Windsled Update: “Like a Shot”

June 7, 2017

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If you’ve been following Dark Snow this year, we are supporting a “Green” science initiative with a revolutionary Windsled powering across the ice sheet on zero carbon energy, and carrying scientist Ross Edwards, who is taking samples along the way.

Ramon Larramendi for Inuit Windsled:

Celebrating the World Environment Day by navigating the polar ice in a zero emission vehicle – the WindSled – and performing environmental science is an unbeatable situation. That is precisely what we did yesterday, June 5, members of the Greenland Ice River Expedition 2017, led by Ramón Larramendi. In nine days we have traveled more than 620 kilometers (385 mi) of Arctic territory and ascended 1000 meters (3280 ft) of unevenness, leaving no trace except the perforations made by the scientist Ross Edwards to analyze the state of snow prior to becoming ice.

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The positive feelings are so many that we have a certain fear to verbalize them in case they are distorted. The truth is that, since we started, the wind has accompanied us, except for a break of two days, in which we took advantage to develop our scientific work. The temperature is perfect and the vehicle goes like a shot. Nothing to do with last year, when the convoy incremented its load from 1400 kilos ( 3080 lbs) to 2000 (4400 lbs) – generating great tension in materials – and the weather did not accompany us. This expedition year, neither breaks nor defects tarnish the journey to the top in the heart of Greenland.

Ross Edwards, guest lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, although his is Curtis University (Australia), is really excited about the possibilities of the eco-vehicle. He is a veteran chemist in polar ecosystems with many years of campaigning in both the Arctic and Antarctica, who spends hours making sketches and designs that allow us to generate and accumulate more solar energy than we now have. He already plans to incorporate new scientific devices on the convoy in future expeditions. In fact, the only major scare we have had happened a few days ago when, while handling a battery, an electrical overload occurred and a small fire sprung up that was quickly suffocated with snow by Ross. An event, fortunately, more anecdotal than serious.

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Ramón Larramendi

Otherwise, life on board is quiet. The meteorological station placed in the load modules, GPR and micro-organism collector work perfectly, picking up information that scientists will analyze to draw conclusions. Every 200 kilometers (124 mi) since departure, we have drilled a hole about two meters (6 ft) deep where Ross, dressed up in his sterilized white suit and mask, extracts data and samples of snow that we then place and carry in special containers. All this to study, among other things, how industry pollution and fires, even thousands of miles away, reach these places. Thus, nothing can affect these samples. That distant pollution generates the so-called “black snow”, which causes the surface to absorb much more sunlight, reducing its reflectivity, and increasing thaw rate. This is the goal of the Dark Snow Project directed by Jason Box, whom Ross works with. Not only are the greenhouse gases transforming the poles, but also those particles that we trace in the Ice River expedition 2017.

We know there is another international scientific expedition, called Green TrACS, United States National Science Foundation, carrying out drillings in parallel in another area of ​​this huge white emptiness. In this case, the group travels with snowmobiles and drags along many fuel drums and spare parts to be able to continue in case of failure. This is not our case. Definitely, when the wind stops, we do also, and from there on we wait. A journey with no hurry but with no great pauses either (for the moment).

Another novelty is that, so far, we have chosen to take one hour piloting turns each, that is, every five hours given the wind allows, so we are more rested. And while Ross is absorbed with his scientific designs, Nacho prepares audio-visual materials, and Hilo and J.J. pilot, Captain Larramendi analyzes positions, controls materials, takes care of communications and keeps the WindSled under constant supervision so that everything runs smoothly, like “no news” as he usually says…but always with caution for what is to come. That’s experience.

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