Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flying home first class on a C-17

Though the fog persisted today and visibility was poor, our
scheduled Air Greenland flight took off as planned (weather was
fine at its destination).  From there, it felt like we were
rock-stars; because our timing was right, we were able to hitch a
ride on an empty C-17 cargo jet that was heading back to New York
from Kangerlusuaq.  They waited just for us.  So when we got off
the plane, we were met by Audry, our CPS contact in Kangerlussuaq;
we piled our bags into her truck, and she drove us directly to the
C-17, which already had its engines running.  Strapped ourselves
in, and we took off for New York and home.  Our total time on the
ground was probably no more than 30 minutes, including waiting for
our baggage...  And did I mention legroom?  I'd never flown a C-17
before, and with no cargo, there was plenty of room to stretch out:

   That's all for this trip- check back in for the next one!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Final flying day- quite productive!

Well, today was our last day to get out and service our stations
(we are scheduled to fly home tomorrow), so we pulled out all the
stops.  Weather looked great so we took off at 8:30, slightly
behind our planned launch of 8:00.  Again we went as two teams of
two, to maximize our ability to hit all of the sites we wanted.

After hitting several sites, I got a call from Lauren on the
satellite phone; Daniel (our pilot) had a report of bad visibility
in Ilulissat, compromising our ability to get home.  Fortunately,
the weather where we were was just fine.  But not being able to
get hoem might make anyone nervous, and so as soon as Lauren and
Claudia were done with their station, they all flew to us.

The weather in Ilulissat wasn't improving much, leaving us the
very real possibility that we'd have to spend the night out
someplace with the helicopter.  So Daniel's new plan was to call
the weather office every ten minutes, and then make a break for
town if there seemed to be a break in the weather.  We redoubled
our efforts to finish servicing this station before we had to jump
into the helicopter.  We finished just moments after Daniel called
for us to go- success!

Today we were flying in an Astar, and since we'd left town as two
teams of two, we didn't have enough room for everyone with all of
our gear.  So rather than leave two of us out to get stuck (Daniel
was certain that he wouldn't fly again today), we had to leave
some gear behind:

Fortunately we got the most valuable gear into the helicopter, and
that which we left behind can be collected in September, at the
very latest, when the crew arrives to actually remove the station
and bring all of our gear home.

The flight home was, shall we say, "interesting" at times.  The
visibility was poor in the fog, so we followed the shoreline once
we got to the coast, flying low so that we could actually see the
ground.  But at the end of the day, all the people were back, and
we'd finished 95% of our science objectives for this trip- not bad
at all!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Flying again finally!

Well, we woke up this morning to thick fog again, but it was
fortunately not as heavy as it was yesterday.  Still, as we were
eating breakfast, all suited up, we got a call from our pilot,
who told us that there wasn't any rush....  Not the words you
want to hear when you are waiting to fly!

Still, by midday it had cleared enough for us to make a plan to
head to the airport right after lunch.  To make a long story
short, we finally took off at 12:50 local. 

From left, Daniel, Lauren, and Claudia (in the back seat) get ready to
take off in the Air Greenland A-Star.  It's a smaller, faster helicopter
than the Bell 212 we had last week, so we are "commuting" out to our
field sites separately. 

It was a long day, and we worked hard- but we visited 6 sites,
and made many repairs.  By the time we had finished, the weather
had cleared and we had a great meal out on the front porch of the
house where we are staying (the Annex of the Hotel Hvide Falk-
see my earlier post).  Then back inside to the computers to
download and backup data, compare notes, and create the plan for
tomorrow's flying!  It's another late night.  But one of the
benefits of staying up late in the polar regions is tha you
sometimes actually get to see the sun set, and it was glorious
this evening at around 11:30-

Ok, all for now- hope the weather holds for tomorrow! 

Monday, May 07, 2012

No flying in FOG

Woke up this morning bright and early, to look out the window and
see Ilulissat shrouded in fog:

We suited up anyway, because you never know, and had breakfast,
getting ready to head to the airport to meet our pilot.

At breakfast, we heard the news that the pilot had called, and the
fog was forecast to remain through the day.  He suggested we check
in again around midday, but was not too hopeful about the
prospects for flying at all today.

So we lingered over breakfast, had that extra cup of coffee...

And then came the job of planning how to adapt to the loss of not
one flying day (Saturday), but two.  I spent some quality time
with the specs of our helicopter (cruise sped 120 knots, load
capacity 1300 pounds including fuel, fuel burn rate 300 pounds per
hour), and came up with, shall we say, an optimistic plan for
tomorrow, in the event that the weather allows us to fly (as I
write it is clearing, and currently the weather is flyable, so we
are hopeful).  We'll work in two teams of two; here's the plan for
our helicopter pas de deux (JAV is the designator for the
Ilulissat airport):

*** DRAFT new flight plan for Tuesday, 7 May 2012
    08:00 - depart JAV for 28N0/GULL with 2pax (team a), 365 lbs cargo
    08:30 - drop pax & cargo at 28N0/GULL (site a), return to JAV
    09:00 - depart JAV for QING with 2 pax (team b), 365 lbs cargo
    09:30 - land and hold at QING
    10:30 - depart QING to GULL with team b.
    10:40 - overfly 37N4 enroute.
    10:45 - land at GULL (site b), discharge pax & cargo (team b)
    11:00 - reposition to GULL (site a), pick up 2 pax & cargo (team
    a), depart to 22N1/FOXX
    11:15 - reposition to GULL (site b), land and hold. 
    - if needed, this would be a good time to refuel -
    12:15 - depart GULL (site b) with 2 pax & cargo (team b), move to FOXX.
    Land and hold at FOXX (both teams at FOXX)
    13:00 - depart FOXX for 25N0 with 2 pax & cargo (team b).  Drop at 25N0.
    13:15 - reposition to FOXX.
    13:30 - depart FOXX for 19N1 with 2 pax and cargo (team a). 
    13:45 - reposition to 25N0
    14:45 - depart 25N0 for 28N4 with 2 pax & cargo (team b).  Drop at
    15:00 - reposition to 19N0.
    15:15 - depart 19N0 for JAV with 2 pax & cargo (team a).
    16:00 - depart JAV for 28N4.
    16:30 - land at 28N4
    16:45 - depart 28N4 for JAV with 2 pax & cargo (team a).
    17:15 - land at JAV- end of day. 

And if we make it through all of that, we go home and fall over.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday- No-fly day

Nobody flies on Sunday in Greenland, so flying today wasn't an
option.  But the good news is that it isn't great weather for
flying anyway- we might well have been grounded even if we had
been scheduled to fly.

So, today is a day for looking at data, making sure our plans for
tomorrow are complete, and, I have to say, making time to post to
this blog for the first time in a while!

Fortunately, we're staying in a place (the annex of the Hotel
Hvide Falk) that has plenty of room to spread out our gear and
work.  Here Lauren and Kristin work on thier computers in the
central living area.

A view of the Hotel Hvide Falk from the water.  We are staying in
the Annex, which is the brown building just below and to the
right of the main building.

The view of Disko bay from our place.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Second flying day- good start, then scrubbed!

Well, today started out ok, but the weather was looking a bit
marginal.  Tonny said we'd head out and see- our sites are far
enough away from town that the weather can be pretty different.
Well, to make a long flight short- we couldn't get into our first
destination, so I suggested a second- but that too was too far
"into the white"; the horizon and surface definition were too
poor for going to the higher elevation sites, which still have
snow and no bare ice.  Finally we chose a site that had exposed
patches of ice, which helped Tonny have a reference while he
landed.  There were crevasses near this site, and there was
plenty of snow to hide them, so I roped up to probe out a safe
area to unload the helicopter and work around our site:   

By the time we'd probed a safe area, unloaded our gear, and got
ready to work, the weather had come in.  Tonny suggested that we
pack up so as not to get stuck out there.  As we were gathering
things back onto the helicopter, he pointed out that conditions
were deteriorating more quickly- "uh, guys, not to stress you
out, but as quickly as possible we need to take off..."
When your pilot says something like that, you follow the rules of
polar work and get on the aircraft.

By the time we were ready to take off the horizon was completely
gone from view, and the surface was going quickly:

Back in town, Tonny consulted with the weather office, and
decided that was it for the day.  We then spent the rest of the
day going over plans, and working on how to accommodate this lost
day (we'll try to fly on Wednesday).

Friday, May 04, 2012

First flying day!

Today we were up early, packed and ready, and headed to the
airport.  We talked over the weather and our flight plans with
Tonny, loaded the helicopter, and took off.  Our first goal was
to overfly several sites on the way to our first landing, at one
of our borehole stations from last year.  As we flew along, I'd
help Tonny navigate to the next station with the help of a
handheld GPS, and we'd be scanning the snow surface for a sign of
the station.  Once we were within about a half mile, we could
generally see the station- if the solar panel was still upright.

Here is our station named 25N0 (the first number is how many
kilometers it is up the flowline from a set point, and the second
number is how far it is from the center of the flowline).  Yup, it's there!
Look closely (you may have to zoom), and you'll see the station in the
dead center of the photo.  This illustrates what it's like to spot one of
these stations from the air.

Tonny Olsen, our pilot, bringing us to one of our stations.  I
don't have many photos of the work we did out at the stations,
since I spent all of that time working!  By the end of the day
we were on track having visited 4 sites, some of which were in
perfect condition, others in need of repairs.  Looking forward to
another good day of flying tomorrow!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Back in Ilulissat- spring 2012

Back on the ice again.  This spring we are in Ilulissat,
Greenland, to service the stations we installed last year at our
 boreole sites, as well as several other GPS stations, some of
 which had been installed the year before.  This spring, it's a
 short trip, 10 days in Ilulissat, visiting our sites (12 in all)
 by helicopter; the area is too crevassed to travel on the surface
 to many of the sites, and we only need a couple of hours at each

 Here are my colleagues (from left) Claudia, ETH Zurich, Lauren,
 UTIG Austin, and Kristin (Dartmouth)- we're getting our gear
 packed in loads for the first helicopter flight day, which is

 Our loads all packed and ready.  We'll operate in two teams of
 two, with the helicopter moving us from site to site as needed.  I
 talked with Tonny Olsen, our Bell 212 pilot, and outlined our plan
 for tomorrow- we'll start bright and early with an 08:00
 departure- ready to go!