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Greenland expedition 2016

Five WSL and SLF researchers and a researcher from Cambridge are reporting again this year on their fieldwork on the enormous ice sheet in Greenland's interior.


The Swiss Camp on Greenland. Photo: Konrad Steffen, copyright

News from Greenland

15.06.2015: Expedition completed

These personal experiences complete the reports on this year's Greenland expedition... More

31.5.2015: Comfort in freezing conditions

In the face of icy and cold conditions, the researchers were outside performing maintenance work at the northern weather stations.
Fortunately some unusual features facilitated the hard work: one camp even had a hot sauna... More

23.5.2016: "South Traverse" - successful maintenance of the three southern stations

The research team started their trip to control three weather stations in the South from Kangerlussuaq. The experienced pilot proved to be of great value here... More

19.5.2016: "Little Traverse" - seven days through the white

The whole team has now arrived at the Swiss Camp. After several days of preparation, four researchers had set out on a 100 km long traverse with various challenges... More

Greenland expedition 2016

WSL Director and climate researcher Konrad Steffen is currently visiting Greenland for the 26th time. Two of his colleagues, SLF snow researchers Martin Schneebeli and Lino Schmid, are accompanying him for the second time, while two other SLF researchers, Nena Griessinger and Neige Calonne, are undertaking their first trip. They are spending practically the whole of May on the gigantic ice sheet, which is more than 40 times the size of Switzerland, in the interior of Greenland. On several occasions they will also visit Kangerlussuaq, a settlement in western Greenland, where a suitable internet connection is available. This is the place from which they send their messages and photographs, to share their insights from research work and living conditions at -20 degrees Celsius and below.

The research team


Prof. Konrad Steffen studies the interaction between climate and the cryosphere in polar and Alpine regions with the aid of climate models, field measurements, aerial photography and satellite images. He is especially interested in the influence exerted by climate warming on the ice masses and global sea levels. He has spent several weeks in Greenland every year since 1990, and visited the South Pole in 2014. Prof. Steffen has been the Director of the WSL since 2012.


Dr. Martin Schneebeli examines and pursues all the physical and geological processes that take place in the snowpack. He is exploring how to improve measuring techniques for recording the properties of the Alpine and Arctic snowpack, and how to refine the spatial resolution of the measurements. For this purpose he also develops new measuring instruments. Dr. Schneebeli has already taken part in three Antarctic expeditions spanning several months. He heads the SLF's Snow Physics Research Group and, during the Greenland expedition, the snowpack investigations.


Dr. Lino Schmid is a post-doctoral researcher at the SLF. One aspect of his research work concerns the measuring of snow properties with radar devices. During this year's Greenland expedition he is responsible for all aerial photography with the drone, the snowpack investigations and service of the ground-based radar systems that were installed last year at the SwissCamp and the summit station.

Nena Griessinger Nena Griessinger is a PhD candidate belonging to the SLF's snow hydrology research group. Her doctoral thesis is entitled "Relevance of snowmelt processes for cold region hydrology". She is taking part in a Greenland expedition for the first time. Her primary responsibility is to take care of the radar sledge, which will measure snow distribution during the 100 km traverse between the SwissCamp and Crawford Point.

Dr. Neige Calonne is a post-doctoral researcher at the SLF. She is conducting research into the physical processes that take place in snow (e.g. snow metamorphism) by way of field and lab experiments. In particular, she is currently investigating the microstructure of Arctic snow. During the Greenland expedition she is responsible for the various snow property measurements. The snow samples she collects during the expedition will be examined more closely back in the SLF's cold laboratory. For her as well, this is the first visit to Greenland.

Bianca Perren Dr. Bianca Perren is a Quaternary scientist in the Paleo environments, Ice sheets, and Climate Change group at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. She specializes in Arctic and Antarctic environmental change, using lake sediment records to reconstruct changing
environmental conditions resulting from Holocene climate variability, eutrophication, and 20th and 21st Century climate warming. Dr. Perren is doing the GPS measurements around Swiss Camp this season.

Activities and projects in Greenland

  • With the support of NASA and the American National Science Foundation, Koni Steffen has established a network of 20 automated weather stations on the Greenland ice sheet in the period since 1990. As in every other year Steffen will be checking these stations to ensure the continuation of the serial studies that are supporting research into the climate and ice masses.
  • Unlike in the Alps, many places in Greenland have a continuous, multi-year snow cover. Martin Schneebeli, Lino Schmid and Neige Calonne are examining the structure of the snowpack here with a variety of instruments and techniques, including the high-resolution SnowMicroPen, density and temperature measurements, and snow profiles, which are to be recorded with near-infrared photography as well. They are also collecting snow samples for analysis after the expedition with the SLF's CT scanner. They will be examining the snowpack at each one of the 20 weather stations.
  • The highlight of this year's expedition is a traverse from the Swiss Camp to Crawford Point and back, which is being undertaken for the first time. Nena Griessinger and Martin Schneebeli are to cover the distance of around 100 km on foot. The traverse traces a route perpendicular to the equilibrium line across the ice. This line marks the boundary where the same amount of snow melts as falls over the course of the year. During the traverse the radar sledge will continuously measure the snow distribution along the borderline between the multi-year and annual snow cover. The researchers will also examine the snowpack with the SnowMicroPen every 2.5 km, measure the snow water equivalent every 5 km, and record complete snow profiles every 20 km. Lino Schmid and Neige Calonne are to provide support with these selective snow examinations and deliver provisions to the walkers. Lino Schmid will also be using a drone to capture three-dimensional images of the snow and ice surface.
  • Lino Schmid is responsible for checking the radar equipment used to investigate the snowpack from underneath at the Swiss Camp and summit station. He installed the systems at the stations last year. They allow the snow properties and layers to be measured without destroying the snowpack and without the need for a person to be present.
  • Alongside the research work, the everyday tasks associated with living, sleeping and cooking have to be taken care of as well, including recharging batteries and maintaining technical equipment. Such activities can present a challenge in the icy cold of tented accommodation – and travel by foot, snowmobile and plane calls for detailed planning and favourable weather. By the way, polar bears are not a danger. They do not inhabit the ice sheet in the interior of Greenland because of the general lack of food resources there.

Expedition bases

Map 2016

  • Kangerlussuaq – Settlement with around 500 inhabitants on the west coast with an international airport for direct connections to Copenhagen and transit flights within Greenland. Kangerlussuaq on Wikipedia
  • The Swiss Camp is situated at 69°N, 49°W and around 1100 m above sea level, 70 kilometres northeast of Ilulissat. The camp was established in 1990.
  • The summit station is located on the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet at 72°N, 38°W and 3216 m above sea level. It was built in 1989 and has been occupied year-round since 1997.
  • Map of weather stations where maintenance work is to be performed during the expedition: automatic weather stations

2016 itinerary

May 4 Arrival in Kangerlussuaq in Greenland 
May 5 Arrival at Swiss Camp
May 6 to 18 Traverse from Swiss Camp to Crawford Point
May 19 to 21 Inspection of southern weather and climate stations
May 21 to 31 Inspection of northern weather and climate stations
May 24
Return flight to Switzerland for some of the researchers
June 1
Return flight to Switzerland for the rest of the team