Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

GrIT Situation Report 4

April 12, 2016
Storms and Snowballs

Nice camping spot on the first night out of Thule Air Base. Photo: Robin Davies

Nice camping spot on the first night. Photo: Robin Davies

All is well with the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team as they make their way through the crevasse zone [the first ~70 miles of the journey to Summit, where the fractured edge of the ice sheet leads to the unbroken ice cap].

During the past two days the team has encountered the steeper hills requiring “double hauling” (using two tractors to pull loads up hills) and “holding back” (having one tractor hold the load back as they go downhill).

Inside the back tractor ‘holding back’ the Microturbine load seen through the windshield on a downward slope ahead.

Inside the back tractor ‘holding back’ the Microturbine load seen ahead through the windshield on a downward slope. Photo: Robin Davies

They did get stopped by Condition Charlie [i.e., severe] weather all day Saturday with very high 70 knot winds and snow, and had some issues with snow clogging the Onan generator that is supplying heat to the microturbine.  The team had to work in very strong winds to fix the issue, but were able to get it done.  Below is an excerpt from the GrIT daily log that illustrates some of the challenges the team is having with mother nature:

Big storm during the night and all day.

The Onan generator quit during the night [because] the air filter was choked with snow. Removing the air filter is not an easy task. With the air filter thawed out and dried it still would not start. The hermi [herman nelson heater] was some distance away … and the drifts too big for us to move it by hand. We used the Tucker to drag it, but it took a while to start the Tucker as the engine bay was completely filled with snow….

6” of snow in the [large WeatherPort] tent, blowing in through where the roof overlaps the end wall.

Everything is well drifted in so it will take a bit of work to get everything moving when this blow is over.

The wind is just starting to ease although it’s still snowing quite heavily.

Snowballs accumulating on the fuel bladders. Photo: Robin Davies

Snowballs accumulating on the fuel bladders. Photo: Robin Davies

Another issue they have encountered are giant snowballs that build up in the open space in between bladders.  This happens frequently when the tractors pull along steeper side slopes and the snow pushes in.  The crews need to stop and clear them out occasionally to prevent them from causing trouble with the fuel bladders.

Despite losing a day to weather, the crew has progressed 50 miles past the Needle area [where crevasses create a narrow passage safe to traverse, leading GrIT members to compare driving this section to threading a needle]. They were preparing for more of the same over the next few days, with possible slower progress due to “Fresh, deep, and soft tractor ruts 6 to 14 inches, occasionally deeper.”–Julie Raine

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. Follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit.

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