We’ve made it to Zackenberg! We touched down today at around 3pm after several short flights from Reykjavik. After our flights from the UK, we met up in Keflavik airport before catching a bus into Reyjavik town centre where we enjoyed some dinner sat out in the sunshine while awaiting an internal flight to Akureyri in North Iceland. At the Reykjavik airport we managed to meet up with some other researchers who were also heading up to Zackenberg and Daneborg (another research base around 10 km from Zackenberg).
In Akureyri we had an overnight stay in a hotel with the other researchers. We arrived in good time to head out into the town in search of a Viking beer and some cake. We were particularly pleased with our stay at the hotel as they had a waffle iron at breakfast, where you could make your own waffles! The next day we caught a flight, together with the other researchers and some climbing groups, to Constable Point in East Greenland. Here we landed at a small airstrip where we changed planes ready for the final two-hour flight to Zackenberg. There were only six of us catching the next plane. Three of us got off at Zackenberg, while the other three continued onto Daneborg. The plane was very small – just a twin otter – and it was stuffed with cargo boxes of food supplies for Zackenberg. The views were great and we all managed to have a short nap on the flight.
As we came in to land at Zackenberg we were surprised to see so much sea ice and snow on the ground, even at low altitude. This was completely different to our time in Disko last year where it was snow-free. When we touched down, the staff and researchers from the base came out to greet us and we were very warmly welcomed into the Zackenberg family! We unloaded our bags, as well as the boxes of food (the most important part!) and were shown to our rooms in ‘Building 9’ – one of the many buildings that make up the small village of Zackenberg.
Once we had unpacked and grabbed a cup of coffee and a slice of cake (Kathryn) and cinnamon swirl (Tim), we were given a short safety induction by Lars, the resident Science Manager here at Zackenberg. Palle, another researcher who we had met on the flight also joined us in watching a video about polar bear encounters. This taught us about the three key types of polar bear behaviour – curious, threatened, and attacking. Lars also told us about other wildlife in the area that we were likely to encounter during our stay – musk ox, arctic fox, and arctic wolf – as well as the many birds and insects. Talking of insects – by this time Kathryn had already been the victim of mosquito bites! It was quite cold and foggy, so we donned our windproofs and waterproofs and went on a short tour of the site with Lars and Palle. It was important to understand the history of the base and the location of other, on-going research sites so that we were sure not to disturb any of the experiments while out walking. When we got back it was time for tea! The remote location of Zackenberg means that they have a resident chef, Dina, who prepares tasty, nutritious, and plentiful meals for the staff and researchers. Dina had cooked a fantastic meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, beans, salad, and warm freshly baked bread! It wasn’t like being on fieldwork at all! Over dinner we got talking to the other researchers – there are around 20 people staying at the base, working on a range of projects including ornithology, ecology, and hydrology.
After dinner, we pulled our windproofs and waterproofs back on and headed out with Kenny, the Logistics Manager, for a tour of the complex including the laboratories, workshops, and storage areas. We were given further details on safety management for our time in the field and completed a short training session on the use of rifles and signal pistols in the instance of polar bear or musk ox attack. While these incidences are very rare at Zackenberg, it is important to be confident in dealing with these kinds of situations should they occur.
The weather had started to close in for the evening and it was getting cold and windy. We decided to get an early night ready to start planning the rest of our field season!