Travels to Greenland in Winter

Waking up after 5 hours on a plane from Baltimore, Maryland to Thule, Greenland large white Pitugfik Gletscher distinguishes itself from the white sea ice by its ragged snout as the plane approaches my new home for the next 6 weeks. I am traveling with 9 midshipmen of the US Naval Academy of which two are women, their 4 professors, and bear guard from Alaska. We will be working and living together for the next 7 days.

Pitugfik Glacier during the early morning hours of Mar.-9, 2017.

A little further along the coast we enter Wolstenholme Fjord where from the plane wide cracks of open water stand out as black against the bluish white horizon. This will be the outer margin of where I plan to work the ice and ocean underneath the next 6 weeks. We need to stay on the shore side of this transition of land-fast to mobile sea ice. I have watched this boundary for the last 4 months with satellite imagery, but seeing with my own eyes is an entire different and humbling experience.

Sea ice near Kap Atholl with heads of open water that separate land-fast ice that does not move from mobile ice.

We land safely at the airport, get our passport stamped by Danish officials, pick up our luggage, and are received by wonderful people working for both NASA and the National Science Foundation. After a hearty lunch of dark rye bread and my beloved pickled herrings christmas arrives in the form of many carefully wrapped packages: I try to find my Arctic clothing that I shipped months before. It is much-needed as the -33 C take your breadth away. I also find the 2,500 lbs of science gear, some of which had arrived directly from Canada after it was ordered Dec.-10, 2016: Without this $22,000 electrical winch, I would be hard pressed to send sensors to the bottom of the ocean and back. Everything appears to be in place and fine, but some acoustic gear is still missing as its large lithium batteries need diplomatic clearances which takes a little longer. Perhaps they will be on the plane that is about to land. There is only 1 flight per week that connects Thule to the US. Hence advance planing is needed and those lithium batteries are not needed until April 6 when Lee and Taylor arrive from Massachusetts.

Where in this pile are my snow boots? Palletized gear on arrival in Thule Greenland.

The next day we put some of our gear out to measure how thick the sea ice is near the coast. While drilling a hole requires power tools, the ice is actually cut by a razor-sharp drill bit that is sensitive to damage when it refuses to cut the ice and no amount of force available can force it through the 3-4 feet of ice we find. We all learn the hard way when we accidentally drill into the frozen sea bed without finding any water. One drill bit down, we only got 2 more and are much, much more careful with it. The remaining drill bits have to last for the next 6 weeks … actually, they do not, because I can change the blades should one bit become dull. [I did not tell this the Naval Academy guys who were doing much of this drilling to support NASA’s Operation IceBridge.]

And on this note, I am heading out to sea at 7:59 am to drill one more hole to prepare for a first mooring deployment. A wooden stick without sensors attached will simulate a mooring that I want to recover after it is frozen in. More later …

P.S.: More photos and stories on this week’s adventures can be found at

5 responses to “Travels to Greenland in Winter

  1. Exciting stuff, Andreas! Good luck!

    • This is the first time that I am doing oceanography from the sea ice … and there are 5 more weeks to do it. I feel very, very lucky to be supported by a great many wonderful people. Hoping to set up a “Peterman-style” weather station sunday after some explorations of sea ice thickness and talking to the local Air Force meteorologists. Fun.

  2. I’m impressed that a cordless handheld drill can go through 4′ of ice! Good luck with your research, it’s a great blog you have here.

    • The trick, it appears, is to use a high quality drill bit that is razor-sharp and take good care of it. It requires little force and goes incredible fast. It takes 3 minutes on average, to walk 300 feet AND then drill through the 4′ thick ice a 2” hole in diameter. I just came back from doing it again after writing this blog earlier this morning.

  3. Drilling into soft ice, sounds like the same difficulties we engineering types encounter when drilling a very soft material such as brass; where, if one is not careful, the drill winds itself into a spiral hole shaped by the flutes of the drill and then becomes almost impossible to remove. may I suggest that if that happens again, to attach something that will give you leverage, a large adjustable spanner might serve, and then wind the drill in reverse back out of the spiral hole so formed. Certainly, trying to get it out by further forward drilling will be almost impossible. Good luck and a safe adventure; to all of your team.

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