Week 13 Now What!?

Date Posted: 5.18.2010
Location: 77º44'N 51º06'W
NEEM Research Station, Greenland
Weather Conditions: Sunny and no wind, 4ºF (-15ºC)
“I have dreamed of dogsledding across the snow in Greenland as long as I can remember, and we set out on this journey to fulfill our mission ending at the SUMMIT research station. Unfortunately that all has to come to an end now,” says Mille. Friday the weather finally cleared for the Hercules airplane to land at NEEM research station — our stop before SUMMIT. Aaron and Brant were packed and ready to board to return to the United States as planned. About 40 minutes before the plane landed, however, the news came to Aaron and Mille: Andrea had decided to bail
and had arranged for herself to get onboard the plane as well. “We can all get scared out here,” says Mille. “It’s big nature and it can be tough going. Even the air is thinner here more than 8000 feet above the sea level! I was more than saddened when Andrea stood in front of us saying that she feels she does not have what it takes to carry on, and I was frankly shocked of the sudden departure arranged without the knowledge of the rest of us.” But off Andrea went with Aaron and Brant. Mille was left standing on the ice sheet alone with the crew of Polar Huskies – Now what!?

Aaron, Mille and their team approaching NEEM  
  Watch the Polar Huskies in
  action, Aaron and Mille are
  running the team in front
This year we are not solely in charge of our logistics. Many decisions are in the hands of the company Polar Field. Within hours of Andrea’s departure from NEEM, it was decided at Polar Field’s office in Kangerlussuaq that this adventure learning expedition should end as it would the easiest. Mille not informed of this decision, was looking for solutions and to find a replacement for Andrea. Over days it looked promising, with several candidates for the journey ahead from NEEM to Summit. One being Mikkel Ketil, who traveled in Nunavut last year with the Polar Huskies during the GoNorth! Nunavut 2009 adventure learning expedition.  In the meantime Aaron was sitting in Kangerlussuaq waiting for the next flight back to the United Stated on Monday morning, and on a final call Sunday night it was made clear that it was indeed the consensus in Kangerlussuaq to end the expedition. “I had to pull the plug,” says Aaron, “the pressure was just too large for me to do otherwise.” Mille continues, “ I admit it, I have never been more disappointed with my team or the lack of support to continue on. I am not sure of all that have led to this ending, but it is sure heart-breaking.” She goes on, “It’s not for lack of trying this week!”

         One of the students carries his kayak out
       to show us his skills.
    Listen for more about the adventures
  of Christine and the students!


[Image right: While we are far apart, the ice sheet connects us as it stretches from NEEM to the shore along the ocean, where Christine was in both the communities of Ilulissat and Uummannaq working with students this week. Here student Lars Kristian Pedersen shares the Greenlandic art of kayaking!]

It started on the morning after we sent out the last report. The storm had cooled off a bit but the wind was still moving at high speed shaking the tents. At 7:30 Mille called into Polar Field to give the daily update with status, location, health, and conditions. Unfortunately, the news from the Polar Field office was not good. Snowmobiles were supposed to pick up Brant and Aaron a few days before their plane was set to leave from the NEEM camp some 200 miles away—now those snowmobiles were not coming! Due to a glitch in the planning at Polar Field, the transport had never been arranged, despite it being part of our plan for months! Brant needed to get home to a job interview, and Aaron to teach—or lose $30,000! They had made it clear to Mille that they would want her to get them to NEEM in time for that flight, at any cost. “I will never compromise our number one rule of ‘safety-first,’ but yes, the pressure was on and I knew I was expected to pull miracles,” says Mille.

One of our beautiful campsites on Greenland’s
ice sheet

The decision was made to get moving and start traveling even as the whipping winds made it challenging to dig out the tents and the sleds and get all packed up to go. The conditions were poor indeed, and we made it 8 miles that day—but at least it was 8 miles. Finally the next morning we caught a break in the weather and with blue sunny skies and barely any hint of a wind, Lightning and Disko again pulled an impressive feat, breaking trail and leading the way for our team to cover 22 miles across the flat white surface. Watching the Polar Huskies, Mille was inspired by a solution in case no one else came up with one... No one did, so that night she called the Greenland Inland Traverse team, (GrIT), on the satellite phone. The night before we had seen them stopping for the night in the far horizon behind us, so we knew they were close by and bound to pass us again soon. Reaching their leader, Brad, he and Mille agreed that the GrIT team would take a bunch of the load off our sleds onto the enormous load of cargo they are pulling with two huge machines on their journey to SUMMIT research station. “With much lighter sleds, we were then going to test if the Polar Huskies could keep up with the GrIT team breaking trail, “ explains Mille. A member of the GrIT crew had to catch the same plane out of NEEM, so everyone was in a hurry. The next day, the Polar Huskies ran a fabulous 37+ miles. The GrIT team was 4 miles or so ahead.

         The Polar Huskies and Mille on top of
       the GrIT team’s huge cargo sled

They were still parked as we caught them first thing the next morning. They shared that they would have to go even faster because surprisingly soft snow now made them worry the last 50+ miles would have them travel much slower than was called for if they were to make the plane. Feeling the heavy pressure on her shoulders knowing her team mates expected solutions, and knowing it would slow her and Andrea down to travel on to NEEM on their own with weather moving in any time, Mille said only half jokingly: How about we put the dogs on the load, and tow the sleds behind? Brad, the GrIT team leader, agreed with a smile. Within the hour a strange caravan was moving across the snow, full steam ahead. Mille was on the load with the dogs to make sure they were safe at all times. Inside a kitchen wagon, a wanigan, being pulled by the GrIT team’s second machine, Andrea, Brant and Aaron cranked the music and played cards. Three 10-hour days later at camp time we found ourselves just some 16 miles from NEEM. Good thing! As Mille says, “During the last day sitting on the load the weather turned windy with wet snow and I had a really tough time staying warm. I was literally counting the minutes wishing for this great but strange ride to end.” The next morning we loaded our own sleds and harnessed back up the Polar Huskies, so Aaron and Brant could arrive at NEEM in style pulled by nothing but Polar Husky power.

  Explore the set-up of the GrIT team as we load up. Can you locate the dogs on the load?

  Watch from the wannigan out onto the huge load going with Polar Huskies, Mille and sleds on tow

  Watch on the load, day 2!

Brant, Aaron and Andrea playing cards inside
the wannigan

The plane could not land to pick up Aaron and Brant the next day as planned because of fog and winds. Nor the next day… So, lots of cards were played, movies watched and we marveled at the stunning work done here in the NEEM camp. Here, the team drills deep down into the ice sheet for ice cores that show a perfect record of weather, temperatures, and atmospheric gasses dating back hundreds of thousands of years! “It actually brought tears to my eyes when I saw the ice cores on shelves because of the knowledge they have provided us with about our climate today and in the past. Just such brilliant and exciting science!” exclaims Mille. More on this next week though! When we arrived, it was just a few scientists and crew here to get everything going: for put-in as they call it here at camp. Another 25+ scientists arrived with the plane that came in, and within the next days and hours the first cores should be pulled out. Steffen Bo Hansen is one of the pioneer drillers in the field of ice core drilling. He has worked with it from the very beginning, some 40 years ago. He shared that the depth of the first cores drilled this year will be at 1,750 meters (5,250 feet), which means it is ice dating from 37,617  years ago when it fell on Greenland as snow!!! We also learned from Steffen that we actually dogsledded by the very first place where a deep ice core was ever drilled: Camp Century.



  Watch as Mille and Aaron sled by
  Camp Century!

  Explore NEEM! Locate the white tent,
  this is the actual drilling site

Today, while marked by some colored flags, all you can see at Camp Century is a metal rod and some crossbars sticking out of the snow pack. That’s a small weather station put up some years ago. But in the 1960s Camp Century was nothing less than a mind-boggling top-secret military experiment. The idea was to build a science and military community entirely under the surface of the snow—deep down inside Greenland’s ice sheet, to be powered by a portable nuclear power plant. A maze of tunnels and off-shoot passageways that bored through the multi-layers of aged ice with ventilation stacks protruding through the snow from roofs below and a long antenna standing some 100 meter (330 feet) high above ground, the under-ice community ran for three years with people literally living under the surface inside the ice sheet. One reason for Camp Century was that at the time the United States was eager to be able to develop and store nuclear weapons without the Soviet Union ever knowing! One idea was to have an entire railway inside the ice sheet to keep moving nuclear weapons around so they would not be detected. So, that’s how the first deep ice core drilling came to happen! No one ever actually used the deep ice core for anything, but after years a Danish scientist, Willi Dansgaard, asked if he could take a look.

         Steffen’s workshop at NEEM: the drill hole!

Willi had done an experiment at home in Denmark that had given him the idea that maybe by looking at ice layers, we could “read” about the temperature over time! Water is made of both light and heavy molecules—the ice sheet is snow, frozen water that falls and stays put! When there are more heavy molecules in the ice it means the snow fell under warmer temperatures. More light molecules means colder temperatures. Scientists can read this information with incredible accuracy to tell you the actual temperatures! It all began with Willi being really eager to try something with a fancy new machine he was sitting with. On a rainy fall day in Denmark he decided to collect rainwater in pots and pans to see how it would look in this machine! That’s when he realized he could read a very precise record of the temperatures in the water! Next thought was, how do you get your hands on really old water, and even better, water falling over time?... And that is how the science of ice core drilling began! It is easy to be humbled by the scientists and science at this place. The leader here at NEEM, JP Steffensen, along with many of the scientists are literally the pioneers and considered to be the foremost leaders in their field—moving around Greenland’s massive ice sheet every so many years going to new places to drill for knowledge.

The Polar Huskies under a sun dog! When a ring appears around the sun, it is called a sun dog.  

“Their passion and love for their science and this place is inspiring!” exclaims Mille, “actually, the Greenland ice sheet is inspiring in itself. One day you are laughing and enjoying her company; the next day you may be humbled having to reckon with her awesome potential. There is a peace and solitude to be found on the ice sheet that makes the strong aware in thought; the meek find themselves absorbed with one of the most powerful forces upon earth. For, on the ice sheet, nature respects no one who does not give her her just due.”

Never quitting and always happy to run across any snowy surfaces with raised tails, the Polar Huskies are their own force to be reckoned with. In the face of the many storms on the way here to NEEM, they are really soaking up the sunshine and relaxing, happy to greet visiting scientists coming to meet all the Polar Husky Superstars! What next on the trail ahead, they don’t bother about. Something exciting will happen next—more on that next week!