Are we there yet?

In order to give you a bit of an idea as to why we are in Greenland during the early spring, here is a short outline of our project.  Our work is looking at changes in permafrost in front of a glacier between the winter and summer.  As the upper layer of permafrost melts with warming air temperatures, more sediment is available to be transferred throughout the landscape.  Because we are looking at an area close to a glacier, this sediment can be very easily moved.

We are therefore investigating the contribution of periglacial sediment stores to glacial meltwater load, and if this contribution changes seasonally?

These are important scientific questions which need to be addressed given the current trend of warming global air temperatures.  Permafrost covers at least 20% of all land on the planet, and an increase in melting has important implications for landscapes and infrastructure (roads, pipelines etc.) throughout the Arctic, and other areas underlain by permafrost.

View down Blaesdalen

One of the main methods we are using is ground penetrating radar (GPR).  This is a machine which transmits radar pulses into the ground.  These pulses hit objects below the ground and are then reflected back to the machine.  We can then use the returned signal to interpret subsurface material: soil, rock, ice, water etc.  In order to address our research questions we will be revisiting the same site in the summer to take repeat measurements and to assess the changes in the permafrost.  Therefore, it is vital we choose a suitable study area.

Walking to the site
Walking to the site
Dog sledge fly-by!
Dog sledge fly-by!

Our first day in the field was set aside for reconnaissance of the site that we hoped to work on over the coming week.  Using aerial photographs we had selected Chamberlain Gletscher, an east facing outlet from the Lyngmarksbræn ice cap.  We chose this glacier as it has a clearly visible snout and is relatively close to the main trunk valley – allowing relatively easy access.  So, we wrapped ourselves up in thermals, down jackets and multiple pairs of gloves and waddled to put our boots on.  Then, fuelled by a bowl of porridge and bags full of scientific energy, we set off on a cold 10 km walk to the glacier snout.  The weather was clear but cold and windy in the main valley, Blæsdalen (which we later found out meant ‘Blowing Valley’ – very apt!), but the views were wonderful, and we reached the site 4 hours later.  The trip was brightened up by a close fly-by from a dog sledge team! Following a detour via a huge lateral moraine to get a view down onto the glacier we made it to Chamberlain Gletscher! 

Snout of Chamberlain Gletscher
Snout of Chamberlain Gletscher

After walking around the front of the glacier in awe and taking as many photos as possible, we decided it was the perfect site for all our needs!  We then turned around and picked out a route back to the main Blaesdalen valley, before heading back toward Arctic Station, fueled by Soreen, Haribo, and duty-free Toblerone.

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