June 4, 2010

Ambassador, Engineer, Musk Ox

This morning getting up early to look for birds, this time down by the rapids at the bridge, proved sadly fruitless. Except there were rapids, which was in itself neat.

After breakfast and through incredible serendipity combined with finagling by our project leader, we met with the United States’ ambassador to Denmark (which still retains some degree of control over Greenland), Laurie Fulton. She was on her way back from visiting a research facility further north, and graciously made time for us—and seemed genuinely interested and engaged! She is very involved in encouraging intellectual trade between the U.S. and Denmark. Denmark has been very committed to green technology since the seventies, and by sharing their ideas with the U.S., the U.S. need not reinvent the wheel. Likewise, she is trying to encourage researchers, especially those working in Greenland, to take on Greenlandic students and trainees to help elevate the level of education in the country, only one third of which are considered "educated." She was a very neat lady.

After that meeting, we had some time to kill, so a few of the other students and I went with Kees, one of the KU Geography professors that is along on the trip and visited Kangerlussuaq in the1980s, to find the Inuit ruins located near town. We did not find them. Instead we found a firing range, a caribou antler, and a very scummy pond with three minnows in it. Lunch at the airport was fantastic. Many kinds of cold cuts, delicious smoked and pickled fishes (salt cod and pickled herring!).

After lunch, we drove to NSF’s Sondrestrom Incoherent Scatter Radar Facility (we saw a couple of ducks in random lakes along the road, but they were all far away and horribly backlit. Curses!!). Our host there, Eggert, was the head engineer (from Iceland, wearing black socks, sandals, and shorts. He’s my favorite!) showed us around the facility, which shoots high-powered microwave and lasers into the atmosphere in order to measure fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. There were huge magnets, transformers, and an enormous satellite dish that looked like something out of a James Bond movie (incidentally, it replaced an older dish elsewhere that actually appeared in GoldenEye!!). We also got to hear about the dangers of building on permafrost, which then melts and causes buildings to shift, windows to crack, and pipes to break, all things that tend to be a concern as summers increase in length and temperature.

Dinner was had at the Polar Bear Inn, home of the best Thai in town. For real, it was AMAZING—I had musk ox panang!! This was followed by a hike to Lake Ferguson, where we didn’t see any more new birds (goes without saying at this point), but we did find the Kangerlussuaq rowing club, a sign warning passers-by about musk ox, and a rock with a musk ox painted on it. Now it’s time to bury my head in the blankets and try not to imagine the sun sneaking in around the blackout shades. Till next time… -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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