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.

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