Airbus airplane engine part found on 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.