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July 11, 2005

Greenland Revisited

Greenland. I went once before, two years ago, and loved it (see July 2003). This time, I loved it more.

I wasn’t guaranteed to love it, mind you. I was loathing it. My third Arctic trip since getting back from the four-month stint in Antarctica. Not stoked. Ready to be warm. I mean, July—it’s supposed to be summer. Plus, it’s my birthday month. Spend my birthday with a bunch of almost-strangers again? Not that it’s a big deal, but it wasn’t feeling very inviting, either. And not only was I doing more Arctic stuff, but more training, which I was also feeling very done with. The whole project was a class, which merits a brief explanation.

The class, High Arctic Field Studies, was conceived of and run by biologist Jeff Welker, of University of Alaska, Anchorage, and geochemist/etc. Ron Sletten, of University of Washington. Their goal was to hold an interdisciplinary course to look at high arctic ecosystems, broadening students’ views of life/environment interactions while hopefully gaining a few insights themselves. Both have had research going on in northwestern Greenland for a while now, Jeff’s group looking primarily at the plants and Ron’s group looking primarily at soil and water. Each had students already working the better part of the summer up in Thule.

Thule merits some explanation, as well. Thule (pronounced Too-lee) is a U.S. Airforce base established to watch for Russian missiles in the 50’s. I’m not sure what the activities of the base are now, other than what I read on the dining hall tables—but I doubt anyone gets assigned to Thule to bowl or to participate in the first annual Thule duathalon (biking and running). Ron and Jeff stage their groups out of Thule for the summer, and it’s because of cooperation with the base that they are able to conduct their research there. The base makes their long field seasons and sometimes energy-heavy experiments feasible.

My role in the deal was to teach a GPS component of the course and to manage the GPS work, which included both installing and measuring markers to determine flow motions (I’ll explain later) and mapping out patterned ground (which will also be explained).

On Sunday, July 10, I flew to Schenectady, New York. My flight left in the morning, and of course I hadn’t gotten much sleep—besides the usual last-minute errands, I realized at midnight that my sleeping pad was at my friend John’s house in Denver and then, while packing after my return from his place, ended up opening my door to my next door neighbor who decided that 3:30 AM on a Saturday night would be a good time to introduce himself. My flight was delayed in Chicago, and I didn’t make it to the hotel in Schenectady until about 11 PM. Was up by 5:30 the next morning for transport to our flight from the 109th Air National Guard’s base. Actually, I was up an hour early, having mis-set my clock while fumbling the night before to set the alarm. Sweet. I chatted while waiting with Ken, a student starting his PhD at University of Alaska, Fairbanks. We know a person or two or maybe three in common. In fact, if you know anyone in or around or who has ever thought about Fairbanks, Ken probably knows them, too.

I managed to chat with one or two other people, and met Jeff, but when we got to the airbase and all the students were sitting in a circle chatting and getting to know each other while waiting, I retreated to the comfort of my day pack to lie down and take a little nap. The social thing just wasn’t happening for me yet. Especially with so many people. Twelve, to be exact. Jolene, Trina, Quintin, Darren, Erik, Lucas, Cynthia, Arlie, Patrick, Diana, Jessica, and Ken. Traumatic. Instead, I tried catching up on my sleep, there and then upstairs with my head down on a table after the guard gave us our briefing. One of the students, Quintin, was nice enough to politely wake me up when it was time to go back downstairs. I work hard on first impressions.

[Our C-130.]

The flight to Kangerlusuaq was long, and I also slept on that. I slept sitting up, and I slept folded over. I slept until the stopover in Goose Bay, Canada, to refuel, and then I slept from there to Kanger. Apparently this strengthened the others’ first impressions of me. I finally perked up in Kanger at dinner, which was pizza. And not just any pizza. One of the pizza had pineapple, bacon, and musk ox. After dinner, though, I played aloof again and let the students leave while I stayed on to chat with 109th’s colonel, Max, who I had met my first season in Antarctica and then again the following summer in Greenland. It was Max’s birthday, so I very graciously agreed to have a beer with him and his colleagues. Twist my arm.

We were scheduled to fly to Thule the next day, but were delayed. Instead, most of the group went on a long hike up around the hills and I stayed in to read about GPS. I figured it would be good to revisit the basics that I’ve been taking for granted to be able to give a better explanation during the class than I had during earlier trainings this spring. I guess I still hadn’t gotten enough sleep, though, because that’s mostly what I did. Everyone else came back from their ambitious hikes and 30-mile bike rides, and I woke up.

Dinner that night was a little disappointing (probably mystery meat, definitely at the cafeteria in town), but dessert was not. Did you know the Danish have such good ice cream? First of all, did you know that Greenland is affiliated with Denmark? An interesting (hi)story which I won’t get into. Regardless, the Greenland that I have experienced has been a cultural mix of Danish, U.S. (military, remember), and native. I say native last not because it’s not important, but because it has been overpowered by the other two in the only two towns I’ve been to. Anyway. Ice cream. Dessert was bear-shaped, chocolate-covered ice cream. Can’t go wrong with that. Creamy ice cream, as in probably made with real cream. Wow.

Posted by beth at July 11, 2005 9:32 PM