Sunday, 26 July 2015

Tsanteleina-Soches part 2. or - How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the cable tie

A second visit to the Tsanteleina Glacier last week and there are many things that I could talk about, relevant issues about ice that is disappearing underfoot, melt channels that are multiplying dramatically in the response to a very welcomed high pressure 'heat wave' over much of Europe in the last month.

A small version of the many supraglacial melt channels on the glacier

A view down-glacier where the edge of the snow is very slushy and flowing quickly away

Perhaps I could discuss the general annoyance at losing personal equipment, super unstable tripods not really standing up as hoped or the fact that the Kovacs ice drill is the most poorly designed piece of equipment that one (or sometimes two) person(s) could ever hope for, particularly when hands are readily cooled by those lovely katabatic winds.

no..... none of that comes close to the positive outlook I have to share about my one fundamental ,supreme piece of equipment, without which my fieldwork on the Tsanteleina-Soches so far may have left me rather saddened....

YES, the cable tie... tie-wrap, hose-tie, zip tie or even zap-strap if you prefer... arguably the best invention in the history of the cosmos.  If I could travel back to 1950's America and hug inventor Maurus C. Logan I would!

After we had misplaced or tripod bracket for the dataloggers last month our faithful friend cable tie was happy to jump to our aid.  After timelapse cameras decided to film the floor for the last 3 weeks a daisy-chained nylon cable construction was ready to assist.

At least 10 cable ties here!

To maintain the measurement accuracy of our ablation stake measurements (to measure melt of the glacier), those beautiful cable ties kindly held individual 1 metre pieces together to reduce wind effects when melt out occurred.

considering only 1 of 12 T-logger stations survived the last month standing after the snow disappeared to reveal a less smooth ice surface, cable-tying small boulders around the legs of the tripod should hopefully help to keep them upright until next month's field visit.

It COULD work :)

And when my crampons sadly became damaged and left me a little teary, you can guess which magical item saved the day... day after day!

It was put forward by Penny, a friend and fellow glaciologist at the University of Edinburgh that Duct tape is a glaciologist's best friend in the field (her blog here).... and while I was once a believer, I think my 1000x assortment of Clas Ohlson miracles keep my science going far better!

Probably some cable ties in this snow pit too :)

So for your ice-lovers out there, whether you are hiking, climbing, skiing or establishing a network of detailed meteorological observations, buy some cable ties..... do it NOW!  GO!!!!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Tsanteleina-Soches (a.k.a Project carry-lots-of-stuff) - Part 1

If I had to use one word to describe my recent fieldwork to Italian Alps it would be:


After much reading on man-hauling sleds in excess of 100kg across the Antarctic Plateau or the Greenland Ice Sheet I thought shifting half a dozen steel tripods and logger boxes up some moderate glacier slopes would be a breeze!  I have never been more wrong.  In fairness, some of the slopes were a tad more than moderate, and the snow conditions were such that snow-shoes were over-kill and without all energy was zapped from your legs by the snow.

Nevertheless, me and my crack team of Chilean experts: Flavia Burger and Oscar Espinoza, were up to the task and formed what I believe to be the first British-Chilean Olympic snow sled team.

With Oscar harnessed to the sled arms and myself with a rope improvised to the back of my climbing harness we pushed on for 20, 50 or 100 steps at a time before an intermission of heavy panting and sweating... 'breathtaking' scenery.   Fair to say we earned the several mountains of food our chef cooked us back at the refuge.... an army of us probably would struggle to finish the resultant quantity if I'm honest... though it was powerful fuel for our early 9:30 bedtime.... starting the process again the next morning, and the next.

The field season was an 85% success in my view.  15/17 stations were set up and 1/4 of stakes drilled.  The main issue arised from the time of year and the general weather conditions.  Because the snow cover, rapidly melting away when the sun eventually made an appearance, only extended to the front of the glacier (being mid-June) and required a 2 hour steep walk with back-packs- bordering on the comical -loaded with equipment.

Glacier hides away over the crest.. the walk takes around 2 hours from the Refuge dey Fond

One day I was a Chilean ice-cream salesman with a logger box strapped to my chest, the next I was broadcasting a new Italian radio station from a 3m weather station tripod sticking of my bag or a 2m sled making me look like a fieldwork turtle.  I particularly welcome fellow glaciologists and their own accounts/pictures of funny equipment carrying.  My own personal account below.

A return visit in around 10 days from now will aid in finishing the setup and drilling some ablation stakes - previously halted by time constraints and super-dense and wet snow.  A visit to our two full weather stations, 'Eddy' (named for the Eddy Covariance instrument attached -the star trek style thing) and 'Juan' (named because it was the first generic Spanish name that came to me) should hopefully provide an initial insight into meteorological conditions for the glacier..... finger crossed for good data! :)

Massive thanks to my fantastic field help Flavia and Oscar (and for the photos!).

Friday, 5 June 2015

Fieldwork round 2

Sometime since my travels to the colder side of things, and Svalbard, sadly seems like a distant memory.  Suddenly its June and temperatures have been far above my comfort zone…. +20°C!!!  From my parent’s spot in Northern France I stare at my trusty plastic Maplin weather station, mounted to the side of the house (kitted out with cup anemometer and all!) and contemplate the fieldwork for the summer ahead. 

Super hi tech weather station, sat on the side of my parent's house in France

Next week, Italian Alps season 2 begins, with a whole new glacier and its own challenges.  My project continues to investigate the effectiveness of simple assumptions about the temperature of the air above glacier ice, but this time without the metres of rock debris sitting on top (I do miss the crunch of the ice beneath crampons!).  The site in mind is the Glacier di Tsanteleina-Soches, a tiny 2.7km2 valley glacier in the Grande-Sassiere cluster, just the west of the Gran Paradiso National park at the limit of the Val di Rhemes.  This small site comes with a fair elevation range from ~2800-3450 metres above sea level and an area which can be well covered by monitoring equipment, a little more sophisticated than my Maplin setup in France.  I spend a few hours scanning around a digitalglobe Foundation image, the same as that used by Google Earth, though a more updated and high resolution version, in order to pick out sizeable crevasses that may a problem for me.  Taken in early September, 2014, the satellite image with the least amount of snow cover (~50% of the glacier) allows large crevassing to be detected at high stress zones which likely will be hidden by snow come next week’s trip.  It will be important to be roped up and navigate partly with GPS and generally hope that weather stations don’t decide to make a rapid exit from my survey down a frosty chasm, though the safety issues of this trip make me think strongly about other parts of the world. 

Digital globe imagery of the Tsanteleina Glacier and the surrounding area.  The thick black line is the interpreted outline of the glacier.  Top-right insert gives location of glacier within Western Europe.  Bottom-right insert shows debris on the lower tongue of glacier (image credit: Kirril Makarov).  Main imagery courtesy of the DigitalGlobe Foundation.  

The relative peace of my short holiday last week without phone, without internet and without email (which folks in academia love so) left me with some time for reading outside of journal articles and landed Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ aptly named book, ‘Cold’ on my lap.  Whilst enhancing my desire for a nice long ski-pulka trip across Antarctica, it emphasises the real mellow nature of my PhD excursions, Arctic or Alpine.  My hikes across ice with a DGPS or rifle in hand are most certainly a step up in risk assessment rating from a manager of a pillow factory, but its likelihood x severity ratings (including shooting oneself in the arse with a Ruger or racing an avalanche or polar bear down a steep hill) pale in comparison with some of Sir Ran’s adventures across treacherous crevasse fields or ice floes. 

My interests have most certainly been more directed to the glaciers and the ice rather than the mountains.  Their beauty is unparalleled for sure, ranging from Mont Blanc, glistenening above the masses in Chamonix, to my favourite friend, Hiorthfjellet, greeting my walk in to Longyearbyen every morning, but their high risk or over-popularity doesn’t interest me so.  The National Geographic article about the loss of life up on Everest and documentaries such as The Summit on the loss of life on K2 reinforce that this extreme is not for me.  

Yet, as recent tragedies of Nepal and its 7.8 (and successive 7.3) magnitude earthquake revealed, even in the valleys are immense dangers of the natural landscape realised.  A saddening tale of Langtang village close to the Lirung Glacier which was completely destroyed by landslides triggered by the quake.  I was not one involved in work in this region, though devastating reports from those who are echoed a sense of loss that normally feels distant through the news reports and less personal.  The scale of things in the Himalaya are certainly unmatched in the European Alps, though dangers above glaciers from falling ice or rock debris are commonplace (memories of evacuating our hotel in Italy return : see here). 

Dangers will likely be minimal this coming summer, though nothing shall ever be said too soon.  I’m looking forward to getting out there and collecting more data this year surrounded by another fantastic landscape, though I’ll always be dreaming that I’m somewhere a little more…. Extreme.  It’s possible that I'll provide some worthy scientific insight into a glacier that has nothing published about it, but unlikely that I’ll get a world record out of it J  Suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

My Arctic Love

As a rather lazy man these days, I've been strongly neglecting my blog page, partly due to my inability to write worth a dam, but I've also been waiting to actually find something to write about.

After spending the last 5 weeks among snowy valleys, tidewater glaciers and a lot of like-minded folks, I still feel that I have very little to write.  And this stems only in part to my crappy writing style, but more so that it is difficult to put into words what Svalbard means to me.

The Norwegian Arctic Archipelago lies ~1500km north of TromsΓΈ in the Barents Sea and for the last 5 weeks and on previous occasions has been my home.  And I use 'home' not just as my location for more than a few days, but as somewhere which keeps bringing me back and somewhere that I feel genuinely attached to.  I often contemplate what it is that appeals so heavily to me.  I contemplate this on the 30 minute walk from the main town of Longyearbyen up to the old mining barracks where many of the students live... a journey which sees some pipes sticking out of the ground, a reasonable amount of traffic (some teenagers revving their snowscooters) and an occasional foul odour which lingers around the Gym Hall (I don't think it's people in Gym).  I further contemplate this when half of my daily energy, which is sapped due to the general lack of sun associated with time of year and cloud cover, is consumed by planning a simple trip up to a local peak due to acquiring a group size reasonable enough equipped with rifles, crampons, avalanche gear etc etc.

Yet when it all comes together when you reach a peak, the sun lifts itself above the valley and throws some much needed vitamin D your way!  When you take a scooter ride with many great friends to a glacier that you visited during summer.  It now looks completely different, and yet so familiar that you forget that you are currently standing on sea ice where previously you needed a boat to get the same view.  Or perhaps its the ability to abseil into the base of a glacier through a network of stunning tunnels which were successively carved deeper year by year from highly velocity melt water during the summer.

As I often like, I want to share some photos of said experiences as no one wants to read about cool things when you can see them.. Unfortunately the total number of pictures taken by me is == 0.  Thus I hope to rely upon a few borrowed (and credited) pictures of others whom I was generally with at the time and hope they don't mind too much.
First weekend - -22C, 25m/s wind, let's do the macarana (Photo -Mariana Esteves)

Igloo above an ice cave on Longyearbreen, I would totally live here (Photo - Saskia Gindraux)

Longyearbreen ice cave- interesting features eating my arm (photo -Jessica Scheick)

Scooter trip to ScottTurnerbreen during the first week (Photo - Noel Fitzpatrick)

Chilling above Gruve 2, some nice stars (Photo - Andi Alex)

My first northern lights, so awesome (Photo - Andi Alex)

Return of the Tunabreen... so good to be back, I was even considered a responsible person and thus awarded a bright orange jacket! :) (Photo - Michele Petrini)

Sad to now be sat in an empty room with bags yet again packed to leave behind my homely arctic island... until next time.

But to all those who have shared good times, good trips and good elevator parties with me over my time here, I say thank you, take care and ha det bra.