Problem stated.
    Idea for a solution offered.
    Solution countered with another idea.
    Questions asked aloud for consideration.
    Polite disagreement.
    Clarifications sought from outside source.
    Silent processing of answer.
    Silence broken by another idea offered from outside source.
    Smile and gasp upon hearing new ideas.

    In unison, "We will talk to the pilot."

    Dr. Das and Dr. Behn, still planning and problem solving at 10:30pm. Yes it is light out. It is only dark a few hours. Photo by Erin Towns

    Our two project lead scientists, Dr. Mark Behn of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Boston College and Dr. Sarah Das, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been colleagues and friends for close to twenty years. It is something to watch them process and carefully create plans and solutions building on the other's ideas. Problem solving surrounding logistics, preparing gear, and transporting everything to the field dominates the attention of the entire team today.

    Project Equipment

    The orange boxes are our seismic stations. Each one has a battery and a solar panel to run the systems over the summer. Dr. Wenyuan Fan and graduate student, Nick Lau move a few of the 36 solar panel boxes from the cargo hold to the working shipping container space. Photo by Erin Towns

    We spent most of the day at the Ilulissat Airport on the outskirts of town in the storage section out back. We are studying glacier dynamics, or how glaciers move, and using seismometers to figure out what is going on below ice that is over 1000 meters thick. All of our cargo was unloaded and stored in a warehouse attached to the airport for us to review, repack and test. We inventoried all gear to make sure it all arrived, organized arrays, or different sets of stations, and got to work preparing gear that was needed to run a huddle test.

    The Ilulissat Airport Cargo Hold. Photo by Erin Towns

    Huddle Test

    There are a number of reasons why pre-field logistics are important to work through. It avoids us getting to the field and forgetting something, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to get the data needed (the whole point of being here), and beyond checking everything we have, it allows the PASSCAL field engineer to build up the system the way we are planning on installing in the field. It is easier to work out in back of the airport in the shipping container workspaces than out in the field, so our engineer, Kirsten Arnell is housed there for the time being, configuring systems, and checking sensors for possible damage during transport here.

    Kirsten Arnell, Polar Manager, PASSCAL. Photo by Erin Towns

    Kirsten is an incredible example of a female polar scientist. She grew up in Canada and was influenced profoundly by her geographic surroundings which included mountains, glaciers, and snow. She decided to go to school to study earth and climate science and while at Columbia University, declared a major in mechanical engineering too. She and Dr. Das credit the Juneau Icefield Research Program as life changing and it led her to wanting to work in the field, taking her from the ice fields of Alaska to Antarctica and the Arctic combined, 18 times! As a teacher on this program, I have to be careful of the voices that creep into the brain about me not knowing what I am doing. A great method that worked yesterday was simply doing what I was told, asking how I could be of assistance and finding things to do. Kirsten was an immense help, explaining the technology, how parts differed, and giving clear directions about what she needed and how to do it. And before I knew it, I too was working as part of the team preparing equipment. It feels awesome, truly.

    PASSCAL engineer and Polar Manager, Kirsten Arnell testing and configuring systems. Photo by Erin Towns

    Attaching pigtails and charging batteries before the huddle test as instructed. A first for this teacher. Photo by Erin Towns

    Story of Inventory In Photos

    Seismologist, Dr. Wenyuan Fan matches items to inventory list. Photo by Erin Towns

    Graduate student, Nicholas Lau carries bamboo poles that will hold the GPS data boxes in place on the ice sheet. Photo by Erin Towns

    Polar Field Services support on the ground, helping with whatever the team needs to track down to make things work. Photo by Erin Towns

    Dr. Behn recording thoughts, materials needed, questions, figures, and measurements to name a few things. Photo by Erin Towns

    Solar panels and antennae being tested. Photo by Erin Towns

    Student Corner

    Well it has been quite a few days for your teacher. Traveling through a number of countries and getting settled here, along with prep for the field work has us busy. Along with that, internet was an issue until today. We as a team will be getting to your questions that you have been doing such a good job of posting along the way. Thanks for being awesome as usual. We have three women that are a part of this team. What would you like to know about being a female polar scientist? Post your questions below! Miss you all!


    Marek Johnson

    Is everyones sleep schedules messed up due to the light, and how thick is the ice there

    Dr. Mark Behn

    Yes, it is definitely hard to get used to it being light 24 hours a day!

    Erin Towns

    The ice where we are deploying our instruments is approximately 900 m thick (about half a mile).

    Jenny C.

    Is it hard adjusting to the two hour time difference?

    Erin T

    It was hard adjusting to traveling to Europe where we were 6 hours ahead and then back to Greenland where we are two hours ahead. Messes with my inner clock :).

    Jenny C.

    what countries have you traveled through?

    Erin T

    We traveled from Boston to Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Western Greenland.

    Melanie S

    have you been in the helicopter yet ?

    Erin T

    Not yet. Helicopters are a big deal and there are many reasons why on any given day we can or cannot travel by helicopter. Tomorrow or Weds., weather depending, will be my first day.

    Ansley W

    How does the harsh climate effect what technology you use

    Tiana A

    Are they pushing the cart on the ice?

    Erin T

    Yes. It made moving the cart a bit hard lol.

    Mikaila Marks

    When do you think you guys will be able to go out into the ice sheet, and how long after that does it take to get any sort of data back?

    Kasey S.

    What kind of obstacles have the female scientists faced in their careers, did they overcome them?

    Dr. Sarah Das

    Most of the obstacles I have faced are surrounding working in harsh, remote and isolated regions. These range from small inconveniences (for example when I started working in Antarctica, in the mid 1990s, all the issued field clothing was only sized for men) to larger challenges, such as when to have children. It can be hard (to impossible, depending on the location, such as Antarctica) to do polar field work when pregnant, and as anyone who has been pregnant or tried to get pregnant also knows, it is also hard to “plan” the timing of that as precisely as one might want! So it sometimes coincides with planned research projects. The clothing problem was easier to solve (I bring my own gear!), but with flexibility, positivity that it will all work out one way or another, and a very supportive family and colleagues, I have figured out a way to have two wonderful daughters (now 12 and 16) and continue to travel and keep up my work

    Leah B.

    when being a female scientist do you get sexism

    Dr. Sarah Das

    I have been fortunate to rarely experience overt sexism or harassment as a female scientist. In particular in the field, almost everyone I interact with in Greenland or Antarctica is very egalitarian and respectful of others’ differences. Sometimes people are at first surprised when there is a woman leading a polar field team, but we are so consumed with the intense planning and tasks around field work, we are quickly just interacting as professional colleagues. Over my career (25+ years) I have of course run across people who are sexist, or more often just generally aggressive or inconsiderate towards others, and I certainly avoid working with them as best I can.

    Leah B.

    do you have different cars for different activites

    Erin T

    We only have two cars and both are just for getting around town and to get us out to the airport to work and travel to the ice sheet.

    Erin T

    I am more excited than nervous and certainly doing anything for the first time makes me a touch nervous :)

    Lila D

    Can you drive onto the ice ?

    Dr. Mark Behn

    No, the ice near the edge of the glacier has too many crevasses (cracks) to drive a car or truck onto the ice sheet. Instead we fly in a helicopter up onto the ice.

    Erin Towns

    It has not been too cold here yet. Temperatures in town are between 10-30F since we have been here. In general temperatures on the ice sheet fall anywhere from 5F-10F cooler than in town. Wind is a huge factor.

    E Carson

    What does your living situation currently look like

    Erin Towns

    Our living situation is in a house in town. I share the house with two other female team members. We often hang out as a full team, in one of the houses, eat meals, plan, talk, and laugh together a lot. Our team gets along very well. I like sitting at the dining room table listening to them talk about science. I have learned an extraordinary amount doing so. I share with them a lot about what it is like teaching high school too.