GrIT: On the Road Again

April 30, 2010
All photos: Robin Davies

Willow Fitzgerald and the Swing Boss depart in the Case Quadtrac.

The Greenland Inland Traverse, or GrIT, departed Thule Air Base Monday, 26 May, a few hours behind the GoNorth! adventure learning group.  The traverse team rolled past the transition, and then spent the first of many nights camped on the ice.

Leaving the transition, Jim Lever walks alongside the durabase sled to check mobility and load.

The first camp.

All week GrIT has been climbing on to the ice sheet. This is a slow and careful process in part because the way is fraught with crevasses, and also because the first 6o miles involves rolling terrain with an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet, requiring the GrIT to shuttle partial loads so as not to overtax the heavy equipment. In addition to shuttling the infrastructure up the hill, the Tucker rolls ahead of the big Case Quadtrac, repeating the ground penetrating radar survey completed a few weeks ago. 

Weather departing Thule was fine, with a light breeze and blue skies, and it held for another day or so. “The team made good mileage Wednesday for a total of 23 miles and waypoint B9,” wrote GrIT project manager Allen Cornelison. “The Swing Boss feels that the mainly downhill aspect of the route today helped them move faster.” 

Just after the first waypoint, GrIT encounters a sharp decent. The Tucker is attached to the sleds with a long cable to restrain them during the decent.

Still, on Wednesday, fog rolled in.

Thursday morning, the team woke to blowing snow as a forecasted storm settled over the area. Among other efforts, the Tucker  shuttled ahead of GrIT  to “lay down some tracks,” Allen said, for the GoNorth! Polar Huskies. The GrIT’s effort was an important service to GoNorth!, as this area of the trail is very “complicated,” Allen wrote.  “The traverse is “threading the needle” through the various parallel crevasses along the route.”

Jim Lever heads off to check the fuel bladders and download data from temperature sensors on the sleds (part of the sled mobility investigation).

If GoNorth! was ahead, the two teams may now play a bit of hopscotch. The weather on Thursday was too stormy for the Polar Huskies to proceed, and so GoNorth! humans hunkered down in tents while the dogs curled up with their backs to the wind along the stake chain.
Meanwhile, the GrIT chugged along.  After a little help from the Tucker at the steepest grade along the route, most of the GrIT equipment was moved past GoNorth!’s camp site. The Case and the Tucker then shuttled back to get the long durabase sled, pulling it together up the steep grade, and stopping just shy of the GoNorth! camp.

The GoNorth! camp. To the far left, the tent is drifting in.

Erecting a tent is an adventure when the wind gets to howling!

What's it gonna take? Teamwork.

The GrIT team then made camp—check out Robin’s photos!—to rest up for today’s haul, which promised to be a doozy. Stay tuned.

Personnel on the GrIT include a Swing Boss; Jim Lever, CRREL engineer and mobility expert; Robin Davies and Willow Fitzgerald, GrIT mechanics/operators; . Allan Delaney, a ground-penetrating radar expert recently retired from CRREL, will accompany the team through the transition and then fly in a helicopter back to Thule before heading home.

The Greenland Inland Traverse is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). CH2M HILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route. The 2010 spring traverse has several foci: find a safe overland route to Summit Station to help reduce logistical costs and environmental impacts of conducting research there; provide a research platform for scientists conducting field work in Greenland; optimize mobility by focusing on the sled/snow interface.  For more field notes coverage of GrIT, click here

GrIT contact:

Jay Burnside, Polar Field Services, CH2M HILL Polar Services

Construction/Operations manager

Jay at


Born to Run

April 28, 2010

The first team of Polar Huskies pull Mille Porsild, Aaron Doering and the first sled on to the ice sheet, the first few steps of a 1000-mile journey to Summit Station. Photo: Robin Davies

The GoNorth! Polar Huskies, Mille Porsild and Aaron Doering run for the ice margin, the first few steps in a 1000-mile journey to Summit Station. Photo: Robin Davies

Now that they’re on the trail to Summit Station, the GoNorth! team is posting daily audio updates at their Web site–stop in to find out how the day has gone. Learn all about Greenland, “climate chaos,” and the seven principals of adventure learning. Read the answers to 10 great questions submitted each week by adventure learners. Visit the scrapbook to “see” through the eyes of the GoNorth! team, head out to the dog yard to meet the Polar Huskies–well, just get on there and explore. More active participants can still register to participate in the adventure learning modules (K-12 students all over the world participate in these).

Travels with Kenji

April 28, 2010

Kenji Yoshikawa calls in adjustments to his permafrost outreach itinerary. Photo: Ned Rozell,

Permafrost troubadour Kenji Yoshikawa (University of Alaska) last week visited permafrost observatories in remote villages of Alaska. “In general weather was not great this spring especially Bristol Bay area,” Yoshikawa wrote to PFS’ Alaska support manager Marin Kuizenga. “I could not make some villages by the weather at this time.”

Kenji is a one-man Arctic Observing Network or AON, and he spends the summer in perpetual movement (or so it seems to us) servicing permafrost sites sprinkled all over the Arctic, and concentrated in Alaska. At each stop, he brings his permafrost knowledge to local residents.

Yoshikawa presents permafrost information to Alaska's next generation. Photo:

Ned Rozell joined Yoshikawa last week. Ned wrote about the adventure and posted pictures to his AlaskaTracks Web site. Don’t miss his observations.

Yoshikawa also maintains a permafrost outreach site at This fun site is full of tidbits about the places he visits, amply peppered with pictures. Make sure you have time to enjoy this site when you visit, because it’s easy to linger in Kenji’s world. And of course, there’s Tunnelman. 

Yoshikawa’s grant from the National Science Foundation  funds the installation and maintenance of around 100 permafrost observatories around Alaska.  For each one, Yoshikawa drills into the permafrost and installs micro dataloggers with temperature sensors to measure air and permafrost temperatures on the hour. These observatories are located next to schools. Yoshikawa visits the schools, teaches students and instructors about his work and then trains them to download and analyze the data from his instruments.

Yoshikawa visits a permafrost observatory. Photo:

The Right Staff

April 27, 2010

Summer crew at Summit 

Summer's coming to Summit Station. Photo: Brad Stefano

What iconic movie image does the above picture conjure?  The astronaut movie from the 1980’s–The Right Stuff–comes to mind, but a check of the official Web site  doesn’t reveal the image fluttering at the periphery. First one to name it: a $15.00 iTunes card is yours! (Void where prohibited, of course.) Send emails to yours truly

Anyway.  The Summit Station Phase III winter team—one of the most congenial ever to keep the lights on and the data flowing at Summit—welcomed 24 CPS staff to the station last Saturday (24 April), after everyone spent several days waiting out the Eyjafjallajokull ash plume. The group is now engaged at warp speed in turnover and camp opening activities.  Phase III winter personnel are scheduled to leave Summit tomorrow, along with several additional personnel who guide and support transition activities. 

Phase III staffers Lucas Nordby, Christina Hammock, and Sonja Wolter take a well-deserved break from setting up "Tent City," Summit's summer living quarters for visitors. Photo: Ken Keenan

The new crew includes two fresh key members: Katrine Gorham, who assumes the helm for Summit research support from Sandy Starkweather; and Tracy Sheely, who will head the operational efforts—a job long held by Kathy Young. These two will work with the Science Coordination Office and an on-site Chief Scientist to maintain the exquisite choreography needed to conduct atmospheric and snow chemistry experiments and to collect baseline climate data at a remote outpost where water has to be made from snow and power is considered life support. 

From left: Glen Helkenn, Ben Toth and Shannon Coykendall arrive at Summit. Photo: Brad Stefano

Also on the crew: newlyweds Ben Toth and Shannon Coykendall. Congratulations to the happy couple, who illustrate that there is no world more filled with connections or funny coincidences than that of polar research support. Per Karla College: “I have a good friend here in Crested Butte named Katie who worked in Denali with Shannon. Shannon married Ben who was my friend Jason’s roommate in McMurdo and I know Ben from Antarctica.  So . . . I’ve never met Shannon but I know her husband and a long time friend of hers, who don’t know each other.” Got all that?

NPEO Near Completion

April 26, 2010

When oceanfront property isn't a good thing. Photos: Jim Johnson, U Washington

Research is winding down at the North Pole Environmental Observatory (NPEO), the suite of Arctic Ocean measurements collected by National Science Foundation-funded scientists (Jamie Morison, U of Washington, lead).  In fact, the entire Russian ice camp, Barneo, is also winding down—or breaking up, as the photo above shows. 

At a camp known for unique logistics challenges, this has been an outstanding year. Weeks ago, just as the first NPEO researchers arrived at Barneo, the ice floe cracked; a good chunk of the runway broke off as researchers, adventure seekers and wedding parties alike all rushed to relocate the camp’s infrastructure before it drifted away.  Later, the eruption of the Iceland volcano disrupted travel for several NPEO researchers.  While flights from Svalbard to Barneo north of the ash plume continued, the journey to Svalbard was more complicated. Principal scientist Kelly Faulkner’s trip to Barneo had something of the quest about it—a long journey beset by troubles, her trip lasted a week and involved planes, trains, automobiles, and boats—but no dragons (other than the volcano). 

NPEO researchers were able to complete much of their work: They recovered a mooring that had been anchored to the ocean bottom for two years, dropped new buoys and serviced old ones, and completed many water sampling stations. Though they were not able to recover an acoustic bottom pressure recorder, they were able to “ping” it to recover several years worth of data.  Information from the NPEO gives scientists crucial information about the Arctic Ocean’s temperature, chemistry, sea-ice, circulation, and more. 

Men hustle an NPEO tent to safer ice.

Visit the NPEO Web site for the latest news on field activities.

Read the Barneo Chronicles.

If the weather holds, the NPEO group should complete work and clear off the ice camp this week. Turning homeward, they will grapple with whatever travel delays last week’s air travel disruptions from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano still may present. 

Go Dogs, Go!

April 26, 2010

GoNorth! heads out of Thule 

Aaron Doering, GoNorth! PI, prepares to drive the dogs (and team mate Andrea Verdegan) to the transition. All photos: Robin Davies

Paws up and a howl to the GoNorth! team, which left Thule Air Base on Sunday, and should get out on the ice today.  These pictures were taken Sunday as the dogs, the sleds, and the GoNorth! gear were transported to the ice sheet transition some 30 miles from Thule Air Base. The GoNorth! team will follow the safe route flagged by the Strategic Crevasse Avoidance Team, which pushed a ground-penetrating radar over the first 60 miles or so of the route to find a way clear of pitfalls. Once they get past the crevassed area, GoNorth! will head to the deep drilling camp called NEEM, and then on to Summit Station. 

The team arrives at the transition.

If you look closely behind the GoNorth! team, you can see the tracks the team will follow up on to the ice sheet. That's quite a grade!

Aaron, Andrea and Brant Miller (PhD student in Science Education at the University of Minnesota) situated the dogs along a staked line.  There, the Polar Huskies probably curled up and snoozed overnight, waiting for the call to put on the harness and make tracks.  This should happen today.

And, if all goes to plan, the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team will fire up the tractors and head out soon after the GoNorth! team.

Being COY

April 21, 2010

Polar bear cubs captured, inspected, and released by Hank Harlow's research team. Photo: John Whiteman

The Bears of Summer is back–that’s John Whiteman’s contribution to a collection of polar research dispatches called Ice Stories maintained by the San Francisco Exploratorium. Whiteman, a PhD student in the University of Wyoming’s Program in Ecology, has returned to Kaktovik on Alaska’s north coast for early spring fieldwork.  He’s part of Hank Harlow’s polar bear physiology study, an NSF-funded research project that aims to understand to what extent warmer summer temps–and attendant changes in sea-ice coverage–may impact polar bears who use the ice as a hunting platform. The Harlow team has been capturing, examining, tagging and releasing bears early and late in the growing season since 2008 to find out if they are successfully feeding during the summer, and if not, how they may be using their own body’s resources (mainly fat) for sustenance.

In his latest post, Whiteman writes about examining a gigantic male, the largest bear he’s ever handled. He also comments on the number of COYs he’s seeing–“COYs” being cubs born around January. The above three are taking a snooze on their bear mama while waiting for  a short-lasting dose of anesthesia to wear off.

So far, the team has had some success in recapturing bears tagged last year and in capturing new ones as well; this is particularly good news given that last fall’s capture and study period was hampered by poor ice conditions that prevented the researchers from safely reaching the bears.