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.

Scientific publication about Airbus engine recovery from Greenland

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:


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.

Airbus engine part recovered from the Greenland ice sheet

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.

Minimal camp in a snow-covered crevassed area of the Greenland ice sheet.

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.

Video of Airbus A380 fan hub fragment recovery from the Greenland ice sheet 28-30 June 2019.

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.

Find the GEUS press release here.

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.

Instrument checking after storage on ice

Mike MacFerrin, PhD (University of Colorado Boulder): “My instruments had been transported down from the Greenland ice sheet when I wasn’t around. I’ve had great experiences with the guys of Greenland Guidance in the past, so I had them check on my gear. They made sure that snow and extreme temperatures hadn’t damaged anything. Here’s a big thanks to Greenland Guidance for helping out!”

Weather station maintenance on the Greenland ice sheet

Late summer 2018, Greenland Guidance supported the maintenance of the automatic weather station network of the Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland ice sheet (PROMICE). The expedition took us past 4 weather stations in the region near Kangerlussuaq, where the countries largest airport is situated. The furthest station location was an hour flying away, on top of the ice sheet at 1840 m above sea level. Being dependent on Air Greenland helicopter transportation, and with a storm approaching the area, the work got squeezed into a shorter-than-ideal period, but successfully wrapped up nonetheless.