Act I of NSF’s Greenland Research Season
Like spring flowers, science teams funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation are popping up all over the Arctic as we head into the research season. CPS staff recently began our March/April migration to Kangerlussuaq, the program’s logistics hub in Greenland. In addition to opening our office and warehouse spaces and preparing for the influx of research teams coming later this month, we assisted an early bird Arctic Circle Traverse (ACT) team going in to the field for Principal Investigators Rick Forster (U of Utah) and Jason Box (Ohio State U).
The ACT research aims to improve our understanding of the Greenland ice sheet’s mass balance by providing data on how much snow accumulates in areas where little information exists now. Scientists can tell us about the ice sheet’s mass balance by measuring how much snow and ice is lost through melting (a lot these days) and comparing it to how much is gained through precipitation.
The Forster/Box team of four—researchers Evan Burgess and Clément Miège (U of Utah), driller Terry Gacke and mountaineer Brian Ballard—flew to Raven Camp out on the ice sheet and mounted a ~350-mile snowmachine traverse from there a few days ago. Each day the team rides the ice sheet, towing a ground-penetrating radar on a sled that collects information on snow accumulation in the top 50 meters of the ice sheet. They also stop to drill ice cores that help them verify the radar data. They leave the cores in boxes for later retrieval and shipment to U.S. research labs for analysis.
As we’ve said many times, polar field work is not for the faint-of-heart. The ACT team is camping out on the ice sheet. In tents. In temperatures that fall into the minus 30s and 40s at night. Strong winds pinned them at kilometer marker 48 yesterday, but the forecast suggests they can get an early start tomorrow and make tracks before a new storm arrives. We keep a close eye on them, through daily check-ins and “bread crumb” GPS tracking devices affixed to their snowmachines that tell us exactly where they are in real time.