July 19, 2003
We made it out. We left Kanger in the morning, and arrived up at Summit a bit before noon. The folks at the camp had already been informed that Bjorn and I were hoping to hit the ground running, and took care to get us set up first with tents out in tent village and with staging space in the Green House, a green building used by visiting scientists. Bjorn and I organized the GPS equipment, getting some of it ready for the afternoon, and went in for lunch.
The main living area up at Summit is called the Big House, and is plush. “I was looking for a pee flag,” Bjorn said, coming in from the Green House (usually the outhouses are for pooping and peeing is done at a flag staked into the ground nearby), “and then I saw the shower…” Showers, flush toilets, wireless internet. This place is deluxe. A kitchen for cooking, another sinked space for washing dishes, a bathroom. A big living area, with tables for eating and working on one side and on the other several couches arranged to face a TV next to a wall with shelves full of movies. A comms room, with the radio and some supplies. And nice people to boot.
And the food……
Well, it’s all about Kim.
After lunch, Bjorn and I set out, along with Meg and Sandy, to survey camp.
Sandy is science-tech/medic/whatever-extraordinaire, and Meg is the incoming science-tech who will be on the first winter shift. That is, she’s there from now until November. We split into two teams, the idea being that Bjorn and I would survey while Sandy and Meg served as guides, since they know the camp, and took notes. It worked pretty well. By dinner time, we’d surveyed almost everything.
We stopped to enjoy a good family dinner with amazing food (grilled halibut, some flaky Greek sort of thing, pasta salad with sundried tomatoes, etc. etc., with very rich coffee-flavored cake to top it off), and I was reminded of how good, fun people get into these programs. I’m stoked to go back to Antarctica.
After dinner, Bjorn and I surveyed a few last structures in camp and then headed out to the runway. Ah-yeah. We each had our yellow Trimble backpacks, each a skidoo, and we surveyed the three-mile ski-way (longest ski-way in the world) leap-frogging from one set of flags to the next. Now I park alongside the set of three flags and take a 15-second recording, and Bjorn buzzes past at top-speed to the next set; now I rev the engine and cruise on past Bjorn, each of us racing in some way, trying to get ahead, held back only when we have to take notes to mark special flags—these flags are labeled 2, these flags are red instead of black and probably mark the middle of the ski-way—which in some ways is good, because then the next run you get to cruise three flags ahead instead of two, gathering more speed, going farther, zipping that much faster past your partner.
When we finished the runway survey, grinning, we turned away from camp and towards the sun. And cruised, high speed, into nothing.
Nothing, and everything, white forever towards that sun. Earlier, when Sandy and I had been out to survey the approach flags, the wind was stronger, the visibility poorer. The ground was white and shiny, the sky white and flat, the two merging somewhere undefined, shiny to flat somewhere indistinguishable inbetween, no horizon, just white.
We got back to camp well after 10 PM. We downloaded the data from our survey controllers onto my computer, and we did a preliminary run of data processing just to make sure our data was good. It was. Is. Looks good, anyway. We were done.
We got back in the Big House around 11:30 PM. A plane had just come in, a Hurc that we had briefly considered leaving on, if it looked like the weather the next day was going to be bad. You don’t want to leave tonight, Billy said at dinner. You’re right, I said. I don’t. I wanted to spend at least one night up there at Summit, and ideally have some time to relax and enjoy the place. When it became apparent that they would have to get a plane in the next day, and that the weather looked fine for it, the call to stay was easy.
Some of the camp staff was still busy offloading the plane, and organizing the newly-arrived goods. Fresh food, new supplies. After the offload, we sat around and chatted, chilling out at the end of the day—now past midnight.
I slept like an all-star. I slept in my clothes, in the puffy sleeping bag they had issued me, in the bright yellow Arctic oven. I slept warm, and I slept hard. I surfaced at around 9.
The morning was pretty relaxed. Bjorn wanted to try out the wireless internet connection in the Big House, and we sat for a while on one of the couches playing on our computers. At almost noon, Cathy, the camp manager, told us the Hurc had taken off from Kanger. We finished readying our equipment in the Green House and came back in for lunch. Grilled cheese and tuna, with plenty of sides.
The plane would not arrive until 2 or so, and would need at least 30-45 minutes for offloading before they were ready for us, so there was no hurry. Sparky took us on his 50-cent tour, which for us consisted of a trip down into the science trench. There is a wooden shaft, with wood stairs, leading down into a wooden room within the snow. The purpose is to allow for clean snow and gas sampling in a space protected from the influence of pollutants coming from camp and from the planes.
Shortly after, it was time to get on the plane. This time, there were three passengers—Bjorn and me, and a man from Kanger who came up to set up an HF radio. Once again, tons of space on the plane. But once again, I didn’t need it.
As I boarded, the military man who boarded right behind me asked, “Do I know you? You look familiar.” Yeah, whatever, buddy. We’d all come up for the same flight week, so I figured he had probably just seen me on the way down and forgotten already. I said this, but a little nicer. “Maybe you can ride up in the cockpit. Have you ridden up there before?” Women are very commonly asked to ride up in the cockpit. As Bjorn pointed out, the male-female ratio of scientists and contracters is often close to 1:1 or, probably more reasonably, 2:1, but there are far more men than women in the military groups. Women get preferential treatment. I felt a bit guilty about this until both Bjorn and Sparky said, “Work it. Oh, yeah, take full advantage.” So I replied to this man, “Yes, but never on this flight—just from Raven.” “Well, we’ll see if we can get you up there,” he said.
Within 5 minutes, I was up in the cockpit. Sorry Bjorn and other guy.
When you sit up front, you get to wear radio headphones and listen in to the flight banter. Going through checks and, more interestingly, talking about the flight. In this case, we had a strong crosswind, and the pilot and copilot were talking about take-off strategies. If they couldn’t get it in three attempts, they’d use jado, the rocket-assisted take-off. I was stoked. Bjorn says it’s really cool—there you are taxi-ing the runway, and then the nose lifts, and then—Zing!—you’re trying not to tumble towards the back of the plane. They use the rocket-assisted take-offs when the snow on the runway is soft, and they have a hard time lifting off. But, the plane got up on the second attempt.
The man who had brought me up front turned out to be the colonel. He was still trying to figure out why I looked familiar. Have you been to Antarctica? he asked. Yes, last season, I said. When? he asked, and nodded when I told him the dates. Yes, he said, that might be it…. Were you in Crary? Crary is the name of the science building. Yes, I said, and he said, Did you give a tour? You had pictures of…. Ah, yes, and then it clicks for me, too. Erebus, I said, and he said, Yes! He had been a very interested member of a military group who had been brought through on a tour, where I was asked to give a spiel on the Erebus project. He wasn’t just using a line after all.
He chatted me up for much of the flight, some of which—the longest spiel, of course—I couldn’t understand at all through my earplugs and the headset and over the noise of the plane. His breath smelled of coffee. I smiled and nodded. He offered the crew coffee which had been sent along by Kim, and when he turned to get it he bent in such a way that he was practically sitting in my lap, his butt up against my leg. “Pardon my butt,” he turned and said. Smile and nod, smile and nod.
Close to the ice edge, I got up and stood up against the window on the side of the cockpit, watching the ice turn to wrinkles and then drool off between the low ridges in fat tongues. We flew low, and when I thought to look for musk ox I saw two immediately. We flew out past the runway, and then banked to turn and approach it from the other side, and only then did they ask me to sit. Another glorious flight.
We got in just early enough to borrow a truck, go to a couple stores up by the airport to find everything chincy and overpriced, and make it do dinner within the last minutes of serving. Mystery meat stroganoff. After dinner, we changed to shorts and t-shirts—so balmy in Kanger! So warm!—and headed off walking to a barbeque Robin, one of the VECO folks, told us might be interesting to check out. The barbeque was being thrown for a commercial flight full of people who had gotten stuck due to mechanical failure of the plane, and we heard rumors of whale meat. We can’t confirm whether the rumors are true, or even if the barbeque had anything to do with Greenlandic culture, because once we made it the two km over there we got intimidated and just turned to walk back. We expected a large, mingling party, and what we found was a small group of people seated, not really the sort of thing you can just wander into unnoticed.
We learned while walking back that we were a little overzealous when we donned the shorts and tees. The sun had sunk a bit lower in the sky, just behind a ridge, and walking in the shade above the Arctic circle is cold.
We still had enough energy, so long as we didn’t sit down or otherwise stop moving, to go have a beer in the Roost with the military folks. We ended up there a little longer than anticipated, talking mostly with Mike, a New York (born and raised) reporter who lives outside Schenectady. He’s never been west of the Mississippi. Except Kansas City, he was in Kansas City once. Why go west? he said. What?? Bjorn and I said. Mostly me. We listed reasons to go, like open space and mountains. And besides, Kansas City is hardly the west, I said. St. Louis was the gateway to the west, he said, and Kansas City is west of that. Oh, these outdated east coast notions. Look on a map, I said. He mentioned skinheads and Nazis and cannibalism. I may have pointed out that he wouldn’t be going west AND traveling through time (regarding the cannibalism—and besides, they were survival situations, not cultural), just going west. And the skinheads are easy to avoid.
The evening came to an end when we were walking out and both got caught up in last conversations. Bjorn got the nice, good-natured, funny photographer, Jim, and I got three young drunk military guys trying to convince me to stay out with them and then go to the Klubben (dance club). Come on, said one, it’s a once in a time life opportunity. You seem like the type of person that likes to go out, experience life, meet people and make friends, said another. I hope you come out with us, but it’s your decision.
Bjorn and I headed back to our dorm rooms.
The rest of the story is uneventful. On Saturday morning, we woke at 6:15, breakfasted, packed in for a full flight, got out around 8 as planned, almost all slept a good portion of the 6-hour flight, and landed back in New York. We got a taxi to the airport, had a couple hours to kill in Albany in which we ate a decent meal (although I did have a chicken sandwich with the most ridiculously small piece of chicken I’ve ever seen), flew to Chicago, waited, flew to Denver, waited, bussed to Boulder, were picked up by Jocelyn, Bjorn’s wife, and I was dropped off here at Ico and Aga’s, where I’m housesitting, around 11:30 PM. That’s 3:30 AM Greenland time, adding up to a 19 1/2-hour travel day. Exhausting. I saw signs of Ico and Aga, thinking maybe they were still actually in town, so rather than going directly to their bed I lie on the floor, just to rest and figure out where to go next, and awoke sometime around 1:30 AM and transplanted myself to bed. I’m still exhausted.
What a rockstar trip. I loved it. It was beautiful, I met some great people, I saw some cool stuff. Not at all a bad thing to get paid to do.
July 17, 2003
If I remember right, we went straight from our Raven plane to the plane bound for Summit. .....
Tricky and some other folks had headed off to another camp that morning, and the media folks were sticking around Kanger for some reason or another, but the rest of us were off to Summit. We packed in, a flight made tight by a large amount of equipment, including one very large blue box brought by a German team which wasn’t really a box at all but a small building to house some experiements.
After sitting a good while, one of the loadmasters stuck his head back to let us know they had a mechanical problem which would take a good 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours to fix. He got permission to let us off, and then Sparky—one of the VECO heads—had to argue a bit to get the military to let us go to dinner at the Polar Bear Inn. It was 6 PM, and dinner ends at 6:30.
I never really described the food in Kanger. We were given meal tickets for the Polar Bear Inn, the cafeteria-style eating establishement in town. Bacon and scrambled eggs and hard-boiled eggs and cereal and milk and pastries and sliced meat and cheese and wafer-thin chocolate and bread or rolls for breakfast, I never had a lunch, and then mystery meat and frozen vegetables and some style of potatoes for dinner.
It’s a good thing we went to dinner that night: the mystery meat turned out to be musk ox, and who wants to miss the opportunity to eat that?
After dinner, we were round back up and headed back up to the airstrip and were packed back into the Hurc. Only to be told that the weather at Summit had deteriorated, and they were no longer willing to fly there. So we unloaded.
What else to do? After checking back into our rooms, we went for a beer. We first went to the one bar in town, to find it closed, and then went to the one club in town, to find it open and empty. We went in anyway, bought six-dollar beers (ouch), and played pool. Then, we relocated to the Roost, the military bar which is run only when the military is in town. The military bar is a much better deal. $1 beers, including such favorites as Labatts and Miller Light. This night was a particular bargain—people were just putting money down on the bar, which meant that everyone drank whatever they wanted until the money in the pot ran out. Then, it was back to $1 beers.
For some reason, we weren’t scheduled to fly the next day until 5 PM again. We slept in, and then I came upon Bjorn and Florence, a new graduate student at CU, and the three of us went on a hike.
The weather was ridiculous. The wind had picked up with a vengeance, knowing that if it blew hard enough it could whip up sand and dust from the roads and the riverbed to sandblast anyone silly enough to brave the outdoors. We were silly enough. We had to be. How else were we going to see Greenland? Luckily, once we got away from the road there was no sand to blast us with and the wind was calmer in the removed valleys besides. We hiked along a large lake and then turned off up to a ridge and hiked along smaller lakes and then up again. Our goals were 1) to see a plane wreck from the 50’s and 2) to see musk ox.
The plane wreck was in a small lake-filled valley just out of site from the road and just up from town. I don’t know what the correct story is, but the story I heard goes: There were three planes returning from such-and-such to find the airstrip socked in. Whoever was in charge on the ground told them to fly to wherever they thought the airstrip was and eject, allowing the planes to crash. This was one of them. As I said, I don’t know if that’s the true story, so don’t quote me on it. Unless the quote is something like, “Beth doesn’t know the true story for sure, but what she *heard* was…”
What I do know is that we saw the picked-over remains of a plane, totally demolished.
Then, we headed up again, in search of more cool views and musk ox.
Unfortunately, most of my beautiful photos are to large to upload here, including one very nice 360-degree panorama. So it goes.
[Glacial polish with striations. When glaciers slide over hard rock, like granite or gneiss (which is squished granite, usually), they smooth the rock surface into what's called glacial polish. The surface can be smooth-smooth-smooth. Bjorn and I have never felt a smoother glacial polish, and have never seen it in such large patches. Smooth-smooth-smooth. And, if you look closely, you can see some thin lines, called striations, in this glacial polish. Striations result when rocks in the base of the glacial ice scrape against the underlying bedrock as the glacier flows over. Striations are handy because they indicate the direction of most recent ice motion in a region. Photo: me.]
Finally, on the way down, we saw the musk ox.
We made it down in time to hear that the trip to Summit was likely to be called off, and then that the trip was going to be attempted an hour early. Everyone back to their rooms, stuff packed and downstairs ready to go. Around 4, Sparky came over to tell us the 4 thing wasn’t happening. He’d let us know the final word at 5:15. So I went over with Jeff, Billy, Meg, Alberto, and others to a lounge to watch “Joe Dirt.” Some people think it’s really funny. …
Sparky came in around 5:15 to let us know the evening mission was off. We were all given dinner tickets for the infamous Polar Bear Inn, and told that we would try to head out in the morning. Sparky and Tom wanted to meet with Bjorn and me to discuss the fate of our survey. We were potentially left with less than one of the three or so days we had planned to stay at Summit. Could the work get done? If not, what were the options? Sparky and Tom both mentioned the possibility of one of us either staying on until the next flight period or coming back the next flight period. Ah, yeah. But Bjorn, the ever practical one, said let’s just wait and see how it goes.
After dinner, a few of us took a little tour of the area. We borrowed a truck from VECO and cruised down to the harbor along the longest paved road in Greenland (20 miles??), then up and around the hills to the site of a since-removed radio repeater from the Cold War, which repeated communications between the US and Europe.
No late night for me that night. We hung out for a while in a dorm lounge, and then I headed to bed in anticipation of a long day to come.
July 15, 2003
Tom, one of the VICO heads, found us Monday night to tell us we might be sent out to Raven, a small camp established to support military training flights for pilots getting checked off to take off from and land on snow. They had talked about getting us out to survey Raven on Friday, our last day in Greenland, if we got done with our work at Summit, but the flight to Summit wouldn’t leave until the next evening and they were planning a morning flight to Raven anyway with the media folks. Sure, we said. If the weather is at all if-y, Tom said, we’ll cancel, because we don’t want to end up with a detailed map of Raven and no map at all of Summit.
The weather looked good. On Tuesday morning, Bjorn and I loaded onto the Hurc with all the media folks and their gear, which amounted to a much less crowded flight than any other Hurc flight I’d been on. Shortly after take-off, loadmaster Randy signaled us to get up and walk around and look out the windows, and we took full advantage. The flight was incredible. Flying over all those rows of low ridges I’d seen from the ground the day before, all that rock smoothed out in the direction of ancient glacier flow, lakes everywhere, and lakes and lakes and lakes. As we neared the ice edge, I noticed that some lakes were dark blue, while others were milky gray.
Some lakes, in this glacially-sculpted landscape, had no inlet or outlet, the water filling depressions left by the scouring of glaciers. These lakes were dark blue. Other lakes were connected to the nearby glaciers, fed by streams carrying glacial meltwater down towards the sea. These lakes were milky grey with sediment brought by the meltwater.
The ice at the edge of the ice sheet was amazing. Thinner than the ice up farther on the ice sheet, and thus influenced more by the topography of the land surface beneath it, the ice was broken, pushed, and pulled into patterns. “It looks like elephant skin,” said one photographer, Jim. The ice was cross-hatched by crevasses and decorated with pressure ridges called ogives.
As we moved farther up the ice sheet, the ice surface changed. The crevasses gave way to a smoother surface, which was dotted with lakes. And, again, lakes and lakes and lakes.
And not only lakes and lakes and lakes, but lakes of possibly the bluest blue I have ever seen in nature.
A blue to fall into, to get lost in, a blue to make your eyes go wide wide wide because it’s so blue, the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. Blue like Cool-Aid, or like blue popsicles, an unreal blue, but a watery version, one that increased in intensity as the lake depth increased. The bluest blue ever, if the lake was deep enough.
Then, eventually, nothing but smooth, white ice.
Raven consists of just a few small structures, including the weather port where the caretakers, Tracy and Amy, live, an equipment/communications shed, an outhouse, and another weather port (like a small building/big tent). The most prominent features at Raven are the runway, which is several miles long, and the Dye site, Dye 2. I’ll explain the Dye site later.
We got off the plane at Raven and immediately all started fussing with equipment. The media folks set up cameras to record the take-offs and landings the Airforce was to do, and Bjorn and I got our GPS equipment organized and ready for our survey.
To do the site survey, Bjorn and I set up one base station, consisting of a GPS antenna on a post duct-taped to a plank of wood extending from the roof of the shed. The antenna was plugged in to a receiver inside the shed, and we left the base station to collect data in its one position for the duration of the survey. We then set up one ‘rover,’ a system which we would be carting around with us to take measurements at the various structures. All data would then be processed relative to the base station, a technique called ‘differential GPS’ which improves the solution quality of the GPS coordinates by eliminating the effect of errors common to both sites, such as atmospheric variations. If this doesn’t make sense and/or you want to know more, let me know and I’ll spend a little more time on it.
Our rover system consisted of a GPS antenna on a ‘range pole’ screwed onto a specially designed backpack, with a cable running from the antenna to a receiver inside the backpack. Another cable runs from the receiver to a survey controller, which is kept outside the backpack and is used to control the receiver. I didn’t think to take pictures of these things. Also inside the backpack is a battery to power the system. With the right equipment, the setup isn’t too heavy.
My job was to wear the backpack and push the appropriate button when we wanted to record a survey point. The GPS receiver is on the whole time we are surveying, even when we’re just walking from point A to B, recording satellite info every 5 seconds (because we programmed it that way). When we get to the point we want to record, we push a button on the survey controller and try to hold very still and wait 15 seconds (because we programmed it that way) for the receiver to get a decent recording and store the survey point with a label (for instance, Point 5). We then note down what, for example, Point 5 corresponds to, and can then label structures when we later process the data and create the site map. Taking notes and driving the skidoo was Bjorn’s job.
Our goal was to survey not only the few structures at camp, but the outline of the ski-way (runway for planes on skis) as well. We hoped to finish early enough to both have lunch with Tracy and Amy, and tour the Dye sit which was waiting in the near and tempting distance.
As I said, we did our surveying from a skidoo. This probably afforded the media some amusement before they had to pack back up to catch their ride home. We were given the option of waiting for the next flight—another group was scheduled to come in to train on the runway—which we readily took. We headed out to survey the ski-way as the first plane was still on the ground, but ready to take off, which meant we were right beside the runway for its big moment. We were hoping it would turn out that way. Bjorn got a great movie of take-off, but it's too big for me to post.
THE DYE SITE
All went well with surveying, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch with Tracy and Amy. They have been living out there all season, just the two of them, but get visitors every once in a while—most of which are skiers on their way across Greenland. Yes, people do this for fun.
After lunch, Tracy outfitted Bjorn and I with flashlights and the three of us headed off for the Dye site.
I had no idea what a Dye site was. As it turns out, and as many of you likely already know, the U.S. had a number of early warning sites set up during the Cold War to watch for unfriendly Soviet activity. At least four of these sites were in Greenland. Dye site 2 is in Tracy and Amy’s backyard, having been abandoned quickly sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
The Dye site was designed to be raised hydrolically as the snow accumulation increased, explaining the open base of the building.
Right now, the wind does a good job of keeping this base clear. Tracy figures that, once one side gets blocked by snow, the whole thing will get drifted in pretty quickly. I have a cool movie of the snow blowing through, but it's too big to post.
We cruised up a stairway outside the building and headed inside. The place, though trashed, still holds much evidence of its Cold War inhabitants. There are still drawers of this and that in the equipment room—thousands of dollars worth of cable, nuts, bolts, wires, whathaveyou—there are beds in the dorm rooms, there are files in the file cabinets. Tracy estimates that, based on the number of beds, there were about 50 or so people living in the place. There is a bar with a pool table, a map of the world with the Soviet Union, and shuffleboard. There’s a small basketball court. There is a kitchen with the frozen remains of uneaten food in bowls on the counter, probably left by skiers on expeditions across Greenland who used the Dye site for shelter. There are rooms full of control panels for power systems, for the radars, switchboards for comms. And, of course, there is the radar in the huge dome at the top.
Standing on the walkway outside the dome, we got the call that the plane was on its way back for us.
We had just enough time to poke our way back through, get on our skidoo, and cruise back across the runway to wait for the plane to land.
The airforce’s usual training had been aborted in order to get us back in time for our flight to Summit, and Bjorn and I were the only passengers for the trip to Kanger. We had all the space in the world to walk around in the back, but we didn’t need it. We were rockstars. We sat up in the cockpit for most the flight, including the landing.
July 14, 2003
Bjorn had to tell me at least 5 times where we were going in Greenland, and I was relieved to find out that the town was generally referred to in short form, as Kanger. Initially, I expected Kangerlussuaq to be a decent-sized Greenlandic town, self-sufficient and normally functioning. In Schenectady, when someone suggested we may get into Kanger too late for dinner, that there’s only one place to get dinner and that they only serve during certain hours, I readjusted my picture of Kanger a small, mostly-native, rural town with limited resources. Needless to say, neither of these pictures fit. Kanger is located at the head of an ~100-mile-long fjord, in a setting of glacially-sculpted hill which floored me. The location offers both protection and ship access, which is why the US chose Kanger as the site of a US military base during the Cold War… which is how Kanger got its start. As a result, the buildings are boxy, functional, matching, making the town more institutionalized than individualized. But, as Bjorn points out, they've been painted bright colors.
In post-Cold War times, the town has become the home of Greenland’s major airport, which is little more than a rural airway. There are few actual houses, few signs of natives carrying on as natives; most of the people there are there to support the airport, and many of them are imported from Denmark. Adam’s story captures it better, so here again is the link:
Bjorn and I climbed a ridge up from Kanger the first night we were there, and less than an hour walk from town we were standing atop glacially-smoothed rock, aside a narrow lake tucked just behind the ridge where it could surprise us when we reached the top. Looking upvalley, we could just see the icecap from where we were standing. Below, rivers of glacial meltwater raged milky-gray, and the smooth rock ridges went on and on and on around us.
Posted by beth at 11:49 PM
Greenland: The Beginning
Who knows anything about Greenland? I didn’t, really. I knew that it looks big on maps, usually distorted; that so-and-so called it Greenland to get people to move there but that it isn’t really green; that it’s mostly covered in ice. That it’s east of the U.S. I didn’t know much more. When Bjorn, my current boss, called me with the UNAVCO job offer, he gave me the line-up of the upcoming trips: Louisiana, Greenland, Yellowstone. Greenland. The only international project. Sounds pretty cool. What about Greenland? I pulled a National Geographic book of Our World off my parents’ shelf, and my mom and I looked at it together. Briefly. People living along the coasts, small populations, belonging to Denmark. That's all I knew until I went.
Now, I know that Greenland rocks.
Bjorn and I were scheduled to go to Greenland to survey a field camp to make a site map for VECO, the company contracted to support U.S. Arctic science. VECO provides logistical support to the US NSF Arctic program much as Raytheon provides logistical support to the US NSF Antarctic program. UNAVCO supports U.S. Polar Programs, which encompasses work both within the Antarctic and Arctic circles. We usually only support science directly, but agreed to (and were allowed to) do the site survey for a couple of reasons: 1) To establish contact with the program in Greenland to familiarize ourselves with what they’re doing and how they run the ship (so to speak), and 2) To train up the person in my position (that would be me, but this trip was planned before I was hired) to familiarize them (me) with Antarctic-style GPS support. Plus, Bjorn knew that Greenland was cool.
Getting to Greenland is much like getting to Antarctica, but a bit more relaxed. Bjorn and I flew from Denver to Albany, New York on Sunday, July 13. We shuttled from the airport to the Holiday Inn in Schenectady, New York, where VECO was putting us up for the night. We were to fly out from Scotia, New York to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland the next morning on a C-130 Hurcules with the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard.
Schenectady, the gateway to Greenland, is a lot like Christchurch, the gateway to Antarctica, except a lot different. First of all, the hotel rooms, by default, were smoking. We’re not in Boulder anymore. After checking in, Bjorn, Detlof (a scientist from U. of Colorado), and I headed out to find some food. Bjorn and I were reaching ravenous. We hadn’t really eaten since the morning, and were both looking forward to a good sit-down meal. We walked across town, at about 6:30 in the evening, finding the town dead. We walked down a walking mall which was devoid of people, nothing open; we walked past a Burger King, a KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken), a lot of boarded up or otherwise vacated buildings… We came to an intersection with a small group of people hanging out, and asked where we could find a restaurant in town. “Well,” said one man, “there’s a KFC, and then a little farther down there’s a Burger King…” “Anything sit-down?” He thinks. “There’s that hotel up there, but it’s closed…”
We went back towards the Burger King, either to gorge ourselves or maybe just to have a snack and keep walking, but accidentally missed it and came, by chance, along a pizza place. Pizza and subs. Perfect.
We gorged ourselves, appropriately, loved the men working there, and, better yet, met my friend Tricky there. Tricky and I had met down in Artarctica, shortly before he left for Christchurch. He had been in Greenland already earlier in the season, and I thought he was done, but it turns out that he was on his way back, on our very same flight. Ah, Tricky.
The four of us stayed up a little on the late side talking, and met the taxis at the hotel at 5:45 AM Monday morning. The whole group staying in our hotel gathered around the hotel entrance, organizing gear and trying to figure out how to fit it all, plus ourselves, in the taxis. The taxis took us to the airbase, where got the run-down on our flight: flight safety spiel, cold-weather spiel, a video about the 109th division of the US Airforce. The 109th owns the bulk of the military ski-planes and does the bulk of the missions both to the Arctic and the Antarctic. Although the flights to Antarctica are somewhat regular during the summer season, Greenland flights are limited to flight weeks—every 2 or 3 weeks during the summer, as far as I can tell—during which multiple planes come in on a Monday (three came in on our day, with all the civilian passengers on one and gear and airforce personnel on the others) and fly to and from the various field camps to stock the camps, transport personnel, and train the flight crews. On Wednesday, a relief crew flies in from Scotia and another crew on another plane flies back to Scotia from Kanger. Come Saturday, all the planes fly out again from Kanger back to New York. Bjorn and I were in for the duration of one flight week—in on Monday, out on Saturday.
It also happens that this was media week for the Greenland program. We shared the flight week with 10 or so media folks, mostly from New York and New Jersey but at least one from farther away—Max, in from New Zealand. It was actually great to get to hang out with the media folks, and I’ll try to link you to their relevant arcticles as I find out about them. For instance, I was quoted in the paper in North Jersey--Check it out: http://www.northjersey.com, search on Greenland. I'm in the one about the town. Plus, there are links to reporter Adam Lisberg's other stories from the week, including one about the 109th which mentions our infamous yellow boxes.
Ahs-yeah. Bjorn and I scored these old GPS receiver boxes to use as computer boxes just before leaving on the trip, and I knew they’d score me some dudes in return. Check them checking me out. Or, checking out the yellow box, at least. Dudes: Tricky and Geoff. Our plane is in the background.
Posted by beth at 11:45 AM
July 12, 2003
Check-in, July 11, 2003
Okay, it’s time for an update. I know that this is called the Iceblog, and the purpose was to share my Antarctic experiences, but it seems that there are enough people (4, at least, and that’s certainly enough) who check this periodically for me to post something every once in a while. Even if it’s about a hot place. Besides, I’m going back to Antarctica.
But first, I’m going to Greenland.
I don’t know if I ever really gave the full update. I went somewhere cold, then somewhere mild, then somewhere hot, then somewhere mild again, and now I’m in Boulder. It’s hot, but dry. While traveling in New Zealand, I applied for two real jobs, and got one of them—while I was home visiting the folks and some really great friends in the Pacific Northwest. The job is at UNAVCO, the facility kind enough to host me while I finished my masters degree. UNAVCO provides GPS support to the community of Earth scientists using GPS for scientific applications. My official title is (I think) Geodetic Engineer I. ‘Geodetic’ means I survey. An unofficial (but less descriptive) title would be Field Engineer. That means I go out in the field. This is a good thing. My job description has me supporting campaign (and etc.) GPS in the summer and supporting the Antarctica program in the winter. Campaign GPS consists of setting up fancy GPS receivers over established survey marks (like the kind labeled NGS—National Geodetic Survey—or USGS—United States Geological Survey—that you see on the top of mountains when you’re hiking) and recording satellite data for a few hours/days to determine the site location and compare to previous readings to see how that site has moved. We are generally interested in how things move relative to other things, like: How does this site move relative to a site on the other side of the fault/volcanic crater? or How does this site, which is on the Pacific plate, move relative to a site on the North American plate?
For the Antarctic program, I will survey whatever is needed, which is a sweet deal. I am available to all kinds of scientists down there, so one day I may be helping to measure how fast a glacier is moving while the next day I survey the locations of seal or fishing holes in the ice while the next I train a group to do their own GPS work. Well, there will be some data processing and equipment organization, too. And, of course, I’ll get to go back to Erebus, although I won’t be able to be there quite as long this time. My total projected stint this time around is from around October 9 to whenever the season ends, or about four months total. This time, I’ll be based in McMurdo.
But enough about the future. I flew into Denver June 3 and started work at UNAVCO June 4. The following week, I was off on my first field project, to probably the most exotic place I’ll end up: Louisiana. I spent five days there, and was quite happy to return to the dry and relative coolness of Boulder. Nothing like some time away to make you appreciate a place. I’ve had about a month off from travel, and will be headed on Sunday to Greenland with my boss, Bjorn. We’re hoping for some hot hot hot weather between now and then to really get into the temperature contrast. The adventure should be somewhat similar to the Antarctica gig, with military flights and issued clothing and my friend Tricky (who I just found out will be on my very same flight to Greenland). After Greenland come other silly traveling treats, so stay tuned.
I’m house-hopping. I am currently on house number three. When coming back to Boulder from home, after accepting this job, I recognized that I felt I had been on the move too much, and that I wanted to feel grounded. To feel grounded, I recognized that I needed to establish a feeling of place, and that therefore, even though I am scheduled to be in Antarctica for four months of the coming year, it was important for me to get a place of my own in Boulder that I would be happy with and could unpack in and could establish my systems of organization in and put my pictures up in and really feel like I was in my own space in. So here I am in Ico and Aga’s house, munching on chocolate chips which I just found by raiding their cupboards. Some of my stuff is here, some of my stuff is at work (I pulled tomorrow’s clean shirt and undies from a file cabinet drawer in my office to stuff in my backpack for tomorrow while my friend Steve shook his heading, saying, “Is that your dresser now?”), a lot of my stuff is at my friend Wendy’s, even more of my stuff is at my parents’ house in Redmond, and I probably still have a few odds and ends in Bloomington, Indiana. So it goes. I’ve been mostly based at Wendy’s house, hanging out with her when she’s in town and taking care of her dogs when she’s not, but am on my second housesitting gig. At the first place, there was the sky chair on the back porch, but in this place, there’s a kitty. A kitty that bites hard with sharp teeth, but a kitty just the same. And I have no plans to look for a place of my own at least until I get back from Antarctica—especially since I’ll be gone essentially 3 weeks of August and 2 weeks of September. Geez Louise.
What life? Oh, I’ve got a bit of one. Frisbee games on Mondays, camping on free weekends. Other than that, the time seems to get sucked into a vortex. And I don’t even have a significant other or kids or a house or anything like that. Still, though, this will be the shortest section. I mean, it is. Because I’m done.