April 23rd, 2014 by Maria-Jose Viñas
By Ludovic Brucker
After an unexpected phone call from the helicopter pilot on Easter Sunday, Ludo and Clem ended the second season of the Greenland aquifer campaign, with the support of Susan, Rick, Lora, Bear, the weather office, and many others. Thanks all for this Easter bunny.
We still wonder whether our campaign was successful, or fair. For sure, it was a mix of good and tough times.
The pluses, making our campaign a good time:
– We’re back from our field site, healthy and with all our fingers and toes!
– We set up an almost perfect camp, limiting drift considerably.
– Our two tents survived 65-knot winds!
– We had saucisson (dry cured sausage), and cheese for fondue!
– No polar bear smelled our food!
– We collected over 17 miles (28 kilometers) of high-frequency (400 MHz) radar data, including 12 mi (20 km) in one day (equivalent to half a marathon!)
– Along a 1.24-mi (2-km) segment of the 2011 Arctic Circle Traverse, we deployed 5 radars operating at 400, 200, 40, 10, and 5 MHz.
– We installed an intelligent weather station developed by the group at IMAU, in the Netherlands.
– We drilled down to 28 feet (8.5 meters) to record the density and stratigraphy of the ice layers.
– We have GPS taken positions during a week, which will help us calculate the velocity and flow direction of the ice in this basin.
The minuses, making our campaign “different”:
– Ten days of weather delays before the put-in flight to our ice camp location.
– Rick could not make it to the field with us.
– We never had three consecutive half days with weather suitable for work.
– Getting a sore throat from shouting to hear each other less than a meter apart.
– During the one day of great weather, we tried to drive down a pilot tube to install a piezometer in the aquifer. This technique is adapted for ground water found within rocky soils. It was the first attempt to do it in the Greenland firn. Driving the metal pipes in the snow through the ice layers was a nightmare, we had to pound on those pipes really hard to make them go through the thick ice layers and we ended up breaking them. At one point, we thought it was broken slightly deeper than 6 ft below the surface, so we dug a pit down to fix it. Well, it turned out that the broken piece was actually 13 ft down — we spent the only full day of great weather breaking our equipment.
– We ran out of cheese for fondue, and of saucisson.
– Sunscreen was completely useless this season.
The “funny” stuff:
– 30 m/s wind is brutal, though not necessarily hilarious.
– High-wind speed does not make the clock spin faster, only the anemometer.
– Supporting text messages and jokes from our family, colleagues, and office mates.
– Attempting a radar survey with a sled taking off every other gusts.
– Calling the Met Office for a weather forecast: “Hello! Since it’s windy here we are wondering what will happen in the next 36 hours.” “Yes, I can confirm that you are experiencing wind.” “Thanks so much for the confirmation, but there was no room for doubt.” “Oh, but it’s a nice spike on the computer screen! It won’t blow more, but it won’t stop soon. Be careful out there”. Patience with Mother Nature is the #1 fundamental.
– Coastal storms from the East might be our favorite storms on the ice sheet: wind stops, and temperatures increase, but it snows, snows, and snows.
– Sixteen feet of seasonal snow is deep, especially with the top 2 feet of fresh snow becoming harder and harder as they it gets compacted by the wind.
– Excavating 1765 cubic feet of snow between 8pm and 11:30pm (you got to use the weather window whenever you have it.)
– The frost all around our sleeping-bag head every morning.
– The 40 hours laying down in the sleeping bag.
– The melody of the wind on our tents and through the bamboo sticks we stuck around them.
– Using the sleeping bag to store hats, balaclavas, gloves, socks, boot insulation, contact lenses, tooth paste, sun screen (it was nice to dream about the day we would need it), batteries, head lamp, snacks, water bottles (ideally liquid and not spilling.)
– The pilot phone call at 8 am on Easter Sunday: “Good morning, happy Easter! Don’t go for a ski strip today, we will come pick you up in 3-4 hours!”
This was the synopsis of our 13-day adventure on the ice sheet. Even though we have been pulled out from the ice sheet, we still have some work to do, such as cleaning and drying our cargo and repackaging it for shipping to either Kanger, or the US.
Now, we would like you to enjoy some photos taken in the field. Thanks again for spending some times reading the blog and following us! Until the next campaign, enjoy each season and stay warm! As we say in French: “En Mai, fait ce qu’il te plaît!” In English, it translates to something like: “In May, do as you please!”. Yup, we’re heading back to the office and will hide behind a computer screen for the months to come.
All the best,
Ludo & Clem
(Left) As weather-delay days continue to keep us in town, Rick calls the weather office to assess whether we can afford to spend more days waiting to be deployed on the ice sheet. (Right) The saddest moment of our campaign, when Rick had to remove his gear from our cargo because he wasn’t coming with us to the field.
(Left) At the Tasiilaq heliport, Ludo waits for our put-in flight on the cargo. (Right) The Air Greenland B-212 helicopter with blue skies and high clouds. After 12 days of patiently waiting, it looks like it’s a go!
Flying over the sea-ice covered Sermilik fjord to reach the ice sheet.
Getting closer to the ice sheet, flying over crevassed tributary glaciers.
(Left) Our cargo, dropped almost two weeks ago, got buried under 2 feet of snow. But all the pieces were there! (Right) The B-212 landed near our cargo for a final move to the ice camp location.
Approaching our camp site.
Minutes after the B-212 had left Clem and me on the ice sheet, we were already shoveling the fresh snow to install our cooking and sleeping tents before dark. This was no time for play, this was no time for fun, there was work to be done.
Our first pretty sunset in Greenland. In one month, we saw two of them.
Early morning selfie! Not fully ready yet to put our cold weather gear on.
Shoveling, a typical activity at camp. Luckily this year we did not have to shovel too much to maintain our tents.
With the amount of fresh snow and the katabatic winds increasing, snow dunes were forming perpendicular to the direction of the wind — it was like being at sea! Half a day later, sastrugis developed along the wind direction and snow became hard and compact.
A snow drift blocking the door of the kitchen tent.
The IMAU intelligent Weather Station, installed in its snow pit before we refilled it.
Ludo inside a 2-m-deep pit dug with the hope to repair a broken pilot pipe for installing a pressure transducer in the aquifer.
Ludo, inside a larger 2-meter-deep pit dug after dinner with easterly winds increasing as another coastal storm was coming bringing more snow. Our rationale was that the sooner we dug, the less snow we’d have to remove.
Two hours before being pulled out from the field, Clem was dragging the 200 MHz radar, and carrying a GPS unit.
(Left) Snow accumulated on our tent entrance overnight. We monitored it carefully every half hours from 2 am to the late evening. We took care of it a couple of times! (Middle) Clem calling the weather service to find out what wind speeds would hit us during the night. (Right) Our last saucisson, hanging over the snow/water pot.
Clem uses an evening break in the weather to drag a low-frequency radar in the fresh snow deposited in the previous hours.
Clem dragging the 400 MHz radar over the sastrugis, a challenging surface to work with.
Weather was clement enough with Clément to allow him for a pit stop during our half-marathon radar day around camp.
A new day, different weather, and another attempt to collect more radar data. Since we aimed at collecting surface-based radar data, not airborne radar data, we quickly had to stop because the wind would make the radar system take off with every other gust.
Pictures taken just one hour apart. In the top one, we were setting up a radar system. In the bottom one, we were actively wrapping it due to sudden katabatic winds that picked up in less than 10 minutes.
Indoor activities while the winds prevented us from working. (Left) Playing domino with mitts in a shaking tent, unforgettable times! (Right) Good food to keep us happy. Merci maman for thinking about us before leaving home.
Our flight back had already been canceled twice. It turned out that this was our last evening at camp. We had a total of two pretty sunsets: one on the first day and the second 12 days later, on our last evening.
Our bags, ready for a surprise pull-out flight! Happy Easter!
A great moment: the landing of the B-212. We were being pulled out!
The crew and Ludo finish up loading the B-212.
Last view of the ice sheet and glaciers.
Forty minutes after leaving our camp, we see signs of life: a view of Tasiilaq (top) and Kulusuk (bottom), minutes before landing.
We’d like to finish with this quote from the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who led the second French expedition in Antarctica around 1910:
“D’où vient l’étrange attirance de ces régions polaires, si puissantes, si tenaces, qu’après en être revenu ou oublie les fatigues, morales et physiques, pour ne songer qu’à retourner vers elles? D’où vient le charme inouï de ces contrées pourtant désertes et terrifiantes?” (“Where does the strange attraction of the polar regions come from, so powerful, so stubborn, that after returning from them we forget the fatigue, moral and physical, only to think of returning there? Where does the incredible charm of these lands come from, however deserted and terrifying?”) Jean-Baptiste Charcot, Le Pourquoi Pas?
March 31st, 2014 by Maria-Jose Viñas
By Clément Miège
Kulusuk, 26 March 2014 — “Opa” is a Greenlandic word for “maybe”, as we learned it this morning while talking to Danish guests at the hotel Kulusuk who have been stuck for a few days due to bad weather.
To give you a little bit of background, the southeastern part of Greenland witnesses the highest precipitation rates of the island, in conjunction with strong winds (either from the ocean or the ice sheet). Often, the weather is unpredictable, especially at this time of year. Therefore, conducting fieldwork in southeast Greenland is a gamble.
Last year, when we experience really great weather in Kulusuk the week before our field work, we did not fully realize how lucky we were to be able to go to the field as scheduled. This year, it has been a different story: we have already gone through two storm systems, and yesterday night a third storm hit us, with a lot of wind and snow. We feel like we are paying the price of last year’s fantastic weather.
That being said, this weather is good to prepare the cargo for our flights to the ice sheet. We spent a good part of Sunday getting the low-frequency radar system ready. We worked on the radar sleds, as well as on the tube that will keep the radar antenna straight when we drag the system on the snow surface.
Ludo and Clem, working on gluing the coupling made to connect the radar antenna tubes. (Credit: Rick Foster.)
Ludo, attaching special bindings on skis to attach the radar box to them (Credit: Rick Foster.)
On Monday, we went to the village of Kulusuk to buy some supplies (we are currently staying in a hotel that is about a 30-minute walk from the village). On our way to the village, we saw four teams of dog sleds ready to leave for Apusiaajik glacier. The dog sleds are carrying skiers and a week-worth of their base camp materials, so the skiers can enjoy the fresh snow!
A dog sled getting ready to leave. (Credit: Clément Miège.)
We walked around the village to get some nice views of the ocean and the sea ice. As we were walking, Ludo made a local friend! A Greenlandic kid who was a really fun guide and gave us a tour for an hour. At some point, we realized that he was always avoiding the direction of the school!
A young Greenlandic musher, showing Ludo which way to go! (Credit: Clément Miège.)
Rick in front of the broken and refrozen sea ice. Imagine how different it is from the open ocean in the summer, with boats cruising around. (Credit: Clément Miège.)
After that, we went to the store and got some food and a propane tank for our stove on the ice sheet. We found everything we needed and headed back to the hotel. We finished the day at the airport further organizing the science equipment.
Rick works on an extension of the ARGOS antenna mast that we already have installed in the field. (Credit: Clément Miège.)
Tuesday, Ludo and I went back to the airport warehouse and finished organizing the cargo for the helicopter flights. We’ve prepared two distinct: one consists of our camp gear, sleep kits, food, personal gear, and some science equipment. The other (which can arrive later), is composed by the rest of the science gear.
Wednesday has been different, and we thought it would be “fun” to walk you through the steps that we have gone through today in terms of decision-making:
In the morning, Thursday’s flight is still ‘opa’. We are optimist and getting ready to leave, packing personal bags and organizing the last bits of equipment.
Weather forecast, from the Danish Meteorological Institute, for today Wednesday (March 26) and Thursday (March 27). The good weather window is for Thursday.
2 pm: The weather is not improving much and we start wondering if we will still be able to leave tomorrow. According to the forecast, a break in the storm system is still possible for tomorrow, but we would need it to last for at least a couple of hours, so that we can have one or two helicopter rotations from Kulusuk to our camp on the ice sheet. Each helicopter rotation takes about 2 hours.
3:15 pm: We receive an email from our project manager, based in the US. The helicopter company (Air Greenland) advises us not to leave for the ice sheet tomorrow since an extreme storm is coming for the next days and our team will be incapacitated (meaning that we will not be able to leave the tent for four to six days). This email is worrying us further, and we do not need to be trapped in a tent on the ice sheet without being able to do any work. It is a difficult decision to make, since the weather will be good tomorrow. Moreover, if we leave, we would be able to start working as soon as the storm passed and not be risk further delays in getting to camp, since the helicopter might be needed for other important duties, like resupplying villages. We have to balance the pros and cons — put simply, we have to balance spending four to six days in a tent doing nothing but trying to stay warm vs. gaining about half a day of work, since that way we would not need to wait for our put-in flight. After an intense discussion involving our partners and the weather office, we finally decide that we will not fly tomorrow.
Left: Rick, calling with the satellite phone, using a homemade extended antenna (credit: Ludo). Right: Ludo and Rick waiting to hear back from Air Greenland about tomorrow’s flight. (Credit: Clément Miège.)
4 pm: Our flight for tomorrow is officially canceled.
7 pm: Even if it does not make any sense to have a passenger flight tomorrow due to this upcoming weather system, we think that it will be really valuable to have a cargo flight to drop our equipment. Hence, only one helicopter load will still need to be transported when the storm is over. We’re still working on this option.
We are not sure when we will be flying, but at least we are ready. Please keep your fingers crossed for some good weather. More updates soon, opa!
All the best from snowy Kulusuk!
March 24th, 2014 by Maria-Jose Viñas
By Clément Miège
YAY! We made it to Kulusuk on Saturday afternoon! It ended being a not-too-long journey, since all of our flights were on time.
Rick, Ludo and I followed different itineraries. Rick left Salt Lake City on Friday morning and a red-eye flight took him to Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. He landed early Saturday and took a bus from the international airport to the domestic airport in Reykjavik (an hour-long ride).
Ludo came from a meeting in Switzerland and arrived in Iceland late Friday night. He stayed at a nearby hostel in Keflavik. The next day, he was told to take a bus that would take him to the domestic airport and that supposedly departs every hour in the morning. After waiting for a while, with no bus in sight, he walked back to town (carrying 2 duffel bags, a ski bag, and 2 carry-on bags) and learned his first Icelandic words: Saturday and Sunday (laugardaga og sunnudaga.) Turns out, during the weekend, the bus schedule is different. Good thing that taxis were not too far and that he ended up making it on time for his 12:45 pm Greenland flight!
Me, I had a one-day layover in Reykjavik, which was a nice chance to rest a bit and quickly visit the city. I walked around town, not for too long because it was definitely cold and windy and I am not yet acclimated to cold temperatures — but I will be in the next few days!
Reykjavik is a nice city… when it’s not too windy. The day I arrived, the wind was gusting and it was just too cold. But I still went on a walk to check the Hallgrímskirkja church. This is the largest church in Iceland, an amazing structure! Inside, there is a lift, making the church a pretty sweet observation tower with nice views over the city.
[Note: Originally in this post, I erroneously said Halgrímskirja is a cathedral. Thanks to our reader Harry McKone for spotting the mistake!]
On the left, the church with the statue of Icelandic explorer Leif Eriksson. This story explains the first discovery of North America by a Viking expedition, led by Leif Eriksson about 500 years before Columbus: http://www.history.com/news/the-viking-explorer-who-beat-columbus-to-america. On the right, downtown Reykjavik, composed of colorful houses. (Credit: Clément Miège)
The next day, I joined Ludo and Rick at the domestic airport (they both arrived before me). Useless to say that we had a lot of gear between the 3 of us, a total of 6 carry-on bags (including laptops, radar computer, transmitters, GPS, etc.), 5 checked bags (with our cold weather gear), and 2 ski bags. We were a bit scared at first by Air Iceland’s policy of only allowing one 5kg carry-on and a 20kg checked bag per person, but we ended up getting through easily, which was a relief!
Icebergs trapped in sea ice (Credit: Ludovic Brucker)
The flight was smooth and fast, only 2 hours to get to Greenland. Approaching Greenland, we started to see more and more winter sea ice along with some big icebergs trapped within it, which is always very pretty. The first islands finally appeared and we were about to land on one of them, where the little town of Kulusuk is.
Interestingly, the sea ice in the fjord next to Kulusuk seemed weaker and it might be thinner this year than when we visited last year. Ludo noticed some spots that were already ice free (see the photo below); those spots were covered by sea ice last April. The wind redistribution of the sea ice and the warm temperature in Kulusuk in January might be the reasons for this weaker sea ice pack.
View from the plane of the sea ice around Kulusuk (the little black dots are houses.) (Credit: Ludovic Brucker)
Our plane, freshly landed at the Kulusuk airport, with a faint sun halo in the background. (Credit: Rick Foster)
Shortly after landing, we made it to our hotel, and started to unpack. This year, Ludo and I brought back country skis, which is a really nice and fun improvement, and also a faster way to get from the hotel to the airport, or to go to the old garage where some equipment is stored from last year.
Ludo, getting ready in front of the hotel to ski to the airport. (Credit: Clément Miège)
At the airport warehouse, we found all the equipment that we sent from the U.S. We counted the boxes and, great news, everything had made it her, and was in pretty good shape too! We started to unpack some items and took some of them to the hotel for re-organizing them some more.
At the Kulusuk airport, Ludo moves equipment around to consolidate our cargo (left). Some equipment is ready to be loaded on the helicopter (right) to go to our field site, but other gear needs some repacking, which will be one of our main tasks for the coming days. (Credit: Clément Miège.)
Today, a big storm is here and it’s a white-out outside — crazy, brrrrr! It is snowing horizontally. So happy we are not in the field right now! It is really windy this morning, about 37 mph, so we have decided to work indoors. We have couple projects: preparing antenna tubing for the low-frequency radar, preparing the radar sleds, assembling the ARGOS antenna pole, and starting to pull out the equipment from our last year’s storage place.
I can’t take any photos today, since it’s just white everywhere and impossible to see the surrounding buildings.
We are still on track for leaving this Thursday (March 27) to go to our camp site on the ice sheet. Amazingly, the only day of the week that looks good for flying out is Thursday — see the forecast below. That is lucky for us!
According to the Weather Channel, the only day with good weather this week is Thursday — good thing we are scheduled to leave then!
I’ll send a new blog post in a few days, stay tuned!
March 19th, 2014 by Maria-Jose Viñas
By Clément Miège
Hi there! I am Clément Miège, a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah and I am going to take you along with us to our second expedition to the southeast region of Greenland, to investigate the physical properties of a firn aquifer. And what is a firn aquifer, you might be wondering? It’s a reservoir of perennial water (that is, water that doesn’t freeze in the winter) that is trapped within the compacted snow layer (or firn) of the Greenland ice sheet. If you didn’t follow last year’s edition of this expedition and/or you want to learn more about the firn aquifer, here are some readings I recommend:
- Our team’s blog posts from last year will give you some background material on the set-up of the expedition and work over the ice sheet. It describes the travel to our field site in Greenland and the techniques we used on the ice sheet to do a first measurement of the volume of water within the firn aquifer.
- To complete this story, my team and other researchers recently published a journal article where we described how this aquifer was serendipitously discovered in the spring of 2011 when we were sampling regions of high snow accumulation. The paper also describes how we first mapped the aquifer using a combination of firn cores, ground radar and airborne radars.
- Finally, we published another journal article following up on the blog posts from last year and determining the volume of the water trapped in the firn aquifer at a specific location. We obtained this volume by comparing the mass of a wet firn core taken inside the aquifer to a core taken in an neighboring area of dry snow. If you assume this water volume is constant throughout the entire firn aquifer (which spreads over an area larger than Western Virginia!), that would correspond to 140 gigatonnes of water stored. To say it in a different way: if the water runoff the ice sheet, it would raise sea levels worldwide by 0.016 inches (0.4 mm).
- And if you don’t feel like reading scientific papers right now, NASA put out a story about our findings, too.
We are now getting ready for another expedition to Greenland to further monitor the firn aquifer. This year, our four main tasks will be to maintain our equipment currently in place (which performs temperature measurements), collect additional measurements (with a radar), install a weather station, and try traditional ground-water techniques to date the water and calculate its permeability. I will explain in future blog posts why these measurements are important.
I will be part of a smaller team this year, since only three out of the five members of the first-year team are joining. Rick Forster and I will represent the University of Utah, while Ludovic Brucker comes from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
The Greenland Aquifer team in 2013.
Here is the photo of the team from last year, from left to right; Jay, Ludo, Rick, Lora and I. Lora and Jay won’t be coming to the field this year (we sure will miss them!) If you want to know a bit more about each team member (current and former), you can check this blog post from last year.
Even when we haven’t set a foot in the field yet, the expedition to Greenland started about two months ago with organizing the logistics. Logistics can sometimes be underestimated, but it takes a lot of effort prior to getting to the field to prepare and test the scientific equipment and other field supplies, such as camping gear, food, and power sources.
For this expedition, all of the science equipment (GPS, radars with different frequencies — 5MHz to 400MHz–, piezometers, ice-core drill) was gathered from different institutions in Utah to be packed here and shipped to Kulusuk. Most of the non-perishable food and camping gear was left for over-winter storage after last year’s expedition in a warehouse in Kulusuk, to save on shipping costs.
On March 3 this year, the Utah gear left for Greenland; we’re talking about 800 lbs. of gear that left Salt Lake City on a truck headed to the JFK airport in New York, where it was flown to Reykjavik (Iceland) and then to Kulusuk (Greenland). We got a phone call early this week from our shipping company to confirm that all our equipment made it to Greenland — great news!
Gear packed at the office (left) and ready to leave the shipping facility at the University of Utah (right). We will see this gear again in Greenland!
These last days have been really busy, gathering the last items for our science research, and also personal equipment. Yesterday, I was working at Blue System Integration in Vancouver, BC with a colleague, Laurent Mingo, who is developing IceRadar, an ice-penetrating radar system for the scientific community (see this website for additional info). Laurent has been working on an experimental beta version of the current radar that will allow us to penetrate through the firn aquifer to try to image the bottom of the aquifer gradually transitioning from water-saturated firn to ice.
Even if most of the scientific equipment is already shipped, there are always some last-minute important items that we end up adding into our suitcases (like the low-frequency radar). As a brief anecdote, last year, Rick traveled with a pelican case as a checked bag – inside, there was a bunch of wires hooked up to a datalogger. We were aware that it looked kind of suspicious, so it was a bit scary to go through customs with it! Me, I traveled with a 60-meter long thermistor string weighing over 50 lbs. in my checked bag, because the fabrication and calibration took longer than expected and we weren’t able to ship it ahead of time with the rest of the equipment. This year, luckily, most of the heavy equipment was ready on time and we are carrying only a couple random items in our checked bags.
We are starting our journey this week, leaving the U.S. on Thursday evening for Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. After a day in Reykjavik, we will leave mid-Saturday on a 2-hour short flight that will take us to Kulusuk, Greenland. We are hoping for good weather; last year, Ludo and I “boomeranged” on our first try due to poor visibility at the Kulusuk runway.
In this old map from the US army (from 1941) you can see the location of the small city of Kulusuk in Southeast Greenland (red star), just below the Arctic Circle (~66.5°N). Our field camp on the ice sheet is represented by a white star. The map can be found at the Polar Geospatial Center.
Kulusuk is our first stop in Greenland. We will be staying at this small village for a few days in order to re-pack our field gear, test that everything is working well (stoves, generators, tents, science equipment, etc.) before going to the field. If we are lucky, we might see one of the polar bears that sometimes come close to town in this time of year.
Colorful houses make up the town of Kulusuk in Southeast Greenland. The shores of the fjord are covered by sea ice in the winter.
After a couple of days, we will be heading to our fieldwork location on the ice sheet. A helicopter from Air Greenland will drop us and our cargo at our study site; it will be an about 45-minute commute.
That is it for this introduction; our next blog post will be from Greenland!
All the best,