Moving Summit Station's Mobile Science Facility

CPS staff clearing snow/ice that has built up on the building under-carriage and skis, and inspecting cables. Photo: Von Walden The Mobile Science Facility at Summit Station was constructed by the National Science Foundation to rest on skis so that it could be repositioned and relocated. Occasionally it is moved to suit the needs of the experiment(s) it contains; other times it is moved to escape being buried by the significant snow accumulation experienced up on the Greenland Ice Sheet; and biennially we move the building to a fresh berm to ensure good line of sight for the instruments it houses.

Hooking the MSF to the D-6 bulldozer. Photo: Von Walden

While this is not a complex operation, it is a delicate one. Within the building are instruments that constantly collect high value data. Many of these instruments collect data for a project called the Integrated Characterization of Energy, Clouds, Atmospheric State, and Precipitation (ICECAPS) observatory, which is led by Dr. Von Walden, of Washington State University. Since 2010, the instruments have collected real-time cloud and atmospheric information. The project is slated to continue until 2018.

The MSF’s new home, a fresh berm 6-feet above ground level, is seen on the horizon at right. CPS electrician Gonzalo has pulled the electrical pin and sleeve plug. The clock starts. Photo: Von Walden

Recently Summit staff moved the MSF to a fresh new berm, which required that the building’s power be supplied by the auxiliary power unit (APU) until reconnected to the Station grid. Though the APU can provide back-up power for more than two hours, each tick of the clock is excruciating because some of the instruments in this long-term study run continuously and any outage would interrupt the data record.  To minimize disruption, staff coordinated closely with Walden and his team.

Because instrument orientation needs to remain constant, we move the building in a careful loop. Gonzalo is walking the cables over to the new berm, both to ensure they are not damaged, and to save the time needed to secure them to the building. Photo: Von Walden

The effort was a success, as evidenced by Walden’s recap: “Everything went very smoothly.  The building was only disconnected from [grid] power for probably 15-20 minutes.  The building was leveled on its new pad and required only 0.4 degrees in pitch (length) and 0.1 degrees in roll (width).  So LT (the CAT driver) nailed it …  I can’t emphasize how well Ward orchestrated this.  He has great attention to detail and had prepared for every aspect of the move.  Coupled with the great support here at Summit from many others, we’re back online!”

Half-way through the loop, Summit Station is visible in the distance. Photo: Von Walden

Dozer driver Tom drives the MSF up on to the berm he has created. He has formed and compacted the berm so well that the building’s leveling requirements are minimal (only 0.4 degrees in pitch (length) and 0.1 degrees in roll (width). In terms of technical dozer driving, Tom has “nailed it,” as Von Walden wrote in an email. Photo: Von Walden

The Summit team accomplished this move so that the APU had to provide power for only 18-ish minutes. This may be a record.

The MSF at rest in its new position. Note the halo above the dozer formed by ice crystals (part of the ICECAPS study). Photo: Von Walden