GRIS’15 Diary Part 2

Thanks to British Society for Geomorphology, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Gilchrist Fieldwork Fund, Mount Everest Foundation, Andrew Croft Memorial Fund, Scottish Arctic Club and Gradconsult for supporting this field work. Thanks also to the GRIS15 field team: Ottavia Cavalli, Michael Sweet and Arwyn Edwards

The Greenland Ice Sheet (Wikimedia commons)
The Greenland Ice Sheet (Wikimedia commons). Our field site was on the ice in the south-west of Greenland, inland from Sisimiut (marked on the map) near Kangerlussuaq.

5th July.

I awoke very early today, the twenty-four hour sunlight always plays havoc with my sleep for a while. I took the last opportunity to use a shower and packed up the field kit ready to depart from KISS and start the field season proper. The others awoke a little later and we had a group breakfast before loading up the wagon and heading off in the direction of the ice… We spent the morning setting up a camp near the margin of the ice sheet. The temperature difference between here and Kangerlussuaq was very noticeable – we went from sweltering in shorts and t-shirts to wrapping up in base layers and down jackets. The wind was strong and constant, which was partly welcome as during the brief lulls the mosquitos swarmed in thick clouds. Once tents were up and pegged down firmly, we made our way onto the ice in search of a field site. We went in light, leaving science kit at the camp, as this was mainly reconnaissance for tomorrow. We accessed the ice sheet at ‘Point 660’ and walked approximately 4 km to a flat plateau beyond the crevasse field which I had identified last year as a potential site. Here, the ice is much lower gradient and less influenced by the intense cracking and deformation of the ice closer to land, and includes a wide variety of ice types, from patches of dirty snow, flat-ice plains, steep north and south facing slopes and several supraglacial streams. The cryoconite holes here ranged from tens of millimetres to metres in diameter and were present in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with the classic cylindrical ‘pipes’ and ‘buckets’ the most prevalent, but irregular holes and complexes aplenty. In other words, it’s a near-ideal field site for glacier ecology. This site will be our home for the next twelve days. We marked the site on our GPS and hiked back to dry land, excited to start our experiments. Everyone was a bit whacked afterwards, and we noted that after repeating the hike every day for two weeks, we will be either very fit or very tired! We cooked up our freeze dried food, ate it on a picturesque rock ledge near a fierce glacier-fed river, and got an early night, except for Arwyn and I who sat up enjoying a whisky (which required sacrificing two 50 mL falcon tubes as shot glasses) and chatting cryo-bio until late!

The camp on the first day of field measurements
The camp on the first day of field measurements
Arwyn and Otti enjoying the view from 'the kitchen'.
Arwyn and Otti enjoying the view from ‘the kitchen’.

July 6th:

Breakfast was early porridge, again at the riverside. This is a really beautiful spot to eat – we can see the river rising and falling in synchronicity with cycles of melt on the ice sheet (plus a lag) and we can also see a glacier fed lake graudally filling past the moraines. The spot is generally sheltered from the wind, but catches most of the day’s sunshine, so is a comfortable oasis away from the wind, dust, mosquitoes and cold up by our tents. I wonder whether this spot might get submerged as the river swells later in the season though. After shovelling some breakfast, we hot-footed it to the field site and put in a big day’s sampling. The walk-in was quite slow because we were hauling all the science equipment, including the drone, ice corers, drills and biogeochemistry apparatus. My own work was hampered slightly by the strong katabatic winds belting my equipment as I worked, often sending it sliding down towards a nearby supraglacial stream, or making it difficult to work with. We attempted a drone flight, which was also a bit hairy, with the quad-copter strafing uncontrollably in the strong gusts and using a lot of energy trying to right itself against the wind. Nevertheless, good data was obtained and field equipment was stashed away in an ice hollow – this will make the walk in much easier tomorrow. An accidental diversion on retreat landed us in the crevasse field, which had to be negotiated carefully and slowed down our return – we eventually ate at 22.15.

Walking in to the field site
Mike Sweet, Arwyn Edwards and Ottavia Cavalli walking in to the field site

This video illustrates the diversity of topographic and glaciological environs at the field site.

July 7th:

More of the same at the field site today, except that we have hit our stride. Our route from camp to field site is now pretty well known and we cut it down to one hour and got lots of measurements and samples during the day. However, it was really, really cold and extremely windy at the site today, making working very uncomfortable and difficult. The infra-red gas analyser I use to make carbon flux measurements could not maintain sufficient internal temperature and could therefore not be used in situ, and  so I had to revert to decanting the incubated samples into falcon tubes, taking them off the ice entirely and running a make-shift NEP lab in the back of the truck. Not perfect, but needs must, and most importantly the data look good. More tasty dehy’s for tea and a nip of whisky before bed!

On the way to constructing NEP-wagon…!

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter did a sterling job in the field, but in this video it can be seen catching a fierce gust of wind that sent it off course. Amazingly, it never crashed and was always able to return to us despite the conditions.

One of the team (Mike? Arwyn?) working under spectacular skies at the field site.
One of the team (Mike? Arwyn?) working under spectacular skies at the field site.

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