Russell Glacier

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ungulates and Undulating Ice

Caribou

Today was full of wow! It was another day of driving, hiking, sun, and awe in the vicinity of Russell Glacier. On the way there we spotted our first real live musk ox, an enormous hairy mound of beast that seemed to remind everyone either of Snuffleupagus, a bantha from Star Wars, or Ludo from Labyrinth. This was followed by our first caribou, a young one with tiny velvety nubs of horns that ran toward us, around us, and off to the river again.

We stopped for lunch at part of the glacier that ends in a pool which emptying out into the river next to a really nice beach. The wind off of the glacier was bitterly cold, but once we got within fifty meters of the glacier, it blocked the wind and made plopping down on the glacial till for a sandwich and a Coke absolutely lovely. We sat around for awhile waiting for the glacier to cave, but no such luck. Extra-special bonus: first Gyrfalcon of the trip!

Hannah Owens

As we drove on, we also spotted a flock of what else but Canada geese. Kind of annoying, since we see them all the time at home, but neat since they were the first Greenlandic Canada geese of the trip (does that make sense?). We also spotted another duck, this one closer and in better light, but still from a moving car—my guess would be a male pintail, but I may correct that in a later post…

At last, we arrived at a spot from which we could hike out onto the glacier. At first, it looked like huge, random piles of gravel and mud, but as we went father, jumping across a shallow stream, the crunch of ice underfoot and the suddenly visible infinity short snowy spires and cliffs let us know exactly where we were. There was an abundance of melt-water streams with tasty cold, clear water—unusual this early, or so I'm told. The two professors on the trip that had previously visited the glacier commented that they had never seen streams this large or plentiful on the glacier before. We also found a moulin, or glacial mill, which is a large funnel in the ice where melt water streams drain onto the glacier bed below. Tomorrow we're camping, so I’ll be taking a brief hiatus. Cheers!  

—Hannah

Thursday, 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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ungulates and Undulating Ice

Day 5Day 5

Today was full of wow! It was another day of driving, hiking, sun, and awe in the vicinity of Russell Glacier. On the way there we spotted our first real live musk ox, an enormous hairy mound of beast that seemed to remind everyone either of Snuffleupagu, a bantha from Star Wars, or Ludo from Labyrinth. This was followed by our first caribou, a young one with tiny velvety nubs of horns that ran toward us, around us, and off to the river again.

We stopped for lunch at part of the glacier that ends in a pool which emptying out into the river next to a really nice beach. The wind off of the glacier was bitterly cold, but once we got within fifty meters of the glacier, it blocked the wind and made plopping down on the glacial till for a sandwich and a Coke absolutely lovely. We sat around for awhile waiting for the glacier to cave, but no such luck. Extra-special bonus: first Gyrfalcon of the trip!

As we drove on, we also spotted a flock of what else but Canada geese. Kind of annoying, since we see them all the time at home, but neat since they were the first Greenlandic Canada geese of the trip (does that make sense?). We also spotted another duck, this one closer and in better light, but still from a moving car—my guess would be a male pintail, but I may correct that in a later post…

At last, we arrived at a spot from which we could hike out onto the glacier. At first, it looked like huge, random piles of gravel and mud, but as we went father, jumping across a shallow stream, the crunch of ice underfoot and the suddenly visible infinity short snowy spires and cliffs let us know exactly where we were. There was an abundance of melt-water streams with tasty cold, clear water—unusual this early, or so I'm told. The two professors on the trip that had previously visited the glacier commented that they had never seen streams this large or plentiful on the glacier before. We also found a moulin, or glacial mill, which is a large funnel in the ice where melt water streams drain onto the glacier bed below. Tomorrow we're camping, so I’ll be taking a brief hiatus. Cheers!  —Hannah


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sky Sauce

FishGlacerBird

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 longspur. 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 geoscientist, 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.