Greenland Aquifer Expedition: Final Fieldwork and an Aquifer SightingApril 28th, 2015 by Lynn Montgomery and Anatoly Legtchenko
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.