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Weather is Still the Master Here

On a "hard" down day where there is no access to the plane, many of the ground and flight crew head to the ice front near Thule for some sledding.
On a “hard” down day where there is no access to the plane, many of the ground and flight crew head to the ice front near Thule for some sledding.

It’s amazing to think that Greenland is only hours from Baltimore’s BWI Airport, but the aircraft loaded at 2AM and we arrived in Greenland six hours later at 8 AM local time. The science teams are transported on an Air Mobility Command flight, the US Military’s “airline” for service men and women, contractors, and others having to be on a base, the same flights that service Ramstein Base, Germany, and Aviano Base in Italy.

Getting off the plane I was immediately reminded of Greenland: cold air that freezes your nostrils, squeaky snow, no particular smell except for jet fuel, and relative humidity so low that dehydration and fires are real dangers for the people working here.

Weather is still the master here. Much like fieldwork in Antarctica, fieldwork in Greenland is just outside of our control. I had anticipated getting right to work but it seems this will be a no-fly day because of weather. “Weather” means that the instruments will not be able to record information about the ice surface properly. Most of these days are relatively safe flying — at least for the NASA pilots — one of whom was a fighter pilot, and the other a bomber pilot. Both are now test pilots of NASA’s Dryden Flight Facility where the low altitude flights down the mouths of glaciers are barely a challenge!

Rink Isbrae an outlet glaciers on the NW Coast of Greenland that terminates in a fjord.
Rink Isbrae an outlet glaciers on the NW Coast of Greenland that terminates in a fjord.

But weather passes and by Friday we are back in the air, flying a high altitude grid at elevations greater than 35,000 ft to evaluate equipment for future data collection missions. The flight was over Rink Isbrae, an outlet glacier on the NW Coast of Greenland terminating in a fjord. Rink loses much of its mass by calving. The NW coast is one of the fastest changing areas of Greenland in terms of ice volume, and Rink is a part of this changing landscape of Greenland. On this day the sea ice was just beginning to break up off the coast. The fjord waters were still frozen, and the melange (chopped up bergs and bergy bits) in front of the Isbrae was frozen in place.  A spectacular sight.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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Sam
Sam
13 years ago

Gorgeous photographs, guys. I’d love to fly over Greenland someday. Hopefully global climate change hasn’t affected this natural beauty too badly, or at least not yet.

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