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July 16, 2005

Thule

We made it to Thule on Wednesday. We got up early, flew for three hours (I… um… slept), and arrived in Thule in time for lunch. One of the options was red dogs, or really long and really red hot dogs. I avoided that one. Probably went for the fish. After lunch, we had a bit of time off to get settled in before meeting in the late afternoon for a short tour. I organized the GPS equipment with my time off, while others got caught up on sleep in the hotel. The accommodations in Thule are quite nice—a hotel in which each of us had our own bedroom with a TV and freshly made beds every day, and the bathrooms, which were communal, were clean. This seems like it should be a given, I guess, but it’s not always, so it was very nice.

In the evening, we went on our tour driving around town and stepped out on top of a hill somewhere where Jeff was very excited and the rest of us were very cold. We’d prepared for a driving tour, and most of us were underdressed for the foggy wet chilly windy mountaintop. Luckily, Jeff’s wife was along to speed Jeff up and save us from freezing. There would be other times. Times with puffy coats and hats and long underwear.

The next day was one of those times. Jeff and Ron took us around to all of their research sites around Thule, and also took us up atop P Mtn for lunch to get a good view of our surroundings. Maybe. We had a nice view of fog.


[One of the study sites.]


[Heading into it.]

In the afternoon, we went to check out the Greenland ice cap. A little part of it, anyway. We even walked on that little part. It was slushy. Our feet got wet. But it was worth it. We stood on a sled which had been abandoned after being used to drag supplies up onto the ice sheet for construction of Camp Century, a camp carved into the ice sheet to prove that we could do it. This is, like the construction of Thule, an interesting America Cold War story, so check it out if you’re into that sort of thing.

We were just into checking out the ice sheet. And, Quintin was into doing a hand stand. (He made the mistake of telling us that he used to do gymnastics. We’d already introduced ourselves twice by the time we got to Thule, so for our third round (with the grad students and Ron) Molly suggested we tell something about ourselves that the group didn’t yet know. Thus we learned of Quintin the gymnast.) (Probably not a mistake, really. I think he just wanted to be egged on a bit to do what he was too shy to do otherwise. Handstands on sleds on ice sheets, for example.) And, Darren was into doing a back flip. (Darren’s not shy. No egging on necessary. Backflip off sled onto ice sheet. Whatever.) There’s a great picture of Darren’s back flip, but he accidentally deleted it a couple days later along with about 300 other photos he’d taken, including one of him with a dead musk ox. Bummer.

I just sloshed through the slush. And laughed at them.

We spent Friday and Saturday rotating groups in half-day sessions, which for me meant I gave a little spiel about how GPS works in a classroom and then headed out with a group to South Mountain, one of the research sites. I did this once in the morning and once in the afternoon for two days. Needless to say, by Saturday afternoon my lecture was a little stale.

We spent the GPS sessions doing real work, which was nice. As in, we weren’t just doing a demonstration to see how the equipment works, we were collecting data that will hopefully be used. We mapped out the patterned ground resulting from repeated freeze-thaw of the soils. This concept is a little too hard for me to explain here, meaning I don’t really understand it. Basically, in cold places, the soil can freeze—the upper layer freezes and thaws while the deeper soil is always frozen, and the phenomenon is thus called permafrost. Repeated freezing and thawing actually results in sorting of the rocks and dirt, resulting in patterns on the ground.


[Ron explains the stripes behind him.]


[Ken with an even better view of the stripes.]


[An example of polygons. Photo taken in "Bird" valley, to be described later.]

We were joined by one of Ron’s grad students, Heather, which was great because she knows the area. I mean, because Heather’s just great. Both. Right. Anyway, since it was such a gorgeous day, and since our afternoon group was getting a little ornery, Heather suggested we go to BMEWS to take in the view.

BMEWS stands, I think, for Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, and is a radar site which was used to watch for the Soviets’ nukes. We didn’t actually go to the site. We went near the site, where there’s a great view of the bay north of Thule with three outlet glaciers spilling in. The glaciers drain Greenland’s ice cap, calving chunks of ice into the bay to float around teasing us because we had no kayaks.


[Ken, Quintin, Heather, and Trina.]

Luckily, the field work on Saturday was pretty much the same as the work had been on Friday, because I have no pictures of it. It was cold and windy and sometimes rainy. I told the afternoon group that they should let me know if any of them was getting too cold, because it wasn’t worth any of them getting hypothermic right before heading out to camp. I worked to drill in a marker with Derek, a UW field assistant hired for the summer, and when I went back over to check on the damp group there was a mild mutiny. “How’s it going?” I asked as I approached. “I think we’re done,” said Lucas. “We’re cold.” “It’s just not fun,” Darren said. I accused them of being weak, and all three said immediately that they were willing to stay out longer, but it really was pretty unpleasant out and we’d gotten a good amount done, so we headed home.

Besides, it was Saturday.

Posted by beth at July 16, 2005 9:38 PM