What makes an ice researcher frustrated?

April 20, 2010

Indeed, I have been so frustrated the last days! My last fieldwork season at Jan Mayen ended THE DAY BEFORE this  eruption! It would have been so nice to measure in real time the chemistry of the snow after such an event, then in the future I could have measure the corresponding layer again and see how the chemistry has changed when the snow gets deeper or when water percolates..

Read the rest of this entry »


Waving goodbye to the little less mysterious Jan Mayen

April 9, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 – Loran C

Our luggage, our equipment, skis, our samples: everything is ready.  It remains for us to load everything into the trailer truck delivering the cargo to the “Airport” (just an airstrip and hangar) before being loaded on aircraft.  So this is the 100th and last time that we must deal with all this load before it is delivered in our respective institutions. Read the rest of this entry »

The direction to Nouan Le Fuzelier?

April 7, 2010

Monday, March 22.  Loran C.

The day is devoted to dry, pack and label our equipment and my samples.  I have one last mission to accomplish before our departure scheduled for tomorrow: I would like to add 2 panels to set the guiding pole planted on the edge of the road between the airstrip and Loran C.
The wind stings our faces.  After a day spent at the heated indoor, one could almost swear that this mission is the coldest of the fortnight!
At my height on the pole, there is space by chance between the site and the dozens of placards inscribed with names of cities in Norway.  I can proudly stick a wooden arrow indicating the direction of my village in France  Nouan Le Fuzelier and another pointing to the capital of Lapland, home of the Arctic Centre: Rovaniemi!

Emilie & wooden arrows towards her home village in France and the home of the Arctic Centre: Rovaniemi!

What can you bring as a present for your paleoclimatologist/dendrochronologist colleague?

April 7, 2010

Sunday, March 21-Ulla, 5 C.

It’s time for cleaning the cottage Ulla!  Our friends from the Loran C take us back with the Hägglund.  We return for the last time on the glacier with them to get the heavy equipment and the samples deposited two days earlier.  Not a cloud hide the volcano’s summit, a group photo is required.

Group photo

The men of the station, on our request, brought a chainsaw.  Indeed I was promised one of my colleagues (paleoclimatologist, dendrochronologist) to sample for him the drift wood which covers all the beaches of Jan Mayen.

Cutting presents

It seems that this wood comes from the large rivers of Siberia and grounded on Arctic beaches there over 2 centuries.

We are again warmly greeted by the staff of the main station of the island. 15 days have elapsed since we took our last shower.  Needless to say how that shower tonight was appreciated!  Anna regain strength.

We no longer feel our hands and our feet, but final measurement done!

April 6, 2010

Saturday, March 20-Ulla, -10, sustained wind.

This is our last day in the field.  We must concentrate our efforts on the latest radar measurements with the antenna low-frequency (deep profile) on Olafsbreen and Sorbreen.  Only two people are needed for this work.

Equipped with a VHF, I coach Johan for measurements on Olafsbreen.  Fast slalom between stones in a lava field, acceleration on the first ridge, we avoid the thick fresh snow and canyons.  Soon we arrive at the beginning of the mighty down slope we skied down last Wednesday.  The more we go, the wind is stronger.  We do not distinguish the top of Beerenberg in turmoil.

The snow plow is very violent and the radar does not work correctly.  It is imperative to solve the problem, we will have no further opportunity to return here. I do screen against the drift to protect electronic equipment while Johan, with bare hands, verifies the different software settings.  Nothing works.  We must call Anna to the radio.

Unfortunately Ulla is located in the radio shadow of the volcano over Olafsbreen.  The contact is in Swedish with the head of radio station Loran C.  The man from the station very carefully repeats the information in Norwegian to John  who has stayed in Ulla and translates the message into English for Anna. The journey of the answer is the same: 2 intermediates, 3 languages.  It takes several minutes to be understood and remaining motionless in the wind becomes unbearable for our hands and our feet that we no longer feel.  Between radio calls, we run around the scooters to warm our feet and we use the heat from the engine of the scooter to feel our fingers again.

After half an hour standing this infernal wind, we decide to go down with the parameters of the radar yet.  We do not distinguish the glacier surface and the visibility is less than 10 m. We decide to meet the deposit (at mid slope of Olafsbreen) and, then down on Sorbreen.

We head back to Ulla under the sun!

Looking up, the sun is there but in front of us: it is the white out.  We know that the upstream Sorbreen is divided into two slopes: one leads to deep crevasses, the other is safe.  But we see nothing and our GPS just died.  We decided to take a minute and miraculously a lull in the snow drift allowed us to aim just to the secure the slope of the glacier.  We are safe now!

As expected, it reigns over Sorbreen Olympian calm and visibility is perfect. We head back to Ulla under the sun.  After lunch, it was decided to retry the raid to Sorbreen with the large radar antenna.  Bravely, despite the fever, Anna puts it on.  Johan leaves with John for this final measurement.

We spend a relaxed evening, us 4 celebrating with music the success of the entire mission and enjoy our satisfaction in the blazing lights of the polar night.

A bit of ingenuity and voilà: radar profiles from Sorbreen

April 2, 2010

Friday, March 19 Sun-Ulla, -11 C

Having completed all my goals yesterday, I’m now  available to help my colleagues. This morning on the glacier is devoted to the laying of new tags on Sorbreen ablation. John’s steam drill was easily transportable on the sledge. It is simply a probe connected by a rubber tube to an aluminum container. The water is heated by propane gas. Providing the water does not refreeze around the tube, a hole ten feet deep is dug effortlessly in few minutes. We can then place a long aluminum stakes which length will be measured annually from the surface to know the rate of removal in this area of the glacier.

Johan, aluminum stake and John

After “a traditional lunch of glaciologists”, a portion of freeze-dried food, Johan returns to the cabin Ulla (which is only quarter of an hour of scooter and relatively easy to access from the beach) where Anna remained feverish today.  Despite this and determined to return with new radar profiles from Sorbreen, she finds the strength to start the high frequency antenna and explain the main controls to Johan.

Johan and I constitute a team throughout the afternoon to browse the glacier upstream to downstream. I drive the scooter at regular speed and as slow as possible (5km / h) to allow radar waves to make the round trip between the horizons of the sub surface and the receptor. Johan, who is very tall, has found a place on the little sledge that carries the computer and control the radar signal.

The antenna is placed in a plastic pulkka (small sledge) fixed laterally to the sled with ropes and tags. C'est parfait !

Finally, the small antenna GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) is moored to sled and slides on the snow. This facility is not ideal: almost every turn, the antenna is reversed upside down when it passes through the grooves of the scooter and forces us to interrupt the action frequently. Fortunately Johan has appealed his ingenuity to develop a more stable installation.

There is virtually no wind and sunglasses are indispensable today. Our vision is to infinity and with a little imagination we could almost see the Icelandic coast! How couldn’t we acknowledge the privilege of exercising our job at the heart of such a breathtaking nature. To perfect  the moment and since the percentage of the slope allows, I cut the motor of the scooter and control the speed only with the brake. Glancing in the mirror, I see that Johan, seated with his back turned to the sea and facing the glacier, also relishes the moment along with a rice cake that he had kept in his jacket all day. At this price, we could drive the radar on the whole mountain!

Johan has found a place on the little sled that carries the computer and control the radar signal

I think today’s results that we proudly showed to Anna in the evening aid to cure her.

I can hear the waves, 1000 meters below

April 2, 2010

Thursday, March 18-Ulla-overcasted.

We  have been announced a storm for the weekend. There remains only 2 or 3 days to make up on Sorbreen. Our objectives are

  • to download data from the automatic weather station
  • to install and make new measurements of stakes, snow pits and longitudinal profile radar high and low-frequency.

Unfortunately Anna is ill and can’t accompany us on the glacier.

John and Johan install a new anemometer and retrieves give the AWS meanwhile I sample snow 100 m away from any traces left by the scooter. Luckily for the first time since the mission began, the weather is perfectly calm.

Then we reach the central part of the glacier by the only access without crevasses. The boys spent the afternoon installing a second AWS letting me digging and operate a new sampling of snow 100m away.  I dig up to 2m, breaking the thick layers of ice with an ax. According to estimates by John who has put some stakes in this area, the thickness of snow and firn layering ice would be at least 3 meters. Unfortunately I have no time to dig up this depth today.

Everything is so quiet now that even from the bottom of my pit of snow I can hear the surf waves, 1000 meters below.

We finish our respective tasks simultaneously, it is time to descend to Ulla. The box of samples of the day is buried at the bottom of the first pit and marked by two beacons. We do not have a freezer at the cabin.

The waves are huge today and tide helping, they have eroded the trail traced by the scooter this morning. To avoid getting bogged down in the black sand this time, we must guide the machine on the flank of the drift that extends the moraine and ends in the sea. The slope is steep and to prevent the scooter from tipping and begin to flip over that would lead us directly to the water, we strive to make the weight against, placing ourselves balanced on the opposite side of the machine, such as marine rappel on their sailboat to restore horizontal. Johan maneuvering the handlebars with one handle. The realization of this cascade gain me some time to find myself ejected from the scooter. Fall is without consequences, because we all wear helmets.

We move on the other side of the island

April 1, 2010

Wednesday, March 17-Gamlemetten- calm weather.

John spent the night at Loran C (and so did the samples!) Pending the repair of the scooter he must bring it back to Gamlemetten so we can continue our work. Meanwhile, Johan, Anna and I pack again all our equipment and clean the house. We have decided to move to the small hut Ulla located on the east coast of the island at the foot of the glacier Sorbreen to which we want to focus our attention now if the weather remains favorable.

Our old home Gamlemetten + our gear.

We carry out the transfer during the afternoon. We even have time to leave the most of our equipment on the downstream portion of Sorbreen. To access the glacier from Ulla, we must drive over a steep moraine. At this point last year,  the lack of snow forced us to cross on foot pulling very heavy pulkka on the rock.

This year, if the snow depth was a problem on the Western side, it is an advantage here and we can get the scooter on beautiful drifts.

The day when we made history

April 1, 2010

More detailed description of the day made history! (The previous posting about this day was via satellite telephone.)

Tuesday, March 16. Gamlemetten -11 C, clear sky, strong winds.

The sky was almost perfectly clear today. The personnel of Loran C, concerned with our problems to get our equipment on top of the glacier has offered to take us as high as possible on the slopes of the Beerenberg using the Hägglund (tracked vehicle). At the end of winter, it would also be an opportunity for them  to take a last trip on the top of the island.

Johan standing next to the Hägglund ready to take us up

We absolutely must take advantage of the logistical support offered to us now, use the hours earned on transportation to drill an ice core and make several radar profiles Olafsbreen (a glacier in the southwest states and virtually devoid of crevasses) . 6 people, our drilling equipment and skies quickly loaded onto the Hägglund. Climbing to the deposit is almost too easy, the car is too warm and despite the chaotic field, we all doze behind our sunglasses. The contrast is even more violent on arrival. The snow drift is powerful.

That’s it, that we have to play now. Anna puts up her radar device towed by the scooter and computer-controlled fixed on the back of the scooter. This device is quite tricky to start and Anna removed her gloves a few times to check the various micro connections.

I am lodged at the site of the snow pit dug yesterday and partially filled with snow drift despite coverage plywood prepared the day before. The wind strengthens, John and Johan stand inside the pit for drilling. As for me I stay at the edge of the pit in the open air, to take care of taking notes and packaging of ice cores. I put on clean suit, vinyl gloves and face mask to avoid contamination of samples I am the only one “allowed” to handle.

The clean suit, vinyl gloves and face mask to avoid contamination of samples.

The core penetrates the firn easily. The last two meters however, the guys use the full weight of their bodies to exert pressure on the drill and reach 10m deep. Our objective is reached, we can’t drill more because we have at our disposal only ten extension of a meter.

Packing the sample in the pit.

The sun approaches the horizon, we must quickly pack gear and samples. I can finally get rid of this face mask that freezes on my nose and vinyl gloves too tight to be doubled of several pairs of warm gloves. Anna joined us on the drilling site, she could do some profiling radar (antenna low-frequency) before the scooter broke down (broken belt): a chance that this problem has occurred on the day we were escorted by the ‘Hägglund!

Proudly we return to the foot of the volcano, carrying with us the first ice core ever retrieved on Jan Mayen! The colors and lights of the sky and the ocean seem to have united to give us their most original association. The southern part of the island disappears first in the dark night.

First day of real work

March 31, 2010

Now I’m back and finally in front of good internet connections.  It’s time to tell what  happened during last week of our expedition:

Monday 15th- Gamlemetten, still windy, -15.

We begin this day at 6:30. The mission today is to access Olafsbreen by scooter and to plant some stakes. It would be wise for me to do a snow pit also. Each of my muscles hurts me and I can barely get warm. Furthermore, it is windy and the top of Beerenberg is invisible, it seems even the stormy weather yesterday! One should really have faith to believe the weather forecast announced an improvement in conditions during the day!

We load our skies, our boots, our boxes for storage of samples, our backpacks and survival gear. And here we are again left on the snowy slopes of Beerenberg.  After the storm this weekend, nival conditions are much more heterogeneous. Some parts are rocky completely devoid of snow while in other places, mainly in the valleys, we bog down with the scooter and sledge. We decide to take the central route (midway between the two shelters) that we had last year preferred. Similarly, Johan drives the scooter and makes trips to locate the road with John, put the sled, and comes back to give a lift to Anna and me. Slowly we climbed the mountain.  The snow drift is strong. This does not give me frankly wanted to put on my chemistry uniform and freeze my hands and face in a snow pit.

White out at the depot. Johan leaves John and Anna in the middle of the slope, they will install 4 stakes. Then Johan picks me up at the depot and leads me higher, at 1350m, where the slope is steeper at the foot of the crater. Miraculously, we leave the thick fog and find the summit of the volcano in all its majesty. Johan goes back again to help Anna and John lowest in the cloud. I find myself alone on the top of the mountain, above the clouds, Jan Mayen and the world.

Measuring snow density

I immediately began to dig my snow pit. The sun is part. Nothing better to give me the heart to work. And digging is the best way to warm up!

Anna returns with the guys. I can take my lunch break and the men do the same and go back to drill and install other stakes. Anna and I begin sampling the pit snow which is 1.80m deep.

Sampling the snow. Emilie in white chemistry uniform.

At 17h, the samples are packaged and stored in the pit. The morning haze has completely disappeared. With John and Johan, we put on our skis back down to Olafsbreen. I had previously never really skied off piste and even less on the slopes of a volcano! The snow is rather slow but this is not a problem to move on the slope to 45 degrees. What a fantastic feeling of freedom and what a great reward for this successful first day of work!