Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hiking, KISS and Projects for Graduate Students

Yesterday I got up early and hiked up into the hills outside of town with one of the professors. We found a beautiful pond at the top and were at last greeted with a view of the elusive Mallard. Still, it’s the first one of the trip. Yay! Then a pair of Phalaropes then came around the corner to smooth things over--that was a nice treat.

fter breakfast, we met with some glaciologists that are staying at KISS -- Kangerlussuaq International Science Support facility -- for a few days to learn about their project, which uses hot water to drill down into the ice sheet to measure temperatures and shifts throughout the ice to better model the movements of the glaciers. They had stretched out three kilometers of hose and were marking it off meter by meter so they could measure the depth of the hole as they drill—an excellent activity to keep grad students out of trouble while waiting for their two months on the ice sheet to commence. We then drove back out to the ice sheet to meet a pair of hydrologists measuring the outflow of the Watson River as it drains Russell Glacier.

After a morning of science, we hiked out to see an enormous glacier lake. Highlights of the hike (aside from the actual glacier, which was, of course, ridiculously cool) included an up-close view of two musk ox, two caribou, and a (tiny) calving event!

After the hike, five of us were dropped off to camp for the night in sight of the glacier and two waterfalls. It was awesome, except that we kept waking up thinking we had overslept because it was so bright outside.

he next day, we met back up and visited a group of ecology grad students from Penn State doing a long-term study examining the effects of caribou and musk ox grazing, as well as the effects of warming climate, on plant and invertebrate populations dynamics. Every day for three months they go to six sites (named after the seven dwarfs, minus, inexplicably, Grumpy) and survey plant and insect diversity and phenology inside and outside an area fenced to keep out grazers, and inside these cones that block wind and increase the temperature by two degrees. Apparently we were in the midst of a huge caterpillar outbreak that was decimating willows on the north-facing slopes of their study sites—the bonus there being that wasps that parasitize the caterpillars are also enjoying a bumper year. Extra bonus: Arctic hare sighting!

After our visit there, we went fossil hunting down by the fjord, where I found a clam. Dinner included half a chicken and whale Carpaccio—it tasted kind of like fishy beef. Tomorrow is going to be a scramble to do everything we haven’t done yet, since it’s our last day in Greenland. I can’t believe it’s almost over!