Ice Alive: Grants!

Ice Alive has a life of it’s own – no longer just a film, now an organization that exists to promote emerging scientists and communicators working on Earth’s changing ice and snow. Our website (icealive.org) is almost ready to launch, and we have just announced our inaugural Ice Alive grant scheme!

ICEALIVE

The grant will support 2-4 individuals or teams that have a novel idea for communicating cryospheric science on the broad theme of “Ice Alive”. We hope to see applications from artists, performers, musicians, writers, educators, journalists, scientists – anyone who has a great idea for spreading cryospheric science to new audiences in exciting ways.

All the details are HERE – please spread the word and/or apply yourself before 31st July 2018.

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Biocryomorphic evolution on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Our new paper, “Metabolome induced biocryomorphic evolution promotes carbon fixation in Greenlandic cryoconite holes” came out this week. The main finding is that cryoconite holes can change their shape in three dimensions to maintain comfortable conditions for microbial life – an example of biocryomorphology in action. Here’s a summary of the main points:

  1. Cryoconite holes change their shape and size according to environmental conditions. A mechanism for this, driven by nonuniform arrangement of cryoconite granules or receipt of solar radiation, is presented.
  2. Changes in hole shape are accompanied by changes in metabolic processes in microbial communities on the hole floors
  3. Cryoconite systems tend to evolve towards wide, flat floored shapes where cryoconite granules are spread out and able to photosynthesise more. This means cryoconite holes naturally maintain conditions conducive to capturing carbon.
  4. When these equilibrium states are disturbed, the microbes become stressed, send molecular signals to each other and quickly employ metabolic survival strategies.
  5. A possible mechanism for the migration of cryoconite holes away from shade implies biocryomorphic regulation of hole floor conditions for populations of holes.
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Making cryoconite hole measurements with co-author Tris Irvine-Fynn (ph. A Edwards)

This paper indicates the potential for combining ice physical, biogeochemical and molecular (in this case metabolomic) analyses in gaining a mechanistic understanding of Earth’s ice as a ‘living landscape’. Another recent paper by Bagshaw et al (Cardiff Cold Climate) examining cryoconite responses to light stress at the other end of the planet is available here.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Ice?

I recently read the fantastic ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. His dedication to realising his childhood dream of going into space is truly inspiring and his account of the many important lessons learned through the entire process, from school to space-station are thought provoking and widely applicable. What I found particularly interesting about Hadfield’s experiences was how many are directly relevant to us polar scientists. While we may not leave the planet, the personal and professional challenges he describes provide common ground that will be familiar to scientists working in remote, icy parts of Earth. Below are some that particularly resonated. I wonder what “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Ice?” might look like?

An-Astronauts-Guide-to-Life-on-Earth

  1. There’s a lot of time on land

Just as astronauts spend most of their time on Earth, most glaciologists spend the majority of their time off the ice. Certainly for most academics there is a precious window of field time in a year (funds permitting) during which every second counts. There is no guarantee of ever going back so every moment must be savoured and every opportunity taken. Field time is what got many inspired to follow cryo-careers in the first place – it’s the pay-off for weeks and months spent refining grant applications, hatching field plans in meticulous detail, ploughing through admin. However, most time is spent office, lab or lecture theatre-bound. Analysing field data, writing papers, engaging in outreach and education, lecturing to students, marking and dealing with endless admin are the daily bread and butter of cryospheric scientists. Satisfaction therefore relies upon enjoying many activities, not just those on ice. Chris Hadfield emphasised the importance of finding things to enjoy every day, not only those in space. We need to be happy and productive on dry land as well as on ice.

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A great day exploring an extremely picturesque lake on the Greenland Ice Sheet (2015)
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This is what a more typical day looks like through the majority of the year!
  1. Responsibility to deliver

Chris communicated his awareness of the public money that had been invested in his education, training and preparation, as well as in each space mission. Similarly, polar expeditions are usually funded by a trust or public money. Researchers therefore have a responsibility to do everything in their power to deliver useful, relevant science. There is a moral imperative not to spend extravagantly, to live frugally and stretch the budget as far as is safe and sensible, and to prioritise delivering quality results over and above personal experience and cryo-tourism.

  1. Responsibility to stay safe

 Working in the polar regions impacts friends, family and colleagues. Expeditions often take people away from home, sometimes without reliable communications, for months at a time. The environment is challenging and hazardous, and there is an emotional cost for those back home. In families, ‘life admin’, caring for children and/or pets, dealing with family emergencies etc. often go from being two people’s responsibility to one person’s. Even outside of expedition time, polar scientists often work erratic hours, sometimes in jobs that are secure for just a few years at a time and may require frequent relocation around the country/world. As well as appreciating this toll, and making efforts to reciprocate, polar scientists have a responsibility to make every effort to stay safe in the field, communicate when possible and avoid unnecessary risks. Furthermore, emergency search and rescue, evacuation and medical care can be dangerous and extremely costly, not to the same extent as experienced by Hadfield during his space missions, but nevertheless polar scientists have a responsibility to be relatively risk averse. See this astute review of some pertinent SAR issues. 

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Costs for rescue helicopters can quickly reach tens of thousands of pounds and medical care is not always easily accessible.
  1. Sweat the small stuff

Cryosphere work often requires long periods of time in remote locations with a small team of researchers. There, details matter. A helicopter resupply to a field camp can cost tens of thousands of pounds and very few expeditions can afford or justify ad hoc deliveries of forgotten, broken or inappropriate kit. That means meticulous planning and preparation, spare everything and detailed inventories. However, sweating the small stuff also means appreciating the importance of small luxuries, making time for some frivolity and overlooking small annoyances to maintain camp morale and comradery. Ultimately, interpersonal relationships and the mood of a camp can have a huge impact on both safety and science. In the words of Tyler Durden, “let that which does not matter, truly slide”, but those things that do matter, really matter.

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Small portions of a favourite coffee, chocolate, sweet etc, or an Ipod loaded with upbeat music are small things that can make a big difference in camp. (ph. Wikimedia Common, CCASA3.0)
  1. Aim to be a zero

On his space missions, Hadfield aimed to have zero impact. That meant not aiming prove his worth (+1), but being careful never to have a negative impact on a situation (-1). His aim was to deliver his science and not f**k up. Additional achievements were bonuses, not targets. He suggests real +1’s don’t need to try to prove their worth – circumstances often do that for them. Hadfield suggests that those who aim for +1 do not make great astronauts as they are preoccupied with personal achievement and competition with colleagues, so they do not jive well with colleagues over long stretches in close confines in a challenging environment. Same for polar scientists – if Hadfield’s book teaches us anything it is to value humility and altruism.

  1. Added value

 Many people know Hadfield’s music video – Bowie’s Space Oddity – recorded on the space station. This was a shrewd piece of outreach and public engagement, but it is just one of many things Hadfield does to add value to his work: Skype lessons with students, public lectures, popular science articles, TV slots, interviews, educational materials etc. For funders this adds exposure and impact; for scientists it offers a way to communicate the value of a piece of work to a wider audience. Cryosphere scientists are very privileged, since the majority of people will not interact with these remote environments. Therefore, we have some responsibility to communicate our findings and experiences. Education and engagement is an important part of being a polar scientist.

 

In summary, Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ is a great read for anyone; but for polar scientists it represents an easy-to-read handbook for how to act both in the field and on dry land. There are important parallels between Hadfield’s experience of space travel and work in the cryosphere; we can learn a lot from his experiences.

GRIS 15 Diary: Part 4

Thanks to British Society for Geomorphology, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Gilchrist Educational Trust, 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 team working at the field site, ca. 3 km from the margin of the SW Greenland Ice Sheet, captured using the DJI Phantom Vision 2 + drone.

July 13th

Despite the mosquitoes, Greenland is a beautiful place. The rocks glisten with flecks of pyrite, the lake waters are beautifully clear, the rivers are turbid with glacial flour and as the season progresses the green land is becoming freckled with blooms of cotton flowers. We have seen Arctic foxes and reindeer. The ice is spectacular, changing colour throughout each day as the melt rate waxes and wanes. Melt pools grow and shrink, cryoconite holes deepen and shallow, supraglacial streams swell and shrink and migrate across the ice surface. The colours are whites and blues to greys and greens. It is a magical, beautiful place and we are very lucky to be working here. Today’s field work went well. We are ahead of schedule on our science goals and the data is looking good. No sign of the weather changing at the moment either, so we are putting our heads together to come up with more ideas to extend the science programme and make the very most of our time here. When we arrived back at camp to find fellow glacier researchers Marek Stibal, Karen Cameron, Jakub Zarsky and Tyler Kohler (collectively @CryoEco) at camp. It was good to catch up and find out a little about their field season over at Leverett Glacier.

 

A Greenland lake in summer bloom (ph. M Sweet)
A Greenland lake in summer bloom (ph. M Sweet)
Cotton grass near the ice margin (ph. M Sweet)
Cotton grass near the ice margin (ph. M Sweet)
Midnight sun over a glacier-fed river
Midnight sun over a glacier-fed river

July 14th

Today was another productive day in relatively good weather. Another solid day’s worth of data was recorded by all members of the team. Everything ran pretty much according to plan. I had a look over the data so far and am hopeful of some good results, but it will require some deep analysis once back in the UK. I have been sleeping badly since we got here, largely due to the midnight sun and tonight was especially bad. I walked down to the river and read my book in the early hours and it felt like midday.

Cavalli, Edwards and Cook en route to the site (ph. M Sweet)
Cavalli, Edwards and Cook en route to the site (ph. M Sweet)
Observing a cryopond at the site
Observing a cryopond at the site

July 15th

My initial science objectives were met today! The weather has been extremely kind to us thus far and our productivity has been higher than expected. I plan to continue to make further measurements and expand the dataset, whilst also establishing some associated extension experiments. Today was hard going though. The katabatic winds were right back up to full strength and it was bitterly cold at the site, especially once my hands had been in a few cryoconite holes! We are all starting to feel tired after a long stretch of continuous field work, but the end of the first observation period is in sight and everyone’s primary science objectives should be in the bag in the next couple of days.

Otti at work (ph. A Edwards)
Otti at work (ph. A Edwards)

July 16th

Another hard day weather-wise. It is really the wind that makes things difficult and slows us down. It’s also hard work to stabilise the drone in the wind, and I doubt we will have much useful imagery from these very windy days. Thankfully, there have been enough calm days to ensure sufficient data capture, and more importantly, we haven’t lost or broken the drone! Again, I decanted samples into falcon tubes to process back at camp, and the mosquitoes made it very unpleasant. Still, it got done and as a team our minimum science aims have now been met. This is quite a weight off our minds, since data collected from here on in is largely bonus and if the weather or logistics turned against us from tomorrow onwards, we can still be assured of returning home with some science achievements and data to work up in the autumn.

Otti and Arwyn doing lunch
Otti and Arwyn doing lunch
Mile and I: drone selfie
Mile and I: drone selfie

July 17th

We finally took a bit of a rest day today, and gained a new recruit to our camp. Leo Nathan is an MSc student at Aberystwyth University who is working under the supervision of Prof. Alun Hubbard. Leo is flying fixed-wing UAVs over long transects to generate Digital Elevation Model data of several of the rapidly melting glaciers in this region. We visited his original camp, up near Point 660, where he has been building and launching the drones. It was all very impressive stuff, and Leo was very knowledgeable and happy to talk about the project, and made a welcome addition to the team.

Field site panorama (M Sweet)
Field site panorama (M Sweet)
The team by one of many dramatic and picturesque cryoponds (M Sweet)
The team by one of many dramatic and picturesque cryoponds (M Sweet)

July 18th

Today was a final day of measurements at the original field site and was relatively routine. Leo cooked dinner tonight and it was a damn fine spaghetti bolognese (although our resident Italian may disagree)!

Dr Edwards in a bag
Dr Edwards in a bag

July 19th

Today we pulled our equipment out ready to change field site. This meant dismantling the loggers we had set up, collecting in pieces of equipment and markers, and generally leaving the place as pristine as we found it. This took the morning and we were off the ice just after 1pm. We had some lunch and then went to another nearby glacier to scope out possible access points for obtaining some basal ice samples. On the way we encountered a family of six musk oxen, including two very small calves. Mike and I took a walk over to another nearby glacier and watched the calving ice for a while before dinner. The sun is starting to get lower in the sky at night now, and this evening was especially beautiful down at the river. I sat there and read until it was late and eventually too cold to be out of a tent.

One of the bigger musk ox (M Sweet)
One of the bigger musk ox (M Sweet)
Musk ox family (M Sweet)
Musk ox family (M Sweet)

July 20th

Today was Otti’s final day in Greenland with us. To make it a good one, we took a trip to Russell Glacier, where we watched the glacier calve. This site has changed dramatically since my last visit in 2014, having undergone some major calving and slumping. If there is some out there, I’d love to see some time lapse imagery of this piece of ice. We had some lunch and did some reconnaissance for a future research idea before walking out. Back at camp, we had a good sort out of our field kit, rearranged the tents and packed up gear that Otti would take back to the UK. We also organised the equipment that the remaining team members would need for the rest of the trip and nailed down some further research plans for the final leg of the trip. I stupidly fell asleep out in the open and woke up having been feasted upon by mosquitoes – my face looks like a sheet of bubble wrap!

The calving face of Rusell Glacier
The calving face of Rusell Glacier
The ice cave and calving face of Russell Glacier
The ice cave and calving face of Russell Glacier

July 21st

Today was not a good day. We awoke as usual and ate breakfast, then piled into the truck to drive Otti to town in time for her flight. About 12 km from Kangerlussuaq we were involved in a collision with another vehicle and had to evacuate to KISS. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but there was damage to both vehicles. A police report was filed and the rest of the day was spent trying to contact relevant insurance agencies and our university contacts.

July 22nd:

Today we necessarily stayed in KISS to try to sort out the vehicle issues. While we wait, the last of pour funds are evaporating in accommodation costs, plus food etc and we are without a vehicle to get to a field site to extend our science! We also have the additional problem that our camp is still established at the ice margin… Late in the evening two cancellations were made for tomorrow’s flight out of Kangerlussuaq, so Arwyn and I snapped them up. With Otti already home safe and sound, and Mike’s flights only two days away anyway, this was seen as the most prudent damage limitation option. An extremely kind offer of a lift out to decamp by a University of Essex research group meant we could quickly get our kit packed up in time to bail tomorrow.

July 23rd:

It is with heavy heart and light wallet that we leave Greenland today. However, we managed to achieve our primary science aims before disaster struck, and everyone is leaving injury free. So overall, although we are a few days early retreating from Greenland, we have the data we need to produce our manuscripts as planned and have loads of images and footage for outreach and analysis. We have met some great folks and seen an incredible part of the planet, and should produce some good publications as a result. However, two secondary objectives that were scheduled for the last few days were not met: depth sampling in a crevasse and bulk sampling of cryoconite. Things could have been a whole lot worse and we are now looking forward to getting stuck into analysing and writing up our findings!

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Thank you’s:

Another huge thank you to our funders  British Society for Geomorphology, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Gilchrist Educational Trust, Mount Everest Foundation, Andrew Croft Memorial Fund, Scottish Arctic Club and Gradconsult for supporting this field work.

I also thank Professor Alun Hubbard, Leo Nathan, Johnny Ryan and the team from the University of Essex for their company and/or collaboration.

Finally, my thanks go out to the GRIS15 team: Ottavia Cavalli, Michael Sweet and Arwyn Edwards.

GRIS15 Diary: Part 3

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

Walking in to the field site (me, Arwyn, Otti). Ph. Mike Sweet
Walking in to the field site (me, Arwyn, Otti). Ph. Mike Sweet

July 8th:

Mike and I went to the field site alone today, as Arwyn and Otti stayed in camp and filtered seemingly endless water samples. At the site, the conditions were much calmer, much more pleasant than on  previous days. I took advantage of the favourable conditions and managed to make extra measurements today. The wind was still occasionally gusty, but we managed to make three drone flights. One was slightly hair-raising and it was only luck that kept the quadcopter from bouncing inelegantly into a supraglacial stream on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, we got some nice footage of the ice surface, imaged our field site and made repeat high resolution imagery of our experimental transect.

Video showing a drone flyover of our field site

Disaster struck on the way back down from the field site though, as Mike’s crampon snapped, leaving him pin-less. Thankfully that occurred past the crevasse field and on relatively flat, solid ice so there was no major drama. On return to camp we arranged that three of us would go to the field site tomorrow, then all back to Kangerlussuaq the day after to find Mike some new crampons and restock food, gas and generator fuel. Back at camp, I made my measurements in the NEP-truck, ate dinner and Arwyn and I stayed up chatting science again, and then it was off to bed ready for a big day tomorrow.

July 9th:

We decided to split the team today, given that we were a pair of crampons short and navigating the crevasses pin-less seemed unwise. Of the four of us, Otti was most willing to stay at camp since she had filtering and sample prep to do that did not require visiting the field site. So Mike, Arwyn and I went up to the field site as a three, while Otti stayed behind. We made quick time getting to the site, and the conditions were perfect. The wind had finally died down, meaning we could work without constantly pinning or weighing equipment down and continually fighting to hold down sheets of paper etc. This increased our productivity hugely – I managed to record more than three times the amount of measurements today than the other days. It really was the perfect glacier field work day – bright and calm and a temperature that was comfortable to work in in just base layers, salopettes and down jackets. We capitalised on the conditions and returned with lots of data.

Working under a beautiful solar corona
Working under a beautiful solar corona

The walk-off was pleasant and we stopped on the way back to appreciate the surroundings. This spot is truly other-worldly – the scale of the ice sheet is quite unlike any other glacial environment and the sense of remoteness at the field site is unique. We discussed the aura of the place – the spooky noises of the winds over the rough ice and through channels and ravines, the sound of cracking ice, of moulins and streams, and the odd, beguiling light. Back at camp I spent a couple of hours taking measurements in the ‘NEP-wagon’ and revising the plans for the rest of the trip. The priority is to get replacement crampons for Mike so that the whole team is field-ready again, so we will have to sacrifice an ice day tomorrow to go back into town. This is a significant journey, so we will combine it with refuelling the truck, restocking food and maybe sneaking in a shower before a big ten day stretch of focussed work on the ice. We convened in the bigger of our tents for whiskey and debriefing before bed.

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July 10th:

We began at the usual 06:00 am, but instead of heading to the ice we headed the opposite direction and drove all the way back to Kangerlussuaq. Half the team restocked food while Arwyn and I went to Air Greenland to refuel the truck. Everything went smoothly except for the crampons! However, thank goodness, this was remedied late in the day by the kindly staff at ‘World of Greenland’ who offered up a spare pair. There was also a bit of mucking around trying to find gas for the stove, which packed up this morning, and it ended up costing us an eye-watering £175 to buy enough gas to last the rest of the trip. That was a major blow, but at the end of the day a necessary cost to put us back in business and facilitate time on the ice. Today was an unplanned inconvenience forced by the breakage of both stove and crampons, but unavoidable and probably largely for the best as it put the whole team back in action and we are sufficiently fuelled and fed for the next ten days of uninterrupted field work.

July 11th:

Another day at the field site in clear but windy conditions. The cryoconite holes we are here to study have really changed since we arrived, with different groups showing distinctly different evolutionary trajectories, biogoechemistry and morphology. The diversity of cryoconite entities on the ice surface is remarkable, in their size, shape, cryoconite content, frequency and distribution. Our job here is to test whether these properties follow predictable patterns. It is becoming clear that cryoconite is not just cryoconite – actually the variables controlling the properties of cryoconite granules and cryoconite holes are numerous and interconnected across the micro, meso and macro scales. Hopefully our data will go some way towards shedding some light on these processes.

some of the irregularly shaped 'cryopools' are in stark contrast to the traditional model of cylindrical, pipe-like holes.
The irregularly shaped ‘cryopools’ are in stark contrast to the traditional model of cylindrical, pipe-like holes.
Some cryoconites appear to be complexes formed by merging of mobile holes.
Some cryoconites appear to be complexes formed by merging of mobile holes.
Others seem to have melted out completely and left 'smudges' on the ice surface
Others seem to have melted out completely and left ‘smudges’ on the ice surface

Being Saturday, Arwyn and I insisted upon adhering to an Arctic science tradition – one which originated on the ships of the great polar explorers and was introduced to us by Nick Cox at the NERC base in Ny Alesund… The tradition is formal dinner after a day in the field. So we donned shirts and ties and ate our freeze dried food rations under the British Ensign flag and made a bit of a do. Obviously it was silly given the squalid camp conditions and meagre edibles, but we had three courses – tea, freeze dried curry and a dessert of rye bread and Nutella. Mike was a good sport and humoured us through it and we took a couple of pictures to send to Nick to show him the tradition lives on! We even had a night cap of a shot of whisky and a square of chocolate and toasted the polar greats. Cheers!

A classy formal dinner!
A classy formal dinner!

July 12th

Today we awoke to calm, clear conditions and therefore prioritised drone flying. We hiked in to the field site and used the drone to obtain aerial imagery for creating field maps, completed our transect study, flew some gridded flights to obtain surface images for analysis, and then spent half an hour using it to obtain footage for outreach work. This included attempting a so called ‘sky selfie’ where handheld camera footage is spliced into a gradually rising drone video, spliced into a reversed google earth zoom, creating the illusion of zooming into a cryoconite hole from space… we’ll see if it works when we get home. We also flew several flights over the field site and surrounding area for aesthetic and contextual footage. Afterwards, we nailed the day’s measurements and treated ourselves to watching a movie on Otti’s Ipod before bed.

Otti on ice
Otti on ice

All in all a fun day; except for one major factor. THE MOSQUITOES. The drop in the wind has allowed them to take over. It is mosquito hell. We are having to stay completely covered at all times, and even then they bite through socks and thin trousers. In theory they should die off in ten days or so, but they are making life here rather unpleasant at the moment!

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!

NEP-wagon
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.

GRIS’15 Diary: Part 1

Thanks to British Society for Geomorphology, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Mount Everest Foundation, Andrew Croft Memorial Fund, Gilchrist Fieldwork 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.

1st July:

Today was varied for team GRIS 15. Mike was attending a conference on water voles (!) while I was giving a talk on research-led teaching at the University of Derby’s annual Learning and Teaching conference. Arwyn and Otti had the worst deal, taking a slow train from Aberystwyth to Derby on the hottest July day on record. The evening, however, was pleasant all around as we chewed over our research plans, redistributed our luggage and ate a final feast in my garden. A few minor dramas were quickly resolved and a few final items added to the Mount Baggage, and we were all tucked in by 12:30!

Getting this lot to Greenland was a bit of a nightmare!
Getting this lot to Greenland was a bit of a nightmare!

2nd July 2015:

An early start today, but an excited GRIS 15 crew were awake and raring to go when the taxi pulled up outside my house at 6am. The obligatory airport tweets were sent out, then it was just a case of grabbing some food and awaiting gate opening at 10:45. We realised at 10:42 that the gate closed at 10:45, so boarding followed a sprint across the terminal. A smooth flight then a whirlwind tour of Copenhagen, including the famous Geological Survey of Denmark (GEUS) and then some dinner before some more strategizing for the second leg of the journey. Looking forward to being back in Kangerlussuaq tomorrow.

A parade in Copenhagen during our stopover!
A parade in Copenhagen during our stopover!

3rd July 2015:

As always, breakfast at the hotel in Copenhagen was spectacularly good – we shovelled some down and hot-footed it over to the airport, checked-in an eye-watering £462 worth of excess baggage and Mike and I flew to Kangerlussuaq. Arwyn and Otti stayed in Copenhagen today, and will follow on tomorrow. We went straight to KISS (Kangerlussuaq International Science Support) to check in and bumped straight into Alun Hubbard (Aberystwyth University) and Jason Box (Dark Snow Project) and their PhD student Johnny Ryan who had been gathering aerial imagery and data from UAVs. In the afternoon, I showed Mike the sights around Kangerlussuaq, including the Watson River which destroyed the bridge in Kangerlussuaq during a period of extremely high melt in summer 2012.  We did a big food shop and met up with our Air Greenland contact providing a car and generator for the next month. Then the task was to assemble and construct some field kit. Unfortunately, our budget could not stretch to a top-of-the-range albedometer for measuring surface reflectance, so I enlisted Mike’s help in building one.

The total cost of this instrument was around £200, almost all of which was accounted for by two Apogee SP-110 pyranometers. The albedometer does not give spectral reflectance values, but it can provide broad-band albedo (300-1100nm) cheaply and effectively, is very easy to use and took only an hour to construct. To use it the multimeter is set to read mV, and the upwards looking pyranometer is connected to the miltimeter using the fixed crocodile clips. The pole is then held out over the desired measurement area. Depending upon the size of the measurement area, the albedometer needs to be held at a particular height. In this study we will be measuring areas with a diameter of 1 metre, for which a height of 0.13m is required. The plumb line is therefore set to 0.13 metres and the albedometer lowered until the plumb line touches the ice. The spirit level is then used to minimise error due to tilt. Once a reading has been taken, the downwards looking pyranometer can be attached to the crocodile clips and a measurement taken. The ratio between the upwards and downwards looking readings gives a measure of surface reflectance (albedo).

Building the albedometer at KISS (ph. M Sweet)
Building the albedometer at KISS (ph. M Sweet)
And testing it out the window! (ph. M Sweet)
And testing it out the window! (ph. M Sweet)

I also whipped up some callipers and marker flags for identifying test holes at the field site while Mike cooked a tasty pasta dinner! Then, as I am prone to doing, I sat up late obsessing over the field plans.

 4th July

Independence Day! Early breakfast and off to pick up the rest of the GRIS 15 team from the airport. Arwyn and Otti arrived in good spirits and we walked them back to KISS with their bags and caught up over lunch. We spent the afternoon hiking to Lake Ferguson and observing some of the beautiful flora and fauna (and getting swarmed by the fierce mosquitos which have plagued us since we arrived). The glacial geomorphology in this region is fascinating.

A late evening view of the dramatic glacial landscape of SW Greenland (ph M Sweet)
A late evening view of the dramatic glacial landscape of SW Greenland (ph M Sweet)

We picked up our vehicle  and took it for a drive as far as the gate before Russell Glacier. Mike got his first glimpse of the ice and was suitably impressed! We are all now very excited to get onto the ice sheet and start working. I’m hopeful that by the end of tomorrow we will have gotten onto the ice sheet, established a camp and selected a suitable field site ready to start taking measurements in earnest the following day.

The calving front of a section of Greenland ice sheet near Kangerlussuaq
The calving front of a section of Greenland ice sheet near Kangerlussuaq