Pioneering Team Spending Winter Atop Greenland Ice Sheet

September 10, 1997

Winter has already begun for a crew of four who will spend the entire season atop the Greenland ice sheet studying the weather at a remote outpost called Summit. The camp at the apex of the ice sheet, where the sun will set in November and not reappear until late January, is the first attempt supported by the National Science Foundation to over-winter in Greenland.

"This is the first time we will be able to examine the entire annual cycle of air and snow chemistry," said Mike Ledbetter, program manager for Arctic system science at NSF. "Ultimately, it will help us to better interpret climate history and how human beings are affecting climate."

If the project goes well, NSF may explore establishing a permanent year-round camp at Summit. Up to now, winter at Summit has been like the dark side of the moon for scientists, who have not been able to stay on the scene to study the snowfall in the winter. They do not even know when most of the snow falls.

The structures and airplane skiway that comprise the station at Summit cluster atop a broad swell of ice cap almost two miles thick, 481 miles from its supply point on Greenland's west coast. NSF extracted the Northern Hemisphere's longest ice core at Summit from 1989-1993. The core drilled by researchers with The Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2, along with another core drilled nearby by European scientists, furnish an icy archive of over 100,000 years of climate information. The annual layers in the ice cores store a finely detailed atmospheric record, as well as traces of volcanic eruptions, forest fires, ocean storms, atomic bombs and pollution.

"The falling snow, which eventually becomes compacted into ice, stores information about the atmosphere at the time it fell -- the water vapor, temperature and dust content," said Jack Dibb, the University of New Hampshire climatologist who heads the wintering project. "The Greenland ice cores have already shown us that there were unexpectedly rapid and dramatic shifts in climate. How closely do these changes in ice composition actually record the changing chemistry of the atmosphere? The idea is to turn these records into a history of the atmosphere's composition."

Dibb's project this year will assist this translation. "Our goal during this first year-round occupation of Summit will be to determine what controls the composition of air just above the ice sheet, to see how closely the composition of snow reflects that of the air, and to understand how air and snow exchange water, energy and chemical compounds through the winter," Dibb said.

The wintering crew--an electronics technician, a mechanic, and two science technicians--will spend most of their time at Summit in "The Greenhouse," a one-story, 32-by-36 foot building serving as combined bunkroom, living room, and laboratory. The structure rests on skis and can be moved from year to year to avoid burial by snow. The winter-overs will have electronic mail but not telephone contact with the outside world. A supply flight in November will rotate one crew member, with another such flight in February. The University of Nebraska's Polar Ice Coring Office provides logistics for the effort.

Winter temperatures at Summit can drop to -60 Fahrenheit or lower, hampering attempts at winter research with automated instruments in the past. This winter, however, the station's crew will be on hand if something goes awry.

If this winter's experiment goes well, NSF will explore setting up year-round quarters at Summit for a wider range of studies in future years, possibly with international partners. This spring, at a workshop in Greenland sponsored by NSF and the Danish Research Commission, scientists from four countries explored the potential to use a year-round station at Summit to study snow deposition, atmospheric chemistry, the ozone hole, magnetospheric physics, and other disciplines.

National Science Foundation

Related Ice Sheet Articles from Brightsurf:

Greenland ice sheet shows losses in 2019
The Greenland Ice Sheet recorded a new record loss of mass in 2019.

Warming Greenland ice sheet passes point of no return
Nearly 40 years of satellite data from Greenland shows that glaciers on the island have shrunk so much that even if global warming were to stop today, the ice sheet would continue shrinking.

Greenland ice sheet meltwater can flow in winter, too
Liquid meltwater can sometimes flow deep below the Greenland Ice Sheet in winter, not just in the summer, according to CIRES-led work published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters today.

Ice sheet melting: Estimates still uncertain, experts warn
Estimates used by climate scientists to predict the rate at which the world's ice sheets will melt are still uncertain despite advancements in technology, new research shows.

Thousands of meltwater lakes mapped on the east Antarctic ice sheet
The number of meltwater lakes on the surface of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is more significant than previously thought, according to new research.

Researchers discover ice is sliding toward edges off Greenland Ice Sheet
They found that ice slides over the bedrock much more than previous theories predicted of how ice on the Greenland Ice Sheet moves.

A clearer picture of global ice sheet mass
Fluctuations in the masses of the world's largest ice sheets carry important consequences for future sea level rise, but understanding the complicated interplay of atmospheric conditions, snowfall input and melting processes has never been easy to measure due to the sheer size and remoteness inherent to glacial landscapes.

Researchers discover more than 50 lakes beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet
Researchers have discovered 56 previously uncharted subglacial lakes beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet bringing the total known number of lakes to 60.

Ice-sheet variability during the last ice age from the perspective of marine sediment
By using marine sediment cores from Northwestern Australia, a Japanese team led by National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) and the University of Tokyo revealed that the global ice sheet during the last ice age had changed in shorter time scale than previously thought.

Novel hypothesis goes underground to predict future of Greenland ice sheet
The Greenland ice sheet melted a little more easily in the past than it does today because of geological changes, and most of Greenland's ice can be saved from melting if warming is controlled, says a team of Penn State researchers.

Read More: Ice Sheet News and Ice Sheet Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to