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    Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    Encyclopedia Arctica 7: Meteorology and Oceanography

    Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_VII-0763                                                                                                                  


    Wegener’s Expedition, 1930-31 2
    British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-31 4
    U.S. Army Air Forces Ice Cap Detachment, 1943-1944 6
    Recapitulation 12

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    [F. Alton Wade]



            It has been recognized for many years that a knowledge of the atmospheric

    movements over the Greenland Icecap is necessary before an understandable picture

    of north Atlantic and western European weather can be obtained. Also, with

    Greenland lying athwart, or very near, many possible great circle air routes,

    the importance of accurate weather forecasts for that area has increased greatly.

            In spite of the recognized need for data from inland ice stations to supple–

    ment that trim coastal stations, only twice have attempts been made to establish

    observing-reporting stations on the Greenland Icecap. Two observing, nonreporting

    stations were established in the central zone in 1930, but at only one of these

    were observations continued over a period of a complete year. An observing–

    reporting station was established between the eastern margin and the central sons

    in 1944. This station was in operation for less than a month.

            Several contributing factors have been responsible for the lack of effort

    to accomplish such a worth-while project.

            ( 1 ) Access to the icecap through the marginal zone is extremely difficult

    for the necessary prime movers. ( 2 ) Satisfactory transportational facilities

    for large-scale operations to the interior have only recently reached an adequate

    state of perfection. (3) Many persons in authoritative positions have [ ?] vetoed

    proposals to establish such stations because they believe that the station

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland ice W e ather Stations

    personnel would be subjected to a too hazardous form of life.

            That such objections are now invalid was proved by the most recent attempt

    to establish inland ice stations in 1944 by members of the Ice Cap Detachment

    of the U.S. Army Air Forces. This undertaking will be described following

    a summary of earlier attempts.


    Wegener’s Expedition, 1930-31

            An exceptionally well planned and well organized German expedition under

    the leadership of Alfred Wegener established an icecap station, Eismitte, close

    to the geographic center of Greenland, in latitude 70°53′8″ N., longitude 40°42′1″

    W., at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. The purpose of the station was to

    study and record the inland weather over a period of a year for correlation with

    records obtained simultaneously at stations which were established on the east

    and west coasts in approximately the same latitude. No means of communication

    between the central and coastal stations was provided.

            The station was to have been equipped with a specially constructed, triple–

    walled tent about 9′ × 15′ weighing 1,000 pounds. Two or three men were to

    have occupied the station during the winter. However, the task of moving the

    supplies for Eismitte and the west coast stations from the shore up an outlet

    glacier to the edge of the inland ice was much greater than had been anticipated.

    Much valuable time that should have been available for the establishing of the

    inland stations was used up. Further the mechanized transport which had been

    counted upon to move the greater bulk of the equipment and supplies failed during

    the fall operations. As a consequence, all the supplies and equipment were

    transported on dog sledges. The first party with six loaded sledges arrived at

    the chosen location, 250 miles from the West Coast Station, on July 30, 1930.

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    A second party with 10 sledges, 3,370 pounds of cargo, arrived on September 13.

    A third party with 3 teams arrived October 31, but had had to abandon all

    cargo along the trail and had to be provided with supplies for their return

    journey to the west coast. Wegener [ ?] and the Greenlander, Rasmus Willumsen,

    perished on this return trip. The third member of the party, Dr. Fritz Loewe,

    was left at the inland station because he was suffering from severely frostbitten


            Eismitte was manned by Dr. Johannes Georgi alone from August 1 to September 13;

    by Georgi and Dr. Ernst Sorge from September 13 to October 31. From that date

    until May 9, 1931, Loewe, Sorge, and Georgi occupied the station, and from May 9,

    until July 24, Georgi again was alone.

            The winter tent was not among the supplies delivered at Eismitte. The

    summer tent proved to be inadequate in subzero temperatures and quarters were

    moved into rooms excavated in the snow below the surface. (See illustrations)

    Short rations and insufficient fuel contributed to the great hardships [ ?]

    endured by these men. Loewe spent most of the winter on a bed of pain. It

    was necessary to amputate the toes on both feet. This was done with improvised

    instruments and without benefit of an anesthetic.

            Conditions under which the three men lived were the worst. The temperatures

    in the living quarters were subfreezing; on the floor −4° F., on the level of

    the table 14°, near the ceiling about 21°. The daily consumption of petroleum

    for lighting, cooking, and heating was restricted to 2-1/4 pints. On many winter

    days the stove was not lighted at all. The men were forced to remain in their

    sleeping bags most of the time in order to keep warm.

            In spite of the great difficulties, these men kept a very complete record of

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    the weather. Thrice-daily observations of temperature, pressure, wind velocity

    and direction, cloud type and coverage, and precipitation were made. In addi–

    tion, upper-air conditions were observed whenever possible. These included pilot

    balloon observations to determine direction and velocity of upper-air currents

    to heights as great as 41,000 feet above the surface, and upper-air temperatures

    with apparatus sent aloft on captive balloons to heights up to 2,500 feet.

            Never before or since have been recorded weather data at an inland ice

    station in Greenland over a period of a complete year. The men on this expedi–

    tion proved that it could be done under the most adverse conditions.


    British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-31

            Led by H. G. Watkins, a British expedition investigated the possibilities of

    the least known sections of a proposed air route from England to Canada via the

    Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Baffin Island, and Hudson Bay in 1930-31. These

    sections were the east coast of Greenland and the [ ?] central inland ice.

    A part of the plan included establishing a weather station at the crest of the

    inland ice along the proposed route. A station was established on the east coast

    40 miles from Angmagssalik and the westward trail led from there up an outlet

    glacier to the inland ice. The station was established in latitude 67°03′ N.,

    longitude 41°49′ W., about 140 miles inland at an elevation of 8,200 feet. Thus

    it was located about 270 miles south of Eismitte which was occupied at the same


            The difficulties which hampered the operations of the Germans also were a

    bugbear to the British. The climb to the inland ice was treacherous and steep.

    Only with the greatest efforts were the sledges hauled the first 15 miles. Once

    on the inland ice conditions were better, but the trail parties were plagued with

    foul weather.

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

            The first dog sledge party, composed of five men and three teams arrived at

    the site on the inland ice on August 29. The tent was erected and observations

    were begun on that date. The “station house consisted of a cone-shaped tent of

    canvas stretched over a wooden frame. It was of double thickness with an air

    space between the two layers of canvas. In the roof there was a small ventilating

    shaft. There was no entrance through the sides of the tent, but a tunnel was dug

    so that the entrance was underground. Since the entrance was below floor-level,

    none of the warm air could escape except through the ventilating shaft, and venti–

    lation could be altered as desired.”

            Between August 29 and October 2, the station was manned by two men, Quintin

    Riley and Martin Lindsay. The second sledge party arrived on October 2, at which

    time the observers were relieved by E. W. Bingham and N. H. D’Aeth who carried

    on until relieved on December 3.

            According to the original plan, the personnel at the inland station were

    to be changed each month. Nearly continuous blizzards made this plan unworkable.

    It took the second relief party 15 days to do the first 15 miles and 39 days to

    reach the station. The radio equipment for the inland base had been abandoned

    along the way and some of the supplies intended for that station had been con–

    sumed by the relief party. As a consequence, three choices were open: to abandon

    the station; to leave two men there until March; or one man could stay until May.

    The chance of a relief party getting through to the station by the first of

    March was remote and too risky. Augustine Courtauld volunteered to remain

    alone, and after much argument had his way. His lonely vigil on the central

    portion of the icecap began on December 6.

            The station had been enlarged by erecting two iglus for storehouses. Thus

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    all supplies were accessible without having to go above the surface. As later

    events proved, this was fortunate. Courtauld made the daily weather observations

    at regular intervals except when blizzard conditions prevented him doing so. His

    greatest difficulty was in keeping his hatchway exit clear. On March 22 he found

    that the drift had accumulated so deeply over his hatchway that he no longer could

    get out. From then on he was confined to his [ ?] subterranean home. Except

    for pressures and subsurface temperatures he was unable to observe and record the

    weather elements. The strength of the wind was estimated from the magnitude of

    the noise in the ventilator pipe. The first party that went to relieve him was

    unable to locate the station. He was rescued by a party led by Watkins on

    May 5, 1931. On that day the last drop of his fuel was consumed and his supplies

    had nearly been exhausted.

            The weather data has been extremely useful, particularly so as it can be

    correlated with that recorded at Eismitte during the same period. Courtauld proved

    that life on the icecap during the winter and alone was not impossible, but



    U.S. Army Air Forces Ice Cap Detachment, 1943-1944

            No further attempts to establish inland-ice weather stations were made until

    1942. During the first three years after the entry of the United States into

    World War II the ice-caped island called Greenland played an important role in

    the battle for supremacy in the North Atlantic. Its importance as a site for weather

    stations was recognized by both the Allied nations and the Axis countries, and it

    was occupied by both sides until the fall of 1944, when the last of the German

    installations in northeastern Greenland was wiped out. During the interval when

    the fortunes of the Axis were on the upswing, it was necessary that Greenland be

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    well fortified to guard against its being used as a take-off point for squadrons

    of planes on bombing missions to the east coast of North America. The role of

    the great island was indeed multiple: it was also used as a fueling point on

    the northern ferrying route after three fine airports had been constructed, one

    at the head of Narsarssuak Fjord, near the south tip of the island, one on the

    west coast on Söndre Strömfjord, and the third on the east coast at Ikateq, which

    is about 40 miles northeast of Angmagssalik.

            The occupying forces of the United States established a network of weather

    stations around the southern half of the coast, with supplementary Danish–

    operated stations farther to the north on both coasts. The importance of multiple–

    purpose interior stations was recognized at an early date, and a unit was organized

    in 1942 to investigate possibilities on the icecap and to begin the occupation

    of the great white interior.

            in order to cary carry out inland operations efficiently, it was first

    necessary to locate a highway through the rugged marginal zone over which supplies

    could be handily transported by dog team or over-snow mechanized vehicles. An

    air survey between Cape Farewell and Angmagssalik in the summer of 1942 revealed

    only one route of real promise. This led inland from a small peninsula in approxi–

    mate latitude 65° N. Accordingly, a small task force, under the command of

    C.A.K. Innes-Taylor, was transported to that locality by ships. A beachhead

    station was established on the peninsula on the east shore of a narrow bay, now

    named Comanche Bay.

            It was found that the only serious obstacle on the trail to the inland ice

    was a hill immediately behind the beachhead; its 18° to 20° slopes were too steep

    to be climbed by either motor toboggans or the dog teams when pulling loaded sleds.

    The rest of the trail through the marginal zone to the edge of the inland ice, 16

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    miles in all, was uphill and crossed by several sets of narrow crevasses, but

    presented no great obstacles to travel by dog teams or machines designed for

    travel over snow surfaces.

            A marginal station was established at the 16-mile point, but was not used

    as a weather-reporting station. Too few men, woefully inadequate equipment,

    failure of the transportation, and unforeseen circumstances combined to defeat

    the unit in its attempt to establish one or more inland stations. In an attempt

    to rescue members of a crew of a plane which crashed on the icecap 50 miles from

    the marginal station, Max Demorest, who succeeded Innes-Taylor [ ?] as commander of

    the unit, lost his life. The project was temporarily abandoned in April 1943.

            The Ice Cap Detachment was activated in Jane 1943 to continue the work. The

    plan called for establishing three icecap stations which were to be located on

    the crest in latitudes 63°55′ N., 66°25′ N., and 67°55′ N. Permanent buildings

    were to be erected at each site and these weather observing-reporting stations

    each were to be manned by four men. For the transportation of equipment and

    supplies, the unit was provided with fifteen [ ?] T-15-type over-snow vehicles.

    Two dog teams and six Elliason motor toboggans were furnished for reconnaissance

    purposes. John T. Crowell commanded the Detachment and F. Alton Wade was in

    charge of icecap operations.

            A new base was established at Comanche Bay in August of 1943 on rook ex–

    posures above the crest of the steep first slope. All supplies were winched to

    that level, thereby eliminating the most difficult stage in the trail to the

    inland ice. An attempt was made to establish the central station in latitude

    66°25′ N. during September. It was found that the T-15's were capable of hauling

    behind them on sledges loads of up to 3,000 pounds on the inland ice and the

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    project was viewed with optimism, However, mechanical failures in the track sus–

    pension on the machines delayed operations and orders were issued by the Green–

    land Base Command to suspend operations until spring. It was believed that all

    members of the Detachment were required to secure and operate the coastal station

    at Comanche Bay. The unit was woefully undermanned for the work that was planned

    for it to do. The entire complement was only two officers, eighteen enlisted men,

    and a civilian dog driver.

            Frequent blizzards with unusually high wind velocities curtailed all winter

    and spring operations. Soft, deep snowdrifts prevented the T-15's from travers–

    ing the marginal zone until June 1944. During that month, the first convoy of

    seven machines with a total pay load of over 10,000 pounds proceeded to a point

    53 miles inland, where the loads were cached.

            The unit received orders on June 30 to suspend all icecap operations.

    These were rescinded in part and the unit was permitted to carry on until August 1.

    Wade was determined to prove that it was possible to establihs a permanent-type

    weather station with comfortable living quarters on the inland ice, and the work

    proceeded with that thought in mind. A second convoy proceeded with loads to

    the cache at 53 miles. There a tent weather station, with H. G. Dorsey in

    charge, was established and weather reports were radioed to the Comanche base

    every six hours. Thus for the first time was established on the cap a weather–

    reporting station.

            When the third convoy had deposited its cargo at 53, the specially constructed

    house was erected [ ?] and the members of the weather unit took immediate possession.

    The exact location was latitude 65° 36′ N., longitude [ ?] 41°15′ W. This was

    on July 19. A fourth convoy delivered additional supplies and equipment and a

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    second building was erected and connected to the first by a covered passageway.

    (See illustration.)

            The main building was one of ten special prefabricated shelters designed

    and constructed for use on the inland ice. It was expected that the building would

    become completely covered with snow during the first year and that additional

    snow would accumulate above it at the rate of about 3 feet per year.

            The over-all dimensions of the building were 27′×10′1-1/4″ × 9′3/4″. It

    was constructed of 47 panels: 24 exterior wall panels, 3 interior wall [ ?] panels,

    10 floor panels, and 10 roof panels. It resembled a huge refrigerator. Each wall

    panel consisted of a well-braced frame constructed of 2″ × 6″ stock, covered on

    both outer and inner sides with 1/4″ plywood. Roof panels were similar but with

    framework of 2″ × 8″ stock. Floor panels were similar in construction to the

    wall panels, but with 1/2″ plywood on the inner floor surface. Panels were

    secured together with 5/8″ bolts. Pockets with removable covers were provided

    in each panel for inserting and tightening the bolts. The spaces within the

    panels were filled with glass-wool bats for insulation. Joint gaskets were placed

    between the panels. They consisted of 3 stitched plies of 15 oz. duck, formed

    to length and width required, impregnated and coated with water-proofing compound.

    One skylight was provided. It was constructed of multiple sheets of glass

    hermetically sealed to form air spaces.

            A partition divided the interior into two rooms: one 5-1/2′ × 9′, and the

    second 20′ × 9′. Both doors were of the refrigerator type and were equipped

    with refrigator-type hardware. Battens and caulking compound were provided to

    cover and seal each joint. The surfaces to be exposed to the weather were

    painted with white cottonseed-oil gum paint. Interior walls and finishings were

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    EA-Met. Wade: Greenland Inland Ice Weather Stations

    painted with one coat of aluminum paint. Each shelter was provided with an

    observation house, 8′ × 5′ × 7-1/4′, which was to be erected over the hatch

    in the roof of the small entry room. This house was provided with two windows

    and a door. It was reached from the interior by a ladder. The observation

    house was a unit in itself and could be raised above the roof as the snow level

    rose from year to year. Materials were provided for building and extending a

    shaft from the main house to the observatory. There was enough for a shaft

    30′ long. Extra sections of smoke pipe and ventilation pipe were provided for

    use when a house became deeply buried. Materials were provided with each

    shelter for constructing two double bunks, one single bunk, a radio table and a

    work table. Complete sets of construction and maintenance tools were furnished

    with each house. A Findley Drive Range, Model 19, was furnished with each arctic

    shelter, and adequately insulated heater pads were provided for use under the

    stove and on the walls of the corner in which it stood. The complete arctic

    shelter minus the stove weighed 20,524 lbs. The heaviest single piece, a door,

    weighed 503 lbs. Total cubage — 1,230 cu. ft. Largest single piece, a door,

    26 cu. ft.

            Ten men were able to excavate a foundation hole, lay the sills and erect the

    shell of the building in about six hours. On the second day after the work was

    started it was ready for occupancy. Although the building was occupied for only

    two weeks, it was found that it could be heated evenly and economically and

    that the ventilating system provided adequate air circulation. One building of

    this type was erected at the Comanche Bay station and was used as a radio station

    and quarters for four men for a year. It proved to be most satisfactory.

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            The second building at the base was constructed of crating boards and

    covered with heavy tarpaulins. It was 7′ × 9′, had a gabled roof, and was 7′

    high at the ridge. It was used to house the eletrict generator and some of the

    supplies. The two buildings were connected by a passageway about 6′ long which

    consisted of a strong wooden framswork tightly covered with tarpaulins. This

    passageway served as a storeroom also.

            This station was abandoned August 1, 1944. No apparatus, equipment, or

    supplies were removed from it as it was hoped that it would be possible to man

    it at some future date.



            Analyses of the weather data recorded at Eismitte and the supplementary

    data at the British station have indicated that weather reports from inland ice

    stations in Greenland would be of inestimable value for forecasting purposes.

    Further, it was shown that the theory of the pulsating anticyclonic circulation

    of the air which had been proposed from data accumulated at coastal stations rarely

    held true and that more observations over longer periods of time at central

    stations were necessary before good working hypotheses and rules could be formulated.

    The work of the Ice Cape Detachment has shown that the great obstacles to the

    establishment of permanent, satisfactory stations on the inland ice have been over–

    come. A not too difficult trail through the marginal zone was found and used

    successfully. New types of over-snow mechanized vehicles can transport the great

    quantities of equipment and supplies satisfactorily from coast to station sites

    on the inland ice. With such transportation, heavy but adequate and comfortable

    buildings can be erected anywhere on the icecap. The pioneer stage is completed.

    Practical inland ice stations can now be installed.


    F. Alton Wade

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