Greenland Summit Blog

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About the Greenland Research

Camp location.This research is taking place at Summit Station, Greenland from November 2008 to mid-February 2009. Summit is an National Science Foundation (NSF) supported station on the Greenland Ice Sheet that houses around 40 scientists and staff in the summer months and 4 in the winter. The web address for the station, that includes a webcam link, is This station is located where the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) ice core was taken. This trip is a unique opportunity for new NASA scientist Lora Koenig to spend a winter season taking measurements on an ice sheet. While at Summit, Lora will be one of two scientists along with one mechanic and one camp manager. The majority of ice sheet field science is done in the summer months and very few winter measurements exists. This winter she will be helping with the general on-going science at Summit, as well as collecting winter time measurements of snow surface temperature, microwave brightness temperature and snow surface height. These measurements are valuable for NASA's ongoing research using the MODIS, AMSR-E and GLAS sensors on board the Aqua, Terra, and ICESat satellites.

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15

Week Fifteen: On Our Way! - 2/17/09

Well the last week, our final week, turned out to be our busiest. On Monday, February 9, the Twin Otter finally arrived on a beautiful sunny, but rather cold ,-40’s C/F, day. With it came Amy, the new science tech, Ken, the new camp manager, Dan, the new mechanic, Sandy and Russ, Summit Camp supervisors from Polar Field Services, and Jacques and Andy, scientists from the University of Colorado and NOAA, respectively. The plane also brought fresh milk, lettuce, bell peppers, mushrooms and care packages, which were greatly appreciated. Once the plane landed, we unloaded the passengers and cargo. Brad and Bill refueled the plane as we loaded the retro cargo and the plane left about 40 minutes after it had arrived. As soon as it left, the Summit Camp population jumped from 4 to 11. It was easy to tell the camp population had more than doubled by the increased footprints all over the snow. Turnover week, or training week, is full for the science techs. At last count there were over 30 different science tasks that are explained and taught in one week. Kat and I started training Amy just a few hours after she got off the plane. (We did let her eat lunch first.) We started with a safety briefing on working at Summit, including tower climbing and working in the cold conditions. As the week progressed we worked our way through snow sampling, snow pits, accumulation measurements, ozonesondes and balloon launches, atmospheric sampling equipment and more. By the end of the week, Amy assumed her role as science tech armed with a new paint brush to fight off the rime on the instruments. On Valentines Day, Saturday, February 14, I simply followed Amy and Kat around as they completed the science tasking. On Sunday, February 15, the Twin Otter arrived again (Figure 46). This time the plane brought in more fresh food for the new crew and took Bill, Brad and I back to Kangerlussaq and off “the ice” for the first time since November 3, 2008 (Figure 47).

The Twin Otter at Summit waiting to be boarded.

Figure 46: The Twin Otter at Summit waiting to be boarded.

Brad, Lora and Bill

Figure 47: Brad, Lora and Bill, blue hat in the background, in the Twin Otter leaving Summit. We said our goodbyes to Kat; she will stay at Summit as a Science Tech until mid-May. (Sandy, Russ, Andy and Jacques also left on the flight.) The flight from Summit to Kangerlussaq lasts 3 hours. About 20 minutes out from Kangerlussaq we caught our first glimpse of land at the ice edge through the icy plane windows (Figure 48). Shortly thereafter, we were standing on the ground being greeted by friends and family (Figure 49).

Our first site of land

Figure 48: Our first site of land, through an icy plane window, at the ice sheet edge near Kangerlussaq.

Lora standing on solid ground in Kangerlussaq

Figure 49: Lora standing on solid ground in Kangerlussaq with her husband who came to greet the crew.

On February 16 our winter team split again. Bill stayed in Kangerlussaq for a few more days before leaving for Iceland and the Farrow Islands. Brad and I boarded a plane to Copenhagen. From Copenhagen Brad caught a flight to New Zealand where he will work on a boat that is sailing around New Zealand. I am writing this blog from a friend’s apartment in Copenhagen. My friend, Hans Christian, is also a polar scientist studying at the Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. ( He came home today, after a long day cutting up ice cores in the freezer rooms, talking about his cold hands. I was very empathetic but also laughed because for the first time in over 3 months my hands had been warm all day. I will spend one more day in Copenhagen before heading back to Goddard. Next Monday I will be happily sitting behind my desk, hands still warm, working on the data I gathered over the winter. I want to thank everyone for checking in and reading this blog. I hope you have enjoyed hearing about life and science at Summit, Greenland this winter. Please check the NASA Cryospheric Sciences website often for updates on news and science from the Polar Regions. Until next time.

Week Fourteen: Still Waiting 2/08/09

Current Temperature: -39°C/-38°F The Summit Camp population is still 4. We had expected the population to be 11 by now but we are still waiting for the arrival of the Twin Otter. The weather in Kangerlussaq has canceled the inbound flight for the past 3 days. Delays are not uncommon on an ice sheet, but they are always a bit hard on morale. It is especially difficult to understand the delays when we have great weather on our end, clear skies, full moon, great sunrises and sunsets. (Figure 43 shows the full moon over Summit.) We are making the best of the situation and keeping our spirits high. Today we replaced the incoming flight with a leisurely brunch including homemade sourdough pancakes by Bill.

Full moon over Summit 

Figure 43: Full moon over Summit. Photo by Brad Whelchel. We look forward to the new crew arriving, but we will wait a bit longer. The pilots are scheduled to try again tomorrow, Monday, February 9. It is not only our flight to Summit that has been canceled. On Saturday, no commercial planes came or went from Kangerlussaq. The winds were too high. This is not uncommon for travel in Greenland. Air Greenland, the only commercial carrier in Greenland is used to delayed and canceled flights. They sell flexible tickets, that can be used on any day, to accommodate for the difficulties of travel in the unpredictable Greenlandic environment. Our days have been a bit different since Friday, the first anticipated flight day, we now get up earlier. Bill starts calling in the Summit weather observations to Kangerlussaq at 6:00 am. He calls in the weather every half hour. He reports the temperature, humidity, cloud heights, obscurations, which include freezing fog or ice crystals, wind speed and direction, horizon definition and the visibility distance. To report the visibility distance we have markers at a half, one, two and three miles. The mile markers get rimed, just like the weather instruments on the towers, and had to be cleaned earlier in the week. Bill and Brad cleaned off the markers. The 3 mile marker is fun because it is shaped like a bear, the others are simply black rectangles. Figure 44 shows the rimed 3 mile marker. Figure 45 is Brad’s illustration that Polar Bears live in Greenland. (There are no Polar Bears at Summit, besides Brad’s rendition, they live in the coastal area’s of Greenland.) The 3 mile Bear eventually went from a white Polar Bear to Black Bear and is now being used for the weather observations.

Bill at the 3 mile marker 

Figure 44: Bill at the 3 mile marker preparing to clean the rime off for weather observations. Photo by Brad Whelchel.

The Summit Polar Bear created by Brad 

Figure 45: The Summit Polar Bear created by Brad. Photo by Brad Whelchel. While Bill is busy with the weather observations, Kat and I are rushing to finish the daily science tasks before 10:00 am. We have to get the science done early so we can help if the flight arrives. The flight was canceled at about 9:30 am just as we are finishing the science for the day. This has given us a bit of extra time during the day which we have used to go for walks, enjoying the sun and beauty of Summit. Kat even went for a very ambitious run today. We finish our daily tasks early on anticipated flight days because when the flight arrives it is all hands on deck. Kat and I will be responsible for driving the snowmobiles with sleds to the plane to pick up the passengers and gear. Next, we will bring the passengers and gear into camp and unload. Once everything is unloaded in camp, we will quickly return to the plane with the retro cargo and lunches for the pilots. While Kat and I deal with the cargo, Brad and Bill will refuel the plane. They will haul out a refueling sled and hook up the fuel hose which is always frozen, stiff and very difficult to move. The planes do not like to be on the ground any longer than they have to be, so this process completed as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we will be driving the snowmobiles out to the plane soon. They tell us the weather forecast in Kangerlussaq looks better for Monday. Keep your fingers crossed and maybe by next week’s blog there will be more people to introduce. top

Week Thirteen: The Sun Appears - 2/1/09

Current Temperature: -47°C/-52°F On January 29, 2009, one day after our first sunrise, we saw the sun for the first time since November 13, 2008 (Figure 41). We did not see the sun on January 28th because of a thick freezing fog, but on the 29th there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We watched the sun come up over the horizon and then set 1 hour and 59 minutes later. When the sun came up Bill made a jubilant radio call to make sure we all saw it. Kat and I were already outside cleaning the TAWO tower when the sun rose. We stopped working for a short time to take a nice walk in the sun. Today we had 3 hours and 9 minutes of sunlight. We discussed pulling our sunglasses out from the back of our closets, at least I think that is where my sunglasses are, and then decided we still need to take our Vitamin D tablets until we reach more southerly latitudes.

The sun finally rising 

Figure 41: The sun finally rising above the horizon on Jan 29, 2009. I have been amazed this week how quickly our tasks are getting completed. The additional light makes things so much easier. Even tower climbing is quicker when we do not have to use headlights to see the rime. A theme this week was completion. I finished my science projects. On Monday I did a final radiometer pit (figure 34 from week 9). Brad helped me in the pit for almost 6 hours. It was a long, tiring, cold day but in the end we got new data on how passive microwave satellites interact with the winter firn. On Saturday, I dug up some ibuttons that I had buried a meter into the snow (Figure 42). I buried the ibuttons in a pit wall every 10 cm. I did this for two reasons. The first, and most scientific reason, was to monitor how surface temperatures diffuse into the firn. Snow is an insulative material so as the surface temperature varies that variation is damped as it travels deeper into the snow.

A row of buried ibuttons 

Figure 42: A row of buried ibuttons that are measuring the vertical temperature profile in the snow. This data can be used to determine snow thermal diffusivity, as well as to validate models of passive microwave brightness temperatures. Looking at temperature profiles in the firn, which the ibuttons were recording, tells about the thermal diffusivity of the firn, and it can be used to validate modeled temperature profiles used when modeling passive microwave brightness temperatures. The second reason for burying the ibuttons was to see if they could survive the cold, harsh conditions. They did! I was able to recover all the ibuttons and get good, quality data. I am wonderfully surprised at how well these cheap temperatures sensors work, I fully expected to break at least one but I couldn’t. This week was also marked with preparation for the arrival of the Twin Otter on Friday Feb 6th. Seven more people will be joining us for our final week at Summit Camp. Included in the seven are 3 new crew members for Phase III, Feb-May, 2009. There will be 2 supervisors coming up to help with training, 1 scientist from University of Colorado and 1 NOAA scientist. Only 3 of the 7 arriving will stay past Feb 13. Kat will be staying for Phase III and will complete the next team of 4 at Summit. Brad, Bill and I will be replaced with a new mechanic, manager and science tech, respectively. Some of my preparation tasks included making up the 7 beds for the new crew and pre assembling 2 dinners. I made a 17 lbs Lasagna and 2 plates of enchiladas, so I hope they are hungry. We pre-make meals for the first weekend to lighten the work load. The training week, which is called turnover, is always very busy. During this time the new team is trained, new supplies are received and lots of little things around camp are fixed. (The list of things to be fixed includes one broken polypod sled, a door knob and a leak in a plumbing pipe.) An additional reason for our preparation is to make sure the new arrivals have time to rest and become acclimated during their first days in camp before assuming a full work load. Coming from sea level to 10,500 feet takes some adjustment and we try to make the transition as smooth as possible. You may be asking, Did we have a Super Bowl Sunday Party at Summit? We sadly did not. The game was on late in our time zone. Brad did listening to an audio feed of the game but the hot wings and chips and salsa have to wait a year. Next week when I write this blog the population at Summit Camp will have ballooned from 4 to 11 people. We are excited for the additional company and are enjoying our last week together as a team. top

Week Twelve: Wow, time flies! - 1/25/09

Current Temperature: -44°C/-46°F Our time at Summit is flying by. We are less than two weeks from the new crew arriving for turnover on Feb 6, 2009, weather permitting. With turnover rapidly approaching our focus has changed slightly, beyond our daily, weekly and monthly science projects, our focus this week was on End Of Season (EOS) projects. One end of season task is to write an EOS report that details what we accomplished and lists problems we encountered and the solutions we found. This report passes knowledge on to the next crew. One major thing we detailed in the EOS report was how to keep inlet and outlet tubes clear of blowing snow on the buried Green House roof. This is something we have gotten very good at. Previously these inlets and outlets were well above the blowing snow but, with the buried Green House these pipes are currently on the snow surface in the heart of the blowing snow. In our report we discussed our “specialized tools” for keeping sampling inlets and outlets unclogged on the Green House roof. These “tools” include a straightened out hanger and jug of hot water. We use the hanger to scrape out the clogged snow or, for bad clogs, we use a jug of hot water to pour down the tubes, melting the snow and removing the clog. Of course, we do unhook the tubing from the sampling equipment before pouring in water! A second EOS task we completed this week was a GPS survey of camp. This survey is used to monitor drifting caused by the camp buildings. In March, operators come into camp. The operators clear the drifts using Caterpillars and flatten out camp for the summer swelling of scientists and staff. To complete the camp survey, we mount the GPS system onto a sled and drive a snowmobile at 10 km per hour in a grid pattern over the camp. This is a tedious process. It is very similar to mowing a yard, approximately 1 km by 1 km, at a 5 m spacing. It took me 6 hours on Friday to complete and the temperature was around -44 C/-46 F. Brrrrrrr. My feet got very cold in the morning, so at lunch I packed 6 hand warmers in each of my socks. My feet stayed toasty warm all afternoon but I couldn’t walk very well, not necessary when sitting on a snowmobile all day. Because we had such large drifts this winter, we did an additional GPS survey of camp with the GPS system loaded into a backpack. On Saturday, I used the backpack GPS to walk over some of the camp drifts that were too high, and too dangerous to snowmobile over. I also used the backpack GPS to walk to the buildings in the clean air sector of camp. As I mentioned last week, we do not operate any machinery with carbon emissions in the clean air sector because of the atmospheric sampling instruments that are constantly sampling. Figure 40 shows me walking around camp with the backpack GPS.

Lora using the backpack GPS 

Figure 40: Lora using the backpack GPS to survey large drifts around camp and drifts in the clean air sector. This week we also measured the ICESat transect for the final time this season. (See blog week 8.) This is a monthly measurement that is used to help calibrate the ICESat satellite. Doing ICESat on Thursday and the camp survey on Friday meant spending two days outside riding the snowmobiles in lower than -40 C temperatures. Even though the temperatures were cold I enjoyed being outside with the increasing light. On Jan 28th we look forward to celebrating our first sunrise. Kangerlussaq, the Greenlandic town we fly in and out of to get to Summit and where we call for daily check-in, had their first sunrise 2 days ago. They didn’t actually get to see the sun until today though because of overcast skies. Here’s hoping the 28th will bring clear skies. We are ready to see the sun again. The inauguration of President Obama was not missed at Summit Camp. A nice benefit of Summit Camp is the availability of the Internet. On Tuesday we gathered around Bill’s computer to listen to the inaugural speech over the internet. We enjoyed being able to take part in the historic event even though we were far from home. The buzz for next week is SUN!top

Week Eleven: Some words from Brad and the NOAA observations - 1/18/2009

Current Temperature: -30°C/-23°F Happy Birthday Brad! On Wednesday of this week we celebrated Brad’s 28th birthday with corned beef and cabbage, pasta and a triple chocolate triple layer cake (Figure 38). Brad admits it was his coldest and darkest birthday. Let it be known that even at this altitude, Brad had no trouble blowing out all his candles. Since it was Brad’s week, I thought you might want to hear a bit from him about his work here at Summit as a Mechanic before I talk about science. 

Brad’s birthday party 

Figure 38: Brad’s birthday party. From left to right Brad, Bill and Lora. Photo by Kat Huybers. A day in the life of a Summit Camp mechanic: The structure of the mechanic's duties at Summit Camp are divided into three levels of activities: dailies, weeklies, and monthlies. Daily checks are performed on critical components around camp that are needed for the safety of the crew. Water levels in all the buildings, fuel in the generator, entranceways and roof vents that are clear of snow. These duties ensure that the heat and electricity will stay on, fresh water will be available, and safe exits are maintained. Weekly tasks are for equipment that is not used as often, but still needs attention. Heating the balloon barn for weather balloon launches, checking log sheets and equipment fuel levels, and measuring snow compaction around buildings are important, but do not need to be done daily to stay on top of any changes that might occur. And monthlies include changing water and air filters in the buildings, generator services, updating inventories, and organizing all of the parts and tools that have not been returned to their place. So, on any given day, you could be doing daily chores, weekly assignments, and possibly a monthly task. In addition to these maintenance items, there are also planned and unplanned tasks that are to be completed when time allows. Reworking a leaking fuel delivery pipe, building a snow shield over an exhaust vent, modifying a ladder in a food freezer, these projects can be planned for and done in the free time between daily/weekly/monthly checks. Unplanned work, or "when things go wrong", is the most time consuming and frustrating aspect of the job. You have to drop whatever you had planned to work on and formulate a solution for the urgent situation before it gets any worse. If a light bulb goes out, that's not a huge deal. If a pipe freezes and water begins to seep everywhere, that requires immediate action. Knowing how the camp's various systems work, and keeping a level head can go a long way to correcting the problems that occasionally pop up here at Summit Camp. And don't forget shoveling snow. Anytime the wind blows above 15 knots, there will be plenty of drifts to remove around camp as soon as the storm is over. This can be classified under an "exercise program", though. Thanks Brad! Now back to some science. The science week here at Summit was a fairly standard one. On Monday Kat and I launched the weather balloon measuring atmospheric ozone levels with the match campaign; balloons were launched from around the world at the same time. Figure 39 is a picture of our early morning launch. After the launch we went to TAWO to complete the daily checks of the NOAA instruments.

  Kat and Lora launching an ozonesonde weather balloon 

Figure 39: Kat and Lora launching an ozonesonde weather balloon during the match campaign when balloons were launched simultaneously around the world. Photo by Brad Whelchel. NOAA maintains many instruments at Summit that are taking baseline observations of atmospheric conditions. These observations are used to monitor gases in the atmosphere including ozone, greenhouse gases and carbon levels. These measurements are duplicated at other sites around the world including South Pole Station, Denver, Colorado and American Samoa. The daily observations we take here at Summit include a full suite of NOAA meteorological instruments that record temperature at 2 and 10 meters, wind speeds and wind directions. These are recorded every minute. On a daily bases we also check three NOAA instruments that are constantly sampling the atmosphere. These instruments include an aethalometer, a surface ozone machine and a gas chromatograph. The Aethalometer measures black carbon in the atmosphere by pumping in outside air and collecting the carbon on a quartz tape inside the machine. The main sources of black carbon in the atmosphere come from burning fossil fuels, agricultural burning and forest fires. Monitoring black carbon at Summit, which is far away from sources of black carbon, gives a baseline concentration of black carbon. The surface ozone machine measure surface ozone levels. It is important to monitor ozone in the artic region because it is a region that can experience severe ozone depletion. Again, we also monitor the stratospheric ozone profiles on a weekly basis with the ozonesonde balloon launches. The gas chromatograph measures numerous trace gases, including nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons and chlorinated solvents, hourly. Similar to the black carbon measurements, the gas chromatograph uses the remote location of Summit to provide baseline measurements of the trace gases. Because these instruments are taking baseline measurements, we are very careful not to pollute the measurements with exhaust from vehicles used in camp. We monitor the wind direction and on north wind, when exhaust could get into the sampling inlets of the instruments, we do not run any machinery except the generator. We make two additional observations for NOAA. Weekly we take a portable air sampling unit outside to collect air. This unit has a long mast that pulls in air and pumps it into glass flasks. We trap air in the flasks which are shipped back to NOAA in Boulder, Colorado. In Boulder labs, the Summit air is analyzed for Greenhouse gases along with other air samples from around the world. Since gases in our breath can ruin this sampling effort we have to hold our breath when we turn the pump on and off. Kat usually does this. I joke that this sampling is training Kat to be an Olympic runner because she has to hold her breath for almost 30 seconds while sprinting over to the sampling unit and back at 10,500 feet. Every other week we take a similar sample of air in glass flasks. These flasks are sent back to NOAA and analyzed for halocarbon gases. For additional information and data on these NOAA observations check out At this site you can also look at the data gathered here at Summit and from other sites around the world. Well, the end of the week brought 3 days of 30 kts wind and more drifts. Bill extended the tunnel entrance to the Green House because it had drifted over. The shop is again buried to the roof. The winds should drop by Tuesday, when we will start our digging. Actually we may be bringing in a large snow blowing machine for help this time. Today Brad started warming up the Yanmar snowblower to help with snow removal. As long as the winds blow away from the NOAA instruments we will use the snowblower to remove the drifts from camp.  top

Week Ten: Our Cold Week/ Answers to Some Questions - 1/11/09

Current Temperature: -56°C-69°F Well, as you can see from the temperatures above, we did not get the warmer temperatures we were hoping for. This week was downright cold! Previously I have blogged about the buildings in camp, but I don’t think I mentioned that in the Green House there is a screen with the current weather conditions. This screen is located in the vestibule between the kitchen and the birthing module near the entrance door and tunnel. We usually check the temperature and wind speed before leaving the Green House and in the mornings when we walk from our rooms to the kitchen for breakfast. This morning, walking from my room to the kitchen, I noticed the temperature was -56 C with 4 kts winds. It was the third day in a row with temperatures around -50 C. At breakfast Kat and I discussed the day ahead, we had to change out a gas cylinder on an atmospheric sampling machine, do our daily machine checks and clean the towers. Not too much, Sundays are usually rest days at Summit. We continued to linger at breakfast, longer than normal. Finally, Kat and I admitted we were both stalling because neither of us really wanted to go out into the cold. On days like today I realize just how lucky I am to have such a good partner in Kat. We laughed, gave each other a pep talk, donned our heavy down coats and headed outside. As we left, the weather screen read -58 C-72 F. Stalling had only made the temperatures worse. We are, however, rewarded with the extremely cold temperatures because they bring clear skies. The clear skies make the few hours of light we get brighter. Today was beautiful. The sun is still below the horizon, so to the South the sky is a rainbow of color. The white edge of the ice sheet turns into a red horizon which continues through the rainbow of colors to blue if you look straight up. Then the sky goes from blue to dark blue towards the North. This week we had the full moon lighting up the sky to the North for most of our working day. It was a beautiful site. Again, none of our pictures turned out very well but Brad did get a good picture of the Aurora’s we have been having, figure 35.

Aurora over the Big House 

Figure 35: Aurora over the Big House. Photo by Brad Whelchel. Our science week this week was fairly standard so I thought I would take some time to answer some of the questions we have been getting from blog readers. Most of the questions are logistical. What do you do in an Emergency? We are remote here at Summit but not nearly as remote as Antarctica in the winter. In Antarctica they have no flights during parts of the winter. In Greenland, we can get rescue flights year round. The Twin Otters will only fly to Summit in case of an emergency when there is no official sunrise from mid-November to the end of January, so we cannot get supplies in the winter, just rescue flights. If we were to have a medical emergency during the winter we would call for a Twin Otter. The Twin Otters have skis and are located at airports in either Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, or in Kangerlussaq. Weather dependant, we can get a flight into Summit and to medical attention within 12 to 24 hours. If we were to have a mechanical emergency, say the generator and back up generator both died, we can use small generators to heat specific areas in camp while we wait for a plane. Under an apocalyptic scenario, if all the buildings in camp were to burn down, we would still be fine, there are emergency shelters and emergency bags with tents, food, fuel and stoves. We would also be fine if we had an emergency where we lost all communications. We have many different forms of communication here at Summit; the internet, phones, satellite phones and high frequency radios. Even if we lost all forms of communication, in an emergency, we would be rescued within 24 hours. Everyday we check in with personnel in Kangerlussaq at 9:00 am. If we were to miss our check-in call and they could not contact us after a certain amount of time, a plane would be sent to Summit to check on us. As you can see we have a whole system of safety set up here. What kind of Medical supplies do you have? We always have a designated medic at Summit as well as a fully stocked medical room. Bill is the medic this winter. Additionally, all of us at Summit are certified Wilderness First Responders (WFR’s). This certification requires a week long training class where we learn how to respond to medical emergencies that often occur in wilderness situations. Our medical room includes items such as oxygen, IV’s, an AED, a gamoff bag, a backboard, a litter and all sorts of medications both prescription and non. Additionally we have a 24 hour phone number that links us directly to a doctor. We can use this number anytime for an emergency or anytime if we simply have a cold and would like to take one of the prescription medications. We are very well equipped to take care of any medical situation and we are ready. Each week we have a safety meeting where we practice our medical skills with real scenarios. A few weeks ago I was a victim in a dramatization scenario where I had fallen off of a tower. Bill, Brad and Kat bundled me in sleeping bags to keep me warm, strapped me onto a backboard, loaded me into the litter and carried me from outside into the medical room. These training scenarios familiarize us with our medical gear and prepare us for a real emergency. How are the buildings heated? The buildings are heated with either electrical heaters powered by the generator, diesel furnaces or, in the case of the Green House, waste heat from the generator. We have a diesel generator, that we run off a type of arctic jet fuel (AN8), that powers all of camp. I am quite ignorant of all of the specifics of the generator but I will try and get Brad to write up a bit about it next week. The generator has an entire room in the shop. To make up for my lack of knowledge on the generator I will include a photo so you can see it for yourself. Ear protection is required in the generator room, Figure 36. 

Brad in the generator room 

Figure 36: Brad in the generator room with his ear protection on. The generator is behind him. Please keep the questions coming and we will happily attempt to answer them. Tomorrow is going to be a big day at Summit Camp. Kat and I will be getting up at 5:15 am local time (0815 GMT) to launch an ozonesonde weather balloon. At 6:30 am local time (0930 GMT), we will join colleagues in Boulder, CO and at South Pole Station, Antarctica in simultaneously launching ozonesonde balloons. These balloons are used to monitor the levels of stratospheric ozone around the world. For more information see the NOAA site at Figure 37 shows me launching a balloon. Oh and don’t feel bad for Kat and I getting up so early. Brad will be out in the cold temperatures at 4:00 am local time starting up the heat cannons to warm the Balloon Barn where we will fill up the balloons. 

Lora launching an ozonesonde weather balloon 

Figure 37: Lora launching an ozonesonde weather balloon. The balloon is followed by an orange parachute to guide the ozondesonde on the way down and below that, in the while box, the ozonesonde. The balloons this winter at Summit have been reaching heights of over 20 km before they burst and the ozonesonde then parachutes back to the ground. top

Week Nine: The New Year and Passive Microwave Measurements - 1/4/09

Current Temperature: -29°C/-22°F Happy New Year. The New Year brought the best weather we have seen yet at Summit Camp as well as some incredible northern lights. On New Years Day we awoke to no winds and temperature in the -20’s C. We have seen temperatures this high before but they were always accompanied by 30 kts winds. In addition to the warm temperatures we have also had spectacular northern lights each night. (Sorry, we have all been trying to take pictures but so far none have turned out very well.) We often see the northern lights, usually a single wavy green streak across the sky. This week we have had 4 or more streaks waving across the entire sky and some purple colored auroras as well as the predominant green. On Saturday, we saw shooting stars going through the aurora. When I checked the space weather webpage (, I learned that we were experiencing the Quadrantid meteor shower on Saturday, spectacular! The space weather website keeps us informed on the aurora forecasts. Because of the good weather, I think this week has been one of the busiest in camp. Our first priority was to dig out the Shop doors that had been buried in the big storms after Christmas. Bill and Brad spent three days removing the ~ 15 ft drift by chain sawing out blocks and then carrying them away by hand. Kat and I even helped out one morning. It was tiring work hauling snow blocks around. Figure 32 shows the before picture with Bill sitting on the roof of the Shop.

 Before. Bill sitting atop the Shop 

Figure 32: Before. Bill sitting atop the Shop with a large snow drift blocking the doors. Photo by Brad Whelchel.

After. The Shop doors are finally open 

Figure 33: After. The Shop doors are finally open and the Cat can now get out after removing the ~15 ft drift. Photo by Brad Whelchel. Figure 33 gives the after picture on New Years Day when the Shop was finally clear and the Cat was brought out to finish the snow removal and haul water over to the Big House. We were conserving water in the Big House because without the use of the Cat we cannot haul water to the building. (The Green House is piped directly so it always has water.) On Sunday I took advantage of the nice weather to do a science project of mine that had been postponed because of weather conditions. I am very interested in passive microwave remote sensing on the ice sheets. Passive microwave sensors record the natural long-wavelength energy that is emitted by the Earth. AMSR-E is the passive microwave sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite ( You may have seen images from AMSR-E showing the sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean; this is one of the most newsworthy applications of passive microwave remote sensing. Follow this link if you would like to see some Sea Ice animations using AMSR-E data ( Passive microwave data is not only useful for sea ice it can also be used on the ice sheets to measure the melt extent ( and to look at the temperature of the firn and properties of the firn, like grain size, grain type and density. The passive microwave signal on an ice sheet is complicated because it travels through, or samples, the firn temperature and the firn properties to some depth called the extinction length (e-folding depth). At 37 Ghz, (about 0.8 cm in wavelength), a common channel used on the ice sheets, it is modeled that the microwave emission emerges from a depth of 0.1 to 1.5 meters into the snow/firn. My project takes field measurements of how deep the passive microwave satellites measure into the firn. To do this I use a radiometer, a sensor that records passive emission similar to sensors on-board satellites, to measure the natural emission of firn. I have taken measurements at Summit before in the summer, and this week I took the first ever winter measurements. Because the firn properties are different in summer and winter, it will be interesting to see if the extinction length changes seasonally. Using the radiometer requires nice weather. This weekend was the first time the temperatures were warm enough to be able to move the radiometer without breaking wires and the first time winds were low enough to ensure no blowing snow would get into the electronics of the instrument. I take my measurements by first digging a 2 meter snow pit. This takes about 2 hours and does require throwing snow over my head as I get to the bottom of the pit. (Though this was nothing compared to the digging Brad and Bill did this week.) I then place the radiometer in the pit below a column of firn/snow and measure the radiance. I then shorten the column of snow and measure again. Figure 34 show’s Kat and I taking radiometer measurements. The radiometer is in the yellow case which protects it from the snow and cold. 

Kat and Lora taking radiometer measurements 

Figure 34: Kat and Lora taking radiometer measurements in a 2 m snow pit. The radiometer is in the yellow case and is measuring the natural emission of the firn/snow column above. Photo by Brad Whelchel. After all the digging last week we are hoping to rest our arms a bit in the upcoming week. We are also hoping the warm temperatures will stay. I am experiencing a conundrum, when I am sitting at my desk in the United States I am very worried about the warming that is occurring in Greenland and throughout the entire Arctic, but as I sit here at Summit, Greenland in the middle of winter I am hoping that 2009 will be just a little warmer than the past few months have been. top

Week Eight: ICESat Transect - 12/28/2008

Current Temperature: -45°C/-49°F I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas. We certainly did at Summit. Christmas morning started with a gift exchange and stockings. We figured we were one of Santa’s first stops. In the afternoon we had a nice Christmas dinner which included lobster tails, mushroom fritters, German cabbage and a chocolate cranberry tart. Yummm! In the evening, as I was walking out to the Flux facility to check on the science machines, the Northern Lights were glowing green and swirling all the way across the sky. I radioed back to camp and we enjoyed the natural Christmas light display. Two days after Christmas, we had another big storm. We had 35+ knots winds for over 48 hours. We remained indoors for most of this time. Bill joked about instating a weight limit on who could go outside because the gusts almost blew him off his feet when walking from the Big House to the Green House. We ended up eating in the Green House during the storm, choosing not to go to the Big House until the storm passed. Today the storm broke and we were all happy to be outside again, even if being outside meant digging. The shop had drifts up to its roof, so Bill and Brad shoveled snow most of the day. They have cleared about a quarter of the drift. Once they get the shop dug out, they will get out the Cat to help with additional snow removal. Storm or no storm, Brad always has a job to do. He is responsible for checking the generator, affectionately called Jenny, at least 3 times a day to ensure the camp has power for lights and heat. During the bad storms, Brad notifies us when he leaves and returns from checking Jenny. Yesterday when Brad returned from checking Jenny, he looked like a snowman. He had only been outside for about 5 minutes but there was so much blowing snow that he was covered in white. Before Christmas, Kat and I completed one of our big monthly science tasks. We did a Global Positional Survey (GPS) of the ICESat transect. The ICESat transect is a science project initiated by Dr. Bob Hawley at Dartmouth College and Dr. John Burkhart at the University of California Merced. The ICESat transect is a route just outside of Summit, marked by flag poles, that follows the “spots” measured by the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) instrument on board the ICESat satellite. (To learn more about this satellite go to GLAS measures the surface height of the ice sheet in “spots” approximately 70m in diameter with a spacing of about 175m. In order to ground-truth the GLAS data, GPS data and accumulation stake data is taken along the same transect, or ground track, of the satellite just to the north of Summit. The GPS data is corrected with the base station to give very accurate height measurements which are then compared to the satellite data. This is a very important project to make sure ICESat continues to give us good spatially-distributed science data. The ICESat transect is always a major event here at Summit because it is very difficult during the cold and dark of the winter season. Everyone is involved in this task. Brad prepares the snowmobiles, Bill makes sure all the safety gear is in order and monitors the radio while Kat and I take the measurements. The ICESat transect is conducted on snowmobiles and takes us over three miles from camp where we often lose visual and radio contact with Summit Camp. Safety is a major concern during the transect. Our first safety measure is that the weather must be good, with low winds and good visibility, before we even consider gathering the data. Additional safety precautions include: taking two snowmobiles in case one breaks down, snowmobiles don’t really like running at -50 C and taking our hand-held radios as well as a satellite phone, We also took two GPS units programmed with the camp’s location so can follow the GPS back to camp if we were to lose the flag line. We also took a shelter sled called the polypod with 2 survival bags in case we can not get back to camp for any reason we can wait safely and warmly for help to arrive. We took additional batteries for all the radios, phones and GPS units. (Figure 28 and 29 show the polypod) The additional batteries and communication equipment must stay warm so the batteries will not die, which means that we store them in our inside coat pockets.

 Bill with the Polypod sled 

Figure 28: Bill with the Polypod sled which we call Polly.

 Bill, Lora and Kat loading the Polypod 

Figure 29: Bill, Lora and Kat loading the Polypod with gear for the ICESat transect. The transect takes about 3 hours to complete on the snowmobiles so we have to dress warmly. Kat and I decided to weigh ourselves before and after putting on all of our clothes for the transect. Our clothes including radios, head lamps and spare batteries that are stored in our inside pockets, totaled a whopping 25 lbs (Figure 30 shows Kat and I in all of our gear looking slightly bigger than normal). On a typical day in camp my boots, clothes, headlamp and radio add 15 lbs.

 All geared up for the ICESat transect 

Figure 30: Kat, left, and Lora, right, all geared up for the ICESat transect in 25 lbs of clothing, batteries, head lights and radios. So you see, we end up taking a lot of gear with us on the ICESat transect and it is all necessary (Figure 31). On the transect this week we did lose visual contact with camp; we couldn’t even see a glow from the lights.

 All geared up for the ICESat transect 

Figure 31: Kat and Lora headed out of camp to take the GPS and accumulation measurements along the ICESat traverse line. This data is used to ground-truth the GLAS instrument near Summit. At the very end of the traverse we also had no radio contact for our final check-in. This was not a problem but we would have needed the satellite phone had there been an emergency. There is flag line to follow on the ICESat transect but it is hard to see in the dark because the flags are spaced hundreds of feet apart. For safety, Kat would stay at one flag while I went forward to find the next. We were amazed at how quickly you can get disoriented in the dark. I would be headed to a flag that was straight ahead but would miss it because I turned my snowmobile handlebars just a few degrees. Additionally, I would miss flags because the area illuminated by the snowmobile headlight is not very wide. If I missed a flag I would simply double back to Kat and try again. In the end we made it through the entire transect without losing the flag line. Had we ever gotten off the flag line we would have used our GPS’s to lead us back to camp. In these conditions you always have to have a backup method in case the first fails. We were able to gather all the ICESat data this month safely and relatively warmly. We only had one mishap on our way back into camp. I was following behind Kat on my snowmobile, we always travel directly behind the front snowmobile so the track is deeper and easier to see if we ever needed to use the snowmobile tracks to find our way, when the top of the polypod broke off. Yes, the entire top of the fiber glass sled came unriveted and blew off. The sled split in two. Kat quickly noticed and turned around. We loaded up all the gear in the bottom half of the sled and returned to camp after GPSing the location of the top of the polypod. When we got into camp Brad and Bill were waiting for us. We went inside to warm up while Brad and Bill rescued Polly, our name for the polypod. Currently, Brad is working on a fix for the sled and hopefully it will be up and running for next month’s ICESat transect. Polly splitting in half is probably just an effect of operating in the cold conditions. Even on good weather days a lot of things can break out here. We are very happy to have completed our darkest ICESat transect. Next month finding the poles will be much easier with the additional sunlight and, hopefully, are hands will be a bit warmer. top

Week Seven: Solstice Celebrations and a Temperature Experiment - 12/21/2008

Current Temperature: -48°C/-56°F Happy Solstice! We made it through the dark and today was a day of celebration at Summit. After surviving our shortest, darkest day, we eagerly await added sunlight as we move away from the solstice. Our first addition of light comes on Dec. 24 when our time in nautical twilight will increase by 2 minutes. On Dec. 15 we lost civilian twilight, when the sun is less than 6° below the horizon, and entered nautical twilight, when the sun is 6 to 12° below the horizon. We’ll regain civilian twilight on Dec. 27 and await our next sunrise Jan, 28, 2009. We celebrated the Solstice today with a mile fun run. A mile may not seem like far under normal circumstances, but remember we are at a true elevation of 3200 m/10,500 ft and our pressure today was 657 millibars, which gives a pressure altitude of 3500m/11,500 ft. Believe me when I say a mile was a difficult run and we were all breathing very hard by the end. At 11:00 am this morning Kat, Brad and I suited up for our run while Bill put on his skis (figure 23).

Bill, Kat, Lora and Brad all ready to run 

Figure 23: From left to right Bill, Kat, Lora and Brad all ready to run, except for Bill who skied, the 1 mile Solstice Fun Run/Ski. The temperature was -48°C/-56°F at the start line by far the coldest race I have ever run. Everyone finished the race with Kat in the lead the entire race (figure 24).

 Kat leading the race. 

Figure 24: Kat leading the race. We concluded with a brief awards ceremony and enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing indoors. I even started some holiday baking and candy making. Speaking of the holidays, we completed the Summit Christmas tree, figure 25. Summit Christmas Treee 

Figure 25: The completed Summit Christmas Tree. It is not too bad looking considering it was made out of a bamboo stick pyramid and fir garland (Figure 21 from week 6). And yes, we do have presents! We brought them with us, so we actually did our holiday shopping in mid-October. We received a phone call from a friend doing field work in Antarctica, which was very exciting. During our pole-to-pole phone call we juxtaposed research on the two ice sheets. Greenland is in the dark while Antarctica is experiencing full time sunshine. Greenland has only 4 people in camp while the Antarctic stations are bustling with scientists. An interesting Dot Earth Blog came out this week featuring a comparison of 2008 global temperatures to the mean temperature from 1951 to 1980. To read the article follow this link. In the opening figure of the Dot Earth Blog, you see that in 2008 temperatures across Greenland were 0.2-1.5° C warmer than the average from 1951 to 1980. I present this article to emphasize the importance of temperature monitoring in Greenland and to introduce justification for one of my science experiments here at Summit. If Greenland continues to warm, additional melting will occur, causing sea level to rise. It is, therefore, very important to monitor temperature across Greenland and measure temperature accurately. Temperature monitoring over Greenland is difficult. There is a very limited number of weather stations across Greenland due to the extremely harsh conditions and difficulty in keeping ground-based stations operating year-round (See blog week 4). (Click here to see the existing weather station network on Greenland maintained by Koni Steffen at the University of Colorado Temperatures over Greenland are most easily monitored by satellites. Thermal infrared channels on satellite sensors are used to record direct measurements of surface temperatures over Greenland on cloud-free days. Infrared wavelengths cannot penetrate clouds, so when clouds are present temperature measurements are associated with the clouds and not only the surface of the ice sheet. On cloudy days the satellite temperatures are masked, or removed, from the surface temperature datasets. The MODIS sensor ( on board both the Terra ( and Aqua ( satellites is a NASA sensor used to monitor surface temperatures. As MODIS travels over Greenland, it measures and records the irradiance, or temperature, of the very top surface layer of snow. A problem arises because the surface snow layer temperature is rarely measured; most weather stations only measure the air temperature at 2 m off of the snow surface. In general, the 2 m air temperature compares well with the surface snow temperature but there are only limited measurements. This brings me to one of my studies here. I am investigating the use of small, inexpensive temperature sensors, called Thermocron Ibuttons made by Maxim, to measure the 2 m air temperature and the snow surface temperature. I am testing these sensors to see if they can withstand the cold temperatures, rest on the surface of the ice sheet and record accurate temperatures when compared to the more expensive temperature sensors. So far the ibuttons are working splendidly. Because of their small size, they are easily deployable and sit at the snow surface. I check them everyday to make sure they stay right at the surface, measuring the same temperature as the infrared satellite sensors (Figure 26 and 27).

 A thermochron ibutton hung at 2 m 

Figure 26: A thermochron ibutton hung at 2 m. This sensor will be used to compare the 2 m air temperature to the snow surface temperature.

Three thermochron ibuttons placed on the snow surface 

Figure 27: Three thermochron ibuttons placed on the snow surface to monitor the surface temperature and compare to the 2 m air temperature. The ibuttons are staying at the snow surface even with last week’s heavy drifting. Even with the heavy drifting snow last week, the ibutton sensors stayed at the snow surface. With their low cost and ease of use, we hope that the thermochron ibuttons can be used more extensively on Greenland to help validate satellites. All of us here at Summit want to send our Holiday Greetings and Good Wishes to all. top

Week Six: Drifting

Current Temperature: -37°C/-35°F The two most commonly used words in camp this week were snow drifts. It was another stormy week, seeing winds upward of 20 kts for 4 days. On Tuesday we recorded the highest winds since we have been here, upwards of 55 kts. As you can imagine we stayed inside for most of the day on Tuesday. (We were inside the Big House that would shake in the wind gusts reminding us how nice it was to be inside.) This week’s storms were different then previous storms; the winds were coming from the East (usually winds are from the south). When we emerged on Wednesday we found that the camp looked very different. The East winds caused very large drifts to form near the garage doors of the shop and on the tunnel entrance to the Green House. The garage doors to the shop had drifts almost as high as the roof and drifts had buried the tunnel entrance to the Green House with a foot of snow. Figures 18, 19 and 20 show the drifts that were caused from the instruments and pipes on the Green House roof. 

Kat and Lora cleaning Green House roof instruments 

Figure 18: Kat and Lora cleaning Green House roof instruments. A drift is forming to the bottom right of the picture. The instruments cause the wind to decrease on the leeward side creating a drift. Photo by Brad Whelchel

The large drift formed by Green House roof instruments 

Figure 19: The large drift formed by Green House roof instruments. The jumbled snow on the left hand side of figure 20, is the beginning of a large pile of snow shoveled off the Green House tunnel entrance.

Many Large drifts formed from the instruments and pipes sticking out of the Green House roof 

Figure 20: Many large drifts formed from the instruments and pipes sticking out of the Green House roof. The drifts are all aligned with the wind direction which was from the East. The jumbled snow in the bottom left is the beginning of a snow pile created from digging out the drift that formed over the Green House tunnel entrance. What is a snow drift? A snow drift is when wind speeds are high enough to pick up snow on the ground and transport it. Once a snow particle is picked up by the wind it will continue to be carried by the wind until the wind speed decreases and the particle falls back to the ground. Wind speeds can decrease naturally or wind speeds can decrease because an object interacts with the wind slowing it down. Wind drifts are created when an object, like the Green House, sticks up into the blowing snow. The wind hits the object and then slows down on the leeward side. In our case the East wind was blowing snow directly into the back side of the Green House. The Green House slowed the winds, causing the snow to fall out of the wind, or be deposited, on the front side of the Green House burying our entrance. The drifts sent Brad and Bill outside to shovel. They spent a day digging out the garage doors and hours digging out the tunnel. Once the storms stopped Bill rebuilt the tunnel to help with drifting. He raised the tunnel entrance hatch above the Green House Roof height, so it is now high enough to be an object in the wind creating a drift instead of being buried by the Green House drift. Previously the tunnel hatch was slightly below roof level so the drift piled on top of the hatch. The storms also made visibility difficult. When visibility decreases, and everything around you is snowy and in polar darkness, it is quite easy to lose your way. On ice sheets we use flag line, lines of poles about 15 feet apart, to mark the routes between buildings. We had to use the flag lines a lot this week because we couldn’t always see the other buildings in the blowing snow. Figure 21 is of Kat and I on Tuesday headed over to the Big House for lunch.

Kat and Lora following the flag line to the Big House and a very stormy day 

Figure 21: Kat and Lora following the flag line to the Big House and a very stormy day. Photo by Brad Whelchel The other big news at camp is that with all the indoor time we started decorating for the holidays. We found four strands of fir bow garland in a few boxes of holiday decorations left here at Summit. Figure 22 shows the beginnings of my project to turn the garland into a Christmas Tree. Next week I will show you how it turns out.

 The beginnings of the Summit Christmas Tree

 Figure 22: The beginnings of the Summit Christmas Tree. Photo by Brad Whelchel top

Week Five: Are you Cold?

Current Temperature: -38°C/-36°F One of the most common questions I get when doing field work in Greenland is: Are you cold? Well the answer, most of the time, is a resounding no. There is however one exception, my fingers often get very cold. Why am I not cold? Well mainly because we wear lots of cloths. On a normal day when Kat and I head out to do our daily science rounds we will spend 2-3 hours outdoors. Our outdoor tasks include cleaning the science towers, collecting snow samples, measuring accumulation stakes and launching weather balloons. When we wake up in the morning we get dressed for the cold which means putting on layers of clothing. A normal day’s outfit includes one thin pair of thermal underwear pants, one thick layer of thermal underwear pants, two thermal underwear tops, one thin insulated jacket, a pair of insulated bibs, a down parka, two pairs of socks with toe warmers, a pair of big snow boots with extra insulation, one pair of glove liners, one pair of mittens with hand warmers, a face mask and a hat. Kat actually wears two hats for extra warmth. It takes about 10 minutes to get dressed in the mornings. Figure 15 shows you what I look like when I am ready to head outside for a day of science. 

Lora wearing enough clothing to keep her warm 

Figure 15: Lora wearing enough clothing to keep her warm. With all of these clothes we stay quite warm. Problems do arise though when we have to fix an instrument outside, take notes or put snow samples in bags or bottles. These tasks are next to impossible with big mittens on; you just can grip anything. Many times a day we have to take off our mittens, leaving only our glove liners protecting our fingers. Our fingers get very cold, very fast. When our fingers get cold they start to hurt and we can barely move them, so we have a great tool to warm up our hands. We call it ‘Brett Favre.’ Yes, it is named after a football quarterback because it is a football hand muff (Figure 16). 

Our hand muff 

Figure 16: Our hand muff affectionately called ‘Brett Favre’ that keeps our fingers warm and nimble when fixing equipment or sampling snow in very cold temperatures. Even though our hand muff is in Denver Bronco colors we call it ‘Brett Favre’ because we believe he had the coldest hands in the NFL playing in Green Bay for all those years. We take ‘Brett’ out whenever we have to use tools to fix an instrument, loosen small screws or sample snow. When our fingers get cold we can just stick them in the hand muff, along with whatever tool we are using, and warm up for a few minutes before continuing our work. The cold makes working with your hands much slower than in warm weather, when it is -40°C out we can work for about 2 minutes without mittens before needing to warm our fingers for about the same amount of time. This week one of our science projects gave us an opportunity to be very cold, we took monthly snow samples of the top meter of firn in a snow pit. A snow pit is a general science tool used on both ice sheets and mountain snow packs to study snow characteristics and properties. A snow pit is really quite simple; to build a snow pit all you have to do is start digging until you have a nice big hole. Usually snow pits are between one and two meters deep (Figure 17 is a picture of a snow pit taken at Summit in 2007. Sorry, we were too busy doing science in our pit this week to take a picture).

 snow pit

Figure 17: A snow pit used to analyze the top two meters of firn. If you look closely you can see the different snow layers in the pit wall deposited by different snow storms. This picture was taken at Summit in the Summer of 2007 hence the sun and sunglasses. The sun was not out when we did our snow pit this week at Summit. One face of the pit is smoothed to study and sample the snow. The smoothed face makes it easy to see the different layers of snow or firn (snow that has persisted through a melt season) deposited from either snowfall or wind redistribution of snow (blowing snow). Each stratigraphic layer of snow/firn has unique characteristics which include temperature, the size and shape of snow crystals, the density, the degree of bonding or hardness and chemical composition. If you were to take the different layers of snow into a lab you would realize that each layer has different chemical properties dependent upon the chemistry in the atmosphere when the snow was deposited. All of these characteristics are studied in snow pits and used for different science applications. Our snow pit this week was used to take snow samples that will be later analyzed in a lab for the chemical composition of each layer. Because the snow will be chemically analyzed, we have to be very careful not to contaminate the snow. When we sample the pit we wear special clean suits and gloves so any chemicals on our clothes or hands will not mix into the snow contaminating the measurements. We use a density cutter, a tool that extracts a box-shaped snow sample of known size, for sampling. The extracted snow is put into clean bottles for shipment and later analysis at labs back in the United States. We dig and sample snow pits once a month to monitor the snow at the surface of the ice sheet and follow its transition as it densifies and is buried deeper into the ice sheet. Understanding the chemical transitions in snow that falls from the atmosphere today and densifies into ice is very important for the interpretation of ice cores and past atmospheric conditions. What is learned today about how the atmosphere interacts with the snow surface helps scientists interpret the chemical signals in ice cores like the GISP II ice core drilled here at Summit that go back over 100,000 years. top

Week Four: What can you eat at the Summit?

Current Temperature: -46°C/-50°F We had a festive and busy week here at Summit. We had a busy science week as well as a Thanksgiving dinner to plan. I will start with our Thanksgiving dinner. Kat and I started planning the Thanksgiving menu last Monday. It was important to plan ahead for a few reasons. First most of our food here at Summit is frozen and must be defrosted. The second reason to plan ahead is we have to find the food. Find the food? Well yes, there is quite a bit of food here at Summit. The food is brought in the Summer months on large military planes called LC-130’s that are equipped with skis to land on the ice sheet. The LC-130’s are operated by the New York Air National Guard 109th Airlift Wing ( which supports the National Science Foundation in both Greenland and Antarctica. The food is frozen and stored in large snow caves underneath the Green House and beside the Big House for the winter season. The first thing we did to make Thanksgiving dinner was go to the computer. On the computer we have a spreadsheet of all the food that is on station. Everything at Summit is inventoried so we know exactly what we have and what we need to order. Since we only get flights every 3 months in the winter it is important not to forget to order the things you need. Imagine if you could only go to the grocery store every 3 months! We are very careful about making lists and keeping track of food. The spreadsheet tells us what kind of food we have, the quantity remaining and the location of the food. Once we had our ingredient list and the location of all the food. We went “shopping”. Brad and Bill gathered food from the main freezer by the Big House and Kat and I gathered food from the freezer below the Green House. 

Main freezer 

(Figure 10) The stairs leading into the main freezer. The main freezer is a snow cave beside the Big House. Photo by Brad Whelchel


(Figure 11) Some of our food inside of the main freezer. Photo by Brad Whelchel Figure 10 shows the stairs going down into the main freezer and Figure 11 shows all the food stored underneath the snow. We did this a few days in advance to defrost the food before we had to cook it.

The freezers are about -30°C.

Thanksgiving dinner 

(Figure 12) Our large Thanksgiving dinner. We eat well at Summit! Photo by Brad Whelchel

Thanksgiving dinner 

(Figure 13) Thanksgiving dinner. Left to right: Brad, Kat, Bill and Lora Once the food was gathered, defrosted, and in the main kitchen we had a blast cooking and eating it. Figure 12 shows our wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and Figure 13 is of us enjoying our feast. This week wasn’t all about food, there was quite a bit of science as well. Each day Kat and I go through a routine of daily science tasks. Most of these tasks involve checking numerous machines to make sure they are running and gathering data for scientists who are only here in the summer but are able to run instruments year round. Many of the machines take temperatures or sample the air for different compounds. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is constantly taking meteorological measurements at Summit. Most of the NOAA instruments are housed in the TAWO building, a small building a few hundred meters from the Green House. Next to TAWO is the TAWO tower that contains meteorological (met) instruments including a 2m air temperature, 10m air temperature, wind speed and direction. This data is used by many scientists who conduct research at Summit and is also used to validate surface temperature measurements taken from satellites. It is very important to make sure that the met instruments are reading accurate temperatures and wind speeds. Met instruments on ice sheets are constantly being attacked by rime. Rime or riming is when a supercooled droplet of water in the air freeze to the instruments creating an icy build-up on the windward side. (For more on rime see If you ski you often see rime on chairlift towers. When rime accumulates on temperature sensors it can insulate the sensors and cause incorrect air temperatures to be recorded. If the rime accumulates on wind sensors, like a wind bird, it slows the rate of instrument spin and gives an incorrect wind speed. Kat and I climb the TAWO tower daily to stop the build up of rime on instruments and insure accurate met data from Summit. Figure 14 is of me climbing the TAWO tower to brush the rime (ice crystals forming a white deposit) off the instruments.

Cleaning the tower

(Figure 14) Lora cleaning rime off the TAWO tower. The tower and cable have lots of rime but the met instruments shown here, including the wind bird at the top of the picture and the temperature sensor enclosure in the middle of the picture, are rime free and gathering good met data. Photo by Brad Whelchel We use climbing harnesses and helmets for safe climbing. There are two difficult things about climbing the TAWO tower, it is hard to move in all the clothes we wear to stay warm and it is hard to grip the tower wearing large mittens. To get a feel for the difficulty of climbing in mittens, the next time you are near a set of monkey bars try crossing them wearing the biggest mittens you have. top

Week Three: Hello from the Summit - 11/23/08

Hello from Summit. This week at Summit we experienced some of our first storms, three to be exact. During the storms the temperatures rose to around -20 C and the wind blows at about 30 knots with gusts up to 40 knots. When the wind blows, snow is lifted from the surface and travels through the air causing drifts around the buildings. The blowing snow also reduces visibility so we can only see about 100 meters. During these conditions we can do very little outside and for safety stay very close to the main camp buildings. In this blog, I will give a quick tour of Summit Camp, but first I will pause to throw in some quick science that will help you understand the construction of the buildings at Summit. There are two areas on an ice sheet, the ablation area and the accumulation area. The ablation area is where snow and ice is lost mainly from melting and calving. Geographically the ablation area is near the edge of the ice sheet. The accumulation area is where snow falls and ice accumulates. Geographically the accumulation area is generally in the center of the ice sheet. NASA scientists monitor the accumulation and ablation areas of Greenland and Antarctica using the ICESat satellite ( ICESat measures the height of ice sheets over time which allows for calculations of the accumulation and ablation. The mass balance of the ice sheet is determined from the measurements of accumulation and ablation and used to estimate changes in sea level. Remember that changes in the amount of ice contained in the ice sheets directly relates to sea level changes. Summit is located in the accumulation region of the Greenland Ice Sheet and is amassing snow, meaning the height measured by ICESat at Summit is increasing. Summit averages about 65 cm of snow per year so the height of the ice sheet at Summit rises about 65 cm a year. Being in the accumulation area also means that the buildings are being buried by 65 cm of snow per year. The buildings must be raised every few years to stay on the surface of the ice sheet. Understanding that Summit is in the accumulation area of the Greenland ice sheet will help you understand some of the quirkiness of the buildings around camp. There are three main buildings at Summit: the Big House (see Figure 4), the Green House and the Shop. The Big House is where we cook, eat, exercise and entertain ourselves.

the Big House 

(Figure 4) The Big House on stilts above the snow surface (Click image for larger version) The Big House has a huge kitchen (see Figure 5), TV, DVD player, Library and exercise equipment. The Big House is elevated on stilts so as the snow accumulates the building is still above the snow.

 Bill making dinner 

(Figure 5) Bill making dinner in the Big House kitchen (Click image for larger version) About 100 meters from the Big House is the Greenhouse (see Figure 6). As you can see the Green House is starting to get buried both from the annual accumulation and the snow drifts that form when the snow blows around on the surface of the ice sheets.

The Greenhouse 

(Figure 6) The Greenhouse that is buried by the accumulating snow at Summit. You can barely see the green corners of the building sticking out of the snow drifts (Click image for larger version) The Green House is scheduled to be raised soon but for now we get into and out of the Green House using a tunnel. Brad and Bill built the tunnel (see Figure 7) and are always keeping it clear of snow that tries to drift in. 

Snow tunnel 

(Figure 7) Snow tunnel used to get in and out of the Green House (Click image for larger version) Inside the Green House are science labs and computers as well as a small kitchen and the berthing module where our rooms are. Our rooms are very nice and include desks, beds, shelves and lots of hooks to hang up our many coats needed to go outside. The third building is the Shop (see Figure 8). The Shop contains all the tools necessary to fix any problem that may arise in camp. It also houses a larger generator, a snow melter, two snowmobiles, and a Caterpillar. The large generator in the shop provides power to the camp and the heat from the generator is used to melt snow to provide water for the camp. The water from the snow melter is transferred to the Green House by pipes buried under the snow but Brad and Bill have to manually transfer water to the Big House using a water tank mounted on a sled that is pulled over to the Big House. Brad spends a lot of time shoveling snow into the snow melter so we always have plenty of water in camp.

The Shop 

(Figure 8) The Shop with Brad shoveling snow into the snow melter making water for the camp. This pictures also shows the blowing snow we experience during high winds (Click image for larger version) There are a few additional small buildings around camp that house science equipment. The TAWO building (see Figure 9) houses NOAA instruments that take meteorological data such as temperature and wind speed. Beside the TAWO building you can see the towers that hold the meteorological instruments. We climb these towers each day to brush snow off of the instruments.

TAWO Building 

(Figure 9) The TAWO building with the tower that holds the meteorological instruments measuring wind speed and temperature (Click image for larger version) Tune in next week to hear about our Thanksgiving festivities and how we measure temperature at Summit both on the ground and from space. top

Week Two: Getting to Summit and Goodbye Sun - 11/16/08

Temp -27 C In this blog, I will take a few steps back in time and tell you how I arrived at Summit Camp. I left Washington D.C and flew to Copenhagen, Denmark on Oct 30, 2008. From Copenhagen I took an Air Greenland flight to Kangerlussaq, Greenland on Nov 3, 2008. Kangerlussaq used to be an American military base and hosts Greenland’s international airport. From Kangerlussaq, we all piled in a chartered Air Greenland Twin Otter airplane with skis attached and took the approximately 3 hour flight to Summit. (see Figure 3) The Twin Otter takes off using wheels in Kangerlussaq and lands using skis at Summit. We arrived at Summit on Nov 4th,2008. During the flight I sat next to Brad, the mechanic. It is Brad’s first time to be on an ice sheet and I enjoyed being able to share in his excitement. When I first read the instruments in the cockpit they read 1:20 hours left in the flight, when the instruments got down to 20 minutes, we were all watching out the window for the first sight of the camp. Fifteen minutes later we were squealing with the first sight of the Big House, our kitchen area, and the Swiss Tower, a larger tower that houses atmospheric sampling equipment. We landed shortly there after and were greeted by the 4 people that were currently staffing Summit, Steve, Katie, Andy, and Shannon. When we got off the plane the air was cold, about -40 C, and the wind was blowing but not too bad. (For the latest weather check out We spent last week doing turnover. The turnover period is a training period where the four people who were staffing camp train the new crew. This training is particularly important for the scientists to ensure that all science experiments are conducted in a consistent manner ensuring data quality. This is a very busy time for everyone since we are all learning our new jobs and settling into camp. As this blog continues I will highlight different science projects in more detail so stay tuned. The biggest news of the past week was that on Nov. 13, 2008 we no longer had an official sunrise. This does not mean we do not have light. From about 9:00 am to 1:00 pm local Greenland time we have light and can see light on the horizon, but the sun never actually rises. This is called civilian twilight. See Image 1 for a glimpse at twilight. If you want to figure out when civilian twilight is for your city go to . As we get deeper into the winter we will have less twilight. Tune in next week for a tour of the Summit, Greenland buildings and to learn about camp life.

Week One: Introduction - 11/3/08

Hello! My name is Lora Koenig and I am a remote sensing glaciologist and a new hire in Cryospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. My research uses satellites to monitor the ice sheets and I am always interested in how well measurements from space compare to those taken on the ground. My interest in ground truth data and learning more about ice sheets has lead me to spend this winter at Summit, Greenland (Latitude 72.5 N Longitude 38.5 W). Over the course of this weekly blog I will tell you about my life and science, in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet, in the middle of the winter. I will start with a quick introduction and explain how I ended up in the dark on an ice sheet. I love snow and ice. I started skiing in the Pacific Northwest before I started school and my love for being in cold outdoor places continued into graduate school where I studied topics dealing with both seasonal snow and the polar ice sheets. In June of 2008, I finished my PhD at the University of Washington in Geophysics. My dissertation focused on passive microwave remote sensing of firn. Firn is what we call snow on ice sheets that has persisted through one melt season or year old snow. For my dissertation I took many field measurements during summer trips to both Greenland and Antarctica, but I still had some questions about how these measurement would change if they were taken in the winter. So when I was given an opportunity to spend November, 2008 through February, 2009 at Summit, Greenland I took it. So here I am at Summit with 3 other people who are staffing the camp through the winter (see Figure 2). My winter-over team includes: Bill McCormick, our camp manager who has spent many seasons working in Antarctica, Brad Whelchel, our mechanic who is new to working on “the ice” as we call it and Kat Huybers. Kat and I are both scientists and our job here is to be the science techs, meaning we make sure all the year round science being done at camp is maintained throughout the winter. This is Kat’s second time as a science tech and 4th time to Summit. Summit is quite a different place in the winter when there are only 4 people staffing the camp. In the summer, when most scientists come to Summit, there can be up to 40 people in camp. Go to to see a live webcam of Summit Camp and to learn more about the ongoing science here. Well that was a quick introduction. As we plunge into the winter, I will update you on my science and life as it progresses here at Summit. Stop by often!