Each August a team of earth scientists and engineers make a routine maintenance trip to Greenland to keep a network of sensors functioning in one of the planet’s most inhospitable climates for humans––and electronics. Their objective is to keep The Polar Earth Observing Network (POLENET) array of autonomous instruments alive and transmitting critical GPS and seismic data. The core of the operations team that keeps the science going includes Thomas Nylen, a polar engineer, who has been making the mission-critical sojourn since 2007. He recently shared several striking images of outlet glaciers from his latest trip to Greenland on Twitter:
Nylen captured the Greenland glacier images during his team’s support of a POLENET sub-project called the Greenland Network (GNET). The initiative started in 2007, as part of a larger collaborative effort to measure changes in ice sheet mass balance and to provide observational feedback for computer models of glacial isostatic adjustment––the elastic rebound of the Earth’s crust as glaciers melt. Denmark now leads the project, though the US National Science Foundation continues to provide support.
Nylen is responsible for remote power and communications for polar science projects at the non-profit University NAVSTAR Consortium (UNAVCO), in Boulder, Colorado. The university-governed collective facilitates geoscience research and education using geodesy (pronounced: jee-odyssey)––the study of Earth’s shape, gravity field, and rotation. Among the seven founding universities is Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Geological Observatory, the parent academic institution of GlacierHub. The list also includes the University of Colorado, University of Texas at Austin, California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Princeton, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The elements in Greenland and Antarctica wreak havoc on sensitive equipment, but so do wildlife. “Some of the bigger issues we have are with animals,” Nylen told GlacierHub. “Especially polar bears, but also foxes and maybe Arctic wolves.”
“The unprecedented scale of the POLENET sensor network is allowing investigations of systems-scale interactions of the solid earth, the cryosphere, the oceans and the atmosphere,” the network’s website reads. “POLENET data is enabling new studies of the inner earth, tectonic plates, the earth’s magnetic field, climate and weather, and the solar wind, and will lead to as yet unimagined discoveries about the critical polar regions of our planet.”