Monday, June 5, 2017

May 25 Update. Bob Hawley Arrives: The Curse of the PI

On May 16th, we were visited by a twin otter plane from Kangerlussuaq. The plane was carrying PI (Principal Investigator) Bob Hawley, who would be joining us for the remainder of the traverse. Forrest and HP groomed a skiway with their snow mobiles and fuel sleds so that the plane could land despite the soft, sastrugi-covered surface. We each gave Bob a big hug once he disembarked from the plane. Bob and PI HP had a brief five minutes to chat and high five before HP had to hop on the plane and fly back to Kangerlussuaq en route to Copenhagen, New York, and finally back to Boise, Idaho. We were sad to see HP go, but our loneliness was dampened by Bob's delivery of pepperoni pizza and fresh bananas! Unfortunately, the bananas were still green from the store in Kanger, having been shipped from Columbia many weeks prior. Before they could ripen, the bananas froze overnight. Poor Tate was so sad to only get to eat one unripe banana before they turned to black, sweaty mush.

An Icelandair Twin Otter delivers PI Bob Hawley and picks up PI HP Marshall at Core 9.
The orange "Polypod" that Bob now makes his home is in the foreground.

On the day of Bob's arrival, Gabe and Karina were busy drilling Core 9. The drilling was going smoothly when Bob offered to help. Bob has participated in numerous drilling projects all over the polar regions throughout the years and so Karina and Gabe were excited to have his help. However, they forgot to consider the curse of the PI: that the arrival of a PI in the field often instigates a cascade of field equipment destruction. Gabe was just about to start drilling and offered the drill to Bob. Standing on the side of the pit, Bob grabbed the drill, secured his stance, and started the powerful drill. Instantly, the electrical cord whipped around as the drill spun. Somehow the cord became tangled in the drill and yanked wires loose from their coupling! Bob immediately stopped drilling as Gabe pulled the cord out of the generator to avoid electrocution. The wiring of the cord was completely ripped out of the drill, but appeared to be repairable! Luckily, Bob was just as skilled at fixing the drill as he was at breaking it. We were back drilling within an hour. We finished Core 9 with over 27 meters of ice, which should overlap with a PARCA core drilled at that location in 1998.

T'Ocho (Tate) with a couple of mean looking bananas. 

The following three days were so snowy, warm, and windy that we couldn't collect any data or move to Core 10. On the first day, we were excited at the chance to sleep in and eat a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and bacon. We salvaged some of the mushy black bananas for banana Nutella pancakes, which are more delicious than they sound when submerged with real Vermont maple syrup. We spent that afternoon processing data, fixing instruments, and relaxing while listening to the BBC. We spent the next two days in a similar fashion. Since leaving Summit, the 400 MHz radar antenna hadn't been working properly, so we became determined to fix it before leaving Core 9. Bob and Gabe spent the storm days testing various configurations of control units, antennas, cables, and antenna placements. For each test they would turn on the instruments, drive 1 km away from camp and back, download the data onto a hard drive, load the data on a laptop, process the data and look at the radar quality.

1. SIR30 with Dartmouth's 400 MHz (old long black cable) and 900 MHz (new long black cable)
2. SIR30 with CRREL's 400 MHz (old long black cable) and 900 MHz (new long black cable)
3. SIR4000 with Dartmouth's 400 MHz (old long black cable)
4. SIR4000 with CRREL's 400 MHz (old long black cable)
5. Looks like our antenna is not broken after all! What in the world is broken?
6. SIR4000 with 900 MHz (new long black cable)
7. SIR4000 with 900 MHz (old long black cable)
8. Maybe the old black cable is broken! How can we avoid using it?
9. SIR4000 with Dartmouth's 400 MHz (new short blue cable) and SIR30 with 900 MHz (new black cable)
10. This works! But we don't want to run two separate control units
11. SIR30 with Dartmouth's 400 MHz (short blue cable) only
12. SIR30 with 900 MHz (new long black cable) only
13. SIR30 with Dartmouth's 400 MHz (short blue cable) and 900 MHz (new long black cable) in the middle of the sled
14. SIR30 with Dartmouth's 400 MHz (short blue cable) and 900 MHz (new long black cable) at the front of the sled
15. This works! Let's keep it that way!

May 18th was Gabe's 26 birthday, his second birthday in a row spent on the ice sheet. We celebrated with pizza and a homemade chocolate cake that Karina baked in the Coleman camp oven.  He was excited to be surrounded by so many wonderful people, but is looking forward to spending his next birthday in a warmer climate, maybe Hawaii? (Advisor's comment: maybe the library working on a paper? I'll bring a cake...)

Happy Birthday Gabe!! Next year, Hawaii (or the library - we'll see)

By the end of the storm, all our tents were buried by meter-high snow drifts. It took us a full day to dig out the tents and sleds. Bob spent the afternoon mounting his surface roughness laser onto the polypod, a sleeping and storage pod that Bob uses instead of a tent. This laser measures the distance between the laser and snow, which gives an indication of surface roughness and the size of sastrugi, to ground truth surface elevation measured from satellites.

We finally left Core Site 9 on May 22nd. Bob and Tate took off early to start collecting radar and laser data along the 100 km route to Core Site 10. But when Forrest, Karina, and Gabe tried to leave an hour later, Forrest's snowmobile would not move. The snowmobile would backfire and jerk forward for a minute, then slowly die. Forrest tried adding ethanol to the fuel (to bond with any water/ice that might be interfering with the fuel injection) and replaced the machine's spark plugs. But after a half hour of tinkering, there was no improvement in the snowmobile. Instead of driving all the way to Core site 10 that day, we decided to stop halfway so that we could shuttle Forrest's snowmobile and sleds forward. Karina and Gabe left Forrest with a survival bag, his sleep pod, and some food before driving 50 km to meet up with Bob and Tate. There, Karina and Gabe set up a
hasty camp while Bob and Tate drove back to Core site 9 to pick up Forrest and his gear. The whole way back to "hasty camp", Forrest rode in his pod and napped like a princess.

That evening at hasty camp, Bob and Forrest repaired Forrest's snowmobile. As Karina, Gabe, and Tate prepared for a slumber party in the Arctic Oven, they were visited by a small, finch-like bird. We were sad to see the little bird so far into the ice sheet, nearly 200 miles from the closest grass or open water. The bird flew into our vestibule and perched on top of the tent under the fly. As we were starting to drift off to sleep, the bird flew through the vent in the roof of the tent and landed on Gabe's sleeping bag! The bird was probably happy to find the warmest spot on the ice sheet for hundreds of kilometers, and Gabe was ecstatic to finally have someone to cuddle with. Eventually we got the bird out of the tent, but we could not convince it to leave the vestibule. The little bird stayed with us until we left the following morning. Forrest's heart broke when he found the bird sitting on his parka and had to shoo it away.

A bird takes refuge with the GreenTrACS team at "Hasty Camp".

We finally made it to Core 10 on May 23rd. A few inches of fresh snow and low winds smoothed out the surface of the ice sheet, making for easy snowmobiling but not enough to get our snowmobiles stuck. The conditions were what Tate would call "fluff kitten". The following day Tate and Forrest set off on the eastern radar spur while Karina and Gabe drilled Core 10. That morning, Bob had managed to whack the new laser box with the FMCW radar mount on his snow mobile, seemingly obliterating the instrument. Luckily the laser was undamaged, but the pelican case holding the laser was shattered. Once again, we were struck by the curse of the PI. Bob spent the day gluing the pelican case back together, rewiring the laser's motherboard, and testing the laser with what appeared to be a Hoki-Poki dance from far away.

A cache of fuel, food and ice core boxes waiting for the team. What a welcome sight!

Despite the setback with the laser, the day was a big success. Karina and Gabe drilled another 27 m ice core, bringing their season total to 85 meters and the GreenTrACS project total to ~275 m. Tate collected awesome radar data along the eastern spur, both GSSI radar antennas worked perfectly, and Bob remounted his slightly battered (but still fully functional!) laser onto the polypod.

Bob works to mount the laser to the polypod. Slick setup.

Today (Thurs the 25th), Bob, Forrest, and Tate drove out towards the western spur. This is probably one of the most important radar spurs of the season, as the spur traverses into the region of Bob's Validation Experiment for Swath Processed Altimetry (VESPA) grid. During the 2014 season, Bob and several students helicoptered to and from the ice sheet to precisely measure the elevation of the ice sheet at several locations to ground truth the IceSAT satellite. Bob has been eager to return to these locations to remeasure the surface elevation and compare with various satellites to (hopefully) validate their calculations.

Tomorrow we plan to head to Core 11. We are trying to take advantage of the nice weather to collect as much data as possible before the next storm. Hopefully we will have another completed ice core collected before the end of the week!

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