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> May 27, 2006, GRIP Field Trip
post May 29 2006, 02:38 AM
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High Temperature: -12 degrees Celsius
Low Temperature: -30 degrees Celsius

My sixth graders know that I like field trips. The 6th graders recently went to the Georgia Aquarium to learn more about the ocean and how researchers study ocean life. Today, I had a chance to go on a most unusual field trip to the site of GRIP (the Greenland Ice Core Project). GRIP was a European research project that was funded by 8 nations (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom). They successfully drilled a 3028 meter ice core to the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet. By looking at the different layers of ice from this core, scientists were able to go back into time to learn more about the past arctic climate. GRIP workers completed their drilling in the year 1993.

Why was this such an unusual field trip? First, we had to travel 26 kilometers across the ice sheet on the back of snowmobiles to get to the site. It took about 45 minutes to get there. My white knuckles from holding tightly to the nancy sled gave new meaning to the phrase “GRIP”.

When we got there, I immediately noticed a bore hole casing sticking out of the snow. It was about 5 feet high. This casing is where the ice core drill went down to bottom of the ice sheet. I wish I could have peeked down into the hole. The ice core that was retrieved from this spot was like a time machine into past climates.

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Mr. McMahon standing next to the GRIP bore hole casing

However, I did not see anything else. Where were the buildings?
As I turned around, I noticed some flags sitting in the snow. Was this where the buildings used to be located? Did a strong wind blow them down?

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Flags marking the site of the former GRIP facility

“Let’s pull up this board”, said Andrew, the leader of our expedition and the paramedic at Summit camp this summer. Andrew reached down and lifted up a 4’ x 8’ piece of wood, revealing a hole. A big wind didn’t blow the buildings away. Over 13 years of snow fall had covered up the buildings! To get inside, we were going to drop into this 11 foot hole and climb in through the sun roof.

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The entrance to the GRIP facility

Welcome to GRIP”, I thought to myself. Using a rope, we descended into the darkness. We crawled through a sun roof that was opened two weeks earlier and carefully placed our feet on a ladder. A chilling -48 degrees Celsius awaited our arrival.

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Mr. McMahon in his warmest clothes and a headlamp on his head to see in the dark. Can you notice the frost on his right eyelash?

As I stepped off the ladder, I noticed a newspaper, dated July 3, 1993.

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Newspaper from GRIP main building

“This must be close to the date that the workers abandoned this facility", I thought to myself. We were in what used to be the main building of GRIP. On the top floor were bunk beds are a pair of rubber “bunny” boots, which are a type of boot designed to keep your toes warm and toasty.

The light from our head lamps pierced through the darkness to reveal a set of stairs to the floor below. As we descended further, a pantry full of food came into focus. Chocolate, cereal, apple juice, and birthday candles were some of the items left behind.

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Can you spot the Kellogg’s corn flakes?”

After twenty minutes of exploring, I climbed up 11 feet to the warm -12 degree Celsius weather.

The GRIP facility must have been abandoned shortly after they completed their work. With no workers to move snow away from the buildings, the facility was slowly buried, leaving behind only a few clues as to its location.

I was glad I got a chance to go back into history. The GRIP ice cores were important pieces of the puzzle about understanding past climate changes. However, GRIP was not the only ice core project in Greenland. At Summit camp, we have a bore hole from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (called “GISP2”) that was drilled around the same time as the GRIP ice core. The GISP2 drill penetrated through the ice sheet and 1.55 meters into the bedrock. They recovered an ice core 3053 meters in length, which was the deepest ice core recovered in the world at that time. GISP2 was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

It would have been fun to be here when both the Americans and the Europeans were pulling out the ice cores. Both GRIP and GISP2 added a wealth of information to our understanding of past climate changes.

A new Deep Ice Sheet Coring (DISC) drill is being tested this summer at Summit camp. This project is a United States project. All the people in the red jackets in the GRIP field trip photos above are working on this new drill. Although some Greenland ice cores will be taken by this drill, the drill’s main job will be to drill ice cores in Antarctica.

Arctic Fact of the Day: According to CIA- The World Fact Book, Greenland has a population of 56,361 people. 88 % are Greenlander (Inuit and Greenland-born whites). Danish people and others make up the remaining 12% of the population. According to the Lonely Planet guide book, Greenland and the Arctic, Greenland has 30,000 dog sleds.
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