Archive for the ‘GrIT 2011’ Category

In the summer of 2012, I had the fortune of meeting up with Dr. Carl Benson (see “Meeting people in Alaska …“), where we chatted about his previous traverses on the Greenland Ice Sheet and some of his current scientific endeavors. I was fascinated with his stories as my 2011 traverse with Thomas Overly and company was still fresh in my mind. As luck would have it, the Dartmouth IGERT community continues to interact with Benson.

Carl Benson and his report
It all started with a picture … Photo courtesy R. Benson.

In December 2012, while attending the AGU science conference with Chris Polashenski, I had the fortune of meeting Betsy Turner-Bogren from ARCUS (Arctic Research Consortium of the US), and we briefly chatted about an interview concept that reminded me of my August conversation with Benson. ARCUS has a newsletter it produces, Witness the Arctic (WTA), that provides “information on current arctic research efforts and findings, significant research initiatives, national policy affecting arctic research, international activities, and profiles of institutions with major arctic research efforts.” “Arctic Generations,” a series within WTA, is where an early career scientist gets to interview a scientist with “a long, distinguished career.” I could not pass up this opportunity to bridge the ground-breaking science, research techniques, and logistics accomplished by Benson and his traverses with the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse. You can find the interview here. While we touched on some science, I was also intent on bringing out some of his personal memories of the traverse – my favorite anecdote is about the air logistics and, in particular, the French “free drops” along the 1955 traverse.

I’m not the only IGERT’eer chatting Benson up. Indeed, Chris is collaborating with Benson for his 2013 traverse of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiment (known as “SAGE”: Sunlight Absorption on the Greenland ice sheet Experiment). Recently, Chris shared his experiences and some of his initial findings at an IGERT-sponsered talk here at Dartmouth. A blog of his 2013 traverse can be found here.

For me, this illustrates one of the neat aspects of snow and ice core science – its a very young science. What I mean by this is that many of the techniques developed and initial studies happened within the last 50-60 years, and many of those pioneering researchers are still pushing the envelope of knowledge today. The opportunity for a young scientist, like myself, to talk with giants in their field is unique.

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I admit, I can be a little nerdy at times. And, in light of my current alma mater, let us conjure Dr. Suess’s imagining of the word [If I Ran the Zoo].

This being said, my Alaska trip became a cornucopia of chance encounters and coincidental run-ins, from people who live in Boston to people I’ve worked with on Polar ice sheets! While I would like to write about all of them, I’ve whittled the “run-in” list to three: Denali National Park, Julia Gourley, and Dr. Carl Benson.

Perhaps its fitting to mention Denali National Park first. It wasn’t until after I was asked to present a poster at the following week’s Week of the Arctic conference that I even thought to visit this majestic park. First established in February 1917 (as Mt. McKinley National Park), Denali NP now sits at 7,329.2 sq. miles, with an additional 2,089.9 sq. miles “buffer” in its preserve. For comparison, New Hampshire (9,279sq. miles) is slightly smaller than the whole of the park and preserve. Denali, or “The High One”, is the Athabaskan name for the mountain that serves as “the roof of the continent”*. My visit was short (day trip aboard a shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center), but it was punctuated by numerous animal sightings and my good friend (and shuttle driver), Dawn, that I met while working in Antarctica. I hope to re-visit this marvelous area sometime soon!

Grizz with springer cubs
Mother grizzly with her two springer cubs.

Coyote on the road
Coyote walking the road to Eielson Visitor Center.

The Wednesday poster presentation was actually part of a general invitation to participate in the Institute of the North‘s Week of the Arctic. Although I did not have time to spend all week in Anchorage, I was able to participate in Tuesday’s session (Arctic Council Strategic Planning and Luncheon) where Senior Arctic Official Julia Gourley (State Department) was a speaker and guest. Her role is to help lead US foreign policy development in the Arctic, and it was fascinating to hear her explain the structure of the Arctic Council (high-level diplomatic forum for international cooperation in the Arctic with 8 member states and 6 permanent participants), illuminate some of the key issues currently facing the Arctic, and engage with the conference participants. I only got a chance to chat with her for about 10 minutes, but I invited her to come to Dartmouth and speak with our IGERT folks … let’s hope her schedule allows!

Perhaps the biggest meeting of the trip, in my estimation, was my evening spent with Dr. Carl Benson (and his wife, Ruth). For those keeping score, Carl planned and led a series of traverses (1952-55) that led to his oft-read 1962 CRREL report that, among other things, defined the concept of glacier facies. Indeed, his traverses were the basis for the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse that Thomas and I undertook last spring. What fun that was! The evening was a mix of tales of derring-do and nostalgia, from train platforms in Evanston, IL, to the great, flat white of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Perhaps most fortunately, Carl delved into some of the glaciological questions that he’s still thinking about … a treasure trove indeed! With luck, I’ll be able to incorporate some of his curiosity into my still-developing thesis! Thanks for a wonderful night, Carl and Ruth!

And thanks, IGERT, for a wonderfully opportunistic Alaskan trip!

Carl Benson and his report
A picture with a legend! Photo courtesy R. Benson.

* Information from http://www.nps.gov/akso/parkwise/students/parkfacts/DENA_FastFacts.htm

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[as seen in Dartmouth’s The Graduate Forum (newsletter)]

As graduate students, we all share this singular pursuit, this unabashed chase of scholastic glory. We all enjoy the burden of late nights glazed with copious amounts of caffeine and buoyed by an endless sea of scientific papers. We all enjoy the bucolic wonders of Hanover and the Upper Valley, the unrelenting, yet rewarding, joys of being a graduate student at Dartmouth College. If you’re reading this, I imagine you are, like me, toiling away at some novel and intractable question while balancing the rest of your life. Not easy, but we’re all getting by. So what happens when, in the midst of this sometimes-stultifying stupor, you find yourself on the front-end of a 40-day traverse of the Greenland Ice Sheet?

Buy sunscreen!

The 3 amigos ... Thomas, Galen & Giff
[Getting ready for a day of snowmobiling! From left: Thomas Overly (IGERT), CH2MHill-supplied mountaineer and all-around awesome guy Galen Dossin, and Gifford Wong (IGERT)]

That is what I did when I found myself days away from joining the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT). GrIT, conceived primarily as an overland supply-run for the year-round science station at Summit Camp located on top of the ice sheet, recently became open to the idea of supporting science. The first leg of the journey is a flight from Baltimore, Maryland, to Thule Air Base on the northwest coast of Greenland. Thule Air Base is the US Armed Forces’ northernmost installation, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and serves as the home base and garage for GrIT, a joint operation involving the National Science Foundation (NSF), the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) and CH2M Hill Polar Services.

Professor Robert Hawley, in the Department of Earth Sciences, originally proposed the idea of pairing science with this traverse. He passed this tremendous field opportunity to two of his current graduate students – Thomas Overly and Gifford Wong (yours truly). Some of the fantastic reasons, science-wise, why this traverse was so tremendous were it provided a comfortable (relatively) platform from which to perform ground truthing studies, it was an opportunity to revisit science sites along a route that was first studied in the 1950s by Carl Benson, a CRREL-based researcher, and it lead to a wealth of data for his lab group to sift through for the next couple years.

Sunset ...
[Sun setting behind one of our Case Quad-tracks.]

But that’s not all. Nearly everyone enjoys fantastic, and sometimes far-flung, field adventures. For me, the thing that made this past field season so special was the traverse itself. It is the journey that is interesting. I’ve been fortunate to participate in polar science before (McMurdo Station [see pg.3], West Antarctica, Summit Station, and Byrd Surface Camp [see “Views of a Deep Field Virgin”, pg.11]), but I’ve never had to drive there. I’ve never had to submit myself to 1400 miles worth of ice sheet whimsy. I’ve never had so much of my livelihood rely on what continually seemed like never-long-enough days. And, I’ve never had the fortune to be surrounded by so much serenity. Perhaps my favorite moments, outside of the general tomfoolery that emerges when 6 young-at-heart individuals combine for 40 days of toil and effort, were those spent with my own thoughts as we bounded across the endless ice sheet like a small convoy of ships crossing an endless sea, buoyed by thousands of years worth of snow and ice all waiting to tell their stories.

Waypoint B11A
[The traverse train trundling along in front of some mountains at GPS waypoing “B11A”.]

This story starts out, however, as a pseudo-survival guide for any would-be ice sheet traveler. If you’re contemplating such a trip, I imagine most of the obvious concerns have already been addressed, such as packing a lot of high-calorie food or outfitting yourself with plenty of puffy and warm clothing. Like this summer’s list of things to do in Hanover, I present, in no particular order, my top 5 things to think about when traversing an ice sheet:

1) Be prepared to be cold. Not surprising, but it bears repeating.

2) Be patient. This goes along with the cold component, but hardly anything happens quickly when you’re waddling around in 8 layers of clothing. Seriously.

3) Try not to sweat. This pairs well with that patience thing, for if you do sweat you’ll definitely feel the cold.

4) Eat. You’re essentially stoking your internal, caloric heater with food, so eat often. Besides, when else can you indulge in over 4000 calories a day and lose weight?!

5) If there’s a plane, get on it. As much as I love the ice sheet, there truly is no place like home. I spent an extra 7 days in Greenland because I did not get on a plane. Silly.

And sunscreen? That ranks right up there with oxygen and a -40 sleeping bag!

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Hey folks! An amazing (and amazingly long) day culminated in us driving onto base with our traverse vehicles! We’re back! And it was Robin’s birthday, too!

We're home! (almost ...)
[note the the GPS message]

I won’t go into the day too much … I mean, most of it involved either driving or, if you were Galen, GPR’ing. We had started at the “beginning” of the area that has a lot of crevasses, and we wanted to make sure that none had opened up during our traverse. The day involved two fill-ups (for the Pisten Bully), which means a nearly 100-mile day!

Pit stop ... for fuel and strategy.
[the poor weather during our first fuel-stop … you can’t even see Pat at the end!]

Near the “B-zeroes” … an area that was neatly bordered by crevasses on both sides of the track, the weather really deteriorated. Here, we relied quite heavily on our GPS and Galen and his GPR skills (which are finely honed!).

The scene outside our PB that last ~25 miles!
[my view while driving the last ~25 miles … that boom is only about ~20 feet long!]

Finally … we turned the corner and saw the dark rock of the transition through the swirling white of the storm outside. We parked our cargo and slowly marched into town, lockstep behind “Swing Boss” and his Quad-Trac. We imagined it looked like quite the sight.

Parking outside Building 353 ...
[three of the four traverse vehicles parked outside Building 353]

So, here I am (we are) … typing on a computer that is resting on a table, something that hasn’t been done since Summit Camp. I’m showered (also last done @ Summit) and filled with fresh fruit and vegetables. I’m sure that Thomas and I will squeeze at least one more post out of this journey … but for now, know that it was an incredible joy to be part of this GrIT group! They (we) made an “out and back” … a first, and certainly not to be their last. Thomas and I did a boat load, er, tractor load of science! We’re happy to report no serious injuries, and we may even give a presentation at the request of the base commander. All in all, it was a wonderful time (one that, with luck, may be repeated in the future) … Cheers!

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It isn’t everyday that I get to eat sushi. Then again, I suppose it isn’t everyday that I get to snowmachine across the Greenland Ice Sheet. And if you have to know, it isn’t every day that I get to experience the wondrous scientific joys of NEEM, the Danish ice core camp on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Today, these items collided in one deliciously decadent day!

We arrived at NEEM just in time for dinner last night. Pizza, which is always a hit, served to remind us of the little pleasures in life (like pizza).

Today was going to be a light day filled with us doing some science (mostly data backup that was happily and necessarily avoided last night) and helping the traverse with some cargo deck re-arranging. Additionally, we got to tour around the NEEM facilities, admiring their drill trench and underground core processing line (CPL). Vas Gkinis pointed out some of the interesting CFA (continuous flow analysis) labs … Sepp ran us through some of the various ways he looks at physical properties … Gary and Frank (USGS) showed us how their borehole temperature logger works (very cool, by the way) … Darcy and Andrew explained as much as they could about the Hans-Tausen drill while they were between runs … it was a geeky glaciologist’s dream.

But what about the eater in me? You know, the part of my person, dare I say soul, that craves the creative cuisine typically missing from the ice sheet? Well … my time on the ice has perpetually been punctuated with phenomenal culinary performances, and tonight’s dinner was no exception! Sarah (NEEM’s cook) as well as her two trusty helpers today, Darcy and Andrew of aforementioned driller fame, whipped up some delicious sushi! … and spring rolls (with homemade dipping sauce) and seaweed salad and seared tuna. Well, words can only go so far … pictured below are helpings one AND two! Yum!

My dinner plate of NEEM'ian sushi!!
[First helping of NEEM’ian sushi … ]

... and my second helping!
[… and my second! Note the multiple “pillows of love”, how my friend and fellow blogger, Laura Levy, refers to unari, =D]

And that’s not all … today marked the 4th-to-last day before Robin’s birthday! You can’t go birthday’ing without a birthday cake, and again Sarah delivered with a baker’s buttery smoothness!

Happy (early) birthday, Magistrate!
[a surprised Robin Davies and his much-deserved (early) birthday cake!]

Thanks, NEEM, for a wonderful ~36 hours … it has been delightful, from meeting new faces to reuniting with old ones … Cheers!

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How do you capture the joy one experiences as they traverse across the Greenland Ice Sheet on snowmachines? If I knew … I’d starting typing, leaving a trail of adjectives and modifiers describing all that we are seeing and feeling.

Alas, I’m not that gifted. I will say its been plenty fun. Sure, there are bad moments … but they are far outweighed by the simple joy you get 2-strokin’ across the sastrugi!

There is one point I’d like to make … and that is clothing. More specifically, the weight of one’s clothing as they prepare for an “outside” journey. Its not a trivial amount … and while I could list off what I don every day (sorry, mom, but there is no washing facility on this traverse), I reckon folks are checking out this blog for the awesome pictures.

I’m not suggesting this particular picture is “awesome”, but it shows all the interested folks the main science component of this Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) [read: parents] as well as highlighting some of the necessary bundling one does when you’re screaming across the ice sheet!

The 3 amigos ... Thomas, Galen & Giff
[From left to right: Thomas O., Galen D., Gifford W.]

As you can plainly see, we’re keeping to a strict “no-skin” diet up here … and while we realize the importance of donning a ~15 pound jacket and all the other sundry accouterments of winter travel, we are ALL looking forward to “dealing with” typical summer dress: shirt, shorts, sandals.

So, think of us as you’re sipping on a G&T, enjoying a backyard BBQ or engaging in an otherwise “normal” summer activity … we’re all wishing we could be with ya! Don’t get me wrong – we’re TOTALLY happy to be out here … we’re just really (REALLY) looking forward to “warm”.


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Well … today was just a touch more special than other days. Today, our traverse rolled very close to NGRIP, an ice core site for the Danish in the late 90’s/early 00’s. For most, that may not mean a lot … but for the few who can “geek” out about this, this picture is for you.

Science finds NGRIP.
[Galen inspecting an old “cross-roads” signpost at NGRIP, Greenland]

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