Pilot samples have arrived!

Big thanks to Liam Colgan, we finally have samples of snow from Greenland (Camp Century) to test what kind of concentrations we may experience along the traverse, and to test the precision of our laboratory methods. A week ago, I have picked up the samples in Copenhagen, after they took a long journey across the sea. Fortunately, we didn’t lose the water from melted snow, although the travel conditions were merciless!

packing samples for transport
Packing the samples for further transport in Copenhagen. Photo by Liam Colgan.

And yesterday, with the samples safely stored in Gdańsk University of Technology, Poland, with great help of Dr Katarzyna Kozak, I have started the analysis of those samples. Extracts were made using SPE (solid phase extraction) on C18 columns.

SPE photo blog
Me and SPE of Greenland samples. Photo by Katarzyna Kozak.

It will still take a bit of time until the results of the analysis can be read, but I can’t wait to know!



Sampling protocol for organochlorine pesticides in snow

For everyone who is more interested in the science we are planning, we have decided to publish our sampling protocol. Actually, this is an opportunity as well for those who do similar projects to comment and exchange ideas, all in the spirit of open science. Don’t hesitate to use my project-related contact email: with suggestions or questions related to this, or leave comments / use our Facebook site for a general discussion.

Here is the protocol:

1. Collect snow samples from fresh snowfall events (if only possible). Check the time when the snow starts falling, and write it down at first opportunity. Approximate time will be useful as well.

2. Once the snow stopped falling, please take the sampling equipment: ruler/tape measure, spring scales, 250 mL stainless steel tube and a metal spatula (alternatively: 1000 mL stainless steel wedge density cutter), sampling bags and labelling markers, GPS and notepad, and walk away from your pulk/camp by at least 30 paces (from the camp preferably further), against the wind direction. This is to avoid the people and their equipment having any chemical influence on the samples.

3. Measure the thickness of the snow layer with the ruler (exposing a vertical profile in the fresh snow layer down to the boundary with the older snow and measuring the depth of it (you can dig with the metal spatula). Write down at least 3 thickness measurements (with 1 mm accuracy).

4. Wear rubber/nitrile powderfree gloves over your thin gloves (best double fleece or woollen gloves, to keep your hands warm throughout the sampling procedure). Unfortunately, thick gloves rarely allow the necessary precision of movement. Please clean the rubber gloves before each sampling by “washing” your gloved hands in the sampled snow (as if it was standing water in a bowl).

5. Insert the steel tube and spatula (or density cutter) a few times (≥3) into the sampled snow layer before the sampling (to clean the insides from any preceding samples). Measure the snow density, by taking snow samples of the exact volume of the steel tube, or if it cannot be full – measure the level to which the snow has reached. Use the spatula to keep the snow inside, transfer it into the sampling bag, and weigh with the 1 kg spring scales (or weigh e.g. 10 times the volume if too light to measure with the scales). Write down the mass measurement, and repeat it at least once, and again if the first two measurements differ by more than 10%.

6. The samples should be taken into the Teflon bags (and sealed with clips):

The clips are composed of two parts: outer half-tube and inner tube, which are to be pressed one into another, with the bag material trapped in between:

Please do not touch the inside of the bag, except with things already cleaned with the sampled snow. The inside of the sampling bags and the steel tube and spatula have been prepared prior to sampling by cleaning with: 1) deionised water, 2) poisonous methanol, and 3) dried in a clean atmosphere, preferably in nitrogen. Due to the use of methanol, please handle the equipment in rubber gloves only. Make sure you don’t eat with the outer gloves used for sampling and avoid any contact of food and the sampling kit (which is good both for you and the samples).
Further sample packing: place the Teflon bags in outer zip-lock bags, and then in supermarket cool bags to protect samples from sunlight.

7. Please keep all sampling kit (stainless steel tube/spatula/density cutter) wrapped in the provided clean bags if not in use for sampling (to protect it from contamination).

8. For each sampling location, please fill in one Teflon bag in full (5 L), putting in snow by tube-fulls and pressing it down (through the outside of the bag) as much as possible so as to compress it (e.g. with gloved hands). Ideally, I need 2 kg or more of each sample, but hopes for results start at 1 kg.

9. Once the Teflon bag is full, seal it with the attached clip, and label the bag on the outside (or on the clip). Keep in the dark (supermarket cool bags will help with this).

10. For each sampling occasion, please write down the following: GPS coordinates, sample number / label, the beginning and end time of the snowfall, type of precipitation (e.g. diamond dust, snow flakes, graupel – you can also draw the shape of snow crystals found on the ground – all extra data is very welcome here), whether wind was redistributing the snow and approximately with what speed, snow layer thickness and density.

11. Following arrival at temperatures above freezing, there are two choices: 1) strictly keep samples frozen at all times, by finding a freezer at a friendly institution; 2) melt the samples in low temperature and pour them into amber glass bottles (pre-cleaned). The amber glass bottles should be labelled with the same symbol as the appropriate sampling bag. Use two bottles per sample if necessary.

12. Add to each 1 L bottle 1 mL of the 6 N HCl and 2 mL of methanol, each with a separate syringe. Best to use a new syringe for each sample.

13. Close the bottles tight and mix by turning upside down a couple of times. You can also wrap the mouths of the bottles with a piece of parafilm for extra protection in transport. Keep at a cool temperature above freezing (≈4°C).

14. Transport in insulated boxes to the laboratory. If frozen, samples cannot be allowed to melt to avoid leaks in transport. In that case, the transfer to bottles will be only completed in the laboratory.

Sampling done! Time to celebrate 🙂


Preparing a cargo for Greenland

We are currently marking another milestone in expedition preparation, which is packing a cargo to ship across the sea, so as to avoid higher costs and less convenient last minute packing next spring. Things are taking shape now!

As we do this, I have found out an interesting fact about the ship that will take our cargo on board – the “Malik Arctica”, taking our load from Aalborg to Tasiilaq. The Royal Arctic Line A/S operating this ship has ordered it from a Polish shipyard in Gdańsk! It was built for Atlantic routes and to visit harbours around Greenland, and it has left the docks on the 16th March 2017. Its reinforced hull is prepared for thick sea ice conditions and temperatures down to -35°C, so our cargo should be safe on board.

A video material about the ship can be found here:

Great news on expedition tents from Alpinsport!

We are happy to announce partnering with Alpinsport, an outdoor shop oriented towards the Polish market, thanks to whom we will be able to use the highest quality expedition tents Mountain HardWear EV3. Thanks to this, we hope to sustain all the strong winds of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and sleep well to get the necessary rest before the daily toil. The mentioned tents are also strongly recommended for the extreme conditions by Polish Himalaya climbers!

Alpinsport is a company bringing highest quality outdoor products to the Polish market since 1989. Their employees themselves are users of such equipment, being passionate about outdoor sports, hence they understand well the clients. They know there is no space for compromising quality in the mountains, since a small detail may grow to an important one, and lead to success or failure. The Polish Mountain Rescue Team is also known to use their products. Most of their shops are located in Zakopane, there is also a small shop with sample products in Mikołów, where their main office is located.

We are awaiting with anticipation the further cooperation with Alpinsport 🙂


Guilt Trip – an inspiring Greenland movie at the St Anton Film Festival

The 23rd St Anton Film Festival celebrates mountains, people, and adventures between the two. This year kicks off by featuring the activities of some pretty hardcore female adventurers, which is of course of special interest our own all-female crew preparing to cross Greenland.

The organisers like to have a live discussion of each movie, and I’ve been asked to go and speak about the changing state of the ice in the Alps and Greenland on the 24th August, associated with the movie Guilt Trip, which you can read about on the salomonTV website.

The movie, directed and produced by Anthony Bonello and Mike Douglas is about the skiers Chris Rubens, Kalen Thorien, Simon Thomson and Pierre Muller and their aim to ski Mt Forel, which is the second highest peak in Greenland and sits right on the divide between the mountains to the east and the wide open ice sheet to the west.

The only thing greater than this group of skiers’ desire to claim a first ski descent on Greenland’s second highest peak is the size of their carbon footprint to get there. Loaded with guilt, they decide to bring along renowned glaciologist, Alun Hubbard, whose hypothesis, if proven, could rewrite popular projections of global sea-level rise. However, the entire expedition is put in question when they arrive in Greenland and discover their objective is beyond the range of all available aircraft.

Helicopters are expensive in Eastern Greenland and fuel is not unlimited. These guys had to haul their gear on pulkas to get close to their target, and their science is all about the impacts of a melting Greenland icesheet so it’s a freeride ski movie with more in common with our traverse than you’d think possible!

Here is the trailer:

And here is the movie (its 35 minutes)

Movie credits:

Featuring Alun Hubbard, Chris Rubens, Kalen Thorien, Simon Thomson, Pierre Muller
Directed & Produced by Anthony Bonello, Mike Douglas

Executive Producers Bruno Bertrand, Ben Aidan
Narrated & Edited by Anthony Bonello
Cinematography Mike Douglas, Anthony Bonello
Photography Bruno Long
Associate Producer Susie Douglas
Original music by Alex Hackett
Sound design & Mix by Jeff Yellen
Illustration by Jessa Gilbert
Graphics by Blair Richmond

Enjoy watching!


How an investigation of a buried military base will help POP Greenland

Liam Colgan, a researcher from York University, Toronto, Canada, will undertake an expedition to Greenland this summer to investigate the possibility that a former military base at Camp Century will be unearthed by the climate change. At this opportunity, he has kindly agreed to collect pilot samples for our project: fresh surface snow from the vicinity of his study site. Thanks to this, we will be able to check what pesticide pollution levels to expect in Greenlandic snow. This will help us adjust the amounts of snow collected during the traverse, and every ounce will count then. We will also be able to test the sampling technique in the inclement conditions of Greenland (as not all materials are durable enough in there).

The Camp Century base was both a research site for ice drilling and a Cold War military unit, where missiles could be launched from. Since it was built under the ice, abandoned in 1967, and since then the ice has been accumulating on top of it, it was assumed that the station will be locked in the ice for an undefined period. However, with the climate warming, this period can be shortened now, and finish even before 2100. Unfortunately, this may also lead to pollution problems, including a type of POPs (PCBs), and radiological waste.

Liam Colgan already published a scientific paper on this subject, in Geophysical Research Letters – enjoy reading! A popular description of his undertaking can be also found here.

With thanks in advance to Liam, and looking forward to seeing the outcome of further investigations –


Hardangervidda training

Justyna travelling
On Hardangervidda (Justyna travelling)

Hardangarvidda has long been a popular place for people to test their mettle before a Greenland skiing expedition. This was to be the first time we three (Aggna, Justyna and me) really worked together as a team so I was looking forward to forging a strong relationship with this team. I wasn’t worried about route finding, the cold or bad weather or camping in the snow – that’s pretty standard fare for a glaciologist, but as it so often goes I had that the wrong way around. I was fine with the physical work but the environment offered plenty of challenges.

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Armed with brand new skis (from Sport Albert shop), brand new ski boots (Alfa Polar model), brand new pulks (Acapulka Expedition Tour 135) we mustered our gear in Drammen, and then took a beautiful train ride to Finse. Carrying the loaded sleds between apartment and the station was tough work, and we were all delighted when we pulled our sleds off the snowy platform at Finse at how easy it was to ski with them. Much hilarity on the first tiny downhill section as we held our pulks close against a ski boot to try and keep them from unruly behaviour.

We originally planned to ski to Haukelister in the south of Hardangavidda, covering about 130 km, but instead we set ourselves the challenge of skiing off the marked ski routes, where we would be more remote, need to read terrain, plan our routes and inevitably encounter some challenges – which all seemed appropriate for Greenland training compared to skiing along the beautifully marked winter routes of the area.

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It took a while to adjust to the 1:100000 scale of our map, which meant that ‘flat’ terrain seldom was really flat! Much time was lost poring over the map in the early days. Our route involved crossing frozen lakes, some significant slope traversing, climbing and descending, including at one point rappelling down a steep short snow slope with our pulks under Agnas expert guidance, and another time lowering the pulks on a rope. It also included one poorly pitched tent in gale force 9 winds resulting in significant damage to the tent, which, once repaired by Agna in the safety of an overnight in a hut, led to us becoming rock stars at undertaking serious excavation, snow wall building and anchoring of our weakened tent. Highlights included the great freeze dried food we had (LYO Food), including amazing freeze dried fruit snacks, spectacular views, sparkling fresh snow, some sunshine, occasionally cooperative pulks, getting much better at skiing, learning how to self-arrest on snow slopes without any tools, and training crevasse rescue procedures together. We covered 100 km of hard wind packed snow, powder snow, breakable crust, in sunshine, snow, wind and almost rain, in temperatures ranging from +1°C to -25°C. Aside from the tent, and our (old-ish) sleeping bags our gear was good and we got on well, made good team decisions, had fun and learned some lessons that will stand us in good stead for our traverse in spring 2018.