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July 14, 2003

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.

THE GOAL
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.

THE JOURNEY
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.


[Getting the palettes and ourselves ready at the military base.]


[Gateway to the poles. Watching the video about the 109th.]

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.


[Inside the Hurc. Photo: Bjorn.]


[The urinal. Photo: Bjorn.]


[A nicer view: Canada. Photo: Bjorn.]

Posted by beth at July 14, 2003 11:45 AM