Scientific findings from field experiments in Greenland have been immensely important to our understanding of Earth’s past climate and the dynamics of biology and hydrology in various climatic conditions. Often the final intellectual products from these studies are tidy manuscripts documenting the findings. But the meticulous preparation needed to execute field expeditions does not make it into the “methods” sections of papers, and therefore, is often unknown to those other than the research teams on the ground. This entry details the logistical support of “big science” in Greenland—an intricate process that precedes scientists stepping foot on the ice or frozen soil.
Logistical support for projects at the poles begins before a research proposal is submitted to a funding agency. Scientists must determine if the plan is at all feasible, and if so, what it might cost. To do this, they contact CH2MHill Polar Services (CPS), which has a contract with the National Science Foundation as the provider of logistical support to projects in Greenland. From the first conversation about a potential study, to the final delivery of samples back from Greenland, CH2MHill employees organize and inform the critical details.
Official correspondence about an upcoming, funded project will begin in February or March for the following summer. As many details as possible are figured out before scientists arrive in Greenland, and the process can vary in ease depending on how experienced a research team is. Perhaps it is a team’s first time coming to the poles, and they don’t know where to start, or maybe it is a team that repeats their sampling each year and has a solid idea of what goes into the trip. No matter the starting level, each excruciating detail must be figured out in order to complete a safe and scientifically rigorous trip.
At the Kangerlussuaq International Scientific Support (KISS) field station, there is a team of individuals on the ground to make the field season run smoothly:
Kathy Young—Equipment Coordinator
Jeff Miller and Paul Smotherland—Cargo Coordinators
Eric Coplan—Operations Management
Audrey Jo Mills—Kangerlussauq Administrator
The planning process completed by CPS covers many aspects of an expedition, and consists of the following tasks (in rough chronological order):
- Basic planning for the upcoming season’s projects (the who, what, when, where, and how of each study).
- Equipment organization for each group—including tents, sleeping bags, cold weather clothing, cooking supplies, clean water, satellite phones, medical kits, etc.
- Arrangement of Air National Guard (ANG) and/or commercial flights for research groups to get to Greenland.
- Planning and executing a mandatory 2-day Polar Field Safety Training for all scientists traveling to Greenland.
- Coordination of cargo shipment on ANG flights (each group brings hundreds to thousands of pounds of scientific gear).
- Arrangement of transportation within Greenland—including truck rentals, more ANG flights to Summit or Thule, or helicopter drops in remote locations.
- Organization of people staying at the KISS facility, and running of the facility itself.
- Preparation of safety gear and medical kits, including coordination with the “Telemed” program, which provides medical assistance to those in need through overseas communications.
- Performing daily communications with teams in remote locations and initiating search and rescue if the team isn’t heard from in over 24 hours.
- Packing cargo and samples to be shipped back to the U.S.
- Returning, repairing and inventorying all field equipment as studies conclude.
- Closing out the field season at KISS
There are also several intangible qualities of the CPS staff. They live in Greenland for a larger portion of the year than the researchers, and some of them come back more consistently than the researchers themselves. Kathy, for instance, has been traveling to Greenland mostly every year since 1996. This frequent visitation offers a deeper knowledge of the area and its inhabitants—such as what cliffs the peregrines have been frequenting, or which locals might be able to help with logistics. CPS employees make connections within the community—a task that is hard for visitors simply passing through on the way to a remote station.
This year, there were approximately 20 research teams operating out of Kangerlussuaq. The Dartmouth IGERT program, along with scientists from institutions across the U.S., greatly benefited from the thoughtful and professional work of the CPS staff. We had a wonderful time learning their life stories while camped out at the ice margin, and we were truly impressed by their enthusiasm for science and Greenland. We wish to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to the team for an unforgettable, successful trip.