Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Mouse in the House

At Summit, there is no designated dishwasher or cleaner. Instead, everyone in camp takes turns doing the cleaning chores. It's called being the "House Mouse", and today it was my turn. When you wash dishes for 35 or so people, it turns into quite a job, and along with vacuuming, wiping down tables, mopping, taking out the trash, and all the other standard little chores that keep a house clean, it takes up most of the day.

Here I'm in the scullery, finishing up the lunch dishes. The white counter at the front of the scullery gets filled with dishes by the end of each meal.

Snow traffic control

Today was mostly an office day, analysing data and planning changes in the sampling protocols for the science techs to follow when I'm gone.

One of the more interesting things I got to do today, though, was play snow traffic controller. One of my colleagues, Liz Morris from the Scott Polar Research Institute, is on a snowmobile traverse with an assistant, and will be arriving at Summit later this week. We talked to her on the phone today and since she is coming from the South, a direct route into camp would take her through the clean air sector, where atmospheric sampling takes place and we never drive motorized equipment.

So I gave her a slightly longer route that will avoid the clean air sector. I plotted it out:

Here you can see Summit as the red star, and the skiway as the blue line next to it. GRIP, an old European drilling camp, is the blue star to the right. Liz's last sampling location on the traverse is T41, at the lower right. Between the end of the summit skiway and GRIP is almost a road, as people have visited GRIP a couple of times this season already. So I've given Liz a route that intersects the GRIP 'road' and heads to the skiway, then to camp. This way she'll avoid the clean air zone directly south of camp.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another pit!

Most of yesterday was spent working on making improvements to my borehole logging system, not a very photogenic activity. Today, however, I helped Lora dig another pit. We drove about 7 km from camp, to the center of a satellite pixel (she's doing a satellite validation study), and dug a _big_ pit. I estimated from the volume of the put and the density of the snow that we moved about 1000 kg of snow out of, and then back into, the pit. Sore back muscles!

One of the things we did was measure the snow density. To do this, we have a special 'density cutter' that I push into the wall of the snowpit:

putting the cutter into the wall. You can see the square-shaped holes left where I've already taken samples.

We know the volume of the cutter, so all we need to do, since density is mass per unit volume, is weigh the sample of snow we just cut out:

Weighing a snow density sample.

Once we've done that down the full depth of the pit, we have a density profile! This is useful for a wide range of applications, since the properties of snow (for example the thermal properties we were also measuring) frequently depend on the snow density.

Tomorrow will probably be another day of upgrading the borheole logging system, but maybe I'll get some photographs in- we'll see!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Working the Pit

I realized that the pit I'd dug yesterday could be put to use for other science. So I suggested to Lora Koenig, of the University of Washington, that she might like to use the pit to test her instrumentation. So I went out and helped her. We measured density, grain size, stratigrahy, thermal conductivity, and used a radiometer to characterize the microwave emmissivity of the snow for satellite ground truthing.

Lora measures thermal conductivity in the snow pit.

We finished the pit in time for me to put the finishing touches on the weather station, so now it's all ready for the next two years, when I'll dig it up again. The camp cooks made pizza for dinner tonight, which was very well received!

I dig weather stations

My main task for today was to get a start on raising my weather station. I'd installed it 2 years ago, and with the high accumulation at Summit, it's getting buried. The electronics are all in a box under the snow, and the only things visible at the surface were the anemometer for measuring wind speed and direction, the thermistor for measuring air temperature, and the solar panel to keep the batteries charged.

The buried weather station. The flat green bit is the solar panel, which was about 1.5 meters off the surface when I installed the station. Can you guess why I would mount it facing down?

In the morning I downloaded all the data from the station, and checked to see that it was all in order. Then it was time for digging. I'd carefully made a diagram when I inastalled the station, so I knew exactly where to dig. A couple of hours later I'd found my box!

At the bottom of the pit with the datalogger electronics.

I brought everything up to the surface, and then was about to fill in the pit, when I realized at least one more scientist at Summit might want to make measurements in it; the pit's already dug! So tomorrow I'll help Lora with some conductivity measurements, then fill in the pit, re-bury the box just beneath the surface, and it'll be ready to go for another 2 years!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A whirlwind start to the Greenland season.

Getting out of town:

Getting everything ready for this trip happened quickly. I had one
week between returning from Svalbard and shipping my gear to
Greenland. In addition, I still needed one test run for my Physical
Qualification (PQ), which NSF requires of all participants in the
Arctic and Antarctic programs. The TB test, as usual, was negative,
so I'd faxed the results to the NSF doctor and figured it was now just
a matter of time for my PQ to come through. Then 3 days before we
were to leave, I got an email from the NSF medical office- they were
missing one blood test. I'd had so many blood tests that the nurse
drawing blood from my arm had to use 13 vials to collect it all. When
the results came, I just sent them all in, but didn't see that one was
missing amid the rest.

This could put a serious damper on my season, as I won't be able to
stay at Summit if the PQ doesn't come through. I investigate with my
doctor, and it turns out a consent form had not been signed for the
tests and so they weren't done. We quickly sign the form and get it
started, but the tests will take a few days. I'll keep calling
them. I call them every couple of days while in transit, each time
hoping for the news that the results have come in, but each time it's
the same answer: no results yet.

I spend a day flying West to East, and my backpack misses a tight
connection in Dulles. I explain to the baggage handlers that I'm
flying to Greenland in the morning (at 5:30) and that I'd really like
to have the bag. I can manage without it, but I'd prefer to have it,
all the same. They'll see what they can do. I get to sleep, and
then at 1:30 the phone rings; my backpack has arrived. I go down and
get it and then go back to bed. 3 hours later my alarm wakes me for
the flight to Kangerlussuaq.

To Raven- 4th time's the charm!

After an uneventful flight to Kangerlussuaq, followed by some cargo work in the
evening, this morning I got up and got ready for the trip out to Raven. My
first orfder of business was to call England to see if my lab tests
have shown up yet- no word, so I'll try again when I get back

My "showtime" for the flight was 9:30, so I came down packed and ready
to go. There was some time waiting, but then the call came to hurry
to the plane. On the plane, strapped in, ready to go, and then one by
one I heard the engines shutting down. Usually they leave on the
auxiliary power unit (APU), but this shut down as well, and I knew
something was amiss. Then all the lights went out, and I heard the
words "exit the aircraft"- we all got off pretty quickly!

It turned out that there was a possible fault with the wing de-icing
heaters, and that one of them might be overheating. Since the fuel is
also stored in the wings, this would be bad. As they were working on
diagnosing the problem, someone smelled that 'hot' smell, so we
evacuated the aircraft and all gathered away from it while we waited
for the fire crew to arrive. After we had the all-clear, we later
learned that the sensor was probably faulty, and the smell might have
been the exhaust of a passing poorly-tuned pickup truck. So we went
back for another try. This time there seemed to be a problem with the
generator on the #1 engine, so we skipped that attempt as well. In the
end, that mission was scrubbed and my gear and I were transferred to
the next plane headed to Raven, but I got there nonetheless.

At Raven I met Mark and Lou, old friends and the current residents of
Raven. It's always to see them. I quickly got all the additional
gear I needed, and got going.

Mark and Lou at the 'helm' of raven camp.

A big grin forms on my face as I drive out into the flat white
untracked snow. This is the part I love. I arrive, find my sites,
add casing to the holes, log them, finish by 9pm and head back to
camp. I had a lovely dinner with Mark & Lou, then showed off some
photos of my daughter Olivia, then went to bed.

Next day:

I awake at Raven, have a nice breakfast and coffee with Lou and Mark.
The plane arrives. I head back to Kanger, then set to work dealing
with the medical. Now the lab is done with my bloodtests, but they
haven't sent it to my doctor yet. More phone calls, and at the last
minute (it's 5:30 pm British time) the fax comes through- the blood
test results, and as we knew, I don't have hepatitis :). Then the
race is to get the results to NSF medical, so I can be PQ'd for the
flight tomorow. A few faxes and emails later, I'm pronounced good to
go, so we're on for tomorrow. Then I do some re-packing and catch up
with some old classmates Ginny and Tom. It was great to see them, if even only for a short time. Now off to Summit, More on that tomorow!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Packing up, signing off!

Well, we've reached the tail end of another field trip. Today I've been packing up, but had enough time to walk up on the largest fuel tank and take a few pictures.

Ny-Alesund from above.

It was clear enough that I had a pretty good view of Kronebreen, the glacier "next door" to the Kongsvagen:

In a colder year, we would be able to drive over the sea ice to get to the glacier more easily.

Well, It's been a great week. In the morning I'll be flying home. It'll be good to see Suzanne and Olivia again.

My next field work will be in a couple of weeks in Greenland. Tune in then, different polar field location, same web address!

Belated report on the L O N G day on the Kongsvagen...

Yesterday evening (or more porperly this morning), we arrived from the Kongsvagen and I was too tired to create a post. Here's a rundown on what we did:

In the morning we saw that the weather was favorable for a trip to the Kongsvagen, so we loaded our sleds, made some big sandwiches to bring, filled our thermoses with tea, and headed out. Almost imediately we discovered a new meltwater stream had formed across our planned route. Fortunately this was not difficult to circumvent.

This time, instead of trying to go where we were stopped by water last time, we picked our way through the moraines higher up. This involved some tricky driving to avoid the bigger rocks.

Riding through the moraines. Photo by John Burkhart.

There were plenty of slopes we had to drive across, which can be difficult if you have a heavy snowmachine or a loaded sled. On one of these, a snowmachine slid down the slope and turned over. Once we'd righted it, our attempt to get it back up the slope ended with the snowmachine spinning its track in water, getting no traction at all.

Another sunken snowmobile.

Once we'd freed it, we dug a road for the rest of the snowmobiles to avoid the same hazard. We had no further mishaps on that spot, so we could move on to the next trouble spot. After some more shoveling and moving some of the bigger rocks, we were able to clear this obstacle as well. On to the glacier! Then it was smooth sailing to out study site.

The fog had come in, and we started our work, drilling a shallow ice core:

Ola working with the core.

And logging two boreholes. We also ran ground-penetrating radar, GPS surveys, snow depth sounding surveys, and placed corner reflectors above the snow surface, in anticipation of an overflight by an airplane carrying a radar altimeter and a laser scanner. The reflectors will help to calibrate the radar.

The corner reflector at stake 8.

After many hours, our work was done and we could finally head for home. This involved retracing our steps over the same obstacles we'd traversed on the way out, but this time tired from a long day of work! We managed to clear all the trouble spots with no difficulty, but then I noticed a flickering light on the dashboard of my snowmobile; it was running out of oil! This would be an easy way to burn up the engine, so I stopped immediately and we discussed the options. We were very close to home, and really wanted to get home without having to leave the snowmachine there. Finally we had the idea of using a tube to suck some oil out of another machine to put it in mine. This managed to get some oil in both the snowmachine and Ola's mouth! Fortunately, our Fearless Leader Jack had planned ahead and handed over several very strong mints.

In the end, the weather was clearing as we rode in, and we were treated to some of the beautiful scenery as we came into town at almost 2am. It had been a long day, and we were happy to be back.

Coming home is always a treat. Photo by John Burkhart.

Made it to Kongsvagen!

Well, I fianlly made it out to Kongsvagen today. It was a really long day (Not sure what the time zone of the timestamp on the post is, but we returned to Ny-Alesund about 2 am. It's 24 hour sunlight here though, so it doesn't make a difference for visiblity...

there are lots of stories from today's trip, but I won't tell them here, or even show any pictures- because I'm going to bed! I'm TIRED. more later. zzzzzzzz.