Illusions and Reality

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” -Albert Einstein

Greenland 26 July 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — martieinstein @ 4:34 pm

These are the posts that I made to the PolarTREC Journal while I was on the trip.

July 17 – All Packed and Ready:

Despite the fact that it is the middle of July and over 90 degrees outside, I have packed a bag with long underwear, wool socks, and fleece. It feels strange to be packing such warm clothes when it is hot outside, but those are what I will need when I get to Greenland on Monday. I almost wish I could leave right now, I am so excited about this trip. Even though I am ready right now it will take awhile to get to Greenland. Tomorrow around lunchtime I will fly from Washington, DC to Albany, NY. In Schenectady, NY I will meet up with a couple of my fellow travelers and we will spend the night there so that we will be ready to catch our early ride with the 109th on Monday morning. So even though I am ready to go now, I won’t actually get to Greenland until Monday afternoon.

July 19 – We’re in Greenland

First glimpse of Greenland from the plane.

This morning started with an early wake-up call – my alarm went off at 4AM so I could be sure to be ready and in the hotel lobby with all my gear for the 5AM pickup by the shuttle to the Air National Guard base. Once on base we went through check-in and a metal detector and then it was on to the waiting room. While I waited for my flight, I met up with the rest of the US members of the Science Education Tour who would be on the flight with me. There were also a number of research teams that were heading to Greenland with us.

As we boarded the plane we were given earplugs which have to be worn at all times since it is very loud inside the plane. Our seats were benches with cargo net backs – not super comfortable, but not too bad either. In our pre-flight briefing they told us we would be stopping in Goose Bay, Canada to refuel. This was a nice stop since it was about halfway to Greenland and gave us a chance to walk around and stretch our legs while they plane was refueled. The airport at Goose Bay also brought out ice cream sandwiches for every one that was on our flight. Back on board the plane we continued passing the time with naps, reading, working on computers, and listening to music.

About three hours after we left Goose Bay, there was a ripple of excitement through the plane as the first views of Greenland could be spied out the small porthole windows. People were all taking turns peering out the windows and taking pictures of the magnificent landscape below us. Soon after that we landed in Kangerlussuaq and we were met by the team from CPS who organized each group to load into trucks and vans to head over to the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support (KISS) building where we will be staying while we are in Kanger. We were issued our room keys and meal tickets and had a few minutes to drop our things in our rooms before we headed over the airport for dinner in the restaurant. Most of the members of our group decided to try a local specialty for dinner, the musk ox burger. It was pretty tasty, but not everyone liked the salsa topping that was on the burgers.

After dinner, we went on a drive to see some of the local sites around Kanger. From several of these vantage points we got our first good views of the ice sheet where we will be heading tomorrow. It is hard to believe that after thinking about this trip for so long I am finally in Greenland.

July 20 – To the Ice Edge

Edge of the Greenlandic Ice Sheet

Today was a great day! After breakfast, we were issued our cold weather gear which we will need when we go up to Summit tomorrow. There was a lot of laughter as we tried on all of the gear that had been issued to each of us. Our gear consists of fleece pants and jacket, insulated bib pants, a huge parka, balaclava, fleece hat, gloves and/or mittens, boots, and a neck gaiter. After our gear was issued we had to pack what we would supplement this gear with, mostly long underwear, warm socks, regular underwear, and a long-sleeve tshirt or turtleneck. Tomorrow on the plane we will be wearing a good portion of our cold weather gear to be prepared for our arrival at Summit.

The organizing of gear took a good portion of the morning. After lunch, we headed out on a less than wonderful road that would take us to the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Along the way we stopped and did looked at the life in a couple of ponds including one which had some very strange, as of yet still unidentified orange spherical masses that resembled some kind of fruit. Before too long, we were at the trailhead that would take us to the edge of the ice sheet. To say that seeing the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet is spectacular doesn’t begin to convey what this experience is like. The wall of ice is massive and at this point it is only a fraction of the thickest part of the ice. To stand there and look at the ice sheet stretching off into the distance and to know that it is covering the vast majority of Greenland is an awe inspiring moment.

We returned from the ice edge along the same route, with only one stop to observe a mother caribou with her calf that were pretty close to the road. Once back we had just a little while before dinner. After dinner we had a team meeting where we shared some expectations about what the experience at Summit and NEEM would be like and talked about our overall goals for the trip. Once the discussion got going, it was a great sharing of ideas and hopes that people have as well as what they already knew about the science that is going on on the ice sheet. The meeting wrapped up with some logistical details about tomorrows flight to Summit – currently scheduled for 10AM.

I know tomorrow will be another great day in Greenland!

Summit Tent City on a foggy evening.

July 23 – NEEM Delayed

Today was a day to learn about some of the vagaries of Arctic research and travel. We woke up this morning to a low cloud ceiling with just a bit of light on the horizon. Last night we were told to have our bags out ready to be loaded on the cargo pallet before breakfast. So we all rolled up our great sleeping bags (that kept us warm and toasty in our tents on the ice sheet) and had our bags ready before we headed off to breakfast, thinking that we would be leaving Summit Camp for NEEM shortly before noon. After breakfast we had the daily camp update and at that point everything still seemed on schedule. Following breakfast, Ben, the camp medic gave an interesting presentation on altitude sickness and a demonstration of the Gamow Bag which is used as a treatment. Since the elevation of Summit is 10,000 feet, many visitors feel some sort of effects from the altitude. The Gamow Bag is an apparatus that allows a patient to be treated for altitude sickness by increasing the pressure around them, thus simulating being at a lower altitude. At Summit, the Gamow Bag effectively lowers the altitude to around 5000 feet which most people can handle. One of the key lessons learned during Ben’s presentation is that it is important to treat altitude sickness at the first appearance of symptoms. If you catch it early, treatment can be effective, but if you wait too late the only thing that will help you is to be evacuated to lower altitudes.

After Ben’s presentation we got the news that the flight to NEEM had been canceled for today and that they were going to pick us up and take us back to Kanger if the plane could get into Summit. NEEM was having a big snowstorm and at this point there was light snow at Summit and the visibility wasn’t very good, but was improving. At this point we settled in to wait for news that the plane had taken off from Kanger. A little after ten we heard that the plane was on the way and once they got to Summit would be on the ground for about an hour to offload fuel. We ate lunch a little early and made sure we had all of our things together so that we would be ready when the plane arrived. As we were waiting for the plane we got news that they had canceled any attempt to fly to NEEM on Saturday as well.

Once we got to back to Kanger we got the updated plan for the rest of our trip. Tonight we will hear a presentation from one of the NEEM scientists who is in Kanger. Tomorrow we will head out to visit Kelleyville Upper Atmosphere Research Station and there is hope that we will make a visit to NEEM on Sunday. We won’t be able to spend the night there, but at least we can see the exciting science that is happening there.

The changing of schedules due to weather making flights impossible is just one of the realities of working in the Arctic.

July 25 – Made it to NEEM!

How far is it from NEEM?

Today we were happy to finally make it to NEEM, even though it was for a short visit. After returning from breakfast, we all donned our cold weather gear once again and headed to the LC-130 to depart for NEEM. The flight to NEEM went up the coast over Disko Bay and the Jacobsavn Ice Field – the views of ocean, glacier, and icebergs were spectacular. Arriving at NEEM we had quite a welcoming committee. There is a documentary film crew filming at NEEM and they were there with their cameras recording our arrival. After our trip to NEEM being delayed by weather for two days we were warmly welcomed by everyone there. The iconic structure of the NEEM camp is their dome, which serves as the main living area for the camp. After a quick visit in the dome, complete with warm chocolate chip cookies, it was time to go see the drilling operation. We went down stairs and soon were greeted with the sight of the drill and the most recent ice core that had come up. In the most recent core there was a 5 cm piece of rock in the core, which indicates that they are getting very close to hitting bedrock. After seeing the drill, we headed into the science trench where they process the ice cores as well as doing some analysis on the ice. Our visit to NEEM was far too short and soon we were back on the plane headed back to Kangerlusuuaq. Our trip back was highlighted by the plane flying at very low altitude over Disko Bay – it felt like we could have reached out and touched the tips of the icebergs as we flew over them. What a great way to end a magnificent trip!!!