Raven Camp

by | 4.22.2013 at 6:31pm
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Raven Hill, also known as Black Hill, rises above the town of Kangerlussuaq.

Raven Hill, also known as Black Hill, rises above the town of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. (Image M. Turrin)

Ravens dominate the Kangerlussuaq landscape. Perhaps it is their deep ebony color and solid frame, or perhaps it is the white stillness of winter with little else but humans moving about, but whatever the cause the ravens are a recognized presence. The towering black hill rising above the glacially carved fjord is aptly named Raven Hill and boasts a steady circling of the mythical black winged creatures calling out in their raspy voices. With ravens being much a part of the region, it seems only fitting that our first flight would be to Raven Camp in search of deep enough ice to test the Deep Ice Radar system or “D-Ice” as it is referred to.

Flight planning (L-R) Kirsty Tinto, LDEO,  Maj. Josh Hicks, NYANG, Robin Bell, LDEO.

Flight planning (L-R) Kirsty Tinto, LDEO, Maj. Josh Hicks, NYANG, Robin Bell, LDEO. (Photo: M. Turrin)

The day starts out a bit hazy and the weather is forecast to deteriorate during the day. Most flights have been cancelled, but the Icepod team has been cleared for flight if we can manage a departure by noon and return to base by 2 p.m. Sensor and equipment adjustments keep the team busy until mid morning, and weather maps are continually being consulted for updates. Several times the planning team reconfigures the flight lines looking for the optimal plan to maximize the testing of the equipment with available time and weather considerations. Our NYANG partners are as anxious for the flight to go as the Icepod team, but if there are any weather concerns, caution must override enthusiasm. With the camp being at a higher elevation than Kangerlussuaq, the weather can vary considerably from the base.

The edge of the ice sheet is just visible flying towards Raven Camp in the south central section of Greenland.

The edge of the ice sheet comes into view through the misty haze as we fly toward Raven Camp in the south central section of Greenland. (Photo: M. Turrin)

Raven Camp lies at close to 2000 meters (~6800 ft.) elevation, where the glacial ice is approximately 1800 meters thick. “Noise” in the radar system drops after 1200-1500 meters of ice thickness, so although the weather is poor, we are hoping to get to this ice thickness to run a first real test of the D-Ice. Unlike our optical systems, the radar is not affected by poor visibility, so this is the right decision for the flight today. The plane is loaded with cold weather emergency gear, standard protocol when flying in the polar regions, and we take off down Sondrestrom fjord, making the noon flight departure time.

Kangerlussuaq lies at the mouth of the Sondrestrom Fjord in southwest Greenland.

Kangerlussuaq lies at the mouth of the Sondrestrom Fjord in southwest Greenland. (Photo: M. Turrin)

This series of flights is designed for instrument testing, so the science team is troubleshooting as they fly. Every instrument is tested in the short two-hour flight, and procedures are reviewed. The sound in the aircraft is deafening and earplugs are mandatory, which makes communicating challenging, but communicating is an essential part of the testing.

(L-R) Lamont's Scott Brown, Nick Frearson, Robin Bell discuss the camera function during flight.

(L-R) Lamont’s Scott Brown, Nick Frearson, Robin Bell huddle to discuss the camera function over the noise of the aircraft during flight. (Photo: M. Turrin)

The plane reached the edge of the deep ice and the aircraft lowers to a survey elevation of 900 meters (3000 ft.) above the surface flying along the ice contour. The radar system is up and recording. In too short a time, the plane has reached Raven Camp, but the poor weather conditions limit our ability to see the camp below. The aircraft turns and we head back to base. In our post-flight debrief, reviewing data takes a top priority for tomorrow. With a limited number of flight hours available, every flight is precious, so we need to be sure that assessment and adjustment is made to the instruments as we go.

For more on this program see: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/icepod

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