After 4 separate flights in 6 hours, Carli and Emily finally landed into Ilulissat, and venturing north of the Artic circle at 69.1°N. Unlike Narsarsuaq, which is nestled several kilometers inland, Ilulissat is a coastal town, adjacent to a massive ocean terminating glacier and UNESCO world heritage site. As we flew into the town we were in awe of giant ice bergs floating in the sea – some several magnitudes larger than the ‘Big House’ – that had calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier.
The next morning, Carli and Emily arrived bright (as if there was any other choice with 24hrs of daylight…) and early at the Air Greenland to helicopter out to Sarah Das’ field station at toe of the Sarqardliup Sermia (the second outlet glacier to the south of the Jakobshavans Glacier). However, as our luck would have it, after we waited for the weather to clear, got the go ahead from the Das camp, had all of our cargo loaded, and we were buckled in with our headsets on ready for takeoff – the pilot noticed that the black box/voice recorder was broken (which is the supposedly indestructible device that is supposed to be recovered completely unharmed in even the most destructive of crashes) so the flight was cancelled and we all had to pile out and troubleshoot what to do next as we waited for news on when the part could be replaced. Luckily, the two of us were not the only people attempting to enter the field that day, a photojournalist couple (two wonderful human beings) was also scheduled to depart with us and since they had been in Ilulissat for several days already, they took us under their wing and helped us with transportation, accommodation, contacts, and seriously helped ease the disappointment of our sudden change of plans.
Success! We have completed the first of five stints of our expedition in Greenland. It turns out that the hike to Kuussup Sermia (the glacier in Narsarsuaq) was a lot more demanding than expected – luckily each summit we traversed and every kilometer we trekked had a spectacular and constantly evolving view that continued to amaze. We managed to sample meltwater near the toe of the glacier on five different occasions, totaling to >100km carrying absurdly heavy packs (filled with sampling equipment and many liters of meltwater) over terrain completely covered by an uneven distribution of rocks and boulders, making every step a possibility of twisting knees and ankles (for those of us who are naturally graceful this was not a problem, however, a few us -you know who we are- do not possess that trait). Fortunately, the in-situ data was worth it, it was interesting in seeing the daily fluctuations in water depth, and we had Cody with us to keep our spirits high with random fits of song…
On the 22nd Carli, Cody, and Emily underwent their longest trek yet (to the surface of the glacier), involving ropes for ascending a steep ridge and crampons for ensuring our feet were reliable on the ice. Every time we descended a stretch of trail we were begrudging because we knew we were going to have to come back up – and with extra weight from our surface samples. However, we stuck it through and when we set foot on the actual glacier (a part of the Greenland Ice Sheet!) the realization of the overwhelming enormity and fragility of this vast expanse of ice made us forget the temporary pains and aches we were experiencing. There was something quite surreal about collecting those samples that made us appreciate how fortunate we are to have this opportunity to gather data from one of the most unique environments on earth.
Once we finally made it back over and to the bottom of the ridge that had required us to use ropes, our work was not quite finished…. We proceeded to our usual spot near the toe of the glacier in order to collect our second set of samples of the day. It was a tough and long day the final stretch of our hike back nearly killed our spirits but when some friendly local Greenlanders offered to give us a ride for the final 200m uphill (because it obviously looked like we were struggling) put huge smiles on our faces. Our photojournalist, Mindy, had a warm dinner and red wine waiting for us upon our return to the hostel – we have honestly never been so happy/grateful in our lives (THANKS MINDY!!!).
The very next day we set out to sea in a fantastically powerful boat to dodge between the floating ice bergs to collect some data from both the main channel leading from the glacier and the local seawater so that we would be able to compare this data to our samples from the toe and the surface of the glacier. It was fantastic to finally be able to collect seawater samples at depth with the Niskin bottle that NOAA had lent.
In the end we all retired from the Narsarsuaq site with a healthy dose of blisters, mosquito bites, sore muscles, stories to entertain our friends at home with and hopefully an incredible data set! Carli and Emily headed to Ilulisat, Mindy went off to Kangerlusuaq, and Cody headed back to the states with his first glacial field season under his belt- his gift of song will be greatly missed.
The next day, Wednesday, July 24, was the last day that Emily and Carli would hike out through the Field of Flowers towards the toe of the glacier to collect samples, as we were leaving the next morning.
That afternoon was spent gathering the samples, pumping water through filters, adding chemicals, testing PH and swatting the growing swarms of mosquitos…after dinner all the boxes had to be repacked – some would go with Emily and Carli to Ilulissat, some would go with Mindy to Kangerlussuaq, and some would fly to Reykjavik to be stored until everyone flies back to Iceland at the end of August on their way home.
A few hours before Cody left Narsarsuaq to go back to Ann Arbor, the four of us were able to go out on a small boat for an hour and a half to collect samples of the channel water and the sea water near the glaciers. It was a cloudy, drizzly morning, but the icebergs floating all around the boat were beautiful.
It was interesting to watch the actual sampling take place. As we were waiting on the patio for our ride to the boat, there was some practicing of the technique to be used on the water.
The collection tube was connected to a rope with weights attached, and it was important to have the entire system working just right in order to collect water at the correct depth. The device used to collect the water gave Emily, Carli and Cody a bit of difficulty when it was first used in the water – and there was some creative improvising going on involving elastic ties from a backpack.
They all took turns “fishing” for water and emptying the tube into the 20 liter plastic containers which will be shipped back to the University of Michigan GIGL later…
Made it to Narsarsuaq, stunning flight in over the ice fields, glaciers and fjords. The landing was beautiful considering the landing strip is considered as one of the top 10 worst landing sites in the world! Immediately a literal cloud … Continue reading →
This summer our tight-knit team of diverse seasoned field glaciologists (Emily, Carli and Sarah), a microbiologist (Cody) and a photo-journalist (Mindy) are heading to Kalaallit Nunaat (or Greenland) in the latest field expedition planned by Professor Aciego – to embark on five weeks of intense sampling, travel and exploration of some of Greenland’s receding (and some advancing) glaciers located in Narsarsuaq, Iluissat, Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk and Kulusuk.
This blog is intended to keep you up to date with the triumphs and challenges we face during our expedition, and the intricacies of sampling and exploration in the (sub)arctic glacial environment. This challenging work will provide much needed data that will expand our knowledge of glacial dynamics (especially subglacial) in our warming world.
Many glaciers are studied using remote sensing, for example via satellite imagery. Whilst we may know a lot about the surface of glaciers, it is very difficult to study the important geochemical and geophysical impacts underneath, as it is very difficult to climb under the glacier to see! This is where Sarah Aciego’s GIGL team excels. Glacial meltwater is nearly elementally pure water, thus by sampling the glacial outflow we can determine how melt water mixes with the mineral flour from rock erosion on its way to the sea. Our data can then be used by oceanographers who study how iron and other essential metals influence carbon fixation in the ocean, which could buffer effects of climate change. Nutrients in glacial meltwater, such as iron, are crucial for the growth of microorganisms like plankton, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and also produce as much as half of the oxygen humans breathe. As melting accelerates, scientists are unsure of what will happen to the primary production via interactions with plankton, carbon dioxide, and oxygen over time. Thus, it is a critical question to answer, as atmospheric gases seriously impacts human life and health. The goal of this project is to sample and characterize the glacial meltwater and surrounding terrain. By incorporating geologists, geochemists and a microbiologist we hope to further understand the processes listed above.
We reach our first destination, Narsarsuaq on the 18th July so stay posted!