Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Update June 14th, 2017: One snow mobile down, and the farthest north we've ever been

If you've been watching our snowmobile breadcrumb trackers, you might have noticed that we're now traveling with only four snowmobiles instead of five. We left Forrest's machine, which had limped along ever since Core 9, back at the cache at Core 12. Bob put in a valiant effort trying to fix the snowmobile, talking on the satellite phone with various mechanics in Greenland, Colorado, and Alaska, but every time we moved camps, it would work for a few kilometers and then sputter to a stop. All seemed well as Bob, Karina, and Forrest set out from Core 12 towards Core 13. Bob was even driving Forrest's snow mobile to make sure that it behaved, but five kilometers into the drive, the machine backfired and slowed to a stop. Bob tinkered with the snowmobile for a few minutes and it seemed to run properly again, but after another five kilometers, the machine died suddenly. Bob finally gave up, dragged the snow mobile back to the cache at Core 12, and left it there with a large piece of bamboo so that we can find it when we return with an airplane. Karina and Forrest enjoyed a nice cup of coffee while waiting for Bob to return! Figuring out the best way to transport five people with only four snow machines has been a fun puzzle. The simplest solution is to have someone ride behind a driver on one of the snowmobiles, but that isn't particularly relaxing for the passenger. First, Karina tried riding in Forrest's sleep pod behind a two-stroke snow mobile, but this was very unpleasant because of the exhaust from the snowmobile. We next built a chariot-like-seat on the science Komatic sled that we dragged behind one of the four-stroke snowmobiles. This was very comfortable, but the rider had to endure wads of snow flying up from the snowmobile track would melt on the passenger, making for a cold and wet ride. The best solution appears to be riding in Bob's polypod, which is both ventilated and dry. Bob took the first ride in the polypod on a camp move. We told him he should relax, maybe take a nap, but he ended up working the whole time. He said the ride was very comfortable but the bumps made it difficult for him to code on his laptop. We've collected data like madmen since our last blog post. We drilled ~30 meter-long cores at core sites 13, 14, and 15, collected hundreds of kilometers of radar data, and dug numerous snow pits. We've been able to do so much because, except for some strong winds, the weather has been extremely cooperative. The nice weather means that we can move camp one day, drill a core and drive a radar spur the next, drive a second spur and fix broken equipment the following day, and the move again the day after that. Spending only three days at each camp is exhausting, we're really happy to have made it so far. Earlier this week we made it to Core 14, our northern-most core at 73.8 latitude. For Gabe, Karina and Tate, this is the farthest north they have ever been, although Tate would like to mention that on his radar spur he went further north than either Karina or Gabe. We chose this site to revisit NASA-U, where scientists drilled an ice core there in the early 2000s. In addition, NASA-U is the site for an Automated Weather Station (AWS) maintained by the Greenland Climate Network (GCNet). We had a great afternoon visiting the AWS located just over a kilometer from camp. The AWS has sensors for air temperature, relative humidity, wind direction, wind speed, surface height, and albedo. Gabe took albedo measurements next to the AWS in the hopes of comparing his measurements to those on the AWS. We told the scientists who run GCNet that we were visiting the site and they asked us to download the data stored on the AWS. Bob had a fun time looking in the electrical box, extracting the data card, breaking Tate's data card reader, fixing Tate's data card reader, and then finally downloading all the AWS data since 2011. Core Site 15 is our second highest elevation site of the two-year traverse (the highest being Core Site 16). It was easy to see the impact of the higher elevation in this ice core - there were very few melt layers, melt pipes, or icy layers of firn. Karina thought this made the core very boring to log. But Erich Osterberg's response (via satellite text) was that a boring core is a good core. Karina's not sure she agrees, but concedes that it does make the drilling easier. Core 16 will probably be just as boring, but it will be the last core for the GreenTrACS project. It's hard to believe we have only one more Core Site left! We've been very lucky with our core collection so far, and so we only have two more empty boxes for storing the ice cores and only 10 more clean bottles for snow pit samples. As we're getting near the end of the trip, it's clear we have enough food to last us another month out on the ice sheet. It's always better to over pack when it comes to food, and it's really difficult to guess what and how much food people will want to eat on the ice. It's also interesting to compare our food patterns from last year. After the PopTart-fiasco of 2016 (see last year's PopTart themed blogpost for a detailed account), we all feared that PopTart consumption would be a divisive point between us. But alas, with a week left for this trip, dozens of PopTarts remain! We tend to only eat them on days when we move camp and forget about them every other day. Instead this year our divisive foods are hot chocolate and cheese. Last year, there were over a hundred packets of hot chocolate remaining at the end of the traverse. Even though we brought those packets along with us this year (and lots more new packets), we've been fighting about hot chocolate since camp at Core 10. We've found Forrest stashing bags of hot chocolate packets in his pod, but who can blame him [EDITOR'S NOTE: based on Gabe and Forrest's friendly pop-tart rivalry of 2016, the alleged 2017 hot chocolate stashing is at-best a one-sided narrative. We await Forrest's perspective]. With a week left, we only have about 10 packets... lets hope we make it to Summit soon. The consumption of all our cheese is both impressive and frightening. Gabe and Karina bought over 35 lbs of cheese for the traverse. There's only 4 lbs of cheese remaining, which means that since March 6th, each of us has eaten an average of 6+ lbs of cheese. That's more than a pound a week! Delicious. We thought we were going to have a shortage of powdered milk as well, but luckily we found more at our last cache. Tomorrow we'll move 100 km to Core 16, our farthest camp move yet. We'll plan to spend 2-3 days drilling, collecting albedo and radar data, and preparing for the 220 km journey back to Summit. Hopefully the Twin Otter plane will meet us at Summit June 18-19 so that we can pick up our buried ice core boxes, trash, empty fuel drums, and broken snowmobile that we've left scattered across the ice sheet. EDITOR'S NOTE: Forrest and Tate are also on the 2017 Traverse. Based on GreenTracs 2016, it can be assumed their constant hardwork prevents them from being featured in a blog post. A picture from 2016 is included below to honor their no-doubt exhausting efforts:


  1. I am personally holding out hope for a literary masterpiece from Tate at Summit, a la his Sastrugi novel in 2016. And Forest created an amazing movie after 2016...will there be a sequel?

  2. Amazing job/ work on the traverse! Your crew has certainly collected a LOT of snow and ice samples, not to mention radar data. Glad to read that everything went well, sans the wind and one snowmobile. Again, awesome work!
    ~Tommy Cox