Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Summit Station Staff Turnover

The Sun Rises, the Snow Flies

Summiteers practice snow sampling in a one-meter pit. Some experiments require pristine samples, and so staff wear clean suits and masks. L-R: Summit science manager Katrine Gorham, and Phase III science technicians Sonja Wolters and Christina Hammock. Photos provided by Katrine Gorham

For almost a week now, Summit has been in transition–the staff of five that saw the National Science Foundation’s science facility through the winter night has been slowly handing the job over to the team that will guide it through the spring dawn.  

Actually, there’s nothing slow about this transition. Summiteers have about two weeks to explain and learn everything about running the station. Ongoing technical activities in support of continuous measurements keep two of the five personnel busy full-time collecting air and snow samples, monitoring instruments, measuring snow accumulation, launching ozonesonde balloons, etc. Infrastructure upkeep is another big effort:  for example, it takes a lot of effort and a giant pink pig to make water at the station, believe it or not. There are safety and environmental concerns, and communications concerns as well. So the turnover period is packed with show and tell and do. 

The new team practices on the Iridium phone. Pictured L-R: Sonja Wolters (NOAA science technician), Ken Keenan (manager), Luke Nordby (mechanic), and Geoff Miller (equipment operator). Photo: Katrine Gorham

People arriving at Summit usually huff a bit for a day or two adjusting to the climate.  The station sits at ~10,000 feet and atmospheric conditions can make it feel even higher.

For this transition period, after the first calm (and cold) day or two, the wind picked up, and when we talked with Russ Howes yesterday (our Summit maintenance lead is checking a few things and helping with the transition), he reported 30-40 knot winds had been blowing for the past three or so days. There’s a lot of snow in the air, which means there’ll be a lot of shoveling to come. “But, on the plus side, when the wind picks up it typically gets warmer,” Katrine wrote in an email.

Wind storms can make a science technician's job a bit of a challenge. Here, the technicians carry snow samples back to the Green House.