Tag Archives: Winter

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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Winter

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After 4 days of weather delays the final turnover flight made it to Summit on November first. We unloaded several hundred pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and various other resupply items then refueled the plane and loaded it up again with bags and passengers. The fall crew had finished their tour of duty and were heading home at last. The rest of the afternoon here on station was mostly spent settling into winter rooms and unpacking the fresh food and supplies.

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Freshies!

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The walk in refrigerator, aka “freshie shack,” stocked up for winter with fruits, vegetables, and dairy. It is cooled with outside air and warmed with heat reclaimed from the generators (a little electric heater on the far wall augments heating when temps get super cold)

Fresh food, aka “freshies”, is a big deal in the polar programs. A few stations (such as the South Pole) have green houses and are able to grow some fresh food, but most stations do not have such facilities. As with everything else, freshies must be shipped in from elsewhere. For McMurdo and field camps these come from New Zealand. Here in Greenland it depends on the season – in the summer (Apr-Aug) we get supplies via LC-130s with the NY Air National Guard out of New York state, so food and cargo can be shipped directly from the US. In the winter the hercs are deployed to Antarctica and so for the few crew turnover flights (Oct and Feb) we rely on chartered Twin Otters from Iceland.
Even a few minutes’ exposure to extremely cold temperatures will blacken banana skins and wilt lettuce so freshies from Iceland are sent up in styrofoam boxes to prevent freezing while being transported to and from the plane. We won’t get any flights until February so the freshies we get at the Oct turnover are it – We have to make them last as long as possible. Lettuce goes the fastest and there isn’t much we can do to preserve it so we try to eat that first. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, beets, onions, and squash can last for months and can also be frozen. Even apples, bananas, and oranges will last weeks to months before we are forced to freeze them.

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Earth’s shadow to the North

Now that turnover is complete the station is relatively calm and quiet. We are stocked up with food and fuel and are looking good for the months ahead. Winter is a drawn out marathon compared to the frenetic summer season – there’s less overall to do, but everything takes longer. We won’t get another plane until late February 2017 so it’s just a matter of keeping ourselves alive, the station functioning, and our year-round scientific instruments, such as NOAA’s observatory and ICECAPS, in working order.

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An almost noon sun behind the Big House

It is now officially winter and it’s starting to feel like it. Today the sun rose at 9:13am and will set at 1:20pm, tomorrow it will be 9:22am and 1:12pm…the last sunrise will be on November 14th (www.timeanddate.com/summit). Temperatures are variable, but they are dropping lower and lower. Current conditions here are publicly available at: summitcamp.org/weather. On Thurs evening we reached a new low this season of -52F and with the cold and the dark come auroras!

Welcome to Winter!

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Fall-Winter Turnover

Schedule a plane and you’ll get a storm…or so it seems more often than not!

Our first flight since mid-August was scheduled for Thursday Oct. 20th, but it was delayed a day due to extremely high winds Wednesday evening and into Thursday. We were hunkered down in Con 1 here (see last post) and made the best of it. On Friday morning I woke early to start weather obs. Because we are not an official airport the station supervisor is required to provide current weather observations in METAR form starting 3 hours prior to take off. The flight was scheduled to take off from Akureyri, Iceland at 9am which meant with the 2-hour time change I had to get up at 3:30am to start obs. We only have a handful of flights so that’s fine with me. Thankfully the winds calmed down significantly and the weather looked good. The obs only take 10 minutes or so every hour so I had plenty of time to make a big breakfast for everyone.

Here are a few sample obs:

M BGSM 200750Z 15006KT 9999 FEW100 M27/M30 2992 RMK CLDS DSNT HGT EST SDG/HDG (a beautiful day with 6kn winds, clear horizon, a few clouds at 10,000ft and -27C)

M BGSM 201150Z 150T31KT 0100 -SN BLSN VV003 M22/M24 A2865 RMK 8sc SDN/HDN (a less beautiful day with 30kn winds, 100ft visibility with falling snow and blowing snow, socked in with only 100ft visible vertically, -22C, and no surface or horizon visible)

In the summer we use LC-130 Hercs – big lumbering beasts that can haul thousands of pounds of cargo and dozens of passengers. In the winter however (Sep-Apr in Greenland), the ski equipped Hercs are put to work down in Antarctica and we rely on Twin Otter planes. They are much smaller than hercs, but they can take off and land without much of a skiway and have no temperature limitations. We use them often in the deep field of Antarctica as they do not need a skiway to land.

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On Oct 21st the Twin Otter took off on time and we got everything here ready – fuel tanks were pre-warmed and staged, the skiway was tracked and the flags cleared of frost, baggage/cargo going out had final weights taken and was staged in the SOB, and I switched on our air to ground radios. The Twin Otter stopped at Constable Pynt (Nerlerit Innat in Greenlandic) on the coast of Greenland to refuel and I got a note from the airport there that they were on their way!

When they were about 15min out I got a call on the radio from the plane asking for current weather conditions, confirming outgoing weights, and requesting fuel. We were ready and waiting with the fuel tanks and snowmobiles with sleds at the flight line. The 6 incoming passengers had just arrived from sea level and would not be used to the 10,500ft elevation or the cold. An hour later the incoming passengers were settling into the Big House and the plane was fueled, loaded,

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Training the new science techs

and on its way back to Iceland.

 

The past week has been a whirlwind of training and turning over duties to the new crew. Half of the incoming winter crew has been here in past seasons so that helps tremendously. The other two have a lot to learn, but they have both worked down in Antarctica so they have a good idea of what to expect and are almost fully up to speed. The new energy and enthusiasm is revitalizing.

 

The second flight of turnover was scheduled for October 28th. Unfortunately, while weather here at Summit has been decent, weather in between Iceland and Greenland has been poor and they have cancelled 4 days in a row now. Weather delays like this are not uncommon, but it’s never easy on morale especially with those pax due to leave. This flight is the last one until crew turnover in February. It’s bringing in fresh food and a few resupply items for the winter season and will take out the

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remaining fall crew. Everyone except me is leaving – I’m here through February.

While I don’t have to do any turnover myself I do have to do weather obs until the flight gets here. Now that daylight savings has ended in Greenland I have to get up at 2:30am to start obs…

The Green House looking intense at night

The Green House looking intense at night

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Early dawn and a partial moon at 7am in late October. The structures are the MSF and 50m tower.

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Hints of Hurricane at Summit Station

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Over the last 2 weeks we’ve had back to back wind storms with lots of drifting and blowing snow. On Wednesday, however, we got hit by the tail end of hurricane Nicole, by that time classified as a “post-tropical cyclone.” In a matter of hours our winds went from 20kn to over 60kn.

We follow similar weather criteria as the USAP: Condition 3 is visibility greater than 2000ft and wind-chill above -90F. Condition 2 is visibility between 2000ft and 200ft and/or wind-chill below -90F. And Condition 1 is the worst with visibility less than 200ft and/or wind-chill below -100F. When wind speeds exceed roughly 20knots snow is picked up reducing visibility and creating a white out. We’ve had a few cases of Con 2 recently with visibility under 2000ft, but I had yet to call on Con 1. Flag lines run between all the main buildings on station and during a storm all travel is monitored with radio calls including route and destination and check-in upon arrival. It can seem cumbersome at times, but it is also important to know where everyone is and that no one gets lost.

The day had started warm and a little windy with 20kn winds, but after midday they increased rapidly to 30kn then 40kn…finally hitting a peak sustained wind speed of 61kn gusting to 63kn! Unfortunately 53kn was the highest I saw on the station screen displaying current conditions.

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Current Conditions: -4F and 53kn winds

That was by far the highest wind speeds I’ve seen up here, though I doubt it broke any records. Winter and early spring storms can be vicious on the ice sheet. The Big House, up on stilts, rocked as each gust buffeted the structure. At around 35kn we went into Con 1 and I made the call over the radio. I could no long see the Green House from the Big House. Travel was restricted to emergency or well-coordinated necessary activity with no solo travel permitted. Two people were in the Green House and went down to the SOB together to get the mechanic and bring him back. Visibility was down to just tens of feet and we ran a rope line along the flags between the Big House and Green House. Even in those high winds it was not hard to follow the flag line, but if something were to happen, if someone were to be blown over and injured or become disoriented, the consequences would be disastrous. So we are cautious and careful.

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The storm was brief, however and winds died back down to 35kn pretty quickly. Overall the station fared well. A few large empty propane cylinders that are stored on the deck were blown over and there was significant drift growth around station. The buildings are far from perfectly sealed and we found several small drifts inside where ice and snow had been blown through a tiny crack. Walks around the berms revealed completely buried pallets in places and a few lighter items that had blown over, but not too much damage. We are prepared for potentially bigger storms through the winter.

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Wind speeds off the chart!

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