Dynamic Observations of the Microstructural Evolution of Firn

What Are They Doing?

Photo by Jim PottingerAn ice core from a coring machine in Greenland. Photo by Jim Pottinger. There is broad interest in understanding firn compaction for a number of reasons, most importantly for better interpretation of paleoclimate from air that becomes trapped within the firn. Firn densification involves a number of different mechanisms which leads to vapor movement. We will determine the mechanisms of firn densification and microstructural evolution as a function of depth using dynamic observations of the evolution of the firn using X-ray computed microtomography (µCT).

We will drill an 80-meter firn core at Summit, Greenland and transport it to Dartmouth University. After the field expedition, Steve will work with the team at the university, where we will perform experiments to observe changes based on temperature and stress (due to depth and load). In addition to observing the microstructure as a whole, we can follow the evolution of ice crystals to observe bond formation and bond-breaking under load in detail, as undertaken in some prior studies on snow.

Our project will aid in the understanding of firn and ice microstructure evolution in polar ice sheets. This will aid in understanding ice flow and interpreting paleoclimate reconstruction from ice cores.

Where Are They?

Photo by Craig BealsA view of Summit, Greenland. Photo by Craig Beals. The team will travel to Summit Station, located at the peak of the Greenland ice cap atop 3200 meters of ice. Summit is a scientific research station sponsored by the National Science Foundation that supports a diversity of scientific research, including year-round measurements of air-snow interactions that provide crucial knowledge for interpreting data from deep ice cores drilled both at Summit and elsewhere. Learn more about Summit at the Summit Station website.

Expedition Map


Dartmouth College
Meeting the Team This photo shows the campus at Dartmouth College where the research team is from. I just finished a two day visit to Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. The reason for my trip up here was to meet in person with Dr. Ian Baker, the leader of our team, and Eric Wagner, a PhD student who will be the other member of our team. It has been a great trip where I was able to tour the facilities and meet with a wide range of people. The Thayer School of Engineering is part of Dartmouth College. This is where Dr. Baker, the team leader, is an Associate Dean. Dr. Baker is an...
Ice Core Sample
It has been about two months since I attended our orientation/training in Alaska. During that time, I have been slowly preparing for my trip to the Arctic. I have been gathering items that I will need for the trip (see photo below). I also had to complete a physical qualification process due to the remote nature of where I will be going. That is all done now and I am getting ready to go! Some of the items that I have collected for the trip. Purpose of the Expedition As I have been talking about the expedition to more people, the main question I get is "What is the team doing?" You can...
Steve and George
Located just outside Fairbanks, Alaska is a research facility called the permafrost tunnel. This tunnel was originally drilled into the side of a mountain in the 1960s by the US Army. It was dug through a layer of the ground called permafrost. Permafrost is a layer of the ground that is permanently frozen. One of the amazing things about this is that remains of plants and animals trapped in the permafrost have been preserved. Many plants, for example, that are found in the permafrost are still green, indicating that their chlorophyll has been preserved. In the walls of the permafrost tunnel...
Arctic Brown Squirrel
As part of the PolarTREC program, I am currently in Fairbanks, AK for orientation and training. I am in the third day (out of six) and today, we began the day learning more about our upcoming expeditions. Over the first few days of orientation, we have learned basics about the Arctic and Antarctic regions as well as the technology we will be using. It has been a lot of information, but has made me even more excited than before about my expedition to Greenland coming up in June!! This shows the sun coming up over the city of Fairbanks. This is the room on the fifth floor of the...
Plane Window
Before Traveling to Orientation When I first heard about the PolarTREC program, it sounded like an amazing opportunity. It would give me a chance to experience realworld science and allow me to bring this experience back to my students. But, I knew getting accepted was a longshot - I applied anyway. In December, I got a call just before Christmas telling me that I had been accepted. This was the best Christmas present I could have hoped for! I was going to Greenland to work with a team drilling ice core samples AND I was getting the opportunity to spend time at Dartmouth looking at the...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

1 June 2017 to 30 June 2017
Location: Summit Station, Greenland
Project Funded Title: Dynamic Observations of the Microstructural Evolution of Firn

Meet the Team

Steve Kirsche's picture
Liberty Pines Academy
St. Johns, FL
United States

Steve graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in electrical engineering. He then served as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy before becoming a stay at home dad while his wife completed her service in the Navy. After her retirement, he was excited to become a science teacher so he could pass on his love of science to his students. Steve teaches comprehensive and physical science to 7th and 8th grade students at Liberty Pines Academy in St. Johns, Florida where he has taught for five and a half years. He has taken part in programs with several organizations and corporations over the past three years to try to offer more robust STEM opportunities to his students. When not in the classroom, he coaches his school's cross country and robotics teams and enjoys running, spending time with his family, and geocaching.

Ian Baker's picture
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH
United States

Ian has been on the Faculty at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College for 34 years. He has been working on the structure, chemistry, and properties of snow, firn, and ice cores for the last 30 years. This work has ranged from fundamental studies of defect behavior in ice, studied using synchrotron X-ray topography, to studies of impurity locations in firn and ice cores and the metamorphism of snow.

Eric Wagner's picture
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH
United States

Eric Wagner is currently an Engineering PhD student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. His research focuses on the microstructure of firn and the mechanics of firn evolution. This is of interest in determining how firn evolution contributes to ice sheet fabric development and interpretation of paleoclimate data where coarse-grained and fine-grained firn exhibit different pore close-off depths. When not in the lab, he enjoys hiking, biking and skiing.

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Latest Comments

I can hardly wait! I enjoyed following your expedition. It looked like it was amazing!
I actually would have loved to be there for the snow, but it sure was a beautiful time to visit!
Glad you got to meet the team before heading out. Looking forward to reading more as you go. It will be a blast!
It's good to see that your trip went off without a hitch. Had you stayed through the weekend, you would have been greeted with snow on Sunday! How cold are the cold rooms? I'm guessing that you will...
Thanks for the update on what's happening before your expedition and some info on what you will be doing in Greenland. I can't believe that it's almost May and you will be leaving before you know it!