everyday was extremely exhausting, and we didn't have any personal space/time while we were moving to Core 8.

Hauling heavy loads from Summit to Core 8
During the third day, a storm dumped 10-12 inches of light, fluffy snow on our camp. The wind that night shaped the snow into giant sastrugi, which made our snowmobiling extremely bumpy and unpleasant the next few days. Our snowmobiles and sleds sunk into the thick, soft snow. Everyone got stuck at least once, and we had to dig out the heavy sleds and tow each other out of the piles of powder. When we finally reached Core site 8 on May 10th, we were all extremely happy to set up a real camp and have a bit more space to spread out. Plus, we didn't all have to listen to each other snoring all night!

Beautiful sastrugi after the big storm - lots of fresh powder!!

At Core Site 8, we dug a 1m deep pit to collect snow samples and analyze the snow stratigraphy. HP led a snowpit lesson (he's a snowpit master), while Gabe collected albedo and optical grain size measurements. Afterwards, Karina and Gabe drilled a 30.2 m ice core and placed the core segments into 3 ice core boxes to be transported back to Dartmouth.

Typical field camp: Core 8 Drill Site.
Tate and HP collected radar data along a 30 km spur to the west. Tate's multi-offset radar system seems to be working great, despite the bumps and fresh snow, while HP's FMCW radar is much improved from last year.  They are also running the Dartmouth Engineering Department's GSSI radar system, which is completely solar powered and can run both the 900 and 400 MHz systems simultaneously.

The team at the Core 8 drill site - still looking spy after their long slog from Summit.

Upon arriving at Camp 8, we saw two kite skiers making their way towards our camp. Max and Ulrikke (who we had actually met in Kanger) had kited 11 days and nearly 400 km from Kanger and somehow managed to see our bright yellow kitchen tent among the endless white ice sheet. We offered them hot tea and were thrilled to see their kit skiing setup, hear stories of their sailing adventures all over Europe, and learn a bit about competitive kite skiing. After a few days of rough sastrugi and tiring kiting, they were very grateful to have a place to sit and rest. The wind was forecasted to completely die the next day, so they set up camp nearby and offered to help us cook dinner and dig a snowpit in exchange for much needed company. They even offered to give Gabe a kite skiing lesson (something he's always wanted to try), but were unable to fulfill that offer because a) he just had brain surgery 2 months ago and everyone said that it was a pretty stupid idea to try it this far from a hospital, b) there was no wind to fly the kite.

Karina with a beautiful homemade pizza from the camp oven.

Today HP, Tate, and Forrest are snowmobiling back to Core 7 (the last core site from the 2016 traverse) to collect the weather station and extra fuel we left last year. Miraculously, the weather station seems to have survived the winter and somehow collected hourly data since last June. None of the fuel leaked out of the barrels, so we'll definitely have enough gas to get to Cache 1 later this week.

HP, Tate and Forrest ready for their run to Core 7 to get last year's remaining fuel 
and a weather station that's been recording data for the past year.

We heard that 10-15 congressmen and the head of the National Science Foundation were visiting Kangerlussuaq and Summit Station this week, but we were surprised to hear that they wanted to fly over our camp to see what we were working on. They circled overhead a few times as we waved up to the plane, hoping to make a good impression with our tidy camp and covered snowmobiles.

NSF and Congressional Delegation overfly the Greentracs camp at Core 8.

We plan to move camp to Core site 9 on May 15th. The next day, we will be visited by a twin otter plane that will drop off Bob Hawley and pick up HP. Bob is taking over HP's role for the remainder of the traverse. We will be very sad to see HP go, but we are also a bit jealous of the warm showers and fresh veggies HP will soon enjoy in Kangerlussuaq.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Summit Storms and Work

We've spent the past few days huddled up in the Big House hiding from the storm that ripped through Greenland, with temperatures dipping to -14 F and winds up to 40 knots. Luckily, all of our tents held up and we managed not to lose anything in the wind or under the drifting snow. During Condition 1 weather no one is allowed to travel alone outside, we radio the camp manager each time we're leaving or arriving at a location, and no one can leave the station without a GPS, radio, and emergency beacon.

The Summit Science crew allowed us to use some space inside the Summit Operations Building to prepare our radar sleds and mount various GPS antennas to our snowmobiles. Being allowed to work inside saved us a few days while waiting out the nasty weather. Big thanks to the operations crew!

HP mounts the Frequency Modulated Continuous Waveform radar and GPS to his snowmobile

Tate sets up his Multi-Offset radar in the operations building

HP launches a weather balloon to monitor the temperature, humidity, and wind speed near Summit 

Once the weather cleared, we spent Thursday and Friday building our sleds, organizing our cache loads, and testing the radar equipment. The Twin Otter plane is supposed to spend Saturday and Sunday dropping off ice core boxes, extra food, snowmobile gas, and propane to four locations along our route.

Our "kitchen sled" komatik sled loaded up and ready to move to Core 8

One of our fuel sleds towing the empty ice core boxes

Caches 2 and 3 staged near the runway awaiting the airplane

HP and Tate admire the two radar sleds after their test drive near Summit

After setting up all the sleds and testing the equipment, we were able to to get a tour of the Temporary Atmospheric Watch Observatory. Located 1/2 mile south of the Big House (in the clean air sector), the TAWO measures temperature, wind speed, humidity, incoming radiation, atmospheric black carbon, and other particulates floating around in the air. We walked past the GISP2 borehole, which was one of the main reasons Summit Camp was established in the 1990's. GISP2 drilled down 3053 m through the ice sheet and into the bed rock, the deepest ice core ever recovered at the time. After dinner, Gabe gave a 20 minute science lecture on preliminary results from the 2016 GreenTrACS traverse and our plans for the upcoming traverse.

Gabe gives a science lecture in the Big House wearing his formal Carhartts

Gabe hugs the GISP2 borehole

The Temporary Atmospheric Watch Observatory

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Summit Preparations

On our last day in Kangerlussuaq we took a trip out the the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The margin of the ice sheet is a stark contrast to where we will be traversing. On our traverse, we will be well within the accumulation zone of the ice sheet, where each year more snow accumulates than melts away. The scenery is snowy, flat, and white, and we stay at higher elevations to avoid crevasse zones. But at the margin we were in the ablation zone, where there is more snow melting than accumulation. There we could see bare glacier ice, thousands of crevasses, and mounds of glacially deposited debris called moraines. It was great to see a little topography before heading out onto the flat white.  

Hiking from the car to the edge of the ice sheet

The edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Yesterday we landed at Summit Station, the National Science Foundation research station at the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Here, the elevation is 10,528 feet above sea level and the mean annual temperature is -22.2 °F. When we landed the wind chill was around -30 F, so we quickly hurried into the warm Big House to eat some delicious foods. The closest town is Ittoqqortoormiit, 460 km to the east. The station itself is an impressive operation, with about a dozen different buildings for science, logistics, and living spaces. There are currently 25 people (including us) living at Summit, so everyone gets to know each other pretty well. The camp operates year round to collect important weather and atmospheric data for several climate models, luckily we're here when the sun barely sets and temperatures are warm enough to work outside for a few hours at a time. We were excited to arrive on the plane from Kangerlussuaq just before lunch time despite low visibility. After a delicious meal, we set up our sleeping tents and a 12x12 ft science tent, then began sorting through our 4000 lbs. of food and cargo.

Our plane on the snow runway at Summit Station

We are spending the next few days rigging up our sleds and checking our science gear before heading out on the 8 week traverse. Unfortunately the weather hasn't been cooperating very well. Today, despite 25 knot winds and blowing snow, we sorted through our caches (we will be leaving four caches along our traverse route with food and fuel), transferred our snowmobile fuel from 55 gallon fuel drums to 15 gallon polydrums, and mounted the various ground penetrating radar equipment onto our sleds and snow mobiles. The weather and visibility are likely to deteriorate into tomorrow, giving us plenty of time to acclimatize to 10,000 ft (a.k.a. eat all the yummy cookies and candy in the kitchen). Hopefully the weather will improve enough by Thursday that a twin otter plane can land here to pick up gear and cache some of it along the traverse route.

Our gear piled into different caches

Gabe freezing in front of our tents as the wind continues to blow

Forrest hard at work acclimatizing

We definitely feel spoiled starting our traverse at Summit Station. With warm rooms, an amazing cook, electricity, internet, and friendly faces, it's going to be hard leaving here for the barren ice sheet in a few days.