Dynamic Observations of the Microstructural Evolution of Firn


Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Steve Kirsche and researchers Ian Baker and Eric Wagner from Summit Station in Greenland on Tuesday, 20 June 2017. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site.

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 (granular snow, especially on the upper part of a glacier, where it has not yet been compressed into ice). 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


Snowy Day at Dartmouth College
After school on Monday, I flew up to New Hampshire to spend a few days at Dartmouth College observing how the ice core samples we collected were to be tested. We spent most of yesterday and today working on setting up the equipment. Unfortunately, the micro-CT machine isn't operational and will require an outside assist visit to repair. We got the other test apparatus working today and ran a couple of test runs. A small sample of the ice core is placed in this setup to test the effects of force on the ice. The ice sample can be seen near the middle of the photo while the LVDT is on the...
Adeena and Steve in Orlando
Part of the conference was a field trip to Universal Studios. For the past two days, I have been in Orlando, FL at the Florida Association of Science Teachers (FAST) statewide conference. The FAST conference brings science teachers from all around the state together to share ideas and experiences. It has been a great opportunity for me to learn and to network with many great teachers. PolarTREC teachers Adeena Teres and Steve Kirsche present at the FAST Convention. The main purpose of my trip down here was to meet up with fellow PolarTREC teacher Adeena Teres to share our Arctic...
Florida Heat
The temperatures in Florida are much higher than they were in Greenland! Home! After an amazing 4 week expedition I arrived home in St. Johns, Florida late last night. It was great to see my family and to sleep in my own bed. It is, however, also quite a bit hotter here! I will definitely miss being in the Arctic, but all good things must come to an end. PolarTREC teacher Steve Kirsche arrives home after an incredible 4 weeks in the field. As I think back on the last month, I can't believe how much I was able to see and do. I also learned a great deal about scientific fieldwork and...
Refrigerated Truck for Ice Cores
After four weeks, the team boarded an LC-130 airplane in Kangerlussuaq for the trip home. The flight to Scotia, New York is about 6 hours long and there are 38 people coming back on this flight. The Air National Guard does a number of flight periods throughout the summer. They fly to Kangerlussuaq with 2-4 planes and bring any Greenland bound passengers and cargo. They stay in Greenland for about a week, flying back and forth to the different facilities in the country. They also use this time to train pilots on snow landings. At the end of the flight period, the planes fly back to New York,...
Flower in the Kangerlussuaq Sand
The Air National Guard planes are lined up and ready to return home as the current flight period is ending. As you can see in the photo above, the Air National Guard brings several planes to Greenland when they come. They stay in country here for about a week or so. Then, all of the planes fly back to the United States. Tomorrow is the day that they should be flying back. There should be about 40-45 people, including me, flying back on some of these planes. At 3:00 today, we had to turn in our bags so that they could be palletized and ready to load in the morning. We also had a check of...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 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.

Subscribe To Journals!


Latest Comments

Thank you, Cailey. I felt very lucky to get to do this expedition. I hope you're having a great summer and I'll see you back in school in a few weeks.
Congratulations on this adventure Mr. Kirshe! Katie is right, you so deserve this, it looks amazing. I can`t wait to see you next year, I hope I have you for science. Go cross country and StuCo.
Thank you for the AWESOME video! If you watch the piece from the windy day at Summit, does it automatically cool you down? Also, thanks for reminding me why I live in New England - feels like 117?!...
It's only about 90 degrees and humid here in Florida - quite a change from a few days ago for me!!
Thanks, Katie! That is so nice of you to say.