Finally, we arrive at the Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert around noon. Our home for the next few weeks.
We are in the fifth day of our research cruise to the Line Islands and shipboard life is beginning to settle into a routine. Most people have their ‘sea legs’ and our sleep schedules are adjusting to the midnight to noon or noon to midnight work shifts. Meals are a time to catch up with scientist and crew, and the motivated scientists have begun regular exercise schedules in the ship’s gym.
As we steam over the incredibly wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the waves seem endless and monotonous, and the wind blows steadily from the same direction for days on end. However, beneath us the seafloor is far from monotonous. Huge mountains rise 10,000 feet above the seafloor and create escarpments, ridges and valleys that would rival the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. It is along these mountains that we hope to find sediment for our research.
Using scientific instruments we peer ‘through the looking glass’ to learn what the seafloor and sediments look like. The analogy to the looking glass is apt: Alice stepped through the mirror to see the world beyond and we peer through the bottom of the ocean to see what is below. However, unlike Alice, we use our ears. Short pulses of sound from the ship are focused on the seafloor and we listen to the echo and reverberations that return to the ship. Depending upon the pitch and intensity of the sound we can look at the top layer of the sediment or much deeper.
The most basic echo we listen to comes from the very top of the sediments. This echo travels down through ocean, bounces off the top of the sediments and returns back to the ship. We measure the time it takes to go down and come back up, and knowing how fast sound travels through seawater (~one mile per second or 3,400 miles per hour!) we can determine the distance to the bottom of the ocean. The times are very short, about two seconds for water a mile deep. We use these distances to construct a detailed map of the bottom of the ocean. This map shows the mountains and valleys on the seafloor where we will take our sediment samples. We also listen to how loud the echo is when it comes back to the ship. Hard surfaces like rock have a loud echo while soft sediment gives a quiet echo. This is an additional way to determine where there are ocean sediments to sample.
If we turn up the sound volume and use a lower pitch we can look beyond the seafloor into the sediments below. Now rather than just one echo from the seafloor, we begin to hear many echos as sound reflects off the different layers in the sediments. These echos allow us peer beneath the seafloor to know how thick the sediment is and whether it is nicely layered or jumbled and distorted.
When we find the right sediments—not too deep, smooth, with nice layers—we will take cores of the sediment to study the climate history preserved in the layers.
Despite reading about these temperate rainforests, this is not the Turkey I imagined. This might not be the Turkey most people imagine. I’m really not sure what you envision when you think about Turkey. A dry, open landscape? That is what I thought until I stepped into Artvin Province. Because what I saw there was green, steep, lush, heavily forested. Really? Yes!
In prepping for our pilot research in the temperate rainforests of Turkey, I pulled out the travel guide to get more background. I love going to the history section and learning the long-term trajectory of the people and region. Man, talk about long term and a wide mix of culture. There cannot be too many other places that have that mix of people and culture. At the end of the trip, I was seeing the ecology of Turkey in the same way.
After a day getting settled in Istanbul, my colleague and host, Dr. Nesibe Kose, flew with me to the far northeast corner of Turkey to catch up with another colleague on this project, Dr. Dario Martin Benito (post-doc at the TRL), and Nesibe’s former MS student, Tuncay Guner, who agreed to help with our planned field work. They flew out two days earlier because our original “domestic” flight was canceled just two weeks before our trip. So, they headed out early so we didn’t lose too much time, given our very tight schedule.
How far east did we have to fly to reach Artvin Province and our ultimate home away from home on this trip (Borçka)? Georgia! Not the Georgia next to South Carolina, the Georgia bordering Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is so mountainous in northeastern Turkey that the best place to land is apparently in Turkey’s neighboring nation. An agreement has been worked out so that we can then board a bus and pass through the border as though we are still on a domestic flight. Except that in Hoopa, on the Black Sea, we actually had to transfer buses and go through a border check. Traveling from Istanbul to beautiful downtown Borçka takes about as much time as it took to go from NYC to Istanbul. And, we were not going that deep into northeast Turkey.
This winter has been weird in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Northeast Turkey is no exception. It was still snowing in early April and it was said most of the roads where we wanted to go were blocked. I swear I heard the phrase ‘7 meters of snow’ when discussing this last winter in the region; Istanbul was covered in snow in late-January. So, on top of the canceled flight, we had to work around the unusual winter of 2011-2012. Our plan was to sample in Camili Biosphere Reserve. Snow covered roads forced us to work around Artvin. This is often a reality in fieldwork: unexpected conditions overrule the best-laid plans sometimes.
It is a shame we were not able to make it to Camili. It sounds like a kind of heaven. A survey indicated 990 taxa and 432 genera. Importantly to our project, there are 946 angiosperm taxa (BROADLEAF!). As we learned on this trip, bees and bears are an important part of the culture here. UNESCO states, “The basin is the only area where the Caucasus bee race has remained without its purity being damaged. It is one of the three most important bee races in the world.” We saw this in action over breakfast one morning. They asked us how many kilos of honey did we want to take home to the US. Dario and I both answered, “Kilos?” I offered that ½ a kilo would be fine with me. Our local hosts looked extremely disappointed. From the discussion of honey that followed, some bear genes might have migrated into the human genome in northeast Turkey.
As you will see as an extreme example in a future post and as a mirror of the people and culture of Turkey, the ecology of the flora in this part of Turkey is incredibly mixed. The floral survey indicates that the sources of the flora in Camili come from three regions: Euro-Siberian, Irano-Turanian, and Mediterranean, with about half being multi-regional. So, our team, being composed of a Mediterranean European (Dario) and a Turk, was set for all the vegetation that would be thrown at us.
We finally decided to head up a remote valley east of Borçka. What I learned on this portion of the trip is how amazing and adaptable the human race is. We traveled up a narrow valley with steep mountains for several miles before we saw anything that looked old. Much of the forest, unfortunately, had been heavily cut. The trees we found were quite large, but as you know, that doesn’t make them old.
We cored several species that day, but focused mostly on the Oriental beech. There were some outstanding individuals on the landscape, but none more outstanding than this one.
We soon realized that there has been heavy cutting in the high elevation, steep portion of the older looking forest. Most of the trees were young’ish (maybe only 150 years old). Most of the older looking trees we spied turned out to be ‘bee trees’. These were trees left behind to ‘house’ bees.
One of their specialties is to take logs and use them as bee hives. It apparently makes a better honey. Most of the larger beech turned out to be host trees for these log homes.
And, the value of these special bee hives is clear in how they were protected from the brown bear inhabiting these woods.
The fun part for me working in these was the chance to be around natural chestnut trees. The American chestnut is essentially gone, though we still live with its lore. The sweet chestnut in the rainforests of Turkey likely rival what was growing in the southern US. A roadside chestnut blew us away, but it was the old stump we found late in the day that was the clue to how big the sweet chestnut trees could grow.
Seeing sweet chestnut in temperate, old-growth rainforests of northeastern Turkey will have to wait for another trip.
All in all, it was a very fun and eye-opening day. Besides the massive trees, perhaps the most interesting thing was the avalanche we witnessed. We were hydrating after swimming through Rhododendron throughout the warm day when all of a sudden I hear a low rumble. I realize we had not heard a plane all day (this region is only a bird corridor, not travel corridor). I looked up and saw nothing. The low rumble kept getting louder and was sustained. I finally spotted it. Across the valley we saw snow pouring downhill. We didn’t see any trees come down, but the force of the snow looked tremendous.
I’ll sign off with some scenes from our early days in Borçka.
A true bonus of tracking old trees in various parts of the world is that it takes you to some real outposts of the human race. Artvin was no different. First, it was really interesting to live among people who you could pluck out of Poland, Bulgaria, or perhaps anywhere in central and eastern Europe. Making it more interesting, the population is predominantly Muslim. It certainly would blow commonly held stereotypes held in the US. It was really interesting, too, to be in a heavily forested region that looked like a combination of the Adirondacks and Rocky Mountains and hear a call to prayer throughout the day.
Second, we reserved a table in a local club to see local folk music. It is hard for me to describe – it sounded like gypsy-infused eastern European music. The crowd was just as interesting. In near opposition to most of the restaurants we visited, ~65% of the audience was female. Curiously, the restaurants were almost always 90% men.
The night we were there, it seemed a famed emeritus musician was in the crowd. They honored him partway through the set.
Enjoy clips of the music we heard that night.
and, does anyone remember dancing?
Arctic summer sea ice is declining rapidly: a trend with enormous implications for global weather and climate. Now in its eighth year, the multi-year Arctic Switchyard project is tracking the Arctic seascape to distinguish the effects of natural climate variability from human-induced climate change. The University of Washington is leading the project.
- A) The Canadian Forces Station, Alert
We will fly from the Canadian military base at Alert, Ellesmere Island, land on the ice by ski plane to drill holes, deploy instruments and retrieve water samples. We will measure water temperature, salt content and levels of dissolved oxygen, and a wide variety of natural and man-made substances. Our goal is to understand how much fresh water is entering the system, where it is coming from (sea ice melt, river run-off and so on) and where it exits the arctic, altering currents in the North Atlantic Ocean.
During the next few weeks we will blog from the field; Follow our work on the Arctic Switchyard project page.
It is the middle of the night and I am wide awake thinking about the ocean, specifically the bottom of the ocean. Is it rocky? Jumbled? Smooth? I am wondering this because I want to take samples of the seafloor to study. Rocky is bad. Jumbled is bad. Smooth is good.
In one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons a woman says, “I don’t know why I don’t care about the bottom of the ocean, but I don’t.” Well, for the next four weeks our research group will care a lot about the bottom of the ocean. We are sailing to the middle of the Pacific Ocean where we hope to collect sediment to study how climate has changed in the past. Our destination is a group of atolls and seamounts collectively known as the Line Islands. They include Kingman Reef (U.S.A.), Palmyra Atoll (U.S.A.) and part of the island nation of Kiribati.
The ocean around the Line Islands is over two and a half miles deep (4 km)—too deep to preserve the climate changes we want to study. So, we are going to take sediment cores on the flanks of the islands where the sediments are better preserved. The flanks are also where a lot can happen to the sediments. Slumps can break off huge chunks of sediment, ocean currents can erode the sediment and slumps from higher up the flank can deposit thick layers of sediment. All of these happenings alter or erase the regular ordering of the sediment (the stratigraphy in geologists terms) and make them unusable for our research. So, I am thinking about the bottom of the ocean.
Our group is sailing on the research vessel (R/V) Marcus G. Langseth, an oceanographic research vessel operated by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (where I work). The ship is a floating scientific laboratory, with the ability to study and take samples of the ocean water and sediments wherever we go. The scientists on board include seventeen researchers from nine institutions. In addition, there are 34 technicians and sailors who make sure the ship and scientific instruments are functioning properly so we can collect the data we need. The moment we leave the dock in Hawaii will be the culmination of almost a year of planning, a lot of hard work by the crew of the Langseth, and financial support from the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Our goal for this cruise is to collect cores of deep ocean sediment that we can use to study the past behavior of El Niño as well as the climate of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Although our studies focus on the Pacific Ocean, the results could tell us about many different areas of the globe. El Niño weather affects regions as far apart as Indonesia and New York State. In fact, El Niño events are responsible for the largest year-to-year changes in global weather. Our goal is to learn how El Niño has varied in the past so that we can develop better forecasts for the future of El Niño into the 21st century and beyond.
Over the next four weeks I will be writing a series of articles about our cruise. Topics will include El Niño, life aboard the ship and how we actually collect water and sediment samples from the ocean. Stay tuned!
In the meantime you can track where we are online.
The charge is simple – Operation Ice Bridge will fly all 200 Greenland outlet glaciers with an end dimension of over 2 km. The reason? These outlet glaciers (fast moving ice bounded by mountains) are the major mechanism carrying ice off this mega-island and into the surrounding ocean. Greenland is surrounded by a ring of high mountains that work like fingers encircling the ice to hold it in place. Between these mountain ‘fingers’ ice slips through in streaming rivers transporting its frozen cargo to the sea. Ice sliding from the land into the surrounding waters results in a major human impact – Sea Level Rise.
Measuring the ice thickness (ATM, RaDAR), the shape and opening size of the land beneath the ice (RaDAR, gravity), and the type of geology (magnetics) will help with determining how much ice is on this northern land and to calculate how quickly it might move from land into the ocean. These 200 outlet glaciers are key to this calculation. Each flight mission covers a different group of glaciers, some repeating flights from earlier years to measure any change in ice elevation, and some new flights over glaciers never before measured in order to collect baseline data. In addition to flying the outlet glaciers each mission involves transit lines. Careful planning goes into laying out these lines in order to build a comprehensive ‘blueprint’ of Greenland’s land mass. Hidden under several kilometers of ice the land is slowly being pieced together with each line of data collected.
Each instrument on the plane collects valuable information for the project, but with four types of RaDAR being collected this season most of the flights include at least one of these as a ‘priority instrument’. RaDAR, an acronym for radio detection and ranging, has been a part of our vocabulary and has enhanced our understanding of the world since the Second World War. Sending out radio waves and capturing their return has provided us information on ships, aircraft, missiles, weather formations, speeding motor vehicles and – the focus of this project – the terrain. Each of the RaDAR used in Ice Bridge has been designed by CReSIS (Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets) with a unique frequency and penetration for a specific use, yet all have overlap or redundancy.
For detecting the very freshest snow the Ku band is important. Ku uses the highest frequency, 12-18 GHz, providing high-resolution information on the top 15 meters of snow cover, and has been used this season to separate the snow layer thickness on top of the sea ice when trying to determine overall ice thickness. The Snow RaDAR operates at 2-8 GHz and focuses on the top 30 meters of snow cover, often an area of unconsolidated ice (the firn layer), and an interim stage between snow and glacially compressed ice. Accumulation RaDAR operates at a lower resolution of 600-900 Mhz penetrating down a full km into the ice providing data on the internal layers of ice as they collect and move over the landforms. Lastly, the MCoRDS RaDAR is the priority for information on the bed shape beneath the ice sheet. MCoRDS uses a low frequency or 180-210 Mhz to penetrate down to 4 km beneath the ice surface giving us the depth and shape of land below, and any constrictions to ice flow.
The RaDAR can provide information on the shape of the land surface but not on the geology, and if there is water it can’t image through to see what lies below. This is where Lamont’s gravity and magnetics teams work to fill in the missing information. Matching the bed shape to the gravity/magnetics information on the ‘bed’ material is important in developing our understanding of how the glacier may move in the future.
Measuring Greenland’s ice sheet and the land that holds it in check is a first step in a long walk that will take us to predicting the future of that ice sheet and its impacts on sea level rise. Every line of Ice Bridge data collected fills a blank that moves us closer.
Special thanks to Aqsa Patel & Kevin Player for their willingness to answer all my questions on the CReSIS radar systems, and Beth Burton and Kirsty Tinto on the magnetics and gravity systems.
For more blogs on this project: http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/tag/greenland-ice-sheet/
For more on this project at LDEO: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/icebridge
For more about NASA Ice Bridge: http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge/
Columbia University IT group is investigating intermittent problems with the myUNI services for password changes and resets. Some users are experiencing long wait times and a <
To Norse mythology Midgard is a place that is impassable, surrounded by a world of ocean. Thor, the hammer-wielding warrior god often traveled across to Midgard, and one imagines evidence of his fiery power remains in the highly charged rocks that are left behind. Magnetized rocks containing Thor’s energy and the fiery touch of his lightning bolts.
We are soaring today 1500 ft. over the surface of the twisting branches of the Midgard glaciers. Patches of low lying clouds drape around the tops of the mountains, like smoke from Thor’s lightning singes, but as the sky opens we see row upon row of majestic peaks. It is hard to balance the icy cold of the Greenland exterior with the molten heat of Thor’s lightning. Midgard, is cold and impassable, yet it is evident why Thor was attracted to this land.
Greenland’s geology is diverse. Some of the oldest rocks on Earth are found in southwestern Greenland in the Isua Greenstone Belt, an Archean belt between 3.7 and 3.8 billion years of age. Today, however, we are flying over the opposite side of the country.
The Midgard glaciers hug the southeast of Greenland where the main rock is Archean gneiss, later reworked and cut through with a mafic, or iron rich, intrusion. Perhaps this occurred when Thor was traveling these peaks. We see the changes as spikes in our magnetic data, and visual features that appear as well.
Magnetic measurements are some of the many measurements being collected by Operation Ice Bridge. Rocks have different magnetic properties, so collecting magnetic data can tell us something about the type of rocks that are under the ice, assisting in refining our understanding of how the overlying ice will interact with what is below.
Measuring the magnetic field can be challenging from a metal plane, however the P3 is designed for magnetic surveys so the data requires only a minimal ~10nT (nanoTeslas) adjustment to remove the interference. Originally used by the Navy for locating submarines the P3 has a tail stinger or boom designed to hold the instrument while minimizing magnetic interference from the plane. The Ice Bridge P3 holds two magnetometers. One measures the total magnetic field, the other is a flux gate, with three orthogonal sensors to record plane directional maneuvers, information that is needed for later data corrections.
The Earth’s magnetic field is not constant so collecting data at a magnetic ground station is important in order to gather daily background levels. The magnetic anomaly that we report is the change from this background or anticipated levels. This means that a series of corrections must be applied to all the data collected including removing the Earth’s total magnetic field, daily diurnal fluctuations, and small spikes from the plane radio. What remains is the anomaly, any representation of a magnetic signal from the geology in the area.
Magnetic surveys normally begin with an assessment or compensation flight in a magnetically quiet area, at a high elevation to minimize the effects of high magnetic gradients caused by the geology. This provides the reference points needed for final corrections and processing of the data. This season Ice Bridge has had the opportunity to fly almost continuous missions so the compensation flight has been put on temporary hold. Once that flight is completed, the data will receive a final adjustment.
Today our screens are busy with magnetic shifts tracking on the screen. Seeing the data jump onto the screen is always exciting. The instruments take a reading approximately every meter as we fly above at a rate of close to120 meters a second. The data appears as a wrapping stream of plotted points. When a line travels from one side of the left hand column to the other it shows that the magnetic field has changed by 100 nT. The second column shows greater detail in the measured field with one line showing a change of 10 nT. Peak values of magnetic anomalies appear as a mid-column direction change on the wrapping plot. When the magnetic gradients are high, indicating a distinct geologic boundary, it can appear as a dark block.
What we see on the screen tells us about what happened in the geologic formation of this country millions of years ago. Understanding how the changing rock types affect the flow of ice can help us to predict what might happen in the future.
For more on this project at LDEO: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/icebridge
For more about NASA Ice Bridge: http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge/
Even in idyllic Greenland some days start to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day”, however the turn of events today broke that thread. Over our two weeks in Kangerlussuaq we have ended our evenings with a science and weather report, and the hope of flying the program over both coasts. Each morning we wake up, head to the plane and look to see what the weather has dealt us. So far with incredible consistency clouds have dictated a series of flights on the east coast of Greenland. Today started exactly the same with clouds on the west coast driving a plan to fly the centerlines of several large southeast glaciers – Helheim, Kangerdlugssuaq, and Midgard.
But today would not be like every other. We lifted into the air and immediately loud rattling emerged from under the plane. The belly of the P3 has been outfitted for science equipment and directly in the line of the rattle lie a series of elevation survey instruments – two Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM) lasers, that send and receive a steady series of laser pulses, and two Digital Mapping System (DMS) cameras, that take high resolution surface images every 1.2 seconds. Both of these instruments are used to develop elevation maps of the area surveyed.
Three floor plates were quickly removed and a member of the aircrew is tethered for safety and dropped below. Looking down I could see straight through to the land and a surface dotted with small melt ponds. It seems you could put your hand straight through the bottom of the plane, but there is a surface – clear glass in two portholes and clear acrylic in the third. Each morning I have watched the ATM and DMS teams carefully clean these lenses to the outside world.
After a quick review of the situation the decision is to return to the airstrip and attempt a repair, but first we must lighten the plane. Physics tells us that a fully fueled plane ready for a day of science work is not safe to land. Working with the air tower a place is selected to drop some fuel, we rise in elevation to minimize the impact of the drop, and then we are ready to cycle back to the base for a quick check.
The windows below the ATM and DMS are checked. They must be perfectly clear and there is spatter to be wiped away. A safety inspection and refueling puts us back on the runway taxiing in just over an hour. A warning light appears as we taxi and we aborted again. This time it is a quick fix and we are off and flying within thirty minutes – all in all a 2.5 hour delay which requires an amended mission. Helheim-Kangerdlugssuaq-The Sequel!
We will fly over water and glacial ice today giving both ATMs a work out. The primary system has a wider swath (700-800 ft.) working best over glacial ice. The secondary system has a narrower swath width with a smaller angle of incidence, the preferred system for sea ice. Sea ice has a mix of open water leads and thin sheets of ice making it difficult for the primary system to collect wide-angle measurements over both the ice and open water leads.
As we begin the flight the secondary ATM needs adjustment. The laser pulse is sent out through a series of mirrors and collected back through a telescope that needs to be able to ‘see’ the laser return to measure the surface elevation. Once again the floor panel comes up, but the adjustment is a quick fix. The cold weather can be one cause of this drifting.
As we reach the coastline it becomes apparent there is sea fog and wispy clouds laying low over the glacier and waterfront. The trouble with clouds or fog is they will block out both lasers unless we can get under them. In some places we can fly beneath the clouds, but in other areas it is not possible so we will lose some of the ATM data. It can’t be helped. Sea fog is extremely difficult to pick up on the synoptic charts used to assess the weather each day. We are lucky, however, and at the end of the day the ATM team reports 40 gigabytes of data collected. Little was lost to the clouds and fog.
Tomorrow we will need to wait and see if the cycle is broken, sending us to the west coast.
I had been warned of Geikie. “If they fly to Geikie get on that flight” I had been told, but nothing more. At the science briefing last night I knew it was a possibility, but daily science missions are not decided in the confines of a meeting room. Missions are decided by weather, and its weather that drives the transit today forcing us up over the clouds. A snowy air mass has descended upon Kangarlussuaq extending back over the icecap, leaving an opened window over the Geikie Peninsula.
The transit will be high putting many of the instruments out of their range. The Laser altimeter, visual camera and gravity all become a casualty at higher elevation, yet the magnetics and radar continue to collect data during the commute. But the story today is not in the transit, it is in the small jut of rugged cut coastline in Southeast Greenland called the Geikie Peninsula. An elongated ice plateau at more than 6500 ft. of elevation, Geikie is the northern end of a section of steep flood basalts that flowed out like the upward sweep of a hook.
Geikie is both a challenging target, and a bit of an enigma to the science team. Geikie is a hard area to study because of its location. It is the furthest target from any air bases in Greenland and in Iceland, and it is located just at the lip of the weather systems moving in from the Icelandic Low. A notorious herald of foul weather, the Icelandic Low dominates this section of the Southeast Greenland coastline. Pulling warm water from the oceans into the atmosphere between the two ice blocks of Iceland and Greenland, the Icelandic Low contributes to nearly constant bad flight weather in this part of Greenland. Along with being a difficult target the small glaciers we will fly today are surging or dynamic glaciers. Surging glaciers are difficult to fully understand and account for in models. We hope to collect data that will help define the bed beneath the ice in these dynamic glaciers. In order to do this we will fly right down the trunks of eight of Geikie’s glaciers.
When the peaks of Geikie appeared from the snow I was captivated. Line after line, row after row pyramid like peaks rose with a certain regal proudness through the ice sheet. Chiseled points with finely leveled layers stood 1500 ft. and higher through the ice, surrounding the plane, while below us the radar showed the ice thickness to be 1.5 miles. These are towering features. Buried millions of years ago by the ice sheet this truly must be Greenland’s hidden treasure. Sheared edges formed perfect pyramids where competing ice flows had crossed, working in opposition to carve away the rock. Regal gateways of perfectly opposing pedestals of rock showed the promise of rock formation after rock formation through the opening. Large crouching shapes appeared trailing down to rounded blocks of rock emerging like the toes of an Egyptian sphinx standing guard over this magnificent treasure for all these years.
We collect measurement after measurement, image after image as we soared by the guardians of Greenland. While we collected almost two terabytes of data we did not disturb their slumber. We left Geikie as we found it, frozen, vast and arresting. If they fly to Geikie, get on that flight!
Over 100,000 years of Arctic climate data has been linked in the last two days of Ice Bridge missions. When you see the names DYE2, EGIG, GRIP, Ice Bridge and MABEL you view the elite list of Arctic science projects that deliver(ed) groundbreaking climate information through the last 50 years, and if all goes as planned, will do so into the future. Each project has a unique history and provides a puzzle piece in the full climate picture, but the trick is placing them together so that they form a richer image. Our flight route the past two days has overflown and linked us with each of these puzzle parts in order to capture overlapping data which will help us piece together the full image – an understanding of the past and the present to prepare for climate in the future.
So how do they all tie together?
EGIG (Expedition Glaciology International of Greenland) was a French traverse along a West Greenland ice flow line operated close to 50 years ago (1958/59 and 1967/68). Collecting snow and ice data the scientists were able to determine annual snow accumulation rates in a series of locations along the traverse. By overflying these same locations EGIG’s snow accumulation rates can be used as a baseline for comparing our current data.
DYE2 dates back to the mid 50s, a relic of the cold war. Home to one of the Distance Early Warning (DEW) line radar stations it housed military teams monitoring the skies with radar for Russian bombers in the 1950s. The site transitioned to a science station and in the 1970s a series of short 50-100 meter ice cores were drilled. Each core holds ice bubbles, small time capsules frozen in place, holding a record of the Earth’s past atmosphere, or as we know it, climate. Data from the DYE2 cores allows us to map past climate to Arctic glacier extent.
GRIP (Greenland Ice Core Project) takes us back in time over 100,000 years. The GRIP ice core was drilled in Central Greenland two decades ago. Located at 12,000 feet in elevation by the Summit Camp the core measures over 3000 meters long. Stretched down to Greenland’s bedrock, this core provides us with the longest record of Greenland’s climate history.
Operation Ice Bridge is a current mission collecting a wide range of information on the changes occurring in ice in the polar-regions. The spring project is focused on measuring the rate of change in Arctic ice – both land and sea ice. This information will rely on measurements over a period of years, and draws on past studies and data collections. Several of the Ice Bridge partners have been collecting Arctic ice data for a number of years. Between the IceSat satellite that collected ice surface elevation from 2003-2009, and an annual ATM (Airborne Topographic Mapper) survey that operated over three decades, large reaches of the ice sheet have been measured establishing a history of precise ice surface elevations for a baseline comparison.
Mabel (Multiple Altimeter Beam Experiment Lidar) is the future. Flying at 62,000 ft. elevation on an ER-2 aircraft Mabel is designed to take us back into space. Mabel is the mock design of the next ice measuring satellite, IceSat-2, scheduled to launch in 2016. Ice Bridge has linked with Mabel to fly transits in Greenland for some cross calibration of the measurements collected.
It is apparent that the past, the present and the future are all coming together by design, determined to piece together the climate picture of tomorrow.
I have been very fortunate lately. In the last 6 months I visited forests I have longed dreamed about and visited forests I had never dreamed of before. I have been so fortunate that it is hard to believe. And, it is only going to get better in the next two weeks.
Early in my education I ran across a book on the world’s five main temperate rainforests. It was around the time of the spotted owl and logging of the great old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Besides learning more about the rainforest in the Pacific Northwest, I recall imagining the great Valdivian Forest of Chile, the rainforests in Japan and New Zealand, and the one that stuck out in my mind the most, the rainforest off the Black Sea in Turkey. Yes, Turkey. The Turkey currently taking in refugees from Syria. It was explained there was a strong sea effect from the Black Sea that produces high rainfall amounts. Growing up firmly in Lake Ontario’s lake effect belt, I understood the phenomenon immediately. Having no money at the time, I scraped up what I had and set out for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. I mean, it was during the rise of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and grunge. That combined with massively impressive trees, there was no place else to go.
Luckily, no pictures from that trip have made it to the digital era; my former mullet is still a myth. This recent picture from the redwoods of northern California will have to suffice.
Tonight I leave for Turkey. Yes, that Turkey. The Turkey with the temperate rainforest. This temperate rainforest is broadleaf-dominated. I am a lucky dog. Posts on this trip will arrive sometime in the future. In the mean time, here is a very brief overview of the broadleaf forests I have visited in the last 180 days.
I was invited to give a talk in northeastern China in early October to discuss some of my work. My host and former visitor to our lab, Zhen-ju Chen, of the Institute of Applied Ecology in Shenyang, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was beginning research in the broadleaf forests of northeastern China and wanted me to visit these forests. How lucky is that? I had known that the forests of northeastern China were like the forests of the northeastern U.S. I would now get to see firsthand how similar these forests were to one another.
First, I got to visit the forests in the Changbai Shan national nature preserve. The upper forests were primarily stunted birch. This patch of wild, scraggily birch was my favorite in the upper part of the preserve.
My favorite forest in Changbai had to be the Dell Forest. Its mix of larch, maple, birch, spruce, ash, etc., strongly recalled the forests of the northeastern U.S. Just as important, the trees looked 300 years or more. It was a delight.
But, speaking of fortunate, I got to see the crater lake that borders North Korea on top of Changbai Shan. It is a rare day when one gets this view:
After Changbai, we moved on to lower elevations and visited the Changbai Shan Museum Institute permanent plot. Like the Harvard Forest, this is a heavily-instrumented experimental forest. And, most stunning to me, with a forest composed of basswood, Korean pine, Mongolian oak, birch, it looked like the Harvard Forest.
Seedlings of the Korean pine could almost fool the experts of eastern North America’s eastern white pine.
My final stop in northeastern China was the Qing Yuan Experimental Secondary Forest. This forest was further south and a bit lower in elevation. Its species mix – maple, oak, birch, elm, etc, however, could have been almost anywhere in southern New England. The Japanese maple would be a good clue that you weren’t in North America. There were other clues, too. But, the similarities to northeastern North America were striking.
Perhaps only the Asian architecture and pond of brightly colored carp hint to the continent you are on?
While there is much tree ring activity happening in China, not a tree was cored in the making of this trip. Sadly, I had to leave and was left to wonder how old and what stories the broadleaf-dominated forests contained.
Luckily, I immediately flew from Shenyang to Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon (and temperate broadleaf forests!).
Under the direction of our lab director, Dr. Ed Cook, and long-time technician/MacGyver, Paul Krusic (now of the Bert Bolin Centre for Climate Research), the Lamont Tree Ring Laboratory has had a strong and productive collaboration with various institutions in Bhutan. Our trip in October 2011 re-invigorated this collaboration and centered around a fieldweek, a climate conference, high altitude lake research, and an investigation into the broadleaf forests of western Bhutan.
Cook and Krusic have done a fabulous job finding old trees in high elevation forests and drought-sensitive sites to assist in reconstructing the Asian Monsoon. Yet, few studies have been conducted in Bhutan’s broadleaf forest, which comprises more than half of its forested area. My short time there was an exploratory visit to determine the feasibility of conducting tree ring research in the many large old-growth forests in western Bhutan.
I will leave the details of this trip for another post. In the mean time, I will close with a pictorial highlight of some of the forests and trees visited in Bhutan. Wish us luck in Turkey. The cold winter in eastern Europe was felt in Turkey. The normal high winter precipitation in northeastern Turkey and colder temperatures have led to the possibility of limited fieldwork: There might be too much snow in mid-April at 41 degrees north latitude.
Lest I forget: one of the world’s coolest broadleaf forests is in Lamont’s backyard. The scenes below might look like Appalachia, but they are not. They are ~20 mi as the bald eagle flies from Manhattan.
Time takes on a new meaning in the field. Every moment is compressed in order to gain maximum yield. Applying human accounting, field time is limited by available resources, personnel, and funds, while using nature’s accounting the limits shift to windows of weather, and seasonality for ice phenomena. In the field both human and nature can conspire for or against you. A seasoned field crew learns to take advantage of every break from the planned work schedule to rethink, refine and reprogram their instruments and data collection.
After four days of intense commitment on the part of the flight crew, and the NASA and Wallops teams, the plane has traversed over 4450 miles round trip, spent two days under repair and will arrive back within hours. While the instrument teams await the return of the P-3 they work through data, check on equipment and ensure that all systems remain ready to begin as soon as IceBridge flights resume.
Lamont’s teams are responsible for the gravity and magnetics equipment. Gravity and magnetics are windows to the geology beneath the ice. The gravity measures density telling us of changes in structure or material beneath the ice sheet which result in a change in gravitational attraction or pull. Gravity is useful for locating changes but magnetics helps us ‘see’ more of what is under the ice, distinguishing between the low magnetic strength of soft mounds of sediment, to high magnetic strength of volcanic basalts. Understanding the Earth below is important in predicting future glacial movement and speed.
The magnetics base station has been visited to be sure it is intact, solar panels cleared of snow, and is recording data on the background magnetics from the Earth’s magnetic field. Collecting this data is essential since the plane magnetometer measures not only the geology beneath the plane as it flies, but the total magnetic field which includes changes in the Earthʼs field through the day. Collecting the background field allows us to back this out of the final readings to better understand the true signature of the geology beneath.
The gravity team also has a base station. They use this station, as well as a series of values that have been taken around Kangerlussuaq, as tie points for their data. Today is an opportunity to tie the readings to an absolute gravity reading by the Danish Geodynamics Department National Survey & Cadastre. A portable instrument will be used to collect readings at both the absolute survey point and the base station location. Gravity instruments are temperature sensitive so each is heated to an optimal temperature and must be kept at this range. The portable instrument has an internal heater and after several attempts it is clear the heater is not functioning correctly and will not allow the team to collect the tie in. The attempt will have to be revisited at some point in the future. For the immediate future, however, we hope to be back in the air flying tomorrow!
April 6th 2012 – it is tempting to look back and compare any undertaking in this region of the globe to this same date in 1909 when Robert E. Peary and Matthew A. Henson became the first men to reach the North Pole. How can we compare the intrepid spirit that drove the exploration by Peary and Henson to the carefully planned science missions in the polar regions today?
Perhaps the most natural connection is through the hand of fate and the crush of nature. Carefully planned and painstakingly executed missions can be quickly altered or shut down by either of these variables. Peary and Henson focused on being the first to attain geographic locations and develop an understanding of the northern regions of the planet. They made several attempts to attain the pole and were shut out by fate and nature in each earlier attempt. IceBridge has laid the same careful plans with backup missions and alternative flight scenarios but this all comes to a crashing halt when the hand of fate intervenes and knocks out an engine — #3 is down.
A downed engine flying in icy conditions is not to be taken lightly. It requires a return to the “mothership,” or Wallops flight facility in Virginia, to swap out the engine. Sounds simple, but as fate would have it we are simultaneously faced with the “crush of nature.” Storms moving through in series. Small breaks of weather here in Greenland would be enough to gamble on with a fully operational plane, but losing an engine reduces the payload by 40,000 lbs. 40,000 lbs. is a fair amount of fuel and will require a stop in Goose Bay Labrador for refueling. This means the weather must also be clear and ice free for a landing and take off when the plane arrives there. The flight time will be extended as the plane will travel at a reduced speed and lower elevation to reduce fuel consumption and overall strain on the plane.
Over the last two days all of the required conditions occurred in one 45-minute window, and the crew was prepared to slide through that narrow gap. We await news to hear of their arrival in Wallops, the assessment of the repair, and the possible date of return. Some days we think that things have changed a lot in the last 100 years, other days we realize that some things will never change.
The Greenland spring 2012 Ice Bridge mission is mid-season, which means a shift in focus from monitoring sea ice in the Arctic Circle to assessing land ice along the Greenland perimeter and interior. The mission is to measure the impact of a changing climate in one of the most remote places on Earth – ironically, a place that seems poised to lose that remoteness.
Tri-State: On my way to Copenhagen, the first leg of my journey, the climate irony of taking off over the tri-state area is not lost on me. Below a sinewy dragon of light sparkles brilliant amber in the evening dusk, evidence of the density of population in this region, and a flickering reminder of the human appetite for energy. Light and energy, the pulsing arteries that drive our businesses and our homes. Looking down one can almost track the watts as they move. I wonder how watts translate to degrees in Farenheit or Celcius. Traveling from such developed density it is hard to imagine there is a connection between here and Greenland, and yet the connection is measurable in the steady changes occurring in the icy reaches of our poles.
Copenhagen: Hours later circling over Copenhagen I look down at a waterfront dotted with windmills. Clean, white, spinning briskly bringing wind energy… I wonder if windmills are more accepted here than back on the U.S. coastlines. Perhaps acceptance comes with being faced first hand with the impacts. Will they slow the impacts already being felt in these northern climes?
Greenland: The last leg to Greenland is aboard Air Greenland, a plane painted an eye-catching red and white. The same red and white that graces the Erfalasorput, the name of the Greenlandic flag designed to symbolize the sun, the fjords, the sea and the ice. The transit places a magazine in my hands that boasts “Greenland a key player in global growth”. Fully 48 pages of stories and vignettes on companies and people who are making connections, developing skills, offering opportunity and making a difference for Greenland. Everything from oil exploration to mining strategic ‘rare Earths’, that small group of elements of critical importance to world industrial production, to building corporate social responsibility, to handling logistics and promoting responsible tourism can be found in this color spread. With the warming of the climate the resources of Greenland appear to have expanded in value. This is a Greenland poised to lose its remoteness.
One remarkable piece in this Greenland story catches my eye. “Future Geenland” a curated exhibition of how the explosion of opportunity facing Greenland may affect its future society and culture. What is so remarkable is the careful planning being considered in order to transition this once isolated country with its unique character and culture into the future…and the head curator is the Greenlandic geologist Minik Rosing. An odd choice one might imagine, yet Rosing spent his early youth on a caribou farm in a small southwestern fjord and has never separated from those roots. His research interests focus on how the geologic development of the Earth has been affected by the emergence of life. With a focus on the connection between resources and cultural development perhaps this is just a more modern, and more local rendition. All evidence points to Greenland’s vulnerable position between its cultural history and its future. Who better to assist than one who connects his spirit to both this ancient culture and these ancient rocks with the resources they hold.