Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

GrIT Details: Shakedown, Tune-up, Training

GrIT team at the transition preparing for the GPR shake down run. Kevin Emery and Allan Delaney stow gear on the Nansen sled. The GPR can be seen attached to the front of the Tucker. Brad Johnson, in the brown jacket at right, talks with Greenland Contractor personnel. Photo: Robin Davies.

Up at Thule Air Base in Greenland, the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team last week continued to hustle toward a mid-April launch for Summit Station.   

The GPR team—expert Allan Delaney, CRREL’s Jen Mercer, Tucker operator/mechanic Robin Davies, and mountaineer Kevin Emery—departed on Saturday morning for an outing to ensure readiness for the 10-14 day GPR run scheduled to begin early this week.  (The GPR team will use the specialized radar equipment to detect and document crevasses in the ice edge, the first 60 or so miles of the route to Summit Station. The information will help the GrIT team make a safe approach on to the ice sheet.)   

Jen Mercer (standing) and David Wantuch check out the transition between land and ice. Photo: Robin Davies.

Weather on Saturday favored the traverse, as it was “clear with a little bit of wind,” PFS GrIT project manager Allen Cornelison wrote on Sunday. “Temperature was about -12F.  The GPR party traveled in the survey configuration with Kevin following behind the Tucker in a snowmachine. They were able to make contact with Hilltop [Thule’s communications center], with us and with our Telemed contractor [which provides remote medical support].”   

“The team used GPR to about three miles past the transition. The best traveling speed is about 3MPH so a somewhat arduous process,” Cornelison continued.  “Especially for Kevin I would think but he was born to be outside. . . .The GPR team came back last night (Saturday) and we were all like a bunch of penguins gathering in our hut discussing the day’s exciting activities. Then it was time to go to the TOW (Top Of the World) for a beer and pizza.”   

Robin Davies provided this summary: “The shake down went very well with very few niggles* to work out.  The weather wasn’t bad but the wind did get up a bit with a little ground drift. It was cozy in the Tucker but quite cold for Kevin on the skidoo. The GPR gear worked well.”   

Tuckered: the GPR team returns to Thule on Saturday. The GPR is shown out in front, leading the way. Photo: Robin Davies.

As the GPR team explored the transition, additional GrIT personnel continued preparing for the traverse to Summit:  they worked on the rigs—the Tucker and the gigantor Case Quadtrac—to install communications and global positioning system instruments, the latter so we will be able to track GrIT’s progress during the ride to Summit. They also finished instrumenting the sleds for mobility testing, which begins this week out at the transition. For this effort, CRREL’s Jim Lever will lead a team in a suite of experiments to see if they can generate a higher temperature at the snow/sled interface and/or find a specific configuration of sleds and cargo to improve mobility.  

Thermocouples installed on the high-molecular-weight plastic material shipped to Thule for sled mobility tests. Photo: David Wantuch

Earlier in the week, Kevin Emery provided hands-on rope skills training. The GPR shakedown team’s exploration over the weekend revealed crevasses suitable for safety training, so the GrIT team will suit up and explore crevasse rescue techniques this week as well.  

Robin Davies (left) and Brad Johnson practice self-rescue techniques using prusik knots. Photo: Dave Wantuch

This recap skips myriad details involved with staging a traverse across Greenland’s ice sheet. Between outfitting the wannigan with supplies, food, and gear, completing a load of paperwork for permitting, and testing and retesting every system the GrIT team will rely on for safety and “comfort” out on the ice sheet, GrIT’s presence is obvious at the Thule Air Base. Fortunately, the community has been generous in their enthusiastic support of the GrIT project. “The Danish and Greenlandic people who work here in Thule are extremely helpful and seem truly interested in our project,” writes Cornelison.  

With the GPR team scheduled to leave Tuesday for a 10-14 day exploration of the ice margin, and sled configuration testing literally heating up at the transition, this promises to be a banner week for the GrIT project. We’ll let you know what we hear.  

Even the local wildlife (for example, this arctic hare) is interested in GrIT.

*Niggle:  (Noun) A minor concern. Used mainly in Great Britain.