Category Archives: Polar Exploration

How to whisper under sea ice: Wireless Acoustic Sensor Network Design

I want to build a cell phone system under water. I want it to send me a text messages every 30 minutes from 200 feet below the ocean that is covered by sea ice next to a glacier in northern Greenland where polar bears roam to catch seals for food at -40 Fahrenheit. Why would I want to do this and is this is even possible?

The author measuring sea ice thickness in Wolstenholme Fjord, Greenland April-17, 2017.

The author measuring sea ice thickness in Wolstenholme Fjord, Greenland April-17, 2017.

Our project successfully showed that it is possible to move data as text messages from a computer in the ocean to another and on to another and then via a cable to a weather station and then on to a satellite and then on to my laptop at home somewhere, anywhere, really [Intellectual Merit]. The ocean data that we moved by whispering from modem to modem (my acoustic cell phone towers) under water can be anything that any scientist may want to study. It could, for example, detect pollutants in the water that seep out of the sediment like gas or oil or radioactive materials burried accidentally [Broader Impacts] such as a nuclear-tipped B-52 bomber that crashed into Wolstenholme Fjord on January-21, 1968 at the height of the Cold War. The propagation of sound under ice also has military applications, because our communication network operates in both ways, that is, if I can receive a text message, I can also send one [Broader Impacts].

Installation of Automated Weather Station on Mar.-23, 2017 near Thule, Greenland via snowmobile. The station includes a satellite connection to the internet and a cable to the ocean.

Installation of Automated Weather Station on Mar.-23, 2017 near Thule, Greenland via snowmobile. The station includes a satellite connection to the internet and a cable to the ocean.

While the problem sounds simple enough, it is hard, real hard, because it requires many different people with very different skill sets. Our project included mechanical, electrical, and computer engineers but also scientists who know about acoustics, oceanography, and sea ice, as well as technicians with common sense and practical abilities to keep machines and people moving and running safely. This includes guns that we had to carry while working on the sea ice via snowmobile to protect from polar bears and medically trained personnel who could spot frostbites before they bite. All of this has to come together in just the right way and right time. Good and successful science is more than just engineering and machines, there is a strong human element in all polar field work such as ours. 

A local volunteer is designing, building, and rigging the Research Sled R/S Peter Freuchen for profiling the ocean below the sea ice in March 2017 on Thule Air Base.

A local volunteer is designing, building, and rigging the Research Sled R/S Peter Freuchen for profiling the ocean below the sea ice in March 2017 on Thule Air Base.

The first step in our project involved the design of the acoustic modems that Lee Freitag of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution did many years back. It took us about 2 years to select this design that Lee then modified for this application in 2014-15). The second step involved the selection of a study site where our small group of 6 people could work and experiment and learn by some trial and error without incurring extra-ordinary costs (2015-16). It helped that I was in and out of Thule Air Base on unrelated projects in 2015 and 2016 when we settled for the final experiment to take place in March and April of 2017. Satellite remote sensing tools where then developed to quantify sea ice conditions for safe operation and navigation traveling on the  ice. We uncovered a barely visible area of thin ice to the south of Manson Island that recurs at the same location every year. We stayed clear of this area.

Thule2017_CTD

Satellite image of ice-covered Wolstenholme Fjord, Greenland with water column profiling station (green dots) and acoustic modems (red dots). Blue lines are water depths in meters. Labels G1, G2, and G3 indicate three tide-water glaciers while Thule refers to Thule Air Base. Saunders Island is near the center left while the weather station is the red dot halfway between Saunders and Manson Islands.

Field work started with a survey of sea ice thickness on Mar. 18/19, 2017 by drilling 2” holes through the sea ice that varied in measured thickness from 0.12 m (4 inches) near Manson Island to 1.25 m (4 feet) near Thule Air Base. On Mar.-23, 2017 we deployed the weather station along with a tent and survival gear at the center of our study area. An ocean temperature mooring was deployed to complement in time a spatial survey of ocean sound speed profiles estimated from conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD) measurements. We drilled 10” holes through the sea ice for our profiling CTD operated via an electrical winch. Our CTD survey spanned the entire fjord from three tidewater glaciers in the east to the edge of the sea ice in the west. Concurrently ocean testing of acoustic communication between modems commenced Apr.-8, 2017 and the final array was deployed Apr.-14/15 to be fully operational Apr.-16/18. All gear was recovered and stored at Thule Air Base Apr.-18/19, 2017 before our departure Apr.-20, 2017.

Research Sled

Research Sled “Peter Freuchen” with wooden CTD storage box, electrical winch, tripod, and electrical motor during deployment on Apr.-7, 2017. View is to the west with Cape Atholl on the left and Wolstenholme Island on the right background. University of Delaware technician operates the winch via joy stick while a student monitors the instrument’s descent through water column visually at the 10” hole and acoustically via a commercial Fish-Finding sonar.

Subsequent analysis in 2017/18 revealed a successful experiment as data from ocean sensors traveled along multiple paths to the weather station and on to the internet. All data were submitted to the NSF Arctic Data Center where after review they will become public at

https://arcticdata.io/catalog/view/urn:uuid:d2775281-3231-47d0-ab79-b2e506ea8d04

This graph is just one of many in desperate need of a proper peer-reviewed publication. There is always more work to do …

Time series of ocean temperature at the weather station from 10-m (top) to 100-m (bottom below the sea ice. The red line gives the -1.7 Celsius for reference. The temperature field dominates the speed of sound field. Note the presence and absence of tidal oscillations.

Time series of ocean temperature at the weather station from 10-m (top) to 100-m (bottom below the sea ice. The red line gives the -1.7 Celsius for reference. The temperature field dominates the speed of sound field. Note the presence and absence of tidal oscillations.

Remote Air Strips in North Greenland

Where to land a plane in North Greenland? This remote wilderness has the last floating ice shelves in the northern hemisphere such as Petermann Gletscher. Two weeks ago Dr. Keith Nicholls of the British Antarctic Service (BAS) and I visited this glacier to fix both ice penetrating radars and ocean moorings that we had deployed in 2015 after drilling through more than 100 meters of glacier ice. The BAS radars measure how the ice thins and thickens during the year while my moorings measure ocean properties that may cause some of the melting. Keith and I are thinking how we can design an experiment that will reveal the physics of ocean-glacier interactions by applying what we have learnt the last 12 months. First, however, we need to figure out where to land a plane to build a base camp and fuel station in the wilderness.

I searched scientific, military, and industry sources to find places where planes have landed near Petermann Gletscher. The first landing, it seems, was a crash landing of an US B-29 bomber on 21 February 1947 at the so-called Kee Bird site. All 11 crew survived, the plane is still there even though it burnt after a 1994/95 restoration effort that got to the site in a 1962 Caribou plane landing on soft ground with a bulldozer aboard that is still there also. A Kee Bird forum contains 2014 photos and, most importantly for my purpose, a map.

Location of Kee Bird and other landing sites in North Greenland near Petermann Gletscher. [From Forum]

Location of Kee Bird and other landing sites in North Greenland near Petermann Gletscher. [From Michael Hjorth]

Michael Hjorth posted the map after visiting the region as the Head of Operation of Avannaa Resources. This small mineral exploration company was searching for zinc deposits and was working out of a camp a few miles to the north of the Kee Bird site and a few miles to the west of Petermann Gletscher. The Avannaa Camp was on the north-western side of an unnamed snaking lake in a valley to the south of Cecil Gletscher, e.g.,

Names of glaciers, capes, islands in Petermann Region over MODIS of Aug.-21, 2012.

Names of glaciers, capes, islands in Petermann Region over MODIS of Aug.-21, 2012.

Here are videos that show Twin Otter, helicopter, and camp operations all at the Avannaa site in 2013 and 2014:


The Avannaa camp of 2013 and 2014 was supplied from a more southern base camp at Cass Fjord that Avannaa Logistics and/or another mineral company, Ironbark.gl apparently reached via a chartered ship.

Cass Fjord Base Camp on southern Washington Land and Kane Basin. Credit: IronBark Inc.

Cass Fjord Base Camp on southern Washington Land and Kane Basin. Credit: IronBark Inc.

A summary of all 2013-14 Washington Land activities both at the Avannaa Camp next to Petermann Gletscher and the Cass Fjord Base Camp adjacent to Kane Basin is contained within this longer video of Michael Hjorth

The mining explorations are based on geological maps that Dr. Peter Dawes of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland provided about 10-20 years ago. These publications contain excellent maps and local descriptions both of the geology and geography of the region as well as logistics. The perhaps most comprehensive of these is

http://www.geus.dk/publications/maps/map1_p01-48.pdf

from which I extract this map that shows both the Cass Fjord and Hiawatha Camps:

Dawes (2004): "Simplified geological map of the Nares Strait region ..." from Thule Air Force Base in the south to the Arctic Ocean in the north with Petermann Gletscher in the center of the top half.

Dawes (2004): “Simplified geological map of the Nares Strait region …” from Thule Air Force Base in the south to the Arctic Ocean in the north with Petermann Gletscher in the center of the top half.

while

http://www.geus.dk/publications/review-greenland-99/gsb186p35-41.pdf

has this photo on how one of these landing strips looks like on a raised beach

dawes2000-fig3

If we do plan future activities at Petermann Gletscher and/or Washington Land and/or areas to the north, then I feel that the Avannaa site may serve as a good semi-permanent base of operation for several years. It is here that Ken Borek Twin Otter landed several times. It is reachable with single-engine AS-350 helicopters that could be stationed there during the summer with a fuel depot to support field work on the ice shelf of Petermann Gletscher and the land that surrounds it. The established Cass Fjord Base Camp to the south would serve as the staging area for this Petermann Camp which has both a short landing strip suitable for Twin Otter and potential access from the ocean via a ship. Access by sea may vary from year to year, though, because navigation depends on the time that a regular ice arch between Ellesmere Island and Greenland near 79 N latitude breaks apart. There are years such as 2015, that sea ice denies access to Kane Basin to all ships except exceptionally strong icebreakers such as the Swedish I/B Oden or the Canadian CCGS Henry Larsen. In lighter ice years such as 2009, 2010, and 2012 access with regular or ice-strengthened ships is possible as demonstrated by the Arctic Sunrise and Danish Naval Patrol boats. International collaboration is key to leverage multiple activities and expensive logistics by land, air, or sea in this remote area of Greenland.

The Ice Shelf of Petermann Gletscher and its Ocean Below: Descriptions

“In 1921 owing to starvation I had to go directly from Cape Heiberg-Juergensen to our cache at Cape Agassiz … during this journey the greater part of the glacier was mapped.” –Lauge Koch, 1928

Petermann Fjord connects Petermann Gletscher to Nares Strait which in turn is connected to the Arctic Ocean in north and the Atlantic Ocean in the south (Figure-2). The track of Petermann ice island PII-2010A emphasizes this connection as the 60 meter thick section of the ice island reaches the Labrador Sea in the south within a year after its calving in 2010.

TOS2016-Fig2

PII-2010 left Petermann Fjord on the 9th of September in 2010 when it broke into segments A and B while pivoting around a real island. It flushed out of Nares Strait 10 days later when an ice-tracking beacon was placed to track the ice island. The ~60 m thick segment PII-2010A moved southward with the Baffin Island Current (Münchow et al., 2015) at an average speed of ~ 0.11 m/s past Davis Strait. Remaining on the continental shelf of the Labrador Sea, it passed Boas’ Cumberland Sound, Labrador, and reached Newfoundland in August 2011 when it melted away in a coastal cove about 3000 km from Petermann Fjord (Figure-2).

TOS2016-Fig7

Petermann Gletscher drains about 4% of the Greenland ice sheet via a network of channels and streams that extend about 750 km landward from the grounding line (Bamber et al., 2013). The glacier goes afloat at the grounding zone where bedrock, till, and ice meet the ocean waters about 600 meter below sea level (Rignot, 1996).

TOS2016-Fig3

Figure-3 shows a section of surface elevation from a laser altimeter flown on a repeat path along the glacier in April 2013 and May 2014 as part of NASA’s Operation IceBridge. Assuming hydrostatic balance, we also show basal topography below the sea surface that varies from 200 meters at the terminus to 600 meters at the grounding zone near distance zero (Figure-3). The 2013 profile has been shifted seaward by 1.25 km to match the terminus position. Note the close correspondence of large and small crevasses in 2013 and 2014 near 20, 40, and 45 km from the grounding zone.

The seaward shift of the 2013 relative to the 2014 profile implies a uniform glacier speed of about 1180 meters per year. This value is almost identical to the 1170 meters per year that we measure between 20th August of 2015 and 11th February of 2016 with a single-frequency GPS placed about 13 km seaward of the grounding zone as part of the ocean weather observatory.

We compare 2013/14 and 2015/16 velocity estimates in Figure-3 with those obtained from RadarSat interferometry between 2000 and 2008 (Joughin et al., 2010) of which I here only show three:

Figure-3 shows that glacier speeds before 2010 are stable at about 1050 m/y, but increased by about 11% after the 2010 and 2012 calving events. This increase is similar to the size of seasonal variations of glacier motions. Each summer Petermann Gletscher speeds up, because surface meltwater percolates to the bedrock, increases lubrication, and thus reduces vertical friction (Nick et al., 2012). Figure 3 presents summer velocity estimates for August of 2015 from three dual-frequency GPS. The along-glacier velocity profiles measured by these geodetic sensors in the summer follow the shape of the 2000 to 2008 winter record, however, its speeds are about 10% larger and reach 1250 m/y near the grounding zone (Figure 3).

Uncertainty in velocity of these GPS systems is about 1 m/y which we estimate from two bed rock reference stations 82 km apart. Our ice shelf observations are referenced to one of these two semi-permanent geodetic stations. Its location at Kap Schoubye is shown in Figure-1. Data were processed using the GAMIT/TRACK software distributed by MIT following methodology outlined by King (2004) to archive vertical accuracy of 2-3 centimeters which, we show next, is small relative to tidal displacements that reach 2 meters in the vertical.

TOS2016-Fig4

Figure-4 shows the entire 13 day long record of vertical glacier displacement from 30 seconds GPS measurements in August of 2015. The observed range of vertical glacier displacements diminishes from almost 2 meters about 26 km seaward of the grounding zone (GZ+26) via 0.6 meters in the grounding zone (GZ-00) to nil 20 km landward of the grounding zone (GZ-20). Anomalies of horizontal displacement are largest at GZ-00 with a range of 0.2 m (not shown) in phase with vertical oscillations (Figure-4).

More specifically, at GZ+26 we find the ice shelf to move up and down almost 2 meters roughly twice each day. This is the dominant semi-diurnal M2 tide which has a period of 12.42 hours. Notice that for each day there is also a diurnal inequality in this oscillation, that is, the two maximal (minimal) elevations oscillate from a higher to a lower High (Low) water. This is the diurnal K1 tide which has a period of 23.93 hours. And finally, all amplitudes appear modulated by some longer period that appears close to the record length of almost two weeks. This is the spring-neap cycle that is caused by a second semi-diurnal S2 tide that has a period of 12.00 hours. A formal harmonic analysis to estimate the amplitude and phases of sinusoidal oscillations at M2, K1, S2 and many more tidal constituents will be published elsewhere for both Petermann Fjord and Nares Strait. Preliminary results (not shown) reveal that the amplitudes and phases of the tidal signals at GZ+26 are identical to those observed off Ellesmere Island at 81.7 N latitude in both the 19th (Greely, 1888) and 21st century.

Hourly tidal observations at Discovery Harbor taken for 15 days by Greely in 1881 and Peary in 1909.

Hourly tidal observations at Discovery Harbor taken for 15 days by Greely in 1881 and Peary in 1909.

In summary, both historical and modern observations reveal real change in the extent of the ice shelf that moves at tidal, seasonal, and interannual time scales in response to both local and remote forcing at these times scales. Future studies will more comprehensively quantify both the time rate of change and its forcing via formal time series analyses.

P.S.: This is the second in a series of four essays that I am currently developing into a peer-reviewed submission to the Oceanography Magazine of the Oceanography Society. The work is funded by NASA and NSF with grants to the University of Delaware.

References:

Bamber, J.L., M.J. Siegert, J.A. Griggs, S. J. Marshall, and G. Spada. 2013. Palefluvial mega-canyon beneath the central Greenland ice sheet. Science 341: 997-999.

Greely, A.W. 1888. Report on the Proceedings of the United States Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay, Grinnell Land. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Joughin, I., B.E. Smith, I.M. Howat, T. Scambos, and T. Moon. 2010. Greenland flow variability from ice-sheet wide velocity mapping. Journal of Glaciology 56 (197): 415-430.

King, B. 2004. Rigorous GPS data-processing strategies for glaciological applications. Journal of Glaciology 50 (171): 601–607.

Münchow, A., K.K. Falkner, and H. Melling. 2015. Baffin Island and West Greenland current systems in northern Baffin Bay. Progress in Oceanography 132: 305-317.

Nick, F.M., A. Luckman, A. Vieli, C.J. Van Der Veen, D. Van As, R.S.W. Van De Wal, F. Pattyn, A.L. Hubbard, and D. Floricioiu. 2012. The response of Petermann Glacier, Greenland, to large calving events, and its future stability in the context of atmospheric and oceanic warming. Journal of Glaciology 58 (208): 229-239.

Rignot, E. 1996. Tidal motion, ice velocity and melt rate of Petermann Gletscher, Greenland, measured from radar interferometry. Journal of Glaciology 42 (142): 476-485.

The Ice Shelf of Petermann Gletscher, North Greenland and its ocean below: Introductions

“In 1921 owing to starvation I had to go directly from Cape Heiberg-Juergensen to our cache at Cape Agassiz … during this journey the greater part of the glacier was mapped.” — Lauge Koch, 1928

Traveling by dog sled, Geologist Lauge Koch mapped Petermann Gletscher in 1921 after he and three Inuit companions crossed it on a journey to explore northern North Greenland. They discovered and named Steensby, Ryder, and H.C. Ostenfeld Glaciers that all had floating ice shelves as does Petermann (Ahnert, 1963; Higgins, 1990). In Figure 1 I reproduce the historic map of Koch (1928) that also contains his track in in 1917 and 1921 both across the terminus and across its upstream ice stream. In 1921 all four starved travelers returned safely after living off the land. Four years earlier, however, they were not so lucky: two traveling companions died on a similar journey in 1917 (Rasmussen, 1923).

Maps of Petermann Gletscher by Lauge Koch from 1917 and 1921 dog sleds and 2015 from MODIS-Terra.

Only 20 years after Lauge Koch’s expeditions by dog sled, air planes and radar arrived in North Greenland with the onset of the Cold War. The Arctic Ocean to the north became a battle space along with its bordering land and ice masses of northern Greenland, Ellesmere Island, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Weather stations were established in 1947 at Eureka by aircraft and in 1950 at Alert by US icebreaker to support military aviation (Johnson, 1990). In 1951 more than 12,000 US military men and women descended on a small trading post called Thule that Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen had established 40 years earlier to support their own and Lauge Koch’s dog-sled expeditions across Greenland (Freuchen, 1935). “Operation Blue Jay” built Thule Air Force Base as a forward station for fighter jets, nuclear armed bombers, and early warning radar systems. The radars were to detect ballistic missiles crossing the Arctic Ocean from Eurasia to North America while bombers were to retaliate in case of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.

An F-102 jet of the 332d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Thule AFB in 1960. [Credit: United States Air Force]

An F-102 jet of the 332d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Thule AFB in 1960. [Credit: United States Air Force]

About another 60 years later, the jets, the bombers, and the communist threat were all gone, but the Thule Air Force Base is still there as the gateway to North Greenland. It is also the only deep water port within a 1,000 mile radius where US, Canadian, Danish, and Swedish ships all stop to receive and discharge their crews and scientists. Since 2009 Thule AFB also serves as the northern base for annual Operation IceBridge flights over North Greenland to map the changing ice sheets and glaciers.

The establishment of military weather stations and airfields in the high Arctic coincided with the discovery of massive ice islands drifting freely in the Arctic Ocean. On Aug.-14, 1946 airmen of the 46th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron of the US Air Force discovered a moving ice islands with an area of about 200 square that was kept secret until Nov.-1950 (Koenig et al, 1950). Most of these ice islands originated from rapidly disintegrating ice shelves to the north of Ellesmere island (Jeffries, 1992; Copland 2007), however, the first historical description of an ice islands from Petermann Gletscher came from Franz Boas in 1883 who established a German station in Cumberland Sound at 65 N latitude and 65 W longitude as part of the first Polar Year.

Petermann Ice Island of 2012 at the entrance of Petermann Fjord. The view is to the north-west with Ellesmere Island, Canada in the background. [Photo Credit: Jonathan Poole, CCGS Henry Larsen]

Petermann Ice Island of 2012 at the entrance of Petermann Fjord. The view is to the north-west with Ellesmere Island, Canada in the background. [Photo Credit: Jonathan Poole, CCGS Henry Larsen]

Without knowing the source of the massive tabular iceberg the German physicist Franz Boas reported detailed measurements of ice thickness, extend, and undulating surface features of an ice island in Cumberland Sound that all match scales and characteristics of Petermann Gletscher (Boas, 1885). These characteristics were first described by Dr. Richard Croppinger, surgeon of a British Naval expedition in 1874/75 (Nares, 1876). Dr. Croppinger identified the terminus of Petermann Gletscher as a floating ice shelf when he noticed vertical tidal motions of the glacier from sextant measurements a fixed point (Nares, 1876). His observations on tides were the last until a group of us deployed 3 fancy GPS units on the glacier last summer.

These fancy GPS receivers give centimeter accuracy vertical motions at 30 second intervals. Here is what the deployment of 3 such units in August of 2015 gives me:

Vertical (top) and horizontal (bottom) motion of Petermann Gletscher from GPS referenced to a GPS base station on bed rock at Kap Schoubye. Note the attenuation of the tide from 26 km sea ward of the grounding line (red) to at the grounding line (black) and 15 km landward of the grounding line (blue). The horizontal location motion has the mean motion removed to emphasize short-term change over the much, much larger forward motion of the glacier that varies from about ~700 (black) to ~1250 meters per year (red).

Vertical (top) and horizontal (bottom) motion of Petermann Gletscher from GPS referenced to a GPS base station on bed rock at Kap Schoubye. Note the attenuation of the tide from 26 km sea ward of the grounding line (red) to at the grounding line (black) and 15 km landward of the grounding line (blue). The horizontal location motion has the mean motion removed to emphasize short-term change over the much, much larger forward motion of the glacier that varies from about ~700 (black) to ~1250 meters per year (red).

We have indeed come a far way during the last 150 years or so. Mapping of remote landscape and icescape by starvation and dog-sled has been replaced by daily satellite imagery. Navigation by sextant and a mechanical clock has been replaced by GPS and atomic clock whose errors are further reduced by a local reference GPS. These fancy units and advanced data processing allow me to tell the vertical difference between the top of my iPhone sitting on a table in my garden from the table.

Working at in the garden at home preparing for field work.

Working at in the garden at home preparing for field work near Petermann Fjord.

P.S.: This is the first in a series of essays that I am currently developing into a peer-reviewed submission to the Oceanography Magazine of the Oceanography Society. The work is funded by NASA and NSF with grants to the University of Delaware.

Ahnert, F. 1963. The terminal disintegration of Steensby Gletscher, North Greenland. Journal of Glaciology 4 (35): 537-545.

Boas, F. 1885. Baffin-Land, geographische Ergebnisse einer in den Jahren 1883 und 1884 ausgeführten Forschungsreise. Petermann’s Mitteilungen Ergänzungsheft 80: 1-100.

Copland, L., D.R. Mueller, and L. Weir. 2007. Rapid loss of the Ayles Ice Shelf, Ellesmere Island, Canada. Geophysical Research Letters 34 (L21501): doi:10.1029/2007GL031809.

Freuchen, P. 1935. Arctic adventures: My life in the frozen North. Farrar & Rinehard, NY, 467 pp.

Higgins, A.K. 1990. North Greenland glacier velocities and calf ice production. Polarforschung 60 (1): 1-23.

Jeffries, M. 1992. Arctic ice shelves and ice islands: Origin, growth, and disintegration, physical characteristics, structural-stratigraphic variability, and dynamics. Reviews of Geophysics 30 (3):245-267.

Johnson, J.P. 1990. The establishment of Alert, N.W.T., Canada. Arctic 43 (1): 21-34.

Koch, L., 1928. Contributions to the glaciology of North Greenland. Meddelelser om Gronland 65: 181-464.

Koenig, L.S., K.R. Greenaway, M. Dunbar, and G. Hattersley-Smith. 1952. Arctic ice islands. Arctic 5: 67-103.

Münchow, A., K.K. Falkner, and H. Melling. 2015. Baffin Island and West Greenland current systems in northern Baffin Bay. Progress in Oceanography 132: 305-317.

Münchow, A., L. Padman, and H.A. Fricker. 2014. Interannual changes of the floating ice shelf of Petermann Gletscher, North Greenland, from 2000 to 2012. Journal of Glaciology 60 (221): doi:10.3189/2014JoG13J135.

Nares, G. 1876. The official report of the recent Arctic expedition. John Murray, London,

Rassmussen, K., 1921: Greenland by the Polar Sea: the Story of the thule Expedition from Melville Bay to Cape Morris Jessup, translated from the Danish by Asta and Rowland Kenney, Frederick A. Stokes, New York, NY, 327 pp.

Mapping North Greenland 100 years ago

Living off the land, Greenland’s early explorers ate their dogs, fungi, and roots of plants a few inches high to not starve to death. There is nothing romantic in the detailed reports of Knud Rasmussen, Peter Freuchen, and Lauge Koch that mapped in much detail coastlines, glaciers, and fjords of North Greenland between Thule in the west and Independence Fjord in the east. These Danes worked and lived closely with Inuit hunters and their families at what still is the northern edge of where a small number of people can survive by hunting seals, walrus, whales, and polar bears on the ice and musk ox, reindeer, and rabbits on land. Most people did not live as long and as well as we do now, because life and food were always in short supply.

Ascent of the Inland ice in April 1912 as the First Thule Expedition starts from Clemens Markham's Glacier to Independence Fjord. All 4 explorers returned, but only 8 of the 54 dogs did.

Ascent of the Inland ice in April 1912 as the First Thule Expedition starts from Clemens Markham’s Glacier to Independence Fjord. All 4 explorers returned, but only 8 of the 54 dogs did.

I am reading the reports of the First Thule Expedition of 1912 (4 people), the Second Thule Expedition of 1917 (7 people), and the Bicentenary Jubilee Expedition of 1921 (4 people). Each person had its own dog sled team with 10-14 dogs per team. Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen with Uvdloriaq and Inukitsoq successfully crossed the ice sheet in 1912 from east to west and back. Only 5 of the 7 members of the Second Thule Expedition returned, because Greenlander Hendrik Olsen disappeared while hunting wolves which may have killed him and the Swedish scientist Dr. Thorild Wulff starved to death when he gave up walking as witnessed by Lauge Koch and Inuit Nasaitsordluarsuk and Inukitsoq.

Map detail of Inglefield Land with tracks from Second Thule Expedition after leaving the ice sheet, from Rasmussen (1923). Humboldt Glacier is on the right with Kane Basin to the top.

Map detail of northern Inglefield Land with tracks from Second Thule Expedition after leaving the ice sheet with the location of Dr. Wulff’s death. Humboldt Glacier is on the right with Kane Basin to the top. From Rasmussen (1923).

This last death cast a life-long spell on Lauge Koch who never forgave Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen for insisting on a formal Court of Inquiry in local Greenland and not remote Denmark to clear Lauge Koch of any wrong-doing. Both believed that Koch had acted properly when he choose to live and walk and not starve with Wulff, but they felt that local Inuit witnesses and local knowledge in Greenland would make the legal task to clear Koch easier sooner than a more removed Court in Denmark.

Knud Rasmussen (right) and Lauge Koch (left). [Photo: Holger Damgaard, National Library of Denmark.

Knud Rasmussen (right) and Lauge Koch (left). [Photo: Holger Damgaard, National Library of Denmark.

The Freuchen family on a visit to Denmark: Naravana, Pipaluk, Peter, and Mequsaq [Source: Freuchen, P., 1953: Vagrant Viking. Julian Messner Inc., NY, 312 pp.]

The Freuchen family on a visit to Denmark: Naravana, Pipaluk, Peter, and Mequsaq [Source: Freuchen, P., 1953: Vagrant Viking. Julian Messner Inc., NY, 312 pp.]

These Danish expeditions represent the second phase of exploration of North Greenland after the quest of national glory to reach the farthest north by British and Americans was settled when Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1909. The many American and English expeditions through Nares Strait from about 1853 (Elisha Kane) had relied on native guides, hunters, and polar skills, but the sheer number of whites and their massive material wealth change both local cultures and wildlife. For example, the early Europeans and American explorers provided guns and new technologies which were traded for furs, clothing, and local knowledge of survival. In return Inuit families provided food, clothing, and native polar technologies. These often proved crucial for survival as demonstrated by Joe Eberling and Hans Hendrik with their families who kept 18 people alive for 6 months in 1873 when their party of British and German men was stranded on an ice floe drifting more than 1800 miles to the south until they were picked up by a whaling ship off Labrador.

After the “Imperial” expeditions ended with the “conquest of the North Pole” in 1909, the local Inuit were left without contact to southern material goods such ammunition for their guns until Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen privately founded the Thule Trading Post in Westenholme Fjord. Their goal was to set up a base to support their aspiration to explore and map northern Greenland via small expeditions and to show a link between Denmark and the people living in what was then called the Thule district of Greenland. Their choice of location was excellent and even today, Thule is still the hub to get to northern Greenland by ship or by air. I traveled through Thule in 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2015 as I boarded US, Canadian, or Swedish icebreaker at this only deep water north of the polar circle outside Scandinavia.

Inner section of Westenholme Fjord to the north-east of Thule AFB as seen on the descent from Dundas Mountain during sunset on Sept.-2, 2015,

Inner section of Westenholme Fjord to the north-east of Thule AFB as seen on the descent from Dundas Mountain during sunset on Sept.-2, 2015,

Peter Freuchen, Lauge Koch, and Knud Rasmussen were all in their 20ies and 30ies when they traveled across a harsh, unvisited, and at times beautiful landscape. Despite local help, skill, and knowledge to adapt to this environment, Greenland almost killed them by starvation or accident as it did to some of their companions. They all were excellent writers and communicators who found the moneys to pay for their adventures in creative ways. Knud died young in 1933 at age 54 in Copenhagen while Peter buried his Inuit wife Navarana in 1921 when he was only 35 years old, but lived another 36 years. Lauge Koch became an international academic authority on the geology and geography of Greenland until he died at age 72 in 1964. They all lived rich, admired, and controversial lives with their writing, their maps, their loves, and above all their frail humanity.

Maps of North Greenland before (top) and after (bottom) the First and Second Thule Expeditions from Rasmussen (1923).

Maps of North Greenland before (top) and after (bottom) the First and Second Thule Expeditions from Rasmussen (1923).

Freuchen, P., 1953: Vagrant viking, my life and adventures, Julian Messner, Inc. New York, NY, 312 pp.

Hendrik, H, 1878: Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, the Arctic traveler serving under Kane, Hayes, Hall, and Nares 1853-1876, reprinted in Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 100 pp.

Koch, L., 1926: Report on the Danish Bicentenary Jubilee Expedition north of Greenland 1920-23, 232 pp.

Rasmussen, K., 1912: Report of the First Thule Expedition 1912.

Rasmussen, K., 1923: Greenland by the Polar Sea: The story of the Thule Expedition from Melville Bay to Cape Morris Jesup, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, NY, 328 pp.