Category Archives: Greenland

End of Winter

So I’m a bit late on this one – It’s been a bit hectic since I’ve been back! 🙂 The spring crew arrived as scheduled on Feb 16, 2017 and our population jumped from 5 to 13. We were pretty toasty and were pretty excited to see new faces. There were a number of returning staff members and turnover training went smoothly and well.

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Team Science!

Unfortunately, just as we were wrapping up and getting prepped for our flight out the weather closed in. A significant storm locked us down for 4 days, delaying our flight back to Iceland. We all kept busy digging out the new drifting, trying to keep our windows open (as they’re our escape hatches), and training up the new crew.

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Window wells capped with thin snow blocks glow from indoor lights

Eventually the weather broke and the two Twin Otters arrived. We loaded up the planes and headed Southeast towards Iceland. I’d been at Summit from August – February, nearly 7 months overall, in roughly 1 square mile. At the end of a deployment, especially a long one, it’s strange to climb into an aircraft and take off…to see the station that has been our whole world shrink to just a speck on the ice. It’s humbling and a little disquieting, though the rest of the world awaits.

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The East coast of Greenland is absolutely amazing. It is some of the most rugged, isolated, and beautiful terrain I’ve ever seen. Shear walls drop from high peaks to deep valleys while glaciers push over mountain passes and to the sea. There is little human habitation here – just a few settlements on the coast. This is polar bear country.

The sun sank below the mountains just as we left Greenland heading out over the ocean. As darkness fell we noticed auroras in the sky around us. A farewell treat as we headed back to civilization and lower latitudes.

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Sunset over Eastern Greenland

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Auroras, Venus, and the Moon

 

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Farewell Reykjavik, Iceland

 

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February Drifting

The sun has returned and it’s glorious…sun dogs, halos, soft pastel light, and crisp shadows! It’s powerful and beautiful and I catch myself staring at the blinding light. We’re gaining almost 15 min of daylight every day now and it makes our jobs so much easier.

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We are down to the last few weeks here – the spring crew is due to arrive at the end of this week! Things were looking good until we got slammed by a few big wind storms this week. We’re nearing springtime and the worst weather of the year. On Thursday we had sustained 35 knot winds and on Saturday they rose to 40-50kn sustained winds with gusts close to 60 knots…it’s hard to walk in that kind of weather and so much snow gets lifted into the air that it’s impossible to see more than a few feet. Temperatures also rise with the wind speed. Yesterday when it was 50 knots out it was -5F. Nice not to have as much frostbite concerns, but it’s sticky and relatively wet. I would take clear, calm, and -80F any day.

 

With so much snow being blown around monster snow drifts form. We had just cleaned up after the last good blow when we were hit again. There’s a giant moat around the shop and the Green House is buried to the roof on all but the south side. There’s still a bit of a moat there. The snow grains are tumbled by the wind, breaking into tiny shards and ground down to rounded grains. The wind pushes it through the tiniest hole – around door frames and through invisible cracks in window caulking and gaps around the walls. The building entrances and exits often comprise of two sets of doors – vestibules help to retain heat and also offer some protection against the persistent snow. Caulking and weather seals help, but in the extreme dry and cold they invariably crack and fail. With a little moisture they freeze to the door and rip off the frame. Constant chipping of ice and shoveling of snow wears down the material too – no matter what you do it’s a losing battle.

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Thankfully the cold means there is very low water content in the snow and the super dry air evaporates any snow that gets into the buildings quite quickly. We don’t need to worry about mildew or mold here.

Even with the storms, this is my favorite time of the year; gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, a few hours of daylight, but still enough darkness at night to see the stars and auroras. We’ve had a few spectacular nights since sunrise…

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A half moon and Venus below aurora

Spring time on the ice cap:

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Looking North. Photo: Sam via kite

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Sunrise!

On January 28th the sun returned at last! We’ve had periods of twilight each day, but the sun has not breached the horizon since November 13th. Unfortunately, it was cloudy on Saturday…but it is getting noticeably brighter each day and we will have plenty more sunrises and sunsets before we leave at the end of February! Today is cloudy again, but technically the sun rose at 10:52am and set at 12:44pm. Unlike the South Pole, where there is only one sunset each year (see my post on that here), Summit Station gets many sunrises until May 6 when it will rise and remain above the horizon until setting again briefly on August 7th. 170127_summit_900
On the 27th the sun was very close to the horizon; a brilliant golden glow and colorful clouds hinting at its presence. On clear days this past week we have been admiring the defined earth shadow (another nice explanation of the phenomenon can be found here from Sky and Telescope) and beautiful pastel skies.

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The Earth’s shadow defined to the North as we walk back to the Green House

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The pink layer above the darker earth shadow is called the “belt of Venus”

The new moon on the 27th meant it was a very dark night and we had a stunning view of the stars and Milky Way as well as a few curtains of aurora. Standing beneath this spread of stars with the infinite depth of the universe spread out around us is awe-inspiring.

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The Big House under the northern sky – Orion is just to the right of the dome

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Standing beneath the Milky Way!

Inside our buildings we maintain our routine. We have all but finished our fresh food and rely now on frozen, dried, or canned provisions. Everyone is growing tired and looking forward to returning to the ‘real world’ soon. Part of the issue is that we are at 10,550ft above sea level here at Summit and the physiological altitude is often much higher (we’ve seen atmospheric pressure equivalent to 12,500ft this winter). Even after initial acclimatization to the altitude it’s physically exhausting. People generally don’t sleep well up here – whether due to lack of oxygen or too much/too little day light, and after a few months it’s hard to ever feel well-rested. There’s also the mind numbing routine and isolation: We’ve been cooped up in a handful of buildings with no where else to go for months now. We all knew what we were signing up for and everyone is doing quite well, but the last 2 or 3 weeks are the hardest of any season and we’re all showing signs of Toast. There is some debate as to whether this is a “real” phenomenon – whether there is actually a medical cause (lack of T3 or vitamin D or something), but regardless it affects almost everyone in winter-over crews. Some of it is comical: short term memory degrades and you walk into a room forgetting what you were doing, then do it again 2 more times. People start a sentence or a story and forget what they’re talking about half-way through. Words become hard to remember: “Do we have any more of…umm, that thing that water goes through to make coffee?” or “Have you seen my book?…and by that I mean, my hat?” And simple math becomes especially difficult. On the flip side, frustration levels run high, tempers shorten, sleep becomes difficult, and physical energy runs low. It’s a time to remember to think before you speak, and to have extra patience for everyone who is likely feeling just as burnt out as you.

It’s also a time to be aware that we are not running on “all cylinders,” and to add to that folks are excited about post-ice plans and may not be fully present and focused on the tasks at hand. We will talk about staying present and being aware of our surroundings a lot, but we have made it through the darkest times and are down to the last month of our season now!

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TAWO looking very small against a clear horizon

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Plastic Balloons

The ozone layer is a vital part of our atmosphere, filtering out harmful solar radiation. One of the projects we support here at Summit is measuring the atmospheric ozone over the Greenland ice cap. For most of the year the techs use simple rubber balloons that reach heights of 20-30km. During very cold periods in the winter the rubber becomes brittle resulting in a burst at lower altitudes. These times however, are often when the ozone is the thinnest and most interesting. So the techs use much larger plastic balloons which can reach heights of 30-40km even in the coldest temperatures. These plastic balloons are not elastic like the rubber ones so they appear quite empty at launch. As the balloon rises through the atmosphere the helium expands filling it out completely.

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A normal rubber balloon

Plastic balloon launches generally only happen once or twice a year so it’s kind of exciting. They are huge and fragile and require all hands. First we laid out canvas tarps to protect the balloon from the potentially sharp ice and snow on the ground. Then we placed the balloon on the tarps ensuring it was free of kinks and tight folds. A carefully calculated weight was hung from the balloon to ensure we added the proper amount of helium. Too much helium and it would rise too fast for the calibrated instruments to measure properly. Too little and it might not rise fast enough or get high enough. Helium bottles were moved closer to the door and a long hose run out to the filling tube on the balloon. Filling took quite a while.

Once the balloon was filled with a sufficient amount of helium we connected the instrument box and carefully walked the whole thing to an open area away from the building and major drifts. One person held the inflated part of the balloon, careful not to let it pull too strongly or touch anything in the wind, two more held the middle section of the balloon off the ground, and a fourth held the instrument box. At a count of three everyone let go in sequence allowing the balloon to lift smoothly away from our arms and rise into the sky…

Back in the Green House we listened to the data being received; a Morse code like series of beeps and boops. When the signal grew weak or distorted one of the techs climbed onto the roof to adjust the antenna. The latest ozone data from Summit can be found here: www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/graph.php

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Ozone levels above the Arctic

img_1717Last week we hit a low of -73F according to the Green House thermometers. This week however,  has been dark and stormy with temps around -30F and winds around 30kn. Lots of shoveling to be done!

{Also, some of my halo photos from this fall have their own page at Atmospheric Optics check it out!}

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The horizon is growing brighter every day!

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A full moon shines over the Big House

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Nacreous Clouds!

The sun is on its way back and while we still have 3 weeks until the first sunrise each day is a little brighter than the last. New Year’s Eve dawned bright and clear with crisp stars and a few very special clouds on the horizon. At first they were startling neon pink, orange, and red. The first real sign of the sun in weeks and a beautiful contrast to the greens and blues of the night sky and aurora. As the day progressed the clouds grew in size, becoming clearly iridescent. With no insulating clouds overhead it was a chilly -60F ambient. The cold temperature, otherwise clear sky, low sun, and wavy iridescent features all pointed towards these clouds being Polar Stratospheric Clouds (aka PSCs or Nacreous Clouds).

These rare clouds are both terrible and beautiful. Forming in the stratosphere at 49,000-82,000ft and at temperatures below -100F they are composed of water, nitric acid and/or sulfuric acid. While beautiful, they are implicated in the depletion of stratospheric ozone – an important protective layer against harmful UV rays. According to TheOzoneHole.com:
PSCs were long regarded as curiosities and of no real consequence. However, Type I clouds are now known as sites of harmful destruction of stratospheric ozone over the Antarctic and Arctic. Their surfaces act as catalysts which convert more benign forms of man-made chlorine into active free radicals (for example ClO, chlorine monoxide). During the return of Spring sunlight these radicals destroy many ozone molecules in a series of chain reactions. Cloud formation is doubly harmful because it also removes gaseous nitric acid from the stratosphere which would otherwise combine with ClO to form less reactive forms of chlorine.”

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Bright neon clouds

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Polar Stratospheric Clouds – note their brightness, iridescence, and feathery/wavy structure

Measuring the ozone layer above us and the seasonal Arctic ozone hole is one of the many projects we support here at Summit. Every week the science techs launch a large balloon with a carefully calibrated instrument to measure ozone concentrations, as well as normal meteorological data (wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature, and humidity). The data is sent back via radio signal to the computer here at Summit.

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Ghostly auroras

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The South side of the Big House at the brightest time of day…

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Flat White Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Summit Station!

img_1611 We celebrated the holidays with a rare 2-day weekend and a nice dinner. The Big House smelled of baking and the atmosphere was festive with our decorated plywood tree. Everyone enjoyed a little down time to rest and catch up with family back home.

We also all got showers which was a nice treat! We had been on water restrictions for the past week or so while we completed some routine maintenance on the primary generator. We rely on our generators to produce light, heat, and water. There are two diesel generators and a back-up emergency generator on station. During the maintenance we ran on our secondary generator, which is perfectly fine except that it’s a little smaller and thus a little less efficient at melting snow for water. We are always mindful of our water usage and limit showers to 2 minutes twice a week and one load of laundry per week.summit_16-17_flickr-163

After Christmas the winds picked up to a proper storm. 55kn sustained! We hunkered down and focused on projects indoors. Thankful for our flag and rope lines! There was lots of blowing/drifting snow and visibility was very low. High winds usually bring higher temperatures as well. So while it’s difficult to see and physically travel outside it’s rarely the cold that is the limiting factor. The storm has passed now and it’s starting to get just slightly lighter each day. There are some new and larger drifts around station, but nothing we can’t handle. The blowing snow gets everywhere though and despite the door to the shop being fully closed we still had to shovel out a nice drift that had formed overnight.
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Happy Solstice!

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December 21, 2016 · 19:15

Winter Solstice

It is winter now. Temperatures have fallen to a low of -70F and the polar night has enveloped us with darkness nearly 24/7. We still get a few hours of twilight each day between 11am and 1pm. It’s just bright enough to wash out the stars, but soon it grows dark again.
summit-solar-graphsDecember 21st is the winter solstice and the darkest day. We will have almost 14hrs of proper night, 3hrs of Astronomical twilight, and just under 7hrs of Nautical twilight. After this darkest day it will gradually become lighter each day until January 28th, 2017 when we will see the sun again.

We’ve found our grooves and have settled into our winter routines. It feels a bit like ground-hog day sometimes, with each day much like the last despite our efforts to mix things up. Some of the bigger winter projects are underway and I have stayed busy updating SOPs, safety paperwork, and cleaning out and re-organizing the filing cabinets on station. Some other projects we have include paint touch-ups, major generator PMs, re-flooring the walk-in refrigerator, and other bits and pieces. After-hours we watch movies or read, but I think everyone is sleeping more. It is a much smaller crew here than we had during my winter at the South Pole (5 vs 44) and we only have a few weeks of darkness compared to the months down South (antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/heart-of-darkness), but it is challenging none-the-less.

We still have a few “freshies” left; some apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, a few leeks, some squash, and cabbage. They are a huge morale boost and are a greatly appreciated addition to frozen/dried food.

With the growing darkness I’ve had ample time to experiment with night photography. We’ve had several beautiful displays of aurora borealis and a few clear days/nights to get some star trails.

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A satellite passing overhead flares with the sun’s reflection

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The LiDAR seems to point at the North Star

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Sunset

On November 14, 2016 we bid farewell to the sun. We will not see it rise again until January 28, 2017. The days had been getting shorter and shorter, the sun barely rising above the horizon, then just skimming along to set again moments later. Now it has set at last.

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TAWO against a colorful noon sky

We still get a few hours of civil twilight for 4:40 hours around midday where the horizon is well defined and it’s too bright to see stars. For about 90min on either side of that we are in nautical twilight with the brightest stars visible as well as the horizon, but lights are necessary for outdoor work. The next 90min are in astronomical twilight, and from 5pm to 5:40am it is truly darkest night.

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This graph shows the hours of daylight, twilight, and night for our latitude. The jogs in the lines are from the daylight savings time shift. Today is broken down on the bottom.

Many people have asked if I find the darkness, or lack of sun, depressing or difficult. I do not. I am only here for several months each year and the darkness makes this place feel even more special. It opens up the world of stars and auroras that only a handful of people get to see. It is beautiful and sublime, a perfect balance to the inescapable harsh sun of the summer. Aside from the outside lights on our buildings there is no light pollution. There are no trees or mountains to obstruct the horizon. It is like being on a calm sea – the dome of the sky immense and infinite. Stars shine and twinkle brightly, points light in the blackness. Satellites glide among the stars, occasionally flaring in the sunlight so high above. Meteors streak brightly now and then. Solar storms release energized particles which interact with our magnetosphere. This engendering the aurora borealis which glows and dances silently across the sky in fluid colorful ribbons fading in an out, glowing green or yellow or purple. (See my previous post for more info on auroras: https://antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/aurora-australis/) It is truly magical.

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Auroras reach towards the disappearing sun

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Looking up at Cassiopeia and auroras. The green LiDAR Shines up from the MSF and a satellite streaks across the sky.

We are now definitely in winter and temperatures have fallen lower and lower, reaching -53F yesterday! Here is a temperature (Celsius) graph from late September.

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Last week the full supermoon (closest since 68 years) coincided perfectly with sunset. We had some beautiful views of the enormous moon as it rose and set against be bruised earth shadow.

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Supermoon rising beyond the berms

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