June 3, 2010

Sky Sauce

Morning in Kangerlussuaq was not much different from afternoon or evening—sun shining cheerfully away, temperatures of around fifty degrees, and a light wind keeping away the hungry swarms of Satan’s air force known colloquially as “mosquitoes”. I got up early so I could get a first crack at wildlife, Greenland-style. It turns out KISS is right on the Watson River, which was a lovely morning scramble down fine silt dunes and over glacier- and water-carved rocks. I got my first looks of the trip at Snow bunting, Common redpoll, and Northern wheatear. On the way to breakfast at the canteen by the airport (where we will be eating our dinners as well) I spotted a raven.

After breakfast, we explored “downtown” Kangerlussuaq, which is heavily concentrated in approximately ten utilitarian buildings near the airport. This included a trip to the “grocery store”, where you can find oranges, pineapples, a variety of canned fishes, salt-covered licorice, beet salad, and waders. Pretty much all of the written labels and signs are in Danish, which not an area in which I am proficient. My great achievement at the grocery store was finding frozen torsk, or Atlantic cod. This may be the closest I get to a fish on the trip.

We spent the day driving and hiking around northeast of town, toward Russell glacier. We got to frolic on the tundra, which was delightfully spongy—like running on a wet mattress. There were lots of wildflowers, moss, lichens, and Lapland longspurs. There was also evidence of ptarmigans, but none were to be found. Too bad, but I’ll keep looking. We also climbed Sugarloaf, from which we got some AWESOME views of the glacier and fjord.

We then travelled further upriver and got our first looks at the ice sheet, which still seems very unreal, despite the fact the 80% of the people at KISS are various types of geoscientists, desperate to get out on the ice. Some Danes just came back from an attempt to get to Summit, the base of ice sheet operations. They got all the way there, and had to turn back without landing because one of the airplane’s engines failed, which would have made taking off from the ice impossible. They’re still in a pretty good mood, and helped us translate the canteen menu for the week. Sky sauce is “the fat and proteins that drip off the meat during cooking, and congeal into a sort of pudding”, which is a much more interesting way of saying “it’s gravy”.

Of special note: talk around KISS is that not only has the yearly thaw of the glacier come two weeks early this year, but so have the mosquitoes and the wildflowers. Is it a signal of climate change? Only time will tell.

-Hannah


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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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