Midnight Sunset at "Camp 2" -- 12 May 2013

Friday, May 1, 2015

Arctic Circle Traverse 2015: The tradition continues

Once again, we found ourselves in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Tomorrow, weather permitting and after two days of delay, we'll fly up on the ice sheet once again to continue researching the accumulation area of the ice sheet. The MacFerrin team will spend a total of six weeks this time, investigating the changes that the snow covered region of the ice sheet has experienced due to the warming climate. The team has gathered once again, slightly different this time and with a new blog:

And so it begins. Again!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Return to Dye-2 and flying back to Kangerlussuaq

Mike on the way back to Dye-2
 The fantastic weather permitted to catch up with some of the tasks of the expedition. But it moved in late and certain locations could not be visited anymore: We were scheduled to be picked up at Dye-2 May 23 and had to drive back well in advance to get all our material ready for the flight out. The traverse from Camp-2 to Dye-2 was marvellous, everything worked out perfectly while we were driving south during whta seemed like an eternal sunset.

On the very last evening on the ice sheet: The abandoned US radar station Dye-2 at round midnight.
 On the evening of May 21 we were notified that our flight was one day earlier than announced... only 15 hours left to sort and pack all of our material. Nevertheless, we were ready on time in the afternoon of May 22 we boarded the Twin Otter that brought us back to Kangerlussuaq.

Finally back in Kangerlussuaq: Mike and Karen in the harbour.

Success! The work is half-finished.

I'm sitting at a tiny wooden desk as the midnight sun illuminates my window on the second floor of the KISS (Kangerlussuaq Int'l Science Support) station in southwest Greenland.  I have trouble sleeping without the noise of wind--my second day off the ice and I still find the silence disconcerting--so I occupy my waking hours wading through a month of backlogged e-mails.  A recent press release from my parent institution CIRES announces the results of a recent study by a fellow colleague and friend, Dan McGrath, who states that Greenland's dry snow zone will likely disappear within the next several decades if current warming continues.  It's a result not unexpected to glaciologists here.  Among other things, he notes that "more work needs to be done to untangle these impacts."

Greenlandic weather threw us seven innings of curve balls this field season, but as I pore through pictures of our past month's foray, I find myself a bit amazed at the richness of the data set we accumulated under even the worst of conditions.  Over a dozen logged, measured and sampled firn cores.  A hundred and fifty kilometers of continuous high-resolution GPR (ground penetrating radar), ready to process and uplink to a coincident and vast airborne dataset.  An entirely new suite of stations transmitting data to improve satellite mass balance measurments... just to name few.  Every core we pulled up and every radar profile we collected points to unmistakable rapid changes happening in Greenland's snow and ice at every elevation we visited.  We see it.  We know it.  But right now it's as if we're the only ones who do.  The work isn't done yet.  Samples need to be analyzed, core densities digitized, radar algorithms written, processed and calibrated.  Plots need to be created, maps generated; results submitted, reviewed and published.  We realize we still have as many questions as we do answers, and we're already discussing the needed foci of future campaigns (funding proposals need to be written and submitted, campaigns planned, logistics organized... rinse and repeat).

But even a tireless scientist finds time to breathe, and with our science cargo returning from the ice tomorrow at the earliest (precluding a day of sorting, drying and repacking), we were able to take a welcome rest day in Kangerlussuaq.  A short hike this afternoon found us staring at a small herd of muskox, two of them butting heads in displays of dominance before grazing again on the shores of an Arctic lake.  Even as the implications of our data burn an impatient hole in my mind, I can't help but smile at the beauty of one of the world's greatests wildernesses just a stone's throw outside of town.  For much of the rest of the year we'll be neck-deep in stratigraphy profiles and radar traces.  But today I'm just a lucky man on a sunny Spring day in Kanger.  As soon as my plane touches down in Denver next week, the real work will begin.

Horst at -39°C.  The moisture of our breath froze instantly to any surface it could condense.

Sled packed at 10pm, Dye-2.

Voltage testing a field-repaired GPR battery pack.  A mistake with a Skidoo ripped out a cord and blew an internal fuse, causing half a day's delay to rewire and short-circuit the unit's internal electronics, keeping it running until trip's end.  A successful polar field scientist is equal parts mechanic, electrician, cook, ditch-digger, janitor and survivalist.

Sun halos at Camp-2 after a storm clears, 60 km NNE of Dye-2.
Alex starting another core at 2350 m on our first fully-sunny day in 2 weeks, day 27 of the trip.  The lab coat is a tradition among University of Colorado field geographers, wearing it for photo ops in our working environment.
Logging stratigraphy from a 10 m core at 2350 next to a newly installed Firn Compaction station.
Traversing to Dye-2 on a glorious clear evening, Day 28.
Gear packed and ready to go at Raven Camp.  Day 29.  Koni Steffan's twin otter plane arrived moments later to carry us off the ice.
Musk-oxen near an unnamed lake during a dayhike after trip's end, outside Kangerlussuaq.

Working in the area of "Camp-2"

Mike digging for food during one of the calmer periods of the second storm at Camp-2.
Having arrived at the Camp-2 location work was soon brought to an end by two severe storms. Sitting out weather conditions where visibility often cut down to less than five meters required some measures that might sound strange under normal conditions: We did not leave the mess tent anymore without telling everybody where we were going, as for instance "I am trying to find the Nutella". And when someone announced that he or she will visiti the bathroom (actually "visiting the blizzard" would be a more appropriate description for going to the toilet) your colleagues usually ask back if you have your GPS with you.

Finally wind was catching up to speeds where our mess tent was becoming severely deformed. To protect the tent and its poles from breaking we had to build snow walls. Altough bamboo poles were installed every three meters to mark all directions within the camp, no one was permitted anymore to visit the toilet, and we were moving from tent to tent mostly in groups of two.

The calm evening that followed the abrupt ending of a storm that lasted for 36 hours
Both storms rewarded us with incredibly calm evenings. Memorable was the abrupt ending of the second storm: we were sitting in the mess tent playing a game of dice and all of a sudden there was nothing but silence where only seconds ago we heard the permanent howling of the storm. We all hold our breath, waiting only for an even stronger return of the storm but for the rest of the day there was incredible silence and the sky over the ice sheet slowly cleared up.

Installing the tower of the coffee-can installation at point 2350 m a.s.l.
Maybe we encountered five, maybe six storms during the expedition. Some of them lasted for 12 hours, some for three days. The abrupt ending of the second storm at Camp-2 finally marked a change in the general weather pattern and from there on we enjoyed great weather. Finally weather permitted to drill five cores in a day. Another day we drilled several cores and installed a complete set of coffe cans. While working out there in the bright sun and seing work progressing so fast we often had to smile, telling ourselves that we had waited maybe 25, maybe 26 days for this kind of weather :-)

Finishing work at Dye-2

Mark and Babis coring at point 2050 m a. s. l.. 

Knowing that bad weather is about to move in we drilled as many firn cores as possible within short time. The plan was to analayze the cores later in the workshop tent during the upcoming stormy days.

Goodby friends and thanks for your great help! Mark, Liam, Babis and Dirk walk to the Hercules that brought  them back to Kangerlussuaq.
Standing at the margin of the taxiway we watched our friends boarding the Hercules. At this point we were thinking how nice it would be now also to take a warm shower. But also of all the remaining work - exciting on the one hand and alarming on the other hand because various important tasks were still on the agenda. ...and were hoping that the second half of our expedition might bring more favourable weather conditions.

Sampling cores inside the workshop tent - Mike and Alex.
Now being a group of four (Karen, Alex, Mike and Horst) we started to sample and log the cores we had drilled in the previous days. Strong winds forced us to sample the cores inside the workshop tent. However, stormy weather on the ice sheet often means "warm" weather and all four of us inside the narrow tent brought temperatures close to the freezing point. This made working with the ice cores difficult and we had to open the flap which helped to reduce temperatures - but - resulted in large amounts of snow beeing blown into the tent...

Karen consolidating our food supplies.
After three stormy days we broke down our tents and traversed north. Halfway to the "Camp-2" location one of our skidoos broke down and for one night we stayed in our improvised "Camp-1.5" (see also previous blog entry).

A sudden ending

Yesterday, while watching Chasing Ice on the big screen, I got a phone call from Horst's mobile. Not the satellite phone, but his own. As this meant that the field party was near a cell tower of which there are none on the ice sheet, I could not resist the urge to pick up in the cinema. Apparently they got a ride down one day before the scheduled departure, flying with well-known scientist Koni Steffen. Horst's message was: "Where are our clean clothes?! I'm heading into the shower!"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dead birds everywhere

One of the birds of unknown species that we met after approx. May 12 everywhere on our traverses. The picture of this particular bird was taken from a distance of one meter but one could also approach much closer.
Again the weather has cleared during what must be one of the least fortunate field campaigns in Greenland in terms of weather. They did manage to drive up to 2350 m to drill their highest ice core, but as anticipated couldn't make it to the ice divide, 30 km further and 100 m higher. The aimed distance of radar measurements was adjusted down. Also taken off the program was the Parca-site core, which would have added a lot to interpreting evidence of climate change in the region. It is a shame when you aim high & not get there, but the group has collected a large amount of very interesting data in spite of generally bad weather - impressive!

Yesterday and the day before the weather was nicer than ever... Only ten degrees C below freezing, no wind and lots of sun - perfect conditions and a good time to finally take off some layers that have been warn for weeks on end. They processed their most recent core and started packing up camp. With only 3 days left before their planned Twin Otter flight down to Kangerlussuaq it is best to make a run for Dye-2 before the weather comes in again and they are stuck on the ice sheet longer!

The team mentioned that the bad weather over the past weeks must have taken quite some birds off their route during seasonal migration... They reported hundreds of sparrow-like birds around camp. The birds must have been happy to see something else than the endless white snow surface and decided to take a rest. For quite a few this is the last stop. The ones that stay alive are too exhausted to worry about the humans in their puffy clothes and don't mind being picked up by hand - which is quite necessary when the birds take shelter underneath your snow mobile.