April 7, 2016
GrIT Departs for Summit
The GrIT team headed out into the wild white yonder today. Over the next 7-8 weeks, our team will pull a giant load of outsized cargo to Summit Station, assist at Summit with science support, and then turn around and return to Thule Air Base, caching en route a fuel supply for a science traverse that will launch later this season. The team aims to be off the ice by the last week of May to avoid slogging through slush.
Last Minute Challenges
Reports filed by GrIT project manager Julie Raine offer glimpses of the challenges the team has faced to get to this point. Late last month, one of the Case tractors broke down, requiring replacement parts unavailable at Thule. “We had a whole cadre of support folks ensuring that the parts were available [at a U.S. vendor], could ship to McGuire Air Force Base, and fit on the plane to Thule,” Julie writes. Thanks to the efforts of many, the GrIT mechanics got the parts and made the repairs. All’s well that ends well.
But not so fast. “When we took the repaired tractor out for a test drive late on Saturday, it ran for just one mile before it seized,” Julie reports. “The crew then spent the next five hours in the elements disassembling the work they’d just completed to limp the tractor in two wheel drive back to the shop.” With just three of four planned vehicles, the GrIT team had to take a hard look at the carefully packed cargo sleds, one of which had to go.
Over the weekend, the team re-worked the sled loads to pull the critical cargo and enough fuel for the round trip behind just three tractors. The new loads will require additional effort—for example, two tractors will have to work together to “double haul” the heaviest sleds through deeper snow and up hills—but the GrIT team was determined to go, and they are off.
Life on the Road
Out on the ice sheet, cargo tends to freeze hard and get buried in snow, making it difficult to access and handle. To provide a covered workspace and storage for items needed daily, the traverse infrastructure includes a WeatherPort, a sturdy tent made of tough plastic canvas.
But even this field staple required special preparation to handle traverse conditions. “The WeatherPort is not designed to be set up above ground, as it usually uses a layer of snow along the bottom to provide a seal to the outside,” Julie notes. “Our carpenter team designed a clever split batten for the door opening that will hopefully provide a tight enough seal while closed, but still allow for easy entry without having to disassemble each time someone wants to enter.” Inside, large, light-weight plastic crates hold “tools, parts, hoses, batteries as well as pizza makings and flank steak for the crew,” Julie explains.
Ride Along with the GrIT
Bandwidth is at a premium out on the ice sheet, so we may hear little from the team before they reach Summit Station. But thanks to GPS tracking technology, we can follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit,–Kip Rithner
The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the GrIT. CH2MHILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2016 spring traverse delivers cargo to Summit Station, and continues efforts to optimize mobility, GrIT will provide direct science support to several projects, retrieving instruments for a soon-to-be-completed effort, and laying fuel caches for upcoming projects.