GrIT: Greenland Inland Traverse

The Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) follows a roughly 1200 km (750 mile) route from the Thule Air Base to Summit Station, near the apex of the Greenland Ice Sheet.  The overland traverse of fuel and cargo reduces the use of aircraft to transport these payloads, which has important benefits, reducing cost to the program and aircraft emissions at Summit Station, a clean air/clean snow research site.

Researchers and support staff drill pilot holes as part of a borehole investigation along the traverse route. Photo Gifford Wong, Dartmouth College


The route is based on the 1952-1955 pioneering research traverses completed by Dr. Carl Benson, and provides a scientifically interesting route, passing through distinct facies of the ice sheet that are undergoing rapid changes, at different rates.   The typical timing of the traverse is mid-April to mid-May of each year. While science projects utilizing the traverse logistical platform are relatively new, the traverse provides unique access and logistical support for research on the ice sheet. The traverse fleet consists of several large CASE tractors, which are capable of pulling fuel bladders and cargo loads on specially-designed sleds. The most challenging portion of the traverse is the first 75 miles, known as the transition zone, from Thule to the plateau of the ice sheet, an area riddled by crevasses and relatively steep inclines. Future plans include developing a split-fleet of traverse vehicles, some dedicated to making multiple trips from Thule up the transition while other tractors shuttle fuel and cargo to locations on the ice sheet and remain on the central ice sheet year round.  This will greatly expand the operational season for the inland fleet, as well as increase the amount of material that can be moved from the coast to the interior each year.  This maximizes the advantage of using the traverse platform and the efforts of the team that marks a safe route through the transition zone each year with considerable resources including airborne radar reconnaissance, ground penetrating radar, robotic assistance, and mountaineering support.

Map of 2008 GrIT route

The traverse logistics provided for research are proposal-driven; as more science is funded to be incorporated into the traverse, logistics to meet the needs of the research community will evolve.  Plans are developing to design and procure a mobile camp with the capability of supporting science and providing life support for small teams (5-10 persons) that could be dropped off anywhere reachable by the inland fleet, for experiments lasting weeks to months.  Suggestions and needs for such a capability are welcome by NSF and the Science Coordinating Office (see contact info below).  To date, projects that have been incorporated on the traverse have provided a minimal number (1-2) of science-dedicated personnel to conduct the research objectives, who also help with general traverse duties including cooking, cargo preparation, and camp duties.  A small number of projects with minimal tasking have also relied on traverse personnel to conduct research.  Such tasking should be limited to a few minutes per day.

Researcher checks radar file along traverse. Photo: Gifford Wong, Dartmouth College.

Proposing science for the traverse: It is important to contact CPS  for an estimate and for discussion of available resources when proposing a science project for the traverse: and

The Science Coordinating Office (SCO) is available to answer questions about proposed projects, specifically regarding the possibility of providing logistical support that might be required for a given proposed field project:

Input into the science needs for a mobile camp for supporting science are also being solicited by the SCO at