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

Grit Details: SCAT on a Track Comes Back!

April 12, 2010

With satellite data and GPR too / the SCAT had to look for cracks that were new. Photo: Robin Davies

This was no time for play.
This was no time for fun.
This was no time for games.
There was work to be done.

All that deep,
Deep, deep snow,
All that snow had to go—
Under the radar for look-sees, you know.

And so there was SCAT,
The SCAT on a track.
With radar in front and Emery in back
The SCAT on a track had to look down for cracks.

Last week they came back to report what they saw:
Crevasses and crackles—that ice is a maw!

But they zigged and they zagged and they back-n-forth went
They “threaded the needle”—their time was well-spent.

Another week dawns. SCAT’s through with the snow
But there’s no time to rest or to bask in the glow.
Now another tracked round is preparing to go:
Go GrIT team, go! You’re now the main show!

Photo: Robin Davies

With a box on a sled and a big tractor tread / And no feather bed with 500-count thread /Just tiny tents and ice sheets instead. Photo: Robin Davies

With thanks to the SCAT: Robin Davies, Kevin Emery, Allan Delaney, Jennifer Mercer—and apologies to Dr. Seuss.

GrIT Details: SCAT Field Work, Life

April 7, 2010

The tiny black dots at four o'clock on the image are the SCAT's camp, to which they will return at day's end. All photos: Robin Davies

From:  Kip Rithner
To: “Robin Davies”
Date: Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 2:33 PM 

How’s it going out there in the wild? 

What’s it like in that Tucker cab hour after hour? Do you listen to music or books on tape, talk about past and future exploits? 

From: Robin Davies
To: “Kip Rithner”
Date:  Wednesday, April 7, 2010, 4:55 AM 

When we are covering new ground that we expect to have crevasses, quite a lot of the time, it’s a bit intense in the cab. Allan has to continually watch the GPR screen and can’t afford to be distracted, Jen is watching our progress overlaid on the satellite imagery and looking at surrounding features to tie them into what she sees on her laptop screen, and I’m concentrating on trying to drive as straight a course as possible with the GPS. At other times on easier ground or ground we have covered before, we talk, tell stories and laugh a lot. But no book reading and definitely no singing! 

Yesterday we found our way through what we thought might have been an impenetrable barrier of crevasses and reached a point that’s on the old route that will become the new way point B9F. From there it’s a clear run to B10 and then a few minor crevasses to check out before we reach our goal of B11. Hopefully we’ll do that today. 

On the way back to camp we widened that day’s section of the route and double-checked a few features Allan had seen on the GPR until he was happy and gave the route his approval. From there Kevin parked up his skidoo and joined us in the Tucker to boogie on back to camp at an exhilarating 10mph!

This is what the SCAT camp looks like. Each person has a tent like the one shown at left. Behind the orange tucker, the brown wannigan, various cargo items and the black outhouse.

After a long day, Jen Mercer helps Kevin Emery wash his hair while Allan Delaney looks on from inside the wannigan.

Robin explains, "Enjoying a meal cooked by Allan, Asian shrimp soup, after a successful day." This shot is taken inside the brown wannigan, but the SCAT sleeps outside in the tents.

GrIT details: GPR team Departs for Survey

April 3, 2010

The GPR team goes SCAT: Jen, Allan, Robin, Kevin. Photo: Robin Davies

On Thursday, 1 April, the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey team–rechristened, perhaps only temporarily, the “Strategic Crevasse Avoidance Technicians,” or SCAT–departed Thule, made their final approach to the transition, and climbed on to the ice sheet to finish flagging a safe route for the first 60 miles of the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) path to Summit. In addition to the instruments and equipment that will enable them to do their jobs, they tow life support: the camping wannigan (a large camp box with kitchen and warm-up facilities), the orange sled, and a fuel bladder on a plastic fuel sled. They have 150 lbs of propane, about 700 gallons of fuel and about a month of food.

The team members are Kevin Emery (GrIT mountaineer), Jen Mercer (CRREL project manager), Allan Delaney (GPR specialist) and Robin Davies (operator and mechanic, with too many other qualifications to list).

On Tuesday, 30 March, while traveling between B3 and B4 waypoints (between 14 and 17 miles from the transition), the team encountered crevasses that were not apparent on the satellite imagery and which had not been encountered during the 2008 GPR survey. One crevasse was estimated to be one meter wide.

Allan checks a GPR record. That's Jen in the front seat. Photo: Robin Davies

The team found three other crevasses in the same area, more evidence of the changeable nature of the ice sheet margins. Kevin Emery used a 2.5 meter probe to explore these crevasses, but could not determine the width of the cracks, though he dug into the snow bridge to gain deeper penetration looking for the void.  The team could not find safe passage through this area before returning to Thule to brainstorm with the entire GrIT team for possible solutions to the problem. 

The results of their efforts can be seen in the track image below.

The small, light-blue marks are crevasse detection areas; they show the possible strike (the angle the crevasse is running along the hill). The thin, colored lines running quasi-horizontally depict crevasses seen with satellite imagery. The thick black lines show where the GPR team traveled while studying this area. The original route, the Tucker track, is the long, black line running diagonally from upper-mid-left to the lower-right corner. The lower right end of the track is B4, and shows where the team turned around to return to Thule. Image: GrIT team

After consulting with the GrIT team in Thule, we decided to look further south of the original route. On Wednesday, 31 March, the GPR team quickly found a way around the problem area, encountering a crevasse only 16 inches wide. We await good images of the new route, but can say that this change has actually straightened out the line from B2 to B4, decreasing the GrIT route by one mile, per Jen Mercer.

Jen carries flags to be loaded on the sleds. SCAT will probably use many black flags over the next week or so. Photo: Robin Davies

While the GPR team is on the ice, those of us in Thule now begin to focus on the sled mobility tests. More on that soon.—Allen Cornelison

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

GrIT Details: GPR Team at Work

March 24, 2010
By now, the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) team has probably begun inching along the first 60 miles of the GrIT traverse route, scouting safe passage for the tractors and sleds that will embark in mid-April for Summit Station. GrIT mechanic / equipment operator (/photographer) Robin Davies sent photos explaining how the team finds and marks hidden hazards in the tumbly ice that is the transition from land to ice sheet proper. Ride along. 

The ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is seen through the windshield of the Tucker. The instrument uses electromagnetic waves to detect structural changes not obvious from the surface of the ice—crevasses, notably. All photos: Robin Davies

Inside the Tucker: Jennifer Mercer, Allan Delaney (rear) and Robin Davies. Delaney monitors the output from the radar constantly.

Mercer checks satellite images as Delaney monitors the radar output. Experts like Mercer can detect surface disturbances on satellite images, but sometimes a seemingly smooth surface masks hidden crevasses. That's where the GPR really proves its worth.

When Delaney sees a potential crevasse in the radar output, Davies stops the Tucker. Mountaineer/medic Kevin Emery, riding behind the Tucker on a snowmachine, comes forward to inspect the area of interest. Here, Emery profiles the suspected crevasse while lashed to his snowmachine.

After digging through the snow bridge covering the crevasse, Emery determines the fissure is a bit over two feet wide. That's too wide for safe crossing, so Emery marks the spot with black flags and the Tucker prepares to back up and find a safe route. The GPR team will likely engage in these activities scores of times on this advance-scouting traverse, but clearly risk mitigation makes the effort worthwhile.

The Greenland Inland Traverse, a collaboration between the National Science Foundation (NSF), CH2M HILL Polar Services, and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories, is funded by the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs.  The 2010 spring traverse has several foci: find a safe route to Summit Station that may reduce logistical and other 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 on GrIT, click here.

Greenland’s Summit Camp in the Winter

November 23, 2009

Summit Camp science technician Katie Koster hauls 130-lb. fuel tanks in preparation for winter in Greenland. Koster is one of five people (four Polar Field Services, one NOAA) holding down the fort at Summit Camp. Photo: Andy Clarke

The biggest challenge to spending a winter at Greenland’s Summit Station isn’t the isolation, the dark, or even the cold. Rather the largest difficulty with living at and operating the station through the Winter Solstice and beyond is willing one’s fingers and brain to fire on all cylinders working outside in temperatures that range between -25ºC and -70ºC.

Life In The Far North

Check out the 2007 POLAR-PALOOZA video above with PFS’ Kathy Young for a good overview of life at Summit Camp during the summer. Although it was shot two years ago (before CH2M HILL purchased VECO), daily life remains remarkably similar.  Remove most of the people, the sunlight and knock the temperatures into the negative 20s and below, and you can imagine Summit in the winter.

This season’s five-person crew arrived Nov. 4 to operate Summit Station through the winter months, taking over for the five-person crew that tended the station after it closed for the season in late August. On Nov. 14, the team observed the last official sunrise/sunset until January 29, 2010.  They inhabit winterized buildings, share meal and housekeeping duties, and have about 300 movies to watch during downtime.

Game and movie room at Summit Camp's Big House. Photo: Karl Newyear

Clearly the team is there for much more than downtime. As manager Karl Newyear notes, they come for the self-reliance and the sense of adventure. “It’s intriguing to me that humans can adapt to places as inhospitable to life as the top of the icecap,” he says.  But mostly they come because they’ve been hired to maintain the infrastructure needed to support almost 30 year-round science experiments housed at the station.

Meet The Crew

Mindng the Summit. The crew from left to right: Glenn Grant, Shane Brazzel, Karl Newyear (front), Katie Koster, Mark Melcon (aka Commander).

Fortunately, members of the experienced winter crew are well-suited to extreme temperatures. This rugged and hearty team brings collective polar experience to the job. Camp Manager Newyear spent 10 years as a marine projects coordinator in Antarctica. A logistics specialist with a Ph.D. in oceanography, Newyear lives in Parker, CO., when he’s not on ice.

"Business casual" means something different in Greenland. Karl Newyear in front of Summit Camp's Green House.

Mechanic Shane Brazzel comes to Greenland from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, where he was a heavy equipment mechanic and on the construction crew. The dirt-bike-loving Californian works nine hours a day, seven days a week checking the generators, monitoring mechanical systems, operating and maintaining station vehicles (snowmobiles, Cat 933 track-loader, and Cat D-6 tractor), and making water by dumping buckets of snow into the melter.

Mark Melcon (aka Commander) is a polar legend with about 20 deployments to Antarctica, eight to Greenland, and one to Alaska. After spending last summer on the Summit construction crew, he’s back for the winter and maintaining his own personal brutal work schedule: rise at 4 a.m., begin working around 7:30 and average about nine hours a day.

Glenn Grant, science technician, is in Greenland for the first time after spending more than a decade in Antarctica. Since 1995, he has worked at Antarctic research stations at Palmer, McMurdo, and the South Pole, on both south polar research ships (Nathanel B. Palmer, Laurence M. Gould), and logged six winter seasons. When not in a polar region, he maintains residence in Port Townsend, WA, and works on other science projects, including some at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, in the Bahamas, and aboard the NOAA research vessel RAINIER.

Glenn launches a weather balloon, one of the many responsibilities of the winter crew at Summit. Photo: Karl Newyear

Rounding out the team is NOAA science technician Katie Koster, who also spent her early fall working at Summit, thus adding an element of continuity and familiarity between the Phase I crew (which has scattered around the globe) and the current crew. Katie, a meteorologist, has observed weather at New Hampshire’s Mount Washington as well as at the South Pole (and she’s also a seasoned Summiteer, having worked the 2008 summer and phase I winter as well). An accomplished cyclist and runner, Katie also has been an ice hockey referee.

General Lifestyle

All in a day's work: Katie and Glenn head off to monitor science experiments for absent researchers. Photo: Karl Newyear

All adventurers, the self-selective staff in the far north say spending the winter in Greenland gives them the unique experiences of living in clean air without light pollution, having unrivaled views of the stars and aurora borealis.

With Internet access and routine communication with Polar Field Service staff  as well as colleagues in Kangerlussuaq, they aren’t entirely isolated. And despite the cold, they spend much of their time outside doing physical work. Those seeking an extra adrenaline rush can use one of the three spinning cycles, the rowing machine, free weights, or the rock-climbing practice board, and staffers have been known to strap cross-country skis (or snow kites) on.

Wind-affected snow surrounds Summit Camp in the winter. Photo: Bill McCormick

About Summit Camp

Located at the peak of the Greenland ice cap at 72°34’44.10″N 38°27’34.56″W. Summit is a scientific research station sponsored by the National Science Foundation, operated by CH2M Hill Polar Services (CPS) with research guidance from the Summit Science Coordination Office.