Seismology Intern Enjoyed Socorro And Greenland

Alan Shi recently completed a summer internship at the IRIS/PASSCAL Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech. A sophomore from Woodinville, Wash., Shi is a mechanical engineering student at New Mexico Tech and he has some interesting stories to tell. 



Alan Shi

Tech student/IRIS intern


The season began calmly enough, and Shi enjoyed developing a testing enclosure to verify that field equipment boxes, such as those deployed at Mt. Erebus Volcanic Observatory in Antarctica, were distributing power properly. He also performed ruggedness-testing of memory sticks before their use to collect data in Arctic regions.

The Instrument Center is supported by National Science Foundation funding, via Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, or IRIS. The Center maintains the largest lending library of seismic instruments in the world and serves researchers and their projects on every continent.


The most impressive part of Alan's summer by far was his deployment to the rapidly-changing ice sheets of Greenland. With assistance from IRIS-PASSCAL scientist Dave Thomas, Shi offered some recollections of his experiences on the ice.


By Alan Shi

IRIS-PASSCAL Intern/ New Mexico Tech student


My internship was a great experience and different from others I have had. During my time at IRIS/PASSCAL, I learned many different skills and relearned old ones. My internship was with the Polar Department, which as it sounds, focuses on experiments in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

The trip itself started July 10 with a flight to Albany, N.Y. There, the 109th Air National Guard sends the majority of the researchers from the United States to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, or Kanger, as it is known.

I boarded my first C-130 for Kanger on July 11. The C-130s were fairly comfortable, but unfortunately 37 passengers and two pallets of cargo made the interior cramped. The plane itself wouldn’t stand out much from other C-130s, except for the ski platforms attached to all of the wheels.

The main building for all the researchers in Kanger, is the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support, or KISS building. Unfortunately I spent more time than expected here, hiding from mosquitoes and waiting for my flight to NEEM. I was scheduled to leave July 12 for the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling, which is known by its Danish acronym NEEM. Due to the ice melt, the top meter of the ski-way at NEEM had turned to snow. Delaying the flight to July 15, only the top half-meter was snow as the temperature slowly dropped. Even when the ice was frozen, ground fog created by the warm air cause a no-fly condition.


Alan Shi poses on a snowmobile in Greenland.


The typical transport to Greenland, the C-130 cargo plane.

Surprisingly, Kanger had warm weather when I arrived, something I didn’t expect due to its latitude. The unusually warm weather throughout Greenland had caused some drastic effects. The local river of Kanger has swollen to two times the previously measured maximum. For the only bridge of the small town, this caused issues. The town had tried using machinery to place dirt on the bridge to protect it from the rising river. This unfortunately led to a front loader to fall into a sinkhole in the middle of the bridge.


Finally, on July 16 the decision was made that the skiway would support the weight of the plane, and the flight to NEEM was made. Even that decision was made at the last minute, giving us just a five-minute notice as all the travelers piled into cars and headed to the airport. The flight we boarded was scheduled as a training mission for the 109th Air National Guard, since it was unclear if we would be able to land due to ground fog.


Luck was on our side as during the three-hour flight, the ground fog dissipated enough to land and the flight crew performed a combat offload with the pallet when we landed. A combat offload entails that the C-130 continue moving after landing, opening the cargo bay doors, and letting the pallet with all our gear slide out the back.


The NEEM camp is one of the furthest north research stations in Greenland. One of the main projects at this site was a core drilling operation. I was lucky enough to be present for the final core to be pulled out, ending the borehole. At 2.5 kilometers deep, the drilling has been ongoing project for six years. The last portion of drilling had its own drama as a small rock was positioned just right to stall drilling for over six hours.




This NASA image shows the retreat of ice in Greenland in less than a week in July 2012. The event was a 150-year-event.


My own projects were in support of research at two sites, NEEM Seismic and GIS-3. With the delayed flight, we now had two days to get all the work done. Luckily at that latitude, the sun does not set and work didn’t finish the first day until 12:30 a.m. GIS-3 is a high precision GPS station. This station required a snowmobile to reach and needed the most repairs. We added four new batteries to the system, each weighing 120 pounds.


The bulkhead connector was broken and one of the antennas needed to be mounted on a new pole. Unfortunately, installing a new pole for an antenna mount requires digging into the snow to place it. We dug a 6-foot deep crater, being careful to avoid any buried cables and then repacking the snow around a 3-inch pipe. The NEEM Seismic site has one seismic sensor a few meters deep, and an additional sensor down a borehole 300 meters deep.


I was able to stay an extra full day at NEEM and left on the July 20 back to Kanger. I was lucky enough to meet many of the graduate students there. All of them were studying different and interesting topics from the firn to ice cores. They came from different countries, including Denmark, the United States, and Australia. I was also able to spend the day analyzing some data acquired from the NEEM Seismic station. The shallow seismic sensors could detect when the C-130 planes landed and took off from NEEM, while the seismic sensor in the 300-meter borehole had detected the May 20, 2012, earthquake in Honshu, Japan.


This was a great experience, and a lot of fun. I enjoyed how I was able to undertake projects with minimal direction, derive a plan, create the required components, and proceed with the tests. I also enjoyed the fact that there were very few boring days, with work always needing to be done. The Greenland trip was great, and exceeded my expectations. The individuals working out in the field were knowledgeable, and were always willing to explain their projects to me.

– NMT –