There Comes the Sun

January 26, 2010

Crescent Moon over Summit Station. Photo: Bill McCormick

January 25, 2010

Kip Rithner wrote:

Hello Summiteers,
Exciting times! I hope everyone’s doing well on the world’s roof—I imagine you’re looking forward to sunshine and getting out of Summit after the Phase III team arrives around February 2.

Speaking of sun, I hope you’ll keep the field notes blog in mind when you enjoy the sunrise on January 27th. I’d love to post a picture of you enjoying the spectacle. This time always makes me think of the Beatles song. What do you think of?

Summit manager wrote:

Hi Kip,

Yes, we’ll surely be taking photos if the weather allows.  Here’s the forecast that we just received:

“Thursday:  Cloudy and maybe light snow at times. Still risk of fog and southwesterly winds about 05-15kt and temperatures unchanged or slightly warmer.”

Karl Newyear
Summit Station Manager
Winter 2009-10 Phase II

Kip Rithner wrote:

Booooo!  Maybe it’ll clear a bit, though.

Summit Manager wrote:

Hi Kip,

This is the best forecast we’ve seen in weeks!


Around Summit Station

January 11, 2010

Deep freeze: Mark Melcon (CMDR) works on the cargo berm. The sky has been getting lighter since the winter solstice on December 21. Photo: Karl Newyear

The new year brought a brighter sky to Summit Station. As station manager Karl Newyear wrote last week, ” Things are moving along here at Summit.  The workload doesn’t vary much from day to day but the increasing daylight makes it feel like progress.  The next crew is scheduled to arrive here [around 2 February] so yes, like the physical horizon, this time horizon is starting to come into view.”

Inside the Temporary Atmospheric Watch Observatory (TAWO). Why so dressed up? "On this particular day Glenn had only about 10 minutes' work inside TAWO and so he left his outdoor clothing on. The science technicians check the operation of the various instruments daily and ensure the data looks good," Karl wrote. Karl joined Glenn on his rounds to observe (for safety reasons) while Glenn cleared rime from meteorological instruments mounted on a 50-meter tower outside. Photo: Karl Newyear

There's always something to do at Summit. Here, Karl (left) and CMDR install some shelves in a barn-like building originally used to test the WAIS drill now working its way down to bedrock in West Antarctica. Photo: Katie Koster

Of course, today, Karl’s weekly report tells a different story. “The weather this week has been, in a word, windy.  A storm system slowly moved across our area bringing a low barometric reading of 650 mb and winds of over 20 knots sustained for 4 days, 30 knots for 2 days, and topping out over 40 knots for nearly 12 hours.  We are currently experiencing reduced winds, though it’s unclear whether this is temporary or a trend. . . . Blowing snow and generally poor visibility have prevented us from enjoying the increasing daylight around mid-day which occurred earlier in the week, prior to the storm’s arrival.” 

The wind storms have played havoc with the landscape around the station, creating huge drifts that reform the minute the staff put down their shovels. For now, Summiteers are letting the wind win the battle.

As they blow toward the end of their time tending the science experiments continually operating at the National Science Foundation-managed research outpost way out in the middle of Greenland’s ice blanket, the team has started dreaming of the Twin Otter, which will arrive packed with replacement staff and “freshies” (fruits and veggies) in a matter of weeks.  Beyond that Twin Otter: the next adventure (for some) or the homeward journey (for others).

For more on Summit Station, visit www.Summitcamp.org.


Christmas North of the Arctic Circle

December 17, 2009

Photo: Karl Newyear

Up at Summit, darkness continues to descend as the winter solstice on 21 December marking the shortest day in the northern hemisphere still approaches.  For the crew of five taking care of NSF’s research station on the Greenland ice sheet, the solstice and Christmas holiday a few days later are major bright spots on the calendar.  Here, PFS station manager Karl Newyear offers a glimpse into the strange and familiar world of Summit at Christmas time.

As we enter the middle of December, Christmas preparations are underway at home (not counting the decorations that began showing up in stores before Halloween!), but how are the holidays celebrated in Greenland?  Christianity didn’t arrive on the island until around 1721 when Hans Egede from the joint kingdom of Denmark-Norway arrived and began to convert the native Inuit.  However, here more than many places on Earth the cultural history is closely tied to the annual solar cycle and of course the winter solstice falls just a few days before Christmas.  The gateway city for Summit Station, Kangerlussuaq, is just north of the Arctic Circle and the solstice is one of only a few days in which the Sun doesn’t rise above the horizon.  At Summit Station, however, we are in the middle of 74 consecutive days without direct sunlight.  Therefore, holiday festivities take on added significance to provide some variety and color to our routine.  Christmas also marks the mid-point of our stay on top of the ice cap so we’ve got a number of reasons to mark the date.

Contemporary Greenlandic Christmas traditions are primarily derived from the Scandinavian cultures, which is to say they are very similar to those of the US.  And with Summit’s current residents all hailing from the US, our preparations are familiar with a few accommodations to local conditions.  We can’t go out and cut our own Christmas tree, or even go to the local nursery to buy one.  Instead we’ve got a small artificial tree in our lounge.  We don’t have a fireplace, so we’ve hung our stockings on a world map next to the tree.  We’re still looking for the colored lights to hang outside so that Santa knows where to find us.  Summit Station is only about 1100 miles from his workshop at the North Pole, so we’ll watch for eight tiny reindeer (plus Rudolph) on their training runs.

The nearest church is several hundred miles away, and there aren’t any neighbors that we can sing carols to, so some traditions from home will have to be skipped this year.  And of course science never takes a holiday so we’ll have a few work tasks to complete before enjoying the day.

Happy Holidays to all our friends and families back home!


Baby, It’s Cold Outside

December 7, 2009

Clear skies brought frigid weather to the Greenland ice sheet last week, as temperatures hovered around -50⁰ (and sank below that) at Summit Station. The five staff tending the research outpost during the darkest phase of winter (we introduced you to them here) kept indoors as much as possible, putting the chess board to good use and tending to some newly planted tomatoes in their free time.

We’re told the team is doing well, experienced polar explorers all. As you can see in the following picture, the sky also kept them entertained.

A near-full moon is no match for the aurora borealis, a-light here over Summit Station. Photo: Glenn Grant

A rounded moon is no match for auroras blazing over the Big House, Summit Station. Photo: Glenn Grant

The picture reminds us of a news story we saw a few weeks back.  Alaska Science Forum writer Ned Rozell’s recent story on how solar activity generates auroras includes a comment by a solar expert at University of Alaska.  “’The aurora hasn’t been too exciting lately,’” says Dirk Lummerzheim of the university’s Geophysical Institute.  But experts predict a two-year period of relatively little solar activity may be coming to an end, giving way to sunspots and flares that generate intense auroras. These could be viewable as far south as Seattle. Eyes on the skies, guys!


Oktoberfest

October 21, 2009

 

At Summit they call it "Bradtoberfest." Brad Whelchel honed his Bavarian culinary skills for Oktoberfest at Summit. Photo:

At Summit they call it "Bradtoberfest." Brad Whelchel hones his Bavarian culinary skills for Oktoberfest at Summit.

A few weeks ago, the Summit weekly mentioned an Oktoberfest celebration with a tremendous Bavarian meal and polka music beamed over the Internet (which was somewhat less than tremendous, according to some). We wanted to know the back-story on the celebration, so we wrote to our colleagues.

Turns out that mechanic Brad Whelchel is the Oktoberfestmeister, but not because he considers himself Bavarian (some of his folks are Pennsylvania Deutsch). “I like to immerse myself in other cultures and festivities,” Brad explained.

“Two of my favorite holidays have to be Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day.  They are not the most traditional/religious of holidays, but they sure are fun!”, he wrote. Brad has celebrated the festival for years, often in Helen, Georgia (whose European settlers were Bavarian), near his home in Tennessee, so he knew a thing or two about Oktoberfest.

“My original plans were to tour Europe in the autumn, with the centerpiece of the trip being Oktoberfest in Munich.  But I got the call for the mechanic job in August, and took that instead,” Brad wrote.  “Around the middle of September I started thinking ‘I should be in Munich right now,’ and began to formulate my own Oktoberfest celebration up here.”

Caption for pix of Oktoberfest spread: “The Summit crew started with Giant soft pretzels with hot mustard lead the food parade.  Then, slow-cooked kielbasa and sauerkraut, German potato salad and spaetzle dumplings. Later, rouladen (slices of flank steak stuffed with hot mustard, bacon, onion, and pickles), jagerschnitzel (thin, breaded pork chops simmered with mushroom-and-onion gravy). And finally, hoernchen, horn-shaped pastries filled with preserves, cinnamon sugar, fruit, etc.

Giant soft pretzels with hot mustard lead the food parade. Then, slow-cooked kielbasa and sauerkraut, German potato salad and spaetzle dumplings. Later, rouladen (slices of flank steak stuffed with hot mustard, bacon, onion, and pickles), jagerschnitzel (thin, breaded pork chops simmered with mushroom-and-onion gravy). And finally, hoernchen, horn-shaped pastries filled with preserves, cinnamon sugar, fruit, etc.

How did he manage some of the more exotic ingredients at Summit? “The food inventory is quite varied; previous crews have requested different specialty items, so now we have things like Japanese Nori wrappers for sushi, cèpes for French mushroom dishes, and this year I brought up my FAVORITE barbecue sauce of all time, Rendezvous!  It comes from the best rib joint in America, The Rendezvous in downtown Memphis.  We’ve put it on basically everything, and I have another bottle to leave for the rest of the winter crews.  I also brought Thai iced tea leaves, Indian spice chai, and beignet mix from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.”

Brad admits that most of his cooking experience, beyond barbeque, has been gained in Summit’s well-stocked kitchen.  He chose well-rated recipes off the Internet with ingredients compatible with Summit’s food stores. “The salt used on the pretzels wasn’t as large as the true German pretzel salt, but it was still coarse and chunky.”

We got to thinking about Summit and how the population up there on the world’s roof loves a shindig. Summiteers honor all kinds of occasions with food, games, parades, costume parties, and so on. In addition to the traditional holidays, Summit celebrates the equinoxes and solstices, of course—and also such things as completion of major science milestones or operational efforts. Since long-time Summit manager, Kathy Young, was in Denver last week attending our annual meeting, we cornered her and asked about the penchant for social gatherings.  “We celebrate because it’s something for us in an isolated community to do,” She explained. “It’s really nice for us to acknowledge the effort it takes to make Summit run and to do science here—plus, it’s a nice way to pass the time.”

And time is passing. The crew keeping Summit’s experiments running during this first phase of winter can now measure their time in isolation in days, as the incoming crew is due on the ice next week. Clearly, that’s another occasion for celebration.


Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

September 30, 2009

 

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights. 
Dr. Seuss, 1990
Why is this woman smiling? Join PolarTREC and find out! This photo of Cristina Galvan, and all others in this piece, courtesy ARCUS / PolarTREC www.polartrec.org

Today is her day! Teacher Cristina Galvan flies with the high fliers. This photo and all others courtesy ARCUS / PolarTREC http://www.polartrec.org

As we write, Cristina Galvan of East Palo Alto Academy in Menlo Park, CA, is sailing on a coast guard ship, flying around in a helicopter, and getting up close and REALLY personal with polar bears. She does this as a member of ARCUSPolarTREC program, which is now accepting applications from teachers for the 2010 season (pending funding from the National Science Foundation).

Galvan is paired with Hank Harlow, Merav Ben-David, and John Whiteman of U of Wyoming, who are working with USGS and the USFWS to study the physiology of bears that traditionally follow the retreating sea-ice north each summer.  This year other Polar TREC teachers have accompanied a science team to a crater lake in remote Russia; camped on the shores of study lakes set in some of Alaska’s prettiest back country; tagged birds on the Pribilof Islands; and sampled snow in the blue light of the Summit snow pit. And those are just a few of the north polar projects.

As part of a science in education tour in Greenland last summer, Jennifer Thompson sampled snow at Summit Station.

As part of a science in education tour in Greenland last summer, teacher Jennifer Thompson sampled snow at Summit Station.

Teacher Barney Peterson prepares a sediment trap to be dropped into a lake for climate history studies.

Teacher Barney Peterson prepares a sediment trap to be dropped into a lake for climate history studies.

On Norway's Svalbard archipelago, teacher Mike Rhinard participates in a research experience for undergraduates field course studying high Arctic change. Here, the group prepares to lower a CTD sensor into the water.

On Norway's Svalbard archipelago, teacher Mike Rhinard participates in a research experience for undergraduates field course studying high Arctic change. Here, the group lowers a CTD sensor into the water.

From a recent ARCUS announcement about PolarTREC:  “PolarTREC . . . pairs K-12 teachers with researchers for professional development through authentic polar research experiences. The program integrates research and education to produce a legacy of long-term teacher-researcher collaborations, improved teacher content knowledge, and broad public interest and engagement in polar science.

“Through PolarTREC, teachers will spend two to six weeks in the Arctic or Antarctic, working closely with researchers in the field as an integral part of the science team. PolarTREC teachers and researchers will be matched based on similar goals and interests, and teachers will be trained to meet the program requirements prior to the field season.

“While in the field, teachers and researchers will communicate extensively with their colleagues, communities, and students of all ages across the globe, using a variety of tools including satellite phones, online journals, podcasts, and live events and web-based seminars. Teachers and research projects will be selected and matched to fill the openings available. All major expenses associated with teacher participation in PolarTREC field experiences are covered by the program, including transportation to and from the field site, food, lodging, and substitute teacher costs.”

Finlander students interact with Californian Michael Wing. Outreach with local communities is often part of the north polar TREC experience.

Finnish students interact with Californian Michael Wing. Outreach with local communities is often part of the north polar TREC experience.

What ARCUS doesn’t say here is that PolarTREC is just a heck of a lot of fun. The teachers who participate interact with their students while they’re in the field, and they return to the job enriched with experience that brings their teaching to life.  The scientists who host PolarTREC teachers are uniformly pleased with the experience, glad to have an extra pair of hands in the field and to have those hands attached to a mind that knows how to engage young people in the science. It’s a win-win.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
A fat moon climbs over Lake El’gygytgyn in northeast Russia.

A fat moon climbs over Lake El’gygytgyn in northeast Russia.

PolarTREC teacher application deadline: Monday, 5 October 2009

For further information, please contact PolarTREC at:
Email: info@polartrec.com
Phone: 907-474-1600


Let’s Go Fly a Kite

September 28, 2009

In case you thought the seasonal transition to autumn was all work and no play at Greenland’s Summit Station, think again. In between winterizing the buildings and tying up loose ends before the darkness and cold descend, the five-person crew at Summit took advantage of recent “warm” temperatures (minus 20 degrees Celsius) and steady winds at 15-20 knots to go kite boarding.

Andy Clarke takes advantage of ideal kite flying conditions on top of the world. Photo: Brad Welchel

Andy Clarke kite boards in ideal conditions on top of the world. Photo: Brad Whelchel

Summit Station manager Andy Clarke gave us the scoop on this unusual past time.

FS: What kind of equipment do you use?

Andy: The kite we have up here right now is a HQ Beamer traction kite. It’s a four-square meter kite we fly just for fun. And the snowboard is an old NALE-brand board I bought at Boulder Ski Deals in the late ’90s. It’s retired now from the slopes and has come to Summit. The board has regular bindings that you can fit any boot into.

PFS: Do you strap into the kite in a harness?

Andy: Not really. Sometimes we use an old fall protection waist strap, to hook into. But normally we just hold onto the standard bar of the kite.

Andy Clarke harnesses the wind. Photo: Brad Welchel

Andy Clarke harnesses the wind. Photo: Brad Whelchel

PFS: What are ideal kite boarding conditions?

Andy: When you get the wind you want—when it’s blowing about 20 miles per hour.  When a storm comes, that means wind and warmer temperatures. A few weeks ago (when these pictures were shot), we had great weather. Right now it is minus 45C and it’s a little hard to hang around outside flying on a kite at that temperature.

PFS: Where do you go?

Andy: There is a ski-way the planes land on and it gets groomed all summer and is about three miles long. That’s where we like to go in the winter when it’s not in use.

PFS: Is it harder to kite board in the Arctic than elsewhere?

Andy: The polar regions are known for low pressure weather systems that make it feel like the elevation is much higher.  Over a 12 hour period our physio, or pressure altitude can go from 10,500ft to 12,000 ft.   Kiteboarding at that elevation combined with the cold dry air make it a bit of a challenge.  Also, for us there is nowhere to go but downwind for awhile… Then we have to somehow get back.

PFS: Why do it?

Andy: People do it sometimes as a traversing expedition here; they use skis and a kite and a sled to cross the ice sheet. It’s a way to get around faster. But we just do it for fun.  

Brad Welchel gives the kite boarding a try. Photo: Andy Clarke

Brad Whelchel gives the kite boarding a try. Photo: Andy Clarke


Educating the Whole Scientist

September 11, 2009

When Dartmouth College graduate student Simone Whitecloud landed in Greenland this July, 70-degree temperatures and mosquito-free skies greeted her. It was an auspicious start for the Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology who joined four Dartmouth professors and one other graduate student in Greenland for two weeks in a reconnaissance mission. Their task? Plan out the 2010 and beyond curriculum for the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) award from the National Science Foundation: the Dartmouth IGERT in Polar Environmental Change.

“Greenland is incredibly beautiful,” said Whitecloud. “And it was surprisingly hospitable while we were there.”

Simone Whitecloud, a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology at Dartmouth College traveled to Greenland this summer to help plan the upcoming Dartmouth IGERT summer curriculum.

Simone Whitecloud, a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology at Dartmouth College, traveled to Greenland this summer to help plan the upcoming Dartmouth IGERT summer curriculum. Photo Laura Levy.

During their field stay, the six-person team explored Greenland, seeking potential locations for short field studies for next summer’s group of graduate students.

“We were all giving feedback and brainstorming in the field,” said Whitecloud. “It was a combination of all of us looking at the landscape and thinking up potential study questions and projects that students could do in a few days as a group.”

The IGERT team discovered there's more to Greenland than ice--like flowers blooming near Kangerluusuaq, for instance. Photo by Simone Whitecloud.

The IGERT team discovered there's more to Greenland than ice--like flowers blooming near Kangerluusuaq, for instance. Photo by Simone Whitecloud.

Interdisciplinary in the most holistic sense: the cycle of life and death. The crew came upon a musk ox carcass near Kangerluussuaq. Photo Simone Whitecloud.

Interdisciplinary in the most holistic sense: the cycle of life and death. The crew came upon a musk ox carcass near Kangerluussuaq. Photo Simone Whitecloud.

Beginning next summer, students in the Dartmouth IGERT in Polar Environmental Change will enhance their core curriculum for graduate programs in Earth Sciences, Engineering Sciences, or Biological Sciences with summer fieldwork in Greenland, where they will work at the University of Greenland and with the Inuit Circumpolar Council. The program will strike a balance between rigorous scientific field work and cultural immersion, encouraging students to explore the human aspects of the study subjects, said Whitecloud.

“The human side of the IGERT program interested me because I want to work with indigenous Greenlanders who have important  knowledge of their country and of the changing climate,” she said. “This program facilitates more of an open dialogue between the researchers and the native people.”

Whitecloud is a Native American of Anishinaabeg (Chippewa) descent from New Orleans. Despite her pursuit of “hard” science, she said the interdisciplinary approach of the IGERT program is a crucial component of her education.

“One of the struggles for me as an academic is to balance my heartfelt connection with nature with the objective view science requires,” she said.

The Greenland ice sheet begins. Photo Simone Whitecloud.

The Greenland ice sheet begins. Photo Simone Whitecloud.

Dartmouth IGERT fellows will also interact with mentors who have expertise in the atmosphere, ice, snow, sea ice, soil, surface and ground water, vegetation and animal populations, and human dimensions of environmental change. Fellows apply separately to specific graduate programs and indicate their interest in the IGERT component.

During the summers of 2010-2012, fellows will spend approximately four weeks in Greenland, including  a two-week field-study  and a two-week exploration of policy issues—specifically the human dimensions of climate change—based in Nuuk, Greenland’s capitol. During the field work, students will be grouped into two disciplines: terrestrial studies based in Kangerlussuaq, and firn/ice studies based from Summit Station.

artmouth professors Ross Virginia, environmental science, and Xiahong Feng, earth sciences, collect soil samples. Virginia directs the IGERT Ph.D. program in Polar Environmental Change. Photo Simone Whitecloud.

Dartmouth professors Ross Virginia, environmental science, and Xiahong Feng, earth sciences, collect soil samples. Virginia directs the IGERT Ph.D. program in Polar Environmental Change. Photo Simone Whitecloud.

The NSF-sponsored IGERT exists at many universities and aims to empower American Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the technical, professional, and personal skills to become leaders and creative agents for change. According to the National Science Foundation, “The program is intended to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education, for students, faculty, and institutions, by establishing innovative new models for graduate education and training in a fertile environment for collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries.”


All Show and No Go?

September 3, 2009

Summit staffers ride the stationary bikes into the Big House, where they will winter. No worries about running into a bubba up here.

Glad to see the staff at Summit are in good spirits. Photo: Brad Whelchel

Glad to see the staff at Summit are in good spirits.

Early winter season tasking includes moving as much as possible into shelter.


Home Sweet Summit

August 26, 2009
Summer’s science and construction efforts complete, a small crew settles in to caretaker mode up on the world’s roof
Summit Station's Big House. Photo: Bill McCormick

Summit Station's Big House. Photo: Bill McCormick

By the time the last of the Air National Guard’s LC-130s glides down the long skiway at Summit Station and climbs into the sky, signaling the end of the summer season, the tiny group left behind must feel some relief. They’ve spent several weeks accumulating tasking from a multitude of colleagues while assisting with end-of-season resupply and close-out activities—the usual August bustle and hum.

As they wave that last plane off, the CPS crew turns to a station suddenly transformed from a summer camp into their winter home. With no planes in or out for several months, the five will have the place to themselves as the sun spends more and more time below the horizon (and the mercury* drops as well). They will focus on buttoning the place down for the dark season, conducting maintenance on well-used equipment and gear before putting it to bed on the cargo berm or in the storage warehouse, sorting inventory, and closing summer buildings. At the same time, two technical staff will monitor, troubleshoot, maintain and report on a host of year-round experiments for scientists “back in the world.”
SummitPhaseI

Party of five? Summit’s phase one winter crew arrives at the station. Pictured: Brad Whelchel, Sandra Liu (black hat barely visible between Brad and Andy), Andy Clarke, Katie Koster. Not pictured: Johan Booth.

Prior to closing, the crew at Summit wrapped up an ambitious construction season: they relocated the Green House and berthing module, installed a new, insulated garage with new mechanical systems and floor, upgraded electric voltage from 208 to 480 and installed a new fuel tank in the shop.

The structural relocation and upgrades are part of an integrated, large-scope project that aims to make Summit Station more efficient to both maintain and for conducting research, said Jay Burnside, construction manager for Polar Field Services (part of the CPS team).

The new garage is large enough to provide a scientific balloon-launching facility and space for other science activities, accommodate the largest heavy equipment, house the power plant, and provide adequate storage.  It will also serve as Summit Station’s central power production and maintenance area.

Burnside raved about the crew’s hard work and said the construction caused “no unexpected conflict.”

“In general, having people up there working construction is an innate conflict with the science work,” he said. “But we worked closely with the scientists to minimize the impact.”

Summit Station: new and improved. Photo Jay Burnside

The new and improved Summit Station. The new garage stands behind the Green House/Berthing module, left center, where the winter staff will sleep. The old garage is at center right. Photo: Jay Burnside

*Mercury freezes at about -40 degrees, at which point we have to measure the cold via alcohol, platinum resistor, or other solid-state thermometers. Clearly at that point we know it’s cold.


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