Tag Archives: exploration

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.

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.

Below Petermann Glacier: The First 100 Days

I am still stunned to see data coming to me hourly from below a glacier in northern Greenland while I sip my breakfast coffee. Each and every day for the last 100 days I got my data fix from the Ocean Weather Station that was born 100 days ago. Every morning at 8:15 the station sends me data from 5 ocean sensors below the glacier. A year ago I did not even know that I would be going to northern Greenland with the Swedish icebreaker I/B Oden in the summer of 2015, never mind that we would be able to pull off the engineering challenge to set up the first and only ocean observing system of Greenland. Today, I am over-joyed to report, we got 100 days of data.

IMG_3029

University of Delaware PhD student Peter Washam at the Ocean-Weather station on Petermann Gletscher after final installation 2015-Aug.-20, 17:00 UTC at 80 39.9697 N and 60 29.7135 W.

It all started when a French PhD student approached me at a scientific meeting in San Francisco last December. Céline is a now a doctor of oceanography, but at the time she was not. At the meeting Dr. Céline Heuzé of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden asked me for data and insights on how the ocean circulation in Nares Strait worked, so that she could connect results from planned field work in northern Greenland to her science interests in the Labrador Sea more than 1000 miles to the south. She also introduced me to Dr. Anna Wåhlin and the three of us got very excited about Petermann Fjord, Sweden, and polar oceanography. Here we are in Sweden preparing and off Greenland working:

A few weeks prior the US government and Sweden had just agreed to work together on a joint expedition to Petermann Fjord in northern Greenland. Friends at Oregon State University needed a ship to collect data with which to reconstruct and understand changes of the land- sea-, and ice-scape of North Greenland during the last 10,000 to 50,000 years. They wanted to uncover where past glaciers were located and where sea level was at that time. For this, they needed many sediment cores from the adjacent ocean, fjord, and below the floating glacier. Today this glacier is as thick as the Empire State Building in Manhattan is high. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) agreed to drill the holes, collect the sediment samples, and take a profile of ocean properties from below the glacier ice to the bottom of the ocean. They estimated it would take about 5 days to drill each hole. Our idea was to use these holes to keep sensors, computers, and satellite phones in place to collect hourly data into the future as long as possible … 100 days so far.

After the Dec.-2014 San Francisco meeting we decided to use these holes to measure ocean temperature, salinity, and pressure for as long as the batteries would last, about 3-4 years, but I had neither money, cables, data logging computers, nor satellite phones to do any of this, only the ocean sensors. When I told Keith Nicholls of BAS about the idea and my predicament, he said that he could find some computers and satellite phones from experiments he had done in Antarctica. I then said that I would organize cables, a weather station, and some funds to pay for it.

A crowd-funding experiment in February failed to generate funds, but NASA came to the rescue by opening a way to compete for the needed $60,000 to cover the cost of hardware, travel, and satellite phone charges. The funds allowed us to ship about 1200 pounds of gear from Delaware to Sweden where it had to be loaded onto the ship in May of 2015. We did not have much time to built the system and had no time left to test it. Two drums of cable arrived with only 5 hours to spare before the ship left Sweden in June for Greenland. We met the ship in Thule, Greenland in July.

Fast-forward to the 20th of August 2015 when our ocean observing system went into the salty ocean waters below Petermann Gletscher. The surface weather station with satellite connections was deployed 10 days earlier to test satellite communications and collect weather data for Oden’s extensive helicopter flight operations on and around the glacier. It included a rushed visit by a large team from CBS News 60 Minutes who were flown and shown all over the place. We last saw the station during 24 hours of day light on 27th August when we calibrated the wind sensors, but to me the daily satellite phone call of the station with new data is a sign of life from an ocean outpost that survived another day in the total darkness of the polar night. It draws energy from two car batteries that run even at the -36 degree Centigrade (-33 F).

AWS

First 100 days of ocean and weather observations from the University of Delaware Ocean Weather Station on Petermann Gletscher, Greenland. Panels show (from bottom to top) time series of 1. battery voltage, 2. ocean (red) and air (black) temperatures, 3. wind speed, 4. wind direction, 5. glacier movement, and 6. atmospheric pressure. Time is given in year-day, Nov.-28 is Day-332. The sun set on Day-290 or Oct.-17.

New data are posted at

http://ows.udel.edu

which over the next few weeks we will develop into a web-site to distribute the daily observations to everyone. I am most thankful to many of scientists, engineers, technicians, sailors, and women in England, Sweden, and the United States of America, but this Thanks-Giving weekend I am grateful to the men and women of a great nation that gave me a place to study, work, and live doing while exploring ocean and now glacier physics as well.

EDIT: I just discovered this 7 minute video on our expedition, credits go to Saskia Madlener at 77th Parallel Productions:

New ocean data from floating Petermann Glacier

#UDel Ocean-Weather station #Greenland on #petermann2015 calls home from 800 m under floating glacier with 2 weeks of new hourly data.

University of Delaware Ocean-Weather station on Petermann Glacier with the hot-water drilling team UDel and British Antarctic Survey after deployment Aug.-20, 2015 [Credit: Peter Washam, UDel]

University of Delaware Ocean-Weather station on Petermann Glacier with the hot-water drilling team UDel and British Antarctic Survey after deployment Aug.-20, 2015. Cables from ocean sensors emerge from the ice where the wooden cross is located on the right. [Credit: Peter Washam, UDel]

Map of Greenland's Petermann Gletscher, Fjord, and adjacent Nares Strait. The UDel Ocean-Weather station is the green dot on the floating ice shelf that does not have a red triangle. Blue dots in the ocean are where we collected ocean data from I/B Oden in August 2015. Green dots are ocean moorings which report via Iridium while red triangles are "fancy" GPS locations we instrumented for 12 days to measure vertical tidal elevations of the glacier.

Map of Greenland’s Petermann Gletscher, Fjord, and adjacent Nares Strait. The UDel Ocean-Weather station is the green dot on the floating ice shelf that does not have a red triangle. Blue dots in the ocean are where we collected ocean data from I/B Oden in August 2015. Green dots are ocean moorings which report via Iridium while red triangles are “fancy” GPS locations we instrumented for 12 days to measure vertical tidal elevations of the glacier.

My nerves are shot and I get depressed when the Ocean-Weather station does not call home when she should. We deployed the station last months on the floating section of Petermann Gletscher where she has moved steadily towards the ocean at about three meters per day. We measure this with GPS which is the black dot next to the temperature sensor above the head of the team that drilled the hole. It connected 5 ocean temperature, salinity, and pressure sensors to 800 meter depth below sea level. The data come from this great depth to the surface where it feeds into the weather station that then transmits data via an Iridium antenna to another Iridium antenna that sits atop my house. Let me run out and take a quick photo of it …

Iridium antenna atop my house in Newark, Delaware that receives data calls from Greenland.

Iridium antenna atop my house in Newark, Delaware that receives data calls from Greenland.

My problem with Iridium over the last 6 weeks has been that its (data) connectivity is spotty. For example, I received no data the last 2 weeks. This has been the longest time with no call and no new data. Designing the system, I decided against the more robust “Short-Burst-Data” SBD text messages. Instead I opted for a truly 2-way serial connection which, if a connection is established, allows more control as well as a more complete and gap-free data stream. The drawback of this serial connection via Iridium is lack of connectivity. Sometimes days or weeks go by without a successful connection even though computer codes are written to connect every 8 hours. I can change that by uploading new codes to the two Campbell CT1000 data loggers that control all sensors as well as data collection and communication via Iridium.

Today’s call was the first in two weeks, but it provided a complete data download without ANY gaps in the hourly time series of weather in the atmosphere (wind, temperature, humidity) and weather in the ocean (temperature, salinity, pressure). The ocean data show that about every 2 weeks with the spring-neap cycles, we see very large excursions of colder and fresher water appear at 2 sensors within about 30 meters of the glacier ice. It is too early to speculate on how this may relate to ocean circulation and glacier melting, but the large and frequent up and down do suggest a lot of ocean weather.

I am anxiously awaiting the next data call in about 5 hours to get the 8 hours of data. Wish me luck and a healthy Iridium satellite system where calls are about $0.90/minute. Today’s call took 5 minutes. This is what some of the (uncalibrated) data look like:

Ocean-Weather station data from Aug.-20 through Sept.-25 (today). Ocean temperatures at 5 vertical levels are shown as 5 red curves  in 5th panel from top. The black lines in that panel are air temperatures that reached -20 C this week.

Ocean-Weather station data from Aug.-20 through Sept.-25 (today). Ocean temperatures at 5 vertical levels are shown as 5 red curves in 5th panel from top. The black lines in that panel are air temperatures that reached -20 C this week.

Tribal Interactions and Arctic Research

Arctic field work connects people of different backgrounds, disciplines, and tribes. Last week I spent 3 days in Maine where I met with Arctic archeologists, anthropologists, and students of all ages. Susan Kaplan and Genevieve LeMoine run the Arctic Peary-McMillan Museum and do extensive field work in Labrador, Cape Sheridan atop Ellesmere Island (Canada), and northern Greenland. A class of smart sophomore asked more questions than I could answer in the morning and a diverse group of citizen did the same in the evening. I represented the “physics tribe.”

We learnt of each other after I posted an illustrated essay “Ruins of Fort Conger” that contained this image taken near Petermann Fjord in 2012

Fort Conger rebuilt 1900 by Peary

Carl Rose on the left was a seaman on our last 2012 expedition while Jonathan Poole is a marine field technician with whom I work often. They stand before a hut built by Admiral Robert Peary in 1900 on one of his early excursions to reach the North Pole. The 2012 photo bears remarkable similarity to one taken in 1909 that Genevieve LeMoine describes on her blog with title “Tides of the Arctic.”

Donald MacMillan and Jack Barnes at Fort Conger, spring 1909 [From LeMoine, 2013]

Donald MacMillan and Jack Barnes at Fort Conger, spring 1909 [From LeMoine, 2013]

It shows Donald McMillan and Jack Barnes in 1909 during a later Peary expedition. The pictures and histories are displayed at the “Glimmer of the Polar Sea” exhibition at the Bowdoin’s Peary-McMillan Arctic Museum. These huts are the closest “shelter” to Petermann Fjord about 50 miles to the east. The men visiting Fort Conger in 1909 and 2012 look towards the ocean which in 2012 looked like this

Discovery Harbor off Fort Conger, Ellesmere Island as seen from helicopter in 2012.

Discovery Harbor off Fort Conger, Ellesmere Island in 2012.

We visited the site in 2012 to recover an ocean sensor that, so we hoped, had measured tides and temperatures for 9 years earlier. For 9 long years we had no way to tell, if either sensor or data existed. Only after recovery in 2012 did we jubilantly find sensors and data. At the time we deployed this sensor in 2003 technology did not exist to get data out from the ice-covered ocean. We are trying to develop technology to change this. The non-trivial goal is to get such data out as it is collected without waiting for 9 years. That’s what my crowd-funding project is about: Develop new technologies and share all data, results, and excitement.

If funded, this project will produce results immediately as ocean temperatures (and salinities) will be transmitted to the word wide web for anyone to use as she or he sees fit. Please help and be part of the cutting edge of Arctic Oceanography: Tell your friends, tell your family, and tell your colleagues about the science, about the Arctic, about the beauty, about the climate, and about the physics of the ocean.