Greetings from 76N 68W! We, Lee Corbett and Ali Giese, are incoming graduate/IGERT students currently in Thule, Greenland, where Thomas and Gifford began and ended their inland traverse. Right now, we’re preparing for fieldwork with Erich Osterberg and Eric Lutz and, weather permitting, will take a chopper 100 mi onto the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) tomorrow! We’ll give a broad overview of the science we’re conducting on GrIS and then talk about our journey to and stay in Thule so far.
Roughly 50 years ago, Benson conducted glaciological measurements along a route from Thule to Summit (the top of GrIS) via Camp Century (an abandoned U.S. research center: http://gombessa.tripod.com/scienceleadstheway/id9.html). Earlier this spring/summer, Thomas and Gifford retraced Benson’s route and took near-surface measurements of the physical and chemical properties of the ice/snow/firn along the way. We have returned to Thule following their trip to take detailed measurements in the northwest portion of the ice sheet; the most crucial component of our fieldwork will be the drilling of a 30 m ice core to procure a record of the atmospheric chemistry in recent years (with a side objective of looking at fallout from Fukashima). An ice core has already been drilled at Summit, the other end of the traverse, and these cores will help us better interpret the data collected in between the sites and, thus, assess the changes experienced by the ice sheet over the past half century.
In addition to the 30-m ice core, we plan to dig several ~2 m snow pits, in which we will take measurements of snow temperature, conductivity (with a fancy “Finnish snowfork”), density, and crystal structure. We will also be collecting snow samples for chemical analysis back in Hanover and taking near infrared photography of pit stratigraphy (which gives precise measurements of the microstructural characteristics of the snow). Snow layers will be analyzed in greater depth using two frequencies of ground penetrating radar (GPR) and then compared with the radar measurements from ICEbridge flights. All of these measurements will allow us to couple the physical and chemical observations/measurements of ice changes.
Now onto the details of life in Thule and what we’ve been up to when not in the warehouse organizing, testing, and packing our gear and instruments! Last Wednesday, the four of us met at the Manchester airport with our personal gear and 5 bags of scientific equipment (the rest was shipped, sent via boat, or held in Thule after the Greenland Ice Sheet Traverse (GrIT)). After redistributing some weight, we boarded our plane to Baltimore-Washington airport (BWI), where we had a 9-hour layover. There is only one flight to Thule per week, and it leaves at 2 am on a DC-8 that has been converted to hold an excess amount of cargo. As you can see in the picture, only the rear of the plane has passenger seats (5 and a half rows, that’s it!) and the rest is for cargo.
We had a chilly but enjoyable 7-hour flight with flight attendants, movies, and food—far cushier than the flights from Scotia to Kanger! Upon landing, we were greeted by the commander of the Air Force base, shook hands with a number of Air Force personnel and met our NSF contact, Kim, who showed us to our hotel. As is true for most of the buildings here, the North Star Inn’s rudimentary exterior is deceiving; we each have our own room with TVs, carpet, and minifridges! (Not what any of us were expecting.)
Because there has not been much glaciological fieldwork based out of Thule in recent decades, we have had to make many of our own arrangements to get to our field site, ship our gear and samples back to NH, etc. Between running around to talk to the helicopter pilot (who will be making a new inland record when he drops us 100 mi into the ice sheet), cargo personnel, freezer manager, etc. and packing, we’ve had time for a few excursions, both on base and off.
Thule is a small Air Force base which is a ballistic missile early warning site. It is home to roughly 600 people, both members of the U.S. Air Force, who are stationed here for 12 months, and citizens of Denmark, who do the contract work maintaining the base. The latter, as far as we know, have no limit to their stay here. We’ve met other groups of “beakers” (scientists), although the total of 30 here is small compared to other Arctic sites. Still, despite the relatively small size of the base, it is still a self-contained town, with a gym, café, club, museum, barbershop, etc. The 4th of July celebration has included a concert played by a band flown up from TN/MA as well as a BBQ.
The four of us got off base Saturday night when we drove up to the ridge next to the base. From there, we could see three glaciers that calve into the ocean (and have produced some beautiful ice bergs) as well as North Ice Cap. We had a great view of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is also visible from base but whose proximity is easy to forget while walking around the dusty landscape in T-shirts. We couldn’t stay too long, though; we had to escape from the vicious mosquitoes!
As we’re writing on Monday, we’re just about packed and ready to go onto the ice sheet for 8 days. We have our gear consolidated, weighed, and labeled in the warehouse; it will take 2-3 helicopter trips to get us and our gear out onto the ice, and then we’re going to get right to work with our first snow pit and GPR transect. Our weather has been beautiful so far; keep your fingers crossed for us that it stays that way tomorrow and that the pilot thinks it’s safe to land where we want to go!
– Ali & Lee