Tag Archives: Summit

The Long Arctic Winter

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It has been a month since we arrived on station and we have settled into our roles. Every week seems to bring some form of excitement to keep things interesting, and we’ve had a few good wind storms, but thankfully nothing too dramatic. We are doing well and the station is running fine.

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When we arrived it was full on autumn, the sun rose at 8:30am and set at 4:34pm. It was blustery with lots of blowing and drifting snow. Temperatures were erratic; cool, but not terribly cold. Over the past month we have shifted into winter. The sun began rising later and setting later…each day losing 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes of daylight. Finally, earlier this week on November 13, the sun rose and set for the last time. A mere 1 hour of daylight: 10:46am-11:48am. Unfortunately, that day was cloudy and cold and we did not get a proper view of the sun. But the days since have had beautiful periods of dusk and dawn, the sun stopping just short of breaking the line of the horizon. It’s a magical time with vibrant colors, long shadows, and the potential for auroras though we haven’t seen much yet.

The lowest temperature we’ve seen so far was -67.5°F on Nov. 12. Not the coldest I’ve been in, that was -107.9°F at the South Pole in 2013, but it’s pretty chilly. There seems to IMG_4955.jpgbe a shift at -40°F where materials become a bit more brittle, the cold just a bit more sharp. Around -60°F there is another step; the solid steel of the loader tracks creaks and crackles, bamboo shatters, leather becomes solid, and your exhalations whoosh loudly past your ears as the moisture freezes instantly.

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As the temperatures have dropped it has grown darker. Below is a solar chart showing hours of daylight in light blue, twilight in greys, and night in black throughout the year at our latitude. The x-axis is months of the year and the y-axis is hours in the day. The break in the graph is daylight savings time here in Greenland. The white double-line on the right is the showing today – which is also broken down at the bottom. You can see that between late May and August the sun never sets while between mid-November and late-January it never rises. Here is my post from sunset last year: Antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/sunset.

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This just a fascinating affirmation of grade school physics and astronomy – proof that our earth is tilted 23.5degress off the elliptic and spherical. For comparison, here is a graph of today at the South Pole – the sun rises and sets just once a year at the poles (which I wrote about here) so you can see they go from 24hrs of daylight on the equinoxes to 24hrs of twilight and night.

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And this is a graph of Nairobi which is very close to the equator, you can see there is very little change in daylight throughout the year.

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Regardless of the cold and the dark there is work to be done inside and out. We try to wait for good days (warmer temps and lower winds) to do the more involved outside tasking, but we still need to add snow to the melter to make water, fuel the generators, move between buildings, and check on scientific instruments.

 

 

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Robot Boyz

Above all else Summit Station is a polar scientific research station. We are here for Science!
Much of the research done up here is in the vein of long term monitoring; an instrument is deployed to take measurements for months or years without needing specific personnel here on site aside from the Science Technicians. We have several suites of instruments from many different groups. Some measure black carbon in the atmosphere, others measure cloud height, type, and precipitation, there’s a lot of atmospheric monitoring in general, a seismometer, and several solar radiation sensors.
The other type of research involves bringing the researchers themselves up here – either to install instruments, drill cores, collect samples, or test new technologies. The flight periods are the busiest times on station with many groups coming up for just a few days or a week, but some groups stay between flight periods. This past month, between flight periods 4 and 5, we are supporting two PhD students from Dartmouth who are here working with a robot. The Cool Robot.
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Their main objectives are to field test a new version of this robot, to prove that robotic surveys are feasible and practical. If they can be proven reliable robots could be used to track snow topography and elevation, ablation, accumulation, and all sorts of other parameters with significantly higher precision than the satellites we now rely on.
This particular robot is designed to follow a designated path while towing a ground penetrating radar (GPR) unit to measure compaction rates and densities. It is also carrying an infrared camera, which the researchers hope to measure exact surface area of the snow that can then be used to determine gas-air transfer rates. Finally, it includes a radiometer to measure the albedo of the surface – and thus how much solar energy it’s reflecting vs absorbing.

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Solar panel patterns

Some of the issues they’ve had to deal with is the robot filling with snow in high winds, the tires sinking in soft snow, losing traction on hard snow, hitting steep drifts and getting pushed off course…it’s a sometimes slow process, but overall I believe they’ve had great success and have their issues to delve into this winter when they return home.
It’s a boxy little thing, covered in solar panels. It doesn’t move very fast, maybe a 5mph at most, and we’ve grown used to seeing it putter around camp from one site to another. Check out their webpage and field blog: http://sites.dartmouth.edu/polarregionsrobotics/field-blogs/greenland-2017

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The “Robot Boyz” discuss annual layers in a back lit snow pit dug near station

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Summer Ice

After a much-needed break and some good adventures abroad I’m back in the Arctic on the Greenland ice sheet at Summit Station. This time I’m here for just over a month filling the gap between two other managers.

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Welcome to Summit Station! Roughly 10,550ft above sea level.

It’s summer here and compared to winter it is literally night and day. On May 6, after a short “night” of just 30min the sun rose above the horizon for the last time. It won’t set until August 7th when it will dip below the horizon at 12:04am and rise again at 1:16am. For now it just appears to circle around us in the sky. We’re at 72° North so the sun is higher at noon than at midnight (40° vs 5°), but still above the horizon. The 24/7 sun reflects off the white snow so sunburn and snow blindness are serious concerns. We have large bottles of sunscreen around station, but there are some impressive “goggle tans.” (More sunrise/sunset data for Summit Station can be found at this site: www.timeanddate.com/summit)

The light can affect sleep too and people often suffer from insomnia – you wake up at 2am and see the sun high in the sky…it’s hard to go back to sleep. Sleeping inside a building is a bit easier with window shades, but even these are sometimes augmented with cardboard and tape to block out as much light as possible. In tents it’s harder, sometimes just a hat pulled low is enough, or a neck gaiter pulled over the eyes…everyone has their own system.

The sun warms things up too. Summer temperatures typically range between -10F and 10F. Compared to the -40F to -70F in winter this is nearly t-shirt weather! On calm sunny days it’s not uncommon to see piles of jackets near crews shoveling. It’s tempting to play games outside on a nice evening, but it’s still cold enough for bocce or whiffle balls to crack upon impact…

Aside from the sunlight the biggest difference between summer and winter is station population. In the winter we have a skeleton crew of just four or five to keep the year-round science projects running: the station manager, two or three science technicians, and a mechanic.

In contrast, this summer we’ll peak at 54 people! In addition to researchers and students we have the station crew of the manager, two or three science technicians, a mechanic, a heavy equipment operator, a cargo person, a cook, a medic, and a field coordinator. Then there are temporary carpenter (carp) crews who come up to do maintenance, repairs, and replacements of buildings and general infrastructure.

To accommodate numerous science groups with short field campaigns as well as general station resupply and retro we coordinate with the NY Air National Guard. Flights in the winter months are limited by temperature and necessity to a few small Twin Otter propeller planes in October and February. Between April and August on the other hand, we have 6 scheduled flight periods with multiple LC-130 Hercules flights. These big military cargo planes bring in fuel (AN8), cargo, and passengers (pax). We might get 30-40 flights in a summer season. Between flight periods it’s relatively calm around station. We build up retro cargo for the next flight period, support whatever researchers are here for longer periods of time, and dig into some of the more involved projects around station. During flight periods things can get a bit hectic. Somehow flight days just make all this seem more real – I wrote about flight periods and what goes into supporting a “herc on deck” here: antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/flight-period-4

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The view from the cockpit of an LC-130 flying over the ice sheet

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Summit fuel pits

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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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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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