Greenland Aquifer Expedition: “Groundwater” Study Hits the Ice Sheet

April 23rd, 2015 by Olivia Miller, University of Utah
The team on a walk to the airport to organize gear.

The team on a walk to the airport to organize gear.

Hello! This is Olivia and I’ll be writing about the hydrology work we are doing this year on the Greenland ice sheet. A few years back some scientists on our team discovered liquid water inside the ice sheet. They partnered with us to study the water in greater depth.

We think that the snow melts at the surface, percolates down through the snow and firn, and pools inside the ice. The water fills up the air space between the ice crystals, creating an aquifer inside the ice sheet that we think behaves similarly to aquifers found on land. The hydrology that we are doing this season is basically a “groundwater” hydrology study, except that in this case it is an “ice-sheet-water” hydrology study. We will try to test our ideas about how the aquifer behaves and understand what that means for the ice sheet and sea level rise more broadly.

To answer these questions, we will collect measurements of how deep the water is and how much pressure it has to determine where the water is entering and exiting the aquifer. We will test how quickly the water travels through the firn and also collect water samples. The chemistry of the water will tell us information about how long the water has been inside the ice sheet. All of this information will give us a much better idea of how the aquifer is filling up, and where the water is going, and how quickly it moves. This kind of information is important for understanding how ice sheet melt relates to sea level rise. If the aquifer is storing water for long periods of time, than it may have less of an immediate impact on sea level rise. However, what happens if it fills up and suddenly drains quickly? Or maybe it is constantly draining?

To make our measurements and collect our samples, we had to do a lot of work to modify traditional groundwater hydrology tools and instruments to work at very cold temperatures. Groundwater hydrologists often use piezometers, long pipes that have a small opening at the bottom to let water in, to access the aquifer they are investigating. To install a piezometer into the ground, you can pound it in. To install our piezometer into the ice, we have developed a piezometer with a heated tip that can melt through the hard ice layers.

Another challenge we face is that many of the samples we collect cannot freeze, and yet we expect the temperature at our field site to often be below freezing. When we collect these samples, we completely fill the sample bottle so there is no air space in the bottle. We do this so that we can analyze gasses that are dissolved in the water back in the lab. If these samples froze, the water would expand and break the bottle, ruining the sample. To prevent these samples from freezing, we have modified several coolers to be extra-insulated and to have special heaters inside them.

It has been quite the learning experience to take all of our groundwater hydrology work to such a different environment! But this is part of what makes the science exciting. We get to try something that has never been done before.

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: Persevering Through the Storm

April 21st, 2015 by Greenland Aquifer Expedition team
 A gloomy day in Kulusuk.

A gloomy day in Kulusuk.

The past week has presented many successes and challenges for the team in the field. The weather has been a huge issue, not only in helicopter load delays, but also in being able to perform the science needed. The team has been hit with over 2 meters of snow and up to 40-knot winds in the time they’ve been there. This even includes covering Josh’s mountain tent entirely with snow, though he has now moved into a larger Arctic Oven tent joining Clem and Kip. It has slowed them down, but not stopped them in the slightest. They have persevered through the storm and fully completed the drilling, hydrology, and radar work at the first site. Another meter of snow is expected throughout the rest of today (April 19) and tomorrow. Our team plans on continuing to dig out and make measurements no matter what Mother Nature throws at us next.

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: Ready, Set, Go!

April 14th, 2015 by Lynn Montgomery, University of Maryland

 

The team loads the final gear for the first flight.

The team loads the final gear for the first flight.

After many long days of waiting, we got an update yesterday that our helicopters would be down until April 16. We have had bad luck so far with delays – mechanical difficulties and bad weather. The team’s morale sunk to an all-time low with this news. We had been anxiously awaiting a call each day to tell us we were going to fly.

This morning, April 10, we got the news that we would probably not be flying because the helicopter was still not ready to go. Disappointed, we went on about our daily activities including going to the store and exploring town. When we got back, we heard exciting news. Fin, our pilot, had called saying he was on his way and to get ready for two flights today! The team sprang into action, furiously packing bags, driving to the airport, and getting camp and science gear into the final loads.

The Bell 212 helicopter landed around 2:30 p.m. We began to pack all of our things in when the pilot announced we could only take 650 kilos instead of the initial weight we had thought of 800 kilos. We had already stripped our science and camp gear down to the bare bones to fit the first weight limit. With this new cut, we had to take out even more gear within minutes. Although we had to cut down the first flight, the rest will be put on the second flight. Josh, Olivia, and Clem left successfully landed on the ice sheet.

Clem, Olivia, and Josh ready to get into the field.

Clem, Olivia, and Josh ready to get into the field.

The helicopter made good time, returning for the second flight around 4:30 pm. This time, they upped the weight limit to 900 kilos from 650 kilos for the first flight. Instead of having a weight problem, we were quickly maxing out on volume. At the end, we successfully got most of our science, camp gear, and food in plus Lora and Kip! We are so excited that the initial team has set up camp and is ready for the first night out in the field. I will go in on one of the next few flights.

Packing the gear into the second flight.

Packing the gear into the second flight.

Lora and Kip packed in and ready to go!

Lora and Kip packed in and ready to go!

Flying off to the ice sheet.

Flying off to the ice sheet.

There are two sling loads planned for the next two flights to take in the drill and the two snowmobiles plus more science gear. Anatoly will arrive soon on April 15 and Nick on April 20. We are slowly but surely getting all of our gear and scientists into the field.

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: More Delays and an Earthquake

April 9th, 2015 by Lora Koenig
Lynn, Lora, and Olivia watching the northern lights. Photo by Clément Miège.

Lynn, Lora, and Olivia watching the northern lights. Photo by Clément Miège.

Today (March 8, 2015) marks our tenth day in Kulusuk. We are now officially three days late getting into the field. This is pretty typical for field work in this area but we are still a bit restless, ready to get to our final destination and start taking our measurements.

Our standard day in Kulusuk starts with breakfast at the hotel.  After breakfast we hear from the helicopter pilots as to whether we have a chance of flying. There is one Air Greenland helicopter right now for this region that is responsible for commercial traffic, taking supplies to the nearby villages and charter flights, like ours. Our first delays started on Sunday and Monday when the helicopter was grounded needing to have some standard maintenance. While we were disappointed to not fly, it really didn’t matter because we were in the biggest storm yet with 40-knot winds. No flying no matter what! The storm and maintenance aligning was actually quite lucky. We tinkered with some final gear, caught up on email, and on Monday night settled in for a movie at the hotel. Towards the end of the movie we heard a strange rattling noise. It was a small earthquake! We emailed Nick and he sent us some great information from the seismometers near by showing the quake which was a 1.9 on the Richter scale. Too bad we didn’t have our seismic equipment deployed or we would have even more data.

A map of the Danish Seismological Network (red dots), showing the stations in the area and the black star the approximate location of the Earthquake.

A map of the Danish Seismological Network (red dots), showing the stations in the area and the black star the approximate location of the Earthquake.

The waveforms from stations near Kulusuk, the event rolled through around 9:11 pm  local time at Tasiilaq. It was a high frequency earthquake!

The waveforms from stations near Kulusuk. The event rolled through around 9:11 pm local time at Tasiilaq. It was a high frequency earthquake!

On Tuesday we woke to blue skies and great views of the surrounding mountains. I packed up my final bag before I even came up to breakfast expecting to fly. At breakfast the call from the pilot brought very bad news. The maintenance on the helicopter detected another issue that required a new part. The helo is now grounded and expected to be for a while. There is another smaller helo on its way to Kulusuk but it will not arrive until the end of the week. We have adjusted all of our loads so that we can use either Helo, whichever is ready first and, hopefully, we can use both to make up some time.

We spent the rest of the beautiful day on Tuesday testing our hydrology equipment and a new ice core drill on a nearby frozen lake. In the evening, the clear skies allowed us to see the Northern lights for the first time on this trip, and for many on the team, for the first time ever. We made the best of the day considering we would have preferred to be in the field. Now we will just wait for both a weather window and a working helicopter. It just started snowing outside again so we may be here for a while longer. Fingers Crossed.

Clem, Josh and Lora testing the new ice core drill.

Clem, Josh, and Lora testing the new ice core drill.

Kip and Olivia testing the hydrology equipment to penetrate through the ice into the water.

Kip and Olivia testing the hydrology equipment to penetrate through the ice into the water.

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: Snowy Easter in Kulusuk

April 8th, 2015 by Clément Miège

Greetings from Kulusuk and Happy Easter! The Easter Bunny made a short trip to Kulusuk this morning and we happily found some chocolates at the hotel!

Easter-egg hunt in the snow

Easter-egg hunt in the snow.

Otherwise, our team is not on the ice sheet yet because of the bad weather we are experiencing. Today, it is snowing continuously and the visibility is poor–it’s impossible to fly a helicopter in those conditions. We are patiently waiting for a break in the weather to be able to fly out to our field camp.

On Friday we spent a few hours in the village of Kulusuk, about a 20-minute walk from the hotel. We got our remaining supplies for the field, propane, and food, at the local store and walked around for a bit.

Greenlandic dog and puppy hanging out in the village.

Greenlandic dog and puppy hanging out in the village.

On Saturday, the weather was better. But because the Air Greenland B-212 helicopter was busy with commercial flights, we decided to go on a hike to the old DYE site, about 8 km south from the hotel. The DYE-4 site is located on a hill south of the village of Kulusuk and overlooking the ocean, giving us a great viewpoint to look at both sea ice and mountains. Historically, the DYE sites were built by the Americans during the Cold War, and were equipped with long-range radars to provide an early warning for potential missiles.

It seemed like a great goal for a Saturday afternoon hike. After a few hours, we made it to the final ridge, with skis or on foot, leading to the old station. This last stretch was quite entertaining because of extensive patches of blue ice on the ridge that we had to walk across. The ice is formed due to a combination of strong winds and accretion. To make it even more interesting, the ice was hiding underneath a few inches of fresh snow. So we ended up sliding quite a bit and even the edges of the skis were not sharp enough! True dust on crust conditions!

Photo of the current facilities at the DYE-4 site.

Photo of the current facilities at the DYE-4 site.

Up there, the views were fantastic. The radar station was removed but a few other buildings remained and some newer antennas were built for communication means. You can find below a few photos of the hike.

Team photo at Dye-4! From left to right: Josh, Lynn, Olivia, Joe, and Clem.

Team photo at DYE-4! From left to right: Josh, Lynn, Olivia, Joe, and Clem.

Views on the sea ice, ocean and a few icebergs.

View of the sea ice, ocean, and a few icebergs.

On the other side, views of the fjord and mountains.

On the other side, views of the fjord and mountains.

Can you spot the helicopter on this one?

Can you spot the helicopter on this one?

Today is Easter but with the good amount of fresh fallen snow, we could have gotten confused with Christmas! We finished preparing a few things and we are more than ready to go now. According to the DMI forecast, our future is not too promising, unfortunately. It is supposed to keep snowing until Tuesday morning, but the weather should improve! So we keep our fingers crossed! Again, happy Easter to everyone!

The forecast from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) is not too inspiring, unfortunately.

The forecast from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) is not too inspiring, unfortunately.

Notes from the Field