To see a world in a grain of sand,
and a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
- William Blake, excerpt from “Auguries of Innocence”
While at Summit, we keep ourselves very busy trying to accomplish science goals – making measurements, collecting samples, running tests and troubleshooting robot performance. It’s hectic and fun and exhilarating, and it all moves so quickly. Every day, right after eating a delicious lunch and filling up on perfectly scrumptious cookies, I tow my sled of instruments down to the south end of the station. With the last building out of view, I unpack my gear and set out to make a long series of measurements. Before I get started, I remind myself to take a look out over the seemingly infinite expanse of ice and let it sink in. I have the incredible opportunity to be in such a special place doing exactly what I want to be doing. The beauty and calm of the place can be experienced by immersing yourself in the surroundings, or just by taking a look down at the delicate snowflakes that coat the vast ice surface.
Fresh dendrite snow flakes from the morning of June 14th, as seen through a microscope. (Photo: Elena Willmot)
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Last summer, just before IGERT cohort 3 journeyed up to Summit Camp, the Greenland ice sheet experienced extensive surface melting. Much of the top layer of snow melted and dripped through the snow near the surface. But of course in the cold weather, it didn’t remain as water for very long! This water refroze in the snow, forming flat layers of ice which are connected to one another by vertical columns of ice (see the picture below for an idea of what this looks like). Since last summer, it has snowed quite a bit at Summit, so now the ice layers and the columns that connect them are buried. We would like to know what this ice layer looks like and how many of these ice columns formed in areas around Summit Camp. Now don’t get me wrong, I love digging a good snow pit, but unfortunately, we can’t dig up miles of snow. What we would like is to see what’s under the snow without having to break our backs.
A view inside of our snow pit. I am pointing to the vertical ice column which is right beneath an ice layer that extends all the way across the snow pit. (Photo: Jim Lever)
Using ground penetrating radar (GPR), we can look down below us and “see” the layers of snow upon which we stand. We can also see when there is something different in the snow, like ice which is visible because it has a much higher density. In our first week, we have spent some time getting the radar system running and testing it out by setting it in a sled and pulling it behind as we walk. One question lingered – is the radar “seeing” what we would see in real life? For that, we had to dig! We dug up a snow pit to see just how prominent the ice layer actually is and to determine if we could see any vertical ice columns. Sure enough, both the ice layer and even a vertical column were easy to find in the snow pit!
Walking off into the distance with the ground penetrating radar in tow. (Photo: Jim Lever)
Though pulling sleds wasn’t so bad, I would sometimes sink nearly to my knees in snow drifts which made keeping a constant walking pace tough. Enter Cool Robot – an autonomous robot (designed right at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and wired up by IGERTeer Ben Walker!) that can follow preset directions and drive itself in nice, well-paced patterns across the snow while towing the radar system. We set up a square grid for the robot to follow that was 50 meters on each side. The robot is light and reliable – not sinking into the snow, keeping a constant pace and following our directions within about a meter of the set path. So I’ll admit, Cool Robot has me beat by far in the ability to run a GPR survey. But hey, at least I know not to run straight into the flag markers all around camp! : )
Cool Robot crushing the competition in quality of GPR surveys! (Photo: Jim Lever)
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The first of the IGERTs are up in Greenland as the 2013 field season begins. Ben Walker and I (IGERT cohort 4s) are up at Summit Station in Greenland for the next three and a half weeks with Dr. Jim Lever from CRREL and Alison Morlock (a recent Thayer MS graduate – congrats!). We will be working with the Cool Robot – a solar powered robot that is designed to carry instruments across polar ice sheets for scientific research. I have a few different projects that I’ll be working on up here, and the science is just getting started!
Spectacular view out of the window of the LC-130 cargo plane! My best guess at a location is Northern Canada!
We had a great trip from Scotia up to Kangerlussuaq on Monday, and only a night in Kanger before heading up to Summit. We still took the time to take a walk around Kanger and up to Lake Ferguson. After the unfortunate washout of the bridge last summer, construction of the bridge across the river in town is moving along, but it is still not complete. We were able to take a route around and over to the lake. We were surprised to find that there was still ice on the lake!
There was still ice covering most of Lake Ferguson!
We received a very warm welcome from the crews at Kanger and at Summit, and we are so thankful of all they have done for us already! The rest of the week has been spent acclimatizing to the altitude, unpacking and testing out gear and making plans for the rest of our trip. More updates to come!
View of Summit Camp at bedtime
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