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Nuus 1 and Ilulissat (take 2)

Posted by on Apr 28, 2014

This past Friday was the last day in the field for our team.  Ashley and I were back in Kangerlussuaq and I have posted some photos of a local hike to Instagram Icamera icon on right)

The rest of the team, Matt, Sarah, Ben, and Laura headed up from Qaarsut with a new pilot to Nuus1, our second site on the Nuussauq Peninsula.  Ben and Laura were dropped off first and they started the normal routine of getting the radar ready and installing the first GPS.  They quickly realized that the area had some small crevasses (only a few inches wide), but even small ones is an indication of tension in the ice and suggests the possibility of bigger, more dangerous ones. So Ben and Laura assessed the situation and directed the helo to a different landing spot.    Sarah and Matt worked on the core and found lots of hard melt layers and not much quality firn.  The snow pit was only about half a meter before they found an impenetrable ice layer.  The conclusion-Nuus 1 is probably not a candidate for future deep drilling.  As the photos show, though, it was a great day out on the ice cap.

P1040897Ben and Laura on the ground.

P1040910Sarah working on the core. 

P1040904The very shallow snow pit with a Leatherman for scale. 

P1040930The team on Nuus1.  Another stellar day in the mountains.

After the final field day, the field crew enjoyed another two days in Ilulissat.

IMG_1509Pano of the overlook for the huge bergs.  If you compare this one to the one from earlier in the week, you can see how much more ice has moved into the bay.  


P1050146Ben, Sarah, and Laura survey the big bergs. 


IMG_1520Final dinner in Ilulissat: The Greenlandic buffet: cod, salmon, cod liver, reindeer in cream, seal, smoked whale, roe, cod milt, and capelin.  

In about and hour we board a plane for Copenhagen-the final (unplanned) leg of our Greenland adventure!

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Holy _______ ! The continuation of The Most Ridiculous Day Ever at Nuus 2.

Posted by on Apr 26, 2014

You can fill in the blank with whatever you want, but “holy something,” yesterday was spectacular!  After sitting in the clouds for two days, we got to sit on the top of those clouds for the whole day.  Low coastal and valley cloud was thin enough for Peter to get the helicopter above it and to our first field site on Nuussuaq Peninsula.  Ben had identified several sites on Nuussuaq and numbered them.  For the last two days we had been talking about which sites to prioritize and “Nuus 2″ got the call.  These sites are very different from the Greenland Ice Sheet.  The GrIS where we worked is just vast and flat in all directions.  The Disko and Nuussuaq sites are small ice caps on top of mountainous terrain.  I usually thing of an ice cap as been a pretty large area of ice “capping” a similarly large area of last-kind of like a mini-ice sheet but not nearly big enough to get the “sheet” designation.  But the caps on Nuussuaq are quite small-more like an “ice plateau” on top of a mountain.  The Disko site is big enough to land a Twin Otter on, but not Nuus 2.  We walked around the whole thing in about an hour and the slopes were much steeper.  It only took a little bit  of walking away from our work site before we were too far downhill to see the other folks.  In fac,t at one point we asked Peter to move the helo down to one of our GPS sites.  When he was in the air we realized that we were much closer than we thought; after he moved the helo we ended up back at the work site and, even though the helo had only moved about 100 yds downhill, we could not see it.

If you have been reading other posts you know to also hit the Instgram link to the left to see more photos.

You also know by now that we have been doing the same work at each field site: 1) drilling a core (usually about 5-9 meters deep), 2) digging a 1-2 meter snow pit and taking two sets of samples-one for stable isotopes (H and O) and density (rectangular holes), and one for MSA, Cl, and other chemistry (round holes), and 3) doing radar transects to map the subsurface ice layers and thicknesses and taking GPS measurements to see how the glaciers are moving and accumulating snow.  Because we have been repeating the same tasks, it has worked well to divide into teams of 2: Matt and Sarah core, Ashley and I (and the Twim Otter pilots on the GrIS!) dig the pit and sample, and Laura and Ben run the radar and GPS.

For the Disko and Nuussuaq sites, I jumped in with Ben and Laura so we could move as a rope team of 3, which is safer on glaciated terrain where the crevasse danger is unknown.  The auxiliary benefit of being on the radar rope is that you stay warmer moving around, and as you can see from the photos, you also get to walk all around the site and see the sites!  Because Nuus 2 is steeper, those walks away from the main work site quickly got you some unique views.

So today, Ben and Laura and I went up first.  The flight up the valley was just ridiculous in terms of scenery.  Like at Disko, Ben set to work on the radar set up while Laura put in the first GPS and I probed the area; we were very confident from Ben’s studies of hi-res satellite imagery that our landing site was crevasse-free but it seemed like a prudent thing to do anyway.  Once the radar was ready we set off on on our scenic walk.  We would walk following a GPS track that Ben had mapped on this satellite imagery on his computer and transferred to a handheld Garmin.  At the end of each track or “run” we would stop and Ben would reset his orange ground penetrating radar and Laura would reset the ice penetrating radar that I was towing behind me.  At each of these stops Ben would take off his pack, lay it on the ground,  and open it up to where his radar controls were located and I would fish out my camera and snap pictures.  As a result, most of my photos that have Ben in them show him “praying to the radar gods,” as he said. After the first radar circuit around the landing site, the helo came back with the rest of the team and they set to work on the other tasks.

At the end of the day, Ashley and Ben and I headed down to Qaarsut on the first flight down and organized gear for me and Ashley to take back to Ilulissat.  When the rest of the team came down, we said our goodbyes and then Ashley and I boarded the helo for the flight back with Peter.  As I explained earlier, Peter had to head back to Copenhagen today so he had to return to Ilulissat yesterday so he could catch a flight today to Kanger and then on to Copenhagen, plus our end-of -trip logistics got confused due to a number of factors that all converged.  Originally we were all going to come back to Kanger yesterday and today.  Because we were behind on field days due to weather, we were trying to use what would have been down days in Kanger waiting for the Air National Guard C-130 to take us home on Monday.  Right as we were trying to figure out if we could get a new pilot back to Qaarsut for the weekend, we found out that the C-130s were all grounded (world wide is what we heard) and that the first C-130 would be coming on Tuesday and then not leaving until Wednesday or after.  That meant that we needed to fly home commercially.  To complicate matters, there are only flights from Ilulissat to Kanger on certain days and the A-Star can only carry 3 passengers and a limited amount of gear.  Very long story (trust me!) short is that it worked best for me and Ashley to fly out with Peter and then fly down to Kanger today via Air Greenland (yet another aircraft-a Dash 8) while the rest of the team does one more Nuussuaq site and then makes their way to Kanger on Monday (because there are no flights over the weekend).  When we all meet up in Kanger we then fly to Copenhagen, spend the night, and then fly back to Boston via Newark (yeah Newark!), except for Ben who can fly to Iceland and then direct to Seattle.  Complicated!

So what follows is a string of photos showing the days events.

 IMG_6677Peter, our pilot, with his machine.

IMG_6680Ben prays to the radar box of goodies


And to the GPS.  This was the most amazing view I think with the peaks sticking out the clouds. 


A little shift to the right for the rest of the view of the above photo. 


Plotting our next course. 


This is the real “Ben prays to the radar gods” photo.  I have lots of these photos.  


Tough place to be but someone has to do this science!


The big view!


Hack-a-zoom.  I love this valley and this peak.  I could not stop trying to photograph it.


Laura takes in the view. Being a grad student has its challenges.  This is not one of them.


Team 2 arrives.  Matt taking a picture of me taking a picture of him taking a picture of me . . . 


Matt E, aka the cosmonaut, drills into Nuus 2.  We pulled 11 m of core from the hole below.  


Looking down the hole.  Held the iPhone real tight!


Taking the ice’s temperature. 


The tubing that the core goes into is called “lay-flat.” It is flat but hollow.  It gets stapled at one end and labelled so that when core is ready, it can be slid in.  Then it goes into the silver core tube and eventually into an insulated core box to be shipped cold back to the US.  


“Comrades, you must eat to stay warm!”


Flying back down to Qaarsut.  Out in the distance are the huge rock fortress islands whose tops were sticking out of the clouds and in the foreground is a large iceberg frozen into the sea-ice.  


That rock cairn on the right of the foreground peak is the one we hiked to two days before when we were grounded in the weather.  


Peter slowed down so I could get this shot of the airport hotel without the big water tank next to it.  



After refueling in Qaarsut, we took off back to Ilulissat.  On the right of this island is a town called  Uummaannaq. No I did not hold down keys-that is how it is spelled. Greenlandic is full of a’s, u’s, i’s, l’s, t’s, and m’s and n’s.  Very cool language to see in print.   


Then we turned up this valley and flew right back past our field site and up over the clouds on the other side.  


Peaks coming through the clouds. 


My favorite valley and peak wrapped in clouds.  


Islands in the sky. 


My favorite valley (again!) 

IMG_8498Crazy cool!



Looking up a long valley that cuts through the peninsula.  


 As we got out over the ocean the clouds thickened and Peter took us down to the cloud tops to look for a hole.  Along the way we got chased by the helicopter fairy.  


After Peter found a hole and dove down through it (a little stomach in the throat!) we spotted this gem!



90% of a berg is underwater so we are seeing both the “tip of the iceberg” and the tip of the bottom.  Presumably these connect below were we can see.   


 Some scale!


Ilulissat with the truly colossal Jakoshavn bergs around the point.  

IMG_6717Parting shot on a gorgeous day.  

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Nuus 2 (aka The Most Ridiculous Day Ever)

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014

I know, that is a very tantalizing title for a short post, but it is 11 pm and a longer telling of the days events will have to wait until tomorrow.

But here are three photos to whet the appetite:


On the flight up to the field site, which is right on top of the dome on the left at the head of the valley system.  

post-1Grainy iPhone zoom but give a great sense of the drama of the position of the field site.  We were way up high on a small ice cap surrounded by mountains that were sticking up out of a much lower layer of cloud.  Words can’t describe it (though I will try them later!)


post-2My after-school Milton crew, this is for you.  This is one of the shallower pits we have sampled, but from here I have two different kinds of snow/ice samples and Matt (Dr. Evans) is starting a core.  These will all go to Milton for us to work on!

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Easter Sunday

Posted by on Apr 23, 2014

It is Wednesday and we are on our second day in a row of being shut out by the weather.  Yesterday it was low cloud ceiling and high winds; today the wind has abated but it has been snowing lightly since last night and the clouds are all over the mountains above us.  As I think I have said before, Peter, our A-Star pilot, has to be able to see the ground at all times.  So any cloud scenario that inhibits that view keeps us on the ground.

Yesterday and today, I posted some photos from the Qaarsut area to Instagram (camera icon on the right).  Qaarsut is the closest thing we have seen to what remains of traditional Greenlandic culture so check out the photos of the dogs, drying fish, and frozen seal and whale meat.

Compared to our field days there isn’t much else going on, so . . . I thought I would post something about our Easter in Ilulissat a few days ago.

The day started with the arrival of the Easter Bunny who left some treats outside our doors (see my earlier post for photos!).  We then had a pretty lazy morning before going for a walk around town.  We visited the local museum, the first floor of which is full of Emanuel Petersen paintings.  Apparently he is well known for his paintings Greenland in the early 1900s.  I also like the name.  My maternal great grandfather was Christian Petersen, from Denmark.  The paintings give a good idea of what one would have found in the earlier days of exploration of these areas (at least early exploration of Europeans-the Inuit and Vikings were here well before that).

IMG_6336 IMG_6337

Upstairs in the museum were some nice, more modern and abstract paintings and some sculpture.  I especially liked the one shown below of an Inuit face carved from a whale vertebrae.




After the museum we went to a small local artisan shop that Sarah knew about.  The men working there were all Greenlandic and spoke limited English.  They carved figures, animals, etc from caribou antler, bone, and narwhal tusk.  Sarah and Matt bought a few nice things and I got a kayaker trying to spear a narwhal.

After that we split up and Matt and I walked back out to the “boardwalk” trail at the edge of town to look at the giant icebergs that calve from the Jakobshavn.  We had all been the night before, but it was starting to snow then and we did not see that much.  Easter Sunday, though, was beautiful though and we were treated to an up close and personal look at these monsters.  We even got a “lecture” from a “very knowledgeable” Frenchman about why we did not need to worry about climate change because it is all part of “natural cycles” like sun-spot activity and the tilt of the earth.  That was right after he expounded for a while about how much the Jakobshavn was retreating.  Hmmmm….


This is the walk out to the view point of the huge bergs.  All that ice in the ocean is ice bergs. 


This is the main lookout point.  The Jakobshavn Glacier is to the left way up the fjord.  These bergs probably calved off last summer and drifted out here where they got stuck on a shallow spot where the fjord meets Disko Bay. 


It is hard to appreciate scale here, but that is a tourist boat in front of the berg.  It holds about 25 people. And the photo below is the right hand side of the same ice berg.  And 90% of the berg is under water.  Massive!


IMG_6360I discovered that I could take a photo with my iPhone through my small spotting scope.


In the panorama above this berg is just to right of center, so the phone/scope trick works pretty well.  I looked at this one a lot.  To me this is sort of the quintessential ice berg. 


Matt and I could have stayed all day to look at the ice bergs but we had to meet up with everyone else for dinner.  On the way back to town we passed by the large area where most of the town’s dogs are kept.  These dogs are all for running sleds. In the foreground of the photo below are all the dog “sheds.”  The dogs are all tied up outside in pairs.  They spend the night out curled up in a ball.  They all appeared quite happy in the cold, lounging on the snow.



Its not quite @dogsinblankets but this guy was really cute.  He seemed to be a stray pup and he looked like he was looking for handouts but was too skittish to come close.  I wanted to take him home and name him Disko!  


On the way through town I spotted this: laundry on the racks and fish (middle) on the racks.  

After our hike, Matt and I met up with the rest of the gang at the Hotel Ice Fjord for an Easter dinner of local salmon and caribou (reindeer).  When we asked the waiter what the “game of the day” was, he said in broken English-“you know the animal on the front of the Santa Claus sled?”  (Caribou and Reindeer are the same animal but called by different names-Caribou in N. America and Reindeer in Eurasia.)

When dinner was over we made our way down through town to the kayak club of Ilulissat by the water.


Sarah said that in summer they sometimes have kayaking competitions here.  There is style of kayaking called Greenland style that derives from the techniques developed by the Greenlandic people, who for have historically used kayaks to hunt seals and whales and to travel from place to place.

IMG_8305 IMG_6373


Carl and Sam and all my peeps at Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures, these are for you! 

Because we are so far north, the sun sets late and these last photos were at about 9:30.  After that it was back to the hotel to pack for our day out on Disko (see earlier posts).





Tomorrow we should be able to head up to our first Nussuaq site.  As I finish writing the sun is shining in the window of the hotel (at 9:10!) so we are hopeful that the weather has broken enough to fly tomorrow.  We are hoping to hit two sites on Nussuaq in the next two days, but Ashley and I have to fly back to Ilulissat with Peter and the A-Star tomorrow.  A new pilot comes in on Friday and will return to Qaarsut to fly Matt, Sarah, Laura, and Ben up for the last day of field work.  In our original logistics plan Ashley and I were going to fly back to Ilulissat on an Air Greenland flight because the A-Star can only take 4 passengers.  We still have to do a version of that but we are going back with Peter and the other 4 are staying because we lost a couple days to weather.  We will all hopefully get back to Kanger by Friday or Saturday to fly home on Monday.

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Marathon Monday

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014

We didn’t run 26.2 yesterday but a shout-out to all our Boston friends who did.  Today was the Boston Marathon and while the elite runners were leaving Hopkinton, the Disko team was headed for Disko Island.  After our aborted flight on Saturday and a nice down day for Easter, we were looking forward to a good weather day, and today did not disappoint.  It was blue sky and sunshine, just like our ice sheet days and even a little warmer, only – 17 C when we landed!  Like Saturday we decided that Ben, Laura, and I would go first as the radar team.  That would give us a chance to get started on the radar, which has tended to take longer than the coring and snow pit work.  A grid pattern around our landing site would also allow Ben to give us a good idea of whether there might be hidden crevasses under the snow that would pose a safety risk (there were not).  Because we were unsure of the crevasse danger we had decided to take a party of three as a rope team.  So Ben, Laura, and I geared up with harnesses and glacier travel equipment and boarded the helicopter with all the gear we needed for the radar surveys.





An hour later, a spectacular helicopter flight over Disko Bay and the eastern part of Disko Island put us on the ice cap on top of Disko.  We overflew the site once and then Peter, our Danish pilot, gingerly put the A-star down on the snow.  Landing on snow, he told us, can be delicate because the helicopter can sink into deep snow.  The snow here was firm though and we touched down without a problem.  Just to be sure Peter packed the snow with the ski skids by gently “bouncing” the helicopter on the snow surface.


Once we had unpacked and moved our gear pile a respectable distance from the chopper, Peter fired it up again and lifted off to go back for the rest of the team, leaving Ben, Laura, and me on the southern Disko Island ice cap, a site we had named “Disko South” (last week we had decided not to visit Disko North because Ben’s recent analysis of satellite imagery was that it was too heavily crevassed).


Honestly, that was pretty cool-to be alone on top of the island.  Just the three of us with no one around for miles.


But it was time to work so we set to it!  Laura got to work on the first GPS station.  To install the GPS, we drill a hole with a power drill and insert a bamboo pole in the hole.  A UFO shaped GPS antenna is then placed on top.  Once connected to the battery and GPS unit, which are inside a big Pelican case, this set up will record the position of the pole at the millimeter scale.  By leaving it running for 20-30 minutes, or longer, Ben can get an idea of how fast the glacier is moving.  (Laura uses similar units for another project on the Greenland Ice Sheet melt-water lakes-her units are left out for a year and are powered by solar panels.  She will be going to collect them this summer. )

While Laura worked on the GPS, Ben got his radar systems set up, and I probed the area with an avalanche probe to look for hidden crevasses.  We were pretty sure that the ice cap was crevasse free, but we needed to do our due diligence.  I also laid out the climbing rope such that Ben and Laura could tie in at each end with me in the middle.  When Ben was finished we set off with him towing the ground penetrating radar (GPR) which gets good imagery of the shallow snow layers, me towing the ice penetrating radar (IPR) which can measure ice thickness all the way to the bed, and Laura towing a sled with another GPS in its big Pelican case, bamboo, and the drill.


 That is Ben working in the front with the orange ground penetrating radar. 


And Laura in the back with the mountains of Disko Island behind. 

 For the next 1-2 hours we walked a big grid around our gear pile, finishing shortly after Sarah, Matt, and Ashley arrived with Peter.  It was fun to watch the helo come over, bank around, and touch down in a cloud of snowy rotor-wash.


After a break in the helicopter, I did a little coring with Matt and Sarah and then Laura and I helped Ashley finish digging out the snow pit.  This pit went down to 1.6 m before we hit a hard ice melt layer.  The snow above the ice layer, with the exception of the windblown slab on the surface was largely recrystallized into large ice crystals, the texture of very coarse sugar.  Shoveling it was relatively easy, but if you threw it too high behind the pit the wind would blow it right back on to you!


By this time Ben was ready to head out for more geophysics work so we roped up again and then worked steadily for about the next ~4  hours doing more grid lines up and down the ice cap.  The cap here has a gentle slope and Ben wanted to go up and down the ice flow lines.  Even though it was just a gentle slope up, it was hard work especially because the snow surface was variable-sometimes hard, sometimes soft.  We were frequently breaking through the snow 4-5 inches which made for something of a slog.  By the time we were done the other team had left on the first chopper ride down to Qaarsut.  We had about ½ hr to regroup while we waited for our pick up.  We were pretty beat from 5+ hours of trudging through the snow pulling sleds.  So while we didn’t run a marathon on Marathon Monday, it felt like it by the end of the day! The physical labor and the odd combination of both relentless cold and sun really takes it out of you.  We did take a moment to pose for #GlobalSelfie, an Earth Day project by NASA.  We posted it today on @goodnesglacier, Laura’s Twitter.  NASA’s IceBridge data was instrumental in helping Ben pick the specific coordinates for our field sites as well as the radar survey lines.  Before we departed “Disko South” we flew about 1 km up the ice the retrieve one of the GPS set-ups.  It is pretty cool how quickly the A-Star can start up, fly some place, and shut down again.  Had we all had a little more helicopter experience, Peter said he would have just kept the rotors turning while one of us jumped out and retrieved the GPS.


Cold air makes your breath instantly freeze to your hood, and your mustache.

From Disko to Qaarsut was about 45 minutes and it was probably the most amazing flying experience of my life.  On this trip alone we have flown a C-17, a Twin Otter which we landed on the ice sheet and landed on a runway with a ski that would not come up, a King Air, and now the A-Star.  I have flown in a small fixed wing and a helicopter through the mountains of New Zealand and I have flown in a helicopter through the Swiss Alps.  Those were both amazing but this flight was over the top.

First we flew over the northern part of Disko Island and then out over the ocean towards the Nussuaq Peninsula, crossing varied sea ice and a few ice bergs.  Nussuaq is much more dissected by glaciation compared to Disko and the mountains were craggy and beautiful, with horizontal volcanic layers making it look like the peaks of the Canadian Rockies

Leaving Disko to cross the fjord to Nussuaq


Cloud layer rolling up the fjord from the west. The prow shaped mountain crag in the middle is in the next photo as well. 


IMG_6542 Glaciers of Nussuaq

Every time we crossed over a mountain pass we were treated to yet another spectacular valley often with a glacier spilling down into a valley.  The A-Star is slow compared to most other aircraft and it flies low; couple that with a wide windscreen and you get a unique ride through spectacular wilderness terrain.  It was unbelievable.  And just when we through it couldn’t get better, we swooped down to the Qaarsut airport which sits on the northern edge of the peninsula looking out across a wide fjord to massive fortress-like, cliff-faced islands on the other side. Very dramatic!

IMG_6551Coming in to the Qaarsut airport

We were told ahead of time that we would be staying at a small place (maybe a hotel, maybe a place that puts up pilots) near the airport; it turns out to be a wonderful little hotel run by Ip Larsen with private rooms and bathrooms and a great common room with a view out over the ocean.  It was so nice to end a very long day with a hot shower, an excellent home cooked meal, and a nice warm bed!  After downloading photos and writing part of this blog, I clicked this last photo right before bed, at 10:15 pm!




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