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!

Sign up to become a 2021 Greenland Guidance field specialist

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.

The team recovering an Airbus A380 engine fan hub from crevassed terrain. Picture by Austin Lines (Polar Research Equipment).

University of Lausanne sediment coring in a Greenland fjord

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.”

Scientist processing a sediment core just winched onto the deck

Documentary on the recovery of the airplane engine part

Here’s a very nice 30-minute documentary by talented Arnar Ingi Gunnarsson on the 2019 recovery of the Airbus engine part lost over the Greenland ice sheet. Greenland Guidance was part of the challenging fan hub recovery after a long and difficult search by GEUSONERA – The French Aerospace LabAarhus University and Polar Research Equipment. Recently BEA-É | Bureau enquêtes accidents pour la sécurité de l’aéronautique d’État finished their investigation looking into the causes of the accident – with some interesting findings (check out their website). Greenland Guidance thanks AirbusAir France and Engine Alliance for the excellent collaboration.

University of Liège studies the wind power potential of Greenland

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 weather masts are in place and transmitting their data. Please check out the website of the Katabata Project for more information.

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jog.2020.26.

Abstract:

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.

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

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.

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!”

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!”

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.

In search of airplane parts on the Greenland ice sheet

Greenland Guidance just returned from a month-long expedition to the Greenland ice sheet. We assisted the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) in the search of airplane engine parts that were lost during a  commercial trans-Atlantic flight in September 2017. The search went according to plan, with productivity and moral being high throughout the expedition! Occasionally temperatures dropped below -30 ºC, and three storms hit camp causing severe whiteout conditions, but otherwise the view was stunning.