Greenland 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Greenland Wrap-Up

Leaving Greenland

And so, a scant 10 days after it began, my Greenlandic adventure is at an end. I got to experience big polar science, witness the first suggestions of climate change in the form of retreating glaciers and early mosquito and flower emergence, and eat some delicious whale and cured fishes of many sorts.

Three highlights:

Camping near the ice edge.
Talking arctic science with grad students from other universities.
The Søndrestrom Incoherent Scatter Radar Facility.
Three things I still can’t wrap my head around:

I met the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark.
The ice sheet is huge. Really, really huge.
I went to Greenland?!

It was a fun trip, both too short and just long enough. Until my next adventure, kasuuta and takuss!

—Hannah

Thursday, 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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reality: Greenland

Greenland Map

Tuesday. Greenland.

It’s finally starting to sink in that I am, in fact, leaving for Greenland on Tuesday. TUESDAY.  GREENLAND.  For the sake of you, the reader, as well as to drill the reality of what we are actually doing into my own head, here’s an introductory post.

We will spend Tuesday evening in Schenectady, New York.  On Wednesday morning, and this is where the itinerary becomes surreal, we will be picked up at 5 am and transported to the Stratton Air National Guard Base, where we will meet up with the 109th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard (unofficial motto: “You call, we haul.”) which works with the National Science Foundation’s Polar Field Services to provide logistical support to polar researchers.  This is way “bigger” science than I have ever experienced!

From there, we join other scientists and cargo aboard a C-130 Hercules (for those of you, like myself, relatively unversed on the ins and outs of military aviation, it’s a HUGE 4-propeller airplane capable of transporting tanks) for the flight out to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, which will be our home for the next week.  There may be a layover in Canada for refueling, there may not—we won’t know until we’re on board the aircraft.

Kangerlussuaq (“the Gateway to the Greenland Ice Sheet”) was founded during World War II as a U.S. airbase, served during the Cold War as Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line base (images of Dr. Strangelove come to mind), and now functions as a base of operations for NSF research on glaciology, biogeochemistry, and atmospheric science.  We will be staying in the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) building along with all manner of other polar researchers.

While we are in Greenland, we will be investigating the impacts of climate change in this unique environment—Greenland boasts the second-largest land-based ice sheet after Antarctica, and scientists are beginning to notice accelerations in the flow of glaciers off of this huge interior mound of ice.  We will be visiting Russell Glacier, which is within easy driving distance of Kangerlussuaq, and, weather permitting, will spend a night camping within sight of it.  There are also plans to visit Norse ruins (such settlers may have fallen victim to climate change during the Little Ice Age, depending on whom you ask), Sondrestrom Upper Atmospheric Research Facility, and the Kangerlussuaq Museum.  I’ve also heard Kangerlussuaq boasts a full 18-hole golf course with very modest greens fees and club rentals.

I’m especially interested in, of course, Greenland’s wildlife (although I will not be collecting anything.  It’s been almost 11 months, not that I keep track…).  Kangerlussuaq is, reportedly, one of the best places in Greenland to see muskox (which you can also try as a pizza topping), caribou, arctic foxes, gyrfalcons, and ptarmigans, among others.  On the way to the glacier it looks like we’ll be passing through some beautiful tundra.  I’m also curious as to whether there will be any evidence of species turnover in Greenland, from native arctic species to invasive temperate ones.  I’ll keep you posted! 

—Hannah

Friday, June 11, 2010

Greenland Wrap-Up

Greenland

And so, a scant 10 days after it began, my Greenlandic adventure is at an end. I got to experience big polar science, witness the first suggestions of climate change in the form of retreating glaciers and early mosquito and flower emergence, and eat some delicious whale and cured fishes of many sorts.

Three highlights:

Camping near the ice edge.
Talking arctic science with grad students from other universities.
The Søndrestrom Incoherent Scatter Radar Facility.

Three things I still can’t wrap my head around:

I met the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark.
The ice sheet is huge. Really, really huge.
I went to Greenland?!

It was a fun trip, both too short and just long enough. Until my next adventure, kasuuta and taku! —Hannah

Thursday, 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--Niel 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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reality: Greenland

Greenland Map

It’s finally starting to sink in that I am, in fact, leaving for Greenland on Tuesday. TUESDAY. GREENLAND. For the sake of you, the reader, as well as to drill the reality of what we are actually doing into my own head, here’s an introductory post.

We will spend Tuesday evening in Schenectady, New York. On Wednesday morning, and this is where the itinerary becomes surreal, we will be picked up at 5 am and transported to the Stratton Air National Guard Base, where we will meet up with the 109th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard (unofficial motto: “You call, we haul.”) which works with the National Science Foundation’s Polar Field Services to provide logistical support to polar researchers. This is way “bigger” science than I have ever experienced!

From there, we join other scientists and cargo aboard a C-130 Hercules (for those of you, like myself, relatively unversed on the ins and outs of military aviation, it’s a HUGE 4-propeller airplane capable of transporting tanks) for the flight out to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, which will be our home for the next week. There may be a layover in Canada for refueling, there may not—we won’t know until we’re on board the aircraft.

Kangerlussuaq (“the Gateway to the Greenland Ice Sheet”) was founded during World War II as a U.S. airbase, served during the Cold War as Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line base (images of Dr. Strangelove come to mind), and now functions as a base of operations for NSF research on glaciology, biogeochemistry, and atmospheric science. We will be staying in the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) building along with all manner of other polar researchers.

While we are in Greenland, we will be investigating the impacts of climate change in this unique environment—Greenland boasts the second-largest land-based ice sheet after Antarctica, and scientists are beginning to notice accelerations in the flow of glaciers off of this huge interior mound of ice. We will be visiting Russell Glacier, which is within easy driving distance of Kangerlussuaq, and, weather permitting, will spend a night camping within sight of it. There are also plans to visit Norse ruins (such settlers may have fallen victim to climate change during the Little Ice Age, depending on whom you ask), Sondrestrom Upper Atmospheric Research Facility, and the Kangerlussuaq Museum. I’ve also heard Kangerlussuaq boasts a full 18-hole golf course with very modest greens fees and club rentals.

I’m especially interested in, of course, Greenland’s wildlife (although I will not be collecting anything. It’s been almost 11 months, not that I keep track…). Kangerlussuaq is, reportedly, one of the best places in Greenland to see muskox (which you can also try as a pizza topping), caribou, arctic foxes, gyrfalcons, and ptarmigans, among others. On the way to the glacier it looks like we’ll be passing through some beautiful tundra. I’m also curious as to whether there will be any evidence of species turnover in Greenland, from native arctic species to invasive temperate ones. I’ll keep you posted!—Hannah