Archive for July, 2008

We're Going to Greenland

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

icestories.jpgYou may have noticed that I’ve been pretty light on my blog posts the last nine months or so. That’s because I’ve been consumed with our Web project, Ice Stories. Just about a year ago, we got funding from the National Science Foundation to do this International Polar Year education project and it’s been non-stop polar research and education since then. We did a full slate of Webcasts last winter from Antarctica and trained some young Arctic researchers in media production and story-telling this past March. We gave them cameras and asked them to post dispatches, video and pictures from their research camps in Alaska and Greenland. We also sent an Exploratorium media crew to Barrow in May and June to produce Webcasts and stories from this science outpost on the northern-most spit of land in the U.S.

Now it’s my turn for a polar expedition and we’re going to Greenland starting July 7. Summer is an intense time for science in Greenland. With 24 hours of daylight and a melting ice cap to study, researchers spread along the edges of glaciers and on camps atop the summit of the ice cap to learn all they can about the dynamic nature of ice, wildlife, climate, and geology in an era of rapid climate change at the poles. I’ll be up there with video production Lisa Strong to document all the science we can stuff into three weeks. We’ll be camping and hiking with glaciologists, biologists, and climate researchers, recording interviews, writing dispatches, and capturing moving and still image scenes of this gorgeous icy island.

Our first stop will be the town of Kangerlussuaq, nestled along a 160-km (100-mile) long fjord with the looming ice cap behind. We’ll reach Kanger, as it’s often called, via an Air National Guard military transport from Scotia, New York and we’ll be staying at the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support facility, aka “KISS.” We hope to catch up with Billy D’Andrea, our Ice Stories correspondent from Brown University, who is studying lake sediments for clues of our recent climate past. We also plan to hitch a ride and hike out to Tom Neumann’s camp along the glacier edge. Tom is a glaciologist from the University of Vermont (http://www.uvm.edu/~greenlnd/) who is interested in the history of the Greenland Ice Sheet, in particular the last time Greenland was free from its mantle of ice. His team does this by patrolling the edge of the glacier and collecting debris spit out from the base of the ice sheet. These rocks contain clues about the last time they were directly exposed to cosmic rays from the sun (i.e. the last time they weren’t covered by ice). Near Kanger, we also hope to capture some musk oxen with our cameras and will almost certainly encounter unwelcome wildlife in the form of marauding Arctic mosquitoes (Billy says we’ll be eaten alive, which is why we’ve packed mosquito nets and plenty of deet).

iceberg_loudwaterberg.jpgFrom Kanger, we fly to the lovely town of Ilulissat, a major tourist and science destination on the island. Ilulissat means iceberg in Greenlandic and the town is aptly named situated as it is near the outlet of the world’s fastest-moving glacier, the Jakobshavn. Jakobshavn is Greenland’s largest glacier and it regularly calves huge icebergs in the summer season, some as large as a cubic kilometer is size. We hope to capture one of these gigantic calving events at Mark Fahnestock’s camp along the rocky shoreline of Disko Bay at the base of the glacier. Mark is a glaciologist from the University of New Hampshire, and studies the flow rate of the Jakobshavn glacier. This one glacier, a fraction of the 630,000-cubic-mile ice sheet that covers most of Greenland, produces 35 billion tons of icebergs every year, nearly all the bergs that threaten ship traffic in the Northern Atlantic and almost certainly the origin of the monster that sunk the Titanic. As a final destination of our Greenland science tour, Lisa Strong will fly with the Air National Guard up to Summit Camp to get a perspective of the ice from on top the two-mile-thick sheet.