Borehole under ice: instrument maintenance and science support

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.

The location of the borehole underneath the ice sheet

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.

Ice sheet weather station maintenance along the iconic K-transect

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.

GAP/PROMICE weather station KAN_U in 1 m of snow

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!

Greenland ice sheet monitoring at the K-transect

Greenland Guidance has several links to the iconic K-transect, where scientists have been measuring ice sheet surface mass balance for an astonishing 30 years. Not only are we building scientific instruments to be placed along the transect, we also have a history of performing maintenance on the existing infrastructure on behalf of the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research in Utrecht (IMAU) and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS).

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.

Support the monitoring efforts at the K-transect on the Greenland ice sheet

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.

Support in development of drill to melt through Greenland ice sheet

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.

Planting trees in Greenland

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.

BBC revisits Greenland glacier and sees … change

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.

Check out some of their Greenland footage here: Climate change: Greenland’s ice faces melting ‘death sentence’.

Newspaper NRC travels to Greenland

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.”

Read about some of their experience here (in Dutch): https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2019/09/04/glijden-op-het-smeltende-ijs-van-groenland-a3972156

Ice ablation tracker installed on Sermilik glacier, southern Greenland ice sheet

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!

The ice ablation tracker with Sermilik glacier and fjord in the background. Latitude: 61.0 N.

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.

Documentary on climate change shot in Greenland

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!”

Dutch TV in Greenland

Greenland Guidance aided in setting up an expedition to Greenland by production company¬†Witfilm. They are producing a series of episodes on climate change entitled “The Rising Water”, to be aired in fall 2019 on NTR,¬†a Dutch public service broadcaster specialising in information, education and culture.

Fact checking for CNN

In July 2017 CNN filmed in east Greenland for their documentary “Global Warning” to report on the effects of climate change on the ice sheet and beyond. See the stunning footage in the Arctic Melt episode here:¬†https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/12/04/global-warning.cnn. Greenland Guidance was hired to check the episode for scientific accuracy.