Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to Kangerlussuaq

Today the plane arrived exactly on time, and in spite of some heavy fog we made it back to Kangerlussuaq. The next steps for me are to arrange for the shipment of my cargo back to Cambridge, and then take the flight to Copenhagen on Thursday, followed by another flight to London on Friday.

And so another season draws to a close. I expect to be back up next summer, for a fairly short stay to pull out my equipment, as this winter will be the last for the project. Stay tuned- I'll keep posting about this or whatever other polar project I'm involved in!

Monday, August 20, 2007


In my polar research, I often categorize my days using the early polar explorers. On an Amundsen day, everything goes smoothly, things work, and it's all good. A Scott day means a pretty tragic day, where things break, and at the end of the day you're in a worse state than where you started the day. Today was a Shackleton day, in which I didn't manage to collect any data, but at the end of the day I'd managed to get back to the state in which I'd started the day; everyone came back alive.

The goal of the day was to log a borehole drilled by colleagues from the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab, about 5 km from camp. I'd been given GPS co-ordinates, but in some confusion earlier this season, the flags marking the hole had been removed. The GPS co-ordinates were taken with a handheld GPS receiver, and so were probably good to about 3 meters or so. So I brought a team of carpenters out with me and we covered the area within about 10 meters of the GPS location, using avalanche probes to penetrate the snow and try to find the plywood covering the hole:

Probing for the borehole. Photo by Chico Perales.

To make a long morning short, we didn't find anything. We're now pretty sure that somehow, at some point, the plywood covering the borehole was removed; otherwise we'd have found it with our probes, which had penetrated almost 2 meters, at a spacing of about 15 centimeters, over a 100 square meter area around the borehole location. We felt hard ice layers with the probes and thought we'd identified the area of activity where the drill had been (and feet had packed down the snow there), but no borehole.

Ok, time to shift into backup plan; there were 4 additional boreholes near this site, which were well-flagged. If I couldn't log the same hole from which my colleagues extracted the core, at least I could log one nearby.

So I set out to log the nearby holes, only to discover a major failure with the logging system. The winch simply wouldn't work. Aborting the mission, I went back to the lab to diagnose the problem. It turned out to be a wire that had simply shaken loose sometime in the previous week's travelling:

The broken wire. I managed to solder it back together, and then got the system working again. In the end, I'd returned to where I'd been that morning- no additional data, but at least the system was working correctly again, which is the most important part; this gear is used by the science technicians every month through the winter; had I not tried to do this log, I might not have discovered the broken wire, and that would have possibly cost me the winter's data collection. So in the end, what happenend today was good.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Inspection of the GRIP casing

The video inspection of the GRIP casing went very well. The casing is completely intact, right down to the ice plug we have known about since 1996. There was a bit of snow on the walls of the casing in some places, but not very much. In all these images the depth in the upper left corner is nominally feet.

A typical casing joint in the shallower regions of the casing. No noticable damage here.

A typical casing joint in the seeper sections of the casing. Snow on the joint is evident, but it doesn't look like there's any buckling. Seems like maybe this casing is a stronger kind of fiberglass.

The ice plug, right where we expected to find it. In past seasons when wanting to do a deep log, we've brought a large, heavy piece of steel and used it as a battering ram to break the ice plug apart so that we could get logging tools in and out. Of course, since we didn't have tools to fish out the broken pieces, it re-forms again soon after our operations are completed.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Getting to GRIP with it

Today I went to GRIP to inspect the casing of the borehole there. It's always a popular destination, and this time I brought 7 other folks from camp- they were happy to get out and about!

Logging the GRIP borehole to inspect the casing.

I'll post the results of the survey later when I've processed the video, but the first look indicates that the casing is completely intact, with none of the buckling we saw in the GISP2 borehole. The survey was cut short by a plug of ice which has formed about at the fluid level, and which in past seasons we'd had to break through with a heavy weight. The plug looked pretty solid! Pictures of it soon.

GPS surveying

Well, the winds were slightly better today, and we're now in crunch time, so we had to do our work today, even though the winds were light.

So today, we went out and surveyed 121 snow accumulation stakes, and hauled a GPS survey sled behind us the whole way, to measure the precise topography of our route.

Howie, science tech, measures the difference betwen the actual snow surface and the bottom of our GPS sled. This is important for constraining the exact surface height within centimeters.

OUr survey was successful, largely because of the time I was able to take yesterday refining the technique we used.

Here's the GPS survey sled (the 'pod') in action. The small disc mounted on top in the rear is the GPS antenna.

Tomorrow, we'll go to GRIP to survey they casing there to see if there's any damage. Hoping for good weather!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The North wind that blows no good...

This morning the winds were from the North. This is a bad thing for Science at Summit, because there are a large number of "clean" chemistry experiments here, lookging at snow chemistry and air chemistry, all depending on the prevailing Southerly wind to keep the exhaust from camp from blowing into the "Clean air" sector, which is to the South of camp.

When the wind is from the North, many Camp operations shut down. We'd planned to move much of the wummer cargo to the winter-over berm today, but this would have required the use of the Cat forklift, and heavy equipment does not operate on North wind days.

The Cat forklift and the Argo sit motionless, keeping thier exhaust from fouling the clean air sector.

This also caused a change in schedule for science- we'd planned to take some snowmachines to survey a long accumulation and surface topography line outside of camp, but with the North wind we didn't want to run any engines if we could avoid it, even just to get out of camp.

The wind isn't enough to push our new wind generator...

By the afternoon, the wind had died entirely. This is still not enough to operate the equipment, as we want at least 3 knots of wind from the south, to carry the exhaust away.

I took advantage of the lull to test our GPS equipment and work on the protocols for a new GPS surveying experiment, which we'll try to perform tomorrow.

So, better luck tomorrow. The forecast is for more of the same, but we'll be pressed for time- camp will "close" a week from today, leaving the winter-over crew of just 4 souls for the next 3 months!

But the real purpose of this trip...

Was to come up and train the new phase 1 winter science technicians. Today we finally made space in their busy training schedule for us to go out to my borehole site and do some training with the video logging gear.

Here the new science techs Howie and Kathy are bringing the camera back up to the surface. Howie is watching for the camera to emerge from the hole, and Kathy is running the winch and keeping an eye on the video and depth counter signals. They did a great job, and I'm confident that they'll have a good, productive season and collect good data for not only me, but over 20 other investigators with experiments ranging from atmospheric sampling to snow chemistry.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Further Borehole Inspection...

Yesterday, I inspected the newly-drilled DISC borehole casing and my battery lasted far longer than it had on my previous GISP2 inspection. So today I decided to attempt to reach the fluid in the GISP2 borehole, to see the extent of any other damage, and to see if pieces of casing were afloat on the fluid.

Here's a section that is so damaged I'm surprised any tools were able to fit down the hole last time we were here logging, in 2004.

This example is typical of the state of many of the casing joints. There's some damage, but it's not too bad.

Here is the casing just above the fluid level. My old logbooks indicate that tools have definitely snagged here on the way up...

And at last I made it to the fluid. It was a little unnerving- when I stopped the winch the camera continued to creep downhole, because of the amount of weight on the cable; I had to quickly hit the brake to keep the camera from splashing down! Not sure if that is casing bits on top or not. Any ideas?

Monday, August 13, 2007

House Mouse, take 2

Here at Summit, we take turns being the "House Mouse". The House Mouse takes care of things like dishes, cleaning up the building, etc. I was house mouse today, and so didn't get much done, aside from some improvements to my logging box. I posted about this duty a year ago, complete with pictures. I didn't take any pics of me doing dishes today, so check out my previous post (link above) for details and a picture...

More science tomorow!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Borehole Inspection

Well, I've finally used my first borehole camera for the purpoose for which it was originally designed: pipe inspection. We had reason to suspect the integrity of the GISP2 casing, both because instruments had snagged in the casing in the past, and also because GPS measurements of the height of the casing indicated that the top of the casing was sinking faster than we would expect, if the casing was locked-in to the firn at its base.

So this season I brought a second camera system, based on an old downhole camera and winch, with the intention of looking at the casing from the inside. Yesterday I put the camera in the borehole to see what we could see.

It wasn't very long before we ran into the first irregularities:

This looks like what you might expect if the casing is getting compressed along its axis; the joints in the casing are flare joints, and the piece of casing going into the flare gets fractured and forced into the pipe.

A closer view of the same.

After making the decision to move past this damaged section of casing, I came to the next damaged section:

This on isn't as bad as the first, but will probably get worse over time.

Then the third:

And then I found a strange thing- what I think must be a piece of fiber from the fiberglass tube, dangling down the hole:

And beyond that, more compressional damage:

Not long after this point, the battery in the camera died, so I had to return to the surface. I have a second battery pack, which seems to last longer. Perhaps I'll go down again with the better battery, and see if I can make it all the way down to the fluid! I did that this afternoon at the DISC borehole, drilled 2 seasons ago for testing purposes.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Starting to tick things off...

Sorry no pics today, but I forgot to bring the camera when I went out to download the data from the Automated Weather Station (AWS). But that's the first task truly checked off: the AWS is still running perfectly, 4 years after installation. Another task I worked on today was resurrecting an old borheole camera system, not used in years, so that we can use it to inspect the casing of the GISP2 borehole. We have reason to believe the casing may be getting crushed because it's locked into several places in the firn, which is compacting and attempting to compact the casing with it. More news on that when I get closer to doing the inspection!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Arrived at Summit!

Well, there you have it. The summit flight this morning went off without a hitch. We carried a massive triple-length pallet onboard, stacked with construction materials for the camp, with my Green Logging Box perched jauntily on top. We also carried 7 additional passengers who were on a "turnaround" flight, folks who work with the program in different roles who would get a tour of camp and then take the same flight back to Kangerlussuaq.

Once in camp, after greeting old friends and being introduced to some new faces, I started parsing my cargo into the various locations it needed to be: computer and tools in my lab, sleeping bag and clothes in the tent, toiletries in the Bighouse. I've been hydrating to help me acclimatize- although the actual elevation here is around 10,000 feet, the thinning of the atmosphere near the poles makes the altitude feel more like 13,000.

The best surprise of the day was to see the Pod. This is a new sled/portable survival hut which was brought in for the winter crew to take on the monthly 10 km traverse to measure snow accumulation and surface elevation:

Even better for me, we'll be able to mount GPS equipment on the Pod, which means that the science techs will only have to haul one sled with them on the traverse, and better still, I don't have to build a custom sled to carry the GPS, a task which I'd given myself several months ago. One item almost checked off my list already, and I haven't even been here a full day yet!

There (to Narsarsuak, then Raven) and back again.

In the morning, the weather looked poor at Raven, so it turned out to be a fine thing that we were going to fly to Narsarsuak first. We loaded up on the plane, and headed south, carrying, in addition to Steve, me, and our gear for Raven, 2 members of the G-NET team who were to be setting up continuous- monitoring GPS stations in the area, along with about 8,000 pounds of thier equipment.

The flight to Narsarsuak went smoothly, with mostly no particular scenery, but when we got close to Narsarsuak we came down through the clouds and there were some very nice glaciers to see. in particular we noticed one with a peculiar set of moraines:

Here you can see that there are 2 tributary glaciers 'feeding' the main trunk of the glacier, but the moraines tell an interesting story: The tributaries must be stagnating, because otherwise the moraines where they join the main glacier would not be straight across as they are, but would arch out into the main glacier, as can be seen in this picture.

We landed and offloaded our cargo and passengers in Narsarsuak, not without the standard delays one might expect when one needs a forklift to unload the plane. When we got ready to depart, the pilots told us that they were not optimistic about our chances to get into Raven, but that we'd try anyway. Not seeing anything through the small portholes, I began to think we might make it when I saw the loadmaster, who had direct communications with the pilot through his headset, change from his eyeglasses to his sunglasses, and start fastening the cuffs of his flightsuit.

We landed, and arrived at Raven, population 2:

Those 2 are Drew and Silver, who welcomed us warmly, gave us fuel, supplies, and food, and helped us on our way.

We first went to my site, about 5 km from Raven, where I made my video measurements. At the same location (or rather, around 100 yards upwind), Steve started taking his samples. We finished that site and moved to a location 10 km from camp, where Steve took some more samples.

Steve's looking at soot, or balck carbon, concentration in the snow. Such soot may not turn the snow black, may be hardly notable by the eye, but has a strong affect on the albedo of the snow, a measure of how much radiant energy is returned.

Steve is collecting snow samples in ball canning jars. He plans to melt them , filter them, and look for signs of soot.

We wen to one final site, 20 km from camp, collected samples, and headed for home, where Drew and Silver were waiting for us with a wondeful coconut curry. We had dinner, chatted a but and caught up (last time I'd seen Drew and Silver was 2 years ago), and went to bed. In the morning, a plane came, did some takeoffs and landings for practice, and then took us back to Kangerlussuaq, from where I write this.

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting (again), it'll be off to Summit!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Repairs and packing

Sorry, no decent pictures today, but then there wouldn't have been much to see. Today was a day for checking out my equipment and getting gear ready for tomorrow's flight to Raven. The science techs did a great job packing my gear, and noted where there was a loose connection for the video data, so I was able to pull the system apart and solder in a new wire with little fuss.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we fly to Raven, via Narsarsuak. Might be a nice flight, with some good views; on the other hand, we might get scrubbed by weather at either of 2 locations- frequent readers of this blog will note that it does indeed happen. Anyway, stay tuned- if I don't post tomorrow evening, it means I made it to Raven and am getting to work!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Arrived in Greenland!

Well, I've made it to Greenland once again. One night in Copenhagen, then by a miracle of jet engines and time zones, we flew away from Copenhagen at 09:25 this morning, and arrived in Kangerlussuaq at 09:45 this morning. Odd, huh? But I sure am JetLagged!

I've got today and tomorrow to get my gear ready to head to Raven on Tuesday, so I mostly took it easy today, repacking a few boxes and arranging a few things. Tomorrow I'll test out the logging gear lately arrived from Summit, and make 'final' preparations for the trip to Raven. Apparently we're heading to Narsarsuak, at the Southern tip of Greenland, to drop off some cargo before heading up to Raven. Should be an interesting flight, with hopefully some good views.

In the afternoon, I went with Ed Stockard, logistics man of mystery, paraglider pilot, and photographer extraordinaire, to see if he could get some good photos of a Peregrine Falcon he knew of. We drove out of town a ways and then set out on foot. After about 15 minutes of walking, we were warned by the falcon that we were getting close. We climbed up a little and Ed set up his camera to see if he could get a good shot.

I didn't get any good Falcon photos, but Ed's got some good ones over at his his flickr photo page. The view was excellent from where we were, though the falcon was swooping down at us. We took some photos and then went on our way.