Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Back from Raven...

In the morning, I awoke to fine, cool weather. This was very good news, as if I was going to make it home on schedule (always good if you have a 10 month old daughter at home), I needed to get back to Kangerlussuaq today.

After enjoying some fresh home-roasted coffee that I'd brought for Mark and Lou (they generously shared with me!), we set about getting cargo ready for the plane, which was planning to come in, on schedule, midmorning. When we got out to the flightline, Mark was ready in the Piston Bully, waiting to haul pallets out to the plane to be loaded.

Mark in the Piston Bully.

The plane landed, and following the Golden Rule of getting places in the polar regions ("If the aircraft lands, get on it!"), I got on it. An uneventful flight brought me back to Kangerlussuaq, where Sparky regaled me with tales of yesterday's Jakobshavn glacier flight. Apparently they'd harnessed the cameraman and a loadmaster, and opened up the rear door and ramp as they flew low over the glacier, so the cameraman could film out through the back unobstructed. It sounded like a spectacular flight, and I was sorry to have missed it, but glad I was able to get my science done in good time. Now it's just get my cargo sorted, bring it to Air Greenland, and get on the plane home tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Actually making it out to Raven!

Actually got out to Raven today, but not without some drama...

When waiting for a ride to the field in Kangerlussuaq, the first thing I usually do in the morning is wander down to the office to see what the weather's like at my intended destination. This morning the weather was pretty similar to recent days, too warm to make me confident, but it had cooled quite a bit overnight, so it looked like we might go. With optimisim I went and grabbed some breakfast. On my return, I found Sparky (Mark Begnaud, VPR Construction Manager) on the satphone with Mark Albershardt, who'd called in to say that the Spryte, a tracked vehicle they use for grooming the skiway, had just died in the middle of the skiway. They were running through scenarios of what had gone wrong and how they might move it so a plane could come in.

To make a long, coffee-fueled couple of hours short, in the end Mark and Lou managed to get the Spryte off the skiway, and weather was holding, so we headed out to the plane. In addition to me and the film crew, we had the US ambassador to Denmark, his personal assistant, and his 2 bodyguards coming along for the ride, to see Raven camp and get a nice scenic flight down Jacobshavn glacier. From the start the pilot told me that if they had trouble getting off, I'd be spending the night, and if we got to the skiway and they didn't like the look of it, they might not even land at all. No worries, I said, just hoping to get on the ground. As soon as we took off it was clear that this pilot wanted to show the film crew some spectacular scenery, as he flew "the long way" along the ice edge before turning inland to head up to Raven. WIth now window to look out of, I was never sure if we'd be landing until the skis touched down. Yes! made it!

We offloaded the cargo and I was met at the back of the plane by Lou, who always has an infectious smile.

Lou, Geared up for talking to the airplane.

I loaded up my snowmachine and wasted no time in heading out to my site, as if they came back I'd have no time to spare. My work went smoothly, and I was done in a couple of hours. Although I was 5 km away, I could hear the plane trying to take off, as they taxied back and forth along the skiway, trying to get up enough speed to fire the JATO boosters.

I began to wonder 1) if I'd finish my work in time to get back on the plane, and 2) if they'd all be spending the night! But after an hour or so I heard the unmistakable sound of a flying herc. I knew before Lou called me to let me know, that I'd be spending the night. Lou and Mark cooked up some fine burgers, and we had a lovely evening, and then went off to sleep after a very long day for all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

More logging, more filming, back to Kangerlussuaq, but no Jakobshavn Glacier!

So, as advertised, we were up at dawn this morning (well, not really at dawn, as the sun only dipped below the horizon briefly during the night...) for more logging and filming. I'd finished the training for the science techs last night, so I was working alone this morning. I extended the casings on each borehole (they are buried by the new snow that falls each year), and finished logging the rest of the holes as the film crew got lots of good footage. It was perfect for filming, because I was doing almost exactly the same thing at 3 different boreholes, so there were lots of opportunities for them. I still ended up doing things multiple times for the camera, but that's the way it is in the film business!

I finish up the logging as the cameras roll.

As usual, it was then a rush to get all our stuff packed before the plane arrived, and we had another mad dash on a snowmachine out to the skiway in an attempt to catch the plane landing, but to no avail, as they landed farther up the skiway than we could get in the time we had.

So after about 18 hours, we said goodbye to Summit again. Unfortunately, the weather over the Jacobshavn glacier was bad, so we didn't even try to fly over it on the way home; there would have been nothing to see anyway!

Now the real question on everyones mind is: will we get out to Raven? The weather there has continued to be warm and the surface has been soft. But there has been a prediction of cooling for the next day or two, so we are hopeful. Even if we do get in, it's likely that anyone who gets off the plane will stay the night, and the plane could also get stuck. Since the film crew needs to be back on the rotator flight on Wednesday, they won't be able to come out to my site with me. So, the plan for tomorrow: Flight to Raven, the film crew hop off for a few minutes to shoot unloading the plane, and the plane takes off, flies down the Jakobshavn glacier while I do my work at Raven, and then comes back to pick me up. They've already told me that if they have trouble getting off the skiway when they drop me off, they won't be coming back for me, so I've got everything I need to be comfortable overnight. And of course there's still the possiblity that we get scrubbed altogether for tomorrow, if the weather at Raven doesn't cool off or if visibility is poor. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The plan worked!

This morning we had some luck yet again- we made it to Summit! Hope it lasts.

It wasn't without the standard amount of wondering if we were actually going to get called to go, waiting for another hour, speculating on what decisions may or may not get made (it turns out that people waiting for an airplane in the polar regions develop a keen interest and expertise in meterology, aviation, and psychology!)...

But in the end we got up to Summit, and immediately borowed a snowmachine to see if we could get some good footage of the plane taking off:

The crew set up at the side of the skiway, shooting the plane as it taxis downwind.

We then had some dinner and got ready to go out and do some actual science! In this case, the plan was for me to complete the training of the science techs, which would make good material for the film crew. I'd started training the techs while we were stuck in Kangerlussuaq, which was a great help. We ended up working and shooting until about 11. The current plan is to fly back tomorrow around mid-day, following the Jacobshavn glacier which can have some pretty spectacular scenery for filming. There's more to do here though, so we'll get up eeeearly tomorrow to finish it up before the flight arrives.

As usual, it's really great to see all the folks here who have become good friends over the years. Wish I had more time to catch up with them!

Russell Glacier, and another permutation of the plan...

Today dawned overcast with rain. It seemed that things weren't looking too good for a trip to Russell Glacier, as shooting in the rain isn't too high on anybody's list.

So we didn't head out first thing in the morning. This gave me a chance to catch up with the plans that the National Guard had started making for flights this week, and we weere able to come up with the next plan. Now, the goal is to fly to Summit tomorrow, then back from Summit the next day, and hopefully turn right around and fly to Raven that same day. This makes the shooting schedule tight, but at least I can get it all done. This is all contingent on having another plane with skis fly up from New york tomorrow, because the guard wants to have a second plane with skis available for search and rescue if anything goes wrong. This plane will perhaps fly around midday tomorrow, so our flight to Summit would launch around then as well.

But today we did indeed go to the Russell glacier, just after lunch. It turned out to be a very successful day of shooting. It's late, so I won't go too much into it now, but at the end of our shooting we still hadn't gotten much of the way of falling ice, so we decided to wait 10 minutes more, and trained the camera on a particularly active piece of ice. 2 minutes later a huge chunk of ice fell off and crumbled. It was a very spectacular scene, and we got it all on tape, as the camera was pointed straight at it. wahoo! Now we're hoping that was a harbinger of good luck to come, rather than that used up all our luck for the trip! we'll know more tomorrow.

An afternoon interview, with Russell Glacier in the background.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The plans they are a changin'

Well, it didn't take long for the ambitious schedule for this week to start to change. On my arrival yesterday I was met at the airport by VPR's Ed Stockard. When I asked him how things were going, he responded- "Well, do you want me to just say 'fine', or do you want the real story?" I knew at once that our carefully-laid plans were soon to be in transition.

The 109th Air National Guard planes were still grounded with mechanical problems, and so wouldn't be arriving that day. This gave me a little more time to do some repairs on my equipment, but also threw a wrench into our plans. Now, 2 planes should arrive today, but only one with skis, and without a second ski-equipped plane for rescue if something goes wrong, we won't be flying anywhere until we have another ski-equipped plane available. This is likely to be Sunday at the earliest.

So the trip to the Russell Glacier that we'd planned for later in the week has been moved to tomorrow, since it only requires a truck, which we do have. It's all about using our time as efficiently as possible. After that, the plan, with any luck, will continue to follow as closely as possible to the original plan, with us flying to Raven, then to Summit, and eventually back here. I have yet to meet with the film crew, so I don't know quite what they are wanting yet in terms of shots.

More later as the plan evolves!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Headed back for Fall, with a film crew!

I've had some time now in both Seattle and Cambridge, and am now gearing up for the coming August trip. One of the things I've been doing is building a control panel for the camcorder and depth counter, using some bits of electronics and a pic 16f84a microcontroller (many thanks to the assembly code from David Mead that I hacked for this project).

The finished control panel- it'll get installed on the electronics box for this winter, so the science technicians will be able to keep the box closed while outdoors; I think it's a good improvement!

While I was in Seattle, I was contacted by someone from the American Museum of Natural History. They want to do a short documentary (for Science Bulletins on glaciers, sea level, and climate, and they want to feature my work with Borehole Optical Stratigraphy. Far out!

So for the past few weeks I've been planning and co-ordinating to get the AMNH film crew of 4 and all their gear to Greenland to do some filming during this upcoming trip. All this amid a surprise grounding of the LC-130 hercules aircraft that we use to get into the field, with troubles in teh wing fuel tanks. So there were some days when we weren't sure if the trip would go ahead for sure at all, but now it looks like a go. More when I get to the field!