Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Life at Greenland’s Summit Station

The path to the Big House from Von Walden's ICECAPS cloud experiment. Photo: Matthew Shupe

With the research season gearing into full swing, our colleagues at Greenland’s Summit Station are busy. Nineteen people arrived this week, deliveries for facilities projects are en route, and the construction crew is in place preparing to build the new atmospheric studies facility called TAWO, raise the Big House and complete a number of other projects.

“Summer is sailing by,” notes Ken Jessen, the summer station manager. “We are past the halfway mark and things will accelerate from here.”

As the PFS crew keeps the station running, a number of scientists are conducting fascinating research, and in several weeks, the station’s population will reach about 65 (“Full to the gills,” says Ken). Stay tuned for in-depth stories on the science on the ice sheet, and for now, here’s a quick peek at a few ongoing studies:

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Campaign

John Burkhart, of the The Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Kjeller, Norway, is leading this project to measure the variability of albedo over glaciers, sea ice, and ice sheets with state-of-the-art technology. The team will take measurements weekly, and will increase flight frequency during intensive “pollution transport episodes” to assess whether the pollution creates a detectable change in the albedo. Several recent studies of pollutant transport—in particular black carbon—to the Arctic indicate that the deposition of black carbon on snow/ice surfaces may have a significant effect on the energy balance (Flanner et al., 2007; Law and Stohl, 2007; Quinn et al., 2007a/b). Currently, sufficient data to evaluate black carbon-induced changes on albedo in a quantitative manner does not exist, and satellite measurements lack the required precision to monitor this effect. Yet this information is fundamental for climate modeling.

The team flew the UAV in Svalbard, Norway, earlier this year to measure snow albedo on polythermal glaciers and over sea ice. Currently in Greenland, the UAV team will focus on the dry snow zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet and are operating out of Summit. According to the scientists, “the contrast between these two environments will not only provide an excellent opportunity for comparative measurements, but also enables the development of a data product for albedo with broad application to regional Arctic environments.”

Cloud properties across the Arctic Basin

Von Walden, associate professor in the Geography Department of the University of Idaho (Moscow), is conducting research to better understand arctic cloud properties in order to explore the overall energy balance of the Arctic and how Arctic climate interacts with the global climate system.

Brad Halter and Von Walden prepare for a balloon launch.

Walden and his team are collecting ground-based measurements and combining their data at various sites with satellite observations to create a cloud observation network across the Arctic. According to Walden, Arctic clouds will be one of the important indicators signifying if, and when, the Arctic system is moving to a new climatic state. The team collects ground data through balloon launches (pictured here).

The research results can help improve weather and climate models in the Arctic and integrate data from several existing Arctic research stations that are run by various agencies.

Supraglacial Lakes

Geophysicist Marco Tedesco, an assistant Professor at the City College of New York, City University of New York (CUNY), and a research scientist affiliated with the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, has been using satellite data and ground-based microwave technologies to document ice-melting trends in Greenland.

Marco Tedesco in the 4 meter deep pit near Summit Camp. Photo: Marco Tedesco

As documented in the June 2010 issue of the National Geographic, the research seeks to understand why Greenland’s meltwater lakes tend to drain unexpectedly and quickly. Tedesco and graduate student Nick Steiner used an unmanned research vessel, launched every morning, to collect data.

RW

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