Greenland Aquifer Expedition: Onward to Southeast Greenland

April 2nd, 2015 by Lynn Montgomery
Amazing view from the plane of an iceberg.

Amazing view from the plane of an iceberg.

After one day of delay due to extenuating circumstances in Kangerlussaq, we got the “OK” to fly across the ice sheet to Southeast Greenland. We gathered all of our gear from the Kangerlussaq International Science Support (KISS) center and headed off on a 1.5 hour flight on the C130 to the town of Kulusuk. Once we arrived, the 13,000 pounds of cargo was unloaded along with all of our personal bags. The cargo included over 1000 pounds of food, scientific field gear, camping gear, and two brand new “Ski-Doo” snowmobiles. Just as quickly as we landed and unloaded, the Air National Guard’s C130 was off for its next mission.

C130 Flight to Kulusuk.  From left to right: Joe, Lynn, Olivia, and Josh.

C130 Flight to Kulusuk. From left to right: Joe, Lynn, Olivia, and Josh.

13,000 pounds of cargo and gear unloaded from the C130.

13,000 pounds of cargo and gear unloaded from the C130.

We headed to Hotel Kulusuk for a quick lunch and group meeting to plan tasks for the day. The main goal was to unpack and take inventory of all of the cargo. Our group made a quick return to the Kulusuk airport, walking on top of the snowpack because the roads are treacherous. The roads have about a 10 foot wall of snow on either side making visibility for vehicles and plows very difficult. We worked the rest of the afternoon breaking down cargo pallets and taking inventory of everything. All gear has been checked off the list and received. A storage container was provided for cargo that could not be left out so priority gear was placed inside. The sun began to go down so we headed back to the hotel for dinner and another group meeting to plan for the next day’s events – grouping gear based on what helicopter flight it will be taken into the field and repackaging cargo to decrease the volume as much as possible.

Kip and Clem working indoors during the bad weather on Monday.

Kip and Clem working indoors during the bad weather on Monday.

This morning, Monday, we woke up bright and early to 30 knot winds with a forecast of 50 knot gusts later in the day. This created whiteout conditions for most of the day, making it very difficult and dangerous to get work done outside. The airport was closed and cancelled all incoming flights, we were very thankful that we got to fly in yesterday. Although conditions are poor, it creates a great analog for the field and we got a chance to try out all of our gear – parkas, snow boots, coveralls, ski goggles, gloves, and baklavas! Lora, Kip, Olivia, and I practiced using the GPS units by wandering around outside near the hotel. Josh, Joe (our Greenland Logistics Coordinator for Polar Field Services), and Olivia ventured out to get a key to the airport so we have access whenever we need. Most of the day was spent inside programming.

Tomorrow’s forecast looks very sunny and great for working outside. Can’t wait to get out in the field!

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: Gathered in Greenland, Prepared for Field Work

March 30th, 2015 by Olivia Miller, University of Utah
The team getting on our C-130 flight to Greenland.  From left to right: Clem, Josh, Lynn, Kip and Olivia.

The team getting on our C-130 flight to Greenland. From left to right: Clem, Josh, Lynn, Kip and Olivia.

We made it to Greenland! On Thursday, Kip and I flew from Salt Lake City, Lora flew from Denver, Clement flew from Seattle, Lynn flew from DC, Josh flew from Madison, and we all met up in Clifton Park, NY. Only one bag was lost and later found, and one flight canceled. Although we have all been working together to prepare for this work, I hadn’t met most of the team face to face. I finally got to put faces to the voices I had come to know from weekly teleconferences over the past six months. I was also lucky enough to have some family who lives outside Albany come visit and bring me a care package of goodies.

Lora reading on a cold flight over to Greenland.

Lora reading on a cold flight over to Greenland.

Olivia and Lynn excited to go to Greenland for the first time.

Olivia and Lynn excited to go to Greenland for the first time.

One of our first views as we flew into Greenland.

One of our first views as we flew into Greenland.

Friday was a long day. The Air National Guard picked us up from our hotel at 5 a.m. for our flight aboard a C-130 to Kangerlussuaq. We piled into the belly of the plane, sitting on webbing seats and peering out tiny windows as the North American continent slowly transitioned from forested land to tundra to open ocean to sea ice and finally to the glacially carved fjords and ice covered mountains of Greenland. As we approached our destination, the flight crew even let us go up into the cockpit. They had an impressive view!

A view of the town of Kangerlussuaq.

A view of the town of Kangerlussuaq.

The Kangerlussuaq International Science Support building.  Our home for the next few days.

The Kangerlussuaq International Science Support building. Our home for the next few days.

Upon arrival, we were taken to the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) base, where we stayed last night. After settling into our rooms we went through training on snowmobiles and how all of our communication devices work. Much of our field work will involve snowmobiles. We have personal locator beacons in case of an emergency and all kinds of radios to talk with helicopter pilots and each other, as well as several satellite phones. We also got to see all 80 boxes of science equipment that had been loaded onto pallets for us. We have so much equipment because we are conducting a variety of different kinds of studies this year (hydrology, ice coring, seismic, radar, and magnetic resonance) and each study requires a lot of different equipment.

Today, Saturday, we prepared for our last airplane flight to Kulusuk. The flight was scheduled for 10:15 so we happily got to sleep in a bit and catch up on some much needed sleep. For breakfast we headed to the cafeteria in the airport and made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some perishable food to bring into the field with us. Our flight was delayed a bit so we went to lunch at the Pizza-Thai–Grill restaurant in town.

Unfortunately we just found out that our flight been pushed back to tomorrow, so for now, we get to catch up on some work and spend a little time exploring the town.

Greenland Aquifer Expedition: We’re off again!

March 24th, 2015 by Lora Koenig

Hello and welcome to the third installment of the Greenland Aquifer Team blog. We are back at it again this year to study the water hidden below the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet. For background, if you have a lot of reading time, you can check out all of the blog posts (including those from previous years) here, or for a quick synopses check out the press release on our 2014 science papers resulting from our work here.

This season should be an exciting one. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA are funding us to do a lot more work this season to better understand how much water is being stored in the Greenland Ice Sheet and what that ultimately means for all of you reading this. Note: If you are reading this while on spring break from a nice chair on the beach you should pay attention because over the next few decades the melt from Greenland will raise global sea levels. The only remaining questions are how much and how fast? Our team will play a small roll in answering these science questions by drilling, pounding, radiating, and penetrating into the aquifer in southeast Greenland.

Over the next five to six weeks, this blog will cover not only our science but also our adventures conducting science in one of the harshest regions on Earth. This year will be BIGGER. More measurements, more people, more time in the field, and more blogs. (More blogs assuming the satellite phone data link works. After all, this is field work so we never know.) Everyone on our team will contribute to the blogs so I will introduce them here quickly and you will hear more about each of them and their work in the weeks to come. Enjoy the blogs! We take off for Greenland on March 27, so look for our next installment about our trip from New York to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, soon.

Greenland Aquifer Team 2015

GreenlandAquifer_2015_0323_1

Top row left to right: Josh Goetz, Lead driller from the Ice Drilling Design and Operations group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Clément Miège, Post-doctoral student, radar lead, and Greenland Aquifer team veteran from the University of Utah; Kip Solomon, Professor and ground water hydrology lead from the University of Utah; and Lynn Montgomery, Undergraduate student and seismic team member from the University of Maryland.

Bottom row left to right: Anatoly Legtchenko, Director of research and electromagnetic resonance lead from the Laboratoire d’étude des Transferts en Hydrologie et Environnement (Laboratory of Hydrology and Environment); Lora Koenig, Research scientist, ice core lead and Greenland Aquifer team veteran from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado; Olivia Miller, Graduate student and ground water hydrology team from the University of Utah; and Nick Schmerr, Assistant professor and seismic lead from the University of Maryland.

 

Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP): SMAP: The Dirt Behind Improved Forecasting

February 2nd, 2015 by Rani Gran, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Science team leader Dara Entekhabi discusses the science and engineering of NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission with the audience of a NASA Social held on January 28, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: NASA

Science team leader Dara Entekhabi discusses the science and engineering of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission with the audience of a NASA Social held on January 28, 2015, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: NASA

Dara Entekhabi has been waiting 15 years for this moment—the launch of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Even a snowstorm wasn’t going to stop him: He flew out of Boston just before a major storm dumped over 30 inches of snow on his home.

The satellite, which launched early in the morning of January 31, could aid in studying storms like that in the future. “Next year, if the East Coast sees another major Nor’easter snowstorm, forecasters will be able to predict the flood potential with greater accuracy,” said Entekhabi, lead scientist for SMAP at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

That’s because SMAP can measure how much water the ground can absorb. If the ground is frozen, the soil will not be able to absorb much water from snowmelt. Some of the worst floods occur when it rains on snow. “Its like you suddenly tip a water bucket,” he said.

Since 1999, Entekhabi has advocated for improving weather forecasts with dedicated satellite measurements of soil moisture. Previous investments in higher resolution satellite measurements led to improvements to weather forecast models. But there are other fronts to explore to improve forecasts’ accuracy further.

SMAP’s global look at soil moisture is one of the leading contenders, Entekhabi said. When scientists ran test forecasts using historical conditions, the computer models that integrated realistic surface soil moisture information produced a more accurate forecast. From this result, researchers realized an investment in better soil moisture measurements would provide significant improvements in weather forecasting.

With this knowledge, Entekhabi began the campaign of building advocacy among the science community for a dedicated soil moisture satellite mission. The SMAP mission—a collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Goddard, and science team members from various institutions—has had ups and downs along the road to launch.

“It’s been a long haul,” Entekhabi says. “But I live this every day and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP): SMAP: Adopt a Satellite

January 31st, 2015 by Kate Ramsayer

Vanessa_NASAtv_01312015

Two hours before SMAP’s early morning launch Saturday, Vanessa Escobar was on NASA TV, explaining a new effort to link the soil-moisture-measuring satellite with the people who will put it to use.

It’s called an ‘Early Adopter’ program – and it lets interested companies and agencies, from John Deere to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association, take simulated SMAP data and develop the tools and computer programs to interpret it. With these tools and programs in hand, SMAP’s 45 Early Adopters will be ready to grab the satellite’s data as soon as it’s processed to help improve flood warning systems, forecast crop yields, better predict droughts, understand dust storms and more.

“It’s fantastic science, and through the early adopters the science is getting to the users,” said Escobar, an applications scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

SMAP is the first NASA mission with an Early Adopter program. The mission’s science team has been driven to find ways in which the soil moisture data could be used to benefit people and communities, she said.

And so from an early point, Escobar and her colleagues reached out to people and groups who could use information about the soil’s water content. They started with some of the more obvious groups – agriculture researchers, weather forecasters – SMAP’s “close friends,” she noted. But as word of the program spread, others became interested as well: The public health scientist in the American Southwest concerned with respiratory impacts of dust storms, for example, or scientists interested in mapping sea ice with the satellite’s capability of determining whether a surface is frozen.

With their early access to simulated data sets and time to develop the tools to use them, those adopters are ready.

In the next couple months, after SMAP completes its check-out phase, “the job changes, it goes from simulated data to real data,” she said. “We keep working with the early adopters, we keep communicating with them, and instead of talking about the methods to use the SMAP data, we’ll talk about the impacts, and the societal benefits.”

Notes from the Field