“The PIG Diggers”

Our crew's sticker (a field camp tradition) The WAS Recovery Team has returned victorious and with smiles on our faces yet! To quote our project manager announcing the successes of the season: “…The Pine Island Glacier (PIG) Traverse arrived back at WAIS Divide field camp yesterday afternoon, Sunday January 25th NZDT, completing the full return of ~ 90,000 pounds of camp infrastructure and equipment from the PIG C site. The excavation of the buried equipment and cargo by the 4-person recovery team prior to the arrival of the traverse proved critical to the success of this effort.” We had a great season in the field, making it to all three sites: PIG, WAIS, and Byrd. We had no internet access out there, only an HF radio and two iridium phones. So let me start at the beginning… On November 19, after several weather delays, we finally boarded a LC-130 Herc and departed McMurdo for WAIS Divide. The first day at WAIS was spent digging out the PIG Traverse berm and sorting our cargo into first and second flight loads for the Twin Otter. We put-in at PIG on the 21st with the Twin Otter making two trips – first with some of our cargo and then a second flight with the four of us and more of our survival supplies.

The Twin Otter loaded down with our gear and cargo

The Twin Otter loaded down with our gear and cargo

Coming in for the landing at PIG

Coming in for the landing at PIG

PIG_20141121_15 A deep field put-in requires shelter, comms, and a heat source before the plane is allowed to leave. We had delegated tasking beforehand and the Scott tent was erected right away, McMurdo Operations (MacOps) was called on the Iridium phone, and our little whisper-lite stove was fired up to prove we could melt snow for water.  The Twin Otter pilots said their good byes and headed back to WAIS. Thankfully it was a calm and beautiful evening and we spent the next few hours settling in. I dug an outhouse trench and set up a little tent over it. Andy, our mechanic, got busy digging out and setting up the Nordic diesel drip stove which was wonderfully right at the surface of the snow on the PIG berm. DeVal, our camp manager, and Jen, the field coordinator, quickly excavated some proper floor panels from the berm and began shaving down a level area where we could set up the larger more comfortable Arctic Chief tent. Scott tents are great shelter – they are sturdy, but there isn’t much insulation and they’re quite small for a primary shelter.

Town set up

Town set up

By midnight that first night we had the Scott tent and the Arctic Chief up with the Nordic stove burning and a big pot of snow on top to melt. We sat in a circle and ate our dehydrated dinner packets then rolled out our sleeping bags and slept side by side on the floor. The next day we set up our individual mountain tents (Mountain Hardwear Trango’s) and unpacked and organized the rest of our food and cargo. Then it was time to get down to business…

The berm, buried to the top in places…

The berm, buried to the top in places…

Pine Island Glacier is located near the coast of West Antarctica – from the air you can just see a dark line that is the ocean and on a clear day on the ground you can see two little mountains peaking over the horizon. For the most part though it is flat white with awful weather, even by West Antarctic standards. Being so close to the ocean we were visited by a few South Polar Skuas and Snow Petrels! This area gets significant accumulation and it had been two years since the camp was closed and the cargo bermed. The satellite photo I posted earlier showed the cargo lines fairly clearly which was encouraging and some pallets were quite scoured. The Tucker however, was almost completely gone, with just a few inches showing above the surface!

Andy surveying the Tucker

Andy surveying the Tucker

We marked out the area to be cleared and fired up the chainsaws. The snow there is heavy and hard, more like sandstone than snow at times! Shovels worked great for the first half meter and for cleaning up edges and the bits thrown out by the chainsaws, but the chainsaws were really the star of the show. And the pick axes. The blocks were heavy too, the snow being about 50% water. Blocks were cut, heaved to the lip of the pit, and then loaded onto little sleds and dragged out of the way downwind. We did this in part to keep the working area around the pit clear and also to reduce drifting as we would eventually have to dig up buried items on either side of the Tucker as well. It took 5 days to fully clear the Tucker; to excavate around and under the vehicle, chip out the ice in the tracks, and melt out the engine and cab. And then we connected the battery and…it fired right up without a hitch and I drove it out of the hole! PIG_20141123_47

Making the first ramp cuts

Making the first ramp cuts

Hauling blocks downwind

Prying out blocks and hauling them downwind

It seemed to go a lot quicker once we were working our way down the machine itself!

It seemed to go a lot quicker once we were exposing new parts along the machine itself!

DeVal looking epic

DeVal looking epic

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

On November 28 we celebrated Thanksgiving, sleeping in and indulging in frozen corn and stuffing mix. With perfect timing the weather closed in and for the next two days we were stuck inside as the storm raged – filling in the giant Tucker hole we had just cleared. Then we started digging out the Cat 297 and fuel tank following the same process as the Tucker. 4 days later we drove that out of the ground and got to work digging out the other pallets of cargo. Just a few days after that we were hit again with another storm. And so it went…digging, sawing, and chipping out pallets of cargo, then when we’d reached a good stopping point a storm would roll through and we’d hunker down in the Chief. Old Star Trek movies proved to be a good source of entertainment and conversation.

The 297 almost ready to go

The 297 almost ready to go

Our in-house theater

Our in-house theater

Meanwhile, back at WAIS the PIG Traverse was working hard to get their sleds and tractors together and in working order. This far from McMurdo all fuel is brought in via LC-130s. Delays and cancellations meant that the WAIS Divide camp was low on fuel itself with none to spare for the traverse. So the PIG Traverse had to make a trip out to Byrd to fill their fuel bladders and on December 17th they finally headed our way. It was perfect timing, delays and all – On the 20th we unearthed our final piece, the groomer. We had been dreading this skeleton of metal, which would be rocked in hard with ice and snow. Big square things were easy to pull out, but something with so much open space meant we’d have to clear it out completely.

Digging out empty drums…

Digging out empty drums…

Triwalls to be dug out

Triwalls to be dug out

It was completely buried. If we didn’t have a photo of the berm before they’d left in Jan 2013 we’d never have known it was there at all! Only a flag marking the tip of the hitch was visible. Thankfully with a little help from our friend, the Tucker, and some chainsaw work it came out smooth as butter in just one day! We were done – all cargo excavated, ready and waiting for the Traverse to arrive.

Drilling down to find the groomer…

Drilling down to find the groomer…

The groomer emerging

The groomer emerging

As soon as we were done, with impeccable timing, the biggest storm yet closed in on us. We huddled inside the Chief for nearly 4 days waiting it out as it dumped snow and howled at 25-30kts. We read, and slept, made breakfast for dinner with some dehy hash browns and frozen eggs and watched movies on the little laptop – powering it via a little 1KW generator when the clouds were too thick for the solar panels to work. With the sun up 24/7 we had little need for electricity. A few light weight solar panels charged small electronics like our iridium phones, camera batteries, and kindles, but we had brought along a 1KW portable generator as well.

Stormy day at PIG

PIG Breezy!

A mountain tent nearly gone!

A mountain tent nearly gone!

Cargo drifts

Drifted cargo

The Traverse arrived late in the day on Christmas Eve bearing mail and baked goods from WAIS. The 9 of us crammed into the Arctic Chief for a special Christmas dinner and good times were had by all as we shared stories of the prior month and cracked open a few cans of egg nog.

The PIG Traverse rolling into town

The PIG Traverse rolling into town

Building up the cargo load for the traverse

Building up the cargo load for the traverse

Fueling the traverse tractors

Fueling the traverse tractors

The Traverse double teaming to break the load free

The Traverse double teaming to break the load free

The Chief succumbing to the ice…

After only 6 weeks – The Chief succumbing to the ice…

Andy’s contract was up at the end of December so the Twin Otter picked him up the day after Christmas – and we set to work digging out all the cargo for a second time. That big storm had created whales of drifts that had engulfed not only our tents, but the cargo we had so carefully unearthed. With everyone helping we got the traverse loaded up and on Dec 28th they left PIG with the first load of ~15 pallets. We stayed busy organizing and palletizing the remaining cargo while they drove halfway to WAIS and staged the first load. They returned a few days later and on January 4th with a break in the weather we flew back to WAIS. Job complete.

Welcome to WAIS Divide!

Welcome to WAIS Divide!

The metropolis of WAIS

The metropolis of WAIS

Tent city at WAIS

Tent city at WAIS

We spent a week at WAIS Divide, enjoying the home cooked food and the larger camp facilities like the showers…After 6 weeks at PIG with only baby wipes I didn’t mind shoveling a bunch of snow for a shower! The Twin Otter pilots had taken some photos of the buried Tucker and the folks at WAIS were pretty awed. The next task was to fly out to Byrd camp to repair the Tucker and bring it back to WAIS so it could be utilized at other camps as needed. While we waited for two mechanics from  McMurdo to join us, and then for a flight out to Byrd, we helped around camp. As an operator I mostly groomed and helped with the winter berms. WAIS_20150121_69 On Jan 12th we finally got good weather and permission to fly and it was off to Byrd. The berms at Byrd were the complete opposite from PIG, well scoured, still quite high above grade, and with much softer snow. We set up personal mountain tents to sleep in and opened up the hard sided galley module for cooking and as a DNF (do not freeze…aka heated) space. That week was spent digging out the Tucker, repairing it, verifying the fuel inventory, raising the skiway drags, and putting together a mini-traverse for the drive back to WAIS. Byrd and WAIS are only about 100 miles apart, but both sites are so remote and the environment so inhospitable that it could be very serious should anything go wrong. We loaded a piece of high molecular weight (HMW) plastic with survival supplies, the Scott tent, extra food, twice the amount of fuel they expected to use, backup iridium phones, and various other pieces of cargo to lighten the final Twin Otter flight. This ultra-slick material is the foundation for almost all Antarctic traverses these days. Then, on the morning of Jan 17th, one of the mechanics and our team lead departed Byrd for WAIS Divide. Thankfully the snow conditions were just right and the Tucker had no issues, and they sailed in to WAIS by the end of the day! The following morning the Twin Otter managed to fly out to Byrd and picked up the remaining three of us who had been left behind. We spent the final week at WAIS waiting for a flight to McMurdo and helping out around camp.

Jethro on the the Byrd Berms

Jethro on the the Byrd Berms

Fixing the Tucker

Fixing the Tucker

The mini-Byrd Traverse heading off to WAIS Divide

The mini-Byrd Traverse heading off to WAIS Divide

The Twin Otter loading up our last flight

The Twin Otter loading up our last flight

I’m back in McMurdo now, heading on to New Zealand shortly. The PIG Traverse just made it back to WAIS on Jan 25th successful in their final haul to bring the 90,000lbs of PIG cargo back. WISSARD, Siple, and WAIS Divide are in the process of shutting down. It’s been a great season with a great crew! I want to send a huge Thank You to all the McMurdo field support staff, the PIG Traverse guys, the Twin Otter crew, and the WAIS Divide camp staff!

The Herc at Willy Field, McMurdo

The Herc at Willy Field, McMurdo

Ivan the Terra Bus!

Ivan the Terra Bus!

WAIS Divide camp staff

WAIS Divide camp staff – and the vintage Alp 1 snowmobile

The WAS Recovery Team at PIG

The WAS Recovery Team at PIG (photo courtesy of DeVal)

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Filed under Antarctica, Byrd, Field Camps, Flights, Pine Island Glacier, Traverse, WAIS Divide

PIG

I’ll be out of contact for the next few months as we work in the field, but here are some interesting links.

Recent weather and forecast for WAIS Divide can be found here:
http://www.waisdivide.unh.edu/about/weather.shtml

Weather at PIG thru Oct 22, 2014 can be found here:
http://efdl_5.cims.nyu.edu/timeseries/NYU_AWS_PIG_timeseries.html

A weather tower with webcams was established at PIG a few years ago and apparently worked until Oct 24th:
http://efdl_5.cims.nyu.edu/aws_pig/overview.html

And general Antarctic weather from automated weather stations around the continent is posted here:
http://amrc.ssec.wisc.edu/data/

Below is a satellite picture of the PIG camp area from last March. A British Antarctic Survey group passed through recently to check on a fuel cache nearby and reported that while there was large and hard sastrugi there was also a lot of scouring and the bermed material was visible above the snow – good news for us!

A satellite image of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) berm as of March 2014

A satellite image of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) berm as of March 2014

A low resolution satellite image of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) berm as of October 2014.

A low resolution satellite image of the PIG berm as of October 2014.

So for now, Goodbye!

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Filed under Antarctica, Field Camps, Pine Island Glacier, WAIS Divide

Mac Town Time

DEN-LAX-SYD-CHC

After four flights and over 28 hours of travelling I finally landed in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s spring in the southern hemisphere and lovely, with vibrant leaves and birdsong. The next morning, we assembled at the Clothing Distribution Center (aka CDC) for a welcome briefing and our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear issue. The standard ECW set includes everything you need to work and survive in the Antarctic climate – the enormous Big Red, insulated carhartt bibs and jacket, fleece long underwear, hats, goggles, mittens, gaiters, gloves, socks, and boots – either the Bunny, or Mickey Mouse, boots or the blue FDX boots. While Bunny boots are the classic white USAP footwear, they’re rubber and don’t breathe. FDX boots are a bit warmer and are leather/cloth so they breathe, but the soles are very thick (part of why they’re so warm) and there’s no ankle support so can be treacherous at times.
A lot of it is personal choice. I generally bring my own long underwear (of varying thickness), my extra warm fleece neck gaiter which I’ve modified with chest/back flaps to protect against zipper and neck drafts, a thin gaiter more for sun and wind protection than cold, a knit wool hat with a fleece lining, a ball cap for sun, liner gloves, thick expedition weight socks, liner socks etc…

0014222d98500f73b15b06 This season I’ll be heading out to Pine Island Glacier, near the  coast  in far West Antarctica (75°45’S 100°16’W and approx. 850m  elevation), as part of the 4 person “WAS Recovery team.”  It will be  cold early in the season, but will become  downright warm by  Christmas and New Years – we’ve been told to anticipate heavy wet  snow and even the possibility of rain! So I made sure to  get good  rain/wind pants and a “little Red” jacket that is more of a  shell  than parka.
After getting our ECW and going through a few introductory briefs  we were given our mandatory flu shots then had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy Christchurch and the botanic gardens.
On November 3rd we flew to McMurdo aboard a US Air Force C-17. The whole West Antarctic family is here now: WAIS Divide, the PIG Traverse, WISSARD, Siple, and now the WAS Recovery Crew. A week or two is needed in town for training, to finalize cargo lists and put-in plans, and to round up all the gear and material needed for the season. A lot of these camps have been used season after season and most of their supplies were left overwinter on the berm. Our team is a bit different; while PIG was a large camp in 2012-13, this year we won’t be setting up the buildings or supporting any science. Our goal is just to recover the material.
As soon as WAIS gets established we’ll fly out there on an LC-130, spend a night or two then load up a Twin Otter and fly to PIG, set up a few mountain tents and get to work excavating the berm. While there are a lot of supplies buried out there most of them are useless to us, our outfit is pretty bare bones. Without a skiway the planes can’t take in much cargo. We’ll be living in small mountain tents with one larger heated yurt-like tent. We’ll have no running water or showers, and will be cooking and melting water on camp stoves. There’ll be no internet or fresh food either.
Our main focus this week in McMurdo has been to decide what to bring with us: how much food, what cargo, and which flight it will go on. We’re planning for two planes. The initial “put-in” flight will bring in our survival gear and us. The cargo list for this flight includes our tents, survival bags, sleep kits, stoves and some fuel, a basic medical kit, comms equipment (satellite phone, HF and VHF radios), our Personal Locator Beacon (PLB for emergency use), a human waste bucket, a water jug, and our shovels. The second plane will bring spare parts, fluid and fuel for the vehicles out there, more food and tools such as a heater to warm up and melt out equipment.

Our cargo staging cage

Our cargo staged in the BFC cage (the taped off plastic jugs and bottom two shelves are for a different project)

Of all the cargo, our shovels may be used most. We’ll need shovels to knock down sastrugi to clear spaces for our tents, to dig out equipment so we can dig out the pallets, to clear drifts created by the wind, to mine snow for water. We’ll be shoveling every day. Professional D-1 Operators.
“So what kind of shovels should we bring?” Our team lead asked. Immediately all four of us agreed: short shovels with square blades and D handles. We’ll bring a long handled one as an extra. Then we all laughed shaking our heads…not only do we know the types of shovels, but we didn’t have to think about which type we like best for shoveling this kind of snow! Is that a good thing….or have we been doing this too long?
The long ones are great for deep pits, or for tall people. The rounded blades that come to a bit of a point are good for dirt and rocks…but for snow I prefer the short handled small square blades – It’s short enough to wield without knocking into things, the small blade is sturdier and less likely to crack while trying to pry out chunks of hard snow, the flat edge cuts clean blocks, which is most efficient. You can also carve smooth walls and scrape flat surfaces, and if you need a point you can use the corner. Maybe I have shoveled too much…

We were originally scheduled to fly out to WAIS Divide on the 15th, but there have been significant weather and mechanical delays so this date may well get pushed back.

McMurdo!

McMurdo as seen from Ob Hill. (HDR)

"Roll Cage Mary" on Hut Point. Ob Hill and McMurdo are in the background.

“Roll Cage Mary” on Hut Point. Ob Hill and McMurdo are in the background. (HDR)

Mount Erebus on Ross Island

Mount Erebus and Castle Rock on Ross Island. (HDR)

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Filed under Antarctica, Field Camps, McMurdo, Pine Island Glacier

WAS Recovery Crew

Bag Tags

The migration South has begun again. This year I’m heading back as the equipment operator on a small 4-person team: The West Antarctic Support (WAS) Recovery Crew.
Two years ago (2012-13) there were several active camps in West Antarctica: Pine Island Glacier (PIG), the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide, WISSARD, Byrd, and Siple. My post summarizing these camps and projects can be found here. With the Government Shut-Down last year the removal of the PIG and Byrd camps could not be completed and the supply berms were left to drift over. These regions have large accumulation rates – averaging over a meter annually in some coastal areas in addition to drifting snow.

Surface mass balance (1989–2009) in kg m−2 year−1. From Van den Broeke et al., 2011

Surface mass balance (1989–2009) in kg m-2 year-1. From Van den Broeke et al., 2011

Pine Island Glacier is quite a ways from McMurdo, way out “west” towards the peninsula (point A on the map below). Because it’s so far away and because the weather is so notoriously bad Hercs heading out to PIG relied on WAIS as a fueling point and Byrd as their back up. It’s easier to fly to WAIS so to initially establish PIG camp a traverse was organized to haul materials that were flown into WAIS. The projects utilizing PIG were completed in Feb 2013. The plan for cleaning up the camp was a tractor team to traverse from WAIS to PIG, collect the materials, and haul them back to WAIS where it would be used or flown via LC-130 to McMurdo. Then the government shutdown happened and the traverse had to be cancelled…So this year, two years since it was left, we’re going to try again. Our team has been organized to augment the traverse, making sure this stuff gets unburied and removed before it flows into the ocean.

A map of the West Antarctic deep field camps. The 2012-13 PIG Traverse route is shown in red.

A map of the West Antarctic deep field camps. The 2012-13 PIG Traverse route is shown in red. The traverse this year won’t go to Byrd so will just travel between points F and A. The South Pole traverse route is marked in yellow between McMurdo and Pole.

The rough schedule is to fly down to McMurdo in early November. After getting our equipment together (tents, stoves, safety and comms gear etc) we’ll fly out to WAIS. From WAIS we’ll get on a Twin Otter and head out to PIG by mid-late November. We won’t have the support of a full camp, it will just be the four of us and a few small tents (Arctic Ovens – “tent-city” tents). We’ll dig out the equipment, get it up and running, and use it to help dig out the supply berm, establish a field skiway for Twin Otters, and greet the PIG Traverse when the roll in hopefully around Dec 10. Once the traverse is loaded up and underway we’ll fly back to WAIS and out to Byrd. There isn’t a traverse planned for Byrd, so our job will be to repair some known broken equipment and try to move supplies to a new berm, or at least the snow surface as able. By late January we should be heading back to McMurdo.
As I mentioned earlier, the weather in West Antarctica is notoriously bad and delays are expected. Our schedule is flexible with options to assist with other projects if we are delayed longer than expected at one site or other.

It will be a challenging season. At WAIS there will be very limited text email, satellite phones, and radio, but there will also be cooks and galley (mess tent), and even snow melters for showers. At PIG it will be roughing it, even by Antarctica standards. It’s not as extremely cold as at Pole, but it’s wetter, which can be even more difficult. We won’t have any showers, or bathrooms, nor cooks. We’ll sleep in small unheated tents and hope for good weather. It’s close to the coast, but not close enough to see animals or water, mostly it will be back in the flat white…

For more information on PIG check out some of these interesting links:
Forrest McCarthy was a mountaineer with the PIG Traverse which left from Byrd in 2012-13. His blog here has a great page on Pine Island Glacier with a sweet video and some awesome photos!

The NSF also has a site: www.nsf.gov/news

NASA’s official site for Pine Island Glacier: Pigiceshelf.nasa.gov

The Berm at PIG at the end of the season in Feb 2013 - photo taken by Dean

The Berm at PIG at the end of the season in Feb 2013 – photo taken by Dean

PIG 2012

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Filed under Antarctica, Byrd, Field Camps, Pine Island Glacier, Traverse, WAIS Divide

The End of Summer

The summer season at Summit Station has come to a close and they have now begun the first phase of winter. Unlike the South Pole; the winter crew is comprised of only five staff (manager, mechanic, and three science technicians) and they’ll swap out crews in October and again in February. And while there will be plenty of darkness, they aren’t at the Pole itself so the sun will keep rising and setting for a while yet – each night growing a little longer than the last.

August was a busy month and I was kept occupied with moving material to the winter berm, carefully organizing it for (hopefully) easy access during the winter and with the intent to minimize drifting as much as possible. We also created a detailed map itemizing pallets and locations with lots of photographs. Come April and opening, the berm will inevitably be buried under snow. The goal is to know what is there and where it all is so it doesn’t get lost and forgotten. During the final week we took down tent city, organized extra bamboo flags, cleaned up all the summer projects and generally tidied camp up for winter. The last few flights brought in extra food to last until April. The Hercs will return to NY for maintenance before heading down South to begin the Antarctic season from Oct-Mar. The winter flights will all be via Twin Otter.

This was a short season for me, and I’m back stateside to enjoy the tail end of summer here. Thanks for following! ‘Till next time…

Tent city all cleaned up

Tent city all cleaned up

A setting sun

The sun setting over the fuel pits and new drifts

The shop looking nice with the setting sun

The shop

The Greenhouse in the golden light of the arctic midnight sun

The Greenhouse in the golden light of the arctic midnight sun

Farewell Big House!

Farewell Big House!

The summer crew leaving Summit

The summer crew leaving Summit

The final herc that took us home

The final herc that took us home

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Sunrise…Sunset

At 72 degrees North, Summit is within the Arctic Circle. The sun doesn’t set for much of the summer, however since the Solstice on June 21, it’s slowly been sinking lower during the night. At the Poles the sun circles with almost no change in degree above the horizon between noon and midnight. Here we’re 18 degrees from the Pole so it follows an ellipse, sinking closer to the horizon in the night and swinging high into the sky during the day. While it still isn’t getting quite dark enough to see stars it’s definitely becoming dusky.

Today the sun rose at 3:27am and will set at 9:41pm, though it stays fairly bright throughout. Here’s a good page to check out for more information on weather and such: Summit Almanac and Weather. The nights are getting longer by 12 minutes each day!

Untitled

A chart showing sunrise and sunset times for our coordinates.

To make your own chart by either your city or latitude and longitude check out this page.

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5pm Aug 21 at Summit

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Sunset on Aug 14 at 10:15pm

The shop at

The shop at midnight on Aug 20

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Summit Science!

As in Antarctica, our purpose in Greenland is science – primarily climate research. Summit Station was first established in 1989 to support the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2) ice core and has since become a leading arctic station supporting a wide variety of seasonal and long term projects.

Summit was chosen for its location at the summit of the Greenland ice sheet. Some facts: There are two ice sheets on earth, one in Antarctica and one in Greenland, and as they are near the poles we call them ice caps. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC – based in Denver) an ice sheet is defined as a “mass of glacial land ice extending more than 50,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles).”  Glaciated areas less than 20,000sq mi are called ice fields – such as the Patagonia ice field, or the Juneau ice field.
Ice sheets and ice fields are incredibly important to climate research as they are not only highly sensitive to global temperature changes but provide a physical archive of the atmosphere going back as long as the ice has been there. The water molecules of the snow/ice itself contain isotopes that correlate to average global temperatures and between these molecules, bound by the ice, are tiny trapped air bubbles – discrete samples of atmospheric gases. This is one way scientists can measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels over past millennia. The Vostok ice core for example, provided data on the climate going back over 400,000 years. The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) ice core goes back 800,000 years. CO2 levels are of particular interest to climate scientists as there is a direct correlation between global temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere. Over the past 400,000 years CO2 levels in our atmosphere have fluctuated between 180-280ppm. Since the Industrial Revolution and large scale burning of fossil fuels those levels have continued to rise. Right now we are close to 400 ppm. (check out http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ for recent levels) The US Environmental Protection Agency has a great website with information on greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide, trends in the US, and ways to reduce emissions: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html.

The GISP2 borehole in 2011

The GISP2 borehole in 2011.

The GRIP borehole 28km from Summit Station

The 1989-1992 European Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) borehole 28km from Summit Station

GRIP Ice cores at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark

GRIP Ice cores at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark

Annual layers are visible in the cut GRIP cores (U. of Copenhagen)

Annual layers are visible in the cut GRIP cores (U. of Copenhagen)

Greenland Ice core sites

File:Vostok Petit data.svg

A graph showing CO2 levels from an ice core (Vostok, Antarctica). Our current atmospheric CO2 levels are off this chart.

While the GISP2 ice core was completed over 20 years ago, Summit continues to provide valuable data. As one of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratories the Greenland Environmental Observatory (GEOSummit) provides long term monitoring of the Arctic environment and atmosphere.  Much of climate research relies on these trends and long term variations to distinguish climate change from variable weather patterns. TAWO (Temporary Atmospheric Weather Observatory) houses a suite of instruments collecting continuous measurements of a number of greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide, tropospheric ozone, and black carbon among others. Summit’s science techs launch ozone sondes weekly to measure upper atmosphere ozone and collect air samples twice monthly to be processed for trace gases. Once a month the science techs complete a GPS survey (IceSAT) for CryoSat – providing calibration data for a European Space Agency satellite measuring ice thickness around the globe.

Some other long term projects here at Summit include: ICECAPS (Integrated Characterization of Energy, Clouds, Atmospheric state, and Precipitation at Summit) which is studying the atmosphere, clouds, and precipitation. Today a third station science tech position has been added to focus primarily on the ICECAPS instruments. BSI (Biospherical Instruments) is monitoring ultraviolet radiation. GEOFON has a seismometer buried away from camp as part of a global network. A magnetometer has also recently been installed to measure geomagnetic variations in central Greenland.
This season a new intermediate ice core drill was tested near Summit. The proposed project will drill a 1,500m ice core at the South Pole Station in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. More information on this project can be found here and on the official SPICE Core site.
The complete list of currently funded projects is publicly available on the Arctic Field Projects site.

Some other interesting links:
http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/sum/
http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/icesheets.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_core
http://www.gisp2.sr.unh.edu/

During the summer of 2011 I was one of two station Science Technicians at Summit.  We monitored and maintained the long term research equipment on station, trouble shooting and repairing as needed. We also assisted with launching weather balloons and ozone sondes and collecting various samples for projects. A typical day included doing rounds to clear meteorological equipment of snow/ice/frost/rime, cleaning lenses collecting data on solar radiation with ethanol, backing up data or sending it via email to researchers at their home institutions, collecting air and snow samples, measuring accumulation rates, launching weather balloons, conducting GPS surveys, and assisting around the station as needed. Here are a few pictures of Summit science techs in action…

Launching a weather balloon in April 2011

Launching a weather balloon in April 2011

Measuring accumulation rates at Summit

One of the 2010 techs measuring accumulation rates at Summit

Radiometers measuring solar radiation and albedo

Radiometers measuring solar radiation and albedo

Bundled up for IceSAT

Bundled up for IceSAT – GPS equipment is in the red “Poly Pod” behind me, the survey takes several hours and is done once a month.

Leveling the seismometer

Leveling the seismometer

Cleaning rime off a tower

Conducting maintenance on the 50m “Swiss Tower”

Cleaning rime off the TAWO tower

Cleaning rime off the TAWO tower instruments

Air sampling flasks!

Crates of  air sampling flasks!

Inflating a balloon

Inflating a balloon in the S.O.B.

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Launching an ozone sonde to collect data on the upper atmosphere ozone layer

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Heavy Lifting

Establishing and maintaining a long-term station on an ice sheet raises unique challenges for engineering and construction and with over a mile of ice beneath us it’s a constant battle to keep surface structures unburied. The South Pole faces similar issues, but the issue there is primarily drifting, thus the aerodynamic shape. At Summit it’s not only drifting, but also the issue of roughly a meter of snow accumulation annually. To deal with this issue there are several ideas in use: some buildings are on skis and can be dragged around the station with heavy equipment, others are modular and can be moved every few years to a berm which will gradually be buried, a few instruments are buried in vaults, and many are seasonal – simply taken down and put on a berm for winter to be set up come summer.
The Big House and TAWO however, utilize an “infinite leg” system. The buildings are raised up on stilts, or legs, and can slide up as the snow level, or grade, rises. Once they reach the top of the legs another section can be welded on and the process continues. Let me say at this point that this is not quite as easy as it sounds…but it does work and it’s pretty awesome!

The Big House is essentially a double wide trailer with the kitchen, a large refrigerator, a scullery, a bathroom with a shower and a toilet stall, the manager’s office and comms, and large common space that’s used as a dining and living room. There are lots of windows and it’s quite homey. Beneath the building, in the area scoured clear by the wind moving under the structure, there is a wide metal hatch leading down to the freezer trench where all dry and frozen food is stored. With the accumulation rate at about a meter a year, the Big House is raised every two years. During my first year up here (2010) they welded on new leg extensions and raised the building. They raised it again in 2012 and now again in 2014. The hollow, square, steel legs have holes drilled through them every ~6inches. The building rests on a set of 3/4in steel bolts that run through the holes on each leg. BHJacks2014bSmall platforms are bolted to the legs below the building. When it’s time to raise the building hydraulic jacks are securely bolted to each of the smaller platforms. The jacks are connected to a manifold which regulates the hydraulic pressure across all the jacks – the system has a lifting capacity of about 120,000lbs. The jacks lift the building just enough to take the weight and then the upper bolts (or pins) can be manually removed. Once those are all removed the building is resting on the jacks and the lower platforms. It can then be raised to the next set of holes where the pins are replaced, slowly inching its way up 4-6 feet. TAWO is designed in much the same way, but a bit smaller in scale.

Here are some photos from 2010 and 2014:

The Big House encrusted with frost and snow in April 2010

The Big House encrusted with frost and snow in April 2010

The Big House in April 2010

The Big House in April 2010

The kitchen

The kitchen

The scullery

The scullery

The common living/dining room

The common living/dining room

BHlegs2010

The Big House with one set of new legs in 2010

Raising the Big House in 2010

Raising the Big House in 2010

BHRaise2014

The Big House being raised in 2014

One of the jacks in place

One of the jacks in place

The hydraulic lines all hooked up

The hydraulic lines all hooked up

The Big House at it current height

The Big House at it current height

TAWO in 2011

TAWO in 2011

The midnight sun on Aug 2

The midnight sun on Aug 2

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Arrival

July 16, 2014
The flight from Kanger was a quick ~2hrs on a packed LC-130. We landed smoothly and stepped off the plane into blowing snow and low clouds; More grey than white. The droning, rumbling pulse of the props faded as we made our way off the flight deck and towards the Big House. The snow was soft, sliding beneath our boots like sand. The air is thin and I breathed hard, clutching my heavy parka and water bottle. I was prepared for the cold, but maybe I’m getting used to it by now, the wind was brisk, but not shockingly cold. It’s warmer here than at Pole – more like West Antarctica (10-20 degrees Fahrenheit…above zero), and we are at the height of summer. Walking past the Shop (SOB) and the Green House I couldn’t hide a grin, it’s good to be back. Some of the Summit crew was out to greet the pax and people hugged and waved and welcomed us to Summit Station.

I spent the summers (April-August) of 2010 and 2011 here at Summit as a Field Coordinator and Science Tech respectively. While most people start in the Antarctic program before coming to Summit, things happened to work out such that I deployed up here first. It was my first experience in the polar regions, in the true Arctic, and amidst the Great Flat White. I fell in love with the variety of projects, the significant research, and the small community.
This time around I’m here for just a short period, 6 weeks till the end of August – an extra hand to wrap up the summer season and close things down for winter. There are 19 people here now, but at the end of August we will leave only five: the manager, mechanic, and three science techs. The large summer science groups have all gone and until next month we have in addition to the five person winter crew, a cook, a cargo person, a heavy equipment operator, two field coordinators (including me), a medic, an IT person, and a construction crew (aka Carps) including an electrician, a plumber, and six carpenters. The summer season, like down South, is a whirlwind of projects both for science and support. These last few weeks are a chance to delve into some of the more intensive endeavors such as raising the Big House and constructing and organizing the winter berm.

Most of the people here have spent many seasons in Antarctica and many are going back to the ice later this fall. They understand when the question “Where are you from?” isn’t easy. Saying “Well, my storage unit is in…” is a perfectly valid answer.

Here are some photos from the flight up and the first few days at Summit:

Melt pools and streams along the Greenland ice sheet near the coast

Melt pools and streams along the Greenland ice sheet near the coast

A partially frozen lake on the ice sheet

A partially frozen lake on the ice sheet

Inside the herc from Kanger to Summit

Inside the herc from Kanger to Summit

Equipment wait at Summit to offload and onload cargo and to greet the incoming pax

Equipment wait at Summit to offload and onload cargo and to greet the incoming pax

Back on the ice. The skis are lifted when the Herc comes to a stop so they don't freeze in place. The plane is now resting on the wheels.

Back on the ice. The skis are lifted when the Herc comes to a stop so they don’t freeze in place. The plane is now resting on the wheels.

A sign on the Big House

A sign on the Big House

All of Summit looking very small in the great flat white.

All of Summit looking very small in the great flat white.

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Summit Station, Greenland

IMG_9814
Welcome to Summit! 72°35’46″N 38°25’19″W

At the height and heart of the Greenland ice sheet Summit sits at 10,530ft (~3,200m), surrounded by thousands of square miles of ice. The great flat white. Away from the station it looks much like the South Pole, or Byrd.

Established in 1988 to support the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) ice core Summit now supports a wide range of seasonal and long term monitoring projects. It also serves as an important site to test equipment heading to Antarctica. Today the station is maintained by CH2M Hill Polar Services, and through them, Colorado based Polar Field Services (PFS). CH2M Hill’s official site gives a good overview of the station.

Summit consists of three main buildings: the Big House, the Green House, and the S.O.B. or Science Operation building (the shop). In addition, there is the Temporary Atmospheric Watch Observatory (TAWO) and the Mobile Science Facility (MSF) which are used year-round. During the summer a number of seasonal structures and a “tent city” are erected to support the larger population.

Summit in 2011

Summit Station layout in 2011

Unlike the South Pole’s distinct winter and summer seasons, the year at Summit is divided into three Phases: Feb-Jun, Jun-Nov, and Nov-Feb. The winter crew is a tiny 5 to 6 people: manager, mechanic, three science techs, and sometimes a heavy equipment operator in the spring. During the peak summer season, Apr-Aug, a medic, cook, cargo coordinator, and field coordinator are added to the station staff. With science groups and construction crews the summer population can reach 50, though the average summer population is closer to 30 people.

Some other cool links are the webcam which is mounted on the Big House – looking North towards the Green house and SOB: Summit Webcam and the current weather page here.

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