Changes in the project

We had to make some changes in our project due to Lindsey needing more time to recover from an injury she picked up measuring a glacier in the Italian alps. So, unfortunately the traverse is not possible anymore (due to safety and the reduced amount of scientific material which could be carried by only Justyna and Agna), but we are determined to continue with an exciting combination of a skiing adventure and chemical investigation of snow. Hence, Agna and Justyna will now start in Isortoq and do a 300 km sampling loop as far inland as the Government of Greenland allows without special access permits, which is 150 km from the shore. Meanwhile back at home Lindsey will be keeping up the physio sessions as in May the reunited team of three will take a shorter skiing loop of 80 km further north, near Nerlerit Inaat (Constable Point). These two trips will cover the glaciated and non-glaciated land on the eastern side of Greenland (including the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Istorvet Ice Cap). However, we would be missing snow samples from the western part of Greenland, hence we asked colleagues to help by taking a few extra samples. The changes have been accepted by National Geographic Society and most of our sponsors so far. We hope it will be met with your understanding as well.

Planned route of the skiing loop Justyna and Agna will take from Isortoq.
Planned route of the second part of the journey, of the reunited team (background map in summer conditions to show the location of the Istorvet ice cap).

Stay tuned, we will be informing about the progress. The expedition starts on April 10th already! Fingers crossed for our team 🙂



What will the weather be like when we are in Greenland?

Previously I had a quick look at the coastal weather stations for a first idea of likely weather conditions we might encounter in Greenland, but at our last training we were discussing actual windspeeds, incidence of Piteraqs, and likelihood of severely cold conditions, and possibility of melt.

As a background, here are some thoughts from folks more familiar with Greenland than me …

Ruth Mottram (DMI scientist): It varies *a lot* in April, it probably has the biggest variability of any month in Greenland – this year (2016) we had record warm temperatures (and rain!) and then it got rather cold again before again record warm temperatures in May, but the year before was very cold with a record maximum sea ice extent in west Greenland and more snow than they could deal with in the East (which is kind of saying something when it comes to Greenland) so at this stage who knows!

Liam Colgan (GEUS scientist): April usually means -25°C at night, -10°C in the day. I have been camping as cold as -40°C at Dye-2 in April, but it can also even melt at Dye-2 in April (2016).

Ahem, so based on that it seems that basically anything could happen. The good news is that (i) the DMI Piteraq forecast is quite reliable and should be able to help us prepare in the event of a storm, (ii) the DMI seasonal forecast is also considered a helpful resource now. We shall be using both this spring!

Anyway, to begin with I had another look at freely available data from a couple of PROMICE (Program for Monitoring of the Greenland Icesheet) weather stations near Tasiilaq (East, our starting point) and Kangerluusuaq (West, towards our destination), to look for answers to some questions. The weather stations I chose are shown in the table below. I hope the east stations should give us a good idea of the potential for wind storms and temperatures at the start, while the uppermost westerly station is quite and hopefully shows conditions somewhat characteristic for the inland ice, and the lower west station should indicate conditions as we are exiting the ice. I looked at data for April and May only, from 2010-2017 (8 years). As there is sometimes data missing from the hourly records, in the table below I calculated occurrences of extreme conditions over one or both of the months as a % of the available hourly data for these months over the whole 8 years.

Assuming we will be spending most of our time in conditions most similar to the station at 1840m (though we will go higher than this on the traverse as well), over these 8 years of Aprils and Mays the data suggest that average temperatures are -14°C, discarding the upper and lower 10% of the temperatures – i.e. excluding these extremes – the remaining 80% of the time, air temperatures lie between -25 and -4°C. I guess these might represent our typical conditions? And the winds are likely to be around 20km/hr a third of the time, and about three quarters of the time between 10-30km/hr. Below is a pair of probability histograms of temperature(left) and wind(right) conditions at the KAN_U weather station.

I also wondered if there is anything interesting in seeing how these conditions evolve over real time for the last 8 years of April/May, so I plotted windchill and windspeed at all 4 stations in a different colour for each year going from pale yellow through to the purple and black tones. Note that the higher eastern station did not have valid data for the first years, and was retired in 2015, and that the lower station did not have valid temperature data for the final two years. I suspect these operational failures are, in themselves, a sign the conditions might be at least on occasion more savage than those recorded in the data.

What we can see from this is that the temperature and windchill conditions really improve substantially into May, and that while we might have melting conditions towards the end of our traverse the inland ice will rarely have windchill conditions above 0°C. That said when surrounded by snow and its a sunny day its a bit like being in a solar cooker. Most years experience at least one dangerous wind event in April on the eastern side of the icesheet, but they are typically not protracted. Some years however have periods of repeat storms, 2013 and 2014 being notably stormier in the dataset available here.



What will the light be like when we are in Greenland?

While wondering how many spare headtorches to bring I thought it was worthwhile checking out the light conditions for the period of our traverse.

Although I could have done some proper science calculations of solar angles on my own, and as a scientist I probably should, instead, I just used this website:  to have a quick look and give us an idea of what we will be working with.

Light conditions are divided into 5 categories:

Night: The sun is well below the horizon.

Astronomical twilight: “During astronomical twilight, the geometric center of the Sun’s disk is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. It may be difficult to distinguish astronomical twilight from night time. Most stars and other celestial objects can be seen during this phase.” So, to all practical intents and purposes for us, this will be just like night.

Nautical twilight: “The geometric center of the Sun’s disk is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. Both the horizon and the brighter stars are usually visible at this time, making it possible to navigate at sea.” This still sounds pretty much like night to me.

Civil Twilight: “the geometric center of the Sun’s disk is at most 6 degrees below the horizon, so there is generally enough natural light to carry out most outdoor activities.” Workable.

Daylight: The sun is above the horizon.

Basically, I think we can split this into the workable part of the day (civil twilight and daylight) and a time where we will need lighting (all the other light conditions).

The absolute earliest we can set of from Tasilaq will be 12.04.2018, though it will probably be a couple of days later). On this date/location, there will be 01:56 of civil twilight and 14:57 daylight. This means we will have sufficient light to work with for over 16 hours from 04:06 until 20:59.

Assuming our traverse takes us 30 days (though we hope it will be faster) we would arrive in Kangerluusuaq (now that it seems we must do this longer traverse route) on 12.05.2018. On this date/location there will be only civil twilight and daylight so we could essentially work without light assistance at all times.

This is quite encouraging given that from what I have read many traverses end up skiing at unusual times in order to take advantage of weather windows and decent snow conditions, and it seems we will hopefully not have to do a lot of that in complete darkness.


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 🙂