Last summer, Greenland Guidance was again invited to assist with instrument maintenance on the western slope of the Greenland ice sheet. Here, along the iconic K-transect, Danish and Dutch scientist have been using automated measurement systems to monitor climate variables and surface ice melt for decades. As these weather stations, ice ablation trackers and other scientific measurement systems are exposed to harsh weather such as low temperatures, high wind speeds and countless thaw/freeze cycles, they need to be looked after once a year.
As in previous years, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU) and Greenland Guidance joined forces to visit all 10 measurement sites. Unlike the year before, the weather was reasonably well behaved; clouds and winds did not interfere too much with helicopter operations. In the higher ranges of our work area though we encountered a thick layer of saturated snow. Uncommonly warm air masses were over the ice sheet causing a serious melt event, severely complicating moving about in the soft, wet snow.
Most equipment was found in good working order, requiring between 15 minutes and 3 hours of ground time per measurement site. The good news for Greenland Guidance was that all 4 custom-built draw wire ice ablation trackers (DWIATs) were fully functional and transmitting ice melt and motion data home.
One of the highlights of the 5-day fieldwork campaign was the sighting of what is best described as a “moulin fountain”. This rarely seen phenomenon occurs when overpressure from a large moulin (meltwater drainage hole in ice) is released via a crack in the ice to a smaller, neighbouring moulin.
Greenland Guidance provided detailed weather forecasting for a Swiss science expedition on the Greenland ice sheet in spring this year. The expedition by the University of Fribourg took three weeks during which they camped in tents at 1700 m above sea level.
Weather is the largest safety hazard to expeditions at the camp’s position in southwest Greenland. Even in spring, temperatures can be dangerously low at -35 C, storms can damage tents, and whiteout conditions can make people lose camp even at 10 m distance. Also other dangers exist, yet it is unlikely to encounter dangerous crevasses or wildlife in this region; crevasses usually form where ice is thinner, closer to the ice sheet margin, whereas polar bears are spotted more frequently where their food sources live – on sea ice and at the coast.
Luckily the Swiss expedition did not encounter overly hazardous weather conditions on this occasion. Our weather forecasts helped them plan their days away from the safety of camp. Each morning at breakfast time they received an Iridium satellite text message containing up to 160 characters worth of weather information for their location and finetuned to their activities. Upon request, or if the situation required it, more weather messages would follow.
Later in the year, during an exceptional heat wave in summer, we passed over the region where the Swiss had camped. The surface of the area had turned into slush (snow saturated with meltwater), with a multitude streams where usually only snow can be seen. Good news for Swiss research on meltwater in snow. Less good news for those having to recover equipment temporarily stored on the ice sheet, now possibly stuck in refrozen meltwater…
Jakobshavn ice stream in Greenland is the most productive glacier in the world. In July of this year the University of Zürich (UZH) in Switzerland installed four Greenland Guidance instruments at Jakobshavn. Two glacier weather stations and two ice motion trackers measure ice movement via GPS in a detailed study of glacier dynamics.
Since their installation these instruments have been sending home the data they collected via the Iridium satellite network. The data feed into our data portal where it can be viewed and download by the university.
Because the instruments are positioned on Jakobshavn’s fast moving ice, the trackers are recording high ice velocities. And in only four months time they measured an elevation drop of about 25 m as the ice sheet flows towards the ocean.
Although winter hasn’t entirely arrived yet, the uppermost weather station at 1100 m above sea level already measured temperatures down to -35 °C. We are eager to find out whether temperatures down to -50 °C will be recorded come January, February or March. The lowest temperature measured by our instruments further south is “only” -43 °C.
This June, Greenland Guidance joined the annual maintenance of weather stations high up on the Greenland ice sheet. One major difference with instrument maintenance closer to the ice sheet margin is that equipment in the interior of the ice sheet gradually gets buried by snow. In the higher parts melt is rare, and more snow accumulates in a year than that it melts. At low elevations summer melting is abundant, ablating winter snow and several meters of the underlying ice. Ice dynamics take care of the ice mass transfer from high to low elevations – otherwise the ice sheet would get taller and steeper each year.
A downside to working in the accumulation area is that one needs to shovel snow pits of 3 m deep to retrieve buried equipment, which is particularly challenging given the thin air at 2-3 km above sea level. Also travel distances are larger between the science site and the airport where you start the day, meaning that there is a larger chance of running into adverse weather delaying the operation. On the other hand the work can be done by a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with skis, as opposed to the helicopters required to land in low-elevation, uneven, or even crevassed terrain. These airplanes don’t worry as much about weather conditions as helicopters do. And they can carry a lot of equipment.
Not hampered by cloudy or windy conditions, we visited five measurement sites of the Greenland Climate Network (GC-Net) by Kenn Borek Air Twin Otter in six days. This year is the first year that GC-Net maintenance is done by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). The network recently changed hands. The GC-Net got established by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder (US) in the 1990s and has since delivered large amounts of important climate data, contributing to many scientific studies and climate reports. Professor Konrad Steffen was a central person in all this, pushing the benefit of these measurements to climate science to great heights.
Greenland is, unfortunately, an excellent place to show the impact of climate change. Temperatures are increasing relatively rapidly, and the consequences are visible all around the ice sheet as outlet glaciers accelerate, thin and retreat. Entire ecosystems change, forcing the local community to change traditions and customs – for instance in fishing and hunting. Greenland is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, as nature is in flux around the planet.
Last year Greenland Guidance supported a film crew shooting footage for a Netflix documentary. Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet came out recently and features very impressive footage of the Greenland ice sheet (and elsewhere), narrated by David Attenborough. Go see it if you haven’t already!
Greenland Guidance entered into a collaboration with MetOcean. From now on we offer polar instruments by both companies via the common portal PolarMonitoring.eu! It’s the perfect match: MetOcean produces instruments for in the ocean, on sea ice and on land, whereas Greenland Guidance instruments are made for use on glacier ice and land. Together we have full polar coverage!
Please do visit PolarMonitoring.eu, have a look around, and tell your friends and colleagues. You won’t find these instrument cheaper anywhere on the European market, especially considering the decades of experience that have gone into making them extremely durable and easy to use.
Our instruments measure whichever climate variable or glacier characteristic you’d like them to measure. They are built to survive extreme winds, temperatures far below freezing, long periods of darkness, burial by snow, and countless freeze/thaw cycles. Yet they measure with accuracy, draw little power, and are easy to transport. But in the end it’s all about the data. Getting those is of primary importance.
All measured data are kept safe in the GG instrument’s data logger, awaiting the return of the instrument owner some time in the following years. But often it is beneficial to receive some or all data right away via satellite link. Our instruments feed their data straight into our data portal, where instrument owners can view and download their transmitted data. Every client gets a free, password-protected webpage where data are plotted in a clear and simple manner, and where transmitted data can be downloaded at the click of a button.
Several months ago we installed 4 new draw wire ice ablation trackers (DWIATs) on the Greenland ice sheet on behalf of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) and the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU). The DWIATs monitor surface lowering by melting, movement as a result of ice dynamics, and temperature (inside the sensor box). Melt and motion are interlinked, as more melt leads to greater amounts of water at the glacier bed, which can result in increased glacier motion. The accuracy of localisation by GNSS satellites is accurate, allowing for the identification of periodical speed-up events. The DWIATs can be further tailored to your needs by adding additional sensors.
DWIATs are very rugged, and easy to install: 1) Assemble the tripod with hex keys. 2) Mount the sensor/logger box. 3) Drill a hole max. 14 m deep. 4) Lower the draw wire into the hole. 5) Switch on the system. The units’ batteries can be shipped without dangerous goods declaration, and allow solar charging at temperatures (well) below freezing. Even without recharging during dark winter months the trackers keep functioning for several months. Both software and hardware safeties are built into Greenland Guidance instruments; double measures to prevent battery discharge beyond critically low levels.
The units recently installed in Greenland transmit their data through the Iridium satellite network that has coverage at even the northern- and southernmost latitudes. The data feed straight into the Greenland Guidance data portal where they are displayed and made available for download on a private web page. If the instrument owners approve, the data can also be graphically displayed on (but not downloaded from) the public data portal. Naturally, the DWIATs also store their measurements locally in the datalogger, ready for read-out during the next field visit in one or several years.
The DWIAT data currently featured in our public data portal belong to GEUS who monitor the Greenland ice sheet mass balance in the PROMICE project.
About a decade ago a consortium of scientific and commercial organisations led by SKB in Sweden drilled a borehole in the bedrock underneath the Greenland ice sheet. Their goal: to quantify the level of interaction between the ice sheet and the groundwater below. To achieve this they drilled a 651 m long borehole angled underneath the ice sheet and equipped it with instruments. It is the first ever borehole drilled underneath an ice sheet – a truly unique project.
Recently, SKB asked Greenland Guidance to perform instrument maintenance to ensure the continuation of the time series during a period when travel to Greenland is complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We gratefully accepted the task. While on site, we saw an opportunity to also shoot some drone footage.
The measurements taken in the borehole form a long, uninterrupted, and scientifically surprising time series. With the help of scientists from the University of Montana and others, SKB has written up a manuscript that is currently under review in a scientific journal. Greenland Guidance helped with the interpretation of the borehole data in terms of ice melt and movement, and is proud collaborator on the study.
This year we took part in a scientific expedition to the southwestern region of the Greenland ice sheet. Representing the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), and in collaboration with the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (IMAU), we serviced instruments and stakes placed at 10 different sites on the ice sheet. We accessed the remote sites, up to 140 km into the ice sheet, by Air Greenland helicopter.
The scientific instruments by GEUS and IMAU monitor the interaction between the atmosphere and the ice sheet. In other words, they determine how much ice melts, and what is causing the melt: which combination of warm weather, solar radiation, strong winds, etc. The GEUS instruments are part of the measurement networks of the Greenland Analogue Project (GAP) and the Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet (PROMICE). We even installed 4 of our own draw-wire ice ablation trackers (DWIATs) – more about that in an upcoming news item.
The measurements are taken along the iconic K-transect, where ice sheet monitoring already began in 1990(!). The longer the times series, the more valuable it gets. Long climate records provide much needed context for measurements in individual years: if there is 5 m of ice melt – is it a lot (above average) or not?
Even though taking measurements over many years is crucial for climate science, it is not always an attractive option for funding agencies. So if you’d like to financially support the monitoring activities along the K-transect, it could make a large difference!
We are always on the lookout for people with specific skill sets that can help us during future field campaigns. Do you have field experience in Greenland or other remote regions? If you’d like to join us during the 2021 field season (NH spring/summer), then tell us you’re available here: https://greenlandguidance.com/about-us/join-us/. If you’re on the list, we’ll know how to find you.
This september, a team of scientists from the University of Lausanne set out to collect sediment cores from the bottom of the fjord into which the glacier named Eqip Sermia calves icebergs. They contacted Greenland Guidance to help them find a boat with a winch that could lift the sediment cores from the bottom of the 200-m deep fjord to the surface. Finding a boat was easy, but finding a winch that would get the job done was more of a challenge. Especially in times of COVID-19 with life in Greenland coming to a standstill. But we managed to track one down so that the expedition could take place.
The scientists reported that “The expedition went great! We collect 35 sediment cores and things went well with the boat. It was a ton of work and a bit icy on the water by the end. It really went as good as we could have expected.”
This summer Greenland Guidance initiated a new service: expedition weather forecasting. Especially important for expeditions taking place in remote regions where internet access is virtually impossible. Three scientists from the University of Fribourg camped on the ice sheet while investigating meltwater in snow. We sent them detailed weather forecasts that they received on their Iridium satellite phone each morning before breakfast. We included reports on longterm stability and/or storms approaching so they could plan their activities accordingly.
The forecasts turned out particularly relevant when the team was trying to charter a helicopter for their departure, but cloud fields were causing frequent white-out conditions during which helicopters can’t fly. At an earlier date we warned them for heavy snowfall and strong winds for their location, which is extremely rare in July.
Upon safe return, we received useful feedback from the field party, allowing us to finetune our Iridium messaging forecast service. The team was pleased with the accuracy of the forecasts and reported “they were very valuable and helpful!”
That’s the gist of it. And to be able to do so, three masts measuring wind and temperature were installed in the south Greenland fjord area by the University of Liège over the summer. These masts are ten meters tall – ten meters being the standard level for wind measurements. But in order to survive the fierce winter storms in the region, each mast had to be very sturdy, bolted into rock, and equipped with guy wires. Setting up such heavy masts is easier said than done.
Greenland Guidance helped out with various aspects in the early phases or the project, most importantly to obtain permits (site allocation), but not with the installation itself. For the installation the University of Liège’s team received help from the Northabout crew – the ship is sailing the northern waters for the Unu Mondo expedition to increase the visibility of the impact of climate change on the northern regions and its people. We’ve had the pleasure of staying on board their vessel and are keen to help them find scientific institutions to partner with in coming years.
The transect, consisting of 10 instrumented sites, is located along the western slope of the Greenland ice sheet, from the low-elevation ice sheet margin, up to an elevation of 1840 m above sea level. Both surface mass balance and weather/radiation observations are made, to be able to quantify ice loss, and to explain which processes (such as atmospheric warming) dominate this mass transfer from the ice sheet to the oceans.
The end of an era might be approaching as obtaining funding for the monitoring is becoming increasingly difficult. Even though the measurement time series is becoming more important with each added year – in Greenland there is nothing that compares. And even though many important scientific publications have relied on these data in the past.
That’s why SKB, the primary funder of GEUS’s efforts at the K-transect for the past 13 years, requested Greenland Guidance to construct a video with the aim to make more people aware of the climate and ice sheet science being done in Greenland, and to attract additional funding.
If you’d like to support climate science through this project, then do not hesitate to get in touch -> see the video for contact information. Or get in touch with us, and we’ll guide you to the appropriate people.
Greenland Guidance provided insights in choosing the most durable parts for a drill being developed by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). It’s tricky business as the melt-tip drill will generate high temperatures while melting its way through cold glacier ice. The drill development is for the HOTROD project headed by Liam Colgan, whereas Chris Shields is the project’s CTO. We were excited to be able to contribute to this project by choosing parts and shipping them over to GEUS. We’d love to see the drill in action in the field, either in 2020 or 2021.
Following our project of recovering a part from an Airbus A380 airplane engine from the Greenland ice sheet last year, we wrote a paper detailing our methods. The part was crucial for determining what went wrong on that flight over Greenland in 2017. Read the paper by Ken Mankoff and coauthors in the Journal of Glaciology here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jog.2020.26.
On 30 September 2017, an Air France Airbus A380-800 suffered a failure of its fourth engine while over Greenland. This failure resulted in the loss of the engine fan hub, fan blades and surrounding structure. An initial search recovered 30 pieces of light debris, but the primary part of interest, a ~220 kg titanium fan hub, was not recovered because it had a different fall trajectory than the light debris, impacted into the ice-sheet’s snow surface, and was quickly covered by drifting snow. Here we describe the methods used for the detection of the fan hub and details of the field campaigns. The search area included two crevasse fields of at least 50 snow-covered crevasses 1 to ~30 m wide with similar snow bridge thicknesses. After 21 months and six campaigns, using airborne synthetic aperture radar, ground-penetrating radar, transient electromagnetics and an autonomous vehicle to survey the crevasse fields, the fan hub was found within ~1 m of a crevasse at a depth of ~3.3 to 4 m and was excavated with shovels, chain saws, an electric winch, sleds and a gasoline heater, by workers using fall-arrest systems.
In August/September this year we supported the Greenland Trees organisation in planting trees. We helped plant 5000 tree saplings in the town of Narsarsuaq, south Greenland, where trees are abundant today – for a Greenland location. As community engagement and youth education are important themes to Greenland Trees, we also traveled to Narsaq and Qaqortoq to meet the locals, and plant another few hundred trees. Next year, in Greenland Trees’ second year, we aim to return to help plant many more trees.
A few weeks ago Greenland Guidance helped the BBC with their operations in Greenland. They spoke with locals, interviewed climate scientists including professor Jason Box, and documented a tree planting project. Their expedition resulted in stunning footage, showcased in several news segments about Greenland and climate change. We were very happy to support this BBC operation and once again see how they operate – with a high level of professionalism.
This July, Dutch newspaper NRC visited Greenland to document climate-related changes in the ice sheet. We provided guidance on when to go where, who to talk to, and we took care of some of the logistics required to stay among scientists and visit the ice sheet.
Science editor Marcel aan de Brugh: “To put together my trip to Greenland, I got help from Greenland Guidance. They know the research community very well, and had different options for me to join researchers in the field. They also arranged some other things, like a stay at the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support. My 7 day trip to Ilulissat and Kangerlussuaq (and from there onto the ice sheet) was impressive and unforgettable.”
In September 2017, an Air France flight traveling west over the Greenland ice sheet experienced a failure in its 4th engine. All on board were unharmed, and the plane landed safely in Goose Bay, Canada. To figure out what exactly went wrong with the engine, a search for the missing engine parts was executed by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) supported by Greenland Guidance.
The torn-away parts of the airplane engine dropped onto the ice sheet, but the heavy pieces of the fan hub – needed for the investigation – impacted into the snow surface and were lost from sight almost instantly, getting buried further with every subsequent snowfall event high on the ice sheet. The search for the largest and potentially most interesting part was difficult due to severe storms, snow-covered crevasses in the region, and the ever-present risk of polar bears passing by. Guided to a few promising sites by airplane-based radar measurements performed by ONERA (the French aerospace lab), the initial ground-based detection and therefore exact localisation was done by a radar-equipped robot (!) operated by Polar Research Equipment (PRE). The robot was crucial in regions too dangerous for people to tread unsecured, because of crevasses in excess of 10 m wide, yet invisible to the eye due to the snow cover. It wasn’t until the very end of the 3rd field campaign in spring 2019 that a metal detector custom-built by the Aarhus University HydroGeophysics Group clearly detected metal a few meters below the surface.
Greenland Guidance took part in the 4th recovery expedition to the ice sheet, bringing 3 experienced mountaineers from the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) to the scene. The expedition commenced on 28 June 2019, transporting as many as would fit in an AS350 Air Greenland helicopter (5 people) to the dig site. In spite of all safety precautions (mostly related to digging in a crevassed region), we made good progress. By the end of the second afternoon, we struck titanium. Eager to liberate the part, we kept working until after midnight. But melting the engine part loose and lifting it to the ice sheet surface proved very difficult, as we wanted to avoid contact with the yet-to-be-investigated part as much as possible. On 30 June, after an estimated 20 hours of digging, melting and lifting, the job was done and all returned safely to Narsarsuaq, 100 km southeast of where the engine part had impacted.
At the location where in 2010 the largest-ever annual ablation on the Greenland ice sheet was measured, we have now installed a Greenland Guidance draw wire ice ablation tracker – DWIAT in short. The site is located all the way at the southern tip of the ice sheet, where temperatures are relatively high in summer, and where the ice surface is incredibly dark, absorbing a large fraction of the sunlight. Measurements by the PROMICE automatic weather station network tell us that here typically 5-6 m of ice melt off each year – in addition to the snow that accumulated in the preceding winter – which is a lot compared to other Greenland sites. But in 2010 the weather station QAS_L observed a record-setting ablation of more than 9 m of ice here – that’s the equivalent of 3 floors of a building!
To investigate the extreme melt at this site, PROMICE has started a collaboration with the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (IMAU) of Utrecht University. With more instrumentation measuring air-ice interaction on site, tracking ice ablation became even more relevant for data interpretation. That is why the Greenland Guidance DWIAT now measures ablation along side the PROMICE weather station. With it’s reference weight drilled 10 m into the ice, this unit should be capable of recording ablation until at least late summer 2020 – unless 2019 or 2020 proves to be yet another major melt year.
Our draw wire ice ablation tracker (DWIAT) 2019 model was designed to be even sturdier than before. We’ve used the toughest materials including a tripod that won’t suffer from the large forces of compacting winter snow on top. The 2019 model is now taken into production!
Documentary makers Jeannette and Stefan: “Greenland Guidance made our lives as TV makers in Greenland much easier. For operations in Paris, Rome or Madrid you can make last-minute arrangements, but Greenland is a country that is difficult to reach, where you are left wandering without proper input in advance. On several occasions we have praised ourselves lucky with the ideas of Greenland Guidance: for instance that science cruise that we could join instead of a packed tourist ship. Not only do they have great knowledge of the country, they also have ample contacts that come in handy. Do not go to Greenland without them!”