IceBridge’s Home in Kanger

By Jim Yungel, Airborne Topographic Mapper Program Manager, NASA Wallops Flight Facility

I thought I’d describe the facilities where the science team chooses to stay while here in Kangerlussuaq. One has the choice of staying in the airport hotel or in local lodging that is maintained for visiting scientists, the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support Center, or KISS.

KISS building
Kangerlussuaq International Science Support “KISS” dorm building. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

KISS provides what can be called a dormitory for scientists, which is located in the former U.S. Air Force base. In the KISS dorm you get a room (generally two people to a room), and bed linens, common dorm bathrooms and washers/dryers down the hall. We do room cleaning ourselves, no services provided. There are two kitchens in the dorm, so we do a lot of cooking ourselves. Data processing is set up in one room downstairs.

KISS room
A typical room in KISS. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

Groceries are sold in a small store near the airport, and because the store is generally only open when we are airborne, one IceBridge team person (who runs our ground GPS unit) ends up shopping for many of us when we fly. Most of us cook meals either teaming up in groups or as individuals after we fly and following our nightly science meeting and weather briefing at 6 p.m. There is a small “mini-store” with expanded hours near the KISS facility where a limited selection of items is available.

Downstairs kitchen
The large kitchen on the first floor of the KISS building. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

Besides cooking in the dorms, there are three restaurant choices here in this small airport village.

First is the airport cafeteria, which is being renovated this year and has limited service. No hot breakfasts, cold buffet only, a few selections of hamburgers, chicken, fish and the like for lunch. Dinner generally is re-heated lunch choices.

Second is the nearby Thai grill known as the Polar Bear Inn. Yes, this village in Greenland has a Thai restaurant. They serve pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, and a Thai menu. The pizza is good, and I personally like the Thai soups. There is seating for about 20 folks in a fast food environment.

Last is the Roklubben, or Row Club, a restaurant by a lake about three miles from town. It’s been a formal restaurant since we began visiting here regularly in the 1990s, but after the air force left, several folks tried to run it on and off over the years. About five years ago, the present owner, Chef Kim took it over. He is strict. You must be on time, and have exactly the number of people in the reservations (no walk-ins.) The Roklubben has a limited menu for just a few days of the week, and about once a week, Kim puts on a Greenlandic Buffet like the one our group attended. It’s expensive (about $80US/person with a drink), but worth it for the experience and trying different Greenlandic food.

Usually we’re here in Kangerlussuaq for three or four weeks. We generally have one buffet meal at the Roklubben as a group. I try to cook several meals for every meal I eat at the Thai restaurant, either cooking for myself or with a small group. We also have our annual Easter ham dinner for the whole NASA team and many of the local KISS folks each year.

KISS common room
Common lounge (completed jigsaw puzzle on table, Danish channels on the TV). Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

Most of the science team enjoys staying in the KISS facility. We end up being more social than if we live in hotels and eat every night in restaurants. There are group viewings of movies (played from computers), we traditionally work on jigsaw puzzles in the common rooms, go on hikes, and cook together frequently. Several folks are musicians and play guitars, and there are always entertaining discussions going on in the hallways and rooms.

A Treasured Experience

By Jhony Zavaleta, Earth Science Project Office Project Manager, NASA Ames Research Center

I work as project manager with the Earth Science Project Office based at NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California. My group manages several Earth science research missions such as those studying hurricanes, atmospheric chemistry, and of course, the ice caps.

My job allows me to work with people of many backgrounds, and it is a constant learning process about the science, the technology, and what it takes to get these operations going, sustaining them, and completing them successfully.

DMS ramp pass
Digital Mapping System image mosaic of the Kangerlussuaq airport ramp and people standing nearby captured as the P-3 passed overhead. Credit: NASA / DMS

These operations across the world are as challenging as they are rewarding. I have had the fortune of dealing with professional and dedicated people that have helped make my job easier and our missions successful.

Currently the 2014 Arctic campaign of Operation IceBridge is under way in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on a deployment that takes them to places as far north as Thule Air Base, Greenland, and as far west as Fairbanks, Alaska. After a lot of work, coordination, and pre-planning, and the constant and friendly support from the local resources available there, our operations there go very smoothly.

East Greenland Mountains
Mountainous sidewall of a glacier valley in eastern Greenland seen during the Apr. 5, 2014, IceBridge survey flight. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Operating out of a remote location for many weeks, with extremely cold temperatures and limited communications, and without the many comforts of home, can be a personal challenge to everyone on the Operation IceBridge team. These are challenges that the team has learned to endure over the years and they do so with professionalism, dedication and very positive attitudes. It is always easy to see and get a smile from them. It is a team that likes what they do and they do it well.

I have had the opportunity to go on many flights with IceBridge, and this year was one of them. It is something that never gets old and it gives me the opportunity to interact more closely with the team. I went on a flight that covered the glaciers of eastern Greenland. The flight itself was a smooth one, but the view was riveting. Flying over Greenland’s ice cap, so close to its glaciers, in between its mountains, and over its frozen rivers and oceans, is one of the experiences that I treasure the most.

Wash the Windows: Deicing the P-3

By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center 

On the morning of Apr. 15 the IceBridge team woke to blowing snow in Kangerlussuaq. The newly fallen snow made the ground a little slipperier than usual, forcing team members walking and driving to the airfield to take a little extra time. The blowing snow also limited visibility somewhat and led to a bit of ice buildup on the P-3, which presented the team with two problems.

P-3 on the ramp on a snowy morning
NASA P-3 on the ramp at the Kangerlussuaq airport on a snowy morning. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel
Windblown snow covers one of the P-3's side windows
Windblown snow covers one of the P-3’s side windows. Credit: NASA / George Hale

First and foremost, ice buildup on a plane is unsafe. So when icy conditions prevail, airport ground crews spray aircraft exteriors with either an anti-icing substance to prevent ice buildup, or a deicing agent to remove what has built up. Although necessary in those cases, these agents present a problem for IceBridge researchers.

Deicing truck treating the P-3
A deicing truck at the Kangerlussuaq airport ready to remove ice from the NASA P-3. Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel

Small windows on the bottom of the plane allow the lasers and cameras the Airborne Topographic Mapper and Digital Mapping System instruments use to collect data. These instruments point down through windows in the bottom of the P-3’s fuselage. The deicing agent left behind smudges up the windows, which can affect how these instruments perform.

Deicing agent residue on the P-3 wing
Orange deicing agent residue left on the P-3’s wing. Credit: NASA / George Hale

The solution to this problem was pretty simple however. Once the airport ground crew was finished deicing the P-3, instrument team members ventured outside into the blowing snow with towels to wipe the remaining fluid off of the windows. Once the windows were clean it was time for everyone to strap into their seats for takeoff.

Team members clean the P-3
Members of the IceBridge team remove deicing agent from the P-3’s fuselage. Credit: NASA / George Hale
Cleaning one of the bubble windows
P-3 aircraft technician James Schultz cleans one of the P-3’s bubble windows. Credit: NASA / George Hale
Discussing the finer points of cleaning
PolarTREC teacher Russell Hood and DMS engineer Caitlin Barnes discuss the finer points of cleaning the P-3. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Ready for Our Close-up

During the week of Apr. 7 – 11, IceBridge was visited by a television production crew from the Al Jazeera America program TechKnow. During this week, the crew flew on an IceBridge survey flight and interviewed several members of the team for an upcoming episode of the show, tentatively scheduled for release in May.

“They were very easy to work with and made noticeable efforts keeping a low profile and getting their job done without impacting our daily work too much,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist. “Their passion and dedication made them a natural fit for the IceBridge teams.”

TechKnow is a program focusing on the latest in science and technology and the people behind the science. For more about TechKnow visit:

A Tale of Two Glaciers

By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator

The glaciers that flow out of the Greenland Ice Sheet move tons of ice out of the ice sheet each year. Many of these rivers of ice meet the ocean where relatively warm currents weaken the glacier’s terminus, causing icebergs to break off in a process known as calving. This forms a cliff-like feature called a calving front, where icebergs break off and fall into the sea.

Jakobshavn Glacier calving front
The calving front of Jakobshavn Glacier and calved icebergs as it appeared in April 2012. Credit: NASA / Jefferson Beck

The presence of these currents is part of the reason why ocean-terminating glaciers are so dynamic. In contrast, land-terminating glaciers move more slowly and lose mass through melting on the surface rather than calving.

On a recent IceBridge flight, instruments aboard the P-3 captured views of two very different glaciers in east Greenland, the De Geer and Wahlenberg glaciers. The images below show the difference between a dynamic, ocean-terminating glacier (De Geer) and a land-terminating glacier that is essentially dormant (Wahlenberg).

DMS mosaic of glacier calving frontAbove is an image mosaic from the Digital Mapping System aboard the NASA P-3 showing the terminus of the De Geer Glacier in east Greenland. The heavily crevassed end of the glacier is to the left of the image and large icebergs are to the right. Credit: NASA / DMS / Eric Fraim

ATM plot of De Geer Glacier

This image, is a plot showing data on De Geer Glacier from the Airborne Topographic Mapper instrument, a laser altimeter that measures ice surface elevation. Here we see the differences in elevation between before and after the calving front and in crevasses on the surface.

ATM plot of Wahlenberg Glacier

In contrast, this ATM plot of the land-terminating Wahlenberg Glacier shows a smoother surface and more gradual change in elevation along its end.


Warming Things Up

By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Each morning of an IceBridge campaign members of the team go through the process of putting on warm layers to handle the cold weather. And while cold affects people extreme cold poses a challenge to IceBridge’s equipment ranging from camera batteries to the P-3 itself.

Steam rising from buildings at Kangerlussuaq airport
Steam rising from hangar buildings at Kangerlussuaq’s airport on a -15 degree Fahrenheit morning on Apr. 8, 2014. Credit: NASA / George Hale

It’s morning in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and time to get ready for another day of data collection. After grabbing a quick breakfast the team starts preparing to head to the airport, putting on warm layers to combat the cold weather. In April the temperatures in Kangerlussuaq can vary from highs around 40 Fahrenheit down to below zero, so it’s important to dress accordingly.

The exceptionally cold mornings, those in the single digits and below, pose even more of a challenge to the team than what to wear. The cold not only affects people, it affects the cars and trucks the team use to get to the airfield and even the aircraft itself.

P-3 on a cold morning
The NASA P-3 sitting on the ramp at Kangerlussuaq airport on a cold morning while external heaters warm the aircraft cabin. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Anyone who has had to start the car on a cold winter morning would agree that cold weather is tough on cars. And although that is the case, extreme cold makes operating an aircraft challenging. Unlike Thule there is no hangar for the P-3 to sit in overnight, leaving it exposed to the cold. This calls for extra steps to prep the plane in the mornings.

Well before takeoff, the P-3 crew head out to the airfield to get things started. The first step is connecting hoses from portable heaters known as huffers to openings on special insulated covers on the engines. These insulated covers go on immediately after the P-3 returns from a flight, and while they don’t keep the engines warm overnight, they do trap heated air and allow the engine to warm faster. Other heaters supply warm air to the P-3’s cabin to start warming the computer equipment inside.

Movable heater warming up P-3 engines
A movable heater known as a huffer supplies warm air to two of the P-3’s engines on a cold morning in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Once this is started the crew will turn on the P-3’s auxiliary power unit, or APU, which provides heat and electrical power for the plane. However when it gets really cold, say -15 Fahrenheit like it was on the morning of Apr. 8, the APU itself also needs to be heated to make sure the oil in the APU is warm enough to start.

With the APU running the P-3 has enough power and heat to allow researchers to begin warming up their instruments and computers. After a while the engines warm up enough for the flight crew to remove the insulating covers and then it’s time to fuel up and start the engines, which the pilots run for  a while to make sure everything is right before taking off.

Cold mornings make the already complex task of operating a flying laboratory even more challenging. This means that pre-flight preparations take a bit longer, but thanks to the hard work of aircraft crew, airport support personnel and instrument operators, the process runs as smoothly as possible.

Carrying On: IceBridge’s Cargo

By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

IceBridge uses a variety of instruments to measure polar ice, but the equipment mounted to the P-3 is only part of what’s needed for a successful campaign. Ground-based GPS stations ensure instrument accuracy and archiving and processing data calls for all sorts of computer hardware. Also, the P-3 crew needs tools, supplies and spare parts to ensure the plane keeps running in top condition.

P-3 on the ramp at Kangerlussuaq airport
The P-3 on the ramp at Kangerlussuaq shortly after arriving on Apr. 4, 2014. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Some of this gear gets shipped ahead, but a sizeable portion travels on the P-3 itself both into the field and from base to base. Loading and unloading all of this cargo (and the team’s luggage) is a big job, but the team has practiced the job many times, allowing them to finish quickly.

To unload luggage the team formed a human chain, passing bags from the plane, down the stairs, and to the ground.

Moving luggage down the stairs
Passing luggage down the stairs from the P-3. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Gear cases and spare parts took a little more care. For this, airport ground crew brought over a conveyor truck to bring cases down to people waiting on the ground. From there team members carried cargo over to different areas on the ramp depending on which instrument it supported.

ATM team inspecting cargo
Airborne Topographic Mapper program manager Jim Yungel (left) and engineer Robert Harpold look over equipment recently unloaded from the NASA P-3. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Aircraft parts and tools would stay at the airport, while luggage, instruments and computer gear would go to the Kangerlussuaq Science Support Center, where the IceBridge team will spend the next few weeks.

Loading cargo on a truck
Equipment being loaded onto a truck for the trip to the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support center. Credit: NASA / George Hale

Weather at the Top of the World: Thule Storm Conditions

By George Hale, IceBridge Science Outreach Coordinator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

For people living and working at Thule Air Base, Greenland, weather is a near-constant concern. From mid-September to mid-May – the winter season – Thule can be subject to dangerous storms. A low pressure system off the coast can bring winds down off of the ice sheet, which pass through the valley Thule Air Base sits in.

Storm collapses GPS antenna
High winds during the 2011 Arctic campaign blew over this GPS antenna. Credit: NASA / Kyle Krabill

These high winds cause extreme cold and the reduced visibility caused by blowing snow can quickly make it easy to get lost even a few feet away from a building. Because of these dangers, Thule Air Base operates under a set of storm conditions that reflect temperature and visibility and restrict movement around the base accordingly.

Condition Bravo
One of the weather screens at Thule showing Condition Bravo during a storm on Mar. 27, 2014. Credit: NASA / Michael Studinger

Storm Conditions Normal and Alpha – The first of these conditions are Normal and Alpha. Neither of these translates to immediate danger, though under Alpha conditions personnel should prepare for the weather to deteriorate quickly.

Storm Condition Bravo – Pedestrians are required to travel in groups of two or more and stay on approved roads. Those traveling in vehicles should have a radio to communicate.

Storm Condition Charlie – Non-essential buildings close and personnel are to return to quarters using either dedicated vehicles or one of the base shuttles or taxis.

Storm Condition Delta – Under this condition everyone has to stay in the building they are in and only emergency vehicles can operate. During the 2011 Arctic campaign the IceBridge team had to wait out a Delta storm.