Trekking to Tarfala

Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Charlotte and I am an PhD student at Swansea University, UK.Through this, I am hoping to post about the work I am doing on the Swedish glacier, Storglaciären. Myself and my field assistant, Yoann Drocourt (also a PhD student at Swansea University) will be based at Tarfala Research Station for the duration of this field season. Due to limited internet and a couple of very busy days, I begin this blog on our fourth day here in Tarfala.

Nearly there!

After a very long journey here, beginning at 4am (GMT) on Tuesday 26th June and ending with strenuous 24km walk, we arrived at Tarfala at 7.30pm (GMT +1) on 27th June. The lush green of the Kebnekaise valley was replaced with the snow covered rocks up to Tarfala. It was tough going, but we made it! Exhausted, we were especially grateful to arrive in time for a hot meal and a shower!

The next day, there was no time to relax and recover from our travels and it was straight to work! The science we hope to complete up here requires drilling boreholes into the ice using a hot water drill. We had to test the connections and make sure that it was all working before it was flown up onto the glacier along with the rest of our equipment. Most of the day was spent connecting up the drill, checking the generators were working, and running water through the system. It was slow work, but we took our time and finally managed to get it running.

It’s dirty work, but worth it to be in such a beautiful place

That evening we took a walk up onto the glacier. It was a tough climb up the moraine, especially as we had not quite recovered from the trek the previous day!  There is still a significant amount of snow on the glacier, although we are told that it has changed a lot since Monday (25/06). Using a snow probe, we discovered that the snow was on average around 40cm deep at our proposed field site. The area was marked with poles ready for us to return for the helicopter the next day.

As the snow on the glacier surface begins to melt, crevasses (cracks in the ice) and moulins (holes at the ice surface into which water drains), previously filled with snow, begin to appear. For this reason, when moving about on the glacier for safety we were roped to another person, and had to remain at a safe distance from them, keeping the rope tight.

After the helicopter drops off the equipment, Yoann does a quick but dense survey with the snow probe around the equipment to make sure it is not sat over a hole. The rest of the group stand at a safe distance keeping the ropes tight.

An area was probed before the helicopter dropped off the equipment to make sure it was safe. This was a very rough survey, and so it was important to check in more detail around the equipment to make sure it wasn’t sat directly above a moulin! We were grateful for the presence of snow on the glacier surface, as it provides friction and something to anchor the equipment to. It also means we can still move equipment about on the glacier surface using a sledge.

The Tarfala Valley
A welcome sight after a long day in the field!

The steadily decreasing snow levels were obvious to us yesteday. Aday of steady rainfall has exposed several areas of ice downstream from where we are working. The average snow thickness at the field site is currently around 10-15cm, and a loud sound of running water lead to the discovery of a small (10cm wide) crevasse running across glacier to the west of the first planned borehole location.

In addition to the poor visibility that we experienced yesterday, this only emphasised the dangers of working on a glacier and how you must respect these powerful rivers of ice.

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