An array of work in the field

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With such a large team this year, It was as we called it, a “Science palooza”.

Max Stevens in the ultimate Firn Density pit

Baptiste and Aleah logging an 18 meter core

Liam and Aleah doing Permeability studies

Baptiste, Max, and Leander doing Vis pit studies.

Samira in her Percolation pit

Shawn working on their data station

Achim, Leander, and Basti working on the radar pit off in the distance

Aleah heading out to do Probe measurements

 

ScienceStock Day 2 Update

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Today we got up, had breakfast, and loaded onto the Twin Otter to fly up to the EastGRIP site, which is about 300 km north of Summit Camp. EastGRIP is interesting for a number of scientific reasons. It is the upper end of the NorthEast Greenland Ice Stream (so the site is also known as, or was formerly known as, NEGIS). An ice stream is like a river of ice that flows through an otherwise slow-moving ice sheet. This means that it slides very quickly on the bed (rock below the ice) like a big plug of ice (that is why we call it plug flow), whereas a significant portion of the movement of the slower surrounding ice is due to deformation of the ice itself. NEGIS drains a significant portion of Northeast Greenland, which means that it is a conveyor belt moving ice from inland to the ocean. Understanding how ice streams work is essential to understanding how the ice sheets will respond to a warming climate.

EastGRIP is also the site where the next deep ice core in Greenland is being drilled. This international effort is led by the Danish group at the Center for Ice and Climate in at the University of Copenhagen. The ice core will provide a record of past climate and will hopefully help us understand the dynamics of ice streams and how they form.

We have a FirnCover station site set up at EastGRIP. It is an ideal location for us to have a station because the ice-core camp maintains a runway there, there are good weather observations and records, and the data we collect there can complement other data that has been and will be collected there. It is in the dry-snow zone, which means it very rarely gets above freezing there. The firn compaction that we are measuring there is thus much simpler (although still complicated!) than at the southern sites, where each summer warm temperatures produce surface meltwater, which in turn percolates into the firn and creates ice lenses. Measuring the compaction in the dry firn at EastGRIP (and Summit) provides a good baseline that we can compare the wet-firn sites to.

Anyway, we landed at EastGRIP just after 10:00 AM. We were invited into the “dome,” the Danes’ primary shelter. We were treated to a bit of banana bread and some coffee (life is good!) before we got to work at 10:47 (Liam documented this).

The dome at EastGRIP (and a Twin Otter!)

The dome at EastGRIP (and a Twin Otter!)

As promised, Baptiste again drilled the core by hand with assistance from Mike. Liam logged the core, and Aleah and I did her permeability work. We were done with the core and permeability work just after 1:00, which meant we were late for lunch, but it was nice to finish those tasks! It was quite a cold morning of work – the temperature was around -20 C and the wind was blowing a bit. Liam even got a bit of frostbite on his nose.

The EastGRIP crew treated us to a delicious hot lunch – chili con carne, spanish rice, quesadillas, guacamole, and corn bread! When we were done eating we would have preferred to just nap on the couch, but we headed back out to finish the job. Aleah and I did snowpit analyses and Mike wired in the new compaction instrument – it ended up being a relatively simple afternoon. We went back to the dome, and we treated to beer from a tap – the crew there has a keg system! Wow. Luxury!

We also got a tour of the tunnels that the EastGRIP crew will use for space to drill the new ice core. They first used a giant snowblower to dig trenches 6 meters deep. Then, they inflated giant balloons in these pits and blew all of the snow back on top of the balloons. They let them sit a few days and the snow hardened. Today they deflated the balloons and were left with several giant tunnels under the surface of the snow. They will use this underground space as their ice-core processing laboratory and for the actual drilling – it is a perfect shelter to work in!

One of the newly-constructed tunnels at EastGRIP

One of the newly-constructed tunnels at EastGRIP

We hopped back on the twin otter around 5:00, which got us back to Summit a bit late for dinner (sorry, Summit crew!). It was another amazing meal: pasta with lemony-garlic-shrimp cream sauce, bleu-cheese stuffed pears, garlic bread, salad (!), asparagus (!) and cake.

We settled in for a mellow evening, planning for an easy day of work tomorrow at Summit. But, just as we were kicking back, we were presented with new alternate plans! And, we have been talking about those since and now we still have no clue what we are doing tomorrow and for the next few days. So, stay tuned for tomorrow’s update!

 

News flash, ScienceStock Day 1: team at Summit; fastest 16-meter core drilled in history

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We ended up departing Kanger just after 10:30 this morning and flew towards Crawford Point, the 6th site on our field campaign. The weather report was that there were low, thick clouds at Crawford, but the forecast called for clearing around noon as a cold front moved through. As we approached the site, it was obvious that the clouds had not yet moved out. The pilots circled ~30 km to the west to look for a hole in the clouds. They found one, and we quickly descended towards the ice-sheet surface. We were watching our GPS and were surprised that we were going for a landing when we were still 25 km away from the site – were they really going to taxi that far? We were more surprised when we settled in and maintained an altitude about 10 m off the deck. We flew this way for 10 km, and suddenly the clouds closed in and we could no longer clearly make out the surface of the ice. At that moment, the Twin Otter’s turboprops roared and we felt the plane quickly gain altitude. Once the pilots lost sight of the ground they could no longer safely put the plane down. So, we flew away from Crawford, work there undone, and set a new course for Summit Camp.

We arrived at Summit at ~2:30. The pilots discussed with us the option of continuing to EastGRIP to do our work there this afternoon and evening, but 3 hours of flying and 5 hours of work would have had us back in bed at some unreasonable hour here, so we opted to stick with our original plan B, which was to work at Summit. We went into the “Big House”, the main building at Summit, and met many of the staff and sat through a Summit-camp orientation. We were assigned our sleeping quarters – we all had the option of a new, indoor bunkhouse to stay in, but all of us opted for the tents that were available. Perhaps we will regret that if it gets down to -40 tonight, but we are all excited to have a little personal space.

Finally, around 4:15 we were ready to get to work. The science plan here is to drill a 16-meter firn core, log (measure properties of) that core, install a new instrument in the new borehole, measure density in a snow pit, survey the depth of the last year’s snowfall, and measure the permeability of the firn. Since we were not starting until 4:15, we figured that we could get started drilling and logging and do the snow pit and depth survey, and stop once it was getting late.

Just as we were preparing to drill, we received word that the winds had switched so that they were out of the north – bad news for operations. South of Summit Camp is the “clean-air sector”, where some experiments are set up that require the air to be clear of any non-natural gasses or particulates. When the winds are out of the north, pollution produced by Summit Camp blows into the clean-air sector, and all non-necessary operations shut down. That is, no snowmobiles driving around, no grooming the runway, etc.

For us, the north winds meant that we could not operate our motor head for our coring drill. The alternate option is turning the drill by hand via a t-handle that attaches to the top of the drill. We decided that the hand drilling sounded rather difficult, but that we would give it a try and see how it went.

It turns out that it went well! We started drilling a bit before 5:00, and by 7:15 we had drilled 16 meters. Woah! That is actually just as fast, or faster, than it usually goes with the motor. Mike and Baptiste did the drilling, and Liam logged the core as it came out of the hole. Aleah skied around to survey the snow depth, and I did the snow pit measurements. So, in just 2.5 hours, we accomplished nearly all of the work that we need to complete at Summit! Needless to say, we were a bit proud of ourselves.

We came inside and enjoyed the delicious food that is served at Summit camp and discussed whether we more grateful being in a camp with (a) really good food made for us or (b) internet access. The consensus was (a). Baptiste brought a nice Aquavit, so we are closing out our big day with a celebratory nightcap.

Tomorrow: ScienceStock Day 2! We head north to EastGRIP, where the Danes are preparing to drill a new deep ice core. We will work for a few hours with the same science plan as for Summit – and, we are planning on drilling by hand.

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Mike and Baptiste drilling the firn core at Summit Camp - the Big House is in the background.

Mike and Baptiste drilling the firn core at Summit Camp – the Big House is in the background.

Liam hard at work logging the Summit firn core.

Liam hard at work logging the Summit firn core.

 

Update from the team in Kangerlussuaq

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The whole team made it back to Kangerlussuaq on Friday evening. The plane was delayed a bit getting to us at Dye-2, but luckily we had a sunny and (reasonably) warm day to wait. Everyone came out of field healthy and in good spirits. Some thought that we did not smell good, but I thought that overall it was not too bad, considering.

The twin otter taxiing (two i's!) to pick us up at Dye-2.

The twin otter taxiing (two i’s!) to pick us up at Dye-2.

 

Yesterday, Saturday, everyone took time to relax and have some down time. Mike got to go on a flight with Operation Ice Bridge, a NASA campaign to measure ice-sheet changes using instruments installed in an airplane. Liam rested by editing a paper, writing a funding proposal, and digitizing data from a 1968 report. Aleah went for a run and spotted a caribou or a reindeer. We are still arguing about the difference between the two (if there is one) and which it might have been. Despite now having internet and thus the ability to look up the difference, we still sit and argue about it because it reminds us of all the time we spent during the past weeks sitting in the tent arguing about inane things. Darren claims that he spent yesterday charging his devices and getting his drone controller to once again talk to his drone. Baptiste worked on getting a drill motor to start once again, a task we could have addressed in the field but chose not to, and then went for a nice walk in the hills above Kanger.

 

Sean and Samira worked on bottling samples, which sounds like work, and probably is, but they did have wine to accompany them. The German snow diggers, Basti and Leander, rode bikes somewhere and back and seemed quite satisfied with their day, but then again we never saw a moment on the ice that they did not seem satisfied with life. Achim and I went for a bike ride to Sugarloaf Mountain to the east of town. The trail to the top is not too hard a hike, but was a bit of a pain for pushing a bike up. One on top, we were awarded a fine panoramic view of the area: the ice sheet to the east, the fjord to the west, and endless wilderness in all directions. Then, we got a proper mountain bike ride back down, including some steep single track.

Max spun out on the Sugarloaf uphill, causing Achim to run into him. Achim got the worse end of the deal.

Max spun out on the Sugarloaf uphill, causing Achim to run into him. Achim got the worse end of the deal.

 

The view from the top of Sugarloaf, looking east towards the ice sheet.

The view from the top of Sugarloaf, looking east towards the ice sheet (click for a larger view).

Today, Mike, Liam, Aleah, Baptiste, and I are scheduled to fly out again for part 2 of the campaign. We were supposed to have left at 8:15 this morning, but fog over the ice sheet prevented us from leaving on time. We are now looking at a 10:30 departure. We will fly to Crawford Point first and spend several hours drilling a core and installing a firn-compaction instrument. Then, we will fly to Summit Camp and spend the night there. Tomorrow we are scheduled to fly to East Grip, where the Danes are in the early stages of drilling a deep ice core, to work for the day. On Tuesday we are scheduled to have a work day at Summit, and if we stay on schedule we will fly back to Kangerlussuaq on Wednesday.

 

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Photo by Horst Machguth, ACT 2012.

Stormed in At DYE-2

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The FirnCover team traversed from Saddle back to DYE-2 yesterday in lower visibility during a snowfall – but not in very dangerous conditions. With GPS guiding the way, and the ability to see the rest of the team around them, they did arrive safely approximately four hours later. The ride was very smooth with fresh powder on the ground, and was described as “traversing in a cloud”.  After they arrived, the storm intensified and are now basically stormed in for quite possibly the next day or two. Today they enjoyed some much needed down time: sleeping in, a big breakfast and relaxing card games, puzzles and conversation.

White-out conditions in camp. Photo by Mike MacFerrin, ACT 2012.

White-out conditions in camp, ACT 2012.

There is little work left to do at DYE-2, which can be completed in a couple of hours once the storm lifts. The plan is to wait for a twin otter flight to head back to Kangerlussuaq where hot showers and warm beds await at the KISS (Kangerlussuaq International Science Support) station. From there, seven of the team of twelve will return to their respective homes while the remaining five will fly to the northern part of the ice sheet: Summit Camp, to continue their work.

Southern Traverse Completed

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Our science team has been working virtually non-stop since their arrival on the ice sheet over a week ago.  Since they’ve not had any down time, a storm day would have been welcomed, but with near “balmy” weather every day so far, they’ve been working long 12-hour days – dubbed by the team as “science-palooza days”.

Photo by Dirk Van As, ACT 2013

Photo by Dirk Van As, ACT 2013

With all tasks completed in the southern section of their traverse, the team is heading back to DYE-2 “home base” camp. Since they are well ahead of schedule, there is a  possibility that they can catch an earlier flight off the ice back to Kangerlussuaq, however, there are no guarantees of that happening just yet – with storms predicted in the forecast.

 

 

Photo by Babis Charalampidis, ACT 2013

Research Continues on the Ice Sheet

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The FirnCover science team arrived at the EKT site approximately 100 km (~62 mi) NE of DYE 2 Sunday afternoon. The snowmobile traverse was fairly uneventful with the exception of a few “bumps on the road”.  Due to the very rough ride, two of the Zarges aluminum cases flew off one of the sleds after a strap snapped loose.

Snowmobiles pulling cargo on sleds. Photo courtesy Babis Charalampidis, ACT 2013.

Snowmobiles pulling cargo on sleds. Photo courtesy Babis Charalampidis, ACT 2013.

They also had to replace a U-bolt that hitches the sleds together; the constant jarring from the ride caused it to break.

The following day was a productive one, having completed all tasks at EKT.  Temperatures were cooler due to site’s higher elevation.

Next stop: NASA SE.

You can track the team’s progress via the bread-crumb tracker site here.

SRI BreadCrumb Tracker site

SRI BreadCrumb Tracker site

 

Ice core cutting

Work Completed at KAN-U

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Yesterday was a very productive day for the FirnCover crew:

  • Darren and Max dug snow pits to measure snow density and stratigraphy from last winter.
  • GPS surveys were conducted to gauge how much the camp actually moves from year to year: how much the ice is spreading and it’s elevation (loss or gain).  These measurements along with other factors can contribute to determining the total mass balance of the ice sheet.
  • A 16 m (52.5 ft) ice core was drilled successfully (performed early in the morning before temperatures got warmer). The core was divided into 160 individual 10 cm (~ 4 in) segments and stratigraphy and density measurements were logged. A compaction instrument was then installed over the ice core hole.
  • Aleah’s permeability test was run successfully.
  • Darren repaired a generator that had failed that morning. A replacement was requested “just in case”. (The ice sheet is not a place you want to spend time in without a working generator.)

After a long day of hard work, they enjoyed a delicious dinner Baptiste made: breaded fish, alfredo sauce, hashbrowns, cooked vegetables and a refreshing “slushy” white wine.  (Sounds better than what I had last night!)

The plan for today is to pack up at KAN-U early and make the traverse back to DYE-2 before potential bad weather blows in. The weather forecast expects head winds of up to 35 knots – too dangerous for traversing. Let’s hope they make it back to their home base well before the high winds kick in later in the afternoon.

 

Misadventures at KAN-U

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As predicted, the early melting in Greenland is causing problems for the scientists on the ground. Three years of snow accumulation since the big 2012 melt season, have not added significant buffering capacity to the firn – basically there is one thin layer of snow to buffer the meltwater.  Once that layer is gone, it’s just bare ice, which indicates that the impending 2016 melt will very likely surpass the record breaking melt that occurred in 2012, which is very concerning.

Ice core drill bit

Ice core drill bit

At temperatures hovering just around freezing, the team attempted to drill a couple of 16 m (52.5 ft) ice cores yesterday, but the drills warmed up enough to cause melting and one got stuck in the ice below at ~3 m (~9.5 ft) – which they were eventually able to retrieve – and the other was much deeper, at ~8 m (~26 ft).  After trying all afternoon, the second barrel still wouldn’t budge. They tried “fishing” it out with aircraft cable pulled by snowmobile, which ended up snapping the cable.  The plan for tomorrow is to go into full-on “Operation Drill Rescue” pulling out all the stops!

UPDATE: After a phone-in from the field earlier this afternoon, it was reported that the team was successful in retrieving the buried drill core earlier this morning by pouring 30 gallons of boiling water down the hole to melt the surrounding snow and ice! GO TEAM!

Busy Days Ahead

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The FirnCover research team arrived safely via snowmobile at KAN-U, their first work site this campaign season.  The 67 km (41.6 mi) journey from “home base” camp, Dye-2,  took about 4 hours without any major difficulties.  Upon arrival, it was discovered that Mike’s firm compaction tower was still standing with no apparent physical damage despite its data transmission failure since September 2015. The first order of business today will be to diagnose and repair the transmission problem. They plan to spend 3 working days here then head back to Dye-2 to resupply and continue east to the EKT station.

Other tasks laid out for the day include:

  • Drill a 16-20 m (52.5-65.6 ft) core to obtain the latest stratigraphy structure since the last melt season and install a new compaction instrument to wire to the existing tower
  • Remove old IMAU (Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research)
    automatic weather station (AWS)
  • Maintenance of GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) weather station
  • Permeability experiments – more details about this here
  • If time permits, will utilize skis to run a spectrometer around a 3 sq km (1.16 sq mi) area overlapping several MODIS satellite pixels to measure snow albedo (snow reflectance). The goal is to ground truth reflectance (albedo) with current MODIS satellite data.
Weather stations at KAN-U. Replacing old AWS tower with new one. Photo courtesy Achim Heilig, ACT 2015

Weather stations at KAN-U. Replacing old AWS tower with new one. Photo courtesy Achim Heilig, ACT 2015

Temperatures are alarmingly high at this point in the season. Initial shallow digging about 10-20 cm (4-8 in) under the surface has revealed 1-3 cm (0.5-1.5 in) thick refrozen ice lenses formed from the recent melt the last couple of weeks. If temps continue to rise, there are concerns about whether drilling is possible –  and logging cores is very difficult if they start to melt. They may need to drill cores in the early morning hours and bury them in the snow to keep them from melting before getting them processed and logged.

The unprecedented melting this early in the field season is definitely contributing to a unique set of challenges this team has not yet encountered.