Tag Archives: helicopter

Petermann Photos, Places, and People

Petermann Gletscher sent off Manhattan-sized islands of ice in 2010 and 2012 that now litter the eastern seaboard of Canada from its farthest northern Ellesmere Island to its farthest eastern Newfoundland. The ice is streaming south along thousands of miles within icy Arctic waters. Petermann Gletscher itself is flat, hard to grasp by the naked eye, its endless expanse of white vanishes into the horizon when we look towards the Greenland Ice Sheet ALONG the glacier:

North-eastern section of Petermann Glacier on Aug.-11, 2012, the meandering river is the centerline, view is almost due east. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen.]

North-eastern portion of Petermann Glacier on Aug.-11, 2012, the meandering river is the centerline, view is almost due east with Kap Fulford and Kap Agnes on the left center and Daugaard Jensen Land in the background on the right. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen.]

Next, lets look ACROSS Petermann from roughly the same latitude. This perspective is more dramatic as vertical cliffs give shape, cliffs are cut by smaller side-glaciers. More specifically, we see the CCGS Henry Larsen helicopter flying down Belgrave Glacier as we look across Petermann which flows from the Greenland Ice Sheet on the left out to sea on the right. On the other (south-western) side we see Faith Glacier in the background about 10 miles away.

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier towards the south-east across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher to the left (east). [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Seaward front of Petermann Glacier Aug.-11, 2012. View is from a small side-glacier (Belgrave Gl.) towards a similar glacier (Faith Gl.) across Petermann Fjord with Petermann Gletscher flowing from the left out to sea on the right. [Photo Credit: Erin Clarke, Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Contrasting large Petermann Gletscher, the many smaller glaciers on both its sides evoke drama as ice plunges down from 3000 feet above in a rage of forms, colors, and shapes. These side glaciers have their own side glaciers that sometimes rival the Alpine glaciers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas that most of us are more familiar with.

Some side glaciers have names, but they are rarely seen on maps and charts. The side glaciers are mapped, but photos are hard to find. Flying over them last year, I was utterly lost. Reviewing photos now, I remember people, smells, computer troubles, and exciting ocean discoveries. Nevertheless, I am hard pressed to place the places we saw on a map or name them. Distances are deceiving, the air is clean and 50-80 miles of visibility are common. A moment later, I cannot see the other side of the ship as we are suddenly in clouds and fog. Everything is always in motion, the ice, the water, the ship, the clouds, all of this without strong reference points like the exit or distance signs on a Turnpike, Interstate, or Autobahn.

Northern Kennedy Channel near the entrance to Petermann Fjord with Kap Morton in cloud banks. [Credit: Andreas Muenchow]

Northern Kennedy Channel near the entrance to Petermann Fjord with Kap Morton in cloud banks. [Credit: Andreas Muenchow]

And along comes Espen Olsen, a frequent contributor to Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice blog and forums, and discovers a plethora of names that I can check, google, and use to remember expeditions to Petermann over the last 10 years with many good friends. So with his help and that of other explorers like Lauge Koch, Tony Higgins, and the collected wisdom of the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency, I labeled some prominent glaciers and capes on an Aug,-21, 2012 MODIS-Terra image that I constructed from data that NASA provide to anyone free of charge. I chose this image and time, because the 2012 ice island is already in Nares Strait and thus out of sight:

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.

Espen tells me that his Danish sources are protected by copyright (I still like to cite them), but the aviation maps of the U.S. military are in the public domain and can be downloaded from the University of Texas in Austin Library, e.g.,

Petermann Gletscher and surroundings extracted from U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart ONC A5 (January 1991).

Petermann Gletscher and suroundings extracted from U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Chart ONC A5 (January 1991).

while the modified version of Figure-2 from Dr. Tony Higgins 1990 publication is available at the Alfred Wegener Institute. Nevertheless, it should only be used for non-profit educational purposes or as a reference:

Petermann Gletscher extend and topography from 1953 through 1978 (from Higgins, 1990) with 2012 terminus position drawn in by hand.

Petermann Gletscher extend and topography from 1953 through 1978 (from Higgins, 1990) with 2012 terminus position drawn in by hand.

With all these details out-of-the-way, we can now start placing photos into places and add names to them. Perhaps others like Espen Olsen can write or edit Wiki entries or correct the false latitude and longitudes that populate the many databases that provide such information on the web. Over the next weeks and months I will try to post as many photos of Petermann’s natural beauty along with an evolving MODIS map that names and shows places. Here are just a few teasers without further comment except what’s in the captions.

The merging of Sigurd Berg and Hubert Glaciers which discharge into Petermann Gletscher on its eastern wall. The view is landward towards the north-east as the helicopter flies in from Petermann. [Credit: Barbara O'Connell, Canadian Coast Guard]

The merging of Hubert (left) and Sigurd Berg (right) Glaciers which discharge into Petermann Gletscher on its eastern wall. The view is landward towards the north-east as the helicopter flies in from Petermann. [Credit: Barbara O’Connell, Canadian Coast Guard]

Petermann Gletscher and Fjord in Aug.-2012. View is to the north-west with Faith Glacier (top left) and Kap Lucie Marie (top right) showing the western wall of Petermann. [Photo Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Petermann Gletscher and Fjord in Aug.-2012. View is to the north-west with Faith Glacier (top left) and Kap Lucie Marie (top right) showing the western wall of Petermann. [Photo Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Looking down Belgrave Glacier discharging into Petermann Gletscher at its terminus in Aug. 2012 [Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Looking down Belgrave Glacier discharging into Petermann Gletscher at its terminus in Aug. 2012 [Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen]

Higgins, A.K. (1990). Northern Greenland glacier velocities and calf ice production Polarforschung, 60, 1-23 Other: 0032-2490

CCGS Henry Larsen: More on People, Places, and Services

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship is powered by such a diverse and talented group of women and men from Newfoundland, Labrador, and beyond, that one or even two posts here hardly do justice to describe how well they run their ship and its many facilities that many mid-sized cities do not have. Monday I wrote about the people who run the power plant and electric departments as well as the seamen who fight fires and run fishing fleet and port facilities. Today I want to show the airport and talk a little about the civil administration that oversees and manages all aboard the ship.

Landing deck of the CCGS Henry Larsen with aircraft preparing for take-off to survey the ice conditions ahead. Shown are Chief Officer Brian Legge (far right) who is in command of the airport and is talking to Pilot Don Dobbin (2nd from right), scientist Renske Gelderloos (3rd from right), Ice Services Specialist Erin Clarke (4th from right), and Helicopter Engineer Pierre Autran performs last checks inside the helicopter. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

The airport consists of hangar, landing pad, helicopter, traffic control, and fire fighting stations. Don Dobbin was our pilot and Pierre Autran his engineer who was pulled out of retirement for this trip. Incidentally, Pierre and I had sailed together on the same ship in 1993 more than 200 miles north of eastern Siberia. Then all flights were prohibited by Russian aviation authorities: Politics were different 20 years ago, one hopes. No such threat of being shot down existed this year between Greenland and Canada, but for severe ice conditions and poor internet connections, the airport was very busy almost every day for both ice surveys ahead and behind the ship. It also supported landing parties to set up and/or service 4 weather stations.

Helicopter pilot Don Dobbin with scientist Dave Riedel on Hans Island servicing a weather station in the center of Nares Strait. Ellesmere Island in the background. [Photo Credit: Allison Einolf, Minnesota]

The air traffic control takes place both on the flight deck where Chief Officer Brian Legge is in charge and from the bridge where the officer-of-the-deck is in overall command as either First Officer Chris Steward or Second Officer Rebecca Acton-Bond place the ship, alert the entire ship, and often oversee other science operations as well. All of these are demanding jobs, all these jobs need precision in the concise communication of orders and permissions granted or denied as well as execution of all operations, because helicopter operations are probably one of the most dangerous and critical operations possible on the ship.

Attention to detail, clear communication, and calm execution lower the risk of death and destruction that helicopters can and often do cause. The National Science Foundation sent me to a 4-day course in helicopter safety and what to do if accidents happen over water or on land. It was a sobering course. For this reason, perhaps, Captain Wayne Duffett is almost always on the deck during flight operations, but as all good chief executives, he lets his officers and navigators run the operations but is available for help on consultation should it be needed.

Second Officer and navigator Rebecca Acton-Bond on a sunday on the bridge of the CCGS Henry Larsen in August of 2012 in Nares Strait. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard, Kirk McNeil, Labrador]

Leading Seaman and helmsman Melvin Cobb on the bridge. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

The navigator always works with a helmsman or quartermaster who steers the ship following instructions of the officer of the deck, they are on the look-out for ice and bergs to find the best routes. “Best” here refers to the route that requires the least amount of ice breaking. So, if there is one thing that icebreakers like the Larsen are really good at, it is how to avoid ice, because it is a violent and high-energy activity. Fuel is not cheap and less ice is broken, the faster and more efficient the tasks at hand can be accomplished.

And as all people on the ship, everyone has more than one job and this includes the helmsmen and quartermasters like Melvin Cobb or firefighters like Derick Stone, Carl Rose, Paul Gillingham, and Rueben Hillier. They are often members of the deck crew that help landing parties to get ashore and stay save while ashore. This involves the zodiac as well as guns to protect from polar bears:

Seamen Paul Gillingham and Rueben Hillier in the zodiac steered by Chief Officer Brian Legge in Alexandra Fjord, Ellesmere Island on Aug.-13, 2012. A tide gauge was recovered and re-deployed near this site. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Ship Henry Larsen, Barbara O’Connell]

Zodiac launched for a landing part to dismantle a weather station at Cape Baird, Ellesmere Island. Chief Officer Brian Legge at the helm with Melvin Cobb and Derick Stone in the back and center left of the boat filled with scientists Humfrey Melling, David Riedel, Andreas Muenchow, and Renske Geldeloos. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

Landing party at Cape Baird, Ellesmere Island to dismantle a weather station. Scientists David Riedel (foreground) and Humfrey Melling (background) are protected by Melvin Cobb (with gun) from polar bears. View is towards the north-west across Lady Franklin Bay to the west of Nares Strait. [Photo Credit: Renske Gelderloos, Oxford University]

Taking down a weather station on Cape Baird, Ellesmere Island, view is to the south-west. People from right to left, the author, David Riedel (kneeling), Melvin Cobb, and Humfrey Melling (covered). [Photo Credit: Renske Gelderloos, Oxford University]

Polar bear on an ice floe in Kennedy Channel as seen from the bridge as the ship was approaching a station a day’s polar bear walk from Cape Baird. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

There is still more to describe such as the hospital, the restaurant and bar, as well as the superior fishing of sailors and fishermen from Newfoundland to find and hook valuable items such as sensors and computers that some scientists left unattended for 3 or 5 or 9 years at the bottom of the unspoiled seas that border Arctic Greenland and Canada. There will be more … as there are more great people who make great science possible.

CCGS Henry Larsen: People, Places, Services

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen sailed this summer on a challenging science mission to Nares Strait, Petermann Glacier, and beyond. It reached its farthest North ever at 82 degrees and 15 minutes North latitude. This week I like to focus on the 39 people who make this ship what it really is: a complex community with all the functionality of a city. Captain Wayne Duffett is in overall command. His job will overwhelm lesser minds as he has to manage an airport, a fire department, a power plant, a sanitation department, a hospital, a restaurant, a hotel, a supermarket, a weather station, a port facility, a civil administration, etc., etc. Oh yeah, The CCGS Henry Larsen is also a ship that he moves through ice in uncharted waters to support 8 scientists from 3 countries. All of this is done with only 22 crew and 17 officers who work around the clock on a variety of schedules.

CCGS Henry Larsen next to the Petermann Ice Island PII-2012 on Aug.-10, 2012. The south-western tip of PII-2012 at the bottom right of the image was used by Captain Wayne Duffett as a reference point for the motion of PII-2012. The exact place of this point was monitored at hourly intervals via helicopter while the ship was operating inside the fjord landward of the ice island. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen/Jo Poole]


Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen at the entrance to Petermann Fjord on Aug.-10, 2012. The ice island PII-2012 is in the background with puddles on sea ice in the foreground. Polaris Bay, Greenland is in the far back. [Photo Credit: CCGS Henry Larsen and Jo Poole.]

The ship may occupy an area of only 2,000 m^2 (100 meters long and 20 meters wide), but it functions as a self-contained universe at sea. Perhaps the most important and largest department with 13 people is the power plant that produces energy to move the ship and to provide electricity and heat to make all other departments’ work possible. The 13 members are quiet and thoughtful men often working in the background in cramped, hot, and dirty spaces below decks. It is very hard to get good pictures of them, but here are two, one of Chief Engineer William Derraugh and Second Electrical Officer Anatoly Eltsov:

Chief Engineer William Derraugh on the bridge of the CCGS Henry Larsen in Aug.-2012 with Senior Scientist Dr. Humfrey Melling. [Photo Credit: Barb O’Connell, Canadian Coast Guard.]


Electrical Officer Anatoly Eltsov during a thoughtful moment on the bridge of the Canadian Coast Ship Henry Larsen in Nares Strait. [Photo Credit: Kirk McNeil, Canadian Coast Guard]

The second-largest department is the fire department that also run the port facilities, the fishing fleet, and provide general support on deck, on the bridge, on the water, and on land to a range of activities. There are nine men in this department that are led by the boatswain or bosun Don Barnable with Chief Officer Brian Legge in command. The men of this department are perhaps the most vocal and visible on the ship as they work so many jobs wearing many hats, uniforms, and arms. I can and will fill entire picture galleries of their work, here are just three images that barely serve as teasers, perhaps:

Boatswain Don Barnable and Seaman Derick Stone working at the airport aboard the CCGS Henry Larsen as traffic control and fire fighter, respectively. [Photo Credit: Jo Poole, British Columbia]


Zodiac of the CCGS Henry Larsen recovering a mooring in Kennedy Channel on Aug.-6 with Chief Officer Brian Legge at the helm. Ellesmere Island, Canada is in the background. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]


Deck crew of CCGS Henry Larsen led by boatswain Don Barnable (white helmet) recovering a mooring over the side where the zodiac delivered it to the crane. Two scientists in the background waiting for the deck to be secure. [Photo Credit: Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen]

I will have to stop here for now, and will report tomorrow and thursday about the logistics, communication, aviation, hospital, and civil administration departments. There is just too much going on aboard a ship that acts like a complex, advanced, and very mobile city. And with mobile I do not just mean a structure of steel, but a structure made of sailors, navigators, scientists, and engineers.

Nares Strait 2012: Renske’s View from the Helicopter

As has been mentioned before on this blog, Dr. Renske Gelderloos, from Oxford University, is a fellow traveler on the CCGS Larsen this summer.  She, too, is blogging about her experience.  Below we reblog her post on the helicopter trip, another exciting and beautiful account of doing science in the Arctic, this one even with a couple pictures!  [Note that the pictures in the blog post are from other trips to the same area — limited internet connectivity to the ship does not permit transmission of current images.]  We will post some of her other entries here, but you can find her blog directly at this link.

Nares Strait from the air, and the first CTD section

5 August 2012

Today started with a nice surprise! During the eight-o-clock science meeting after breakfast the chief officer popped in to say that the helicopter would fly out for an ice survey and that it could take two extra passengers. I immediately volunteered, and as Allison and I had never flown in a helicopter before we would be the lucky ones today.

Ice along the Ellesmere Island coast viewed from the helicopter during an ice survey in 2007.

Together with helicopter pilot Don and ice surveyor Erin we flew off in northeasterly direction. Erin’s job was to maps the ice conditions in the channel ahead of the boat, and see whether there was possibly a better route (less ice-covered) for the boat to take. As Hans Island lay in the helicopter range, we decided to land on this island and do a quick check of the weather station there. The weather station looks like a pole on the top of the island (Hans Island is basically a bit-oversized rock…), firmly held down to the ground with three strings. On top of the pole is a weather vane that also measures the wind speed, and attached to the pole on other heights are a thermometer and a fancy measurement device that measures the incoming solar radiation. The pole also has batteries and a solar panel to provide electricity, and a communication device that sends the data to the more populated part of the world so that it is available immediately. This is unlike our oceanographic moorings under water, which we need to physically recover on the site before we can get the data. Dave had asked us to take photos of the instruments, so we landed the helicopter for a close look. All the instruments appeared to be in remarkably good shape. The previous time this weather station was serviced a polar bear had taken a fancy on it, but fortunately none of the kind had happened this time. When we had done all our duties we flew back over Ellesmere Island to see a glacier from closer by: astonishing!

At the end of the day we finally arrived at the site of our mooring array. As we need the deck crew for mooring recoveries (in particular for the crane and the FRC, which is the small inflatable boat that can be launched from the ship), and the deck crew on Canadian coastguard vessels works from 8 to 5 on weekdays, chief scientist Humfrey decided to do a CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) section first. This had the additional advantage that we would have the CTD data from this section and the moorings overlapping for an intercomparison between the two.

The multi-coloured mountains of Ellesmere Island

Around 7 o’clock in the evening we were ready for the first trial cast. We had already done ‘dry’ tests, which means we just checked whether the computer was willing to talk to the CTD sensors and the other way around, and whether the values we got were somewhat reasonable. The quantities we measure are the conductivity, the temperature and the pressure. From those quantities we can calculate the salinity of the water (the other way to measure salinity is to take a water sample and take it to a laboratory, so by using the conductivity of the water we can measure the salinity at every location from the surface to the bottom which gives a lot more information than just a few samples), as well as the density. For a CTD cast the sensors are tied to a frame, and the frame is lowered, using a winch, from the deck to the water and subsequently from the surface to just above the bottom of the ocean. The data is sent to our computer real time through the cable that is holding the frame, so we can do a visual inspection and get all excited during the cast. After the trial run things started to really speed up and everyone took up a task. Humfrey supervised, Jo did the winch, Dave (after a subtle hint) kindly provided tea with goodies (thanks Dave!), I monitored the data on the computer screen and made sure the data was saved, and Andreas did a quick-and-dirty first post-processing of the data which enabled us all to see the results of our measurements in almost real time. Just before midnight the section was completed, I took some pictures of the midnight sun and we could all go to sleep.

Nares Strait 2012: A Bird’s Eye View of Nares Strait

Allison Einolf, Aug.-7, 2012

I know next to nothing about helicopters. They’ve always seemed exciting, but I couldn’t tell you anything about make or model or what makes one helicopter better than the next. As it turns out, helicopters are just as exciting as they seem on television.

Sunday morning, as our group of eight scientists met to discuss the plan for the day, Brian, the Chief Officer, interrupted to ask if anyone wanted to tag along on the first helicopter ride of the trip. Renske’s hand immediately shot up into the air, and I volunteered a little more slowly. We quickly wrapped up our meeting, and Renske and I layered on jackets and headed up to the flight deck.

Allison Einolf getting ready for an ice recon flight on the flight deck of the CCGS Henry Larsen. [Photo Credit: Jo Poole, British COlumbia]

The purpose of the flight was to give the Ice Services Specialist, Erin, a chance to look ahead at the ice cover up to Hans Island, where we were headed. She was going to make a chart of the ice to help guide the ship through the path of least resistance, and maybe do a little sightseeing. An air of excitement filled the helicopter because neither she nor the pilot, Don, had ever been up here in Nares Strait either.

Once the first bit of work was done, we flew over to Ellesmere Island to see the amazing folded ranges. The colors there are amazing – bright reds and yellows in layers, crunched up in beautiful synclines and anticlines. The hills are scored with avalanche chutes and based with alluvial fans. There are glaciers nested in the folds of the mountains, and it is simply breathtaking.

There is a stark contrast between Greenland and Ellesmere Island on either side of the Kennedy Channel. I was awestruck by Greenland while we were in Thule, but Ellesmere Island makes the Greenland side of the strait look dull and gray in comparison. It’s one of the first things you notice up here, and many members of the crew point it out on sunny days. The contrast brings up all sorts of questions about the rocks even for the casual observer.

A few theories have come up over the years as to what made the sides of the channel so different. Some think that the channel lies along some sort of fault or plate boundary, and some argue that plate tectonics has nothing to do with it. No matter how I look at it, something has to have been vastly different on each side of the strait because the Greenland side has all of these horizontal layers in a much grayer rock, and the Ellesmere side is more than just colorful layers – they bend and contort in violent and beautiful ways that seem much more active than the Greenland layers.

Both sides of the Nares Strait are beautiful in their own ways, and the view from a helicopter was spectacular. We were able to land on Hans Island, which is a great example of the carbonate rock of Greenland, and is apparently rife with marine fossils. We also flew over Franklin Island and farther south to Rawlings Bay and Jolliffe Glacier. It was the first time I had seen a large glacier close up, and it was amazing to see the ridges in the ice, and I was surprised by how much a glacier seems to look and act like a very slow moving river.

CCGS Henry Larsen as seen from atop Hans Island. The view is to the west with Ellesmere Island in the background. [Photo Credit: Allison Einolf, University of Delaware undergraduate intern]

As we flew into the fjord, I was continually amazed by how nearly vertical some of the layers of the rock were, and by the bright reds and yellows of the rock. Flying back to the ship we flew over the mountains and I was amazed by the way the rock beneath us dropped away completely as we flew into Nares Strait. The geology, the ice, and the experience of being in a helicopter were all so incredible.