Home and off to the next

I’d intended to do a few more closeout posts as soon as we landed at home, but its hard to keep up a blog when you get home. There’s lots to do to unpack and time needed re-unite with everyone. This time was particularly troublesome because I had only a short week at home before I was off to my next expedition. I needed to file all sorts of wonderful paperwork that I’d gotten behind on at work, get revisions out on a couple papers, help out as best as I could at the farm (spring is a busy time on the farm, with Norah’s appreciative of whatever help I could provide) and repack a whole new set of gear. I’m quite certain the blog followers are not the only ones feeling short changed by my lack of time during my week home!

Now I’m off on aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy headed north above Bering Strait in to the Chukchi sea to research large phytoplankton blooms discovered there in 2011. Last minute I got a few more duties aboard the boat when the scientist in charge of ice operations, Don Perovich, had to bail out, leaving me with a sort of battlefield promotion to lead the ice activities. So two weeks from Greenland and I’ve gotten to transition from the whirlwind of landing back in the land of green and spring energy, to being whisked to Dutch Harbor Alaska on a beautiful day over the Alaska peninsula to now driving a 16,000 ton boat through snow covered sea ice, periodically disembarking to take measurements of the amount of light penetrating through the sea ice. Its been quite a transition and blur.

I’ve only just gotten back on my feet enough to rattle out a quick post, but wanted to let followers know that the blog is not dead. We’ll continue to post here and there over the coming months, especially to let you know about the papers which should come out over the summer based on our research, so sign up to ‘follow’ the blog and you’ll get alerts when we periodically post. For the expedition I’m on right now, I’m going to leave communication to the pros – there are a couple of professional writers and photographers aboard Healy posting their stories here: http://arcticspring.org/category/dispatches I’ll be sure to contribute a bit of material to their overall effort, so be sure to check it out if you’re interested in the second half of my field season. Either way I look forward to plowing through the Greenland data and samples when I return in summer and filling you in on the results.


Like birds from the ice

Right around bed time last night we lost our nice clear weather as a bank of thick ice fog moved in. A spectacular site as it enveloped and tucked us in mere minutes after we noticed the wall approaching. Overnight the winds returned – nothing out of the ordinary but our dead calm respite was replaced with the more typical 15-20 knot winds whipping the tent material. The wind overnight pushed the fog back out though and we could see all around the Thule Peninsula again. Bad weather to the south, and questionable weather far to the west, but no clouds North of the peninsula all the way to Thule AFB. This is exactly what we needed. Enough weather to cancel some flights but not so much to close our escape corridor. We call in – the pilot is off on his first sortie of the day, a success. A later call and the pilot is off on a second sortie to the north, but getting turned back by weather. This opens up a window for our extraction – yes!

We’ve pretty well oversampled this area already and we’ve had plenty of sleep and movie watching. I’m eager to be out. I started building little people out of snow blocks to pass time this mornign. ThenI  added a family cat, and started work on a T-Rex that’s going to eat them all. And I’m claiming to be the most mentally stable of the bunch right now!

Next call is good news. The pilot is going to make an attempt to come up the ice sheet. Weather looks good but if it turns he’ll stop. 40 minutes and he could be here. Taking down and stowing the tent and cook gear is a well practiced drill at this point and we’re packed out with 20 minutes to spare. A few minutes of waiting pass before we hear the telltale thwump thwump thwump of the Bell 212 helicopter coming up to meet us. We can’t yet see it but the sound is unmistakable. The iconic chest beating thump that the sound effects guys seem to use with every model helicopter out there in movies, even though only the mighty 212 sounds this way.

We’ve stomped out a landing area and get on one knee with arms downwind to give the pilot some landing direction. He’s a champ though and puts down even closer to our gear that we expected he’d be willing to. Then the loading begins. We’ve got a pile of gear that needs to come back with us including our samples, equipment for our next expedition, and borrowed gear that needs to be returned. We’ve made a priority ordering so we know what we’ll leave behind if there isn’t enough room, but really we need everything. We’re below the helicopter’s weight limit, but volume will very tight we know. Luckily our pilot is an experienced helicopter tetris player. Boxes this way, no that way, well, maybe some each way with sleeping bags overtop, and sat phone cases can get tucked under here. 20 minutes of tinkering later, the family station wagon is packed to the gills and we’re all in. Later when we asked the Norwegian pilot about the various helicopter models he’s flown and how he liked each, he confessed that the Bell 212 was becoming his favorite, because of its resemblance to a large American pickup truck. Big, smooth riding, overpowered, and fun to drive. “You just pile it full and go.”  

Weather held just long enough for us, clouds to the East and South stayed off and the corridor of beautiful weather North of the peninsula stayed put. This meant an exquisite flight down an outlet glacier, and over the fjord north of base. The sort of scenery usually reserved for National Geographic or BBC production crews, the ride was positively spectacular. Over the years I’ve found myself more and more used to the Arctic, and less inclined to take pictures than I once was. Not that the scenery doesn’t strike me still, but just that its not so once-in-a-lifetime that I feel the need to capture every moment. This flight was a notch above though and I found myself looking out one window while taking 5 frames a second out the other. Mike, Lauren, and Carolyn in the backseats reported similar photo-taking intensity, with Mike on window scraping duties and Lauren and Carolyn rapidly filling SD cards.

Landing it Thule was surreal. One moment we were 60 miles from the nearest other humans, stuck on an ice cap with incoming weather, and the next we were landing on a small wheeled platform next to an enormous hangar, being greeted by the Danish police officer and Joe Hurley (CPS’s logistics guru at Thule), and getting whisked away to a prepared meal. These helicopters are sure amazing when they can fly. Before returning to Dundas dining hall though, we got to unpack the helo and drive our samples over to the freezer. Core boxes stacked high on a pallet and whisked into the hangar sized cooler by forklift we were off.

Priority #1 when returning from the field varies for us all. Lauren was off to see the dogs. Bee lines were made to ice cream, beer, and potato chips (none of which go on the expedition). Real phone lines and internet were discovered. Myself, I found a couch. Going into a bit of a frenzy when arriving back in civilization is kind of fun.     

Amid our frenzy, it didn’t take long to realize we looked a bit strange. Everyone was making note of us. I guess our overly tanned faces, my sunbleached beard, and Lauren and Carolyn’s awesome dreadlocks were out of style on the airbase. Showering and shearing time. I found some nice big scissors to trim back the face fur, and the ladies apparently found enough conditioner to undo their respective rats nests. A few hours of scrubbing later and we all emerged, surprisingly presentable.

Already late in the evening, we got our gear spread out to dry and called it a night. Tomorrow (Thursday) would be our only day in Thule, with lots to do to get all our gear in the right places for handing off to other expeditions coming later in the summer from Dartmouth, or shipped home. 

Not so fast…

Well a bit of a lost in translation moment resulted in Zoe posting our return to Thule 24 hours before we got there… ohh well. The team has been working hard to get things packed up and in good order before leaving, so our blog posting got a bit behind, but rewinding to Tuesday this week, we’re still up on the ice sheet, just getting ready for pickup by helicopter.

Rescheduling our pickup to Tuesday afternoon gave us the time we needed to do a bit more science and get our load packed up neatly for shipping out. On Monday afternoon and evening, Mike and I ripped apart every box sorting out our gear from that we borrowed from the GrIT team or Polar Field Services, and herding like things together. A larger scale than sorting blocks in preschool, but the same general mental excercise. Meanwhile Lauren and Carolyn sampled out the pit they’d dug, collecting the usual complement of black carbon/ion samples, snow grain size, and stratigraphy measurements. With the pit complete and the stow coming back together I headed off to collect a different set of samples with Lauren, while Mike and Carolyn brought the load back together.

One thing we didn’t have a great understanding of prior to this trip was how representative a single snow pit sample is of the black carbon and ion concentrations in the area. Suppose we are standing at a comfortable talking distance apart on the ice sheet. Does it matter if I sample at your feet or mine? Will we get different concentrations of pollutants in the samples? At first brush it seems unlikely. Snowstorms are dropping snow from huge clouds that are largely uniform over short distances, then that snow gets mixed by winds as it falls, and finally gets redistributed about on the surface. Should get mixed around nicely.

 But what if in the process of that re-distribution the dirty snow got all piled up into snow dunes. We’ve seen that these dunes are isolated sometimes, and it could be possible that we’d dig a pit that simply doesn’t go through the snow from a particular pollution deposition event. This could significantly impact our results. We see hints of this happening last year. Several sites spaced 50 miles apart along a transect all showed high black carbon deposition in the 2012 melt layer, except for one, right in the middle of the line. Was there really a large area there where deposition didn’t happen? Or did we just sample 5 feet to the right of the dune that included that dirty snow.

We could solve this problem by just sampling a lot more pits, closer together, (and this year we have), but with time and resources limited one can only do so much. In order to understand how much variability one might find in a given area though, we decided to sample a 1km2 area ‘like crazy’ (yes that’s the technical term) to see what sort of variation we find, both for grain size on the surface and for black carbon. So Lauren and I loaded up a few hundred sample bottles into a little tote, and I tied a rope to it to drag it along. Lauren made fun of me for looking like “Little Herbert with his little red wagon.” I’m not even sure what that means but it was clearly an insult. I responded by throwing a bread crumb trail of hundreds of bottles out along transects for her to crawl along filling with surface snow like some sort of odd Hansel and Gretel re-write. We’re all getting in eachother’s faces a bit more. Friendly still, but all signs point to time to go home!

Around 11pm everyone started to wind down and I cut the team loose. The first time since we left NEEM that I’d announced down time. The scenery at the edge of this massive ice sheet is stunning, jagged mountains all around, gentle rolling ice features in the foreground and broken crevassed ice beyond. We all needed a bit of time to appreciate this place after a hard month, each in our own way. Some walked about taking photos, others napped atop the Pisten Bully, and others still poking at snowflakes. It was a beautiful evening. Dead calm, eerily so, with purple alpenglow opposite a midnight sun fit for the Serengeti sunset.

Tuesday morning had us up bright and early for final tidying up and a checkin call. Camp packed, but no good. Weather. Beautiful where we are. Still calm and sunny, but off to the west, perhaps 20 miles away and 3000 feet below us was a bank of clouds. Nice weather at Thule AFB too, but that bank of clouds between us and our exit strategy had Ruen, the helicopter pilot nervous enough to nix the flight. Helicopters pilots really need to see the horizon line to fly safely and flying in dense clouds is a bit of a no-no. As usual, if the pilot isn’t cool with flying, the best thing to do is not be flying, and so we set up to take a few more samples. The meteorological office forecasts that the clouds will be pushed out slowly, so we agree to a 2 hour check in. A few more samples. 2 hours later, same. Rechecking the tie downs on the load, sweeping out the cab of the Pisten Bully, burying Pirate treasure for the GrIT guys. No good. 2 more hours til next checkin. This will be the last time before the pilot has to sign off for the day. Nope, the clouds are still hanging in there. 

Maybe tomorrow, but the pilot has a full schedule already, and we’ll only get to go if parts of it get canceled due to bad weather. Now we have to hope for good weather here to hold and bad weather to come in elsewhere? This is getting to be some complicated wishing. After that, a low pressure system is moving in and we could get stuck with a storm for several days. This would mean missing our flight from Thule down to the states and a longer stay. To preserve the sanity that’s left, I neglect to mention this part of the phone call to the team. Channel fever abounds and nothing drives people crazy like the thought of being stuck somewhere unable to do anything about it. This is helicopter work in the Arctic though and I know the real chance of spending a week here. Days and weeks of my life has been spent waiting for the magical horizon line to appear. 

We crawl into the sleeping bags and get out the movies. Its warm down here on the edge of the ice sheet with spring on its way – around 0F and we’re not in the huge rush to button down the hatches and burrow deep into the bags that we were a couple weeks ago in colder temperatures. We’d brought along a selection of movies, but as usual haven’t had much time to watch them, too much work to do. I like having the team watch a few, preferably highly quotable, movies to establish a bit of an identity. Last year it was the Godfather – and it took us every spare minute of the trip just to watch Part I and II. But that was enough to have us talking like mobsters. It helped to have someone along named Michael.

The only movie we’d gotten through so far was “The Notebook” – a bit of a genre change from the Godfather. Let me explain. This year, it happened to be Lauren’s birthday when movie selection time rolled around so she got to pick one movie without our input. She picked “The Notebook”. Allowing this turns out to be one of the seven great mistakes in my leadership of this trip. Aside from being a mushy romance, this movie is a barren wasteland when it comes to quotable material. All that emerged was “I wrote you every day for a year” as a response to any complaint about inadequate work effort. Mike and I fell asleep during each segment we watched.

Now it was our turn to pick. Quentin Tarantino and his un-paralleled blood packet bursting special effects people were called in to make up for lost time. Django goes into the computer. Unnecessary gore and a plethora of quotable material. The German doctor has whit too, all the better. “They let you pick your own clothes and you dress like that?”, “I positive he dead”, “I know how you feel”, “Well you are paraphrasing a bit.” The cavemen are content. Carolyn is asleep, Lauren awake but attention flagging. Not clear our movie tastes actually have overlap yet. Django done, its on to “The Departed”. Halfway through we run out of computer batteries and call it a night to dream about helicopters. 

Back in Thule!

Chris, Lauren, Mike and Carolyn are back in Thule, after getting picked up by a helicopter (to avoid having to drive through the crevassed area of the route). After a hectic day of packing, sorting, thawing out, taking showers, and eating food that didn’t require first melting a lot of snow, they are finally back in civilization. Stay tuned for more of their trip as they work their way back to the US, making sure their precious cargo (the thousands of snow samples they have collected) get back safe and sound.

Get by with a little help from our friends…

While still in the dark stretches of February in Fairbanks, our cabin glowed warm with friends and industry. This season we thought it sage to add vegetables to SAGE! Blaine, Katie, and daughter Isabel came down from Fox to join me, Zandra, Chris and Norah for the 2014 BURRITO BUILDING BONANZA!

Lunchito, Pick it up!

Lunchito, Pick it up!

300 hundred of these beauties emerged from the fog and steam by the wee hours of the night! If you tuned in last year for our 2013 Traverse, you’ll recall these lunchitos are the center of our day. We put them (frozen hard as a stone) inside a little tin attached to the exhaust manifolds of the snow machines in the morning. After 4 or 5 hours of hard driving… SHAZAM! Hot Pocket! That “wastey heat has been turned into tasty meat”. And we have innovated significantly on our recipes this season :)

All cylinders, Go!

All cylinders, Go! (note: fog has infiltrated camera)

Little Isabel Spellman chops veggies alongside her mom Katie

Little Isabel Spellman chops veggies alongside her mom Katie

Even our littlest member of the crew bellied up to the sous chef line, processing with the best of us (that’s a wooden play carrot, not too different from the real carrot on the ice sheet, however).

“Ah, I’d like the 48 egg omelet”

We’ll see how the rabbit food fares alongside the standby sentinels of meat and cheese. You’ll note that “V” does not factor in the Mass-Energy equivalence:

       hasenohrl1    (Exhaust heat= Meat x Cheese squared)
I never thought vegetables were specially relative.
Zandra says, "4 hours at 1100 RPM and mmm, perfect!"

Zandra says, “4 hours at 700 RPM and mmm, perfect!”

The Cremation of FrauPlau McGee

by Chris and Lauren

Authors note –
I love and can recite from heart the Robert Service poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” The original poem is a dark story of harshness and death in the Arctic that turns light and humorous with a twist at the punch line. Along the way, the words truly capture the sights, sounds, and feeling of life in the Arctic in phrases like “the cold stabbed like a drive nail” or “if our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze, til sometimes we couldn’t see.” I highly recommend reciting it next time you are out on a cold winter’s night.

After peaking interest in the work by reciting it at bedtime last night, Lauren and I found ourselves with some time limping the Pisten Bully along this morning and decided to do a bit of a re-working of Robert Service’s original. Apologies to Robert Service – and no, we do not intend to actually funeral pyre our venerable, troublesome Pisten Bully, FrauPlau McGee, even if she might run better in warmer temperatures!

The Cremation of FrauPlau McGee the Pisten Bully.

There are strange things done under the sun-dogged sun by those who moil for science and the Greenland trails have their secret tales that lead to mechanical defiance

Now the blowing snows have seen queer shows but the queerest they ever did see was the night on the ice of millennia thrice when Frauplow ran seamlessly.

Now Frau McGee was from Germany where the engineers scheme and draw, and that she left her home amongst beer foam, turns out to be a flaw

She was always cold but the land without mold seemed to wind her turbo free, though she’d often say in her homely way she’s sooner run on pee.

It was on Easter day we were thundering our way over the Thule trail, talk of cold through sample gloves fold it stabbed like drive nails

And if our doors we’d close then Frau’s windshield froze til sometimes we couldn’t see, it wasn’t much fun, but the only one to beep, whimper, and holler, was Frau Plow Mcgee

That very night as Frau flashed her light and her engine idled low, the scientists were fed and in the tent without dread while the wind did gently blow

And she beeps to me and Chris, says she I’m scrap this trip I think, and if that’s true I’m asking you won’t refuse me my last JP8 drink.

Well she idled so low I couldn’t say no, then she says with sort of a moan the SPAR’s shot, I’m starting to rot, and my computer’s on continuous tone.

Though I ain’t been scrap, it’s an awful trap the sastrugi-blown terrains, so I want you to swear that foul or fair, you’ll remove and repair my last remains.

Well a machine’s last need is a thing to heed so I swore I would not fail, and we started on at the break of dawn, but god she sounded awfully frail.

She tugged at the load and spoke of her abode in the West of Germany, but before night fall a frame was all that was left of FrauPlau McGee.

It was stuck in the snow and seemed to know that abandonment was near, but Chris promised true and knew he was due to return Frauplau to her beer.

With each passing hour the whipping snow’s scour seemed to deeper and deeper grow, and on the snowmachines went with belts that were spent while fuel was running too low.

In the long, long light of the cold Arctic night, while the crew dug the snow pit, sampling out their bottles as I worked on her throttles, oh how I lost my whit.

In the days to come with my fingers numb in my lips how I cursed that scrap and I’d often scream at its shiny gleam as I gave the wrench a thwap.

Til we came to the ice of millennia thrice and GrIT’s trail there lay, it snaked on through crevasses but this was where the bosses expected her to stay.

I looked at Frau and I thought well now, here’s our chance to set her free, the men of Grit’ll be along in just a bit they’ll fix her better than we.

Before I depart the promised drink I’ll impart and I gave the old girl a glug, JP8 to in the tank, a promise freed from the bank and I turned away with a shrug.

But just as she was parked the diesel barrels sparked and lit a funeral pyre, some gas from a can also began to ignite the fire higher.

And the flames just soared and the SPAR roared, such a source of carbon you seldom see, Mike did speak, I never saw the leak, how did such a disaster come to be?

Then we made a hike for we didn’t like to see her melting low, and the crew howled, the NSF scowled, and Chris’s career hit a new low.

I do not know how in the snow we wrestled with grisly fear, but the sun went round before we found the courage to venture near.

She was covered in flame with us to blame and all appeared asunder, but her engine chugged and the SPAR glugged and her treads started to thunder.

We wanted to aid so a snow shovel we made and the fire we began to smother, as we started to throw snow her voice said, No no, the fire isn’t a bother.

Its warm in the fire, this is what I desire— don’t you dare bury me, since I left the fact’ry back in Germany this is first time I’ve run with seamlessly!

There are strange things done in under the sun dogged sun by those who moil for science and the Greenland trails have their secret tales that lead to mechanical defiance

Now the blowing snows have seen queer shows but the queerest they ever did see was the night on the ice of millennia thrice when Frauplow ran seamlessly.

Rollin’ down to old Thule

by Lauren

Happy Belated Birthday Pete Cutter Ginsbury!!!!

Yesterday morning Mike and I left Chris and Carolyn packing up the Frau Plau at the Benson 2-70 weather station. We headed out on the snow machines following our GPS track only to encounter a smooth, wide highway in the middle of the ice sheet. This freeway was carved out by the GrIT traverse crew several days previous on their way to Summit Station. Cruising along on this packed down road was like driving on the newly graded dirt road after a long mud season- it was AWESOME. Before long we saw a black dot on the horizon and long bamboo poles with weathered green flags coming into focus. We had arrived at the fuel cache they had left us. Growing up nestled in the comforting hills of Vermont I haven’t spent too much time traveling around flat areas (i.e. desert, sea or apparently Greenland Ice Sheet traverses) so the “I can see for miles and miles” landscape is still new to me. So as soon as those black and red Texaco fuel barrels appeared it was pretty exciting.

Now I know Chris mentioned it in yesterday’s post, but a HUGE special thanks goes out to the GrIT guys for not only leaving us a generous stash of fuel but also the sweetest treats roped onto the barrels. Attached to the bamboo with NRS straps and tucked away in a little pink backpack covered in pop tarts hanging at the beach (what more could you ask for!?) were four snickers bars for our Easter baskets, (how did they know those were our favorite?) and a big ol’ chocolate cream pie. When Mike and I peeked into this classy little nap-sack our hearts about melted. The note you guys wrote was such a treat to receive out here; thanks so much for thinking of us and we all owe you one next time we catch you off the ice. Have a safe rest of your journey and thanks for taking care of kleine Frau Plau for us!

Me and Mike discovering the sweet treats from our GrIT compadres!

Me and Mike discovering the sweet treats from our GrIT compadres!

Oo what's in the hawaiian pop tart beach party bag!? Mike's about to find out..

Oo what’s in the hawaiian pop tart beach party bag!? Mike’s about to find out..

While Carolyn and Chris chugged along slowly behind us, Mike and I dug a small snow pit sampling for black carbon as well as taking several different grain size samples (DUFFISSS) spanning various surface materials such as scoured snow, wind crust, and new snow. We also took a break to eat some frozen and delicious lunchitos. Once the Frau Plau arrived and we re-fueled and loaded up our extra gasoline and diesel barrels, we headed out yet again on the open frozen ocean road.

As it turns out, traveling west into the evening sun with the katabatic winds at our backs may be one of the most incredible drives I’ve experienced. At the end of the night, the snow machines led the way for the freshly fueled Frau Plau group across the torn and scoured landscape. The wind ripped features are quite breathtaking and appear surprisingly still surrounded by the harsh processes of wind, sun, and time that form them. Their size is also quite impressive and can provide for a very entertaining snow machine ride that kept me on my toes the entire time.

After thirty miles of me belting all the songs I know, we arrived at our camp for the evening. Days can be long out in the field. We arrive to evening camp to only get out the shovels from our sleds and start digging a 2+ meter deep pit for further sampling. This digging might start at 9 pm. We alternate digging and maybe stop for some tea from our thermoses and some chocolate from our abundant stash (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much chocolate in my life, I’m starting to feel like I’ll be coming back from this trip with teeth like George Washington, oh well). While the pit is being excavated, someone will get our beloved DUFFISSS instrument started by calibrating the output of the photo diode (its light source) and dig into the first 21 cm of the pit for those grain size samples. If their teammate is still digging the pit, they will run around and additionally sample the different surface features at the site. Once the pit is dug, the sampling team sallies up and throws on a few layers of plastic sandwich gloves. One of the samplers sits on the edge of the pit, or if Mike was digging, on the nice etched out snow shelf, while the other is deep down in the pit, protected from the evening wind and cold. The pit sampler busts out a square metal snow CUTTER to collect 100 cm3 of sample and the edge dwelling, leg dangling sampler whips out the funnel to smoothly transfer each 100 cm3 sample of snow into neatly labeled bottles for Jack Dibb (UNH), Jamie Schauer (U. Wisc.), and Mike Bergin (Georgia Tech). Depending on the depth of the pit, this sampling can take a fair bit of time and several intermissions are required for running around and shaking our numb little appendages like we are pros at spirit fingers. I like to throw in a couple of sweet dance moves and break it down regularly to keep the core warm too. By this time, the Frau Plau gang has rolled in and either spell the samplers or go ahead and get our arctic oven home set up and staked out. Extra wind slab will be thrown around the skirt of the fly if it seems like the wind is going to pick up during the night. While snow is being melted and dinner is getting started, another team member or two peel off to drill a hole about ten meters deep for the thermistor string. This tells us all about the temperatures of the ice at different depths, talk about one thorough thermo-meter!

Last night I took it upon myself to make dinner; it is actually a really pleasant task. I’m always happy to duck into the tent, away from the sampling, to start cooking some right-fine-tucker for my hardworking teammates. Last night I peeked into the canopy sled and opened the action packer labeled, “4-(hu)man dinners” and picked out Annie’s (gluten-free) mac & cheese: my kind of soul food. Carolyn, Chris, and Mike have all been very tolerant of my gluten INtolerance on this trip. I really appreciate all the extra work and care that went into packing gluten-free goods, from Carolyn making me gluten-free brownies/fudge blocks, to Zandra and the Alaskan lunchito prep crew toiling with those crumbly little corn tortilla buggers! I know gluten-free food isn’t much fun for folks who can consume delicious wheat products so I try to spice up dinner as best I can. While Chris is collecting a di-meth sample and Mike and Carolyn are drilling for the thermoster string, I bring our ice sheet water to a boil and throw in a stick of Vermont cabot butter, and a ton of Annie’s mac and cheese pasta. I add an assortment of dried vegetables to rehydrate and frozen chicken and delicious Italian moose sausages to the pot. Once these frozen/dried food items start to take on their more familiar, thawed and heated forms; I add tons of powdered pesto and cheese, just stopping short of throwing in some of the frozen velveeta log that has yet to make an appearance at our communal meals (much to Chris’s disappointment). On top of that cheesy mixture, I toss in lots of salt, pepper, garlic (powder), italian seasoning and red pepper. Chris, Mike and Carolyn make their way back into the tent, we close the barn door, and sit on our reindeer hides for a nice warm dinner. After dinner last night, we dove head first into the chocolate cream pie from the GrIT boys. Holy cow that pie disappeared quickly, before we knew it all that was left was the crumbs from the crust covering the floor around the tin. Then those were taken care of pretty quickly as well. A few nights ago, Mike hung up our official quote board on the wall of the tent and that continues to be great entertainment for us. We crack each other up, what more can you say… In addition to our quote board, Chris and Carolyn added to our entertainment last night. The drives in the Frau Plau seem to provide a great venue for creative exploration. Chris and I tackled a hefty poetry lesson a few days ago and yesterday Carolyn and Chris had the first rehearsal for their traveling choir group. Chris asked me the other night in the pit if I was familiar with the Stan Rogers’ song, Rollin’ Down to Old Maui, I hadn’t heard it before but I was immediately impressed with their puppy-loving rendition of this song. I think we are all dog-lovers on this trip but those guys know how I am especially attached to Pippi and Dixie, those sweet little canines in Thule, so they wrote and performed a new song all about reuniting with those pups. Chris and Mike, of course, had to perform Rogers’ original before he and Carolyn presented their version. Mike made it clear after their wall-shaking rendition that the song is best sung by a large group of burly sailors at a pub singing in unison. After a few verses, the four of us joined together to sing, Rollin’ down to old Thule, we’re pooch-ward bound, across sustrugi-ed ground, rollin’ down to old Thule!

The boys are ready for dinner!

The boys are ready for dinner!

Man's best friend! Pippi and Dixie back at Thule (can't wait to see them again)

Man’s best friend! Pippi and Dixie back at Thule (can’t wait to see them again)

Carolyn has got that bear hug DOWN!

Carolyn has got that bear hug DOWN!

And without further ado…

Rolling Down to Old Thule
by Carolyn and Chris With apologies to the ghost of Stan Rogers.

It’s a big white sheet, devoid of fluffy feet, we scientists travel on,
And we won’t give a darn when the pits are done how fast the food was gone,
For we’re poochward bound from sastrugied grounds with the bottles filled fully,
And we won’t give a damn til we share our scraps with the dogs from old Thule.

Rolling down to old Thule, me dogs, rolling down to old Thule,
We’re poochward bound from sastrugied grounds, rolling down to old Thule.

Once more we drive with the FrauPlau alives through the coccyx jarring terrain.
Them half cocked ears, above deep sad tears, we soon shall see again;
Three dogless weeks we’ve passed away on this island so icy,
But now we’re bound from sastrugied grounds, rolling down to old Thule.


Once more we drive with the FrauPlau alive, towards our pooches home,
Our sampling done, measured the sun, and we ain’t got far to roam;
With FrauPlau’s computer system down, what care we for that sound,
The Frau’s exhaust is after us, thank God we’re poochward bound.


How soft the fur, what a lovely cure, now the ice is far astern,
Them lonesome howls, them high pitched yowls, is awaiting our return;
Even now their big red tongues hang out, tugging on their chains with glee,
Our great gray plume, causing untold doom, rolling down to old Thule.


Frau at Minus Five and Fabulous on Ze Autobahn

Chris Polashenski

Driving along the past day or so, the surface has been particularly variable. We just skirted a storm a few days ago by outrunning it westward as it charged North to the East of us. Here on the outskirts, bands of light snow, light winds, and warmer (up to -5F!!), moister air have combined to create a cacophony of surface types. In some places the fresh snow covers the entire surface uniformly creating a blanket of the most pristine white imaginable, while in others a small wind has piled it up into the lees of snow dune features, exposing older scoured snow and windslab that looks gray by comparison. In still other locations neither wind nor fresh snowfall appear to have visited. At least one section like this had a wonderful growth of surface hoar crystals blanketing the landscape- with similar whitening effect as the new snow, but with way more sparkle.

Surface hoar is neat. It forms particularly on cold clear nights due to the strong temperature gradient that longwave radiation loss creates at the surface. Longwave radiation is the far infrared light that all objects on earth emit, in proportion to how warm they are. A thermal infrared camera, like the ones the police use to spot the bad guy hiding in a tree or like the home energy audit person uses to look for energy leaks in your house is just taking pictures of the ‘light’ being emitted by warm objects. We can’t see this light with our eyes, but the camera can.

On a clear night, a lot more longwave radiation – this thermal infrared light, is lost than on a cloudy night, and this cools the surface faster. This is something you’ve probably felt too. You know how when you go outside on a clear night in an open field it feels like the heat is being sucked out of you? Not so much on a cloudy night. Duck under some trees on the clear night and it feels better, even though the thermometer in your hand might read exactly the same. Because your temperature is constant you are emitting about the same amount of energy in thermal infrared light on both the cloudy and clear nights. The difference is that the clouds, are warm (say -20C) compared to outer space (say ~-270C) so the clouds actually send quite a bit of longwave radiation back down to you from their own emissions. On a clear night it’s more of a one-way transaction. You send longwave radiation out, but nothing comes back, so you get cold.

The same cooling happens on the very surface of the snow and this makes the crystals there get very cold. Just beneath the surface, however, the snow remains warmer from the day. Because its warmer, water vapor can sublimate off the snow crystals that are down within the snow, and when it rises out of the snow and comes in contact with the surface crystals (which are much colder) it deposits out again, slowly, into beautiful and intricate feathery forms. Some additional moisture can come out of the air if the humidity is high, and as the air comes it contact with very cold snow surfaces that are below its dewpoint more deposition occurs. The result of all this water vapor deposition on the cold surface crystals is stunning. Perfect winter wonderland. Feathery crystals delicate beyond imagine with massively intricate petals and striations that give a very white and sparkly look to the landscape.

After taking grain size measurements in a bunch of these different surfaces we moved to the last of the 4 weather stations we’ll be maintaining this year. Getting in a little late, we took a deeper snow pit (2.25 meters to get two years accumulation at this site) and hit the hay around midnight thirty. Rolling out this morning everyone seemed to be refreshed, judging by the amount of sassy wit floating around the tent before coffee and we hopped to digging out our weather station and doing a few small repairs and calibrations needed. In the lid of the battery box we found absolutely stunning hoar crystals – formed by a strong temperature gradient on the lid of the box last night. Right past the weather station was a track – a bit too small for the large GrIT tractors towing fuel to summit station, and looking a lot like the pisten bully track. Darn near ran the station over. Must be the Tucker, and wild Robin at the wheel. Actually it was fine, looked like they’d just come by to get a better look at the dohickeys and whirligigs on the station. GriT had dropped our last refuel cache about 20 miles southwest of this point so we started to follow the track toward the refuel point. Very quickly we found the rest of the tracks- the heavy tractors had cut the corner. And what a track it was. Pulling Frau out onto the absolutely smooshed 100 foot wide road they’d made was like pulling out onto the Autobahn.

Neat hoar crystals grew under the lid of weather station 2-70’s battery box where a strong temperature gradient had been.

Neat hoar crystals grew under the lid of weather station 2-70’s battery box where a strong temperature gradient had been.

Spatial variability sampling really took it out of Carolyn

Spatial variability sampling really took it out of Carolyn

GrIT's been here! An Autobahn for the Frau!

GrIT’s been here! An Autobahn for the Frau!

Weather station 2-70 cranking along, but a bit more buried than last year!

Weather station 2-70 cranking along, but a bit more buried than last year!

Of course with a vehicle that’s topping out around 7 mph, it wasn’t exactly the experience I’d anticipated I’d have the first time I got on that famed highway. Just the same, we floored it to 7.8 mph and had a laugh before resuming our 2.5 hour transit 17 miles southwest to the fuel cache. At the cache a small gift from GrIT. A pie inside a pink pop-tarts commemorative tote bag with a cute note. Those guys are great. Just top notch. We headed out of town without spending much time with them because we’d expected to see them throughout the climb onto the ice sheet and again for refueling farther south. We’re definitely bummed that one part of falling off schedule meant we didn’t get to run into them for an evening on the ice. Thanks for the pie though guys, and you’ll just have to wait and wonder what we come up with to leave behind for you with the FrauPlau at the top of the transition zone when we depart.

The PB chugs along at top speed (6mph)

The PB chugs along at top speed (6mph)

Oo what's in the hawaiian pop tart beach party bag!? Mike's about to find out..

Oo what’s in the hawaiian pop tart beach party bag!? Mike’s about to find out..

The many shades of snow

Chris Polashenski

So with our slowed down schedule, we took the day to investigate the variability in the surface on a small scale. As we’ve been driving along, the surface of the snow has been infinitely variable in texture, hardness, and appearance – and more particularly this means the amount of sunlight it is absorbing is changing. From one area to areas 50 miles away there are typically big changes, and trying to get an understanding of how different the regions vary is what all the driving has been about. One doesn’t need to go far to find different surfaces though. Even within a single view, one can often see a mosaic of different snow types. Freshly fallen snow piled into the lee of features that have hardened to a styrofoam like consistency, exposed ice-like wind crusts, and feathery surface hoar crystals can all be found within a ten foot radius of where I stand at times.
Our data from last year showed that these properties of the snow grains on the surface are more important in controlling the albedo of the ice sheet that the deposition of black carbon from forest fire soot, even on years with particularly high black carbon transport. The differences in grain size made the surface absorb approximately 7% more sunlight – a huge amount of variability in a system which usually absorbs around 18-20%, while the highest black carbon concentrations we measured should only cause about 1% change. What wasn’t clear, however, is what factors are causing changes in grain metamorphosis. Certainly we know that some surfaces (i.e. windslab) have larger, rounder grains than freshly fallen snow, and therefore greater absorption. What we didn’t quantify last year was how large the range of different surface characteristics in a given scene is, or how these change from place to place – we were more focused on the black carbon.

So yesterday we spent a whole day taking surface grain size measurements in a surveyed field of different surface types. Within the near infrared light spectrum we found that surface reflectivity of the different surfaces within a 10 meter transect varied by about 12% with older snow forms universally having lower albedo.

One correlation that came out in our data from last year is that larger grains and lower albedo seemed to correlate with higher black carbon content – but only in ways that the black carbon should not be directly responsible for. Could the black carbon be causing accelerated grain metamorphosis? It is possible that some mechanism of accelerated snow grain heating due to the BC could cause this. If it was true this would be another entirely new mechanism for black carbon to indirectly control albedo. On the other hand it may simply be that the conditions suitable for transporting black carbon onto the ice sheet are also favorable for grain metamorphosis. In this case the correlation we saw was real, but there was no causative relationship. Black carbon just happened to be high at the same time and place as large grains but didn’t cause them. By sampling for black carbon at a variety of places within a very small area, we can test this. We can sample lots of snow of the same temperature and metamorphic history to see if we can find whether differing BC concentration snow within a small area will have different grain size. We aren’t sure whether the black carbon concentrations even vary by enough over small distances to make a difference at this point, so it will be exciting to see these samples as they come back from the lab.

A day in the PB

By Lauren

As we continue across this frozen ocean, Chris and I are snacking on luke-warm lunchitos (unfortunately the pisten bully isn’t as interested in heating the lunchitos as the snow machines). We had to resort to warming the frozen tin foil bundles on the windshield defroster, still delicious though.  The jams from my “pisten bully IV” playlist are bumping and the smell of diesel soaked leather gloves lingers in the air.  I skip forward past the only club song on my mix, from the Night at the Roxbury soundtrack, only to leave Chris halfway through his dance routine, very disappointed.  I’m realizing that we have chosen two very different forms of transportation to make our way across the ice sheet.
Chugging along.

Chugging along.

At the end of the first night driving the snow machines around with Carolyn I didn’t know how much more sustrugi I was interested in washboarding over for the rest of the trip but after driving a little with Mike I realized that standing up with my knees bent (I like to think like an equestrian champion) was a much more comfortable way of traveling over all the different Aeolian carved features.  Even though we were only driving about 15 miles per hour, if you don’t stand up off your seat going over the meter high snowdrift, it might feel a little like sending your coccyx into your small intestine on the landing (just something to keep in mind).  So when we split into two groups the other night I was slightly reluctant to head out on the snow machines with Mike.  I thought I might get too cold but was pleasantly surprised however with my heated handle bars and with how warm I stayed the further north we drove.  We split off from Chris and Carolyn around 6 pm and drove into the evening through the waning light.  We stop and dug two snow pits and saw a sun halo, diamond dust moonrise, and a beautifully suspended sunset.  Things didn’t get too cold on the snow machines and the view during the ride was well worth it.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have our favorite little kleine frau pisten bully.  Don’t worry traffic police, this puppy normally drives around 6 miles per hour, burning about 4 liters of fuel per mile.  The pisten bully, similar to snow machines, is a  tracked vehicle that likes to tip, shovel first, over the snow drifts.  This also can be a little rough on the stomach but I’ve decided that standing up in horseback pose before each drift doesn’t work as well in the cramped cab.  So we just continue on like a boat on a sea of choppy waters.  The snow machines allow for a great deal of reflection while driving.  The pisten bully on the other hand provides great opportunities for creative conversation.  Chris and I, just today for example, covered a number of subjects ranging from thermokarst and segregation ice formation to the notorious B.I.G., Kurt Cobain, speech therapy, herbal and black tea classification (Chris hates tea) to sweaty feet, helicopter pilots, and colonoscopies.  When else would you be able to have such conversations?
That is just a little bit what the last few hours have been like.  We are wrapping up our 40 mile drive for the day and about to pull into camp for the night.  Chris and I will dig a two meter snow pit, collect three different samples for black carbon and trace element analyses that will ultimately tell us the amount of soot deposited at this specific location and where it came from.  Carolyn and Mike will meet us in time for dinner and evening sharing time.  Tomorrow, we will measure albedo with the ASD spectroradiometer around solar noon and measure grain size with our favorite instrument DUFFISSS, “le petiti chien” (the little dog) that Florent Dominie invented as well as take an eighteen centimeter snow sample for Zoe who will also be studying grain size using stereology.
DUFISSS, the little SSA instrument that could.

DUFISSS, the little SSA instrument that could.