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.


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


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


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

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Proglacial Mining Projects (Open File)

Posted by William Colgan on January 08, 2015
Applied Glaciology, Glaciers and Society / 1 Comment

Proglacial mines, meaning mining operations adjacent to, or very close to, glaciers, face a variety of unique glaciological challenges not present in conventional mining operations: (1) Removing ice overburden to access a subglacial ore introduces both ice excavation and ice flow management challenges. (2) In addition to potential crevasse hazards, supraglacial vehicle access roads must use adaptive engineering to counteract ice movement (both horizontal and vertical) as well as differential surface ablation. (3) Tremendous glacier meltwater runoff, concentrated during the summer melt season, can be difficult to route across highly transient glacier surfaces in order to minimize site inflow/contact water. (4) The dust created by open pit operations or access roads can darken the surface of nearby glaciers, enhancing their solar absorption and surface melt rates, and ultimately expand the impact footprint of a mine. (5) The catastrophic drainage of supraglacial and/or ice-dammed lakes represent outburst flood hazards which can rapidly increase site inflow rates. (6) Subglacial hydrology can interact with the groundwater seepage in underground mining operations beneath glaciers. We touch on some of these glaciological hazards in the new textbook: “Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks, and Disasters”. These geotechnical challenges make proglacial mining projects very unique. I started this “open file” inventory of proglacial mining projects (past, present and future) and their associated glaciological challenges as I pull together information for an applied glaciology review paper. Please alert me to any errors or oversights!

LocationGlaciological ChallengesApparent
[Fig. 1]
Fe 65.195 °N, 49.790 °W
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- supraglacial lake outbursts
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Approved in 2013.
[Fig. 2]
Au41.862 °N, 78.196 °E
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Active since 1997.
[Fig. 3]
Au, Ag, Cu, Mo56.491 °N, 130.335 °W
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Approved in 2014.
TutoN/A76.417 °N, 68.269°W
- ice removal / flow management
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
Historic project (1955 to 1959).
GranducCu56.247 °N, 130.089 °W
- ice removal / flow management
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Historic project (1964 to 1983).
MalmbjergMo 71.964 °N, 24.289 °W
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
[Fig. 3]
Au, Ag56.468 °N, 130.164 °W
- glacier access roads
- meltwater runoff
Approved in 2015.
(Phase Two expansion)
Zn, Pb71.094 °N, 51.027°W
- meltwater runoff
- darkening of nearby glaciers
Svea Nord | Gruve
[Fig. 6]
C77.893 °N, 16.689 °E
- subglacial miningActive since 2001.
El Morro
(La Fortuna expansion)
[Fig. 4]
Cu, Au33.167 °S, 70.274 °W
- darkening of nearby glaciersActive since c. 2008.
Permit suspended in 2014.
Pascua Lama
[Fig. 5]
Au, Ag29.327 °S, 70.035°W
(Chile / Argentina)
- darkening of nearby glaciersActive since 2010.
Permit suspended in 2013.
KvanefjeldU60.963 °N, 45.957 °W
- darkening of nearby glaciersProspect.
Red MountainAu, Ag55.970 °N, 129.721 °W
- proglacial and/or subglacial depositsProspect.
Grasberg [Fig. 7]Au, Cu4.060 °S, 137.146 °E
- darkening of nearby glaciers
- glacier removal to access subglacial deposit
Active since c. 1995.

Below are some site overview figures, they are available for distribution without attribution tags as well. I hope to make one for each project by the end of 2015. Content on this page can be cited as:

Colgan, W., H. Thomsen and M. Citterio. in press. Unique Applied Glaciology Challenges of Proglacial Mining. Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin.


Figure 1 – The Isua Mine in Greenland: Contemporary ice margins, proposed approximate pit area, and winter 2005/06 ice surface velocity vectors overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.


Figure 2 – The Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan: Historic ice margins and contemporary mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.


Figure 3 – The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine and Bruckjack Prospect in Canada: Contemporary ice margins, approximate mine surface areas, and proposed supraglacial access roads overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.


Figure 4 – The El Morro mine in Chile: Contemporary ice margins and mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.


Figure 5 – The Pascua Lama mine on the Chile/Argentina border: Contemporary ice margins and mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image. The Valadero mine is also visible immediately south of the Pascua Lama mine.


Figure 6 – The Svea Nord / Gruve Mines in Svalbard (Norway): Contemporary ice margins and underground mine area overlaid on a 2014 Landsat image.


Figure 7 – Grasberg Mine in Indonesia: Contemporary mine area and ice margins in a 2003 Landsat image.



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