Saturday, July 19, 2014

And finally home!

Our flight back to the US went off this morning without a hitch- about an hour later than was initially planned, but that's nothing in the Arctic.

The only downside was that one of the heaters was not working, and so it did get pretty darn cold inside the cargo bay, and people got out their layers of cold weather clothing::

It was a great trip with a terrific crew.  Thanks all!  Check back next time!  I expect to be heading to the Antarctic in November 2014...


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Trip to Summit!

Almost to the last leg.  Today Thomas, Adam, and Joanna got the cargo ready to be shipped while I hitched a ride on a flight out to Summit Station.  It was a great flight, and I got to see what is happening out there at Summit!

Looking out the back door of the herc at Summit- we got there in a relatively short time...

Here is the Temporary atmospheric watch observatory at Summit, where most of the atmospheric measurements are made:

It was a great trip, I got to look at many of the buildings.  And tomorrow, on to Scotia, then home!

Miles and Miles

Today was an exercise in the "possible".  Our plan A was that we would work all day with the helicopter at our site, and then head back to Ilulissat, spend the night, and then tomorrow get fly in a helicopter to Kangerlussuaq, first stop on the way home.

But first, we had to get out to our site, and weather has to be good.  So we started the morning like any other, an early breakfast and getting ready to go.  I almost never believe it will go off without any delays, but this morning it did!  We arrived at the helicopter ready to go, and shortly thereafter we took off for our site.

As it turned out, the weather was spectacular.  We visited 9 new sites and collected close to a kilometer of kinematic GPS at each one, bringing our total to about 18 km or a bit over 11 miles total.  So a greatly successful day.
I couldn't resist getting a quick selfie for the blog as I walked along in incredible weather...

When I called Kathy on the coast to check in, we learned that a new option had come up for our transport back to Kangerlussuaq; a Beachcraft King Air (also from Air Greenlnad, and we would be able to take it back to Kangerlussuqk.  We jumped at the opportunity...  But the caveat was that the King Air was slated to leave at 5:30, and we were arriving in the helicopter at 4:15...  still having to pack up our gear and get everything ready to go.

But we went for it, and just worked quickly and efficiently to get all of our cargo packed...  and it was less stuff than I'd thought! 
Here are the team and the cargo! all ready to go.

And here's the King Air- it was really fast down to Kangerlussuaq.  And now we're here, and I'll have a flight to Summit tomorrow before we head back home on the 18th.

What a whirlwind!  More after the summit trip tomorrow. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Where the day takes you...

Sometimes in the Arctic, the day evolves in strange ways, and you find yourself at the end of the day exactly where you started.  This morning started early for me when I got up to check and see if we had been able to procure more fuel for the helicopter.  The great news was that some of the fuel at a camp run by Alun and Bryn Hubbard and Poul Christofferson, all of them UK and researchers I've known for many years, was available.  So our plan was to find the fuel cache, have Daniel carry some fuel to our site in the sling (passengers aren't allowed when the helicopter is slinging), come back and collect us, and head out to our site.  The bad news was that the weather near there was not great, so we decided to cancel for the day.  We had a leisurely breakfast, and relaxed while thinking about what we'd be doing with our day.

Then came the call, and Kathy (one of our great support folks) said "Can you be ready in a half an hour?"  The weather had changed and we were on again.  We often "hurry up and wait", but now we were in "wait and hurry up" mode.  We made it to the airport as quickly as we could, and soon took off. 

So, as we were on our way to the fuel cache, we were looking for a bunch of barrels....  And we found them, along with more cargo that was to be flown out the camp (the cache had been landed by boat and was not on the ice).  But in addition to that, we found the aforementioned boat, the S/V Gambo, run by Alun:
Here a small inflatable heads out to Gambo, ready to ferry passengers.  Gambo has traveled a great many of the world's oceans, and is currently in Greenland supporting Alun, Bryn, and Poul's research.  In fact, Alun happened to be there at the cache, and as it was nearly lunchtime, invited us to have lunch with his crew aboard the Gambo.  Of course we accepted!

Thomas in the cockpit of Gambo, as seen from the companionway.  We had a great visit with the crew and Alun regaled us with stories of boats, helicopters, and small UAVs.  It was great.  We had expected to be standing around a pile of fuel drums waiting for our helicopter, but instead we were treated to lunch and conversation!

Seeing a hatch adorned with stickers from many expeditions, we had to add our own:
And then lunch was over, and it was time to go back to shore and await our helicopter.  We loaded up, and headed out towards our site.

As we got further inland, the weather did not look as good as it had before; there were some low clouds and the light was getting "flat", which is the precursor to what is known as a sector whiteout.   This would be very dangerous for trying to land, as it is impossible to see the surface.

So, in the end, we turned around and headed back home, arriving back around 6:30 in the evening.  We hadn't gotten any science done, but we had achieved one of our objectives, slinging our fuel in.

Strange how things go differently than you think they might!  Now we're hoping to fly tomorrow, when better weather is predicted. 

And maybe I should stop crossing my fingers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The day we've been waiting for!

We had an amazing day today.  This is what we'd been going for....  Great weather, everything worked, we were efficient, we worked hard

First thing this morning, we got up, grabbed breakfast, and headed to the airport.  Daniel was ready to fly, so we loaded our gear and were off the ground by a little after 8am.  Today we were able to bring the whole crew out, which made our data collection very efficient indeed.  And there were some firsts!
Joanna takes her first steps on an ice sheet.  As you can see, it would be hard for the weather to be any better. 

Our strategy today was to 'divide and conquer', using two teams of two, we would visit as many as possible of the 9 sites we'd previously identified.  Daniel would shuttle each team in turn from one site to the next.  At each site, we'd measure the surface elevation along a 1 km transect using kinematic GPS. 
Here, Joanna and Adam get our GPS antenna sled/survival bags ready for hauling.  Once these were assembled, only one team would fit in the helicopter at a time, but we were able to get the sled into the helicopter without removing the tripod. 

The day proceeded very well and quickly.  The progression went something like this:  1) ready the GPS for measurement by measuring the height of the antenna from the snow surface.  2) start walking!  follow a GPS track to make the transect we're looking for.  3) prepare to be collected by the helicopter- this involves managing the rope, the sled, making some notes, and getting ear plugs in.  3) When the helicopter is in sight, crouch low and hang on to everything tightly to keep it from being blown away.  4) "Hot" load: the helicopter lands within 4 feet of you- when you get the sign from the pilot, carefully and deliberately move to the door, open, one person climbs in with the rope, the other hands in the sled and climbs in; the helicopter begins to lift off almost as soon as the door is closed.  5) 3-5 minutes of 'down' time flying to the next site.  6) "Hot" unload: the helicopter sets down and the loading operation is reversed.  7) Repeat.

This kept our pilot busy, and kept us busy!  one team did this at 5 sites, and one at 4.  All told our team walked 9 km today.

And here's what it looks like to walk along on the ice sheet!  Joanna out in front, navigating us to the next point, while I haul the GPS sled. 

In any case, great success!  We have plans for tomorrow, the only complication of which is that we used all of our fuel cache today, so we couldn't repeat today tomorrow if we wanted to.  We're hatching plans as I type, but you'll have to come back then to see what they are! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

A 'weather day' doesn't always mean it's bad where you are...

Woke up to a bit of fog this morning, but not so much that we didn't get right out to breakfast at 6 with an eye toward loading up the helicopter as early as possible.

Of course, at breakfast, Daniel, our pilot, called to say that conditions out at our site were predicted to be overcast, which wasn't promising; we would talk again at 10 to see if there was  a chance of still flying today.  In this operation, it's critical to have good weather at our site, because the helicopter has enough fuel to get to our site, but not enough to get back, and therefore must land to refuel from our fuel cache.  In aviation, you never want to get forced into something like this, especially over the ice sheet.  If the weather is overcast, the lighting conditions become what we call 'flat light' where there are no shadows cast, and you cannot see any features in the surface of the snow.  In this state, the pilot does not have a reference of the surface, and it's a pretty dangerous position to be in if you are out of fuel.

Well, at 10 the weather hadn't improved much, so we were scrubbed for the day.  This gave us the opportunity to practice our procedure for tomorrow; we will be loading and unloading the somewhat awkward sled-tripod combinations while the helicopter is running, so doing it first in nice weather without whirling rotors is a good idea. 
Here, Thomas hands the sled to Adam, pulling it into the helicopter.  The tripod just fits, so we won't have to break that down when we 'hop' between sites.  By this time the fog had burned off completely and it had become a beautiful day.  Wish it was like that up on the ice!

Later, the team had time to go for a run, take a walk, or (in my case) found that the hardware store is closed on a Sunday.  Ah well...

Finally, I wanted to share a shot of how beautiful Disko bay is- and we're right on it:
I would call it a sunset at the end of the day (this photo was taken at about 11pm), but the sun will only dip a little later on tonight, it won't set.  Here you can see the icebergs, and in the distance, the mountains of Disko island.  A beautiful end to the day.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow! (I feel like I write that a lot).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On ice! Collecting data! Then, SNAFU, McGivering and change of plan...

A short post about a long day, so I can get some sleep before our early start tomorrow!  

Today we got out on the ice for the first time this trip!  The reason we came!  It was a beautiful day.  We met Daniel, our pilot, in the morning and loaded up the helicopter.  We had a scenic flight to the ice, and when we arrived...
Photo: Adam LeWinter
We had seen large crevasses about 20 km from this area, and so we decided to take a conservative approach- if the helicopter was landing in an unfamiliar location, Daniel would set it down gently, using power to keep weight off the skids.  Tied in with a rope and belayed, I then climbed out carefully, and probed the area around each skid, to be sure we had not landed on a crevasse.  Then, still belayed, I walked around the area, and our to our sampling location, to ensure no surprises there.  Then we'd get to work.  The surface was really safe, but we wanted to be conservative, since we hadn't visited this place before. 

Long story short, we had a good day out, but by the end of it the laser scanner had encountered a "fatal error".  After some discussion with the manufacturer, we think fatal may actually mean fatal, so we decided to change tactics for tomorrow:

We're going to go more old-school; instead of using the scanner, we will be collecting kinematic GPS data.  This means we'll go out and walk, roped, along the transects on which we would have used the laser.  To do this we needed to create a GPS antenna mount for the sleds we found...

And here's what we came up with.  On the science container, we found some old, disused survey tripods that were missing the bottom half of the legs.  Placed over a survival bag and strapped down, it makes a great GPS mount!

We're looking forward to getting out there tomorrow.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Receiving cargo, cacheing fuel, and getting the bugs out

Well, knowing our science and safety gear was still yet to arrive in town, we started today knowing we wouldn't be actually getting on the ground in the field.  The good news is that the delayed cargo arrived around 10:00 this morning.  This meant that we could get things ready to go for tomorrow.

The bad news was that weather was not good enough to allow for a flight to put in our fuel cache.  But we set to work, setting up a mock-up of a ground stop to get our system dialed-in.

Here, Thomas sets up GPS stations for precise location measurement on the ice.  As it happens, the mosquitoes in Ilulissat can be large, numerous, and persistent- note Thomas was the only one of us well-prepared with a bug net!  At least the mosquitoes are relatively slow...

Photo by Adam LeWinter.

Once all of our science gear was unpacked and checked, Daniel, our pilot, called.  The weather had lifted enough for him to make an attempt to put in our fuel cache.  After lunch we got into safety review- we practiced tying into the rope, belaying, tying off a fallen colleague, and rigging up hauling systems.

Then, after some grocery shopping Thomas made us a great dinner- and the weather was good enough for us to enjoy it out on the deck!  Daniel had been successful in his mission to place the fuel, and arrived back in town in time for dinner.  I realize now that this is the first picture to show the crew, so now's a good time to introduce them.  From left to right:  Adam LeWinter, Daniel, our Air Greenland pilot, Kathy Young, science support coordinator in Ilulissat and a friend of mine for over 10 years, Joanna Millstein, and Thomas Overly.  It's a great crew, and I feel privileged to be working with them.

If the weather holds for tomorrow, we will attempt our first science day- looking forward to getting on the ice!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Arrived In Ilulissat! And FOG.

Well, we arrived at least, and about half of our gear did as well.  Unfortunately, come of our cargo including much of our science gear and all of our safety gear, is still stick in Kangerlussuaq.

On our flight up, we heard the announcement from the pilot that the weather in Ilulissat wasn't good enough to land, but we were going to go up there anyway hoping that it would clear.  As we got closer to Ilulissat, the weather still hadn't cleared and we had to do some circles and wait.  Fortunately, these circles happened over the beautiful ice-choked Jacobshavn Icefjord, with bergs calved from Jacobshavn Isbrae, some of the fastest-moving ice on the island.  So many icebergs are discharged from this one outlet glacier that I have heard it said that it is statistically likely that the berg that sunk the Titanic came from this very glacier.  I'll just say it was better than being in a holding pattern over Newark (no offense intended- really!).

Finally we  found a hole in the clouds, dropped through, and found the airport.  Step one complete!  Some of our cargo, however, didn't make it on that flight, and this afternoon, fog blanketed much of West Greenland, causing no end of aviation headaches, including ours.

Right now it's still foggy, so the outlook looks dim for us in getting our fuel cache placed, which is our objective for tomorrow.  We'll talk to Daniel, our pilot, at 7am and see what it looks like then.

In the foreground, buildings that are part of our lodging, the Hotel Hvide Falk.  In the background, if there were no fog, you would be able to see the fjord...  Note that this photo, taken today (really!), bears a striking resemblance to one I posted in May of 2012.  I thought it felt familiar

So, nobody's doing much now, but then tomorrow's another day!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A new season, a new project, and new challenges!

Back in Greenland again after a season's respite last summer. 

This year, we are planning to do validation of Swath-Processed cryosat-2 data, using a helicopter from Ilulissat, on the West coast.  If it all goes well, it should be a great project!  We call it VESPA- the Validation Experiment for Swath-Processed Altimetry. 

So far, we have narrowly avoided having Adam, one of the key members of the team, left behind when his flight from Chicago was cancelled due to weather (as it was he got in at 3:30 am and we headed for the airbase at 5am), and also just missed being stuck with mechanical problems with our C-130 in Goose Bay, Labrador.  A good beginning! 

But we are all here now, and so is all of our cargo.  Our next jump- getting it all from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat, where we will meet our helicopter!  That's for tomorrow.