Greenland Inland Traverse (GRIT) Update

April 29, 2009

A five-person Greenland Inland Traverse (GRIT) team completed an exploratory mission late in March to test new tracks on the main traverse vehicle and a new towing configuration. With temperatures hovering around minus 25F, they set out to improve the traverse’s mobility.

 Last year’s inaugural GRIT experienced delays because the machines sank deep into the snow and had trouble towing the cargo.The traverse vehicle battles soft snow for mobility.

If the team can identify better towing configurations and the best equipment for Greenland overland travel, the GRIT could become an annual event. Delivering supplies by land instead of air could reduce the cost and emissions associated with supplying Summit Station.

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Waiting for GrIT

May 26, 2010

Awbrey Cornelison (a Dog of PFS). Photo: Allen Cornelison

Awbrey, an irrepressible four-legger, demonstrates a GrIT state of mind this morning, as we all are on the lookout for the Greenland Inland Traverse’s arrival at Summit Station today.

They should pull up at the front door in a few hours, after nearly 30 days and well over 700 miles of snow riding. Go GrIT, go!


GrIT: On to Summit

May 18, 2010
 All photos: Robin Davies

The GrIT team greets Zoe Courville at NEEM.

After about three weeks and 400 miles—many of which were wind-blown and snowy on the soft, roadless route toward Summit—the Greenland Inland Traverse team (GrIT) rolled into the international deep drilling camp NEEM last Thursday, 12 May. 

GoNorth! Too  

The Polar Husky superstars of GoNorth! arrived on the 12th as well, in time for project members with teaching and other commitments to meet the flight scheduled for the 13th. Of course that flight was delayed a day due to weather on the ice cap, but eventually the plane came, and personnel were appropriately shuffled.  

The GoNorth! Polar Husky super stars run into NEEM camp.

Exit Jim Lever, Enter Zoe Courville

The GrIT team welcomed Zoe Courville of CRREL on Saturday. We hear the mood was festive at NEEM camp that evening, as many camp personnel were newly arrived on the day’s ANG flight, as well.  The NEEM blog site notes that “Everybody had a fine evening, and a lot of people joined in the mid-night dance, featuring the Danish group “Sweet hearts.” 

Back to work on Sunday: The GrIT team conducted maintenance on traverse vehicles, delivered 1500 gallons of fuel to NEEM, and reconfigured the loads, shifting another1500 gallons of fuel to the Tucker’s fuel bladder. Net load reduction for the Case: 21,600 pounds. “The Durabase (a semi-flexible plastic bed) is now on High-Molecular-Weight sleds to see if the sleds reduce the drag,” project manager Allen Cornelison noted. 

The team headed out for Summit on Sunday, another ~430 miles ahead.  On Monday “the Case was able to grab 7th gear,” a first, wrote Cornelison.  Still, “it was unable to go any faster probably because it was making 14-inch ruts.”  Despite soft snow conditions, the team advanced 45 miles.  

The LC-130 airplane (right) blows off the runway at NEEM. Skiway conditions were soft due to warm temperatures and wind storms. The "Iconic NEEM Dome" (the camp's main building) is seen just left of center.

More Sled Mobility Tests

The qualities of Greenland’s snow surface and sled mobility are clear foci of the GrIT’s experimental component. Before departing on the traverse, CRREL personnel at Thule fitted the Durabase sled with sensors that collected data at the snow/sled interface; when he returns to CRREL, Lever will analyze these data in hopes they shed light on how to make the interface more slippery. 

Back at Thule earlier this spring, Jim Lever prepared the HMV sleds for mobility experiments. Here, the sled is outfitted with heaters. The sensors to collect data on temperature and mobility can be seen along the edges. A second sled was tested using enhanced passive (solar) warming methods.

Jim Lever (right) changes batteries powering a datalogger collecting information on the mobility of the HMV sled with passive warming. The brown fuel bladder is covered with a radiation-absorbing black material. In the background, the second HMV carries a fuel bladder without the black material, for comparison. Allan Delaney (left) and 'Swing Boss' observe.

In addition, after departing the GrIT, Lever flew to Summit Station, where he is conducting mobility tests on a raft purchased specifically for traverse development.  Jim’s findings may be applied to improving bipolar mobility—for GrIT and its southern cousin, “SPoT” (the South Pole Traverse). 

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:
Allen Cornelison, Polar Field Services, CH2M HILL Polar Services
GrIT project manager

All Photos by Swing Boss!

May 11, 2010

Willow Fitzgerald pulls up at the GrIT camp in the Tucker.

Robin Davies hops out of the Tucker. We can't say who took this photo, but it wasn't Robin.

Flashback to last week, during the storm.  Remember how Robin Davies and Willow Fitzgerald drove Allan Delaney the 70 miles back down to Thule Air Base last week in the Tucker in the storm?  Allan was to be extracted from the traverse via helicopter, but of course weather fouled that plan and so the team reverted to Plan B, an overland return–remember?So Robin and Willow were pinned in Thule overnight as the storm raged on. They managed to avoid a second overnight at the base when they scooted out of town during a momentary break in the weather. Up on the ice sheet, the storm continued, but the two were able to navigate using the Garmen 695 GPS units NSF purchased for moments just like these. 

We don’t have any pictures of this portion of the adventure because Robin forgot to bring his camera with him–an uncharacteristic moment of forgetfulness for the GrIT photographer. But all’s well that ends well, because the Swing Boss was ready with Robin’s camera when the heroes returned. He took all of the pictures in this post. Who is he? Ask the Swing Boss. 

Nice weather. The Tucker arrives at the GrIT camp.

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 hereGrIT contact: 

Allen Cornelison, Polar Field Services, CH2M HILL Polar Services
GrIT project manager
allen at polarfield.com

GoNorth!+GrIT=GrITGo’N!

May 10, 2010
Two Become One
All Photos: Robin Davies

Some gorgeous and well-mannered Polar Huskies wait for the humans to transfer the GoNorth! load to GrIT.

Adapt or fail: this may be the first rule of successful polar exploration, as countless stories from the age of the great adventurers (and from our own research clients) will attest. Over the weekend, while many of us celebrated Mother’s Day, there was a marriage of sorts on the Greenland ice sheet. The two traverse teams we’ve been following—GoNorth!’s Polar Husky-powered education effort, and GrIT’s tractor-towed operational effort—combined forces to get everyone back on schedule after last week’s stormy weather delayed progress.  

Mille Porsild, dog handler-in-chief, settles the canine team atop some GrIT cargo totes. Mille prefers to ride up on the totes with her pack, though there's room for her in the warm camping wannigan.

NEEM is the North Eemian drilling camp, an international research collaboration whose main goal is to harvest an ice core (for climate studies) that reaches all the way through the ice sheet. While the University of Copenhagen has overall management of NEEM and operates the camp, the National Science Foundation supports U.S. researchers (U Colorado’s Jim White leads this effort) and provides the heavy air lift as well. Air National Guard LC-130 planes fly between Kangerlussuaq and NEEM every ten days to two weeks—weather permitting, of course.  

So if the three miss this flight, they could be auxiliary NEEM staff for two weeks waiting for the next flight—an unhappy possibility given teaching and research commitments. (Some of us would pay good money to be stranded at the storied NEEM camp for a week or so with the likes of Danish polar research legends like Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and JP Steffensen, but that’s a tale for another post.)  

“With the loads reconfigured (once they passed through the crevassed zone with its steep inclines), the GrIT is moving forward at a decent clip. The goal is to make at least 40 miles per day,” Allen explained. “Over the past few days, they have been achieving their goal even with some soft snow.”  

Settled down and ready to make tracks.

While GrIT machines can continue plowing ahead in most storm conditions, the GoNorth! dogs, though incredibly strong and courageous, must at some point hunker down and wait for the worst weather to clear–they are not made of metal. The risk that the GoNorth! team might be delayed again by a good blow was considered too great, and so all have joined the GrIT traverse. That’s an additional 23 dogs, four people, sleds and gear.  

In short, a parade.  

  

“With firm snow, the Case has been able to hold 6th gear with little slippage,” Cornelison continued. “Ruts are between four and six inches. The Tucker has been holding second gear and keeping up with the Case though towing multiple sleds and the 3,000-gallon fuel bladder, which they have been fueling from. I believe that the Tucker load is about 120 feet long now.”  

“The weather has been cooperating nicely with unlimited visibility, sunny skies, light winds and temperatures between -4 and +10F.”  

“The teams camped Sunday night 110 miles from NEEM. They should arrive at NEEM mid-day on the 12th.”   

 
 
 
 

Robin writes, "The Case has a Greenlandic name, Qimuttuuaraq. It's a name that's often given to a small dog that pulls hard for its weight. A rough translation would be 'Small dog with big heart'." We think the same could be said of all souls on the traverse, four- and two-legged alike.

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:
Allen Cornelison, Polar Field Services, CH2M HILL Polar Services
GrIT project manager
allen at polarfield.com

 


GrIT: Beyond Crevassed Zone, Into a Storm

May 4, 2010

All Photos: Robin Davies

The Swing Boss checks wind speed before three GrIT members return to Thule.

The Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team halted progress toward Summit Station on Monday “because of a rather large storm that is affecting the ice cap and Thule,” GrIT project manager Allen Cornelison reported. “The storm has also prevented the helicopter from retrieving Allan Delaney.”

Delaney is the ground-penetrating radar expert who led the team through the crevassed zone. His job now done, he was to fly back to Thule on Monday to begin his journey home. But with the storm forecast to last into Thursday and beyond (and limited flights out of Thule), the team formed Plan B.

“Robin Davies, Willow Fitzgerald and Allan Delaney took the Tucker down to Thule today,” Allen Cornelison reported on Monday.

“Even though the visibility was not great for the 70 miles down the ice cap, it was worse once the team got to the transition. Robin said at times the visibility was so poor along the road from the transition to Thule, they were only able to drive at 2 mph.” That’s when 15 miles can be an excruciating distance.

The three used new Garmin 695 Global Positioning Systems units to Hansel-and-Gretel their way back to Thule:  the GPS instruments (designed for aircraft operations) have been laying down coordinates as GrIT travels inland, and the three in the Tucker found their way back to Thule by closely following the “breadcrumb” path recorded by the software. Cool!

Meanwhile, CRREL’s Jim Lever and the Swing Boss took shelter in their tents at the far edge of the crevassed zone at position B11D. “GoNorth is about a mile past B11C and we would assume hunkered down as well,” Cornelison wrote. “Brad commented that the snow is coming down quite hard but the wannigan (the large camping box and warm-up shelter) is holding up well and they are cozy in their tents.” It may be pouring snow, but the storm brings relatively warm weather—about +20 degrees F.

The GoNorth! dogs are actually warmer when they're drifted in, as they're protected from the wind.

With a break in the weather, the GrIT team will shuffle the traverse cargo load. “Jim commented that the load cells show that the Case and Tucker should be able to discontinue shuttling loads and begin hauling one way,” Cornelison said.

According to the Swing Boss, snow conditions are improving as the team moves inland. And harder snow means the big machine should be able to pull a heavier load.

“Robin and Willow will attempt to return to camp Tuesday and all will continue to move forward,” Cornelison’s report concluded. ‘This is of course if they can see enough to move forward.”

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:
Allen Cornelison, Polar Field Services, CH2M HILL Polar Services
GrIT Project Manager

Allen at polarfield.com


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 polarfield.com


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.


Snow Dogs, Whoa!

April 16, 2010

GoNorth! Polar Huskies wait out Storm Condition Delta

All photos: Robin Davies

Sheesh. Fortunately, the dogs are bred for cold and snow.

For a second day, Thule Air Base was battened down on Friday under Weather Condition Delta, storm conditions so fierce that all personnel are confined indoors—all two-legged personnel, that is.

The GoNorth! Polar Huskies are curled up on their stake lines on the east side of town, waiting until the weather clears and their humans can emerge and continue preparing for the run up to Summit Station. While the pictures show that they are waiting in miserable conditions, the dogs are bred to handle the cold. On the GoNorth Web site, Polar Husky “Lightening” explains what makes Polar Huskies so incredibly tough and resilient in fierce polar conditions, a two-layered coat among their assets: “Closest to our skin is a thick undercoat of wool, just like what you find on a sheep. This helps insulate and keep us warm. Our outer coat is composed of long, oily “guard hairs” that protect the wool from getting wet.” Curled up in a tight ball, the dogs will be just fine.  As long as they get their kibble and a few friendly words from their humans now and again.

The base commander has twice given special permission for GoNorth! PI Aaron Doering and dog handler Mille Porsild to leave their quarters to visit and feed the dogs. Thule fire department staff have driven the GoNorth! team in the Piston Bully to visit the dogs, along with Robin Davies, a PFS/CPS Greenland Inland Traverse staffer.

Mille and Aaron arrive at the site on the east side of the base where the dogs are. "It was pretty wild but actually not very cold," Robin observed about the trip.

Mille strides toward the Polar Husky superstars.

The huskies were in good shape, Robin wrote. "The dogs looked happy to see them and even happier when the food got dished out."

"For Mille and Aaron it was a relief to get out and check the dogs, but for me it was the best bit of fun I've had all week!"

Late Friday afternoon, Robin wrote to say that the Base Commander had downgraded the storm to Condition Charlie. Though the humans must still remain indoors until the weather improves to Condition Bravo or better, at least we’re blowing in the right direction now.


GoNorth! Polar Huskies Arrive Thule

April 15, 2010

A crowd watches as the GoNorth! dogs prepare to deplane. Photos: Kim Derry unless otherwise noted

Community members crowded Thule’s airport yesterday to witness the long-awaited arrival of the GoNorth! Huskies, a pack of charismatic hounds with their own Web site and millions of school-age fans (and older ones too).
 
“All of the dogs, and half of the GoNorth! people, have arrived, and they are wonderful,” PFS’ GoNorth! liason Kim Derry wrote yesterday. “After an overnight flight from Thunder Bay, Canada, Mille [Porsild] and Aaron [Doering] are in good spirits and we unloaded thousands of pounds of dog food and cargo from the DC-3 Basler (Kenn Borek Air). With the help of John [Hansen], the Police Chief, and a few other Thule locals, we moved the dogs from the Basler into a truck and got them situated at the East side of town. They are currently happy to be back on snow—it was getting too warm for them in Minnesota.” 
 
 

Mille Porsild, the dogs' primary handler, passes a dog to Kim Derry.

 

Kim, left, and Mille help the dogs into the truck.

“They’re all very good dogs – the usual mix, where some are shy and others demand loving or are really vocal. After I trucked them across town, they settled right in to their new digs,” wrote Kim.

Weather conditions at Thule Air Base kept GoNorth! leaders Aaron Doering and Mille Porsild inside today. The base commander declared a “Storm Condition Delta” during the day for sustained winds above 50 knots and visibility less than 100 yards.  During these conditions, all personnel are confined to their quarters, an untimely development for the pair who wished to visit their Polar Husky dogs. The “superstar” canines who arrived at the air base for an ice-sheet trek to Summit Station doubtless hunkered down and curled up across town to wait out the storm.

Aaron Doering, right, and Mille Porsild check the weather conditions at Thule. Photo: Robin Davies

The dogs and humans have been exploring the Arctic by sled for years. They’ve visited Alaska, Russia, Finland, Norway, Scandinavia, Canada and now Greenland. The dogs are bred for the adventure, and the people seek to research the impacts of climate change and report back in real time.  The team visits communities as they travel the Arctic, presenting their “What’s Climate Change to You?” program—the heart of the Aaron Doering / University of Minnesota-led National Science Foundation grant—at local schools.  When able, they overnight in these communities, sleeping in the school gym or other host shelters. This year, the need to avoid cross-breeding meant the Polar Huskies stayed home for the community visits; these were completed instead by guest-starring Greenlandic dog teams.

In addition to local outreach, the team takes samples and makes observations for a variety of science experiments, including an investigation of traditional ecological knowledge, and NSF-funded projects examining black carbon in snow and a prototype network for measuring winter precipitation.  Weekly, the team participates in live chats and updates the GoNorth! Web site with trail reports and photos. Classrooms across the US and all over the world participate in these live events and use the curriculum posted to the GoNorth! Web site to learn about the host country, the changing Arctic, and much more.

Soon the GoNorth! team will run up to Summit Station. They’ll follow the Greenland Inland Traverse team for the first 60 or so miles through the crevassed ice of the transition. The GrIT will carry thousands of pounds of dog food to resupply the GoNorth! four-leggers.

But no one’s going anywhere until the weather improves. Thule’s local forecast suggests it could be a little while before the Polar Huskies get in the harness.