Storglaciären: Return of the Glaciologist

Now I am aware that last year, there was a lot of promises to collect data via this blog, and optimism that the next few days would provide this. However, it seems this was not to be. In the last few days, mother nature cut us off from the glacier, flooding the bridge and therefore our only access.

Lillsjön lake, by Tarfala Research Station, shown at the end of June, prior to snow melt (left), in early July after snow melt (centre) and flooding the valley after a day of heavy rainfall (right). This flooding prevented us from travelling onto the glacier.
Lillsjön lake, by Tarfala Research Station, shown at the end of June, prior to snow melt (left), in early July after snow melt (centre) and flooding the valley after a day of heavy rainfall (right). This flooding prevented us from travelling onto the glacier for 2 days, and delayed our ascent on the third.
The weigh of the water, in addition to any ice from upstream, caused the wood supporting the bridge to crack. The excess water flooded the valley so much that we were only JUST able to cross to the other side safely. We contacted the station over the radio about the bridge and it was repaired enough for us to cross back safely at the end of the day.
The weigh of the water, in addition to any ice from upstream, caused the wood supporting the bridge to crack. The excess water flooded the valley so much that we were only JUST able to cross to the other side safely. We contacted the station over the radio about the bridge and it was repaired enough for us to cross back safely at the end of the day.

The following day, after waiting until 10am, the waters receded enough for us to cross, although as you can see from the photo the bridge was not exactly stable. We thought that our luck might have changed for this last day.

Arriving at the drill site, we realised that the bad weather must have included a strong katabatic wind. Our generator (35kg) had been rolled onto the side of it’s square frame; two box lids and an entire zarges box had rolled off down the glacier, as had the (mostly empty) antifreeze barrel. Most of the missing items were located again, and with some gentle encouragement, we managed to get an unhappy generator working again.

In addition to this, the drill broke completely, one of our boreholes had closed beyond use, and the radar was also not working. All we were left with was the borehole geophone and a sledge hammer, in a >30cm wide, 22m deep borehole. In theory, for the geophone to work, it needs to be able to clamp to the sides of a borehole (max clamping width = 15cm). The hope was that the geophone might also collect data if it pretended to be a hydrophone (http://www.glossary.oilfield.slb.com/en/Terms.aspx?LookIn=term%20name&filter=hydrophone). Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to collect data with everything we had left, we simply did not have enough time.

We did manage to collect GPS readings of all boreholes and the seismic line using a Trimble differential GPS. GPS uses satellites to calculate the position of the mobile unit – the more satellites that the GPS can “see”, the more accurate the positioning  The accuracy of this particular GPS is further improved, as the mobile unit is calculated not only by satellites, by also relative to a base station. The base station is a second GPS unit set up at a precisely known location – in this case, the roof of a building in Tarfala Research Station. 

So, last summer did not exactly go to plan. However, I remain ever optimistic that this fieldwork will work. We have experience now, we know what can go wrong, and we know what needs fixing prior to arriving at Tarfala. Somewhat more importantly, INTERACT Transnational Access has yet again supplied me with the funding for the PIPS project (Physical Ice Properties of Storglaciären), so that I can travel to, and stay at Tarfala Research Station for the field season! THANK YOU!

So rather than just blogging from the field this time, I will also include you in the planning process.  The updates so far are that the hot water drill will be travelling to Kiruna by snowmobile this spring for a full service.  Unfortunately, Yoann will not be returning to Tarfala this summer; instead I will be travelling with a new field assistant, Clemens Schannwell. Clemens is an MSc student in the Glaciology Group at Swansea University; he is working with GPR data from Midtre Lovénbreen (Svalbard), analysing the glacier structure. In combination with spending a year studying in Fairbanks, Alaska, Clemens has experience in both geophysical surveying, and working in cold conditions.

Field Team #1: Charlotte Axtell.Second year PhD student at Swansea University. The face behind the blog, PI on the PIPS project, and an enduring optimist.
Field Team #1: Charlotte Axtell.
Second year PhD student at Swansea University. The face behind the blog, PI on the PIPS project, and an enduring optimist.
Field Team 2: Clemens Schannwell.MSc Student at Swansea University. Fieldwork Enthusiast.
Field Team #2: Clemens Schannwell.
MSc Student at Swansea University. Fieldwork Enthusiast.

We are looking forward to going back to Tarfala this summer and are hoping for better luck this season. In addition, we are doing everything we can to ensure the equipment is functioning correctly before we arrive at the station! Any useful suggestions to help make this field season as effective as possible are very welcome.

Bring it on Storglaciären, we’ll be back soon!

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