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The western side of the Olympic Mountains is a sight to behold, with crashing waves along the rocky coast and mossy trees in the rain forest signifying the impressive amounts of precipitation that falls in this area. The ongoing Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) is set up to measure rain and snow over the ocean up to the highest mountain peaks using airborne and ground-based instruments. As part of this project, NASA’s ground-based weather radar, NPOL, sits atop a hill on the Quinault Indian Reservation, with clear views out over the ocean and up the Quinault valley toward the snowy mountains.

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NASA’s weather radar (NPOL) on the Quinault Indian Reservation (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

 

As a Seattle resident, I, Dr. Angela Rowe, spend a lot of free time exploring the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. As a Research Scientist in the University of Washington’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, I spend my work day (and honestly a good bit of my free time) using weather radar data to better understand storms around the world. To have the opportunity to combine both of my passions into one project seems too good to be true.

On a drizzly, foggy morning, I pack up my truck with supplies (water, canned soup, a warm blanket) and drive 20 minutes to the radar site. Half of this journey involves ascending a steep road prepared just for this project. It’s a slow-going trip as the creatures of the peninsula (deer, coyotes, rabbits, etc.) could jump out at any moment. It’s also worth driving a little slower to take in the eerily beautiful scene.

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Foggy road to NPOL (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

 

I reach the radar to see the site blanketed in cloud. My view may be limited, but the NPOL radar can “see” out to nearly 135 km (> 80 miles).

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The “view” from the NPOL site on a rainy day.

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The NASA NPOL and D3R weather radars scan the clouds. NPOL’s frequency is best for looking at precipitation, while the D3R’s dual frequencies are better suited for thin, nonprecipitating clouds than NPOL. (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

Example 360-degree low-level scan from NPOL, showing widespread precipitation

Example 360-degree low-level scan from NPOL, showing widespread precipitation.

 

NPOL sits atop 5 containers, which were used to ship the radar out to the site. One of these containers serves as the “office” for the radar scientists on duty. With 12-hour shifts (the radar operates 24/7), it’s important to find a way to get comfortable in this space, shared with several other scientists.

Peeking into the NPOL scientists' trailer

Peeking into the NPOL scientists’ trailer

 

The NPOL radar scientist occupies the back left corner of the trailer, where we have a laptop set up to record and analyze data. Real-time displays of the data sit to my left so I can keep a watchful eye to make sure all is running smoothly. The radar engineer on duty is nearby in an adjacent trailer, waiting to help if things go awry.

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NPOL real-time display, showing a vertical slice through a precipitating storm.

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW), NPOL radar scientist on shift, monitors data

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW), NPOL radar scientist on shift, monitors data

 

In addition to monitoring and analyzing radar data, the radar scientist on duty is also responsible for helping launch “soundings”. There is an instrument (called a radiosonde) that is attached to a large balloon which is then released into the atmosphere at a specified time. Data is transmitted back via an antenna located near the radar, providing us with vertical profiles of temperature, humidity, pressure, and winds throughout the atmosphere. This is a routine task under most circumstances, but on the stormy days we are studying for OLYMPEX, the wind and rain can add some obstacles. On this day, with over 30 mph winds out of the southwest and heavy rain at the site, it took four of us to launch the sounding, sliding along the muddy ground as the balloon pulled us toward the northeast.

The balloon is inflated with helium in another one of NPOL's trailers, after which the instrument is attached and we head outside to launch the sounding. (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

The balloon is inflated with helium in another one of NPOL’s trailers, after which the instrument is attached and we head outside to launch the sounding. (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

 

After a successful launch, high fives seemed appropriate as we went back into the trailer, took off our rain gear, and began to watch the sounding data come in. This information serves as the environmental context for our radar observations. How is the wind profile affecting the storms? How are the storms feeding back on the temperature and moisture levels of the environment? At what level in the atmosphere is the snow turning to rain? Is that level the same across the area? How are the mountains playing a role? These are important questions we are trying to answer at the NPOL/sounding site.

 

In 3 hours, it’s time to put on our rain gear again (the OLYMPEX version of a scientist’s lab coat) and prepare to launch another balloon. It’s cold, wet, and windy,…and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW) heads out into the wind and rain to help launch another sounding.

Dr. Angela Rowe (UW) heads out into the wind and rain to help launch another sounding.

 

At the end of the 12 hours, I head back out into the rain for the final time that day. It appears that I’m not the only one excited about the rainy day, as a northwestern salamander was sitting outside the trailer!

Northwestern salamander (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

Northwestern salamander (Photo credit: Dr. Angela Rowe, UW)

 

I leave the residents of the NPOL site behind and slowly drive back down the dark, winding road, reflecting on the exciting day and ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Plankton are microscopic yet they play a big role in the cycle of elements fundamental to life on earth. The NAAMES project is a testimony to their importance in our ability to predict how the oceans may mediate the Earth’s future climate.

I’ll be joining the cruise to measure rates of phytoplankton growth and mortality, the latter induced by a community of largely unicellular organisms best known as microzooplankton. These include <200 µm ciliates and flagellates, which in the past 50 years or so have been discovered to be quite fond of the microscopic plants that grow in the sea, or phytoplankton. The NAAMES project is particularly interested in the role microscopic grazers play in the yearly cycle of phytoplankton biomass. One idea we are exploring is whether winter creates conditions favorable for phytoplankton growth to outpace the rate at which grazers can eat them, setting things up for the explosion of phytoplankton biomass that occurs every spring in the North Atlantic.

The work we’ll be conducting on the ship to make such measurements requires our lab to bring a battery of equipment. We are fortunate that Woods Hole, where the ship will depart from, is only 1-1/2 hour away from our campus at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and last week we loaded the 2 trucks pictured here and brought all our “stuff” to the dock.

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Essential to our work will be daily incubation experiments in specially crafted incubators like the ones shown in the picture below.  And bottles, lots of bottles!!!

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Once we were done unloading, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Quick Holes Taqueria.  I’m glad the R/V Atlantis we’ll be boarding soon does not quite resemble this earlier version of the Atlantis, a picture of which hangs in the restaurant!

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Although we’ve been planning this first research cruise for several months now, it’s last week at the dock that I really started getting excited  about going to sea! Tomorrow members from our lab will meet me in Falmouth to move the equipment aboard. Can’t wait to get started!!

 

Back in Kulusuk

August 18th, 2015 by Lynn Montgomery
Our camp setup on a cloudy night.

Our camp setup on a cloudy night.

Nick, Olivia, and Lynn enjoying a beautiful afternoon with lunch outside.

Nick, Olivia, and Lynn enjoying a beautiful afternoon with lunch outside.

After 18 long days of successful science and arctic adventures on the ice sheet, we were finally done and ready to head back to civilization. On the morning of August 13th, our expected pull out date, we received bad news from the pilots – they were not even in Kulusuk due to weather delays the day before. They planned to travel that morning and the next day to arrive so pickup should be in the coming days, however to call back later for an update. We went on with our day making pancakes and playing UNO because all the work and all the packing was complete, what else are scientists to do when all the science is done? We called the pilots in the afternoon for an update and got the best news possible – one pilot had arrived and was on his way to pick us all up that afternoon!

We headed back to Kulusuk just in time for dinner and had three sling loads come in the following days (August 14 and 15).   Huge thank-you to our fantastic pilots Diddi and Johannes for the smoothest and quickest field put in/pick up so far.

The helicopter taking in a sling load full of our gear.

The helicopter taking in a sling load full of our gear.

This field season could not have been more rewarding and efficient. We completed all our our science goals and even got some extra data. In the field, we were able to visit all four sites as well as check out some other interesting spots near camp and near the crevasses (though still at a very safe distance!). These extra sites were chosen based on ground based radar data processed and provided by Clem in the field. The field team even got overlapping measurements of radar, seismics, MRS, hydrology, and ice core data from the same site sometimes simultaneously!

When science overlaps -- Taking a seismic shot while drilling for ice cores and taking hydrological measurements of the aquifer!

When science overlaps — Taking a seismic shot while drilling for ice cores and taking hydrological measurements of the aquifer!

The weather was perfect almost every day, we only had two days of clouds and a bit of snow overnight. The winds would moderate in the morning and generally die down in the afternoon, but wonderful conditions for working as it was not too cold. This heat would cause a bit of melt at the surface in the afternoon with no winds which would make it a bit slushy, but work was always manageable. We took no rest days, as the weather did not permit us with any spending all of our time working, some days lasting 11-12 hours. However, we do not complain about the long hours, we take this time to work in great conditions as a huge gift not often seen in Southeast Greenland especially after our last field season.

As for the seismic portion of the mission, we are very happy to report that we were absolutely successful on all fronts. Due to some logistical issues, we decided to use a smaller version of the streamer cables, the one we brought in weighs only 65 pounds instead of the 350 pound original one which also required a snowmobile to tow. We ended up doing about seventeen lines in total at 6 different sites combined. One line corresponds to a 115 meter cable with 5 meter spacing on the geophones. We took shots from 80 meters before the line and 80 meters after the line as well as on the line at ten meter spacing allowing us a much finer spatial resolution for the incoming P-waves to determine the first arrivals. That translates to over 1500 manual hammer shots and almost 600 data files. We had some very sore backs some days but the team really pitched in to help out, even slightly bending the steel hammer plate by the end! We cannot wait to analyze the data and begin looking at results.

The seismic software setup.

The seismic software setup.

Here’s a video from the field showing how we collected the seismic measurements:

Final Fieldwork and an Aquifer Sighting

April 28th, 2015 by Lynn Montgomery and Anatoly Legtchenko
The slope of the ice sheet was crazy! Or we just took a very crooked picture. From left to right: Clem, Lynn, Olivia, and Anatoly.

The slope of the ice sheet was crazy! Or we just took a very crooked picture. From left to right: Clem, Lynn, Olivia, and Anatoly.

April 25, 2015 — The team had come back exhausted and cold but very happy to have a warm meal and bed on Thursday (April 23). Anatoly and I were very excited to have everyone safe after the very long and stormy two weeks they had had in the field. On Friday (April 24), the next day, we had to go back to dig out and load the 2,400 kilos of remaining gear. As a team, we discussed the possibility of trying to do the magnetic resonance (MR) measurements between the first and last flights to get the remaining gear out. It would only take about a few hours to set up and take the measurements so we were hopeful that we would have enough time to do it, as three flights would take most of the day to complete. Olivia, Clem, Anatoly, and I would head out to the camp on the ice sheet in the morning to load the rest of the remaining gear and attempt to complete the MR science at site one. Lora, Josh, and Kip would stay to help unload the incoming helicopters.

A frozen tight-water (outflow) glacier we saw on the way to the field site.

A frozen tight-water (outflow) glacier we saw on the way to the field site.

Sestrugies along the expanse of the ice sheet.

Sestrugies along the expanse of the ice sheet.

After a month of delays in Kulusuk, I had become a logistics expert. I knew how the flights worked and the pilots by name, how to organize all of the helicopter loads, and how to correspond with the team and project managers. But this would be my first experience doing science on the ice sheet. I woke up beyond excited Friday morning to finally be going to the field! As Anatoly said, “Working in Greenland is comparable to fishing: patience and good luck. And one has to have the necessary time for waiting for this chance and then to catch it.”

We headed off to the airport around 8:30 a.m., taking just personal bags packed with food and back-up gear as we did not plan to spend the night in the field. The weather couldn’t have been better; it was sunny with almost no wind and not a cloud in the sky. The Bell 212 helicopter landed at 9 a.m. and we loaded it with the MR gear and our bags. We said a quick goodbye and took off to the field. The flight was about 45 minutes from Kulusuk airport to the field camp, easily recognizable by the bright orange Arctic oven tents. We hopped out of the helicopter and immediately began unloading our gear and reloading with the gear set up by the team in the cargo lines the day before.

Fueling up the Bell 212 and giving Lora giving last minute advice.

Fueling up the Bell 212 and giving Lora giving last minute advice.

The team had filled us in on the conditions on the ice sheet including many stories about how they had to wade through the waist deep soft snow and the terrible 40-knot winds most days. I expected the worst and had dressed in my warmest layers ready to combat the harsh conditions. When we landed, there were similar conditions to Kulusuk; no wind, very sunny, and not a cloud in the sky. It was a great white expanse and we could see for miles. This was the perfect day to work and fly on the ice sheet. I took my first step off the helicopter and my foot sank down so the snow was up to my knees. The first ten minutes were like learning to walk again, as I fell with every other step trying to catch my footing while carrying boxes to load the helicopter. The pilots took off with the first load, which we had stuffed as full as possible with gear. We were alone on the ice sheet.

Loading up the first helicopter flight.

Loading up the first helicopter flight.

Anatoly, Olivia, Clem, and I decided it would be best to split into two groups. Anatoly and I would begin set up the MR and Clem and Olivia would move gear and begin to take down tents for the next flight load. We unpacked the MR gear quickly and I began placing cables to create an 80 meter by 80 meter loop then attaching connectors at each corresponding point of the cables. It was exhausting having to trudge through the snow but I knew it had to be done as fast as possible in order to get measurements before the last helicopter. Anatoly began the setup of all the computer gear in one of the remaining tents and within an hour we were beginning the measurements! Magnetic resonance imaging has never been used in this part of Greenland and in the framework of the project was seen as a challenging technique that may help to constrain hydrogeological modeling.

Anatoly taking magnetic resonance measurements.

Anatoly taking magnetic resonance measurements.

All the while, Clem and Olivia set up the next two cargo lines, took down one of the sleep tents, and shoveled out gear. While the MR measurements were running, Anatoly and I helped with shoveling and taking down the tents. The helicopter arrived for the second flight load and I even got to assist them with landing, standing in a meter or two front of the landing spot as a point of reference, then kneeling down when they got close to protect myself from the massive wind storm they bring with the rotors. We loaded the second flight just as the first and they were off again. Only one more flight to go!

Clem and Olivia digging out the tents.

Clem and Olivia digging out the tents.

Clem beginning to shovel out the gear lines.

Clem beginning to shovel out the gear lines.

Lynn and Clem with the second helicopter load.

Lynn and Clem with the second helicopter load.

We ate a quick late lunch in the remaining tent with the MR gear in it and saw the initial results. The radar, hydrology, and drilling were confirmed; there was indeed an aquifer filled with water around 20 meters below where we were standing. How cool is that?! We called Lora to check on the last helicopter flight and they had already landed and were on their way back. Anatoly needed a bit more time to finish his measurements. We devised a plan to get everything taken down in time. Olivia and I would be ready to coil all the cables and get all the connectors collected as soon as the MR was done collecting data, and Clem would take down the rest of the final tent. Anatoly gave us the “go” signal and we all sprang into action. With a little luck and a very quick pace, we put the last coil into the MR box as we heard the helicopter in the distance. Within 8 hours of exceptionally hard work, we had done what was planned to take 3-4 days.

We loaded the last few boxes with the pilots help and jumped in the helicopter ourselves. The pilots even told us they had seen polar bear prints around 10 kilometers from our camp! We scoured the ice sheet on the way back but never saw any prints. Around 50 minutes later, we were back home in Kulusuk just in time for dinner.

Wow, That Was a Lot of Snow

April 25th, 2015 by Lora Koenig
Tents before the storm (left) and snow reaching near the top of our tents after two storms (right).

Tents before the storm (left) and snow reaching near the top of our tents after two storms (right).

April 24, 2015 — I believe in one of my first blog posts I mentioned that we were working in an area of high accumulation (snowfall) on the Greenland Ice Sheet. I would like to change that to an area of VERY HIGH accumulation! Actually Southeast Greenland does receive the largest amount of snowfall on the entire ice sheet. In previous years we have experienced storms dumping over a meter of snow. This year we had one of those storms bringing well over a meter of snow and then 3 hours after the first storm ended we got a second, bigger storm, pushing our 5 days snow total to nearly 3 meters of snow.

The amount of snow is best summed up by a dinner conversation in our cook tent where Olivia, being on the ice sheet for the first time, asked Clem, Josh and I, ice sheet veterans, what the biggest storm we had ever been in was like. We all responded, in unison,” this is the biggest storm we have ever been in!” While the weather was not particularly cold or windy, it just kept snowing. The low wind made it possible for us to continue science measurements through the storm in a special tent, with no floor, providing both shelter and access to the snow.

The storm hit on the day we were finishing up drilling. We drilled a 56 m borehole into the aquifer, reaching water around 19 m below the snow surface just as we expected. Drilling ice cores is a routine practice on the ice sheet and allows us to see the structure of the ice and measure the ice density; it is less dense near the surface and then compacts to ice at around 35 m in this region. Josh drilled the ice core using both a mechanical drill, called the sidewinder, in the top 19 m of dry firn and with an electrothermal drill in the water saturated firn below. Josh would drill about 1 m of core every 10 minutes and then Clem and I would weigh it, measure it, record ice layers, record the ice temperature and bag certain sections for Olivia’s hydrology measurements. Once the core was processed we took the remaining core to the kitchen tent to melt for our drinking water. (The more dense ice from deeper in the ice sheet produces more water than the less dense surface snow, so we are happy to use it for making water for the camp.)

Lora with Clem reflected in goggles holding an ice core with water bubbles.

Lora with Clem reflected in goggles holding an ice core with water bubbles.

Lora processing an ice core.

Lora processing an ice core.

While we were finishing the drilling Kip and Olivia were working out the kinks of using their equipment for the first time on an ice sheet. They worked through a few freezing issues and quickly had the first every water samples from the aquifer. They melted a piezometer into the ice sheet, inserted a tube and started pumping up water. We were all ecstatic to see the water gushing out of their tube and into their sample bottles.

Water samples from the Greenland aquifer.

Water samples from the Greenland aquifer.

As the hydrology sampling continued so did the storm. We had not received another resupply flight so we were running low on fuel, did not have a snowmobile or sled to move the drill to our next site and our additional team mates and measuring equipment had yet to arrive to complete more science. We knew we were already very delayed so we made the decision to postpone our seismic measurements until the fall. In the meantime the snow continued to fall!

By the third morning of the storm we were all sinking into the snow at least up to our thighs, if not our chest. Our tents were about 7 meters apart and it could take 5 minutes, and half your energy, to break trail between them. We often found it easiest to craw on the surface as opposed to walking. While the hydrology crew collected samples the rest of us dug out camp. We dug about every 2 hours. Even during the night we would have to get out and dig. In the end Josh moved into a tent with Kip and Clem, a tight fit, but more comfortable than digging out his smaller mountain tent all night. We also moved our fuel and generators into the cook tent and let our science gear get buried in its cargo line, marked with tall poles at either end, until the end of the storm. This reduced the area we had to shovel.

Path through the snow.

Path through the snow.

Josh relaxing after digging out the cook tent.

Josh relaxing after digging out the cook tent.

As the snow continued to fall, the winds stayed low. We were thankful for the low winds but knew after the storm the katabatic winds, outflow of cold air that gravitationally flows off the ice sheet, would kick up with a vengeance. On April 20th we woke up to light snow and no winds. The storm was over so we dug out all the cargo creating snow piles over our heads. Now we needed a Helo to bring in more science gear, and fuel, so we could keep working. The surface conditions were so soft that we could no longer operate a snowmobile even if we had one. At that point we knew we would only get one site completed this season because we really couldn’t move.

The calm was short lived. By the afternoon the Katabatic started with the furry we expected. The winds increased to 30 knots very quickly. Over the next 3 days the winds blew and moved all the snow around again. We were digging out our tent almost every hour. All we were doing was digging. Digging out the tents, digging the snow out of our pockets, goggles, gloves, everywhere!  We were tired! We made a decision to end the season once a Helo could get in since we had completed most of the measurements. Today, April 23, we finally got a Helo and all flew back to Kulusuk for a nice shower and warm meal. Tomorrow we will day trip back to remove our camp and, hopefully, let Anatoly make the first every electromagnetic resonance measurement on the aquifer.

Finally our helo arrives and sinks to its belly.

Finally our helo arrives and sinks to its belly.

Notes from the Field