GrIT report: Halfway there!

Hauling extensive amounts of fuel and equipment across the Greenland Ice Sheet is hard, but not impossible, as evidenced by the success of the 2012 Greenland Inland Traverse. Image: Ed Stockard The GrIT operations team has been plagued by mechanical challenges in recent days. However, firmer snow has led to higher mileage days than originally anticipated. This week the team will reach the halfway point to Summit Station. Read on for the most recent progress report from GrIT Project Manager Geoff Phillips.

There is no shortage of challenges for an increasingly exhausted crew rolling across the ice cap this week.

One of the tractors had an engine coolant hose fail one day and a total loss of power the next. The coolant hose is pretty obvious to diagnose, but the engine power loss took more digging to locate a collapsed hose between the air filter and intercooler starving the engine of air.

The Espar unit that heats the snow melter quit from what appeared to be the effects of the unit being encased by a ball of ice that likely formed during last week’s storms. This assembly had a parallel unit installed last summer that was quickly brought online to restore the snowmelting system, buying the crew more time to melt out the ice and repair the original unit.

In the last report, we presented the issues the ARCS sled had with the pontoons migrating out from under cargo decks. The crew was able to strap in most of those pontoon pouches, which has stopped them from getting any worse. Unfortunately they don’t appear to be moving back into place. There was one pouch that needed to be moved forward, which took all morning to accomplish; six pontoons were deflated in order to pull the pouch and strap it back into place. This pouch has since stayed secure.

The challenges continue. The Durabse sheets under one side of the Caterpillar 953 have broken and started sliding out from under the tracks. The machine itself has not moved as it is strapped to multiple attachment points including a line that runs up the entire sled and connects to the spreader bar. The crew feels it likely failed due to snow getting under the sheets and giving uneven support below, combined with the concentrated load of the equipment tracks on the top.

On a brighter side, the crew is finally getting into hard enough snow to reliably start single heading sleds again. In the four days since the last report, the traverse crew has averaged 32 miles per day, slightly more than anticipated while scheduling. If they continue to successfully single haul their own loads, this should increase their mileage and potentially help to regain some of the time lost due to mechanical issues.

Assuming another good day today (Wednesday), the GrIT crew will reach the halfway mile marker to Summit Station.

The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the Greenland Inland Traverse. CH2M HILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2014 spring traverse delivers fuel and cargo to Summit Station, continues efforts to optimize mobility, and provides a research platform for Zoe Courville’s NSF-funded scientific research project.

Monitor GrIT and SAGE progress here. 
Follow the SAGE science traverse via their blog. For more field notes coverage of GrIT, click here.