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Arctic Circle Traverse (ACT) 2011

The US National Science Foundation is supporting a 3-year project to answer: How much snow falls in Greenland? Without an accurate answer, the mass "budget", that is, deposits into the ice sheet "bank account" will remain poorly understood. How much of the ice sheet volume change, and in turn global sea level, is due to changes in snowfall or due to changing melt rates? What's the balance? We know that melt rates have increased in recent years. Yet, we also know that as climate warms, the atmosphere holds more moisture and consequently, more snow is delivered to the ice sheets. Our project will help better understand the effect on the mass budget of changing mass input from snow accumulation variations in the past 30-60 years. We're like auditors, with really thick parkas on.

The project builds upon the Arctic Circle Traverse (ACT) of McConnell and Spikes in 2004.

Arctic Circle Traverse

April and May, 2010, Jason Box (Byrd Polar Research Center) and Rick Forster, Evan Burgess, and Clément Miège (University of Utah) drove snow mobiles across the Greenland ice sheet on an east-west return trek near the Arctic Circle, that is, from Camp Raven at DYE-2 up and over the topographic saddle and as far east across the divide where snow accumulation rates become extreme. We will go as far as ACT10b in 2010, that is, to an elevation of 1800 m.

Blue Spikes (earthscienceagency.com) trained us to use the radar. Joe McConnell (Desert Research Institute, Reno) is processing the core samples and producing dating the layering using chemistry and ice physical properties. Joe will be analyzing these data for various climate signals while the rest of us use the data to calibrate the radar signal.

Terry Gacke of Fairbanks, AK, has been our drill engineer in the field. He brings very much field experience to the team.

Brian Ballard has joined the 2011 traverse. Brian has a BS in Computer Science and brings snowmobile experience to the team. Brian has cold weather living and travel skill from 2 winters working for Wilderness Education Program working 8 day spans throughout the winter in the Utah’s high desert hiking and camping under simple tarp shelters in temperatures down to -25 C. Brian has made a 5 day snow camping and ski mountaineering trip on Wapta Ice Field in Alberta Canada Jan 2010.

The field team works and camps in temperatures as low as -35 C (-31 F). While driving during the day, temperatures are in the -5 (23 F) to - 25 C (-13) range. The weather on the inland ice is usually very sunny, especially at the highest elevations. However, we're measuring snow accumulation where it snows the most, that is, >5 m (16 ft) of snow per year. Therefore, we occasionally have to contend with snow storms. We're also concerned about strong winds that often affect this region.

Diagram of our traverse from DYE-2, up and over the ice sheet topographic saddle and into the data void where it snow most in Greenland. The interface between the red and blue lines is the site of ACT10c, see satellite image below.

major elements to the work

1.) We’re towing a 400 Mhz radar to measure snow accumulation rates in the top 50 m (164 ft).

2.) It is also necessary to obtain ice cores to measure the snow accumulation rates 'in-situ' to calibrate what the radar 'sees' with the actual snow density and water equivalence with depth.

3.) In addition, an airborne radar overflight of our ground traverse line is planned to calibrate the airborne radar. Calibration of the airborne radar should facilitate mapping snow accumulation rates elsewhere across the ice sheet.

4.) We'll use GPS to measure our survey lines and points and to navigate during the survey.

We'll stay in contact with the "inside world" (we're the ones outside!) using Iridium satellite phones, UHF radio to communicate with aircraft, and a little unit from NASA that transmits our position every 15 min. automatically so we can be tracked while on traverse. We are to be a group of 4 or 5. We'll always be in groups of at least 2. Each group will have a satellite phone and a personal location beacon to activate if a search and rescue mission is required.

As part of published work, we've found a missing 74 Gt of mass, that is, 11% of annual snowfall mass input to the whole ice sheet. We're planning to extend this work to get a better handle on the ice sheet mass budget input. See this web page for details.

Year 2011 Trip Log

20 May, 2011 Synopsis of traverse.

5 May, 2011 ACT-11C core drilling underway.

4 May, 2011 Rick's Utah blog.

3 May, 2011 success in coring in the SE Greenland data void.

1 May, 2011 drilling SE Greenland, encountering water table!

28 April, 2011 Traverse team encounters very rough surface.

21 April, 2011 very cold on the ice sheet!

20 April, 2011 on the road again.

19 April, 2011 drilling at Raven.

11 April, 2011 back at Raven.

8 April, 2011 Evan has come down with a cold.

7 April, 2011 The traverse pauses after 48 km to take shelter from strong winds.

6 April, 2011 Tracking the traverse.

2-4 April, 2011 Final preparation for traverse in Kangerlussuaq.

1 April, 2011 More preparation for traverse in Kangerlussuaq.

31 March, 2011 Preparation for ice sheet traverse in Kangerlussuaq.

30 March, 2011 Arrival to Greenland by the field team.


The team were ecstatic to see the NASA P3 today fly over with airborne sensors studying what we study with ground radar, how much snow accumulated in the past 20-50 years,


Return to Arctic Circle Traverse Homepage

Year 2010 Trip Log

24 May, 2010 Trip synopsis.

13 May, 2010 Going rogue.

09 May, 2010 Back at Raven.

07 May, 2010 With three cores complete, the team heads to Saddle.

04 May, 2010 Team made it to ACT10-C - warm temperatures persist.

02 May, 2010 Back at ACT10-B...on the way to ACT10-C.

01 May, 2010 Good weather persists as Act10-A core nears completion.

30 April, 2010 Team makes it to ACT10-A.

29 April, 2010 Coring team and traverse team reunite at ACT10-B.

25 April, 2010 The traverse team is packed and ready to drive across the ice sheet, gathering ice cores and snow radar data along the way.

22 April, 2010 Coring team heading back to the field!

20 April, 2010 This volcanic plume is getting old!

19 April, 2010 Hatching a plan called Operation Phoenix.

17 April, 2010 Coring team is back in 'town' after failed attempt to core with drill that was delivered inoperable.

16 April, 2010 Coring drill problem throws wrench into plan.

15 April, 2010 Coring team departs with concerns of Icelandic volcanic eruption.

C5 13 April, 2010, flying with the enormous C5 Galaxy.

ACT-10 blog 2010 12 April 12 April, 2010. The coring team's put in is delayed, again.

ACT-10 blog 2010 11 April 11 April, 2010. The coring team's put in is delayed, consequences.

ACT-10 blog 2010 08 April 8 April, 2010. The coring team's accomplishments in Kangerlussuaq.

Timeline 2010

7 April, Rick, Clement, Evan arrive Kangerlussuaq

14 April, Jason arrives Kangerlussuaq

23 April, traverse begins from Raven (DYE-2).

8 May, NASA P-3 overflight of traverse line.

11 May, traverse ends back at Raven.

14 May, weather delay ends at Raven, all team members are back in Kangerlussuaq.


Arctic Circle Traverse lines for year 2010 (blue) and 2011 (red) traverse lines in south Greenland overlain on a Mark Fahnestock and Ted Scambos variant of the Mosiac Of Greenland (MOG). We made it in 2010 to a position 10 km up-hill from ACT10a.

to Jason Box Homepage


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