Reality: Greenland

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Hannah Owens

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