UMass Geologists in Greenland

I’d be hard pressed to find a better way to decompress from my NASA-HERA mission than a field expedition to the Arctic. I went from 6 weeks in a 600 square foot pod to 2 weeks in the vast expanses of Greenland’s fjords and tundra. And it was wonderful. I’ll share some photos and experiences here.

A panoramic view of Sillisit and Tunulliarfik Fjord

From June 29 to July 11, 2018, I traveled with a research group from University of Massachusetts to South Greenland in a scientific campaign to calibrate paleoclimate proxies. The overarching goal of the project, which is led by UMass professors Isla Castañeda and Ray Bradley, is to test the hypothesis that climate change may have forced the exodus of Norse settlers from Greenland around the year 1450 AD. Sediment cores have already been collected, and our efforts this field season were to collect soil, sediment, and plant samples in order to improve our understanding of leaf wax and GDGT systematics in these Arctic systems.

Our team consisted of myself (Postdoc, fresh out of the space pod), Isla (UMass professor, geochemist, paleoclimatologist), Boyang Zhao (UMass graduate student working on the Greenland project), and my father JD (horticulturalist and tundra tank – lugging science gear, identifying plants, soaking up the scenery).

In Greenland, we arrive and depart from the town of Narsarsuaq. Our work was done in the nearby villages of Igaliku, Sillisit, and Qassiarsuk. Travel between the towns is via a combination of boat (weaving through a maze of icebergs in Tunulliarfik Fjord) and 4 wheel drive truck (bouncing over one lane dirt/rock roads along the coast). Travel to our field sites is largely by foot.

While not technically within the Arctic Circle, this region felt arctic. It snowed during our first night there. The days were long, and it never really got dark while we were there. The weather was mostly gray, with occasional rain and occasional blue skies. Temperatures were about 50°F. Basically, the perfect summer weather in my opinion 🙂 The food was superb – roast lamb and sheep, fresh fish (cod and trout, I think), tundra berries, tundra tea. ANGELICA in nearly everything!

Our Qassiarsuk host, Pieti, showing off our freshly caught dinner.

Our team of 4 worked hard, lugging our boats, Ekman sampler, hydrolab, buoys, and sediment traps around the tundra. Our electric boat motor crapped out after the first day, so we used muscle power and a graciously-lent set of paddles to navigate the lakes. We’re tough.

There was time in each village after completing our tasks and in the evenings when we could explore. We were blessed with magnificent scenery – icebergs rolling over in the fjord, flocks of lambs and ewes scattered around the hills, huge mountains hidden in the clouds, lakes perched in unexpected places, fields of blooming buttercups, tongues of the Greenland Ice Sheet. I became accustomed to seeing sheep everywhere we went.

One of the highlights of the trip was definitely bottle-feeding baby lambs in Qassiarsuk.

In the end, our scientific goals were accomplished. We successfully found all our sediment traps and re-deployed new ones. The samples we brought home will help Boyang interpret the sediment core records he is generating. I’m grateful for the chance to see another part of the Arctic and to be part of such an interesting project. Now, onto the laboratory analyses – lots more work to do!

Now for some pictures with icebergs:

Mr. Handsome Snout making sure we don’t wander too close to the water. Good boy.

Adventure kitty! It doesn’t know how good it has it.

JD and icebergs.

Boyang finds an iceberg stranded at low-tide.

Isla poses with some icebergs in Sillisit.

Me at Sillisit

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