Maintaining at Summit

“Sleeping in a tent in the Arctic was a new experience for me. Temperatures dipped below 0°F and the winds were consistently blowing against the tent.”– Jim Pottinger, 2010 PolarTREC teacher

Jim Pottinger enjoys cold weather, so living at Summit Station’s Tent City on the Greenland ice cap for a week was fine by him. Camping atop 3200 meters of ice was one of several new experiences for the Pennsylvania native who travelled to Greenland last summer as part of the PolarTREC Program. Pottinger’s team, which is led by PI Konrad Steffen (CIRES), travelled to Summit to maintain instrumentation for the NSF-funded BSRN - Compatible Irradiance Measurements and the Stable Boundary Layer

At Summit Station, Pottinger worked with Karl Schroff and Hansjoerg Frei (from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and Nikko Bayou (UC Boulder).

Their first task was to locate and retrieve an Automated Temperature Profiling Unit (APTU), which started its mission recording high altitude weather data in 2007.

“After a four-mile bone-chilling [snowmobile] ride, we arrived at the site. It was a beautiful location in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet. The sky was blue, the terrain was white and there was nothing as far as the eye could see,” Pottinger wrote in his August 14 journal.

They located the unit by GPS. Only two feet of the ten-foot tall APTU tripod was sticking up out of the snow. It took six hours and digging down about twenty feet before they freed the tripod and data logger using snowmobiles and ropes.

The team’s next task was to elevate Summit’s AWS, one of eighteen such stations in Greenland. First, the scientists attached cable extensions to accommodate the station’s new height. Next, they erected a tripod over the station, attached a rope to the top of the AWS, and lifted the station ten feet while inserting an extension tube to the base. Once the station was secure, they removed the tripod and later verified data transmission. The entire data transmission process only took one hour!

Next, they dug a 140-centimeter deep snow pit next to the AWS. Pottinger recorded the pit’s snow structure, making notes of density, snow crystal shape and size, layer thickness and volume  every ten centimeters. These measurements will help ground-truth the AWS and ensure that sensors were working properly over the two previous years.

Pottinger also assisted in elevating and calibrating BSRN instrumentation and learned about ongoing NOAA weather experiments.

Pottinger’s visit coincided with Summit’s transition between seasonal crews. This meant a busy couple of days while winter preparations were made. Following a great end of season dinner, Pottinger spent his last night in the Big House and flew out with a jubilant summer crew the next morning.

Pottinger, who has a background in geology, coordinates the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program at Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. He acts as an academic advisor, making sure students are on an academic path consistent with their post-secondary goals, and as a science teacher, giving periodic guest lectures in science classes.

Pottinger hopes to return to Greenland’s Swiss Camp next May with Steffen. He will again be involved in systems maintenance and hopes to learn more about how the collected data is being used in various science projects. In the meantime, he’s keeping busy sharing his experience with students, teachers and community. Pottinger hopes he can begin to correct some of the misconceptions people have about climate change, the Arctic, and the people who live there.—Marcy Davis