GrIT's Going!

The GrIT Case Quadtrac tractor named Kununnguaq ("iceberg" in Greenlandic) heads toward the transition. Photo: Geoff Phillips Up at Thule Air Force Base, the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team met a major milestone over the weekend:  They mapped a safe route through the 60 miles of twisted ice that marks the edge of the ice sheet. The GrIT team has been working at Thule the past two months preparing to deliver important cargo and fuel to the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Summit Station, which lies 720 miles inland.

Getting ready and finding the way Early information suggested that the always dynamic ice sheet edge might make route-finding even more of a challenge than usual. Late last week, one area seemed to resist all avoidance or circumlocution efforts.  But in the end, the strategic crevasse avoidance team, or SCAT, found a way through the jumble. Kudos!

The Tucker pushes a ground-penetrating radar unit on a boom, which detects disturbances in the ice below. Photo: Pat Smith

The SCAT returned to Thule Air Base on Sunday, relieved and no doubt tired after a long, cold couple of weeks of ground-penetrating radar studies. “It is strenuous, exhausting work running 12-hour shifts in an environment where a mistake could lead to the ground suddenly opening up below you,” writes Geoff Phillips, the GrIT Project Manager. (To get a sense of what it’s like to conduct SCAT work, view this video by GrIT team member Forrest McCarthy, who’s part of the team getting GrIT ready for the traverse.)

This week, the traverse prep team at Thule will begin filling huge bladders with fuel that the GrIT will pull to Summit (and use for refueling en route). When they are ready early in April, five GrIT personnel will drive four Case Quadtrac tractors and a Tucker on the ~700 mile route. They will stop at NEEM on the return trip to check on the camp, raise ski-way flags, and measure an underground test trench. The trip to Summit will take about 4 weeks, and will likely test the mettle and trouble-shooting skills of the team on a routine basis.

The GrIT team

Fortunately, the GrIT team is exceptionally well-prepared.

Robin Davies makes in-field repairs on the 2012 GrIT. Photo: Shep Vail

The group–Pat Smith, field leader; Robin Davies, mechanic; Galen Dossin, mountaineer; Ben Toth, equipment operator; and Eric Lund, equipment operator–have all made this trip before or proven themselves on the South Pole Station resupply traverse. “This team has experienced and overcome just about every problem you didn't think you could have while operating equipment in the middle of the ice cap,” notes Phillips.  “That type of ingenuity and hard work combined with their impressive humility will make for a great traverse and a team everyone enjoys working with."   

A research traverse

The GrIT team will escort a small group of NSF-funded scientists (Zoe Courville & Chris Polashenski, PI's) through the crevasse zone. The researchers are conducting surface absorption studies, and will sample along the route to waypoint B11d, where the crevasse zone gives way to more stable inland ice.  Once there, the researchers will separate from the GrIT, and zig-zag on a sampling course for several weeks before returning to Thule Air Base. As a testament to just how dynamic the ice sheet margin is, the SCAT team will re-survey the route to ensure it is safe for the GrIT’s return to Thule in late May.

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. For more field notes coverage of GrIT, click here.