Saturday, June 9, 2007

Summit Camp, Greenland

I had a wonderful night sleep. The temperature went to -17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit), and it was windy. However, it was much more comfortable than -27 degrees Celsius (-17 degrees Fahrenheit). Greg Huey had said that the coldest days would be clear, and relatively calm. He was correct. We received some snow last night, and it is snowing now. The snow is drifting, and it looks Arctic today. It is hard to to tell where solid surface ends, and the sky begins. Strangely, it is pleasant.

Weather conditions are different than Antarctica. Snow is not all that unusual in Greenland. So, drifting is an issue, and things do get buried in the snow. Later in the summer, the big house will need to be raised again. It is constructed on poles with holes, not too dissimilar than adjustable shelving. Permanent buildings have exit hatches (below left is the roof hatch in the big house) on the roof for escape in case the windows and doors are blocked up. The hatches have been used. Pleasantly, I learned that a C-130 will float for a bit if it has to ditch in water. Again, their escape hatches are in the roof of the plane. Unfortunately, the wings are at the top of the plane, so the body or fuselage would be below water. I suppose it won't matter if one survives the impact and manages to escape (even with a life vest). Water temperatures are so low that quickly your body would go into hypothermia causing respiratory distress, and a slipping into unconsciousness. Soon, you would either drown (no life vest) or your heart would stop beating. Either way, death. Think Leonardo DiCaprio slipping away in Titanic.

Unfortunately, one of the scientists had to be transported out last night. He had an infection resulting from a wisdom tooth extraction. To be transported out is very difficult and costly. We have medical staff at the camp (a very well-trained and capable paramedic; with a substantial and high quality materials/supplies). Each of us has been Physically Qualified (PQ'd), but things don't always work out. My understanding is that wisdom tooth extraction is considered major surgery, and subsequently great care must be taken to mitigate infection. I have heard that it costs upward of $60,000 to transport a person off site at non-scheduled times. Apparently, they were transported on a Twin Otter. Our next scheduled C-130 flight is in about ten days. The decision to transport must of followed intense discussion, and conversation. It involved a suffering person who wanted to come here to work, others in their team that might or might not be able to pick up the pieces of the work, transportation costs, health concerns, etc. I hope they are well. I am glad it wasn't my call to make.

I have been learning about snow compaction. It comes down light and fluffy, hexagonal in shape, and classically like a child's paper cutout. Atmospheric gases are trapped similar to the way down traps air in a coat. Wind blows, over lying flakes compress the snow, and the beautiful snowflakes become pellet-shaped. Snow that persists for a year is called firn (pictured at right). Slowly, gas is trapped in the in the ever-deepening layers, and relatively large crystals form. This process is called metamorphosis, and the end result will be ice. Snow melting, the change of a solid to a liquid, is not of any significance here. Sublimation, the change from solid to gas without passing through a gas phase, is significant. To illustrate sublimation, even on subfreezing days, laundry will dry out. Wet clothes will freeze, and since it is below freezing, never melt, so no evaporation will occur. Rather, the ice crystals will sublime into gas. The reverse process of condensation (liquid to solid; ex. dew formation), and deposition (gas to solid; ex. frost) do occur. Snowflake picture courtesy of Firn picture courtesy of
The ice cores that one hears about measures the trapped gases, and correlates these to age and temperature. This has resulted in our concept of an increase in the amount of certain gases (carbon dioxide, methane, etc.) and an increase in temperature termed the "Greenhouse Effect". Interestingly enough, the age of the ice and the age of the gases are usually slightly different. Over geologic time, the difference is minimal, but in the short run, the ice is a bit older than the trapped gases because until the gases are entrapped in bubbled areas, the air from the atmosphere continues to diffuse through the snow.

It puzzles me that anyone would dispute the relationship between greenhouse gases and an increase in temperature or that the recent cause in increase could be anything but an anthropogenic cause (burning fossil fuels, deforestation, etc.). Clearly, as the two graphs indicate, there is a direct relationship between global temperatures and global fossil carbon emissions. Now, what could be in dispute are the effects of this increase in temperature, how to deal with it, etc. I think that the "answer" to the global warming problem will come only partially from a high-tech source. We will have to deal with population, and what each one of us wants out of life. In other words, what will it take to feel like one has led a good life? What are our obligations to the future, and to those not yet born? What will be our legacy?

Graph of Global Temperatures courtesy of
Graph of Global Fossil Carbon Emissions courtesy of

No comments: