June 10, 2010

The Final Sprint

Our final day in Greenland was best characterized by last-minute good intentions and chaos as we tried to do everything we had been putting off all week. After breakfast, we visited the Kangerlussuaq Museum. As we were driving up, the man who is the museum (ticket taker, curator, and docent) ran up and greeted us enthusiastically and followed us around asking if we had any questions and telling us all about the history of the army base and airstrip known as Kangerlussuaq. One gets the impression that his summers (he goes back to Denmark in the winter—there isn’t a lot of activity once the snow and darkness set in) are usually spent in quiet contemplation of the photos documenting the comings and goings (glamorous actresses, well-known politicians, and eminent scientists--Niels Bohr once sat on the porch outside!), the history of aviation, polar science and the military in and out of Kangerlussuaq, and the occasional rogue wildlife that has wandered in from the tundra (including the skin of the only documented polar bear from the area and photos and cartoons of “Terrible Willie”, the musk ox that held Kangerlussuaq in his sway, often thwarting capture attempts and running amok on the runway and through the streets).[ibimage==694==310-scale-rounded==none==self==ibimage_img-left]

After that enlightening stop, a few of us did some sight-seeing, including driving up to the TACAN radar station, which offered great views of Kangerlussuaq, as well as the surrounding tundra and lakes. While up there, we ran into an international group of wealthy tourists (accompanied by a police escort) that were taking a “study tour” of Greenland, including several men in dress shoes wielding very nice birding telescopes and fancy SLR cameras and several women in precarious heels that were much more interested in picking an herb that looked like rosemary and smelled like Lysol to steep for aquavit. It was a little surreal.

We came back for lunch, wrapped up souvenir shopping, and returned all our glass bottles to collect the deposit. This involved feeding each bottle onto a conveyor belt with a scanner that counted and verified that the bottles were the appropriate size. It was very cool, and made me once again yearn for a similar system in Kansas. Once business in town was wrapped up and all the students and professors were rounded up, we ran back out to the tundra, where Sharon Billings, KU’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology professor on the trip, taught us about how tundra soil forms, including mechanical and chemical weathering, as well as decomposition (which is MUCH slower in the Arctic than elsewhere, since colder temperatures impede the metabolism of bacteria that do the decomposing). We then ran back to pack and eat dinner. After dinner, there was more packing, hunting down equipment we had borrowed from KISS, and socializing with the other scientists passing through Kangerlussuaq on the way to or from fieldwork.

The next day was a lot of hurry up and wait with the Air National Guard before getting on the C-130 back to the States—it was a straight shot back, since it is the beginning of the field season and much more equipment is being flown into Greenland than out. I got to go up in the cockpit, which was awesome—there is a ridiculous amount of equipment and space up there, including a bunk where one of the crew members was taking a nap. Dinner was a much-anticipated slice of pizza at New York Pizza and Fried Chicken in Schenectady—it turns out I really missed pizza! The following day, Thursday, was another day of travel from Schenectady to D.C. to Kansas City on United Airlines regional jets that made me long for the freedom of a C-130, where you can get up and move around as much as you like. Up next, the wrap up. -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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