12 August 2007

Week 32

Monday, August 6th

The end of field work is approaching.

Today, we could tick off several scientific objectives that have been met.

Measurements with the Kansas radar were completed at 6 AM this morning. Claude and Susanne ran measurements through the night. Now the radar is being packed down, and data is being backed up.

Lars completed his setup of a network of position markers. In the future these will be used to monitor ice movements. As he passed close by, he also installed an extra battery at an automatic weather station, which has been set up by our colleagues in Colorado.

J.P. installed and started a seismic station, however in a different hole than was planned. The new hole is 500 m West of camp. The planned hole was too close to camp, so that camp activities would create "earthquakes".

Maria and Peter took snow samples from a pit.

Steffen and Simon have drilled ice cores to 60 m depth. They will continue a little tomorrow.

Sverrir made a snow cave for the snow mobiles. This way they can over winter without being inundated by snow.

Tomorrow is great packing day. All cargo that has to accompany us on our flight out has to be ready Tuesday night.

Weather today has been fine, but windy. A 14 - 16 knot wing at -10 C has a certain cooling effect.

Tuesday, August 7th

Hopefully the last day.

While most people were busy packing, Steffen and Simon were drilling the last ice cores. They reached 80 m before they too had to start packing.

Now, everything depends on weather. During the last day, we have been hit by a somewhat unexpected weather situation. Clouds have been drifting in and the wind has turned, so that it now runs across the skiway. That is not good. We hope the wind will turn back, and the Met. Office in Kangerlussuaq tells us that we are not hit by any severe weather system. Things should change in the next 24 hours. We keep our fingers crossed.

Weather today has been cloudy, but windy and warm. Only -6 C, an entirely different sensation than yesterday.

Wednesday, August 8th

We are stuck in bad weather.

Weather has not improved. The whole day we have been stuck in snowy weather in Southern winds. It has been completely overcast making flight operations impossible. It has been snowing quite a bit, several inches which is quite a lot in these parts. It means, that the skiway has a new layer of snow on it, and that we have to go out on the skiway and groom it again as soon as the snow stops.

Since yesterday evening we have been ready to go home, so we have nothing to do except sitting out the weather in our tent, eating, talking and watching films. Until now we have watched four films. The last film on the program tonight was chosen with a certain irony: "Day after Tomorrow". Somehow it has worked. At this time at 11 PM, the clouds are drifting away and we can see the blue sky for the first time in two days. If it stops snowing completely, Sverrir and J.P. will go out on the skiway tonight to groom it.

Weather today has been cloudy, but windy and warm. Only -4 C, and a lot of snow.

Thursday, August 9th

Plane is coming; but....

The day began warm and cloudy; but visibility was fine. The flight crews were eager to pick us up, as they are scheduled to go back to the U.S. on Friday. At 9.15 AM "Skier 72″ started from Kangerlussuaq heading for NEEM camp. With them flew a representative from the National Science Foundation. His task is to survey a route for future over land traverses between Thule and Summit camp. The route runs very close to NEEM camp.
During morning, the weather improved and clouds began to thin; but temperatures continued to rise from - 8 C in the morning to - 4 C at Noon. The plane landed in camp at 1 PM. In the last hours before the landing, the whole camp was buzzing with activity. Everything should be packed down for winter. Tents were taken down and stowed. Two pallets with out-bound cargo were finished off with straps and nets and parked next to the airplane parking spot. People packed their personal luggage, and the heavy vehicles were parked on the snow. The snow mobiles were parked in a snow cave. Everybody was ready to go when the plane landed.
The plane brought cargo for next year. Two more weatherport tents, a snow blower and a bundle of bamboo flags. Our cargo was loaded and we were ready for take off at 3 PM. At this time, temperatures were risen to - 2.5 C. The skis were frozen in, and the plane couldn't get loose. The crew had to go out with shovels four times before they succeeded in getting the plane moving. Then they tried take-off several times; but the snow was simply too heavy, and at 5 PM they gave up and packed the plane. Now we were 18 in camp. We had to unpack a lot in order to provide people with shelter, heat and food. At the same time, we had to go out with the groomer to erase all the deep ruts in the skiway made by the plane.

During the evening the last clouds dissipated and temperatures came crashing down. At mid- night it was - 21 C, and the skiway became as hard as concrete. At 3 AM everybody boarded the plane for departure at 4 AM. That night we did not sleep. As tents had been taken down, we decided to sit in the warm comfort of the kitchen tent, enjoy some food and drink and watch some films. Members of the crew paid us visits several times and they were fed and warmed.
The crew told us that the plane now had fuel for only one attempt to get airborne, if we were not successful, we would have to wait for another plane to bring us fuel. When all were seated, the engines roared, and the plane didn't move an inch. Again the crew had to go out and dig. The ice underneath the skis was so tough however, that it had to be chiseled away with ice axes, and you're not really at ease nor comfortable crawling and lying in the snow at - 21 C beneath a 60 ton Hercules plane, hammering away on the ice underneath the very skis that support the plane. The process took hours and inside the plane several members of the expedition sat idle and felt the cold much more keenly than during the entire expedition. To buy time we fuelled the plane with the last store of kerosene in camp.
When at last all skis were clean at 8 AM, it was discovered that an important bolt at the nose ski was broken. The landing gear was broken.
We all had to return to and reopen camp at 8 AM. Tents were set up, and people went to bed.

Friday, August 10th

Can we leave today?

The next plane with fuel and spare parts arrived at 10PM. Luckily, weather was still good for flight operations. Blue sky, 8 knot winds down the skiway and -18 C. Again, camp was packed down and the vehicles parked for winter.
When the second plane arrived, we were all wonderfully well fed. Early in the evening, the navigator of the first crew, Maj. Paul Delamagne, had produced a splendid dinner for all. It was a great pleasure.
The second plane parked along side of the first. Now the airport on the ice was busy. A hose was rolled across between the planes for fuel transfer. Three mechanics jumped out and started immediately repairing the damaged ski. The second plane also brought 24 drums of fuel for camp so we wouldn't have to leave it completely dry.

Our pallets with ice cores and equipment were distributed - one pallet on each plane. Fuel transfer was completed in one hour. The crew on the second plane was in a hurry to get going. Suddenly we were told, that the second plane was almost out of fuel and they had to depart immediately and go to Thule Air Base. Now we had to make quick decisions. Our ice cores were on that plane, and while Thule Air Base would allow the plane to land, there was no one there to re-fuel the plane so they could carry on to Kangerlussuaq. It was week-end.

Steffen and Sverrir packed their personal belongings in 5 minutes and hurried over to the other plane so they could follow the ice cores and take care of them during the stay in Thule. No time for good-bye's. The plane left at 11PM and had no problems getting airborne. The plane is now in Thule, and they cannot leave before Monday when the two fuel guys open shop after the weekend. Luckily Steffen and Sverrir and the ice cores are in good shape.

Our "damaged" plane was now repaired, and after we had topped off the fuel with some of the drums we just got, we took off at 1.35AM without any problems and landed in Kangerlussuaq at 4AM Saturday morning.

Finally out from the ice.

Saturday, August 11th

In Kangerlussuaq.

At the arrival everyone went for a shower and changed clothes. Simon and Susanne chose a cold turkey. They stayed awake and went straight to the airport where they purchased tickets and flew to Copenhagen.

Lars, Peter, Claude, Maria and J.P. spent the day sorting out cargo and making it ready for shipment. At dinner time, we invited Joergen Skafte from Danish Polar Center's International Polar Year Office and Mark "Sparky", Ed and Terry from the VECO office for dinner at the Roklub restaurant. The VECO office has been a tremendous help for us, lending us assistance in many ways and helping coordinate the flights.

On behalf of the NEEM project members, we thank VECO personnel for their outstanding willingness to help.

The VECO people have a row of problems to deal with this week-end. As a plane now is stuck in Thule because they couldn't find two guys to re-fuel the plane, at least 19 scientists are now stuck in Kangerlussuaq waiting for the plane home. All had to re-book their flights in the U.S. Our ice cores are in Thule, and we have two guys there. 40 personnel from the 109th are stuck as well, and will not return to their families as planned. One cannot help watching in total disbelief at the workings of a system which defies any reason and logic. But these are the conditions although it is a bit annoying here at the end.

Let us finish this diary on a more positive note. The expedition was successful. We have collected three ice cores. We have mapped the entire route from NGRIP to NEEM by radar. We have mapped the area around NEEM. We have established a position network from NGRIP to NEEM and around NEEM. We have transferred heavy equipment from NGRIP to NEEM, and we have constructed a seed camp and a skiway at NEEM. In other words, we have made a start of deep ice core drilling at NEEM in 2008 possible.

Tomorrow, Sunday, Lars, Peter and Maria will go to Copenhagen.

Monday, J.P. and Claude will leave and Steffen and Sverrir will arrive from Thule.

Tuesday, Steffen and Sverrir will go to Copenhagen. The 2007 NEEM traverse project is now completed.