Archive for the ‘Summit Station’ Category

At the end of our first day of fieldwork we covered our snow pit with plywood to protect our hard work from overnight snowdrifts. We were all happy to simply brush some snow aside instead of having to dig another pit from scratch.

we covered the pit to protect it from overnight snow drift

The second day was Kaitlin’s day for sampling. She and Gifford are both studying the nature and dynamics of snow layers. Normally, as PhD students, they would each be focused on their own data collection from different pits and at different sites. However, during the  trip planning they realized how much their data complement each others’, and they made a new plan to collect samples from the same pit to align their data sets.

To give you an idea of what snow layers are all about, here’s a picture of snow layers from a back-lit snow pit:

The layers record snowfall events, the seasons, and other environmental conditions, like wind. The lighter areas are less dense snow, with bigger snow crystals, and the darker areas are more dense snow, with smaller crystals.

Kaitlin is measuring permeability of the snow from the surface down to 2 meters. Permeability is how easily air, or any other liquid, flows through a material, which in this case is snow. A good example of permeability is rainfall on flat ground: rain that falls in a sandbox will flow below the surface, but rain that falls on concrete will collect and form a puddle. This difference is because sand is permeable and concrete is not permeable at all.

Kaitlin explained why it’s important to measure permeability in snow–permeability helps us understand how gases flow between the air and the snow, and then within the snow layers too. This information helps ice scientists interpret the gases that are found in ice cores, like those taken from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

To measure permeability, Kaitlin is using a permeameter, which was developed by her adviser, Dr. Mary Albert, and Frank Perron at Polar Research Solutions. The measurements have to be made in the field so the instrument is portable, but I can tell you that the gray and orange battery cases are not light!
the permeameter measures flow of air through snow

But what does it all do?? Right in the middle of the setup you can see the white cylinder that holds the snow sample. Tubing connects a pump, in the yellow case, to the sample to control the flow of air through the cylinder. The air flows through the snow sample and then to the black case, where meters measure the rate of flow.

It all seemed a bit confusing at first, but Kaitlin and Mary led us through the sampling techniques. Here’s Laura, our geologist friend, adjusting the knobs that control the flow of air through the sample:


This structure of a stellar dendrite snow crystal that fell at Summit Camp

The coolest part was that we saw that permeability was lowest in the snow surface, where it was wind-packed. The deeper samples were more permeable because the lower layers generally have larger crystals which make for larger passageways for the air to flow through.

We also measured density of the snow. Whereas permeability tells us how much space there is for air flow, density tells us the mass of snow in the layers. Two different samples could have the same permeability but, depending on the crystal structure, they could have different densities. Density is a basic measurement that Kaitlin is taking to help characterize the snow layers and compare them with other sites.

To measure density we used a known volume sampler, and then weighed the samples on a portable scale.

What started out as a cloudy day turned into a calm and sparkly one, perfect conditions for what ended up being a 16-hour science marathon. Kaitlin finished the day with some valuable data and I am coming away with a new-found appreciation for the information that is locked up in these delicate, little pieces of frozen water. Snowflake wonder is knowing that no two snow flakes, nor snow layers, are the same.


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We’ve been here at Summit Camp, atop the Greenland Ice Sheet for 6 days now and it has been a great experience. Our visit has been filled with lots of science, excellent company and good food. Below are some photos of the camp and the people here.

The “Big House” is where we eat all of our meals and is one of the congregating spots. It is hoisted up off the ground to keep it above the accumulating snow. The large globe on the roof is a satellite.


The "Big House" at Summit

Back in Big House after a long day of digging snow

Inside the Big House, we check our email and relax after a long day.

Most of us sleep in tents in “tent city”.  Sleeping in a tent at 10,000+ ft in subzero temperatures may not sound appealing to everyone, but it really is quite comfortable. We sleep in warm sleeping bags (-40F) and as a bonus, the tents warm up during the day under the arctic sun. The bright midnight sun can make it hard to sleep, but a bonus is that you don’t need a headlamp to find your tent in the evening!

Tent city at Summit camp

Tent city at Summit camp

Kaitlin wearing sunglasses at night

We all deal with the midnight sun in different ways- Kaitlin wears her sunglasses at night.

But what makes Summit Camp really special? The people here. It takes many people with different skills to keep a station like this running smoothly: camp staff, science techs, scientists, carpenters, a medic, mechanics, heavy equipment operators, to name a few. Ken Jessen, the station manager, does a fabulous job. He has made our visit comfortable and very productive while keeping safety in mind. It also helps that he has a great sense of humor!

station manager Ken Jessen

Station manager Ken Jessen leads the morning briefing

The food here is also amazing. Tina, the cook, prepares delicious meals and bakes fresh cookies every day! It has been such a treat to have warm meals cooked for us, especially after spending a long day in the elements digging snow pits.

Tina White, cook at Summit Camp, with some of her amazing cookies

Tina White, cook at Summit Camp, with some of her amazing cookies

Tomorrow we fly back to Kangerlussuaq to begin the next section of our trip- learning about the glacial history of the region and the terrestrial and aquatic ecology of the arctic tundra. We’ve just gotten word that Meredith Kelly and Matt Ayres (both faculty at Dartmouth) and Chris Polashenski (IGERT fellow) have arrived safely in Kangerlussuaq and we are excited to see them. Thanks for following our blog!

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What a surreal opportunity to travel to Summit Camp with our IGERT friends! Kaitlin and I both have been up to the Greenland Ice Sheet before, and it was a decided treat to perform our science with the help of our IGERT cohort. As you’ve read in the blog, which has been thoroughly recording our exploits thanks to a Herculean effort by the rest of the group (including Ross!), Kaitlin studies the material properties of firn and I look at the spatial variability of the ice sheet. Kaitlin has been to NEEM, the Danish deep drilling site, and I have been to Summit Camp earlier this summer. We both agree that while deep field camp science is fun in its own right, experiencing the flat white of the polar ice sheet with your mates is a uniquely special time that will always be remembered. Cheesy? Perhaps, but all together true, and very telling of our experience.


We appreciated their enthusiasm, willingness to help, and thought-provoking questions. Here were scientists, some totally taken out of their studied element, challenging Kaitlin and I with their transdisciplinary inquiries and forcing us to refine our articulation of our respective fields. We certainly owe them, at the very least, a heartfelt “thanks” for their contribution to our field science experiments.

Cartwheel ... Keegs' one-handed!

Without rehashing the previous days, we found ourselves sad on the last day for obvious reasons: 1) the family we inherited up at Summit Camp whose selfless and tireless daily deeds kept not only the big Summit machine moving, but elevated our group’s morale (i.e. sauna and cookies) as well as helped maintain our tightly-scheduled time at camp and 2) leaving “home”. Not home in the sense that we would have wanted to pick up from Hanover and move permanently to the polar plateau, but home in the sense that it felt natural to conduct our science here; we are very curious about snow and ice, and the draw to the ice sheet is undeniably strong.

IGERT @ Summit

So, goodbye Summit … but not really “goodbye” so much as “see you later.” We will, you see … we’ve promised ourselves that much.

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Yesterday we traveled out to Gifford’s snow pit site here at Summit. He is interested in looking at the effects of melt on surface and near-surface snow. He was here at Summit in June and started his fieldwork then. Yesterday we returned to his site and helped him dig and sample a snow pit. First off, we had to get out to his site. It is only a few football field lengths from Summit camp, but traveling through fresh snow with heavy equipment is no easy task. Sled dogs make it look so easy!

IGERT teamwork - Mush!

Dragging a heavy sled at 10,000 ft is hard work

Once we arrived at Gifford’s site, we received a brief introduction into his science and how we would be helping him.

"G" is for Gifford

And then the digging began…

Simone works on digging a snow pit

Until we had a 2 meter deep snow pit!
Gifford showing the layers in the wall

After we cleaned off the snow pit face, Gifford took photographs of the stratigraphy. Then we were ready to collect samples for chemistry analysis. Since we could contaminate the snow pit samples with our clothes, we had to get into clean “Tyvek” suits.

Tyvex suits require teamwork

These suits make our extreme cold weather (ECW) gear seem slimming! Ahhh…the things you will do for your friends! Next we sampled the snow every 3 cm, putting the snow into clean nalgene bottles.

Gifford sampling snow for chemical analysis

Once we finished sampling, we enjoyed a snowmobile ride back to camp.

Gifford's view

Stay tuned for more updates about snow sampling with Kaitlin and an amazingly beautiful day atop the Greenland Ice Sheet!

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Summit is one of the most isolated places on earth, but we managed to find several familiar faces. Upon our arrival we meet Greenland’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Inuuteq Holm Olsen, who was departing after a several day visit with an international science education group made up of high school students from Greenland, Denmark, and the U.S. Mr. Olsen has twice been to Dartmouth, and he has helped shape Dartmouth’s relationship with the Greenland Self Government for joint opportunities around science education. He will meet with the IGERT group when we reach Nuuk to discuss current issues that he feels are important for our group to understand so we can better partner with Greenlanders to produce research that is important to problems facing his country.

IGERT faculty Mary Albert and Ross Virginia with Inuuteq Holm Olsen

Wiley Bogren, Dartmouth '07 in front of the Big House

After I settled in and came over to the “Big House” I ran into Wiley Bogren, Dartmouth Class of 2007. Wiley and Dartmouth grad and IGERT Fellow Chris Polashenski spent a term in Alaska to study sea ice along the North Coast of Alaska. Clearly they both caught a life long case of polar fever. Wiley is now a PhD student at NILU, University of Norway working with Dr. John Burkhart on Arctic atmospheric research using remote controlled aircraft.

Ian McKay

Ian McKay, past Dartmouth student in front of the Big White (Greenland Ice Sheet)

My surprises continue. I next saw Ian McKay a past Dartmouth student, now a BS/MS engineering student at MIT. I first met Ian at McMurdo Station, Antarctica where he was working to support science. Ian is a world class nordic skier. Much to the dismay of the Kiwis (New Zealanders) from nearby Scott Base, Ian handily won the ski race and the Scott’s Hut Road Race. (http://thedartmouth.com/2008/05/09/mirror/spotlight)

It goes on. One of the legendary personalities of Arctic and Antarctic research stations is “The Commander”. I overlapped with Commander a number of years in Antarctica. He is famous for his personality, colorful shirts, and the zipper pulls that he makes and passes on as a gift of good will. When I came in early for Sunday breakfast, Commander was quietly singing and making a new stack of zipper pulls. He then went around the room and present a pull to all the IGERT team. A very special event.  THANKS Commander!

Zipper Pulls

Ross and Gifford proudly display their Dartmouth Green zipper pulls hand made by the Commander

What do I make of all this. First Dartmouth is a player in polar science and IGERT will only add to those accomplishments. Second, polar science is a small and wonderfully tight international community. It can’t be beat. I have polar fever too.

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We are blessed with good health on the Ice Sheet, to such an extent that a few of us decided it was time to walk further than to our tents and back. We spent the first two days since our arrival moving slowly to allow our bodies to acclimate to the high altitude.

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Today we’ve been huddled up inside a weatherport (see http://weatherport.com for more about these incredible shelters used for camps, science, gardening and more) and learning about snow and ice science from Gifford and Kaitlin.  A good activity for a cold and blustery day and we are all still adjusting to the altitude.

To start out the day, we used haiku, drawings, and interpretive dance to share our perceptions of the landscape at Summit.

Haiku by Laura:

Flat white everywhere

Little snow crystals, tiny!

Let’s dig a snow pit!

Interpretive dance by Simone:

And after lunch, to review, we played Jeopardy.  Final Jeopardy:  As learned in our lecture today, these three methods can be used to arrive at mass balance of a glacier.

Answer: What are the Hydrological Method, Geodetic Method, and Glaciological method?

Now Kaitlin and Gifford are sharing their dissertation research on firn and snow pits at NEEM and Summit!

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