US Army

Site II “Rabbit Warren”: Overwintering Required

Posted by William Colgan on January 14, 2015
Cold War Science / No Comments

Before giving birth to the first deep ice core during the 1957/1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY), “Site II” in Northwest Greenland was already hosting intensive research activities by the Snow, Ice and Permafrost Research Institute (SPIRE) of the US Army. In the summer of 1954, a small team traversed to Site II from Camp TUTO to excavate what would subsequently be referred to in SPIRE reports as the “rabbit warren”. It was a mishmash of rooms, shafts and tunnels, painstakingly excavated up to 30 m deep by chainsaws and shovels, in the porous near-surface firn of the ice sheet. The US Army, which was interested in the load bearing properties of firn and its deformation over time, instrumented the excavations with load plates and deformation grids. All very interesting you may think, but why should anyone care? Well, evidently, in the era before digital data loggers, the only way to collect data from these instruments was to station an engineer at the site throughout the winter.

Enter Mr. Gunther Frankenstein of the 1st Arctic Engineer Task Force, who enjoyed the pleasure of reading analogue gauges, presumably by flashlight, throughout the polar night of 1954/1955. To put winter at Site II in perspective, GC-Net has observed the average air temperature at nearby GITS to be -35°C in January1. In SIPRE reports, the “snow house” built for Mr. Frankenstein is described as being “consistent with modern military standards of comfort”, whatever those might have been. Somehow its 60 cm thick walls also “embod[ied] the best elements of both the native and American art”, a similarly intriguing design criterion. A tip of the hat to Mr. Frankenstein on the 60th anniversary of his ice sheet overwintering; I expect he might have some stories to share! Perhaps also a tip of the hat to the advent of digital data loggers, which have allowed subsequent generations of glaciologists to largely restrict ice sheet field work to a more comfortable summer time activity!

(skimmed from my upcoming Cold War science project.)

1Steffen, K. and J. Box. 2001. Surface climatology of the Greenland ice sheet: Greenland Climate Network 1995-1999. Journal of Geophysical Research. 106: 33,951-33,964.

SiteII_rabbit_warren

A schematic overview of the experimental rooms, tunnels and shafts burrowed into the firn at Site II comprising the “rabbit warren”

SiteII-snow-house

A glancing mention of the snow house used by Mr. Gunther Frankenstein when stationed at Site II, Greenland throughout the 1954/1955 polar night.

Site_II_Traverse

Approximate location of Site II at the end of an overland traverse from Camp TUTO, in Northwest Greenland.

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